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Click to visit VeggieCooking.com NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2012

News from the Week of 15th to 21st of April 2012

Wisconsin Planned Parenthood to halt abortion drugs due to controversial new law, becomes recall election issue (20 April 2012)
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin announced Friday that it will stop providing drugs to women for abortions in the first nine weeks of pregnancy - a method used in about a fourth of the provider's abortions - because it says a new state law that criminalizes a physician's failure to follow a legislative-prescribed procedure is vague.

The new law, which went into effect Friday, requires the physician to inform the woman that she must return to the abortion facility for a follow-up visit 12 to 18 days after she takes the medication at home. The physician prescribing the drug also must perform an examination before giving the drug and must be physically present in the room when the woman receives the drug.

The law aims to ensure doctors aren't using Web cameras to consult with women about abortion-inducing drugs, as they do in some states to make abortions more easily available in rural areas. Supporters say the law sets a minimum standard of care for abortion providers.

Doctors who fail to tell women they must return to the clinic for a checkup face a maximum $10,000 fine; physicians who don't give an examination in person and who aren't in the room when the drug is given could face up to 3½ years in prison.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin still will provide surgical abortions. And the new law does not affect emergency contraception medication that women take within five days of intercourse to prevent, rather than terminate pregnancy.
[Read more...]

Police arrest dozens of protesters trying to disrupt Montreal conference (21 April 2012)
MONTREAL -- Police moved swiftly to shut down a protest in Montreal on Saturday, a day after a series of violent clashes between demonstrators and officers.

Between 50 and 75 people, some wearing masks and goggles, were arrested after the protest was declared illegal, police said.

Demonstrators had gathered in the rain to denounce a conference on Premier Jean Charest's plan to develop northern Quebec.

Those protesting included a group of hardline Quebec separatists, along with students, environmentalists and First Nations groups.
[Read more...]

Secret Service scandal: Rising supervisor set uncovering of misconduct in motion (21 April 2012)
Paula Reid, the new Secret Service boss for the South American region, was in Cartagena, Colombia, preparing for the president's visit when she received an urgent report: A prostitute, upset because she had not been paid by a Secret Service agent, had created a disturbance in a nearby hotel, knocking on doors and yelling in the hallways at daybreak.

With roughly 24 hours left until President Obama was due to arrive in town, the 46-year-old Calvert County native instructed her staff to swoop into the Hotel Caribe at midday April 12 and inspect hotel registration records for all Secret Service employees. Reid, who had been staying at a nearby hotel, swiftly rounded up 11 agents and officers and ordered them out of the country. She alerted her superiors that she found early evidence of "egregious" misconduct involving prostitutes and set in motion the public uncovering of the most wide-reaching scandal at the agency in decades, according to government officials involved in the case.

It fell to Reid, recently promoted to head the prestigious Miami office, to ride herd on a rowdy group of male colleagues, including two who were assigned to supervise the group, the morning after a drunken bender, according to the officials. While the sordid and salacious details of the men taking prostitutes to their rooms are now well documented, less is known about the role played by one of the agency's highest-ranking African Americans in making the clock-ticking decision to replace them on an assignment for which there is no room for error.

For Reid, the moment was not without risk, opening her to a potential internal backlash for ruining the men's careers and, once the news became public, embarrassing an agency that prides itself on maintaining a stoic public face. Officials familiar with the probe said Reid had Director Mark Sullivan's endorsement as she took swift steps to handle the matter, but some agents said another senior manager might have been less aggressive.
[Read more...]

Hundreds of thousands may lose Internet in July (20 April 2012)
For computer users, a few mouse clicks could mean the difference between staying online and losing Internet connections this summer.

Unknown to most of them, their problem began when international hackers ran an online advertising scam to take control of infected computers around the world. In a highly unusual response, the FBI set up a safety net months ago using government computers to prevent Internet disruptions for those infected users. But that system is to be shut down.

The FBI is encouraging users to visit a website run by its security partner, www.dcwg.org, that will inform them whether they're infected and explain how to fix the problem. After July 9, infected users won't be able to connect to the Internet.

Most victims don't even know their computers have been infected, although the malicious software probably has slowed their web surfing and disabled their antivirus software, making their machines more vulnerable to other problems.
[Read more...]

Two Years After the BP Spill, Gulf Oysters Are Full Of Heavy Metals (20 April 2012)
On the second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, evidence of the spill's ongoing impacts on Gulf people and ecosystems continues to mount. As if eyeless shrimp, toxic beaches, and dead dolphins weren't bad enough, a new study suggests that Gulf oysters are also in trouble.

A team of scientists led by Dr. Peter Roopnarine of the California Academy of Sciences says that oysters in the Gulf contain higher concentrations of the heavy metals found in crude oil now than they did before the spill. Using a method known--awesomely--as "laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry," the scientists vaporized oyster shells and superheated them, causing different elements to radiate light at specific, known frequencies so they could be identified. They measured higher concentrations of vanadium, cobalt, and chromium--three heavy metals present in oil--in the oysters sampled after the spill. Even more worrisome, the team found that 89 percent of post-spill specimens displayed the signs of metaplasia, a condition in which tissues are transformed in response to stress. Oysters suffering from the condition often have trouble reproducing, which could have worrisome implications for oyster populations and the species further up the food chain that depend on them.

Scientists don't yet know how trace metals like those found in the oysters move through food chains, or what effects they could have on high-level consumers, including people. This study is just the start of a broader effort to understand the impacts of heavy metals on Gulf ecosystems: the team is planning to conduct a similar analysis of mussels, and hopes to model the potential impacts of the spill on the Gulf food web. For now, though, the study provides more evidence that the oil spill's effects are still being felt, and are likely to continue long into the future. The findings are particularly troubling in light of past studies indicating that the combination of heavy metal pollution and warmer temperatures is especially deadly for oysters--a fact that doesn't bode well in an age of warming seas.

It's yet another piece of bad news for Louisiana's oystermen, who are still struggling to recover from the double whammy of Katrina and the BP spill, and faced with consumers afraid to eat the oysters they do manage to harvest. For many, particularly in the African-American, Cajun, and Croatian communities, oyster fishing is a tradition stretching back generations; for them, the long-term effects of the spill threaten to put an end to a way of life with a proud heritage. It's also bad news for the state's economy, which reaped around $300 million from oyster sales in good years before the spill. And of course, it's bad news for lovers of the region's iconic sandwich, the oyster po'boy.
[Read more...]

Deep water means wave of profit for Schlumberger (20 April 2012)
"Our first-quarter results showed good progress with growth in exploration and deep-water markets," CEO Paal Kibs-gaard said in a conference call with analysts Friday. "Deep- water activity grew in the Gulf of Mexico and was supported by a number of new drilling permits granted during the quarter."

Deep-water exploration internationally also boosted the company's results, particularly in offshore regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, Kibsgaard said. He forecast that global deep- water exploration will help push the international rig count up more than 10 percent this year.

Bill Herbert, Simmons & Company International co-head of research, noted that pricing for certain oil field services is starting to climb along with the price of oil.

"If you look at what's happening in deep-water, day rates have been inflecting hard and moving sharply higher," Herbert said. "The exploration end of the business looks to be very strong, which is Schlumberger's sweet spot."
[Read more...]

AT&T wields enormous power in Sacramento (21 April 2012)
SACRAMENTO -- As the sun set behind Monterey Bay on a cool night last year, dozens of the state's top lawmakers and lobbyists ambled onto the 17th fairway at Pebble Beach for a round of glow-in-the-dark golf.

With luminescent balls soaring into the sky, the annual fundraiser known as the Speaker's Cup was in full swing.

Lawmakers, labor-union champions and lobbyists gather each year at the storied course to schmooze, show their skill on the links and rejuvenate at a 22,000-square-foot spa. The affair, which typically raises more than $1 million for California Democrats, has been sponsored for more than a decade by telecommunications giant AT&T.

At the 2010 event, AT&T's president and the state Assembly speaker toured Pebble Beach together in a golf cart, shaking hands with every lawmaker, lobbyist and other VIP in attendance.
[Read more...]

Wheels begin to turn in India's farm revolution (21 April 2012)
(Reuters) - As a shiny red harvester bounces across the black earth into the first row of sugar cane, excited schoolchildren run after it and several dozen men stand gaping in the wake of its swift progress.

It's the first time that Perle, a village on the banks of the Krishna river in Maharashtra state, has seen a machine used for cutting the tough cane.

"This machine will harvest my entire field today," says Prashant Kadam, the young owner of the compact two-acre plot. "Had it been harvested by laborers, they would have taken at least a week."

A short drive away in a field where the sun is just getting hot enough to halt work, a team of 12 couples cut cane the way it's been done for centuries -- with machetes. They load the cane into carts each pulled by two white bullocks with gaily painted horns and head for the local mill which dominates this sugar-growing valley some 300 kilometers south of Mumbai.
[Read more...]

James Cameron, Google Duo Back Asteroid-Mining Venture (21 April 2012)
A new venture backed by director James Cameron and Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt seeks to accomplish something straight out of science fiction--the mining of asteroids for raw materials like iron and nickel.

Planetary Resources Inc.'s plans will be formally announced at an event in Seattle on Tuesday, according to The Wall Street Journal. Backers of the new company say its goal is to "overlay two critical sectors--space exploration and natural resources--to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP" and to "help ensure humanity's prosperity."

In addition to Cameron and Page, Google's chief executive, and Schmidt, the search giant's executive chairman, other backers of Planetary Resources include former Microsoft executive and veteran astronaut Charles Simonyi, Google director Ram Shriram, and Ross Perot Jr., the son of IT magnate and former presidential candidate Ross Perot, the Journal reported Friday.

The company's co-chairmen are commercial spaceflight advocates Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson. Chris Lewicki, who was NASA's Mars mission manager, is president and chief engineer of Planetary Resources.
[Read more...]

Rare Egyptian 'Book of the Dead' scrolls found in Australian collection (21 April 2012)
A British historian said Saturday he had unearthed a trove of Egyptian Book of the Dead fragments by a top ancient official after chancing upon a scrap on show in an Australian museum.

John Taylor, a world-famous Egyptologist from the British Museum, said his discovery began with a shred of papyrus on display at Queensland Museum's new mummies exhibition bearing the distinctive hieroglyphs of Amenhotep.

The 15th century BC figure, son of Hapu, was Egypt's chief architect and is among those credited with designing and constructing the Great Temple of Amun at Karnak, near Luxor -- one of modern Egypt's most visited landmarks.

Excited and intrigued, Taylor said he asked if there were any more such fragments in the museum's archives and was shown into the conservation lab.
[Read more...]

Exclusive: National Security Agency Whistleblower William Binney on Growing State Surveillance (20 April 2012) [DN]
JUAN GONZALEZ: And that's because the NSA could do surveillance from abroad, but not of U.S. citizens.

WILLIAM BINNEY: Well, and, you see, the World Wide Web routes things all over, so you never really know where U.S. citizens' communications are going to be routed. So, you--if you were collecting somewhere else on another continent, you could still get U.S. citizens. That's--see, that was a universal problem. So we devised how to do that and protect U.S. citizens. So--and this was all before 9/11. And we devised how to do that, made that effective and operating. So we were actually prepared to deploy about eight months before 9/11 and actually have a system that would run and manage the--what I call 20 terabytes a minute of activity.

So--but after 9/11, all the wraps came off for NSA, and they decided to--between the White House and NSA and CIA, they decided to eliminate the protections on U.S. citizens and collect on domestically. So they started collecting from a commercial--the one commercial company that I know of that participated provided over 300--probably, on the average, about 320 million records of communication of a U.S. citizen to a U.S. citizen inside this country.

AMY GOODMAN: What company?

WILLIAM BINNEY: AT&T. It was long-distance communications. So they were providing billing data. At that point, I knew I could not stay, because it was a direct violation of the constitutional rights of everybody in the country. Plus it violated the pen register law and Stored Communications Act, the Electronic Privacy Act, the intelligence acts of 1947 and 1978. I mean, it was just this whole series of--plus all the laws covering federal communications governing telecoms. I mean, all those laws were being violated, including the Constitution. And that was a decision made that wasn't going to be reversed, so I could not stay there. I had to leave.
[Read more...]

Vietnam seeks foreign help to beat mystery skin disease (21 April 2012)
Vietnam says it will ask for international help to find out what is causing a skin infection that has already killed 19 people.

More than 170 people in the country's central province of Quang Ngai have reported symptoms.

The disease begins with a rash on the hands and feet: it can progress to liver problems and multiple organ failure.

Vietnamese health ministry tests have failed to pinpoint the cause.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: Here's where I'd normally say, "Has anyone tried a zapper on that?" But a mystery illness may also be caused by something in the environment (a chemical cause), or a deficiency.

Hacktivists in the frontline battle for the internet (21 April 2012)
If there is a battle over the future shape of the internet -- and society as a whole - then hacktivist groups such as Anonymous and Lulzsec, Wikileaks and the file-sharing site Megaupload.com are among the frontline battalions.

While the individual incidents and clashes involving these groups may seem disparate and unconnected, those at the core of online activism say all these organisations, plus relatively mainstream movements such as Occupy and the Pirate Party, are linked.

John Perry Barlow, lyricist for the Grateful Dead and co-founder of the well-known advocacy group Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF), says the over-arching motivation of such efforts, whatever tactics are used, was to shift the nature of society.

"What unites these groups is the belief that the future is not about vertical, hierarchical government, but horizontal [peer-to-peer] government," he said. "This pits the forces of the information age against those of the industrial age, as we move from scarcity of information to abundance. The last year has established our ability to have revolutions, but not to govern in their wake -- but that's coming.
[Read more...]

WikiLeaks supporters plan US foundation to restore funding (20 April 2012)
High-profile US supporters of WikiLeaks are planning to establish a foundation to break the 500-day "banking blockade" that has disrupted donations to the whistleblowing website.

WikiLeaks was forced to suspend many of its publishing operations in October last year after Visa, MasterCard and PayPal refused to process supporters' donations to the website, reducing its donation income by about 95%.

The move, which came after the US senator Joe Lieberman called on US companies to cut off services to WikiLeaks, was called a blockade by the organisation's editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, and came without any legal orders or actions against the site.

Supporters based in the US are now in talks with Assange to establish a US-based foundation aimed at funding organisations cut off by private companies in situations with first amendment implications.
[Read more...]

Balls on Alaska beach may be first of tsunami debris (21 April 2012)
Two sports balls from Japan may be the first positively identified items from the Japan tsunami of last March to reach Alaska shores. According to an April 19 online notice from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Response and Restoration, a soccer ball and volleyball were found on the beach of Middleton Island by David Baxter, a technician at the radar site on the remote island in the Gulf of Alaska.
Baxter noticed Japanese writing stenciled on the balls. His wife translated the writing on the soccer ball and traced it to the name of a school. NOAA confirmed that the school was in the tsunami zone, though located uphill and not seriously damaged by the disaster.

"We're partly getting things secondhand," said Doug Helton with NOAA offices in Seattle. "We're working with the State Department and the government of Japan."

NOAA thinks this could be one of the first times anything washed away during the tsunami has been sufficiently identified as to make it possible to return it to its owner. It's definitely the first such to be retrieved in Alaska, Helton said.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: Unfortunately, this article opens to a video ad that has sound, and starts playing without the viewer taking any action.

Why Canada just pumps out cheap oil (20 April 2012)
"We have more oil moving into the system than the pipeline system in North America was designed to accommodate," as Randy Ollenberger, a managing director at BMO Capital Markets puts it.

Many factors are pushing the price for North American crude lower, but the hit for Canadian oil companies specifically is even worse. The most prevalent Canadian benchmark is called Western Canadian Select. A blend of conventional oil, bitumen and synthetics, WCS is heavier and therefore more difficult to process than some other types of oil like Brent and WTI.

Because of the added transportation and refining costs, the profit margin a refiner can earn from using WCS is less than they would get from WTI. So refiners are paying Canadian producers less per barrel as a result.

Canada exports almost three million barrels of oil per day, and the spread has at times been in excess of $30 per barrel of late, so that's $90 million in lost revenue, every day, for the oil patch.
[Read more...]

Investors are the casualties in a booming oil patch (21 April 2012)
Alberta's oil patch is roaring. Oil prices are flying, pipelines are pumping millions of barrels a day, and companies are engaged in a rollicking spending spree.

Every 2½ weeks, companies shovel another billion dollars into oil sands projects. Drilling rigs across the province are tapping big new pools of oil. And firms desperate for skilled workers are scouring the globe to help them get on with ambitious growth plans. Western Canadian oil output is expected to surge by more than a third to 3.6 million barrels a day by 2018.

When Suncor Energy Inc. in February announced record 2011 profit and cash flow of $9.75-billion, chief executive officer Rick George couldn't quite restrain himself: "Internally, we actually thought we had a shot at a $10-billion cash flow number," he said.

"We didn't quite get there. But listen, it's all good, and really has been a great year."

Alberta's energy frenzy has all the makings of a hollering rodeo party. But there's one group conspicuously missing out on the action: investors.
[Read more...]

Wisconsin gives $765,000 in bonuses despite budget hole (20 April 2012)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker established a program that has given hundreds of thousands of dollars in merit raises and bonuses to some state workers even as he preached cost-cutting and pushed through a law reducing most public workers' pay and eliminating their union rights.

An analysis of data The Associated Press obtained through an open records request showed Wisconsin agencies have handed out more than $765,000 in bonuses and merit raises this year to nearly 220 employees.

The awards are meant to reward stellar performance. But they come as the state faces a $143 million shortfall and after thousands of state workers took pay cuts through provisions in the collective bargaining law requiring them to contribute more to their pensions and health care.

Walker, who faces a June 5 recall election prompted by anger over the collective bargaining law, prides himself on fiscal restraint.
[Read more...]

Violent Montreal student protest nets 10 arrests (20 April 2012)
Riot police used tear gas and concussion grenades on hundreds of students protesting outside Montreal's Palais des congrès Friday, where Premier Jean Charest was speaking at a symposium on northern development.

The mayhem reached deep inside the convention centre, where Charest's keynote speech was delayed after a group of protesters gained access to the building and confronted police guarding the meetings.

Two police officers and two protesters were injured in the standoff, and 10 people were arrested.

Friday's action is the latest in Quebec's escalating student movement against planned tuition-fee increases.
[Read more...]

Florida scientist says evidence indicates BP oil spill impacting Gulf marine life (20 April 2012)
Tallahassee, Florida - On the second anniversary of the BP oil spill, a Florida scientist who is studying the Gulf of Mexico says his research indicates marine animals are still being affected by oil contamination.

Florida State Professor of Oceanography Jeff Chanton is using radiocarbon dating to get a better understanding of what happened to the 4.9 million barrels of oil that poured into the Gulf.

His research team has investigated different bays all along the Gulf Coast and found the most serious contamination near Louisiana.

He says Florida bays look pretty good overall. Pensacola Bay has had some oil contamination but appears to be faring fine, while Apalachicola Bay remains pristine.

But Chanton says his radiocarbon tracing techniques offer evidence that petrocarbon chemicals are affecting marine life.
[Read more...]

Oiled rookeries look different 2 years after spill (20 April 2012)
CAT ISLAND, La. (AP) -- Before the BP oil spill, this shrubby island along the Louisiana coast was a lush green rookery where noisy brown pelicans and other birds clamored. Two years later, the island is smaller and ragged, full of dead black mangrove stumps and muddy patches.

Cat Island was one of the first places to be hit by thick mats of oil coming from 50 miles away in the Gulf of Mexico. Crews hired by BP raced to try to protect the island with boom, skims and dispersant, but a lot of the effort was futile. Some of the most iconic images from spill -- confused, struggling pelicans covered in oil -- were seen near these parts.

There are fewer pelicans now on the island, which is washing away, a process perhaps exacerbated by the oil spill.

"It's eroding like sugar in hot coffee," said P.J. Hahn, coastal zone manager for Plaquemines Parish, as he looked at Cat Island from a boat on a recent morning.

Hahn studied the island and shook his head. He estimated in the past two years the rookery has shrunk from 4 acres to less than 1.
[Read more...]

Shocking photos show coral reefs destroyed by fishermen using explosives, cyanide (20 April 2012)
KOMODO ISLAND, INDONESIA--Coral gardens that were among Asia's most spectacular, teeming with colorful sea life just a few months ago, have been transformed into desolate grey moonscapes by illegal fishermen who use explosives or cyanide to kill or stun their prey.

The site is among several to have been hit inside Komodo National Park, a 500,000-acre reserve in eastern Indonesia that spans several dusty, tan-colored volcanic islands. The area is most famous for its Komodo dragons -- the world's largest lizards -- and its remote and hard-to-reach waters also burst with staggering levels of diversity, from corals in fluorescent reds and yellows to octopuses with lime-green banded eyes to black-and-blue sea snakes.

Dive operators and conservationists say Indonesia's government is not doing enough to keep illegal fishermen out of the boundaries of the national park, a UN World Heritage site. They say enforcement declined greatly following the exit two years ago of a U.S.-based environmental group that helped fight destructive fishing practices.

Local officials disagree, pointing to dozens of arrests and several deadly gunbattles with suspects.
[Read more...]

Cancer-killing dandelion tea gets $157K research grant (20 April 2012)
Researchers in Windsor, Ont., have received an additional $157,000 grant for a total of $217,000 to study how effective dandelion root extract is in fighting cancer.

Siyaram Pandey, a biochemist at the University of Windsor, has been studying the anti-cancer potential of dandelion root extract for almost two years.

His team's first phase of research showed that dandelion root extract forced a very aggressive and drug-resistant type of blood cancer cell, known as chronic monocytic myeloid leukemia, to essentially commit suicide.

Researchers then discovered that repeated treatment with low dose dandelion root extract was effective in killing most of the cancerous cells.
[Read more...]

Birth defects more common in IVF babies: study (20 April 2012)
(Reuters) - Babies conceived through certain fertility treatment techniques are about one-third more likely to have a birth defect than babies conceived without any extra help from technology, according to a review of several dozen studies.

However, the researchers - whose findings were published in the journal Fertility and Sterility - did not determine why fertility treatments are tied to a higher risk of birth defects or whether the technology is even responsible.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) - in which the mother's egg is fertilized outside of her body and then transferred to her womb - has been available to would-be mothers for more than three decades, and numerous studies have looked at the potential hazards of these techniques.

Zhibin Hu at Nanjing Medical University and colleagues collected the results of 46 studies that compared the number of birth defects among children conceived using an IVF technique to children conceived normally.
[Read more...]

Starbucks to phase out coloring from crushed beetles (20 April 2012)
(Reuters) - Starbucks said on its blog that it will stop using a natural, government-approved coloring made from crushed beetles in its strawberry flavoring by late June, bowing to pressure from some vegetarian customers.

Starbucks has been using the extract in its strawberry frappuccinos and smoothies, as well as some deserts like raspberry swirl cake.

"After a thorough, yet fastidious, evaluation, I am pleased to report that we are reformulating the affected products to assure the highest quality possible," Cliff Burrows, president of Starbucks U.S., wrote in a blog post.

Instead, the coffeehouse chain said it plans to use lycopene, a natural, tomato-based extract.
[Read more...]

Being yourself at work is not good for your career, study claims (19 April 2012)
The results showed that participants were more likely to "be themselves" with partners, followed by friends and then parents. However, they were much less likely to show their true self to work colleagues.

Those who opened up to their partners tended to have greater well-being and were more satisfied with life. But the same benefits were not seen from being authentic at work.

Dr Oliver Robinson, from the University of Greenwich in London, said: "You hear self-help gurus say that the secret of happiness is 'being yourself' or 'expressing your true feelings', but that doesn't seem to apply in the workplace.

"So in some circumstances, it may be that a polite smile or tactfully keeping quiet may be more conducive to your well-being than saying what you actually think and feel to work colleagues."
[Read more...]

What you eat and how you live can switch on or off ageing genes (20 April 2012)
FOUR "Father Time" genes that help determine how fast we age have been uncovered by scientists.

The ageing genes are switched on or off by environmental and lifestyle factors such as diet, and may be programmed from an early age.

Knowing how the genes are altered could pave the way to new generations of anti-ageing drugs, researchers believe.

Scientists already knew that "epigenetic" changes - chemical alterations to DNA made by external factors in the environment - are important to ageing.
[Read more...]

Whistleblower: The NSA is Lying--U.S. Government Has Copies of Most of Your Emails (20 April 2012) [DN]
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I wanted to ask William Binney about this issue. When it comes to snail mail, the old postal system, it's very tough for the government to intercept mail, except in times of war, particular situations. When it comes to phone conversations, land phone conversations, you need a warrant to be able to intercept phone conversations. But what about email, and what about the communication now that is really the dominant form that not only Americans, but many people around the world communicate? What are the restrictions on the government in terms of email?

WILLIAM BINNEY: Well, after some of the laws they passed, like the PATRIOT Act and their secret interpretation of Section 215, which is--my view, of course, is same as Tom Drake's, is that that gives them license to take all the commercially held data about us, which is exceedingly dangerous, because if you take that and put it into forms of graphing, which is building relationships or social networks for everybody, and then you watch it over time, you can build up knowledge about everyone in the country. And having that knowledge then allows them the ability to concoct all kinds of charges, if they want to target you. Like in my case, they fabricated several charges and attempted to indict us on them. Fortunately, we were able to produce evidence that would make them look very silly in court, so they didn't do it. In fact, it was--I was basically assembling evidence of malicious prosecution, which was a countercharge to them. So...

AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe all emails, the government has copies of, in the United States?

WILLIAM BINNEY: I would think--I believe they have most of them, yes.
[Read more...]

'Communication failure' on luxury cruise liner left adrift fishermen to die (20 April 2012)
A Panamanian man who saw two of his friends die from dehydration on a drifting fishing boat has claimed a luxury cruise ship 'ignored' their stricken vessel.

Adrian Vasquez and his two friends had been adrift on the Pacific Ocean for 16 days when they spotted the luxury cruise ship Star Princess.

Birdwatchers on board the luxury liner were using powerful spotting scopes on the promenade deck and noticed the fishing boat adrift a few miles away.

They alerted ship staff, informing them that the man aboard the fishing boat was waving a dark red sweater.

But the cruise ship did not stop.
[Read more...]

Secret service in fresh embarassment over Sarah Palin photo comment (20 April 2012)
The secret service suffered fresh damage to its already battered reputation on Friday when it was disclosed that one of the agents involved in the Colombia prostitution scandal posted pictures on Facebook of Sarah Palin accompanied by a sexually suggestive comment.

The security service supervisor, David Chaney, had been assigned to protect her during the 2008 presidential campaign while she was John McCain's vice-presidential running-mate.

The photographs show Chaney in the background at a car door with Palin in the foreground. In a comment under one of the pictures, Chaney wrote: "I was really checking her out, if you know what I mean?"

Palin, interviewed on Fox on Thursday night, responded angrily. "Well, this agent who was kind of ridiculous there in posting pictures and comments about checking someone out. Well check this out bodyguard: you're fired."
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: Sounds like one desperate, desperate Secret Service agent.

The Anchorage paper has a link to the photo here.

Three more Secret Service officers set to be fired as investigators probe whether agents had sex with underage girls in Colombia (20 April 2012)
At least three more Secret Service officers implicated in the Colombia prostitution scandal were expected to lose their jobs today as the congressional committee probing the affair revealed it would be investigating whether any of the females involved were underage.

The disciplinary announcement expected later today would bring to six the number of Secret Service employees who no longer work for the agency in the wake of the scandal, according to a federal source.

The U.S. agents and military personnel involved could also face criminal charges if is proven that they had sex with girls under the age of 18.

When Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, was asked if any of the 11 men had, he said neither he nor the director of the Secret Service, Mark Sullivan, could be certain.
[Read more...]

Tens of thousands protest Egypt's military rulers (20 April 2012)
Tens of thousands of protesters packed Cairo's downtown Tahrir Square on Friday in the biggest demonstration in months against the ruling military, aimed at stepping up pressure on the generals to hand over power to civilians and bar ex-regime members from running in upcoming presidential elections.

Both Islamists and liberals turned out in force for the protest, to show the widespread anger at the military over the country's political chaos ahead of the first presidential elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak more than a year ago. The confusion has raised suspicions the generals -- ruling since Mubarak's ouster -- are manipulating the process to preserve their power, to ensure the victory of a pro-military candidate and prevent reform.

"Down with military rule," protesters in Tahrir chanted, and banners draped around the sprawling plaza denounced candidates seen as "feloul," or "remnants" from Mubarak's regime.

But the crowds in Tahrir were divided between rival groups with differing complaints and goals. As a result, the participants failed to reach a unified list of demands.

Liberals and youth groups called for all factions to agree on an anti-military "revolution" candidate in the presidential vote, but the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists -- who have their own ambitions in the race -- refused to sign on.
[Read more...]

NYC cops excavate basement in search of boy missing since 1979 (20 April 2012)
Etan Patz was six years old when he went missing on May 25, 1979. He was walking from the Manhattan apartment where he lived with his parents to his school bus stop when he disappeared and was never seen again. However, according to a CBS News report, New York City police personnel are currently directing an excavation by utility workers of a concrete floor in the basement of a building near where the boy disappeared 33 years ago.

Initial suspicion in the case has centered around neighbor Othniel Miller, now 76, who gave the boy a dollar the day before he disappeared, according to investigators. Miller was a neighborhood handyman who had a workshop in the basement of the building currently being searched. Shortly after Patz's disappearance, Miller gave the workshop a new concrete floor. Cadaver dogs indicated the presence of human remains in a recent search of the area.

The disappearance of Etan Patz became a iconic case. It changed the way cases of missing children are reported and investigated. The boy's face was the first missing child's picture to be distributed on milk cartons. It changed how parents raise their children, giving rise to today's hyper-involved "helicopter parents," whose children never spend a single unsupervised moment until approximately graduate school, as well as the corresponding backlash of the "Free Range Children" movement.

FBI spokespersons on the scene said that the removal of the basement floor was just one lead of many that are currently being pursued.
[Read more...]

George Zimmerman granted $150K bond, apologizes to Trayvon Martin's family (20 April 2012)
Zimmerman arrived in court about 9 a.m., wearing a suit and handcuffs, with a chain across his waist. Also in the courtroom were Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, Trayvon Martin's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, and family attorney Benjamin Crump.

Minutes before the judge ruled on his bond, Zimmerman took the stand and apologized to Trayvon Martin's family. He was the last person to testify in court this morning.

"I did not know if he was armed or not," Zimmerman said of Trayvon Martin on the night of the shooting. He said he's sorry for the Martin family's loss.

Asked why he waited so long to apologize, Zimmerman said he was told not to reach out to the family.
[Read more...]

Picture released that shows Zimmerman's bloody head wound minutes after Trayvon Martin shooting (20 April 2012)
A graphic photograph showing blood pouring from the back of George Zimmerman's head on the night he shot teenager Trayvon Martin was released today - and could be the key piece of evidence that will clear him of murder.

It was released on the same day Zimmerman appeared in court and spoke to the slain teen's parents for the first time, telling them: 'I am sorry for the loss of your son...I did not know if he was armed or not,' before he was released on $150,000 bond.

The photograph, obtained by ABC, was said to have been taken three minutes after the shooting took place on the night of February 26, and shows blood coming from two cuts and a possible contusion forming on the crown of his head.

It is the first piece of evidence to give substantial merit to Zimmerman's claim that 17-year-old Martin bashed his head against the concrete pavement as the 28-year-old tried to defend himself.
[Read more...]

Personal data of airline passengers sent to US from Europe after controversial bill (19 April 2012)
MILLIONS of airline customers' personal data will be handed over to the United States after MEPs voted for new laws that it's claimed are vital to tackle terrorism.

Passenger Name Records, which include names, addresses, credit cards details and phone numbers, as well as religious meal choices and some sensitive health information, will be shared after the European Parliament voted to approve a controversial bill.

The United States will be able to store and actively exploit the data for up to five years to investigate terrorism and "transnational crime", although names will be removed after six months.

The data will then be retained for a further 10 years, under stricter access rules.
[Read more...]

India tests long-range nuclear missile (19 April 2012)
India test-fired a long range missile capable of reaching deep into China and Europe on Thursday, thrusting the emerging Asian power into an elite club of nations with intercontinental nuclear weapons capabilities.

A scientist at the launch site confirmed the launch was successful, minutes after television images showed the rocket with a range of more than 5,000km (3,100 miles) blasting through clouds from an island off India's east coast.

"It has met all the mission objectives," SP Dash, director of the test range, told Reuters. "It hit the target with very good accuracy."

The Indian-made Agni V is the crowning achievement of a now-mothballed missile programme developed primarily with a possible threat from neighbouring China in mind.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: "I know how we can cut costs! Let's ship all the I.T. jobs to India, and all the manufacturing jobs to China! They could use the money, and we could use the cheap labor -- it's a win-win. What could possibly go wrong with such a great plan?"

Boehner to Catholic bishops: Take 'bigger look' at Republican budget (19 April 2012)
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on Wednesday dismissed criticism brought against the Republican budget plan by Catholic bishops.

Referencing Matthew 25, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called on Congress to put the poor first in budget priorities and rethink cuts to programs that benefited the least among us.

But Boehner, a Catholic, said at a press conference Wednesday the cuts were necessary, despite the impact they may have on the poor.

"What's more of a concern to me is the fact that if we don't start to make some decisions about getting our fiscal house in order there won't be a safety net," he explained. "There won't be these programs."
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: But there's plenty of money for every big fat oil war that the Bush family wants, isn't there?

Colombia prostitute reveals $800 cash row with US agent (19 April 2012)
"They never told me they were with Obama," she told the newspaper, adding: "They were very discreet."

In an interview with the New York Times, the unnamed woman said the US agent had agreed a price of $800 for a night with her.

But he changed his mind in the morning, she said, offering just $30 and sparking a furious row that ended with police being asked to intervene.

She told the Times she did not describe herself as a prostitute, suggesting that her price indicated she was a high-end escort.

"It's the same, but it's different. It's like when you buy a fine rum or a BlackBerry or an iPhone. They have a different price."

The woman said she was now scared of the implications of what had happened and planned to leave the city in the coming days.
[Read more...]

Scandal ousts three Secret Service personnel (19 April 2012)
The Secret Service on Wednesday announced the departure of three employees connected to a prostitution scandal last week involving members of President Obama's security detail who were in Cartagena, Colombia.

As the agency tried to manage the fallout from the embarrassing episode, it said in a statement that one agent is expected to resign and another, a supervisor, intends to retire. A third, also a supervisor, has been recommended for firing but will have an opportunity to appeal, officials said.

In all, 11 Secret Service employees -- either agents or staff members of the agency's uniformed division -- and 10 military personnel are suspected of being involved in a night of carousing that included heavy drinking, visits to strip clubs and prostitutes on April 11, two nights before Obama was to arrive in the seaside town of Cartagena for an international summit.

The agency and the Defense Department are each investigating the alleged misconduct. The remaining eight Secret Service personnel are on administrative leave, and their top-secret security clearances have been suspended. The military has returned its service members to their home bases.
[Read more...]

Postal Service closings could be averted by Senate measure (18 April 2012)
WASHINGTON -- The Senate began debate Tuesday on postal reform legislation that could avert the planned closing of the New Orleans mail-processing facility that employs 880 workers. The bill would require the Postal Service, which is reporting record financial losses, to retain regional overnight delivery capability -- at least for some markets. That should ensure roughly half the 260 mail-processing facilities slated for closing stay open, according to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who pushed the proposal.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said it's impossible to tell whether the New Orleans processing facility would be among the survivors.

"But at least this gives us a fighting chance," said Landrieu, who has been involved in negotiations that led to the reconfigured bill brought to the Senate floor Tuesday.

Landrieu said a key component for Louisiana makes it harder for the Postal Service to close rural post offices. Closings slated in some communities, including Lake Providence and Norco, she said, could be a major blow to new industrial facilities there.
[Read more...]

Keyes charged in Samantha Koenig abduction, murder (19 April 2012)
A self-employed Anchorage carpenter police linked to the abduction of 18-year-old Samantha Koenig is now charged in her disappearance and slaying, according to a grand jury indictment.
The indictment charges Israel Keyes, 34, with kidnapping and killing Koenig, receiving ransom money and using a stolen debit card to pilfer a bank account. The charges -- punishable by life in prison or death if he's found guilty in federal court -- come 11 weeks to the day since Koenig was abducted from the Midtown coffee hut where she worked.

Keyes forced Koenig out of the coffee stand about 8 p.m. on Feb. 1 and walked her to his pickup, parked across Tudor Road at a Home Depot, the indictment says. He stole a debit card from a vehicle Koenig shared with someone else and sent text messages using her phone that were intended to conceal her abduction, the indictment says.

Keyes forced Koenig to give him the card's personal access number and scratched the number onto the card, the indictment says. He killed her on Feb. 2, then flew to Houston, Texas, the indictment says.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: You can see photos of her scummy-looking killer on other sites, but this is the local paper and gives some great detail, like a timeline, and a link to a PDF copy of the Israel Keyes indictment.

Pepper spray cop's boss calls it quits (19 April 2012)
The chief of police at the University of California Davis will resign so the school can move on from a ghastly incident last year that ended with one of her officers becoming known around the world as the "pepper spray cop."

The revelation was made by Chief Annette Spicuzza herself in an email last night to a Sacramento newspaper. She and Lt. John Pike have been on leave since late November, after Pike deployed streams of pepper spray on Nov. 18 against a group of about 20 student protesters who were sitting on the pavement demonstrating against recent tuition hikes. Two were hospitalized following the incident, and 11 more were treated for exposure.

"My 27 years in law enforcement have been dedicated to the ethical and committed service to the departments and communities I have been proud to be a part of," she told The Sacramento Bee. "For the past seven years, I have accomplished many good things for both the Police Department and community here at UC Davis; and am grateful to those of you who have remembered this."

Spicuzza added that she did not want the incident to be a "defining moment" for the university or her own career.
[Read more...]

City Council votes down extension for Occupy Madison (18 April 2012)
The Madison City Council voted not to extend an April 30 deadline for Occupy Madison dispersal as the group's legal hurdles piled up.

For the second consecutive week, members of Occupy Madison pressed the City Council to allow their encampment to continue, even if it meant moving. Council members, however, voted unanimously against granting an extension because of zoning violations and potential problems receiving state approval.

Alds. Marsha Rummel, Lisa Subeck and Brian Solomon on Monday proposed a resolution to let Occupy Madison stay for a limited time on the city-owned, vacant asphalt lot on the north side of the 800 block while the city explored ways to deal with homeless issues. But after learning that Occupy Madison will no longer qualify for a state temporary camping permit at that site after April 30, an amendment was made Tuesday night to change the location of the camp.

City Attorney Michael May on Tuesday issued a memo saying Occupy Madison's temporary dwellings will no longer qualify for a state temporary camping permit after April 30.
[Read more...]

Aung San Suu Kyi to leave Burma for first time in decades (18 April 2012)
After nearly two decades under house arrest in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi will travel to Norway and Britain in June, her party said on Wednesday.

It will be the first time she has set foot outside Burma in 24 years and the first time a member of her National League for Democracy has made a diplomatic visit abroad.

Nyan Win, her party spokesman, said she plans to visit Norway first, where she will have meetings in Oslo.

She will move on to the UK and is expected to visit Oxford, where she attended university in the 1970s. But it is unclear which British dignitaries she will be meeting.
[Read more...]

It Doesn't Mean You're Crazy -- Talking to Yourself Has Cognitive Benefits, Study Finds (18 April 2012)
"One advantage of talking to yourself is that you know at least somebody's listening." Franklin P. Jones once said.

Can talking to oneself also help adults?

In a recent study published in Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, psychologists Gary Lupyan (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Daniel Swingley (University of Pennsylvania) conducted a series of experiments to discover whether talking to oneself can help when searching for particular objects. The studies were inspired by observations that people often audibly mutter to themselves when trying to find, for example, a jar of Peanut Butter on a supermarket shelf, or the stick of butter in their fridge.

In the first experiment, participants were shown 20 pictures of various objects and asked to find a particular one. In some trials, participants saw a text label telling them what object they should find ("Please search for the teapot.") In other trials, the same subjects were asked to search again while actually say the word to themselves. It was found that speaking to themselves helped people find the objects more quickly.
[Read more...]

AP Wins Pulitzer for Exposing NYPD's CIA-Linked Intel Program, Leading Widespread Spying on Muslims (17 April 2012) [DN]
AMY GOODMAN: But you certainly caught the attention of many throughout this country as you talked about the New York Police Department. Explain very briefly, if you will, what happened after 9/11. Talk about how the CIA hooked up with the New York Police Department.

MATT APUZZO: Well, so, Ray Kelly came back as police commissioner, and the city also hired David Cohen to be the intelligence chief at the NYPD. Cohen is the former top spy in the United States at the CIA, the deputy director of operations. So he came in basically to build an intelligence division that had kind of become backwater, glorified chauffeur service for VIPs. And one of his first calls was to--back to Langley, back to his old employer. And, you know, remember, this is late two thousand--this is 2002. And so, he says, "Hey, I need--I need somebody. I need somebody to come up here and help me out."

And remember, the recriminations and finger-pointing of 9/11 were really starting to happen. Everybody, rightly, was focused on how to prevent another attack. And the CIA didn't want to say no to New York, and they dispatched a senior officer to New York to basically be the NYPD's private liaison with the CIA. That opened the door to a relationship in which the CIA officer who was working there helped set up a lot of these programs, helped set up programs to be the eyes and--to have eyes and ears inside every Muslim community in the city. You know, the demographics unit, which is, you know, these rakers, as you referred to, informants known as "mosque crawlers," a lot of that was built with the help from the CIA, this officer who helped start these programs while on CIA payroll.
[Read more...]

KPFT (90.1 FM) off the air today with transmitter issues, station says (18 April 2012)
KPFT (90.1 FM), the Houston radio station owned by the Pacifica Foundation, is off the air today because of problems with its primary transmitter, according to a notice on the station's web site.

The notice described the issue as "technical problems" at the station's tower site and said workers were attempting to restore the signal.

The Pacifica Radio station said it can be heard at its website and via its subsidiary towers at 89.5 FM in Galveston, 89.7 FM in Huntsville and 90.3 FM in Goodrich).
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: KPFT is one of the Pacifica stations, serving the Houston, Texas news market.

Study: GOP guests dominate Sunday morning talk shows (18 April 2012)
If you feel like the Sunday morning political talk shows are overrun by Republican politicians, their surrogates and other right-wing spinners, you're actually right, according to a study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a media watchdog group.

FAIR's magazine, Extra! tracked the breakdown of guests featured in one-on-one interviews and roundtable discussions on the four main Sunday morning talk shows, ABC's "This Week," NBC's "Meet the Press," CBS's "Face the Nation" and "Fox News Sunday" from June 2011 to March 2012. The results skewed heavily Republican, white and male, with only token representation by blacks and Latinos, and virtually no appearances by guests outside of one of the two national political parties.

Extra! points to November 6 of 2011 as typical of the ideological breakdown of the Sunday shows. CBS's Bob Schieffer welcomed "a cross section of Republicans" to discuss the issues facing the primary that week. On ABC's "This Week," lone liberal Arianna Huffington was featured alongside conservatives Matthew Dowd, George Will and Niall Ferguson. "Meet the Press" featured Republican operative Alex Castellanos with Wall Street Journal conservative scribe Kimberly Strassel alongside a pair of middle-of-the-road Beltway journalists.

The study showed that one-on-one interviews with policy makers and other national figures, which are the ratings bread and butter of the talk shows, featured 166 Republicans to Democrats' 70. Roundtable discussions welcomed 189 Republican guests and 109 Democrats.
[Read more...]

Longstanding East Village Vegetarian Diner Kate's Joint Seized By Marshal (17 April 2012)
It appears the beloved (some would say overrated) vegetarian diner Kate's Joint has reached the end of its rope. EV Grieve reports that the establishment, located on the corner of Avenue B and 4th Street, has been seized by the Marshal. The news does not come as a shock--owner Kate Halpern had been trying to raise money to pay back rent through an Indiegogo fundraiser that tried to appeal to locals' desire to "preserve the East Village. It is about preserving small, female owned businesses. Don't let Avenue B turn in to a row of Starbucks and banks; help keep small businesses alive!"

Calls to Kate's Joint have gone unanswered, but as of last week, the Indiegogo page had raised less than $5,000 of the $30,000 Halpern said she needed to stay afloat. The demise of Kate's comes on the heels of news that popular bar Lakeside Lounge will close at the end of the month. On a semi-related note, Eater reports that Kenny's Castaways on Bleecker Street is now on the market. "The bar was originally opened in 1967 by Pat Kenny and has been run by his family ever since, hosting music luminaries like Jeff Buckley, New York Dolls, Blondie, Kiss, and Patti Smith," recalls Eater's Scott Solish. "It was also home to Phish's first New York City concert." And a pretty sweet setlist!
[Read more...]

Rescuers searching for tangled whale off Orange County, California (18 April 2012)
LAGUNA BEACH -- A team of rescuers is hoping to continue Wednesday to untangle a 40-foot gray whale from a line that's wrapped around the whale's left pectoral fin and entangled in its mouth.

The team worked for about two hours Tuesday to cut through the tangle on the older, healthy whale. As darkness fell, boats returned to shore for safety reasons. On Wednesday, Coast Guard helicopters as well as boats searched for the distressed whale to continue rescue efforts.

Melissa Sciacca of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center said it's not clear if the whale is still near Orange County waters, or if it had moved toward San Diego or Los Angeles.

"Once the animal is located, that will determine what our next steps are," she said.
[Read more...]

TNK-BP slammed over oil spills in Russia's major oil field (18 April 2012)
TNK-BP has been grilled by the Russian Minister of Natural Resources Yuri Trutnev over negligent drilling safety after allegedly allowing more than 700 oil spills this year.

After visiting one of the oldest oil fields Samotlor in Nizhnevartovsk district, which is developed by a TNK-BP subsidiary, Trutnev slammed TNK-BP management over its high breakdown rate and described the drilling methods as 'inadmissible'.

The majority of spills happen because of the worn out equipment, he stressed.

"The main reason [of breakdown rate] is that the company doesn't invest enough money to replace old pipelines in order to fight old spills and prevent new ones," Trutnev said. "They should simply invest more money in modernization of the exploration system".
[Read more...]

AMSC Taking Sinovel Infringement Suit to China's Supreme Court (9 April 2012)
American Superconductor Corp. (AMSC), a U.S. maker of wind-turbine components, filed an appeal with China's highest court for an intellectual property lawsuit against Sinovel Wind Group Co. (601558)

The company filed the appeal with China's Supreme People's Court today for a case that was dismissed by a provincial high court last week, Devens, Massachusetts-based AMSC said in a statement.

AMSC is pursuing four suits in China against Sinovel, seeking more than $1.2 billion in damages. It accused the Chinese turbine maker, formerly its largest customer, of violating sales contracts and stealing its technology in September. Today's filing is for a $200,000 copyright infringement case against the Chinese turbine maker and Dalian Guotong Electric Co.

"While this case means little to us from a monetary perspective, we will continue to seek justice through the Chinese courts on this matter of global importance," John Powell, AMSC's general counsel, said in the statement.
[Read more...]

U.S. Wind Energy Industry Confronts Squalls (18 April 2012)
Wind energy in the United States faces strong cross-currents--some blowing in from overseas, and others being stirred up right at home.

The nation that comfortably led the world in wind power (in both installed capacity and growth) as recently as three years ago saw a 17 percent increase in wind capacity to nearly 47,000 megawatts (MW) in 2011, the American Wind Energy Association said recently.

While the 6,800 MW in new installations marked a slight increase in growth compared to 2010 (5,100 MW, or a 16 percent increase) it was nowhere near the 40 percent to 50 percent annual growth rate the industry saw in the United States from 2007 through 2009.

Still, "American wind power is really at the heart of an American success story," said AWEA CEO Denise Bode. "2011 was another year of double-digit growth, leading to America's fastest growing source of made in America jobs ... we're well on our way to providing 20 percent of America's electricity by the year 2030."
[Read more...]

Congress falls short on oil spill safety, panel says (17 April 2012)
WASHINGTON -- Two years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion unleashed the worst oil spill in American history, Congress has failed to take meaningful action to prevent a similar disaster, according to a new report from members of a presidential panel.

The report cited significant progress by the Obama administration and the oil industry, giving them a B and a C+ grade, respectively, for their efforts to bolster safety, spill response and resources. Congress, however, got a D grade for its inability to "enact any legislation responding to the explosion and spill."

The assessments were graded against the panel's year-old recommendations.

The report by members of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling complained that Congress had failed to pass legislation requiring the offshore oil and gas industry to bear the costs of federal oversight through fees on leasing and permitting reviews. The presidential panel had also recommended that the $75-million liability cap for offshore oil spills be increased substantially.
[Read more...]

Georgia welfare law requires drug test to receive aid (17 April 2012)
(Reuters) - Low-income adults seeking public assistance in Georgia will have to pass a drug test before receiving benefits under a measure signed by Governor Nathan Deal on Monday, making it the latest state to push through the controversial testing requirement.

Supporters of the Social Responsibility and Accountability Act said it is designed to ensure that welfare payments, called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, are not "diverted to illicit drug use."

Under the law set to take effect on July 1, applicants who fail a drug test will become ineligible to receive benefits for a certain time period, based on the number of past test failures.

The measure will not affect benefits for children. If a parent fails a drug test, children can still receive payments through another person designated by the state.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia opposed the drug-testing requirement and believes it is unconstitutional, Executive Director Debbie Seagraves said on Tuesday. There is no evidence that welfare recipients are any more likely than other groups to use illegal drugs, she said.
[Read more...]

ALEC eliminates task force on social issues (17 April 2012)
ALEC's 2012 National Chairman and Indiana State Representative David Frizzell released a statement indicating that the group would go back to focusing on economic issues only.

"We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy," Frizzell said. "The remaining budgetary and economic issues will be reassigned."

"While we recognize there are other critical, non-economic issues that are vitally important to millions of Americans, we believe we must concentrate on initiatives that spur competitiveness and innovation and put more Americans back to work."

ALEC's economic focus will continue to be on repealing the minimum wage, paid sick days laws, the estate tax, and capital gains taxes along with privatizing public lands and pushing state union-busting measures.
[Read more...]

Walled gardens look rosy for Facebook, Apple -- and would-be censors (17 April 2012)
It was in May 2008 that Jonathan Zittrain first sounded the warning. While the argument was raging -- as it is now -- about censorship of the internet by governments seeking to control what their populations read, in countries such as China, India and Pakistan, the professor of cyberlaw at Oxford and Harvard universities had another concern: what if it were actually the gadgets we used that were in effect censoring the world that we could connect to, and the things we could do?

Zittrain fretted that smartphones, which were just beginning to take off, might actually limit what users could do online compared with devices such as personal computers. Besides the obvious difference -- a smartphone is light and can be slotted in a pocket; a personal computer is power-hungry and bulky -- there's another subtle but essential difference. Personal computers are "generative": they can be programmed to do more than they were set up to. Smartphones, on the other hand, generally can't be programmed directly by the user. For the most part, they're appliances, as limited in what they can do as a coffee maker.

In his book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, Zittrain noted: "We care little about the devices we're using to access the net ... we don't think of that as significant to its future the way we think of [direct censorship]."

But does the rise of appliance-like smartphones -- and more generally of "walled gardens" such as Facebook, MySpace and Google+ -- presage an age where we simply cut ourselves off from uncomfortable truths online because our devices, or the sites we use, won't show them to us, like a North Korean radio made so it cannot be tuned to unauthorised sources?
[Read more...]

Does Fracking Cause Earthquakes? (16 April 2012)
There are plenty of reasons to worry about fracking--groundwater contamination, methane leaks, that flaming tapwater thing. But can it really cause earthquakes? That's the question the US Geological Survey set out to answer after a spate of tremors in the Midwest--an area not usually known for earthquakes--alerted scientists to the possibility that some of them might be manmade.

Seismic activity in the Midwest started increasing around twelve years ago but picked up significantly in the past few years, says seismologist Bill Ellsworth, the lead author of a new USGS study examining potential links between fracking and earthquakes in the region. Since 1970, the baseline for earthquakes in the Midwest measuring above a 3.0 hovered at around 21 per year, but beginning in 2001, that number began to rise. There's been a "remarkable increase" in the past few years: The number of 3.0+ earthquakes rose from 29 in 2008 to 50 in 2009, then to 87 in 2010, and in 2011, to a staggering 134. Something unusual was going on, but what? As Ellsworth and his colleagues at USGS ask in the study, "Is this increase natural or manmade?" And if it's manmade, is fracking--which has ramped up in the region in the past several years--to blame?

According to the study, the answer to the first question is "almost certainly." But the second one is a little more complicated. Though fracking does cause tiny tremors, the USGS scientists found no links between the process of fracking itself and the larger earthquakes that have been occurring more frequently. They did, however, notice that earthquakes have clustered around wastewater wells in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and neighboring states. Disposing of wastewater by pumping it deep into the ground is standard practice in many industries, including mining, chemical manufacturing, and oil and gas extraction, and the oil and gas industry alone operates tens of thousands of wastewater disposal wells. But the recent surge of fracking activity, which uses millions of gallons of water to crack rock deep in the ground and release natural gas, has boosted the volume of wastewater being injected into the ground.

Stresses are everywhere in the earth's crust, Ellsworth explains, and drilling activity can affect them. Many wastewater wells actually go deeper than gas drilling wells, reaching an older layer of rock known as basement rock, where stresses and faults are more common. The high pressure used to pump water into waste wells can cause those faults to shift, and the water itself can lubricate already-stressed faults, easing their movement and making an earthquake-causing slip more likely. As Ellsworth told NPR,"small perturbations can tip the scales, allowing an earthquake that might not otherwise happen for a very long time."
[Read more...]

7 Tax Breaks You Probably Overlooked (16 April 2012)
Most people know that they get tax breaks on their kids and on the mortgage interest they pay on their homes, but experts say many taxpayers leave a slew of other deductions and credits on the table that could potentially save them big bucks. Here are some things besides owning a home or having a child that can benefit you when tax time rolls around.

Enrolling in higher education. When the economy went south and unemployment rose, many people decided to go back to school. Although the cost of higher education is rising rapidly, a few tax breaks take some of the sting out of those tuition bills.

"I think a lot of people aren't aware that if you have qualified tuition, you may very well qualify for one of the breaks," says Jackie Perlman, tax analyst with the H&R Block Tax Institute. The lifetime learning credit gives you up to $2,000 against your tuition costs. "The good news is, you don't even have to be in a degree program," Perlman says, which could be a big help for anyone picking up classes on an ad-hoc basis while job-hunting. This credit is phased out above a certain income level; single filers making up to $61,000 and married filers with a combined income of up to $122,000 are eligible.

Another education credit is the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which gives up to $2,500 back for the costs of tuition and books for people enrolled in a post-secondary degree program. In addition to credits, Perlman says there also are numerous deductions available for room and board, travel, loan interest and other expenses associated with college, the qualifications for which vary and depend on income, degree and other factors.
[Read more...]

Occupy Unveils 'Spring Awakening' (16 April 2012)
During the long winter months, Occupy protesters kept reassuring those of us in the media still covering their actions that the spring would prove to be a time of resurgence for Occupy Wall Street. If the "Spring Awakening" meet-up at Central Park this past weekend is any indication of future turnouts, OWS organizers may be correct in their predictions.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at New York City's most famous park, an inspired location that placed Occupy in the heart of tourist alley, guaranteeing the group's activities attracted the attention of curious passersby.

Two women walking by the "People's Assembly" that took place during the tail end of the day's festivities were heard remarking, "That's the group that occupies shit"--a not entirely inaccurate statement.

"Today is about coming together in a space that's going to allow us to be less confrontational than we often are downtown and kind of bond, and also engage the Saturday, Central Park-going public," said Scott, an OWS protester.
[Read more...]

New York unions to join 99-percenters in major May Day rally (15 April 2012)
Major unions and the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement in New York have announced plans to stage a joint massive protest rally on May first -- the international workers' day, Press TV reports.

"The Occupy Wall Street has joined with all the major unions and labor unions in New York City and it is going to be quite a massive day of action, with actions all over the city, people demanding justice against Wall Street bankers and corporations," said activist Caleb Maupin from the International Action Center in New York in a Saturday interview.

The event is expected to trigger a remarkable public participation as the Occupy movement has gained a significant momentum over the past five months, Maupin added.

Meanwhile, anti-corporatism protesters have begun spending the nights on sidewalks of the Wall Street, near the New York Stock Exchange and in front of banks.
[Read more...]

Vegetarian Diet for a Better Mood? (12 April 2012)
Can eating meat be detrimental for your mood and mental health? Is there a reason that your vegetarian friend is so energetic and cheerful all the time? The latest nutrition research suggests there may be scientific validity to these observations.

According to a recent study published this February by Bonnie Beezhold in Nutrition Journal, a randomized group of omnivores reported improved mood states after only two weeks of eliminating meat, fish and poultry from their diets.

The study consisted of three groups. The omnivores were randomly assigned to either a control group, which included consuming meat, fish and poultry daily, a second group assigned to consuming fish 3-4 times a week but avoiding meat and poultry, and a third group that avoided meat, fish, and poultry altogether. At baseline and at the end of the two weeks, the participants completed a food frequency questionnaire, a "Profile of Mood States" questionnaire, and a "Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale." According to the self-reported results, both the omnivore's and the fish eater's moods remained unchanged, while the vegetarian group showed significant improvements in their mood scores at the end of the two week trial. (1) This and other studies conducted by Beezhold suggest that vegetarianism is associated with overall healthier mood status.

So what is it about meat and poultry that may have adverse affects on our mood? Omnivorous diets are high in arachidonic acid (omega-6) in comparison to vegetarian diets. Past research has shown that high intakes of arachidonic acid, found mainly in red meat, poultry, and some fish, promotes changes in the brain that can negatively disturb our mood. High blood levels of arachidonic acid, in relationship to eicosapentaenoic acid (omega-3), have been linked to clinical symptoms of depression. (2) While omega-3s, especially fish oil, have become the poster child for brain function and lowering oxidative stress, the high levels of omega-6 in our modern omnivorous diets may be doing us more harm than good. A possible solution to this imbalance of omegas in your diet could be the addition of several amazing plant sources of omega-3s such as walnuts and flaxseed, that provide the benefits of omega-3s with lower levels of omega-6s.
[Read more...]

Florida Seeks to Delay Approval of $7.8 Billion BP Settlement (16 April 2012)
The Attorney General for the State of Florida has asked a federal court to delay granting preliminary approval of BP Plc's $7.8 billion settlement with businesses and individuals suing over the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Attorney General Pamela Bondi, representing her constituents, said in a filing in Louisiana federal court on Friday that there is not enough information available about the settlement terms.

She asked that the court "delay any immediate decision on the preliminary approval" of the settlement and to establish a schedule to allow interested parties an opportunity to review the settlement.

The settlement requires approval from U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier.
[Read more...]

Morocco picks EDF green arm for wind farm project (16 April 2012)
The Taza wind project, with a capacity of 150 megawatts (MW), is to be located in northern Morocco to the east of Fes.

Morocco, which has no oil production and relies heavily on energy imports, wants to make the most of its ample wind and sunlight to become a top renewable energy producer.

The kingdom aims to build 4,000 MW in wind and solar power capacity by 2020 to meet nearly half its energy consumption.

The project will be equipped with 50 Alstom wind turbines of 3 MW each. EDF Energies Nouvelles, Mitsui and Alstom will subcontract at least 30 percent of the construction work to Moroccan companies.
[Read more...]

George Washington voted Britain's greatest enemy commander (15 April 2012)
(Reuters) - American revolutionary leader George Washington has been voted the greatest enemy commander to face Britain, lauded for his spirit of endurance against the odds and the enormous impact of his victory.

In a contest organised by the National Army Museum, Washington triumphed over Irish independence hero Michael Collins, France's Napoleon Bonaparte, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

Making the case for Washington, historian Stephen Brumwell said the American War of Independence (1775-83) was "the worst defeat for the British Empire ever."

"His personal leadership was crucial," he said.
[Read more...]

Facebook supports Cispa cyber-security bill (16 April 2012)
The Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a statement on its website that the language used in the act was too vague.

"The broad language around what constitutes a cyber-security threat leaves the door wide open for abuse," stated the organisation.

"For example, the bill defines 'cyber threat intelligence' and 'cyber-security purpose' to include 'theft or misappropriation of private or government information, intellectual property, or personally identifiable information.'

"It's a little piece of Sopa [the Stop Online Piracy Act] wrapped up in a bill that's supposedly designed to facilitate detection of and defence against cyber-security threats. The language is so vague that an ISP could use it to monitor communications of subscribers for potential infringement of intellectual property."

Sopa, along with the Protect Intellectual Property Act (Pipa), are two other bills being considered by members of the US Congress.
[Read more...]

Google: friend or foe to the open internet? (16 April 2012)
Threats to the open internet from governments and corporations have never before been so grave, Google's co-founder, Sergey Brin, told the Guardian in an interview on Sunday:

"There are very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world. I am more worried than I have been in the past ... it's scary."

The list of threats to the net Brin cites is compelling. On one side, there are new "walled gardens" hived off from the open internet, unsearchable domains created and controlled by companies such as Apple and Facebook. These are a particular concern for Google as content held within Facebook's domain, or within apps, are inaccessible to the site's crawling software and so don't appear in Google's index.

This is a loss of commercial power for Google, and potentially a loss of future revenue. The growth of Facebook's traffic and reach is also a direct threat, as people start to navigate the web through social networks rather than search -- Facebook traffic now occasionally overtakes even that from Google on sites like the Guardian.
[Read more...]

Oracle and Google's Android copyright row trial begins (15 April 2012)
Java was first released in 1995 and allows software to be run across computer platforms, rather than just being limited to one type of operating system.

Oracle - a business hardware and software provider - inherited the intellectual properties when it took over Java's original developer, Sun Microsystems, in 2009.

The language is used by many business applications as well as other software, such as the video game Minecraft, on PCs.

Oracle argues that by using its intellectual property, and then giving Android away for free, Google undermined the possibility of it licensing Java to mobile phone makers.

It adds: "Because Android exploits Java but is not fully compatible with it, Android represents Sun's, and now Oracle's, nightmare: an incompatible forking of the Java platform, which undermines the fundamental 'write once, run anywhere' premise of Java that is so critical to its value and appeal."
[Read more...]

Free antiviral programs offer enough protection (16 April 2012)
Q: We are planning to buy a new desktop computer with Windows 7. We will be replacing an almost 10-year-old system running Windows XP. Our question is, should we still buy security software, or does the antivirus software that's included in Windows 7 provide adequate security? We have religiously bought Norton antivirus products over the years.

A: All big e-mail providers scan for viruses in incoming mail, but that still leaves the door open to a wide range of nasty infections that can be inadvertently downloaded to your computer. Things like spyware that steals personal information, adware that can give you a case of the pop-ups, and scareware that announces your computer is infected and tries to sell you a remedy.

That's the bad news. The good news is that you don't have to pay Norton or anyone else to guard against these dangers. Windows 7 comes with Windows Defender, a decent antimalware program, and you can install a second free program like Avast Free Antivirus (from avast.com), Ad-Aware Free Antivirus (lavasoft.com), or Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free (malwarebytes.org).

I should note that the options are more limited for Mac owners - largely because Macs have always been less vulnerable to hackers than Windows. As I pointed out a short time ago, the best free antimalware solution for Macs may be Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition, from sophos.com.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: I don't necessarily endorse any of the opinions that I link to here.

Cosby blames gun culture for Trayvon Martin's death (16 April 2012)
"When a person has a gun, sometimes their mind clicks that this thing is -- it will win arguments and straighten people out," the 74-year-old African-American actor told CNN.

"In the wrong hands, in the wrong mind, it's death. It's wounding people, people who don't have money to buy a decent meal for themselves, yet, someone will put an illegal gun in their hand," he said, lamenting that firearms are "all around this United States."

Cosby was speaking to CNN about the shooting of 17-year-oldTrayvon Martin, a case which has gripped the nation and sparked a fresh debate about race relations and the right to self-defense in the United States.

Prosecutors in Florida last week filed second-degree murder charges against neighborhood watch guard George Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, over the shooting of Martin in a gated community of Sanford, Florida.
[Read more...]

Web freedom faces greatest threat ever, warns Google's Sergey Brin (15 April 2012)
He said the threat to the freedom of the internet came from a combination of governments increasingly trying to control access and communication by their citizens, the entertainment industry attempting to crack down on piracy, and the rise of "restrictive" so-called walled gardens such as Facebook and Apple, which tightly controlled what software could be released on their platforms.

The 38-year-old billionaire, whose family fled antisemitism in the Soviet Union, was widely regarded as having been the driving force behind Google's partial pullout from China in 2010 over concerns about censorship and cyber-attacks.

He said five years ago he did not believe China or any country could effectively restrict the internet for long but he had been proven wrong: "I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle."

Although he said he was most concerned by the efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the internet, he also warned that the rise of Facebook and Apple, which have their own proprietary platforms and control access to their users, risked stifling innovation and Balkanising the web.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: Exactly. Now, can we please have the old Gmail format back? What's this "labels" thing? Everyone wants folders! And what's wrong with basic HTML format, for those of us who aren't sold on an "upgrade" to Google Chrome?

11 Secret Service agents put on leave amid prostitution inquiry (15 April 2012)
Fraser said he was "disappointed by the entire incident and . . . this behavior is not in keeping with the professional standards expected of members of the United States military."

Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said Saturday that Secret Service officials conducting an internal investigation told him that the staff at the Hotel Caribe summoned local police after discovering a woman in the room of one agent after 7 a.m., against the hotel's policy for visitors of paying guests.

Although the agent eventually paid the woman and she left, King added, police reported the incident to the U.S. Embassy, which informed the Secret Service. The agency quickly recalled the agents and replaced them with a new team before Obama's arrival Friday afternoon at the Hilton a few blocks away.

King praised the agency for removing the men involved, but he added that "everything they did was a violation of proper conduct."

"First of all, to be getting involved with prostitutes in a foreign country can leave yourself vulnerable to blackmail and threats," King said. "To be bringing prostitutes or almost anyone into a security zone when you're supposed to protect the president is totally wrong."
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: The Washington Post's site was giving me "busy" messages this morning and had apparently crashed -- was it due to interest in this scandal, or something else?

Canada and U.S. singled out at summit over drugs, Cuba (14 April 2012)
Canada and the United States are finding themselves at odds with Latin American countries on two thorny issues -- the war on drugs and the exclusion of Cuba -- at a summit of hemispheric leaders in Colombia.

The event's host, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, delivered a frank speech Saturday to the assembled heads of state and government in which he said it would be "unacceptable" to hold another Summit of the Americas without Cuba. The communist country was suspended from the Organization of American States, the main organizing body for the summits, in 1962.

Canada and the United States are the only two countries in the organization that have not lobbied to invite to Cuba to the events.

"The isolation, the embargo, the indifference, the looking the other way don't work," Santos said in the coastal resort city of Cartagena. "It's an anachronism that keeps us anchored in a Cold War era that was overcome decades ago."
[Read more...]

Sexual side effects added to Merck drug labels (12 April 2012)
(Reuters) - Prescribing labels for Merck & Co's drugs for baldness and enlarged prostate will add reports of sexual side effects that continued after use of the medicines was stopped, U.S. health regulators said.

Labels will be revised for Proscar, which treats symptoms of enlarged prostate, and hair-loss treatment Propecia, the Food and Drug Administration said. The active ingredient in both drugs is finasteride.

The Propecia label will now include notification of problems with libido, ejaculation and orgasms that continued after use of the drug was ended. Proscar's label will include notification of decreased libido.

The labels of both drugs will also include a description of reports of male infertility and poor semen quality that normalized or improved after use of the drugs was stopped.
[Read more...]

Pro-vegetarian group finds E. coli on stores' chicken (13 April 2012)
A new study of grocery store chicken carried out by a pro-vegetarian group reports that almost half the meat tested, including some from two supermarkets in Milwaukee, was contaminated with fecal matter.

The examination by the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has come under criticism because of the group's agenda and the study's sample size and conclusions.

The group tested chicken products sold by 15 grocery chains in 10 cities, including a Pick 'n Save and a Piggly Wiggly in Milwaukee. Some samples showed levels of E. coli hundreds of times higher than those deemed acceptable by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, the group also counted as contaminated samples that showed E. coli levels well within the acceptable limits. Overall the study reported that 48% of the samples it tested were positive for fecal contamination.

Joseph Gonzales, a registered dietitian for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said the group's findings show that there are numerous opportunities for contamination in the preparation of chicken for sale, and current testing and inspections are insufficient to catch it.

"They only test one out of every 22,000 chickens," Gonzales said, referring to tests carried out by the companies themselves under USDA supervision. "It's just so hard to regulate because there are so many birds going through."
[Read more...]

Tycoon's Trumped by wind firm boss (15 April 2012)
AN energy boss turned the tables on Donald Trump -- by asking him to invest in wind power.

The US tycoon, who has slammed wind farms as "ugly monstrosities" -- is battling against an 11-turbine offshore site near his golf resort at Balmedie, near Aberdeen.

But in a letter to the billionaire, Scottish Renewables boss Niall Stuart said: "Despite the attacks from the Trump Organisation on wind power, we are confident about the future of our industry.

"Indeed, we would very much like to invite you to consider the opportunity of investing in the success of Scotland's renewable energy sector."
[Read more...]

St. Louis Cardinals Cooking With Solar Power for Home Series (15 April 2012)
There may not have been any sunshine bearing down on the St. Louis Cardinals' home opening series, but the stadium will be cooking with solar energy as the season progresses.

St. Louis Cardinals' fans may not taste the difference, but the next hot dog they consume at Busch Stadium could be cooked with power from solar energy. The Cardinals have partnered with Microgrid Energy, the Electrical Connection, and Sachs Electric, headquatered in Fenton, to bring solar energy to Busch Stadium for the first time ever, according to a news release. Some food, beverage and retail shops are now powered by 106 solar panels, producing approximately 32,000 kilowatt hours of solar energy per year.

"This is all part of the St. Louis Cardinals' commitment to green its game," said Joe Abernathy, vice president, stadium operations. "Since the stadium opened in 2006, we've been able to cut our energy use by 20 percent and water use by 10 percent."

The Cardinals will be celebrating "Solar Day" at Busch Stadium at the home game on April 29, and a variety of related activities and events will take place at the game and throughout the day.
[Read more...]

Oil from Deepwater Horizon spill still causing damage in gulf 2 years later, scientists find (15 April 2012)
On Florida's Panhandle beaches, where local officials once fretted over how much oil washed in with each new tide, everything seems normal. The tourists have returned. The children have gone back to splashing in the surf and hunting for shells.

Every now and then, a tar ball as big as a fist washes ashore. That's the only apparent sign that the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history tainted these sugar-white sands two years ago.

But with an ultraviolet light, geologist James "Rip" Kirby has found evidence that the oil is still present, and possibly still a threat to beachgoers.

Tiny globs of it, mingled with the chemical dispersant that was supposed to break it up, have settled into the shallows, mingling with the shells, he said. When Kirby shines his light across the legs of a grad student who'd been in the water and showered, it shows orange blotches where the globs still stick to his skin.
[Read more...]

Prison sentences for bosses could stop oil spills (15 April 2012)
Take, for instance, the worst of the accidents preceding the Deepwater Horizon explosion. It took place in 2005, at a BP-owned refinery in Texas City, when an explosion killed 15 workers. Lustgarten's reporting for ProPublica makes it abundantly clear that the problems at the refinery were well known. Necessary maintenance was deferred. Warnings signs were ignored. Managers would plead for money to improve the safety of the plant, only to have their budgets savagely cut. Top management in London turned a blind eye to reports recounting problems.

Then, when the inevitable occurred, BP blamed it on ''operator error''. John Browne, who was then its chief executive - and the man most responsible for creating BP's culture of putting profits over safety - insisted that the accident, like all the other BP accidents, was just a matter of being unlucky.

Lots of people knew better, including a handful of federal investigators who had been tracking the company for years.

Yet, in the end, BP wound up paying $US2.1 billion - most of it to compensate the victims - and agreed to a felony conviction. These punishments did nothing to change the company.
[Read more...]

Causes of low Louisiana seafood catches remain a mystery (15 April 2012)
Scientists and biologists disagree about the difficulties of pinpointing the cause of the poor catches the local seafood industry has reported in recent years.

Catch numbers and conventional wisdom among shrimpers, crabbers, oystermen and fishermen suggests that the poor haul coincided with the BP oil spill of 2010, which leaked an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

But scientists say it isn't so simple to establish a cause-and-effect connection, since for nearly every species affected, there is an alternate narrative that explains the landings.

"As scientists, it's hard for us to speculate because there's such a high standard. We hold out on what claims we make," said Scott Porter, a scientist at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium research center in Cocodrie. Porter also works as a researcher and diver at the nonprofit EcoRigs, which converts retired oil platforms for sustainable fisheries.
[Read more...]

More work on leaking ocean gas well planned (15 April 2012)
There has been "significant progress" towards plans to stop a gas leak on an offshore platform, the operator has said.

All 238 staff were evacuated from the Elgin platform, around 150 miles off Aberdeen, when it began leaking gas more than two weeks ago.

About 200,000 cubic metres of gas are escaping from the platform each day, coming out from a rock formation below the sea. It is then escaping into the air from a leak on the platform at the top of the well, about 80ft above sea level.

Oil and gas company Total said preparatory work for the planned drilling of both a primary and back-up relief well continued this week with two flights to the platform to assess the situation.
[Read more...]

ALEC is cloning 'model laws' for Alaska (15 April 2012)
Ever wonder why the same legislation that banned collective bargaining in Wisconsin, surfaced in six states including Alaska (it was sponsored by the late Carl Gatto, a former union member)? Or why voter discrimination legislation, better known as Voter-ID, has been introduced in at least 33 states?

Or the invasive, big-government legislation that requires women seeking an abortion to submit to a transvaginal ultrasound? Carbon-copy measures have been introduced in at least eight states including Alaska (ours came courtesy of Sen. John Coghill).

It's no coincidence the same "Stand Your Ground," anti-women's rights, anti-environmental, voter suppression, school privatization, anti-health care, anti-workers' rights, anti-immigrant, prison privatization and tax cut legislation pops up all over the country with almost identical language.

You can thank ALEC and its army of lawmaking clones.

Last August, Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, and Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, attended the ALEC conference in New Orleans. You can bet that Alaska will end up paying for more than hotel rooms, meals and plane tickets because of it.
[Read more...]

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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


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All original content including photographs © 2012 by Pam Rotella. (News excerpts copyright by their corresponding authors, news organizations, or other copyright holders, and quoted here typically as "fair use" or "teaser" paragraphs to generate interest in the full articles.)