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NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2012
News from the Week of 1st to 7th of July 2012
Unemployment rises among African-Americans (7 July 2012)
June's figures show unemployment rose from 13.6% to 14.4% -- higher than the rate for Latinos and double that for white people.
One of the most jarring figures in the labour statistics is a rise in unemployment among African Americans, from 13.6% to 14.4%, double the rate for the white population.
The proportion of white Americans out of work was static at 7.4%, and while the jobless rate for Latinos remained high at 11%, it too was unchanged from May.
Algernon Austin, the director of the race, ethnicity and economy programme at the Economic Policy Institute, said the figure for black Americans had been hovering at or above 14% for the past three years, even with a 'recovery' supposedly under way. "It is an extremely high rate to be stuck at," Austin said. "That is the really important news."
'Irreplaceable' dinosaur fossil destroyed at Alberta dig site (7 July 2012)
Someone has purposefully destroyed an "irreplaceable" dinosaur skeleton that was meant to be displayed at a new fossil museum in northern Alberta, says a paleontologist involved in a dig.
"This was the find of the season for us. There was a lot of excitement around it. Now it's just kind of a salvage operation, trying to put back the pieces. But it's going to be significantly less than what it was going to be," said paleontologist Dr. Phil Bell. "It's an irreplaceable loss."
The duck-billed Hadrosaur fossil was discovered near Grande Prairie on June 15 by Bell and a team from the University of Alberta. The skeleton was partially uncovered by the team and then reburied so that it could be removed from the site in mid-July.
Bell said the piece was in good condition and would likely have meant a major exhibit at the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, which is planned to open in the area next summer.
Windmills breathe life into failing Gdansk shipyards (6 July 2012)
(Reuters) - Just yards from where Lech Walesa made his first moves to bring down communism in eastern Europe, Danish businessman Thomas Gaardbo is taking advantage of the skilled workforce from the era to rescue one of Poland's most cherished historical sites.
When the European Union banned state help for the Gdansk shipyard in 2008, forcing it into bankruptcy for a third time, it seemed that all was lost for the enterprise which gave birth to the Solidarity movement in the 1970s.
But Gaardbo has found that the 6.5 hectare hall that once churned out ocean liners is perfect for building the giant steel towers needed for the windfarms driving Europe's shift towards cleaner renewable energy.
Ant-like welders climb along the inside of the towers, which are up to 120 meters tall and 7.5 meters in diameter and carry sails that weigh as much as a Boeing 757.
U.S. finds ways to find hidden bombs (7 July 2012)
Almost afraid to say it out loud, lest they jinx their record, U.S. troops in Afghanistan achieved one small but important victory over the past year: They found and avoided more homemade bombs meant to kill and maim them than a year ago, thanks to a surge in training, equipment and intelligence.
Bomb-planters have picked up the pace during the summer months, placing improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, along roads or footpaths. But the explosives are no longer the leading cause of death and injury in Afghanistan.
In the first three months of this year, only 5 percent of the bombs planted across Afghanistan hit their mark, according to Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, director of the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization. That's down from 10 percent to 12 percent over the same three-month period a year ago.
The new figures show a slow but steady decline, from a high of 368 deaths caused by IEDs in 2010 to 252 in 2011, according to the privately run Icasualties.org, which tracks war casualties. That decrease has happened even as the military has begun to withdraw its surge of 30,000 troops, scheduled to be complete by September. Troops are often more vulnerable as they withdraw from an area.
Alemany Farm bee hives destroyed by vandals (6 July 2012)
San Francisco's tight-knit beekeeping community is all abuzz over the latest mayhem targeting their colonies: the wanton destruction of two active hives at a community garden.
Two weeks ago, vandals, armed with large chunks of concrete and tree limbs, knocked over and smashed wooden beehive boxes at Alemany Farm, a volunteer-run community farm and hands-on educational program on Alemany Boulevard, tucked between the south slope of Bernal Heights and Interstate 280.
"Every now and then someone knocks over a hive," said veteran beekeeper Karen Peteros, co-founder of nonprofit group San Francisco Bee-Cause. "But this went beyond that; it was mayhem violence."
Hundreds, if not thousands of bees, were killed, said Cameo Wood, who serves on the board of San Francisco Bee-Cause. The surviving bees temporarily became more aggressive - a sign of trauma - and the beekeepers lost hundreds of dollars in equipment.
Days of fixing Apple products yourself are over (6 July 2012)
Apple's changes in product manufacture mean you can't upgrade anything but memory or repair most current models with any degree of confidence that you won't break the computer in the process. Do you need to reconsider whether to purchase Apple's three-year extended warranty, or factor in a potential maximum life span of three years, beyond which point the cost won't be worth paying to fix it?
Apple never encouraged unaffiliated third parties to perform upgrades and repairs on your Macs, and even less so with iPhones and iPads. Apple Authorized Service Providers or Apple itself were the only sanctioned paths. I recall the days in which Apple issued imprecations against so much as opening a case to add memory.
Over time, Apple relaxed a bit and said memory upgrades were (in most cases) within the warranty, and didn't cavil at other components having been swapped if you took it in for an unrelated repair. The Mac mini started as a something that required surgery to upgrade. (I have the sore fingers to prove it.) But the current model requires just a twist of a plastic disk to expose memory slots.
As a fairly technical fellow, and also cheap, I've kept many Macs alive for years past their expiration date. I swapped a dead keyboard on a titanium PowerBook, and managed the dozens of steps to put in a new optical drive when the old one died in a several-year-old Mac mini. The parts in both cases cost about $80, while an Apple repair would have been a few hundred, or more than the residual cost of each device.
Navy moves ahead on biofuels despite congressional ire (6 July 2012)
(Reuters) - The Pentagon is pushing ahead with a $420 million effort to build refineries to make competitively priced biofuels, despite anger in Congress over the price the Navy paid for alternative fuel to test a carrier strike group this month.
The government plans provide $210 million in matching funds to help firms build three refineries, each able to produce at least 10 million gallons of biofuel a year for military jets or ships, according to documents released this week. The Navy would supply $170 million and the Energy Department $40 million.
The military's spending on alternative fuels has drawn criticism from Republican lawmakers, with Senator Jim Inhofe charging that President Barack Obama's priorities are "completely skewed" and Representative Mike Conaway accusing Navy Secretary Ray Mabus of "squandering precious dollars."
But Mabus warns that U.S. dependence on foreign oil is a strategic vulnerability that can only be addressed by reducing the military's reliance on petroleum as the sole source of fuel to power its jets, ships and tanks.
The Navy initiative announced on Monday to help private firms build biofuel refineries "will enhance our national security," Mabus said in discussing the $30 million first phase of the project.
Shell ready for Arctic, but oil-spill barge isn't (6 July 2012)
A unique ice-class barge designed to clean up any oil spills that might result from Shell Alaska's upcoming operations in the Arctic Ocean has so far failed to acquire final Coast Guard certification. Engineers from the oil company say it's no longer appropriate to require them to meet the rigorous weather standards originally proposed.
Further, sea trials for the Arctic Challenger -- a 37-year-old barge undergoing a multimillion-dollar retrofit -- have been delayed in Bellingham as federal inspectors insist on improvements to electrical, piping and fire-protection systems, a senior Coast Guard inspector has confirmed.
The delay in certification adds another notch of uncertainty to Shell's narrow window for operations in the Arctic, which already is tight because drilling must halt by September in the Chukchi Sea and by October in the Beaufort Sea to avoid the dangerous advance of sea ice that comes with winter. Though drilling initially was scheduled to commence by mid-July, unusually heavy sea ice from the past winter has postponed that, probably until the first week of August.
The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has said it will not issue final drilling permits until the Arctic Challenger receives final Coast Guard certification.
ACLU's new Android app lets users secretly record police misconduct (6 July 2012)
A new Android application released by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) and OpenWatch.net allows users to secretly record police encounters and automatically save their recordings to a public website for all to see.
Called "Police Tape," the ACLU-NJ's app builds on work done by OpenWatch.net with their "Cop Recorder" and "OpenWatch Recorder" programs, which essentially carry out the same functions, albeit in less polished form. ACLU-NJ's release adds even more helpful content, like legal advice on citizens' rights during police encounters.
"This app provides an essential tool for police accountability," ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs said in an advisory. "Too often incidents of serious misconduct go unreported because citizens don't feel that they will be believed. Here, the technology empowers citizens to place a check on police power directly."
While the "Police Tape" app is currently available to all Android users, ACLU-NJ recommends that only New Jersey residents use it due to certain states still having a problem with citizens recording police in public. The app's terms and conditions also recommend that users consult an attorney before publishing any recordings online.
A version of the app for iOS devices was still awaiting approval from Apple.
As Japan Says Fukushima Disaster "Man-Made" & "Preventable," Fears Grow for Nuclear Plants Worldwide (6 July 2012) [DN]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And one of the fascinating parts of the report is that it says that at least one of the reactors may not actually have been damaged by the tsunami but actually by the earthquake itself, that preceded the tsunami, which would at least suggest major structural flaws in the design of these reactors to withstand earthquakes.
ARNIE GUNDERSEN: Yeah, there's actually some curious information on Fukushima Unit 1. That was the first one to fail. Interesting, too, that was built by an American company, General Electric, and an American architect/engineer. So it's hard to--for the Japanese to blame themselves, when this was an all-American design. Strange things happened before the tsunami hit on Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1.
Also, though, there's some bulges in Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4. And those bulges are called something: a first mode Euler strut bulge. And they're definitely seismically induced. So, I don't think the nuclear industry wants to acknowledge that their seismic codes may be faulty, but I think it's certainly likely, and I agree with the report.
PAM COMMENTARY: In an earthquake zone like Japan, it's surprising that nuclear power plants are built at all.
Peru Declares State of Emergency as 5 Die in Protest Against Gold Mine Owned by U.S. Firm, Newmont (6 July 2012) [DN]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tell me--you've just gotten back. This protest, how has it been growing for the last number of weeks there?
BILL WEINBERG: Well, they started a general strike on May 31st. This is just the latest in a whole series of ongoing protests, really which have been going on for years in the region. Every time the company, Yanacocha, proposes an expansion of the mine, the local people there get organized, and they block the roads, and they shut down the businesses. And it most significantly started to heat up last year when they proposed moving into this area called Conga, where there are five alpine lakes which the company proposes to destroy. They're going to turn them into giant mining pits and dumps for the mine waste. And the water sources in the region have already been diminished, largely due to the--it appears, due to the mining operations already, which have been tearing the mountains of the watersheds into giant pits. And the people said, "Enough is enough," and launched this campaign. And there's been sort of a back-and-forth where they've been attempting to negotiate with the government. But finally, things broke down, and on May 31st they launched what they call an indefinite general strike.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And now the miners in South America, especially in Peru and Bolivia, have always been some of the most active, radical of the trade unions. What's been the relationship between the communities and the miners, who--the workers in these mines?
BILL WEINBERG: Unfortunately, extremely divided. And most of the workers in the mines are in fact people from the local communities--not all of them, but a big--a large deal of them. So, unfortunately, you've got a situation where the villages, which have got a lot of people who work in the mines, tend to support the project, and that majority of the villages, which are more concerned with keeping their agricultural way of life alive, oppose the project. So, unfortunately, it's really divided the local community.
Republicans encourage poor to starve to death (5 July 2012)
When the Senate passed its version of the farm bill, we at Grist had to admit that, for all the flaws, it "wasn't all bad news." Some of the worst aspects of the bill (like giveaways to the insurance industry and to big commodity farmers) were reined in by several late-breaking amendments, and federal nutrition programs ("food stamps") were "only" cut by $4.5 billion over the next 10 years. That may not sound so great, but it's all relative; farm bill analysts have been warning for months that the House version would be much worse.
In fact, later today, we'll find out for sure just how much worse it can get. The House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to release its draft of the farm bill tonight -- and according to Politico's David Rogers, the House GOP has indeed forced far deeper (you might even say extreme) cuts to food stamps as the price for passage. According to Rogers' sources, the House version of the farm bill will cut $16.5 billion over 10 years from food stamps alone.
(Update: Shortly after we published this post, the House released its draft. And that number was right.)
In a deep dive into the backroom fight over food stamps among House Republicans, Rogers reports that they have selected a set of "reforms" that will radically reduce the number of people eligible for the program. Close to 2 million people will be dropped from the food stamp program, Rogers estimates, if the House version becomes law. It doesn't seem to matter to Republicans that these changes would also have to get through the Senate during the reconciliation process, which has rejected similar provisions in the past.
Chomsky: Occupy movement can't compete with 'massive corporate propaganda' (6 July 2012)
"From the point of view of power systems," Chomsky explained, "the perfect social unit is a dyad, a pair consisting of you and your television set, not talking to anyone else. And the end result is you have a society of people who are pretty much separated from one another. The Occupy movement changed that."
He went on, however, to bemoan the lack of institutional memory among American dissidents. "It's a problem for popular democracy," he said.. "It's not a problem for the 1%. That's what they want."
When asked about the U.S. presidential election, Chomsky replied, "You can pretty well predict the policies of an administration just by looking at the distribution of campaign financing."
He noted that many of Obama's wealthy donors preferred him to McCain in 2008 because "they thought he'd do the job for them better, and he didn't disappoint them. Now of course, if you're rich and powerful, you never have enough, and they can get even more, they think, from the far right, so my guess is we'll continue to see more heavy financing for Romney than Obama from this group."
PAM COMMENTARY: This is a rewrite of a Guardian interview.
Record fine for Michigan oil spill (5 July 2012)
It's been a bad week for Enbridge, the Canadian company that operates oil and gas pipelines in Minnesota.
Tuesday the U.S. Department of Transportation recommended a$3.7 million fine against the company for the 2010 oil spill that sent 800,000 gallons of sticky tar sands oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, and which has so far cost $700 million to clean up. In a letter to the company, the agency listed 24 violations of hazardous liquid pipeline regulations, including failure to fix corrosion problems in the damaged pipe joint discovered as far back as 2004.
According to the federal report, a disorganized control room and bullying of inexperienced staff are allegedly to blame for the spill. The evidence includes records showing that employees took about 17 hours to shutdown the pipeline despite repeated alarms. Enbridge says its improved its safety systems since the spill.
Why does Enbridge's safety record matter here?
Whooping cranes should be left alone, Louisiana wildlife officials say (30 June 2012)
Department of Wildlife and Fisheries officials have launched a campaign to urge residents to safeguard the whooping crane population recently reintroduced in south Louisiana. The Advocate reports that radio ads and billboards are set to roll out in the coming weeks and the agency has developed a program to teach schoolchildren about the birds. Wildlife officials have been working with federal authorities to re-establish a colony of the endangered birds, with 26 released in two groups last year at the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Vermilion Parish.
At least 16 of the birds are known to be alive said Sara Zimorski, a Wildlife and Fisheries biologist with Wildlife and Fisheries.
Deaths were expected since the birds have to fend for themselves in the wild, Zimorski said.
But two are believed to have been shot and killed last year in Jefferson Davis Parish.
The outreach effort is in part a response to the shootings, Zimorski said.
Rendered, Tortured & Discarded: A Shocking Story of an Innocent Man's Ordeal in U.S. Prisons Abroad (6 July 2012) [DN]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the original reason why the U.S. government took him and jailed him?
CLARA GUTTERIDGE: Right. Well, this is obviously--is very difficult to piece together, because the U.S. government won't talk about why this happened. But it seems as though--so, in Somalia, between 2002 and 2005, there was this system of--essentially, the CIA would pay warlords money for so-called terror suspects. The same thing happened in Pakistan. Eighty-five percent of the people in Guantánamo Bay, in fact, were sold for a bounty in Pakistan rather than being picked up off any battlefield. And in Somalia, this was going on, as well, although it was much quieter, there was less attention. And we think that Suleiman may have originally been sold as--passed off, if you like, as a notorious terror suspect called Fazul, who was ultimately, you know, killed only last year. Of course, he wasn't Fazul. He was a nobody from Tanzania. One thing we have noticed is that it tends to be kind of what tended to be the more kind of light-skinned, foreign-looking people that were sold, you know, maybe because, you know, as in Pakistan, it was more Arab-looking people, so people that could be passed off as something--something suspicious.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I summarized in the introduction some of what he went through, but could you describe for us what you learned was some of the torture and the treatment that he underwent, the abuses that he underwent?
CLARA GUTTERIDGE: Right. Well, I mean, the worst of the torture, we're not authorized to talk about, because it's too painful for him to talk about, and he doesn't want it to be made public. What I can say is that he was subject to some of the worst torture that I have ever encountered in, you know, interviewing over a hundred U.S. torture victims. He was routinely beaten. He was sexually assaulted. He was locked in a cage. He was locked in a kind of--in a coffin-shaped box. He was subjected to extreme temperatures of hot and cold. He was threatened that, you know, he would never be released again. You know, the list really is endless. It took--it took, you know, two intensive days of debriefing for the medical experts to document what he went through. So, obviously, I can't really summarize it all in such a short space of time.
Big pharma is cut out by India's plan to bring medicine to masses (6 July 2012)
India is planning a multibillion-dollar push to bring free medicines to the hundreds of millions of its citizens who, despite the country's economic revival, still languish without access to the very basics of health care.
The $5bn initiative, which is slated to be rolled out by the end of this year, will offer 348 essential drugs to patients across the country. In a blow to the West's big pharmaceutical firms, the planned scheme will largely cut out branded drugs, opting instead for cheaper generic alternatives.
News of the plan comes as the Congress-led administration in Delhi attempts to shore up public support after a raft of corruption scandals and crushing electoral losses in state polls. A recent report confirming a slowdown in economic growth has only served to sharpen criticism of the government.
Now, Delhi is plotting a multi-billion dollar health-care drive, using its network of government-funded hospitals and clinics to deliver free drugs across a country where, despite the much-vaunted boom of recent years, more than two million young children die every year from preventable infections, according to Unicef.
5 states sue Washington in effort to stop Asian carp (6 July 2012)
Five U.S. states are moving forward with a lawsuit against Washington.
The states demand steps be taken to prevent Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.
Legislation approved last month requires the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete a plan for shielding the lakes from the invasive carp within 18 months.
A quicker timetable is one of the requests in a suit filed three years ago by Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Orangutan to go cold turkey as zoo says Tori must give up cigarettes (6 July 2012)
TORI the 15-year-old orang-utan, who has been smoking cigarettes at an Indonesian zoo for a decade, is about to be forced to kick the habit.
Zookeepers said today they plan to move Tori away from visitors who regularly throw lit cigarettes into her cage so they can watch and photograph her puffing away and flicking ashes on the ground.
The primate mimics human behaviour, holding cigarettes casually between her fingers while taking long drags and blowing bursts of smoke out of her nostrils to the delight of visitors.
Taru Jurug Zoo director Lili Krisdianto said the move was aimed to protect four endangered orang-utans at the 14-hectare (35-acre) zoo in the central Java town of Solo.
Glenn Greenwald: As WikiLeaks Reveals Syria Files, Assange Remains in Ecuador Embassy Seeking Asylum (5 July 2012) [DN]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Glenn Greenwald, your comments on these developments, both of the new files--the files about to be--or being released right now and Julian Assange's current situation?
GLENN GREENWALD: So, as far as his current situation is concerned, I think everybody agrees that the allegations that have been made in Sweden, they're not--he's not been charged with any crime, these are just allegations, they're obviously unproven--are serious ones and deserve to be taken seriously. And the hope of everybody is that he will be able to go there and vindicate his claims of innocence or have a judicial process ultimately adjudicate them.
The problem is, is that the United States has given every indication that it is actively seeking to prosecute him. There's some evidence, not overwhelmingly reliable, that there's already a sealed indictment. But there's definite proof that there's an active grand jury. The Justice Department has confirmed there's ongoing criminal investigations. Dianne Feinstein, yet again, called for the prosecution, the criminal prosecution, of WikiLeaks under espionage statutes. And the concern is that going to Sweden will enable the United States much more easily to extradite him to the United States and charge him with crimes for which he would end up in prison for life, if convicted, under very oppressive conditions. Sweden has a history of complying with the United States's lawless requests. The U.N. found them in violation of the law in cooperation with the CIA's rendition program. Sweden is a small country.
And so, what those of us who defend and support WikiLeaks have said--and Julian Assange ultimately said himself--was that the solution is very simple: simply have the U.S. and Sweden agree that his going to Sweden will not result in his extradition to the United States, and within the next five minutes he will get on a plane to Stockholm to go and confront these charges. It's never been about evading those allegations. It's been about not letting the United States engineer his extradition for things that are plainly not crimes, things that the New York Times and other media outlets do every day.
As far as this latest release is concerned, I haven't seen the emails. I don't know much about them, because the news of this broke as we were beginning the show. But what I would say is it simply underscores the reason that WikiLeaks is so valuable. The ability to blow holes in the wall of secrecy behind which the world's most powerful actors function is something that newspapers have a great deal of difficulty doing, because they're subject to the laws of their state. They can't guarantee anonymity, because reporters know who their sources are and can ultimately be forced to give them up, or surveillance can enable the detection of the sources. And so, WikiLeaks created a system--
California's foie gras ban draws legal challenge (5 July 2012)
North America's largest producers of foie gras have joined with a Southern California restaurateur to challenge the state's ban on the duck-liver delicacy.
The first-of-its-kind ban went into effect July 1, and the producers and Hot's Restaurant Group Inc. promptly filed suit Monday in federal court, asking a judge for an injunction against the new law. They argue that the measure, which forbids the in-state sale and production of products derived from force-fed birds, is too vague.
Foie gras is made from geese and ducks who are force-fed through a pipe to plump their livers.
"The Bird Feeding Law does not provide any intelligible measure -- such as weight, volume, or caloric value -- by which those involved in the feeding of the ducks ... may determine at what point a duck has been fed 'more food' than the statute allows," the lawsuit said.
Study: The 'gateway drug' is alcohol, not marijuana (5 July 2012)
A study in the August edition of The Journal of School Health finds that the generations old theory of a "gateway drug" effect is in fact accurate, but shifts the blame for escalating substance abuse away from marijuana and onto the most pervasive and socially accepted drug in American life: alcohol.
Using a nationally representative sample from the University of Michigan's annual Monitoring the Future survey, the study blasts holes in drug war orthodoxy wide enough to drive a truck through, definitively proving that marijuana use is not the primary indicator of whether a person will move on to more dangerous substances.
"By delaying the onset of alcohol initiation, rates of both licit substance abuse like tobacco and illicit substance use like marijuana and other drugs will be positively affected, and they'll hopefully go down," study co-author Adam E. Barry, an assistant professor at the University of Florida's Department of Health Education & Behavior, told Raw Story in an exclusive interview.
While Barry's study shows evidence that substance abuse behaviors can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy by examining a subject's drug history, he believes that the persistent and misguided notion of marijuana as the primary gateway to more harmful substances went awry because its creators -- who called it the "Stepping Stone Hypothesis" in the "Reefer Madness" era of the 1930s -- fundamentally misread the data and failed to conduct an adequate follow-up.
Pfizer yanks breast, colon claims for Centrum vitamins (5 July 2012)
(Reuters) - Pfizer Inc, bowing to allegations of deceptive advertising lodged by a consumer watchdog group, has agreed to drop "breast health" and "colon health" claims from the labels of its widely used Centrum multivitamin supplements.
Although Pfizer said it disagreed with complaints lodged by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), it agreed to remove the claims from some Centrum product labels over the next six months and to withdraw them from websites and advertising within 30 days.
Watchdog groups such as CSPI have taken the lead in recent years in policing the accuracy of supplements' health claims amid widespread criticism that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not doing enough to help consumers navigate conflicting information. The Government Accountability Office has also said the FDA needs more power to regulate supplements.
The center sent a lengthy letter to Pfizer Chief Executive Ian Read in April alleging that separate Centrum products carried deceptive claims on their labels - that they support "energy and immunity," "heart health", "eye health," "breast health, "bone health" and "colon health."
Ex-Blackwater faces lawsuit over new name, Academi (5 July 2012)
After renaming itself twice in three years and fending off a slew of lawsuits, the company formerly known as Blackwater now finds itself facing another legal fight -- this time over its newest name.
The security company, which rechristened itself Xe in 2009 and Academi last year, is being sued for trademark infringement by Academy Ltd., a Texas-based sporting goods chain.
The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Houston, says the similarity of the two names will sow confusion in the public mind and cause Academy "irreparable harm" given Academi's corporate history and "the negative media coverage stemming from its security operatives in Iraq."
Four former Blackwater guards face manslaughter charges in connection with a 2007 shooting incident in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. The company has settled a series of civil lawsuits spawned by the incident.
Make your own mustard to give food a personal zing (29 June 2012)
MUSTARD IS a tiny seed that packs a mighty wallop in the kitchen. As with some people, though, it takes a little liquid to unleash its wild side.
The ancient seed looms large in religious allegory going as far back as the 5th century B.C. and Gautama Buddha's story of the distraught mother. When Kisa Gotami asks Buddha to heal her dead son, he sends her to gather mustard seeds from every family in the village who has never lost a child, parent or friend. Empty-handed after her search, she understands she is not alone in her suffering.
In Christianity, mustard seeds symbolize the power of faith: According to Christ's parable, this least of all seeds grows into the greatest of herbs.
Ancient Greeks prized mustard for its medicinal benefits, but the early Romans are the ones who pounded the seeds and mixed them with wine, or grape must, which is pretty much still the method used to make prepared mustard. In the early 1800s, Englishman Jeremiah Colman refined the making of mustard powder. The product in those bright canisters of Colman's Mustard in contemporary groceries hasn't changed much since.
Power outages leave nearly 1m facing Fourth of July headache (4 July 2012)
Hundreds of thousands of people from the midwest to the mid-Atlantic were preparing to spend the Fourth of July like America's founders did in 1776 -- without the conveniences of electricity and air conditioning.
Power outages from Friday's storm altered plans for celebrations and left powerless residents grumbling that America's birthday would hardly be a party. Cookouts were cancelled or moved to homes with power. Vacation plans were changed. Some residents without power said they weren't in a holiday mood. And even some whose power had been restored said they had run out of steam to celebrate in the way they had planned.
Friday's storm arrived with little warning and knocked out power to 3 million homes and businesses in states from West Virginia to Ohio and Illinois. Officials blamed 24 deaths on the storm and its aftermath, and power companies in some places estimated it could be the weekend before everyone's power is restored. More than 900,000 homes and businesses remained without power early Wednesday.
As a result, power repairs were taking priority over parties in many parts. At least four planned fireworks displays were cancelled in Maryland because of the outages, with officials saying they couldn't spare police and fire resources for the festivities.
We're number ... 24? How the U.S. stacks up (4 July 2012)
As the United States celebrates its independence, where does it stand in the world? The glut of global rankings generated by think tanks, nonprofit groups and global agencies gives a jumbled picture of how the U.S. stacks up on everything from happiness to health spending.
For those who think the U.S. is tops, the fact that America is ranked as having the No. 1 "nation brand" in the world won't be surprising, a sign of admiration noted by a market research company in Germany.
Less sunny is the fact that the U.S. is also the first in healthcare costs among developed countries and tops in military spending among all nations, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, respectively.
The country ranks a robust fifth in global competitiveness, the World Economic Forum found. The World Intellectual Property Organization ranked it 10th in innovation. And it's 11th in happiness, according to a recent review of studies by economists John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs.
The U.S. came in 24th in perceived corruption on a Transparency International index -- which means people think the government is more corrupt than in Chile, Ireland or Barbados. Save the Children pegged it 25th among the best countries to be a mother, trailing other developed nations because the risk of dying from pregnancy, childbirth or related complications is high. That's evidenced by the fact that the U.S. also ranks 37th in deaths due to complications from preterm births, worse than Burundi or Jordan.
Yasser Arafat's body may be exhumed over poison claim (4 July 2012)
Yasser Arafat's body may be exhumed to allow for more testing of the causes of his death, the Palestinian president said Wednesday, after a Swiss lab said it found elevated levels of a radioactive isotope in belongings the Palestinian leader is said to have used in his final days.
Arafat's widow, Suha, called for an autopsy in the wake of the lab's findings, first reported by the Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera. In an interview with the station, she did not explain why she waited nearly eight years to have the belongings, including a toothbrush and a fur hat, tested.
At the time of his death, she refused to agree to an autopsy.
The Palestinian leader died at a military hospital outside Paris in November 2004 of what French doctors called a massive brain hemorrhage -- weeks after he fell violently ill at his West Bank compound.
Obamacare to unleash crushing new taxes, trillions in debt, huge job losses, and it doesn't even cover natural medicine (29 June 2012)
But now, of course, Chief Justice Roberts has declared it IS a tax, after all. Thus, Obama's key legislative achievement has become the single greatest legislative deception in the history of America.
How much will this new tax cost you? The Washington Post has published a handy online calculator:
It shows that the new tax begins in 2014, then ramps up to its maximum penalty at 2016, at which point you are taxed year after year until you cave in and buy into the monopoly Big Pharma health insurance scam. This is, for the record, the largest tax increase in history. And it's for a system of medicine which is a Big Pharma monopoly that doesn't even give consumers the freedom to choose natural medicine or alternative therapies!
PAM COMMENTARY: The policies not covering alternative medicine is the worst part. And so you still have to pay out of pocket for the stuff that works, while at the same time financially supporting the profit-driven system that doesn't. Or at least the system that's good for little else than emergency trauma support.
Mystery Bermuda-based company and other undisclosed Romney assets hint at larger wealth (4 July 2012)
WASHINGTON -- For nearly 15 years, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's financial portfolio has included an offshore company that remained invisible to voters as his political star rose.
Based in Bermuda, Sankaty High Yield Asset Investors Ltd. was not listed on any of Romney's state or federal financial reports. The company is among several Romney holdings that have not been fully disclosed, including one that recently posted a $1.9 million earning -- suggesting he could be wealthier than the nearly $250 million estimated by his campaign.
The omissions were permitted by state and federal authorities overseeing Romney's ethics filings, and he has never been cited for failing to disclose information about his money. But Romney's limited disclosures deprive the public of an accurate depiction of his wealth and a clear understanding of how his assets are handled and taxed, according to experts in private equity, tax and campaign finance law.
Sankaty was transferred to a trust owned by Romney's wife, Ann, one day before he was sworn in as Massachusetts governor in 2003, according to Bermuda records obtained by The Associated Press. The Romneys' ownership of the offshore firm did not appear on any state or federal financial reports during Romney's two presidential campaigns. Only the Romneys' 2010 tax records, released under political pressure earlier this year, confirmed their continuing control of the company.
Bees able to rejuvenate their brains: study (4 July 2012)
A team of scientists from Arizona State University and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences discovered that bees are able to reverse the effects of aging on their brains.
Their study, published in the scientific journal Experimental Gerontology, shows that when aging bees return to the nest to perform social tasks, such as taking care of larvae, the molecular structure of their brains change.
Led by Associate Professor in ASU's School of Life Science, Gro Amdam, the study's goal was to find out why bees age when they leave the nest to look for food.
"We knew from previous research that when bees stay in the nest and take care of larvae -- the bee babies -- they remain mentally competent for as long as we observe them," Amdam said in a press release.
"However, after a period of nursing, bees fly out gathering food and begin aging very quickly. After just two weeks, foraging bees have worn wings, hairless bodies, and more importantly, lose brain function -- basically measured as the ability to learn new things. We wanted to find out if there was plasticity in this aging pattern so we asked the question, 'What would happen if we asked the foraging bees to take care of larval babies again?"
PAM COMMENTARY: This is a rewritten Christian Science Monitor article.
Methadone tied to one-third of prescription-drug deaths (3 July 2012)
ATLANTA -- Overdose deaths from powerful painkillers have been surging at an alarming rate in the U.S., but here's a sliver of good news: The number blamed on methadone appears to have peaked.
Still, methadone accounts for nearly one-third of prescription painkiller deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.
Methadone, known mainly for treating heroin addiction, is also prescribed for pain. Health officials say most of the overdose deaths are people who take it for pain -- not heroin or drug addicts.
After a sharp rise, the number and rate of methadone-related overdose deaths have fallen since 2007, the CDC report shows.
Nonetheless, methadone accounts for 2 percent of pain prescriptions and more than 30 percent of painkiller overdose deaths, according to the report.
Seaweed toothpaste 'to stop tooth decay' (3 July 2012)
Adding enzymes from seaweed microbes to toothpaste and mouthwash could provide better protection against tooth decay, a team of UK scientists have said.
Researchers at Newcastle University had been studying Bacillus licheniformis to see if it could clean ships' hulls.
But the scientists now believe it could protect the areas between teeth where plaque can gather despite brushing.
Their lab tests suggest the microbe's enzyme cuts through plaque, stripping it of bacteria that cause tooth decay.
DNR restricts fall wolf kill to 201 animals
(3 July 2012)
MADISON -- Hunters would be allowed to kill nearly a quarter of Wisconsin's wolves this winter under rules the state Department of Natural Resources proposed Tuesday, sparking a debate over whether the hunt will make a dent in the state's burgeoning wolf population.
The rules package sets a statewide quota of 201 wolves across six zones. Non-tribal hunters could face even tighter kill limits. Wisconsin's Chippewa tribes have the right to claim up to 50 percent of the quota in the northern third of the state for themselves.
The DNR estimates between 815 and 880 wolves roam the state. Complaints about attacks on farm animals have been on the uptick in recent years and department officials want to scale the population back to 350 wolves. Grumbling already has begun over whether the quota is too low to have any effect this year.
"They're being overly conservative in my judgment," said George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and a former DNR secretary. "You may not even reduce the population for next year. I'm not disagreeing with the idea of being cautious. (But) this is getting to be ultra-cautious."
Google sees advantage in making new gadget in USA (2 July 2012)
(Reuters) - When Google Inc decided to build its Nexus Q home entertainment device in Silicon Valley rather than in China, it was not fretting about the bottom line. It was fretting about speed.
"We wanted to innovate fast. This is the first end-to-end hardware product that Google has ever put out," said John Lagerling, Google's senior director of Android global partnerships.
The cost of building the orb-shaped Nexus Q, a cross between a streaming video box like Apple TV and a stereo amplifier, "was not the No. 1 priority," Lagerling said. "We wanted to see if we could do fast (design iterations) rather than having our engineers fly across the world."
"This is not this big initiative that things had to be made in the USA," he said.
Money shot (26 June 2012)
It is just a few weeks before the 35th incarnation of the most important election in my lifetime. According to the candidates, every election is "the most important one" in a lifetime.
Soon guilt will dominate my thinking about politics. I can't stop the guilt trips because I am in politics, I have run for office, I have raised money; therefore other politicians think I will be an easy target and they call and call looking for money.
I have received perhaps 100 requests this year from candidates from Georgia to Seattle. I will be scolded by expert fundraisers. Friends will ask: If you won't sponsor a fundraiser for her, how about pledging $1,500 to sponsor a fundraiser in Milwaukee for the head of Planned Parenthood? We are asking you to pledge $1,500, but $750 would be OK. We will still get you on the program. Thanks a lot! If you don't sponsor, some will think you are against a woman's choice. Are you saying you want Tommy Thompson in the Senate?
Guilt, guilt, guilt! If I don't give $500 to John Lehman, am I handing control of the Senate back to the GOP? Al Franken would like to count on my help; my guess is the caller doesn't know Al Franken from Newt Gingrich. Mark Pocan is calling; Kelda Roys is on line 4. Tammy Baldwin is holding on line 2.
Climate Disasters' Toll Worsened by Sustained Attacks on Public Sector, Science and Regulation (3 July 2012) [DN]
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to ask Suzanne Goldenberg one of the points that Christian Parenti raised, which has to do with public sector cuts. Something you've spoken about in your reporting for The Guardian is the amount of funding cuts, congressional budget cuts to--for preventing and putting out wildfires. $500 million have been cut since 2010. That's almost 15 percent of the budget. Can you say a little about the significance of that and the impact it's had since these fires have broken out?
SUZANNE GOLDENBERG: Well, it's a huge impact. I mean, every prediction says that wildfires are going to be increasing over the next 10 years. And yet, we have a Congress that is--a Republican-controlled Congress in the House that is opposed to spending money on things that would protect people and/or on any kind of public project. So what you've got now is the Forest Service coming forward every year saying, "We need this money, not just to fight fires, but to take the kind of steps that are necessary to ensure that when fires do occur, that they won't be so devastating, that they won't burn for weeks and weeks, that they won't devour hundreds of thousands of acres of forest." You know, and those are programs where you've sort of managed the materials in the forest. You might thin out forests so there's not there a lot to burn. You might develop a space between the forest and people's houses, so those houses don't burn down like we've seen in Colorado Springs. So those programs, as well as the programs for putting out fires when they do occur, have both been cut this year. And that's going to have a pretty devastating effect. There's a lot of people very worried about that.
Arafat was poisoned by polonium: report (3 July 2012)
Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004, was poisoned by polonium, according to the findings of laboratory research carried out in Switzerland and cited in an Al-Jazeera report on Tuesday.
The analysis focused on biological samples taken from the late Palestinian leader's belongings given to his wife Suha by the military hospital in Paris where he died, according to Francois Bochud, head of the Institute of Radiation Physics at the University of Lausanne.
"The conclusion was that we did find some significant polonium that was present in these samples," Bochud told Al-Jazeera.
Polonium was used to kill Russian former spy turned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 after drinking tea laced with the radioactive substance at a London hotel.
Dark economic clouds gather anew over Obama campaign (3 July 2012)
(Reuters) - After a month in which his re-election campaign picked up momentum, hard economic realities are about to hit President Barack Obama as he takes to the road on a campaign bus trip through the Rust Belt.
Poor manufacturing data earlier this week followed by a likely weak jobless report on Friday are reminding Obama that he has a lot of work to do to convince voters he is bringing the economy back to full health.
A Supreme Court victory for Obama on healthcare and a surprise expansion of immigration laws that put Republican opponent Mitt Romney on the defensive on the issue may soon fade from memory.
"By Friday, the Supreme Court will be in the rear-view mirror and everybody will be talking about the state of the economy," said Greg Valliere, an analyst for institutional investors at Potomac Research Group.
Lehman maintains victory in Wisconsin recall recount (2 July 2012)
RACINE -- The results of an 11-day recount determined that former state Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, maintained his victory over state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine.
The difference counting all wards is now 819 votes, according to numbers announced Monday.
Initial canvass results for the June 5 recall election in Racine County's 21st Senate District showed Lehman led incumbent Wanggaard by 834 votes. But following the election, Wanggaard requested a recount and cited voter concern about suspicious election results as one of the reasons.
After the recount process was finalized and numbers were announced, Lehman said, "It is really time for Sen. Wanggaard to admit that he lost this election and for us to get on with the business of the state of Wisconsin."
Navy to resume sinking old ships in US waters (2 July 2012)
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- The U.S. Navy is resuming its practice of using old warships for target practice and sinking them in U.S. coastal waters after a nearly two-year moratorium spurred by environmental and cost concerns.
Later this month, three inactive vessels - Kilauea, Niagara Falls and Concord - will be sent to a watery grave off Hawaii by torpedoes, bombs and other ordnance during the Rim of the Pacific naval exercises, or RIMPAC.
The military quietly lifted the moratorium on Sinkex, short for sinking exercise, last year after a review of the requirements, costs, benefits and environmental impacts of the program, the Navy said in a statement to The Associated Press.
It will be the first time since 2010 the Navy has used target practice to dispose of an old ship. Previous targets have ranged from small vessels to aircraft carriers such as the USS America, which was more than three football fields long.
After Election, Mexico Poised for Return of PRI -- And Continuation of Deadly U.S.-Fueled Drug War (2 July 2012) [DN]
AMY GOODMAN: That's jounralist José Reveles. Your response, John Ackerman in Mexico City?
JOHN ACKERMAN: Yes, I think José Reveles is right about this. This is really the sad part about this election, if the PRI comes back into power. Peña Nieto is pretty clearly the candidate who will give continuity and continuation with Calderón's drug war strategies and total subservience to the dictates from the U.S. government, in terms of continuing on with this violent drug war, and particularly having Mexico do the dirty work for this drug war. Peña Nieto has been very clear. I mean, he's talked about changing strategies, as all the candidates have done so, but it looks pretty clear, especially because of his new appointment of Oscar Naranjo, the ex-police chief with Uribe in Colombia, that he is basically going to continue on the same line. And this would be very dangerous. The Mexican people--I don't know how much longer they're going to be able to really deal with and have patience for this humanitarian crisis that we're going through.
And so, the good news is that the students are still in the streets. They're still a very important social movement. López Obrador has received basically the same amount of votes as he did six years ago. Fourteen, 15 million people have voted for him. And so, this means that there's going to be a strong opposition against Peña Nieto, who in the end will probably come in as president with less than 40 percent of the popular vote. This is because there's three candidates. And so, we're going to have sort of a real pluralistic politics, which hopefully will be able to keep Peña Nieto in control and be able to bring Mexico back onto the path of institutional development and strengthen its democracy.
Power outages from deadly storms could last days as heat wave continues (1 July 2012)
Storms that killed 13 across eastern US have left hundreds of thousands without power amid record-breaking temperatures
Hundreds of thousands of residents could be left without power for days after vicious storms lashed the eastern US, bringing down electricity lines and resulting in at least 13 deaths.
Officials said it could take up to a week before outages are repaired, leading to fears over the effect that stifling heat could have on old, young and vulnerable people cut off from the relief of air-conditioning.
States of emergency have been declared in Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia and West Virginia, as forecasters predicted more thunderstorms and temperatures tipping into triple digits in the coming days.
In 4 years, 745,000 have used Post 9/11 GI Bill (29 July 2012)
Webb, who is not running for re-election this year, campaigned on a promise of creating a modern-day GI Bill that provided full tuition plus a living stipend. He made it the first bill he introduced after being sworn into office in 2008.
"We can all take pride in saying that we have made a proper investment in the future of those who, since 9/11, have given so much to this country," Webb said.
More than 745,000 Iraq and Afghanistan-era combat veterans or their dependents have used the program since its launch, and an additional half-million have applied for benefits but have not yet started using them.
This has not been a cheap proposition. The Veterans Affairs Department has paid more than $19 billion in tuition, fees, living stipends, book allowances and other benefits, and it anticipates costs will rise even more as the services -- especially the Army and Marine Corps -- draw down.
Part of the reason Webb was able to get such a major piece of legislation passed as a freshman senator was the fact that he enlisted the help of other veterans who had used previous versions of the GI Bill. He also found a way to outmaneuver concerns about the cost by getting the measure attached to an off-budget war-funding bill -- another political coup for a new senator.
N.C. sanctuary tries to rehab those dogged by past (1 July 2012)
This isn't your average dog-bites-man story. In fact, the tale of Alchemy, the out-on-bond Saint Bernard from Chesapeake, is quite the hairball.
While the dog has dodged execution - at least for now - his case is a study in the messiness of life.
Accused of biting at least five people, defended by a national canine rights group and hailed as the first dog ever granted bail, Alchemy then bit his own lawyer, according to police, but the attorney refused to show officers the evidence.
And the dog isn't the only one with legal troubles. Three people involved in his saga are facing criminal charges of their own, including the folks expected to rehabilitate Alchemy: a flat-broke lesbian couple running a Dog Whisperer-type sanctuary in Knotts Island, N.C.
Jumping off the fiscal cliff (1 July 2012)
(Reuters) - Members of Congress from both parties are increasingly mulling the unthinkable: going home in December without acting to avoid the $4 trillion in tax hikes and deep spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans claim this is their preferred option, as it could rattle global financial markets badly and anger their constituents.
But as they circle each other in an ever-more partisan atmosphere they see little prospect for a settlement acceptable to both parties in the lame duck session of Congress after the November 6 election.
That is when they confront the wave of fiscal cliff decisions including how to handle expiration of temporary tax cuts that originated during the presidency of George W. Bush, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts and the need to raise the debt ceiling again.
FBI's Ten Most Wanted list -- its past and present (1 July 2012)
WASHINGTON -- The idea came out of a card game. A reporter playing Hearts with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover asked him to name the meanest, wiliest fugitives the bureau could not track down. He thought putting their pictures in the newspaper might help.
It was 1949 and Hoover long had insisted no one could outsmart his FBI, not for long anyway. But a few weeks later, 10 names and pictures appeared at the reporter's door, and he got them plastered on the front of the Washington Daily News.
They were a sorry lot. Four escapees, three con men, two accused murderers and a bank robber. They were plucked from 5,700 fugitives hiding in the U.S. or abroad. To Hoover's surprise, nine of the 10 were soon captured. A year later, the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list was officially born.
Since then, 497 fugitives have made the roster. Their photos and IDs have gone from newspaper pages to TV screens, from post office posters to iPhone apps. Some names remain etched in the nation's psyche, including Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassin, James Earl Ray; serial killer Ted Bundy; and Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
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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