Pam Rotella's Vegetarian FUN page -- News on health, nutrition, the environment, politics, and more!
NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2012
News from the Week of 8th to 14th of April 2012
U.S. Secret Service agents leave Colombia over prostitution inquiry (14 April 2012)
Donovan declined to disclose details about the nature of the alleged misconduct. But Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said the accusations relate to at least one agent having involvement with prostitutes in Cartagena.
In a statement, Donovan said the matter has been turned over to the agency's Office of Professional Responsibility, which serves as the agency's internal affairs unit.
"The Secret Service takes all allegations of misconduct seriously," Donovan said. "These personnel changes will not affect the comprehensive security plan that has been prepared in advance of the President's trip."
Adler said the entire unit was recalled for purposes of the investigation. The Secret Service "responded appropriately" and is "looking at a very serious allegation," he said, adding that the agency "needs to properly investigate and fairly ascertain the merits of the allegations."
Naked Vermont governor almost eaten by bears (13 April 2012)
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said Friday that he was chased by one of four large bears in his back yard the night prior... absent his pajamas.
Speaking to the editorial board of Valley News in Vermont, the first-term Democrat said he noticed the bears in the back yard late at night, outside his rental home near Monteplier, where they were nosing at his bird feeders just feet from his windows.
After shouting at them from relative safety, for some reason Shumlin said he decided to fetch the bird feeders, explaining that he didn't want the bears to become a frequent feature on his property.
"The (bear) charges me on the porch -- I'm tearing through the door," he reportedly said. "You almost lost the governor. Security was not there. I was within three feet of getting 'arrrh.'"
U.S. judge finds for MegaUpload, orders DOJ to cooperate on user files (14 April 2012)
A judge in Alexandria, Virginia ruled Friday in favor of attorneys for the cyberlocker website MegaUpload, ordering the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to work with the site's operators to return personal files to more than 60 million of the site's users.
MegaUplaod founder Kim Dotcom, an eccentric New Zealand millionaire, stands accused in the U.S. of running the largest pirate media operation in history, and is currently fighting a U.S. extradition request in his own country following a January SWAT raid on his estate. MegaUpload provided blind file hosting to its users, enabling them to upload and share anything, but it also gave content creators the ability to report and delete links to files that infringed upon copyrights.
U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady agreed with MegaUpload attorney Ira Rothken in a hearing Friday, and ordered the DOJ to work with MegaUpload and its users to reach an amicable solution to the quandary of legitimate, non-infringing files being held in legal limbo. The question of what will happen to the files arose after an Ohio-based entrepreneur teamed up with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to sue for access to his business files.
Prosecutors argued Friday that the DOJ should simply order the hosting company to delete MegaUpload's user files, as they've already obtained a large sample of the files to be used as evidence against MegaUpload, which will be turned over to defense attorneys amid the evidence discovery process.
The site had more than 150 million users at the time of the New Zealand raid. MegaUpload's managers have since said that its users included government workers and even congressional staffers, along with soldiers overseas who used the service to share multimedia with their families in the U.S. At least six movie studios have argued that MegaUpload was growing an illegal operation that, at its core, was just designed to facilitate piracy.
Judge O'Grady's ruling Friday is another in a series of minor victories for MegaUpload and Dotcom, who recently saw a judge in New Zealand chastise police for raiding his home based upon a bogus warrant. Officials tried to file for the correct warrant after the fact, making it retroactive. The judge said she may ultimately order that all of Dotcom's assets be returned to him, which would provide a significant boost to his legal defense. Security footage of that raid has since mysteriously disappeared while in police custody.
Afghan war whistleblower Daniel Davis: 'I had to speak out -- lives are at stake' (14 April 2012)
"I am -- how do you say it? -- persona non grata," said Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Davis, as he sat sipping a coffee and eating a chocolate sundae in a shopping mall, just a subway stop from the Pentagon.
The career soldier is now a black sheep at the giant defence department building where he still works. The reason was his extraordinarily brave decision to accuse America's military top brass of lying about the war in Afghanistan. When he went public in the New York Times, he was acclaimed as a hero for speaking out about a war that many Americans feel has gone horribly awry. Later this month he will receive a Ridenhour prize, an award given to whistleblowers that is named after the Vietnam war soldier who exposed the My Lai massacre.
Davis believes people are not being told the truth and said so in a detailed report that he wrote after returning from his second tour of duty in the country. He had been rocketed, mortared and had stepped on an improvised explosive device that failed to explode. Soldiers he had met were killed and he was certain that a bloody disaster was unfolding. So he spoke out. "It's like I see in slow motion men dying for nothing and I can't stop it," he said. "It is consuming me from the inside. It is eating me alive."
Davis, 48, drew up two reports containing research and observations garnered from his last tour. He was not short of material. As part of his job he had criss-crossed the country, travelling 9,000 miles and talking to more than 250 people. He had built up a picture of a hopeless cause; a country where Afghan soldiers were incapable of holding on to American gains. US soldiers would fight and die for territory and then see Afghan troops let it fall to the Taliban. Often the Afghans actively worked with the Taliban or simply refused to fight. One Afghan police officer laughed in Davis's face when asked if he ever tried to fight the enemy. "That would be dangerous!" the man said.
Spitfires buried in Burma during war to be returned to UK (14 April 2012)
Twenty iconic Spitfire aircraft buried in Burma during the Second World War are to be repatriated to Britain after an intervention by David Cameron.
The Prime Minister secured a historic deal that will see the fighter aircraft dug up and shipped back to the UK almost 67 years after they were hidden more than 40-feet below ground amid fears of a Japanese occupation.
The gesture came as Mr Cameron became the first Western leader to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy campaigner held under house arrest for 22 years by the military regime, and invited her to visit London in her first trip abroad for 24 years.
He called on Europe to suspend its ban on trade with Burma now that it was showing "prospects for change" following Miss Suu Kyi's election to parliament in a sweeping electoral victory earlier this year.
How Hyundai went from joke to contender in US (12 April 2012)
Americans were laughing at Hyundai's cars when John Krafcik joined the company eight years ago.
The cars were ugly and often broke down. The only reason to buy one was because it was cheap. Jay Leno once joked that you could double a Hyundai's value by filling it up with gas.
No one's laughing now.
The Korean automaker's quality has improved, and it's among the leaders in fuel efficiency and styling. Sales are up more than 60 percent since 2008, the year Krafcik (pronounced KRAF-chick) became CEO of American operations. Hyundai's Elantra compacts and Sonata midsize sedans are in such demand that few discounts are offered. And although the company's U.S. sales are just a fraction of General Motors' or Ford's, they're growing so quickly that Hyundai is feared by every other carmaker.
Study: Meat eaters must cut consumption by half to forestall climate change (13 April 2012)
Meat eaters in developed countries will have to eat a lot less meat, cutting consumption by 50%, to avoid the worst consequences of future climate change, new research warns.
The fertilisers used in farming are responsible for a significant share of the warming that causes climate change.
A study published in Environmental Research Letters warns that drastic changes in food production and at the dinner table are needed by 2050 in order to prevent catastrophic global warming.
It's arguably the most difficult challenge in dealing with climate change: how to reduce emissions from food production while still producing enough to feed a global population projected to reach 9 billion by the middle of this century.
SDS Founder, Veteran Activist Tom Hayden on Participatory Democracy from Port Huron to Occupy Wall Street (13 April 2012) [DN]
TOM HAYDEN: Exactly. Well, the movement began with sit-ins, which were occupations of lunch counters. I was a Freedom Rider. I occupied a train from Atlanta to Albany, Georgia. But very swiftly, the organizers kept hearing from, particularly elderly people, black people in the South, "I want to vote before I die. I served in Korea. I want, just once, to be able to vote." And the principle was to help people accomplish what they already wanted to do. And there was a strategy also because the disenfranchisement of all these people was the power foundation on which the Dixiecrats, the white racist wing of the Democratic Party that dominated all the committees, was based upon. And so, it was not an accident that these projects occurred in McComb, Mississippi, or in Lowndes County, Alabama, or Albany, Georgia. And they weren't--it wasn't an either/or of direct action or voter registration, because the vote was a real threat to the status quo.
And SNCC people made virtually a blood oath to spend at least five years--nobody knew who would live and who would not--but to attack this problem. And it took great courage and--but also strategic intelligence, listening to people who had been waiting for all these years. And it resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which, fortunately, had some teeth. That's why the right wing is complaining today, and the Confederate states are complaining, because they're still under a monitoring provision of the 1965 act. So, in a sense, SNCC accomplished that. I remember I was at a SNCC reunion, 50th, last year, year before. And the attorney general of the United States, Holder, was there, and he gave a talk, and he said, "You know, there's a straight line between those projects in the Deep South and where I sit today at the Department of Justice. And I owe it to SNCC."
JUAN GONZALEZ: But, Tom, there's also another straight line, which is that, obviously, that Voting Rights Act and then the protests that occurred against the war in Vietnam led as well to the mass defections from the Democratic Party of so many Southern whites and, of course, the Nixon strategy in '68 to basically woo the South, the Republican Party, woo Southern Democrats away, and that really made a major shift in the political alignment in the country for a generation.
TOM HAYDEN: I think--I think, Juan, that was a failure of the Liberal Democrats. The plan was this: risk your neck to do the voter registration and, in doing so, awaken a liberal constituency of clergy, of labor, of like-minded people around the country, and, yes, get the white racists out of the Democratic Party base, move them to wherever they want to go: the Klan, the Republican Party, whatever.
Movie clips help ease drug craving (12 April 2012)
Led by neuroscientist Lin Lu of Peking University in China, researchers first tested the idea in animals, easing drug-seeking behaviors in rats by calling up and then dampening drug-related memories. Next, the team turned to people who were battling heroin addiction in China.
Sixty-six people underwent a two-step process: First, volunteers watched a video of either a natural scene or of people smoking and injecting heroin. The heroin movie served as a quick reminder, calling up former memories of drug use. Each time these kinds of memories are called to mind, the former drug users become fragile, vulnerable to being rewritten or modified, Epstein says. "It's not like a tape recorder playing something back," he says. "It's more like a computer pulling up a document, potentially editing the document, and then resaving the document." This process is called reconsolidation.
After this reminder, participants spent about an hour watching more drug-related movies and slide shows, and even handling fake heroin, a trial called an "extinction session." The researchers varied the time between the reminder and the extinction sessions: Some people waited just 10 minutes, and others waited six hours. This process was repeated on two consecutive days.
In later tests, people whose memories were primed with the drug reminder 10 minutes before the extinction reported less craving for heroin after seeing drug cues one, 30, and 180 days after the technique. Bodily responses to drug cues were blunted, too: People who had been primed in the 10-minute window showed less of a blood pressure rise in response to seeing drug paraphernalia compared with people who hadn't received the reminder.
Mars Inc. Says Adios to ALEC (13 April 2012)
Mars Inc., the company that makes everything from Skittles to M&M's to Uncle Ben's, has joined McDonald's, Wendy's, and a half-dozen other companies in quitting the American Legislative Exchange Council.
ALEC, as it's known, is a corporate-funded non-profit that writes pro-business and often anti-union draft legislation for state lawmakers to introduce in their legislatures. ALEC has come under fire recently from good-government and civil rights groups for pushing voter identification bills that critics say discriminate against blacks and Hispanics. ALEC foes have also blasted the organization for promoting so-called Stand Your Ground laws like the one at the center of the Trayvon Martin shooting.
Bob Edgar, the president of Common Cause, one of the groups in the anti-ALEC coalition, hailed Mars' decision. "Its leaders understand that continued support for ALEC's advocacy of vigilante justice and assaults on voting and employee rights, public schools, and reasonable environmental regulations is neither good business nor good corporate citizenship," Edgar said in a statement.
In a statement published this week, ALEC executive director Ron Scheberle said his organization wouldn't be cowed by what it called an "intimidation campaign launched by a coalition of extreme liberal activists committed to silencing anyone who disagrees with their agenda." He continued, "Finally, now more than ever, America needs organizations like ALEC to foster the discussion and debate of policy differences in an open, transparent way and not fall back on bullying, intimidation and threats."
Goldman Sachs stolen code case thrown out over irrelevant statutes (13 April 2012)
A former Goldman Sachs programmer will not serve time for stealing the investment firm's proprietary source code because prosecutors charged him for the theft under one statute that was irrelevant to the case, and another that is too antiquated to apply, lawyers say.
When Sergey Aleynikov left his job as a programmer at Goldman Sachs in 2009, he didn't just take the odd office supply. He walked out with "hundreds of thousands of lines" of source code for the firm's high-speed trading system, according to prosecutors.
He was swiftly charged, and convicted, of theft of property under two laws: the Economic Espionage Act and National Stolen Property Act.
There's only one problem with that: neither of those laws really apply in this case.
US adds 13,000 to unemployment rolls in latest disappointing claims report (12 April 2012)
The number of new claims for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly last week in another sign of the fragility of the recovery in the US jobs market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 13,000 to 380,000 in the week ending 7 April, the largest rise in nearly a year, the labor department said. Economist polled by Reuters had been expecting claims to fall to 355,000.
The numbers come less than a week after disappointing news about the new jobs the US is creating. Last Friday the labor department announced the US had added 120,000 new jobs in March, half the number created in February. March's number ended a four-month streak in which the US had added over 200,000 jobs a month.
Every jobs report is being parsed by Washington as President Barack Obama gears up for the election. Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee, has consistently attacked Obama's record on the economy and jobs. "It is increasingly clear the Obama economy is not working and that after three years in office the president's excuses have run out," Romney said after last week's jobs report.
5,500-plus federal job cut notices sent out in Canada (12 April 2012)
More than 5,500 federal service employees were notified Wednesday that their jobs are on the line, while unions are accusing the government of making the wrong choices and rushing through the cuts.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada said that it was advised that 5,561 of its members in 23 government departments received notices saying they could lose their jobs.
The employees were notified that they are "affected" but layoffs are not guaranteed for all of them, as some may be moved to other departments where there are vacancies.
More than 2,000 of the affected jobs are located in the Ottawa region; 775 are in the Prairies; 236 in the Atlantic region and in Quebec; 222 in British Columbia; and 11 in the North.
Wisconsin's "Choking Judge" Prosser wants choking victim Justice Bradley to recuse herself (12 April 2012)
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser is asking that fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley step down from the disciplinary case stemming from the physical altercation in June in which Prosser has acknowledged putting his hands on Bradley's neck.
In the petition filed Thursday, Prosser said state law prohibits judges from overseeing cases in which they are witnesses or participants or have an interest in the outcome.
Prosser also charges that Bradley is biased because she leaked "skewed representations" to the press, initiated a criminal investigation against him and was responsible for the complaint filed against him by the Wisconsin Judicial Commission. However, the five-page petition offers no information to back up those allegations.
"It is evident that Justice Bradley is disqualified from participation in this matter and must withdraw," Prosser argues, adding that "Justice Bradley cannot turn around and sit in judgment in her own case, and no rational person would believe that she could."
Head to Head: Would Rep. Paul Ryan's tax plan improve the U.S. tax system? (12 April 2012)
Our federal tax system currently is collecting historically low revenues as a share of the national economy.
Since the presidency of John F. Kennedy, federal taxes have ranged from 17.5 percent to 20.6 percent of gross domestic product. Under President Barack Obama, taxes have averaged 15.2 percent of GDP -- historic lows not seen since the Great Depression and World War II.
And it shows. Since the Bush era, we've been borrowing to pay for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, basic government services, recovery from deep recession and investments in infrastructure.
Rep. Paul Ryan's tax plan would make our financial problems worse.
Wisconsin hunting lobby group votes for sandhill crane hunt (11 April 2012)
Voters also supported the idea of a sandhill crane hunt by a 2,559 to 1,271 margin. The migratory bird is hunted in many western states and in 2011 Kentucky became the first state in the species' Eastern population to hold a sandhill hunt.
The Legislature would have to pass a bill authorizing a sandhill hunt in Wisconsin. A sandhill crane hunting bill introduced in February died in committee.
And then the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would have to approve the state's plan.
Kent Van Horn, migratory ecologist for the DNR, said given authorization and support, it would likely take several years for Wisconsin to enact a sandhill hunt.
Shift workers 'risking' Type 2 diabetes and obesity (11 April 2012)
Shift workers getting too little sleep at the wrong time of day may be increasing their risk of diabetes and obesity, according to researchers.
The team is calling for more measures to reduce the impact of shift working following the results of its study.
Researchers controlled the lives of 21 people, including meal and bedtimes.
The results, published in Science Translational Medicine, showed changes to normal sleep meant the body struggled to control sugar levels.
George Zimmerman court affidavit: 'Zimmerman confronted Martin' (12 April 2012)
George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer arrested yesterday in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, faced a judge for the first time this afternoon.
Meanwhile, a probable cause affidavit has been filed in the second-degree murder case. In the two-page document, prosecutors offer little new information about the shooting.
However, they said in the affidavit that "Zimmerman confronted Martin," an apparent contradiction of Zimmerman's version of the events that led to the shooting.
The document says Trayvon's mother identified the screams for help heard in a 911 call as those of her son. It also reveals that investigators interviewed a "friend" of Trayvon's who was talking to him in the leadup to the shooting.
Trayvon Martin shooting: Why the case against George Zimmerman may never make it to trial (12 April 2012)
Legal experts said Corey chose a tough route with the murder charge, which could send Zimmerman to prison for life if he's convicted, over manslaughter, which usually carries 15-year prison terms and covers reckless or negligent killings.
The prosecutors must prove Zimmerman's shooting of Martin was rooted in hatred or ill will and counter his claims that he shot Martin to protect himself while patrolling his gated community in the Orlando suburb of Sanford. Zimmerman's lawyers would only have to prove by a preponderance of evidence -- a relatively low legal standard -- that he acted in self-defence at a pretrial hearing to prevent the case from going to trial.
There's a "high likelihood it could be dismissed by the judge even before the jury gets to hear the case," Florida defence attorney Richard Hornsby said.
Corey announced the charges Wednesday after an extraordinary 45-day campaign for Zimmerman's arrest, led by Martin's parents and civil rights activists, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Protesters wore hooded sweatshirts like the one Martin had on the night of the shooting. The debate reached all the way to the White House, where President Barack Obama observed last month: "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."
Corey would not discuss how she reconciled conflicting accounts of the shooting by Zimmerman, witnesses and phone recordings that indicated Martin thought Zimmerman was following him.
Search is on for source of US Gulf of Mexico oil sheen (12 April 2012)
WASHINGTON -- The US Coast Guard and oil company experts on Thursday used aircraft and undersea probes to monitor and search for the source of a 10-mile long oil sheen in the Gulf of Mexico.
The 1.6 kilometer (one mile) wide slick is located some 210 kilometers (130 miles) south-east of New Orleans, Coast Guard spokeswoman Elizabeth Bordelon told AFP.
"At first light this morning Air Station New Orleans sent out a ... helicopter with a pollution investigator aboard to do an overflight," Bordelon said.
The sheen is between two offshore oil rigs owned by oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, Bordelon said.
New gas liquids pipeline to link Colorado, Panhandle (12 April 2012)
Two Houston-area companies and one in Denver will build a 435-mile natural gas liquids pipeline that would link fields in Colorado's Denver-Julesburg Basin to a pipeline network in the Texas Panhandle that could carry liquids to the Gulf Coast, the companies said today.
Enterprise Product Partners of Houston, Anadarko Petroleum of The Woodlands and and Denver-based DCP Midstream are equal partners in the Front Range Pipeline project. It is scheduled to begin service in late 2013.
The Front Range will terminate in the Panhandle-city Skellytown, with connections to the Mid-America Pipeline System and the recently announced Texas Express Pipeline, a venture of Anadarko, Enterprise and Canada's Enbridge Energy Partners. The Texas Express will run from Skellytown to processing plants in Mont Belvieu.
A binding open commitment period for prospective Front Range customers runs from Thursday through May 14.
A smartphone app designed to tamper with your dreams (11 April 2012)
Can a smartphone app influence your dreams? That's what the makers of Dream:ON, a new app and mass-participation experiment available for iPhone users hope to find out.
Dream:ON was designed by Richard Wiseman, a professor at the University of Hertfordshire in Britain, who said it may be possible to influence dreams by monitoring people's sleep patterns to discern when they go into REM sleep (when dreaming happens), and then play soundscapes designed to create a desired dream.
To use the Dream:ON app, you would select from one of several prerecorded soundcapes such as a peaceful garden (the gentle twittering of birds) or ocean (waves lapping at the shore).
Then you would place the phone on your bed, where it will monitor your movements as you sleep -- and present you a chart of how much you move around in your sleep in the morning. The soundscape will not start playing until the phone has determined that you are in REM sleep.
When the app senses you are moving out of REM sleep, it will sound a gentle alarm that should wake you up. Then, it asks you to submit a brief description of your dreaming experience into a "dream catcher" database.
The Walker Recall: Four Democratic candidates for governor file nomination signatures (11 April 2012)
The four-week political sprint to the recall primary kicked off Tuesday with four Democratic candidates submitting enough signatures to make official their bids to unseat Gov. Scott Walker.
The key question now is whether the winner will survive the abbreviated primary process strong enough to defeat the embattled first-term Republican.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, will compete in the Democratic primary for the right to face off against Walker. The primary election is scheduled for May 8, with the winner to face the governor June 5.
Three other candidates filed their papers for governor Tuesday: Republican Arthur Kohl-Riggs of Madison, who will take on Walker in a primary; Hari Trivedi, an Independent candidate from Brookfield; and Republican candidate Michael Mangan of West Allis, who only collected 303 valid signatures. Four people filed nomination papers for the lieutenant governor race: Bruce Berma, of Marinette, Mahlon Mitchell of Fitchburg, Dale Paul of Portage and Ira Robins of Milwaukee.
It has been a tough year for Walker. He all but ended collective bargaining for most public employees and presided over a state that became crippled by partisan war. His party lost its majority in the state Senate, and Walker faces fallout from the ongoing John Doe investigation into his close associates and former aides from his time as Milwaukee County executive.
Monsanto sued - 'Knowingly Poisoned Workers' Causing Devastating Birth Defects (11 April 2012)
In a developing news piece just unleashed by a courthouse news wire, Monsanto is being brought to court by dozens of Argentinean tobacco farmers who say that the biotech giant knowingly poisoned them with herbicides and pesticides and subsequently caused "devastating birth defects" in their children. The farmers are now suing not only Monsanto on behalf of their children, but many big tobacco giants as well. The birth defects that the farmers say occurred as a result are many, and include cerebral palsy, down syndrome, psychomotor retardation, missing fingers, and blindness.
The farmers come from small family-owned farms in Misiones Province and sell their tobacco to many United States distributors. The family farmers say that major tobacco companies like the Philip Morris company asked them to use Monsanto's herbicides and pesticides, assuring them that the products were safe. Through asserting that the toxic chemicals were safe, the farmers state in their claim that the tobacco companies "wrongfully caused the parental and infant plaintiffs to be exposed to those chemicals and substances which they both knew, or should have known, would cause the infant offspring of the parental plaintiffs to be born with devastating birth defects."
The majority of the farmers in the area used Monsanto's Roundup, an herbicide with the active ingredient glyphosate that has shown to be killing human kidney cells. What's more, the farmers say that the tobacco companies pushed Monsanto's Roundup on the farmers despite a lack of protective equipment. In other words, these farmers -- many in dire economic conditions -- were being directly exposed to Roundup in large concentrations without any protective gear (or even experience or skills in handling the substance). Still, the farmers say the tobacco giants required the struggling farmers to 'purchase excessive quantities of Roundup and other pesticides'.
Most shocking, the farmers were ordered to discard leftover herbicides and pesticides in locations in which they leached directly into the water supply. With Monsanto's Roundup already known to be contaminating the groundwater, this comes as a serious threat to pure water supplies.
Johnson & Johnson, subsidiary fined $1.1B in Arkansas suit over antipsychotic drug Risperdol (11 April 2012)
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - An Arkansas judge on Wednesday fined Johnson & Johnson and a subsidiary more than $1.1 billion after a jury found that the companies downplayed and hid risks associated with taking the antipsychotic drug Risperdal.
Circuit Judge Tim Fox determined that Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., committed nearly 240,000 violations of the state's Medicaid fraud law -- or one for each Risperdal prescription issued to state Medicaid patients over a 3 1/2-year period. Each violation carried a $5,000 fine, the state's mandatory minimum amount, bringing the total to more than $1.1 billion.
Fox issued an additional $11 million fine for more than 4,500 violations under the state's deceptive practices act, but he rejected the state's request to levy fines in excess of the $5,000 minimum for the Medicaid violations.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in an emailed statement that the ruling "sends a clear signal that big drug companies like Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals cannot lie to the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), patients and doctors in order to defraud Arkansas taxpayers of our Medicaid dollars."
Why Woodpeckers Don't Get Concussions (11 April 2012)
For woodpeckers, "thick skull" is no insult. In fact, new research shows that a strong skull saves these birds from serious brain injury.
Woodpeckers' head-pounding pecking against trees and telephone poles subjects them to enormous forces -- they can easily slam their beaks against wood with a force 1,000 times that of gravity. (In comparison, Air Force tests in the 1950s pegged the maximum survivable g-force for a human at around 46 times that of gravity, though race-car drivers have reportedly survived crashes of over 100 G's.)
Researchers had previously figured out that thick neck muscles diffuse the blow, and a third inner eyelid prevents the birds' eyeballs from popping out. Now, scientists from Beihang University in Beijing and the Wuhan University of Technology have taken a closer look at the thick bone that cushions a woodpecker's brain. By comparing specimens of great spotted woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major) with the similarly sized Mongolian skylark, the researchers learned that adaptations in the most minute structure of the woodpecker bones give the skull its super strength.
Notably, the woodpecker's brain is surrounded by thick, platelike spongy bone. At a microscopic level, woodpeckers have a large number of trabeculae, tiny beamlike projections of bone that form the mineral "mesh" that makes up this spongy bone plate. These trabeculae are also closer together than they are in the skylark skull, suggesting this microstructure acts as armor protecting the brain.
How Exercise Can Prime the Brain for Addiction (11 April 2012)
So, the researchers propose, the animals that had been running before they were introduced to cocaine had a plentiful supply of new brain cells primed to learn. And what they learned was to crave the drug. Consequently, they had much more difficulty forgetting what they'd learned and moving on from their addiction.
That same mechanism appeared to benefit animals that had started running after becoming addicted. Their new brain cells helped them to rapidly learn to stop associating drug and place, once the cocaine was taken away, and start adjusting to sobriety.
"Fundamentally, the results are encouraging," Dr. Rhodes says. They show that by doubling the production of robust, young neurons, "exercise improves associative learning."
But the findings also underscore that these new cells are indiscriminate and don't care what you learn. They will amplify the process, whether you're memorizing Shakespeare or growing dependent on nicotine.
FDA plan would seek voluntary limits of antibiotics in animal feed (11 April 2012)
The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday finalized a plan that would ask drug companies to voluntarily limit the use of certain antibiotics in animal feed, citing long-held concerns that their overuse in livestock promotes the development of drug resistant bacteria that can infect people.
Currently, many antibiotics that are widely used to treat human illnesses are mixed with animal feed to promote rapid growth and weight gain in the animals. Their prevalence in livestock has been linked in several studies to the creation of drug-resistant "superbugs" that can spread to humans who eat, or even work with, the animals.
The FDA is asking drug companies to revise their product labels and remove growth-promotion in animals as a permissible use, a plan that the agency said many drug makers are willing and ready to adopt. The timetable would be determined through a separate agency proposal, which would give drug companies three months to detail their strategies and three years to phase out the growth-promotion uses.
To make sure the drugs are used solely to target disease treatment and prevention, the government wants veterinarians to prescribe the antibiotics for the first time.
Alcohol sharpens the mind, research finds (11 April 2012)
MEN who drink two pints of beer before tackling brain teasers perform better than those who attempt the riddles sober, scientists have found.
In findings that will be toasted by pub quiz aficionados, researchers found drinkers got more test questions right and were quicker in delivering the right answers.
It is thought alcohol hinders analytical thinking and allows 'creative' thoughts that might otherwise by stifled to take root, allowing test subjects to come up with more imaginative solutions.
Psychologists at the University of Illinois set 40 healthy young men a series of brain teasers. They involved being given three words, such as coin, quick and spoon, and coming up with a fourth word that links the three - in this case, silver.
Justice Dept. sues Apple, publishers over e-book prices (11 April 2012)
The U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday it was suing Apple and five major publishers, alleging they colluded to keep the price of e-books artifically high.
"As a result of this alleged conspiracy, we believe that consumers paid millions of dollars more for some of the most popular titles," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said. "We allege that executives at the highest levels of these companies--concerned that e-book sellers had reduced prices--worked together to eliminate competition."
The suit was filed against Apple as well as HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Hachette Book Group, Penguin Group, and MacMillan.
Three of them -- HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster and Hachette Book Group -- settled with the government, Holder said.
State's hygiene lab tests pollutants from major historical sites (11 April 2012)
Most people are familiar with the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene because of its routine but important work testing everything from well water for contaminants to blood samples for alcohol levels.
But tucked away in various corners of the laboratory on Madison's Far East Side are hints of a lesser-known and stranger science. Ice cores from the Greenland ice cap, for example. Scrapings from the walls of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Air samples from the refectory of Santa Maria Delle Grazie Church in Milan, Italy, home to Da Vinci's "The Last Supper."
Though they may seem connected, these collections have ended up in Madison because of unique and sought-after research skills for which the state laboratory is internationally known. Researchers at the lab have developed and perfected precise techniques for measuring invisible substances that pollute the air and using the data to pinpoint the source of the pollution.
Thus, it makes sense that officials in India, concerned about the pollution darkening the walls of the Taj Mahal, would call on scientists at the lab, specifically Martin Shafer, who specializes in measuring, analyzing and ferreting out the source of air contaminants.
Charles Manson quickly denied parole (11 April 2012)
A California parole board Wednesday quickly rejected parole for convicted mass murderer Charles Manson, a prison spokesman said.
Manson did not attend the hearing, which was the 12th in which state officials concluded Manson was too great a danger to be released.
The board was expected to make a ruling Wednesday afternoon, and it's unclear exactly why the decision was rendered so quickly.
Before the hearing, his attorney, DeJon R. Lewis, said he would like to see Manson transferred to Atascadero State Hospital from the state prison near Corcoran. "Charles Manson does not need incarceration at this point in his life," Lewis told CNN. "He needs hospitalization."
Manson and other members of his so-called family were convicted of killing actress Sharon Tate and six other people during a bloody rampage in the Los Angeles area during two August nights in 1969. He is housed at Corcoran State Prison in a special unit for inmates felt to be endangered by other inmates, separate from the general prison population.
Peruvian miners rescued from collapsed mine (11 April 2012)
ICA, Peru (AP) -- Nine Peruvian miners were rescued Wednesday after six days trapped in an abandoned copper mine.
The nine, ranging in age from 23 to 58, walked out without assistance about an hour after dawn from a reinforced tunnel that rescuers had built as they removed more than 26 feet (8 meters) of dirt and rock.
The miners wore sunglasses and were covered with blankets. President Ollanta Humala greeted them.
Humala had spent the night at the mine 150 miles (240 kilometers) southeast of Lima.
Insight: China's coalbeds spur unconventional gas supply boom (11 April 2012)
(Reuters) - After more than a century ripping out its insides to supply coal to the rest of the country, the heavily mined and polluted province of Shanxi in northern China is in the midst of a gas boom.
Under the spray of the Yellow River near the city of Jincheng, "nodding donkeys" bob in lines that stretch to the horizon, hitched up amidst precious farmland to feed on the gas streaming through the coal seams below.
Gleaming white storage tanks tower over the highways and dozens of drilling rigs dot the cliffs and valleys, some near the famed ancient cave settlements of Shanxi.
Gas output from the coal seams is rising fast and is set to hit 8 billion cubic meters (bcm) this year, up a half from 2011 - emerging from nowhere just six years ago to provide China with a cleaner, home-grown alternative fuel for the future.
Rendition evidence cannot be shown to MPs, US judge rules (11 April 2012)
The US is preventing MPs from seeing evidence of British involvement in the CIA's practice of secretly sending terror suspects to prisons where they faced torture.
A federal judge in Washington has used a particular section of the US Freedom of Information Act to block a request from the all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition chaired by the senior Conservative backbencher Andrew Tyrie.
The judge, Ricardo Urbina, ruled that the information must be withheld on the grounds that the parliamentary body was part of a "foreign government entity". Tony Lloyd, a deputy chair of the committee and Labour MP for Manchester Central, described the ruling as "odd". He said it seemed as though the US was looking for an excuse to withhold the information.
It would have been more understandable had the US blocked the request on national security grounds, Lloyd said. "It's an abuse of the spirit of freedom of information," he said. To claim that a parliamentary body was part of the British state was "not acceptable", Lloyd added.
Sudan vows to retake Heglig oil fields from South Sudan (11 April 2012)
Sudan has vowed to use "all legitimate means" to repulse South Sudan from its largest oil field, a statement on the official Suna news agency says.
South Sudanese troops seized control of Heglig on Tuesday, as heavy fighting raged for a second day.
Both sides blame each other for the latest conflicts along the undemarcated and disputed oil-rich border area.
Fierce clashes over the past two weeks have fuelled fears of a return to outright war.
Oil-rich Heglig is usually recognised as being part of the north, although South Sudan disputes this.
"Kony 2012" group confirms WikiLeaks spy allegation (10 April 2012)
The non-profit group Invisible Children has confirmed that a U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, which claims the group fed intelligence to the Ugandan government to enable the 2009 arrest of a central resistance figure, is in fact true.
"In 2009, Invisible Children was contacted by a member at the US Embassy in Kampala regarding Patrick Komakech, a former [Lord's Resistance Army] combatant who Invisible Children had been supporting in attempts to assist with his personal recovery and academic development, in keeping with Invisible Children's mandate to provide assistance to individuals affected by LRA violence," an Invisible Children spokesperson told Raw Story in an email.
"At the time, it was brought to our attention that Mr. Komakech and a group of others were allegedly involved in activities that could be jeopardizing the lives of civilians and putting the organization and its staff at risk," the spokesperson added. "Invisible Children was deeply saddened to learn of these allegations; the organization was cooperative in providing information to the US Embassy regarding the nature of our relationship with and academic support to Mr. Komakech.
"In light of the severity of these allegations, the organization severed all ties immediately with Mr. Komakech," they concluded. "In this case and as always, Invisible Children acts in good faith to preserve the integrity of our programming and uphold the protection of human rights in the communities we work."
Seaweed linked to post-menopause cancer risk (11 April 2012)
A Japanese study Wednesday said regular seaweed consumption among post-menopausal women heightened their risk of developingthyroid cancer, linking it to iodine in the macrobiotic food.
A 14-year national survey of nearly 53,000 Japanese women, aged between 40 and 69, found that the group reported 134 thyroid cancer cases, including 113 cases of papillary carcinoma, a common type of the illness.
Those who ate seaweed daily were 1.7 times more likely to developcancer than those who ate it no more than twice a week, the study said.
The risk more than doubled among post-menopausal women who were about 3.8 times more likely to develop the cancer than those who limited their consumption of seaweed, a popular food in Japan, the study said.
Bat-killing fungus likely came from Europe (10 April 2012)
The fungus Geomyces destructans, which exists naturally in North America as well as Europe, causes the deadly syndrome. It's typically found in cool, humid environments such as the caves where bats prefer to hibernate. It can cause bats to wake up during hibernation, move out too early and die from starvation.
But the fungus hasn't caused mass bat deaths overseas and North American bats started to die off only about five years ago, Willis said.
Either the North American fungus mutated to harm bats, or the European fungus was inadvertently imported here and North American bats haven't evolved to cope with it, Willis and a team of Canadian and U.S. researchers hypothesized.
Researchers infected two groups of little brown bats with the versions of the fungus. They found that both fungi harmed the bats but the European one was more damaging. If the North American version had mutated, it would likely have been "especially nasty," Willis explained.
The most reasonable hypothesis, then, is the "accidental tourist introduction idea." "Someone possibly picked it up in Europe, then visited a cave over here," he said, adding that the fungus can survive on clothing and boots.
No d'oh! Oregon town is 'Simpsons' Springfield (11 April 2012)
Matt Groening has finally revealed where the Springfield that serves as the hometown for "The Simpsons" actually is.
And, given that he grew up in Portland, it's not too big a shock.
Groening admits what every Oregonian probably believed from the start, which is that Springfield, Ore., is where he got the name for the animated family's hometown.
In an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, Groening admits he has been giving fake answers for years when asked which Springfield was the Springfield.
Employers posted 3.5 million job openings in February (10 April 2012)
Employers posted slightly more job openings and stepped up overall hiring in February. The figures suggest that modest job gains may continue in the coming months.
The Labor Department says employers posted 3.5 million job openings in February, up slightly from a revised 3.48 million in January. Job openings reached a three-year high of 3.54 million in December.
The data come after a disappointing jobs report last week. Employers added only 120,000 jobs in March, about half the average that were added in the previous three months.
The unemployment rate fell to 8.2 percent, though that was mostly because people gave looking for work.
PAM COMMENTARY: That seems to be the trend in this recession/depression -- almost all of the advertised job openings are "unfunded," and they close without hiring anyone at all.
Bush wishes his name wasn't attached to tax cuts (10 April 2012)
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Former President George W. Bush said Tuesday he wishes his name wasn't so firmly attached to one of his administration's signature pieces of legislation -- the broad-based tax cuts set to expire at the end of this year.
"I wish they weren't called the Bush tax cuts. If they were called someone else's tax cuts, they'd be less likely to be raised," he said in introductory remarks at a conference at the New York Historical Society.
The former president repeated the argument often used by Republicans -- that eliminating those tax cuts for the wealthy, as Democrats have proposed, would hit small businesses and hurt hiring.
"If you raise taxes on these so-called rich, you're really raising taxes on the job creators," he said at the conference, which was sponsored by the Bush Institute, which he opened after leaving office. "And if the goal is to create private sector growth, you have to recognize that the best way is to leave capital in the treasuries of the job creators."
PAM COMMENTARY: He still refuses to admit that he ruined the economy... And he still looks stoned.
Proposed 'Natural Health Products Bill' in New Zealand would fine individuals $50,000 for making a cup of unapproved herbal tea (10 April 2012)
(NaturalNews) The health freedom of New Zealanders is under very serious threat, as the federal government there pushes to pass a bill known as the Natural Health Products Bill (NHPB), or Bill 324-1, that will bring the nation into compliance with the overbearing and authoritarian food and health restrictions found in Codex Alimentarius, the so-called world food code.
If passed, NHPB will combine with the equally-threatening New Zealand Food Bill (http://www.naturalnews.com) to make it essentially illegal for individuals to even prepare for themselves, let alone try to sell, herbal products and teas, vitamins and supplements, or any other natural products that are not explicitly approved by the government as acceptable.
Overturning the common law principles of freedom that have triumphed in New Zealand for centuries, Bill 324-1 will require that all herbal remedies, traditional treatments, homeopathic remedies and dietary supplements first be approved -- and very strictly regulated -- by the government before being allowed to be sold or even prepared for one's own personal use.
"The system will, for the first time in New Zealand, introduce risk-based regulation of natural health products," says Bill 324-1. In simple terms, this means that natural herbs, vitamins, minerals, and all other nutrients used to promote health and prevent disease will be subject to the same corrupt regulatory approval process that pharmaceutical drugs are, which will in turn make it difficult or even impossible for New Zealanders to access many of these products in the future.
Facebook snaps up Instagram app for $1 billion (10 April 2012)
Facebook took steps Monday to bolster its mobile strategy, acquiring popular photo-sharing application Instagram for about $1 billion in cash and stock.
The purchase, the social network's largest and the most expensive by far for a smart-phone app, gives Facebook a company that's adept at producing mobile apps as well as a passionate community of more than 30 million users. It also neutralizes a potential competitive threat from the San Francisco startup, whose 28-year-old co-founder has talked about building a large global business.
The move comes on the eve of an expected initial public offering from Facebook that could value the Menlo Park company at $100 billion.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that the deal was unusual for a company that traditionally has bought startups primarily for their engineering talent. The price tag makes it one of the priciest startup acquisitions ever, in the same league as Google's purchase of YouTube for $1.65 billion in 2006.
UW System schools pay agencies for international students (10 April 2012)
Seven University of Wisconsin System campuses pay foreign agencies to help them recruit international students, sometimes spending more than $1,000 per student, according to a State Journal survey of the 13 four-year campuses and the System's two-year colleges.
The practice of paying commissions for each recruited international student is common yet controversial. It's banned within the U.S. but largely unregulated abroad.
"It's something we would collectively, I think, agree is completely unethical here," said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. "How does it become acceptable just because the targets are foreign nationals?"
Commission-based agents are motivated by money, not by making the perfect match between a student and a school, critics say. Agents working for Dickinson State University in North Dakota, for example, reportedly misrepresented themselves as employees of the school, giving students inaccurate information about majors and degree requirements. An agency hired by UW-Stevens Point allegedly falsified admissions information to get foreign students accepted into U.S. colleges. Stevens Point has since stopped using that company.
PAM COMMENTARY: As I was leaving UW in the late 1980s, the strategy of its new administrators (among them Donna Shalala -- later to become President Clinton's Health and Human Services Secretary) was to reduce the number of state residents attending the university -- after state taxes had built the university system into one of the top ten universities in America according to The Chronicle of Higher Education's survey of Deans of American colleges.
Rather, Shalala and others changed policies to encourage more foreign students to enroll because foreign students paid higher tuition -- or as some of my fellow student politicians called it, "cheating the middle class out of an education." The last time I checked, UW no longer made the top ten list, no doubt due to all of those past policy changes. The "new" administrators wanted to use the university as a revenue stream, even though there was no need and no pressure to do so.
Dental X-rays linked to brain tumors (10 April 2012)
People who get regular dental X-rays are more likely to suffer a common type of brain tumor, US researchers said on Tuesday, suggesting that yearly exams may not be best for most patients.
The study in the US journal Cancer showed people diagnosed with meningioma who reported having a yearly bitewing exam were 1.4 times to 1.9 times as likely as a healthy control group to have developed such tumors.
A bitewing exam involves an X-ray film being held in place by a tab between the teeth.
Also, people who reported getting a yearly panorex exam -- in which an X-ray is taken outside the mouth and shows all the teeth on one film -- were 2.7 to three times more likely to develop cancer, said the study.
Britain to fight landmark ban on chemical linked to cancer (10 April 2012)
Britain and other EU member states are opposing a new law which would ban a common chemical which has been linked to breast cancer, heart disease, obesity and other conditions.
The UK, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy, Slovenia and Spain have objected to a French plan to ban bisphenol A, or BPA, from food packaging by 2014, saying the move -- arising from a hazard assessment by France's Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety -- would breach trade rules. In Britain, the BPA is deemed to be safe by the Food Standards Agency. The UK has told the European Commission the draft French law does not follow sound science.
Elizabeth Salter Green, director of the pressure group Chem Trust, said: "The UK is trying to scupper the French ban, but it is not alone. Many member states seem to want to stop the French initiative. I feel this is very much a reflection of what industry wants. The UK does not manufacture BPA, but we do use it a lot in consumer products."
The row is the latest twist in the scientific and political dispute over the plastics hardener, which mimics the female hormone oestrogen -- and is found in televisions, mobile phones, flooring, dental sealants and the plastic lining inside food and drink cans.
Flame retardant chemicals show up in High Arctic (7 April 2012)
New research shows chemicals commonly used to keep flames from spreading are now being found in northern environments.
Environment Canada scientist Dr. Hayley Hung has found new flame retardants -- chemicals often sprayed onto products like furniture, computer equipment or children's clothing -- are drifting from the south all the way up to the High Arctic.
The chemicals were detected at an Environment Canada air-monitoring station at Alert, Nunavut, about 800 kilometres from the North Pole.
"These are the first evidence that these chemicals that are usually present in more populated areas do show up in more remote locations," said Hung.
Mark La Guardia, a researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, has studied the flame retardants and said they can take a long time to break down, and they accumulate in plants and animals.
"You can't take it back once it's out there," he said. "And if we keep on putting them out there, then sooner or later we may have a serious problem."
Pantanal: protecting the world's largest wetland - Guardian video (10 April 2012)
The world's largest wetland, the Pantanal in South America, is a paradise for wildlife. Its annual cycles of flooding and drought create a strikingly beautiful and rich ecosystem. It is a haven for almost 5,000 species of animals and plants, and attracts about a million tourists a year -- joining the eight million people who live there. The region's 'ecosystems services', such as irrigation of agriculture and wildlife tourism, have been valued at $112bn a year. But this paradise is at serious risk.
PAM COMMENTARY: This video starts, with sound, without the reader taking any action.
At least 10 species arrive early in Wisconsin (9 April 2012)
News of Wisconsin's rare spring heat wave traveled far - even black-necked stilts, blue-gray gnatcatchers and Savannah sparrows knew March felt like July.
So they revised their travel plans.
A record number of migratory birds have arrived much earlier than normal this spring, setting the birding community in Wisconsin aflutter. Birders are tweeting, emailing and posting messages to each other when they're not outdoors with upturned faces affixed with binoculars.
"People are excited," said Tom Prestby, a Department of Natural Resources bird research technician. "It's always really cool - especially if you're one of the people lucky enough to find them - to know you're contributing to the record book."
At least 10 early arrival records of migratory bird species are likely to be broken, pending approval by the records committee of the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology. Most of Wisconsin's early migrant birds spend the winter in the southern United States, Mexico or the Caribbean. More records are expected to be broken this month as birds that winter in Central and South America begin to show up.
The warmth is shattering records across the United States.
Petrobras Notified of Oil Leak Near Chevron Frade Area (10 April 2012)
Petroleo Brasileiro SA (PETR4), the country's state-controlled oil company, is leaking crude from the seabed near where Chevron Corp. (CVX) has had two spills since November, the country's oil regulator said.
The leak from the Roncador field is near the Frade field operated by Chevron Corp., where a spill was detected in November and a seep was found in March, ANP said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. The agency expected to get crude test results over the next two days to determine the source of the leak, according to the statement.
Petrobras, as the Rio de Janeiro-based company is known, confirmed the leak in a separate e-mailed statement yesterday.
Chevron discovered the oil seep on April 7 while it was investigating the ocean floor near Frade and determined it was outside the contract boundary, spokesman Kurt Glaubitz said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. The spill is coming from Petrobras' Roncador field in the Campos Basin, the second- biggest producing field in Brazil, ANP said.
No oil from the leak has reached the surface, according to ANP and Petrobras.
A leak of 3,000 barrels of crude into the Atlantic Ocean off Rio de Janeiro's coast in November and a seep last month have led to probes against Chevron and Transocean Ltd. (RIG), which operated the rig at Frade. Federal prosecutor Eduardo Santos de Oliveira has filed a total of 40 billion reais ($22 billion) in two lawsuits and pressed criminal charges against executives of the two companies last month, seeking penalties of up to 31 years in prison.
Analysis: Oil firms hurt by Gulf spill welcome back drill rigs (10 April 2012)
(Reuters) - Gulf of Mexico oil drillers will be busier this year than at any point since the BP (BP.L) oil spill in 2010 that upended their industry and soiled their reputation along with parts of the marshy Louisiana coast.
Eight more deepwater rigs are expected in the Gulf this year, based on what oil companies tell contractors including Transocean (RIGN.VX), Ensco (ESV.N) and Seadrill (SDRL.OL). Such an influx would bring the active deepwater count to 29, just short of the level before the well blowout two years ago this month that killed 11 people and destroyed a Transocean rig.
The rebound cannot come soon enough for companies that rely on the drilling business. While the increasingly varied economy of southern Louisiana may be recovering, no sector pays like oil and gas. Energy has been part of the state's commercial fabric since the first offshore boom during the 1970s oil crisis, when crude was much cheaper than it is now.
More Gulf activity could help President Barack Obama, ahead of the November 6 election, as he tries to fend off charges from some Republicans and the industry that drilling has not recovered after the spill due to new rules and slow permitting.
Video: US students pepper sprayed at protest over tuition fees (9 April 2012)
AMATEUR footage shows students in California crying and screaming after they were pepper sprayed during a rally against a tuition fees hike.
Around 30 students from Santa Monica college in California were overcome by the caustic substance after a campus police officer sprayed at a crowd of people as they attempted to enter a meeting on Tuesday.
A number of college staff and other police personnel were also affected by the pepper spray release.
Footage of the incident showed dozens of shrieking students clutching their hands over their eyes and pushing their way past police as they tried to flee through a hallway.
Special report: Rendition ordeal that raises new questions about secret trials (8 April 2012)
Just when Fatima Bouchar thought it couldn't get any worse, the Americans forced her to lie on a stretcher and began wrapping tape around her feet. They moved upwards, she says, along her legs, winding the tape around and around, binding her to the stretcher. They taped her stomach, her arms and then her chest. She was bound tight, unable to move.
Bouchar says there were three Americans: two tall, thin men and an equally tall woman. Mostly they were silent. She never saw their faces: they dressed in black and always wore black balaclavas. Bouchar was terrified. They didn't stop at her chest -- she says they also wound the tape around her head, covering her eyes. Then they put a hood and earmuffs on her. She was unable to move, to hear or to see. "My left eye was closed when the tape was applied," she says, speaking about her ordeal for the first time. "But my right eye was open, and it stayed open throughout the journey. It was agony." The journey would last around 17 hours.
Bouchar, then aged 30, had become a victim of the process known as extraordinary rendition. She and her husband, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a Libyan Islamist militant fighting Muammar Gaddafi, had been abducted in Bangkok and were being flown to one of Gaddafi's prisons in Libya, a country where she had never before set foot. However, Bouchar's case is different from the countless other renditions that the world has learned about over the past few years, and not just because she was one of the few female victims.
Documents discovered in Tripoli show that the operation was initiated by British intelligence officers, rather than the masked Americans or their superiors in the US. There is also some evidence that the operation may have been linked to a second British-initiated operation, which saw two men detained in Iraq and rendered to Afghanistan. Furthermore, the timing of the operation, and the questions that Bouchar's husband and a second rendition victim say were subsequently put to them under torture, raise disturbing new questions about the secret court system that considers immigration appeals in terrorist cases in the UK -- a system that the government has pledged to extend to civil trials in which the government itself is the defendant.
Fukushima radiation found in California kelp (8 April 2012)
Kelp off California was contaminated with short-lived radioisotopes a month after Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant accident, a sign that the spilled radiation reached the state's coastline, according to a new scientific study.
Scientists from CSU Long Beach tested giant kelp collected off Orange County, Santa Cruz and other locations after the March 2011 accident and detected radioactive iodine, which was released from the damaged nuclear reactor.
The largest concentration was about 250 times higher than levels found in kelp before the accident.
"Basically, we saw it in all the California kelp blades we sampled," said Steven Manley, a CSU Long Beach biology professor who specializes in kelp.
Indian forest-dwellers take battle against mining conglomerate to supreme court (8 April 2012)
The leaders of thousands of forest-dwelling tribesmen who have fought for years to preserve their ancestral lands from exploitation by an international mining corporation have promised to continue their struggle whatever the decision in a key hearing before India's supreme court on Monday.
Dubbed the "real life Avatar" after the Hollywood blockbuster, the battle of the Dongria Kondh people to stop London-based conglomerate Vedanta Resources mining bauxite from a hillside they consider sacred has attracted international support. Celebrities backing the campaign include James Cameron, the director of Avatar, Arundhati Roy, the Booker prize-winning author, as well as British actors Joanna Lumley and Michael Palin.
On Monday the court will decide on an appeal by Vedanta against a ministerial decision in 2010 that stopped work at the site in the Niyamgiri hills of India's eastern Orissa state.
Lingaraj Azad, a leader of the Save Niyamgiri Committee, said the Dongria Kondh's campaign "is not just that of an isolated tribe for its customary rights over its traditional lands and habitats, but that of the entire world over protecting our natural heritage".
World's rarest ducklings Madagascan pochards hatch (6 April 2012)
Eighteen Madagascan pochards - the world's most endangered duck - have hatched in a captive breeding centre.
This brings the world population of the ducks to just 60.
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the groups leading the captive breeding programme, say this "builds hope that the bird can be saved from extinction".
The precious pochards are being reared at a specially built centre in Antsohihy, Madagascar.
The battle to save Israel's biblical-era desert dogs (9 April 2012)
Motorists thundering past on the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway probably never notice the modest kennels set slightly back from the road in the British Mandate-era buildings that are home to Israel's only breeding programme for the native, biblical-era Canaan dog.
Indeed, many Israelis have never even heard of the Canaan dog -- distinctive for its pointed ears, curled tail and fiercely independent spirit -- even though it is the country's national breed.
Owing to a land dispute, the future of the little-known Canaan is now in doubt. Myrna Shiboleth, a diminutive Israeli originally from Chicago, who has devoted years to ensuring the survival of the breed at the Shaar Hagi kennels south of Jerusalem, is now fighting an eviction order from the Israeli government.
If forced to leave her home of four decades, Mrs Shiboleth says she will almost certainly have to end her breeding project. Experts fear the abandonment of the programme could lead to the extinction of the Canaan breed within a generation, robbing Israel of an important part of its history.
Studies show how pesticides make bees lose their way (29 March 2012)
The treated colonies were on average eight to 12 percent smaller than the control colonies at the end of the experiment, and also produced about 85 percent fewer queens - a finding that is key because queens produce the next generation of bees.
In the separate study, a team led by Mickael Henry of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in Avignon tagged free-ranging honeybees with tiny radio-frequency identification microchips glued to each bee's back. This allowed them to track the bees as they came and went from hives.
The researchers gave some of the bees a low dose of the neonicotinoid pesticide thiamethoxam which they knew would not kill them and compared them to a control group of bees that was not exposed to the pesticide.
The treated bees were about two to three times more likely to die while away from their nests, and the researchers said this was probably because the pesticide interfered with the bees' homing systems, so they couldn't find their way home.
Your Easter egg just might hatch ... a dinosaur? (8 April 2012)
The research started as an analysis of a newly discovered 70-million-year-old egg, one that would've been laid by a mama dinosaur during the Late Cretaceous when Tyrannosaurus rex walked the earth. The researchers named the new species, whose egg was discovered in the Pyrenees, Sankofa pyrenaica. (Sankofa is an Ashanti word meaning "learning from the past.")
To figure out if the egg belonged to an ancient bird or its dinosaur relatives, the team compared the shapes of eggs from birds and dinosaurs. They came up with a mathematical formula to determine and describe all possible egg shapes; next they plotted real eggs, based on size and shape, into this "egg morphospace."
"We found that different species have different-shaped eggs, and that the eggs of dinosaurs are not the same shape as the eggs of birds," study researcher Enric Vicens, of the Universitat Autonoma of Barcelona, in Spain, said in a statement.
In general, birds' eggs tend to be more rounded than dinosaur eggs, which are more elongated, the researchers found. Dinosaur eggs "also tend to be more symmetrical with less distinction between the blunt and the more pointed end," Vicens said.
Shale oil: from curse to cure for East Coast refiners? (4 April 2012)
(Reuters) - In 1902, the S.S. Paraguay set sail from Texas carrying the first shipment of 400,000 barrels of oil from the Spindletop field to a new refinery on the Delaware River.
The Pew family, which had large holdings in Texas, built the plant to help absorb the gusher of crude that had unexpectedly emerged in east Texas, which lacked refining capacity and sufficient demand for the fuel. The Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania plant, perched at the tip of a spit of land, would provide both.
Amid another U.S. oil market upheaval more than a century later, the roles are reversed: a new kind of oil from Texas and North Dakota may rescue some East Coast refiners from the brink of oblivion, providing a local alternative to the costly imported crude that had threatened to put them out of business.
While it appears too late to spare Marcus Hook, which has been shuttered since December, evidence of new buying interest has emerged this week for two other major plants, potentially saving the Northeast region from a summer fuel squeeze that had unnerved politicians all the way to the White House.
Sony 'to cut 10,000 jobs worldwide' (9 April 2012)
Sony will cut about 10,000 jobs worldwide over the next year as it tries to return to profit, Japanese news reports say.
The Nikkei business daily and other media said Sony's decision to slash 6% of its workforce comes as it struggles with weak TV sales and swelling losses.
Sony spokeswoman Yoko Yasukouchi would not confirm the reports.
New CEO Kazuo Hirai is holding a press conference on Thursday.
Welfare Limits Left Poor Adrift as Recession Hit (8 April 2012)
Phoenix -- Perhaps no law in the past generation has drawn more praise than the drive to "end welfare as we know it," which joined the late-'90s economic boom to send caseloads plunging, employment rates rising and officials of both parties hailing the virtues of tough love.
But the distress of the last four years has added a cautionary postscript: much as overlooked critics of the restrictions once warned, a program that built its reputation when times were good offered little help when jobs disappeared. Despite the worst economy in decades, the cash welfare rolls have barely budged.
Faced with flat federal financing and rising need, Arizona is one of 16 states that have cut their welfare caseloads further since the start of the recession -- in its case, by half. Even as it turned away the needy, Arizona spent most of its federal welfare dollars on other programs, using permissive rules to plug state budget gaps.
The poor people who were dropped from cash assistance here, mostly single mothers, talk with surprising openness about the desperate, and sometimes illegal, ways they make ends meet. They have sold food stamps, sold blood, skipped meals, shoplifted, doubled up with friends, scavenged trash bins for bottles and cans and returned to relationships with violent partners -- all with children in tow.
Dread turns to amazement as casualties hold to zero (8 April 2012)
That's the question everyone is asking.
How does a 30,000-pound fighter jet fall from the sky, slam into a crowded neighborhood, burst into a fireball, incinerate dozens of apartments -- and kill no one?
On Saturday, one day after a Navy F/A-18D crashed into the Mayfair Mews apartments on Birdneck Road, everyone on the ground was declared safe and accounted for, and both pilots had been released from the hospital.
CBS "60 Minutes" Journalist Mike Wallace dies, 1918-2012
(8 April 2012)
(CBS News) For half a century, he took on corrupt politicians, scam artists and bureaucratic bumblers. His visits were preceded by the four dreaded words: Mike Wallace is here.
Wallace took to heart the old reporter's pledge to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. He characterized himself as "nosy and insistent."
So insistent, there were very few 20th century icons who didn't submit to a Mike Wallace interview. He lectured Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, on corruption. He lectured Yassir Arafat on violence.
He asked the Ayatollah Khoumeini if he were crazy.
He traveled with Martin Luther King (whom Wallace called his hero). He grappled with Louis Farrakhan.
And he interviewed Malcolm X shortly before his assassination.
Wisconsin Republican: Gender discrimination in workplace is all in your head (7 April 2012)
Wisconsin state senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) wants women to know that the whole concept of wage discrimination is all in their heads. "It's an underreported problem," Grothman told The Daily Beast, "but a huge number of discrimination claims are baseless. Most of them are filed by fired employees, and really today almost anybody is a protected class."
It was this rationale that led the senator to spearhead the drive to repeal Wisconsin's 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act, the state's equivalent of the Ledbetter Act, the federal law that helped provide the means for workers to pursue discrimination claims against employers.
Governor Scott Walker (R) signed the repeal of the Equal Pay Enforcement Act into law on Thursday. The repeal, now known as Act 219, was brought before Walker after passing in party-line votes in the Republican-dominated state senate and state assembly.
One of the authors of the Equal Pay Enforcement Act, Democratic state senator Christine Sinicki (Milwaukee) said of Act 219, "This whole (legislative) session has been anti-woman and anti-middle class, and this fits right in with that agenda."
Public gets chance to sound off on crane hunt at Monday hearings (7 April 2012)
The battle over a sandhill crane hunt in Wisconsin isn't over. In fact, it might just be starting.
The Wisconsin Conservation Congress plans to ask the public whether a hunt is a good idea at its spring hearings Monday, less than a month after a Republican bill that would have created a hunt died in the Legislature after bird lovers railed that hunters already kill enough animals. (See the attached PDF for a list of the hearings.)
The question promises to re-ignite a heated debate. Wisconsin prides itself on its hunting heritage. Hunting advocates argue the sandhill population is out of control and the birds devour farmers' corn seeds. But the state also is home to the International Crane Foundation, one of the world's leading crane protection organizations, not to mention throngs of people who admire sandhills.
"I'm really not surprised it's being brought up again, simply because I understand the nature of hunting in Wisconsin," said Lyn Young Lorenz of Poynette, who has volunteered for three decades to count sandhills for the foundation. "I just don't think it's necessary. If people lived near a wetland or paid attention to sandhill cranes the way I have for 30 years, they wouldn't be asking for this."
Sandhill cranes are tall, elegant creatures with huge wing spans and a call that sounds like something out of "Jurassic Park." The bird was hunted to near extinction around the turn of the 20th century, but the species has since rebounded and is now found throughout North America and eastern Siberia.
PAM COMMENTARY: I can't believe they're even considering this -- sandhill cranes aren't that easy to find, even in Wisconsin. Outside of Horicon Marsh, you'd be lucky to spot a group of them once or twice a year, usually around migration time when they're flying their chicks around, helping the chicks to build strength for the winter migration.
Whales sensed Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster (8 April 2012)
A technique that monitors whales through the sounds they emit has answered a key issue raised by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago this month.
The sound-monitoring technique revealed that sperm whales retreated from the immediate area around the spill caused by the explosion.
"There's obvious evidence of relocation," said team member Azmy Ackleh, professor and head of mathematics at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The discovery is important because it provides information about a species almost hunted to extinction for its valuable oil in the 19th century.
Hackers 'shut down' Home Office website (7 April 2012)
An apparent 'denial of service' attack, made it impossible to access the Home Office website for at least an hour.
Those trying to access the website were instead confronted by a notice that "Due to a high volume of traffic this page is currently unavailable."
The attack appeared to have been partly in protest at extradition proceedings against Gary McKinnon, 46, who is accused of hacking US military computers.
Other posts about "draconian surveillance proposals" suggested the hackers were also angry about recent Government draft proposals that would potentially allow the security services to monitor every email, phone call and website visit to see who people were contacting and what websites they were looking at.
'War on drugs' has failed, say Latin American leaders (7 April 2012)
Otto Pérez Molina, the president of Guatemala, who as former head of his country's military intelligence service experienced the power of drug cartels at close hand, is pushing his fellow Latin American leaders to use the summit to endorse a new regional security plan that would see an end to prohibition. In the Observer, Pérez Molina writes: "The prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that global drug markets can be eradicated."
Pérez Molina concedes that moving beyond prohibition is problematic. "To suggest liberalisation -- allowing consumption, production and trafficking of drugs without any restriction whatsoever -- would be, in my opinion, profoundly irresponsible. Even more, it is an absurd proposition. If we accept regulations for alcoholic drinks and tobacco consumption and production, why should we allow drugs to be consumed and produced without any restrictions?"
He insists, however, that prohibition has failed and an alternative system must be found. "Our proposal as the Guatemalan government is to abandon any ideological consideration regarding drug policy (whether prohibition or liberalisation) and to foster a global intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach to drug regulation. Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that drug consumption and production should be legalised, but within certain limits and conditions."
The decision by Pérez Molina to speak out is seen as highly significant and not without political risk. Polls suggest the vast majority of Guatemalans oppose decriminalisation, but Pérez Molina's comments are seen by many as helping to usher in a new era of debate. They will be studied closely by foreign policy experts who detect that Latin American leaders are shifting their stance on prohibition following decades of drugs wars that have left hundreds of thousands dead.
Natural gas glut means drilling boom must slow (8 April 2012)
NEW YORK (AP) -- The U.S. natural gas market is bursting at the seams.
So much natural gas is being produced that soon there may be nowhere left to put the country's swelling surplus. After years of explosive growth, natural gas producers are retrenching.
The underground salt caverns, depleted oil fields and aquifers that store natural gas are rapidly filling up after a balmy winter depressed demand for home heating.
The glut has benefited businesses and homeowners that use natural gas. But with natural gas prices at a 10-year low -- and falling -- companies that produce the fuel are becoming victims of their drilling successes. Their stock prices are falling in anticipation of declining profits and scaled-back growth plans.
Beet Cakes (vegan potato pancakes) (8 April 2012)
PAM COMMENTARY: I was going through visitor statistics this morning, and noticed that my Beet Cakes recipe was number eight on the "top ten" list. Normally it doesn't even appear in the top ten.
The Beet Cakes in my cookbook are a type of potato pancake, a vegan variety. I assume their new popularity is due to the Passover religious holiday, when potato pancakes are very popular.
When I first mixed shredded beets, carrots, and potatoes together to make a new potato pancake, I thought the result would be a tri-colored pancake. Not so. The beets stain everything purplish red. Beet Cakes are actually a very pretty color of purplish red, pink, or magenta, and they're a little less starchy and sweeter than simple potato pancakes. It's actually flattering that people are using my recipe for their religious holiday, and I can try to guess why. If you're inviting the relatives over, or trying to get children to eat their food, the visual presentation is very nice. How can a kid resist magenta-colored food?
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Sources (if found on major news boards):
[AJ] - InfoWars.com, PrisonPlanet.com, or other Alex Jones-affiliated sites
[BF] - BuzzFlash.com
[DN] - DemocracyNow.org
[R] - Rense.com
[WRH] - WhatReallyHappened.com