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NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2012
News from the Week of 2nd to 8th of September 2012
Burman: Why Obama should lose the election, and why he won't
(8 September 2012)
3. The American economy is in the tank.
The U.S. national debt now exceeds $16 trillion, the highest in history and far more than when Obama took over in 2009 ($10 trillion). The unemployment rate is still more than 8 per cent. His defenders argue, correctly, that he inherited an economic mess from the Republicans but that argument is more difficult to make as memories fade.
4. The American people still want change.
If the message of the 2008 election was for significant change, this has not happened. The latest poll indicates that only 10 per cent of Americans "approve" of the U.S. Congress, the lowest in history. Even the Communist party in the U.S. achieves a higher rating. But if both parties seemed to be loathed by many Americans, the lessons of modern political history suggest that it is the incumbent party -- the Democrats -- who will be most affected.
Why Obama and the Democrats will win:
1. He is still very well-liked and trusted.
It was a mystery to many that Americans in 2008 would elect a black man with Kenyan roots and "Hussein" as his middle name over a war hero, John McCain. Since then, millions of dollars have poured into media campaigns to demonize Obama. But he is still viewed as more "likable" than his Republican opponent by a margin of 20 points. That has a broader importance as election day nears. As Michelle Obama argued in her speech to the Democrats this week, being president doesn't change who you are, "it reveals who you are."
2. His political opposition is hopeless.
Mitt Romney is a loser and Paul Ryan is a liar. How lucky can Barack Obama be? The often comic, always surreal Republican primary process which coughed up Romney and Ryan as Obama's rivals will become a case study in how to blow a presidential race. Romney's only political experience is as governor of Massachusetts but he keeps running away from that. As for Paul Ryan, voted the "biggest brownnoser" by classmates in his senior year of high school, he is still trying to explain the dozen lies and distortions that marked his acceptance speech at the convention. His policies in Congress are like Robin-Hood-in-reverse: take from poor and give to the rich.
Controversial TV preacher Pat Robertson joins Romney at Virginia campaign stop (8 September 2012)
As Mitt Romney hit the campaign trail in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Saturday, sitting in the front row, very quietly, was televangelist Pat Robertson.
Robertson did not appear at last month's Republican National Convention, but WAVY-TV's account of Romney's speech suggests the GOP presidential nominee's remarks were tailored to reach out to Robertson's Christian fundamentalist fanbase -- particularly a knock at the Democratic Party's disagreement over whether to include "God" in its platform at its own national convention this past week.
"I will not take God out of our platform," Romney said. "I will not take God off our coins and I will not take God out of my heart."
Earlier this week on his show The 700 Club, Robertson said the Democrats were "going after God" and called them "the party of gays, godlessness and whatever else." The remarks followed both a long line of slams against the Democrats for, among other things, embracing marriage equality ("it will mean the death knell of their party") and his own endorsement of Romney ("you don't have Jesus running").
Conservation area aims to bring back beavers (8 September 2012)
Students from the Calgary Science School intend to study how the watery rodents alter the area as part of a three-year study.
"We've already brought a few into the north arm of Pine Creek and they seem to be doing well," said Shyba.
Beavers were part of the ecosystem as recently as 10 years ago, but were driven out by cougars and bears as well as a dwindling supply of trees.
"It's a natural process: they build a dam and after a period of years they move away. Now there's a new growth of poplars to replace the ones they cut down," said Shyba.
Alberta has a robust beaver population. One dam -- in Wood Buffalo National Park -- is so huge it can be seen from space.
Alberta forests threatened by pine beetle infestation (8 September 2012)
The Alberta government is looking to a neighbour for lessons on how to fend off a pine beetle infestation, which threatens the province's forests and even its forestry workers.
"They are pretty amazing... creatures. Hard to predict," said Alberta Forest Health Officer Devin Letourneau. "We have been trying very hard to find and locate the beetle."
The pine beetle burrows into the bark of the pine trees, cutting off the plant's nutrients and causing it to slowly die.
Sixty per cent of the interior pine forest in B.C. has been killed by the infestation. Now, it is moving into the forests of Northern Alberta.
Paul Ryan to begin debate prep on Sunday in Oregon (7 September 2012)
SAN RAMON, Calif. -- How does a candidate ready himself to face off in front of millions against Vice President Biden, a politician of vast experience who is well-known for his ability to talk?
For Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee, preparing to debate Biden means increasing amounts of time closeted away in hotel rooms and ever-thicker briefing books that his aides say he may soon start lugging around in a backpack instead of a briefcase.
After headlining two closed-door fundraisers in California on Saturday and visiting Google headquarters to host an online "hangout" with campaign volunteers, Ryan on Sunday will take a day off the campaign trail to huddle with advisers in the Portland, Ore., area for his first full day of debate preparations, according to two Romney aides traveling with him.
"Vice President Joe Biden served over 30 years in the United States Senate, he's run for president twice and has served as vice president for the past four years. He is one of the most experienced debaters in American political life, and we definitely don't take the challenge lightly," said one of the aides, who was not authorized to publicly discuss Ryan's debate preparations and therefore spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Paul Ryan On Medical Marijuana Legalization: 'Let The States Decide' (VIDEO) (8 September 2012)
In an interview with Colorado station KRDO-TV, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan says he believes it's up to the states to decide whether to legalize medical marijuana.
"My personal position on these issues has been let the states decide what they want to do with these things," he explains. "This is something that is not a high priority of ours."
Voters in Colorado will decide whether to legalize marijuana this November with Amendment 64 on the ballot. (Ryan did not elaborate on whether complete decriminalization should be left to the states.)
According to KRDO-TV, Ryan made clear that he "doesn't believe" in the effort, but he nevertheless feels the issue should be reconciled at the state level.
Georgia flouts federal order, withholds lunch ladies' unemployment benefits (8 September 2012)
Georgia has set up a showdown with the Obama administration over how deeply states can cut jobless benefits by refusing to give school bus drivers and lunch ladies unemployment benefits during their summer breaks.
The issue echoes beyond Georgia because other states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, and Arizona have trimmed unemployment benefits in various ways to rein in costs. Florida, for example, has a proposal to require drug tests for recipients to be eligible for benefits, while other states have reduced the total number of weeks that benefits can be received.
For its part, the Georgia unemployment insurance fund is broke, owing Washington more than $700 million for money it borrowed during the recession -- adding to Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler's sense of urgency.
But his open defiance of a US Labor Department order to restore unemployment benefits to seasonal workers is seen as the boldest move yet by a cash-strapped state. The Labor Department has responded by threatening to withhold the $72 million it pays Georgia annually to administer the program.
Ex-Mich. Gov. Jennifer Granholm: "In Romney's World, Cars Get the Elevator, Workers Get the Shaft" (7 September 2012) [DN]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to former Governor Granholm of Michigan, who gave one of the most electric speeches of the night.
JENNIFER GRANHOLM: I'm Jennifer Granholm, from the great state of Michigan, where the trees are just the right height. Hey, let me tell you a story about the dark days in my home state. So, toward the end of my time as governor, Ford closed one of its biggest factories, a factory in Wixom, Michigan. And the plant had employed over the years thousands of middle-class men and women in neighborhoods near and worlds away from the place where Mitt Romney was raised. And when Ford's decision to close the factory hit, I went down to the local union hall, and it was actually almost empty. A few workers were milling about, really in a state of shock and grief. And I talked to a 45-year-old guy who told me, "This is the only place I've ever worked. I've been loyal. I've done everything they've ever asked. And just like that, it's gone." And he looked around the hall, and he said, "So, Governor, is it over for us? Is the American auto industry dead?" And honestly, at that moment, I just didn't know.
But that was just the beginning. When the financial crisis hit, things got worse, and fast. The entire auto industry, and the lives of over one million hard-working Americans, teetered on the edge of collapse--and with it, the entire manufacturing sector of this country. And we looked everywhere for help. Almost nobody had the guts to help us--not the banks, not the private investors, and not Bain Capital.
But, in 2009, the cavalry arrived, and our new president, Barack Obama, came in! He organized a rescue. He made the tough calls. And he saved the American auto industry.
Now, you know--you know, Mitt Romney, he saw the same crisis, and you know what he said? "Let Detroit go bankrupt." Now, sure, sure, Mitt Romney loves our lakes and our trees. He loves our cars so much, they even have their own elevator. But the people who design and build and sell those cars? Well, in Romney's world, the cars get the elevator, and the workers get the shaft! You know what I'm saying. You know what I'm saying.
Rep. John Lewis, Civil Rights Icon, on Re-Electing Obama and Fighting to Protect the Vote (7 September 2012) [DN]
REP. JOHN LEWIS: My dear friends, your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union. Not too long ago, people stood in unmovable lines. They had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax. On one occasion, a man was asked to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. On another occasion, one was asked to count the jellybeans in a jar--all to keep them from casting their ballot. Today it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials are trying to stop some people from voting. They are changing--they are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing a requirement intended to suppress the vote. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania House even bragged that his state's new voter ID law is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state. That's not right, that's not fair, and that is not just. And similar efforts have been made in Texas, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina. I've seen this before. I lived this before. Too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote. And we have come too far together to ever turn back. So, Democrats, we must not be silent. We must stand up, speak up and speak out!
AMY GOODMAN: That was legendary civil rights activist, long-term Georgia Congressmember John Lewis. For a full hour interview with him with Democracy Now!, can go to our website at democracynow.org.
The Message From Both Parties Is That Americans Are Disposable ~ Paul Craig Roberts (7 September 2012) [R]
Why didn't the Republican convention raise the issue about the Obama regime's claim that the executive branch has the power to assassinate US citizens without due process of law? No such power exists in the US Constitution or in US statutory law. This gestapo police state claim exists only as an assertion. Republicans ignored this most important of all issues, because they support it.
Why didn't the Democrat convention raise the issue that the Republicans took us to wars based on 9/11 assertions without ever conducting an investigation of 9/11? No qualified high-rise architect, structural engineer, physicist, chemist, or national security expert believes a word of the US government's 9/11 story. Neither do the first responders who were on the scene and witnessed and experienced the event.
Many experts keep their opinions to themselves, because otherwise the federal grants to their universities are over and done with or their architectural and engineering businesses are boycotted by patriotic former clients.
Regardless of these risks, there are 1,700 architects and engineers who have sent a petition to Congress that they do not believe one word of the official explanation and who demand a real investigation.
Why did not either party raise the question of how can the US economy recover when corporations have offshored millions of US middle class jobs, both manufacturing jobs and professional service jobs. For at least a decade, the US economy has been able to create only lowly paid domestic non-tradable (not exportable) service jobs, such as waitresses, bartenders, and hospital orderlies.
Feds Seek Prison Time For Obama "Hope" Artist (7 September 2012)
SEPTEMBER 5--Federal prosecutors want Shepard Fairey, the artist who created the Barack Obama "Hope" poster, to serve time in prison following his misdemeanor conviction for destroying and fabricating documents in connection with a civil lawsuit over the iconic campaign image.
In advance of Friday's scheduled sentencing of Fairey in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the Department of Justice has filed a memorandum arguing that a prison term for the 42-year-old artist would be "appropriate."
However, prosecutors did not specify how long Fairey should be incarcerated (though, statutorily, his punishment would not exceed six months). Additionally, government lawyers have contended that Judge Frank Maas could fine Fairey up to $3.2 million.
"A sentence without any term of imprisonment sends a terrible message to those who might commit the same sort of criminal conduct," wrote prosecutor Daniel Levy in a September 2 memo. "Encouraging parties to game the civil litigation system...creates terrible incentives and subverts the truth-finding function of civil litigation."
Cheetah's speed secrets are revealed (8 September 2012)
A sprinting cheetah is like "a rear-wheel-drive car," say scientists.
Japanese researchers mapped the muscles fibres of the big cat known to accelerate to record-breaking speeds.
By comparing the cheetah's muscles with those of a domestic cat and dog, the team identified the special propulsion power of its hindlimb muscles.
The study is the first to investigate muscle fibre distribution across the whole of the cheetah's body,
The findings are published in the journal Mammalian Biology and examine how the muscle fibres of domestic cats and dogs compare with those of the world's fastest land mammal.
Early eye exams touted as means of limiting behavioural problems in school (7 September 2012)
A local optometrist is urging the province to make thorough eye exams compulsory for children entering school, worried a large number are struggling in class because of undiagnosed vision problems.
Eye problems hit anywhere between 15 and 35 per cent of children in the classroom, however, in many cases they go untreated, according to a soon-to-be-published academic paper.
So significant is the problem that Dr. Charles Boulet -- a co-author of the work and an eye doctor in Black Diamond -- says he routinely sees kids who have been medicated for poor behaviour and learning, but in fact have serious eye problems.
"What we do is we turn them into medical cases where they're being scanned with MRIs, they're having their blood work done, they're being given pills," Boulet said in an interview.
"We're forgetting the basics, frankly."
Marikana mine shootings revive bitter days of Soweto and Sharpeville (7 September 2012)
Phumelele Gura survived a barrage of police bullets and more than two weeks in prison, where he lay awake listening to the sound of workmates allegedly being tortured. His grandfather and his father backed the ANC. He no longer will.
"I won't vote for the ANC next time because they failed the people," he said. "My family always voted ANC but we don't trust it any more."
Gura, 49, is not alone in thinking the events of 16 August 2012 marked a tectonic shift in South Africa. That was the day when police, enforcing the will of the country's black-majority government, opened fire on striking miners, killing 34 and injuring 78.
The massacre represented "probably the lowest moment in the short history of a democratic South Africa", wrote Cyril Ramaphosa, a senior figure in the African National Congress and a former mining union leader.
Comparisons were made with the bloodiest days of apartheid: Sharpeville, Soweto, now Marikana.
Lack of oxygen killed Lake Erie fish, tests show (7 September 2012)
Tens of thousands of fish that washed up on the north shore of Lake Erie over the Labour Day weekend died of natural causes related to lack of oxygen in the water, early test results reveal.
The environment ministry said Friday the water tests confirm that a naturally occurring temperature inversion brought an oxygen-depleted layer of water from the bottom of the lake close to the surface causing the widespread kill.
"Samples back from the lab do not show any evidence of a manure spills or anything unusual in terms of contamination. The information that we have suggests the fish may have been killed as the result of natural causes," said ministry spokesperson Kate Jordan told the Star.
Jordan said further data confirmed a sudden temperature drop in the lake and near-zero oxygen in the water below 12 metres. Test results on the fish are expected next week.
Meanwhile, the rotting fish carcasses as well as some dead birds continue to line the shore of Lake Erie for 40 kilometres.
"The stench is absolutely terrible," Progressive Conservative MPP Rick Nicholls, MPP (Chatham -- Kent -- Essex) told the Star.
Oil company delays exploration in Arctic waters off Alaska (7 September 2012)
A Norwegian oil and gas company is delaying plans to explore for oil offshore in the Alaska Arctic until at least 2015 because of concerns about regulatory challenges faced by rival and sometimes partner Shell Oil Co., according to a company spokesman.
The decision by Statoil came in August, before federal regulators decided to allow Shell to drill in the Chukchi Sea, but that development doesn't change things, said Jim Schwartz, a Houston-based spokesman for Statoil.
"The bottom line is, in light of the significant uncertainty regarding Alaska offshore exploration, we've decided to take what we believe is a prudent step of observing the outcome of Shell's efforts before finalizing our own exploration decision time frame," Schwartz said.
Statoil earlier had targeted 2014 to begin exploratory drilling on its Amundsen prospect, some 120 miles off Alaska's northwest coast in the Chukchi Sea. The company spent $23 million to acquire interests in 66 Chukchi tracts in the same 2008 lease sale that saw Shell spend $2.1 billion for its Chukchi prospects. Statoil is the sole owner of 16 leases that include Amundsen and is a minority partner with Conoco Phillips on 50 more.
Arctic ice melting at 'amazing' speed, scientists find (7 September 2012)
The Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) is at the forefront of Arctic research and its international director, Kim Holmen, told the BBC that the speed of the melting was faster than expected.
"It is a greater change than we could even imagine 20 years ago, even 10 years ago," Dr Holmen said.
"And it has taken us by surprise and we must adjust our understanding of the system and we must adjust our science and we must adjust our feelings for the nature around us."
The institute has been deploying its icebreaker, Lance, to research conditions between Svalbard and Greenland - the main route through which ice flows out of the Arctic Ocean.
In convention finale, Obama offers voters path to 'better place' (7 September 2012)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Standing before an exhilarated gathering of Democrats to launch his fall campaign, President Obama on Thursday implored voters to bear with him through the nation's continuing struggles and give him another four years in the White House.
"I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy. I never have," Obama said. "You didn't elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades."
Offering his most comprehensive response to the Republicans who have railed against his performance as president, Obama warned against returning to conservative policies that he said had plunged America into a severe economic crisis.
"Know this, America: Our problems can be solved," said Obama, who was introduced by First Lady Michelle Obama. "Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place."
In convention speech, Obama confronts ghosts of 2008 (7 September 2012)
(Reuters) - President Barack Obama delivered a scaled-back pitch for another term in office on Thursday, steering clear of ambitious promises and warning voters that the next four years could hold disappointment even if he won.
It was a sharp contrast to the speech Obama delivered four years ago in Denver, when he emerged as a transformative candidate, the first African-American to win the presidential nomination of a major party.
Obama will face Republican Mitt Romney in the November 6 election, but he also will confront the lingering ghosts of his history-making 2008 bid.
Campaigning on a theme of hope and change then, Obama's re-election prospects now turn on the prosaic stream of data that, day by day, paint a portrait of an economy that is still struggling to emerge from the deepest recession since the 1930s.
In the war of 140 characters, Obama wins (7 September 2012)
The race between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama might be razor thin, but in the Twitter arena, Obama has a clear advantage over his Republican opponent.
According to Twitter, Obama received more than 52,000 tweets per minutes during his keynote speech on Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention. In contrast, Romney got more than 14,000 tweets per minute during his speech last week.
Twitter said the Obama tweet firestorm was mostly centered on five lines from his acceptance speech.
43,646 -- "I'm no longer just the candidate, I'm the President."
39,002 -- "I will never turn Medicare into a voucher"
38,597 -- Discussing Medicare
37,694 -- "We don't think government can solve all our problems..."
34,572 -- Quips about the Olympics and "Cold War mind wrap"
But before Democrats get too excited, Obama might have benefited by a larger Twitter base than Mitt Romney.
During the entire Republican National Convention, Twitter saw more than 4 million tweets about the subject. The Democratic National Convention saw nearly the same 4 million in the final day of the convention.
U.S. adds disappointing 96,000 jobs; August unemployment rate at 8.1% (7 September 2012)
WASHINGTON -- In a broadly disappointing economic report, U.S. employers added a smaller-than-expected 96,000 jobs in August as manufacturers cut back their payrolls and government continued to shed workers. Moreover, the Labor Department revised lower the job-growth numbers estimated for July and June.
The Labor Department said the jobless rate dropped over the month, to 8.1% from 8.3% in July, but that came as many people dropped out of the labor market. In a nation where the population is growing, a shrinking labor force suggests that many workers are giving up job searches because they are striking out in the employment market or don't see good prospects.
The share of workers and unemployed people who are seeking work out of the total population -- or the labor force participation rate -- dropped to a 30-year low of 63.5% in August. Average hourly earnings also dipped over the month, the Labor Department said.
The report, coming on the morning after President Obama's nomination acceptance speech, was bad news for Obama and his supporters, who spent a considerable amount of energy during this week's Democratic National Convention defending the president's economic record and pushing back against Republican challenger Mitt Romney's criticisms that the administration's economic policies have failed.
Canada closes Iran embassy, expels remaining Iranian diplomats (7 September 2012)
VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA--Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says he's cutting ties with Iran amid worries about the safety of Canadian diplomats in the country.
Baird says the Canadian embassy in Tehran will close immediately and Iranian diplomats in Canada have been given five days to leave.
He says he's worried about the safety of diplomats in Tehran following recent attacks on the British embassy there.
He's also warning ordinary Canadians to avoid travel to Iran.
Ex-employee of Bain-managed firm: 'Personal experience' tells me Romney likes to fire people (6 September 2012)
As America enters the final throes of the 2012 presidential election, rife with it's own unique set of problems and platitudes, the Obama campaign appears determined to party like it's 1994 by resurrecting a powerful jobs-based platform that crushed Mitt Romney's first election bid for national office.
That's why former AmPad employee Randy Johnson was on the front lines of the Democrats' rhetorical war on Wednesday night, just as he was in Romney's 1994 campaign against Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA). "Mitt Romney once said, 'I like being able to fire people,'" Johnson told convention delegates. "Well, I can tell you from personal experience, he does."
Johnson was one of about 350 people suddenly fired one morning in 1994, after his company had been purchased by the Bain-run AmPad. "They rushed in the security guards and we weren't even allowed to take our personal items. They handed us job applications and told us, 'If we want you, we'll let you know.' Now, the truth is, some folks were hired back. Lower wages, fewer benefits, no retirement. But many others weren't. And seven months later, they closed our plant for good."
That should sound familiar to astute political junkies who recall the 1994 campaign. Johnson and the closure of AmPad turned out to be terrifically effective public relations, and Sen. Kennedy used it to bludgeon Romney's aspirations into defeat. And even though Johnson skipped a few important facts, like the labor dispute and strike that occurred while Romney says he wasn't actively running the company, Bain did ultimately fire everyone once Romney was back the helm in 1995.
Johnson was just one of three former employees of Bain-managed companies to speak at the DNC on Wednesday, in a slate of speeches meant to emphasize what the candidate once sort-of said himself: That he really does like to fire people, especially when there's a profit motive to do so. Fellow former Bain-managed worker Cindy Hewitt joined him, all chosen by the party to deliver scripted tales of their short tenures at Bain-managed companies.
NAACP's Ben Jealous on the Voting Rights Battles That Could Roll Back Gains and Decide 2012 Election (6 September 2012) [DN]
AMY GOODMAN: Why do people not have IDs? Explain why there is a disparate impact on communities of color and poor people and older people.
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Right. So, there's a whole host of reasons, right? One is that this ID has to have the same address. And so, if you're a poor person on the margin of this economy or somebody who's struggling--two, three jobs--you often move at least once a year. And people just don't tend to go to the DMV once a year. So, you know, you could have an ID, but it just might not have the right address. If you're too poor to own a car--and there's a lot of folks these days who are too poor to own a car--you tend not to have a driver's license. If you're a student who's moved--I mean, think about when you went to college, right? Did you really run to the DMV to get, you know, a driver's license from that state? No, most of us just carried the one from home. So there's a whole host of reasons. And then, you know, it could also be because--they say that your ID has to have an expiration date. Well, if it's a veterans' benefit card, there's no expiration date, right? because your status as a vet never expires. Many student IDs don't have expiration dates. And so they put all sorts of technical things in there.
But here's the real funny part, Amy. In court, they admitted there's never been a case of voter impersonation in Pennsylvania. Bottom line is this: if the law is not intended to solve a problem, it's intended to be a problem. And that's what we're dealing with in Pennsylvania.
Quakes in southwest China kill dozens, damage 20,000 homes (7 September 2012)
BEIJING (Reuters) - Two shallow 5.6 magnitude earthquakes hit mountainous southwestern China on Friday, killing at least 64 people and forcing tens of thousands of people from damaged buildings, state media said.
The quakes struck near the border of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, the first one at 11:19 a.m. (0319 GMT) and the second one about 45 minutes later, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
About 700 people were injured and 20,000 homes damaged in the remote mountainous region about 350 km (210 miles) from the Yunnan provincial capital Kunming, the official Xinhua news agency said.
As the number of dead climbed throughout the day, state media reported that Premier Wen Jiabao would travel to the area, as he has often done when disasters strike Chinese regions.
Too few California oil refinery-safety checks (6 September 2012)
California regulators have not been conducting the intensive workplace-safety inspections of Chevron's Richmond plant and the state's 14 other oil refineries that federal standards call for, a Chronicle investigation shows.
The limited checks that California inspectors have performed over the last decade have not led to a single fine collected from a major oil company, according to inspection records.
Those findings are backed up by a recently released federal audit of the state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which is charged with enforcing state and federal workplace-safety rules at California refineries. It found that the California agency had conducted "very few, if any" comprehensive inspections of oil and chemical plants under its authority.
Cal/OSHA officials said the federal auditors' findings did not reflect the complete picture of their inspection and enforcement efforts. They said they would respond in detail directly to the auditors.
Puget Sound Wind farm lets you bike, hike or hunt among towering turbines (6 September 2012)
The Kittitas County Sheriff's Office was halting cars on the Vantage Highway as I drove out from Ellensburg, and I realized I was too late for that morning's Whiskey Dick Triathlon. Also too old, and too weak.
Fortunately, I was on a more modest mission: to ride among the monumental, sturdy trunks that punctuate the windswept skyline near Whiskey Dick Mountain. Not the broad, leafy trees that shelter where the Yakima River snakes through the adjacent valley, nor the scraggly pines growing partway up the ridge -- the angular, 350-foot-tall monsters I was looking for were wind turbines.
This nonnative species has sprouted in profusion on the Kittitas County hills. From Interstate 90, the wind turbines seem like toothpicks. But up close they are massive, and there may be no better place to learn about them than the Wild Horse Wind Farm, Puget Sound Energy's power plantation 18 miles northeast of Ellensburg.
Its privately owned 11,000 acres of scrubby brush and ravines are accessible to the public for hiking or biking, even hunting; just complete the paperwork. What distinguishes this stretch of rangeland, however, is the opportunity to check out the 149 turbines.
Yosemite doubles scope of hantavirus warning to 22,000; third death confirmed (7 September 2012)
Updated at 8:12 a.m. ET: A third person has died from the rare, rodent-carried hantavirus after visiting Yosemite National Park, bringing the total number of infected persons to eight and prompting warnings that the virus is not contained to just one area of the park, health officials said.
Yosemite National Park doubled the scope of its warning on Thursday to some 22,000 visitors who may have been exposed to the deadly mouse-borne disease.
U.S. officials had recently sounded a worldwide alert, saying that up to 10,000 people were thought to be at risk of contracting Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) after staying at "Signature Tents" at the Curry Village lodging area between June and August.
As many as 2,500 of those individuals live outside the United States, health officials said.
Mammograms, X-rays could raise breast cancer risk in young women (7 September 2012)
LONDON - Mammograms aimed at finding breast cancer might actually raise the chances of developing it in young women whose genes put them at higher risk for the disease, a study by leading European cancer agencies suggests.
The added radiation from mammograms and other types of tests with chest radiation might be especially harmful to them and an MRI is probably a safer method of screening women under 30 who are at high risk because of gene mutations, the authors conclude.
The study can't prove a link between the radiation and breast cancer, but is one of the biggest ever to look at the issue. The research was published Thursday in the journal BMJ.
"This will raise questions and caution flags about how we treat women with (gene) mutations," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. He and the society had no role in the research.
FCC may auction TV airwaves to wireless carriers (6 September 2012)
The Federal Communications Commission will propose on Friday a plan to auction off television airwaves to wireless carriers that will use them to create faster and more reliable networks, according to an official familiar with the plans.
The sale could potentially raise billions of dollars that would fund a public safety communications network and fatten the coffers of the Treasury.
The FCC's proposal is expected to outline how broadcasters will voluntarily give up airwaves to win proceeds from the auction, as well as instructions for wireless carriers that increasingly are hungry for more spectrum. The auctions are expected to take place in 2014, the agency official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the plans are not public.
The plan will be circulated to the commission's five members, who will take a vote on the matter at their Sept. 28 public meeting. If approved, it will kick into gear the agency's first major auction of airwaves since 2008.
Insiders suspected in Saudi cyber attack (7 September 2012)
(Reuters) - One or more insiders with high-level access are suspected of assisting the hackers who damaged some 30,000 computers at Saudi Arabia's national oil company last month, sources familiar with the company's investigation say.
The attack using a computer virus known as Shamoon against Saudi Aramco - the world's biggest oil company - is one of the most destructive cyber strikes conducted against a single business.
Shamoon spread through the company's network and wiped computers' hard drives clean. Saudi Aramco says damage was limited to office computers and did not affect systems software that might hurt technical operations.
The hackers' apparent access to a mole, willing to take personal risk to help, is an extraordinary development in a country where open dissent is banned.
Fort Hood massacre suspect's beard must go, says judge (7 September 2012)
A US military judge has ordered the Fort Hood massacre suspect, army major Nidal Hasan, to shave or be forcibly shaved, ruling that his beard is not covered by federal laws protecting religious freedom.
Colonel Gregory Gross ruled following a hearing that Hasan's attorneys had failed to prove he had grown the beard, which he has worn since June, for religious reasons. Hasan, 41, has said he grew the beard in line with the beliefs of his Islamic faith and that it is part of his free exercise of religion.
Hasan, an army psychiatrist, faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the shootings at the army base in Texas in 2009.
"Bottom line is the judge ordered him to be forcibly shaved," the Fort Hood spokesman Tyler Broadway said.
Bill Clinton offers forceful defense of Obama's record (6 September 2012)
CHARLOTTE -- Former president Bill Clinton delivered a spirited defense of President Obama's handling of the nation's struggling economy here Wednesday night, criticizing the agenda and philosophy of Mitt Romney and accusing the Republican Party of ideological rigidity and an unwillingness to compromise.
In a speech formally nominating Obama for a second term, Clinton argued that the president has spent the past four years putting in place policies that will lead to a more vibrant and balanced economy and asserted that, despite problems, Americans are "clearly better off" than they were when the president was sworn into office.
"No president -- not me or any of my predecessors -- no one could have fully repaired all the damage in just four years," Clinton said. Obama, he added, "has laid the foundations for a new modern successful economy, a shared prosperity, and if you will renew the president's contract, you will feel it."
Clinton took the stage just after 10:30 p.m. to a chorus of cheers and applause, with delegates waving signs that said "Middle Class First" while his 1992 campaign theme song, "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)," blared on the public address system.
Putin leads young Siberian cranes in flight (6 September 2012)
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (AP) -- Vladimir Putin flew on a motorized hang glider to lead a flock of young Siberian white cranes in flight, a characteristic stunt for Russia's action-man, animal-loving president.
Dressed in a white costume meant to imitate an adult crane, Putin was taking part in a project to teach the endangered birds who were raised in captivity to follow the aircraft on their southern migration to Central Asia.
Putin has charmed many Russians while disgusting others with his feats, starting from 2000 when he flew into Chechnya in the back seat of a fighter jet. Over the years, he has ridden a horse bare-chested through the mountains, driven a Formula One race car and taken the controls of a firefighting plane to dump water on wildfires.
The flight in the hang glider proved to be a test of Putin's leadership skills. Only one crane followed Putin on his first flight, which he attributed to high winds that caused the hang glider to travel faster than usual, the RIA Novosti news agency reported. On the second flight, five birds followed Putin, but after a few circles only two had stuck with him for the full 15-minute flight.
Kurdish oil deals have Baghdad in a bind (6 September 2012)
Foreign oil firms and Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan have tested Shahristani's patience for months by drawing up oil accords the central government dismisses as illegal. Baghdad insists it alone has the right to export Iraqi crude.
Nine months after U.S. troops left, the oil contracts dispute is part of a broader political feud between the Baghdad government and Kurdistan over oil rights, territory and regional autonomy that is straining Iraq's uneasy federal union.
Other majors Chevron, Total and Gazprom have joined Exxon with their own deals in Kurdistan, provoking warnings from Baghdad their southern Iraqi oil deals with the federal government might be at risk.
But the might of Exxon has caught the oil ministry in a bind and officials say privately any action against the firm is unlikely in the near future. With few assets exposed to Baghdad, other majors in Kurdistan may also escape unpunished.
Human Rights Watch accuses US of covering up extent of waterboarding (6 September 2012)
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the US government of covering up the extent of waterboarding at secret CIA prisons, alleging that Libyan opponents of Muammar Gaddafi were subjected to the torture before being handed over to the former dictator's security police.
The New York-based human rights group has cast "serious doubt" on Washington's claim that only three people, all members of al-Qaida, were waterboarded in American custody, claiming in a new report to have fresh evidence that the CIA used the technique to simulate drowning on Libyans snatched from countries in Africa and Asia.
The report, Delivered into Enemy Hands: US-Led Abuse and Rendition of Opponents to Gaddafi's Libya, also says that the CIA, Britain's MI6 and other western intelligence services were responsible for "delivering Gaddafi his enemies on a silver platter" by sending the captured men to Tripoli for further abuse after the American interrogations.
The HRW report is based on documents seized at the Libyan intelligence headquarters after Gaddafi's fall, and interviews with 14 former detainees, mostly members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which attempted for 20 years to overthrow the former regime in Tripoli. The group joined last year's revolution and some of those tortured by the US now hold leadership positions in the new Libyan administration.
At DNC, Ex-Presidential Hopefuls Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinich on 2012 Race, Obama's First Term (5 September 2012) [DN]
AMY GOODMAN: What about what's happening, the longest war, that hasn't ended still, in Afghanistan, the highest suicide rate of soldiers in history?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: A little bit of America dies every time one of those soldiers commits suicide, because those wars were not necessary. The war in Iraq was based on lies, the war in Afghanistan based on a total misunderstanding of history. Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, maybe Iran--what are we doing with this country? We've got to stop these imperialistic intentions and bring--take care of things here at home, stop trying to run the world, stop trying to pretend that we can pick the leaders of other nations. We do a--we should focus on our leadership here and support America's effort to unite, have a domestic agenda. We really have to reclaim our country.
AMY GOODMAN: A young man named Khan, who came from Charlotte, is one of the four who were killed in a drone attack that killed Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Today there was a protest, and people were holding up his picture. What about these drone attacks?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Listen, I have been one of the strongest spokespersons in Congress to end the drone attacks, right when I heard about the first one in a little town called Damadola in Pakistan, where there were a number of people who were killed in a drone attack. Listen, everything about the drones, drone attacks, wrong. It's unconstitutional. It's extralegal, extrajudicial killings, creates more enemies. It makes it easy to go to war. We have to stop it. And it's part--and what we have to do is change the policies that are underneath the drones, the idea that somehow America has a right to extend its force everywhere in the world. No, we don't.
It's Party Time: Corporations, Donors with Billions at Stake Fund Lavish Events at DNC (5 September 2012) [DN]
AMY GOODMAN: So, it has been pouring outside, but also inside.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: It's raining money. You know, lots of--all the rain last night didn't stop the party scene happening after the convention proceedings ended.
AMY GOODMAN: Just one second here. I should probably be wearing my credentials, because you can't get on the convention floor without them. But, let's see, my credential has the AT&T logo on it.
LIZ BARTOLOMEO: As do mine.
AMY GOODMAN: And what's interesting for the journalists, and of course all the delegates, as well, AT&T was also one of the major sponsors of the 2008 convention. Originally, Senator Obama said he would filibuster any legislation that granted retroactive immunity to AT&T and other companies for spying on American citizens, but when actually the bill was on the floor, he voted for it. And within a few weeks, the Democratic convention 2008 had AT&T branded on the delegates' bags. But it's not only AT&T--that's on the lanyard. Let's see, just the ID we have to wear to get into, for example, Bank of America Stadium, we have here, and on the ID here it says--this is for Tuesday and Wednesday, my ID--Time Warner Cable Arena. So, Time Warner, AT&T, Bank of America. Talk about what else you've been collecting.
Hackers allegedly holding Romney tax returns for ransom (5 September 2012)
The financial firm PricewaterhouseCoopers is taking the alleged theft of Mitt Romney's tax returns seriously, according to BuzzFeed, though it has no evidence that any documents were actually stolen.
"We are aware of the allegations that have been made regarding improper access to our systems," the firm said in a statement. "We are working closely with the United States Secret Service, and at this time there is no evidence that our systems have been compromised or that there was any unauthorized access to the data in question."
Unidentified hackers announced Wednesday that they obtained Romney's tax returns in an elaborate and implausible heist. They claimed to have gained access to the firm's office in Tennessee "via a gentleman working on the 3rd floor of the building," then went down the stairs to the second floor and "setup shop in an empty office room." At night, the alleged thieves copied all the 1040 tax forms for Romney they uncovered.
In addition, the hackers claimed to have sent USB drives containing information contained on Romney's tax forms to local Democratic and Republican Party offices. Williamson County Republican party executive director Jean Barwick has confirmed relieving the USB drive, but has not confirmed the authenticity of the drive's content.
Study: First Lady's convention speech seven grade levels higher than Ann Romney's (5 September 2012)
The speech First Lady Michelle Obama delivered at Tuesday night's Democratic convention read at a twelfth grade level, according to an analysis by a University of Minnesota political scientist, making it, by that measure, the most complex speech delivered by a presidential candidate's spouse at a nominating convention.
By contrast, the speech delivered by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, checked in at a fifth grade reading level. Romney's speech marked the lowest reading level for a spouse's convention speech since the practice first began in 1992, according to Eeic Ostermeier, the Minnesota political scientists.
Ostermeier reached his findings using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, a metric that rates sentence structure and difficulty of word use, and then computes numbers corresponding to grade levels to indicate how verbally advanced a given text is. For example, longer sentences and words score more points, while monosyllabic words score fewer points.
Based on that rubric, Obama's speech posted the highest score, at 12.84, of any spouse's convention speech since the practice began in 1992, topping her own previous high mark of 9.28--or a ninth grade reading level--she set with her speech at the 2008 Democratic Convention.
At GOP Fundraiser with Billionaires, Karl Rove Maps 2012 Strategy and Jokes of Murdering Todd Akin (5 September 2012) [DN]
AMY GOODMAN: I want to just clarify that Marco Rubio is not running for a Senate seat, since he won in 2010, but he certainly is a headliner for other races around the country. Finally, Sheelah Kolhatkar, let's get to Missouri, the race where Claire McCaskill, until two weeks ago, was actually neck and neck or maybe even behind the incumbent senator, as she is being challenged by Todd Akin. So, if you could, finally, talk about what Karl Rove had to say about Todd Akin, who refused to step down. Well, you tell us the story and the context, for people who may have been on another planet when this controversy came out a few weeks ago.
SHEELAH KOLHATKAR: Sure. Well, Akin, in various places, has made some very controversial comments about rape. And he said, in the case of a, quote-unquote, "legitimate rape," it's unlikely that a woman will get pregnant, so therefore there was no need for a rape exception to any sort of law outlawing abortion. Understandably, people got very upset and outraged by this rather preposterous assertion on his part, and Rove expressed extreme frustration with Akin. He made a joke that has gotten a lot of attention about how, you know, he wants Akin out. "We should sink Todd Akin," he said. You know, "If his dead body shows up, don't come looking for me." He was obviously joking, but it does speak to how strongly he feels about this. He said that they have until the 25th of September to kind of convince Akin to leave the race, because, basically, as long as he stays in there, Claire McCaskill has a much stronger chance of winning, and she was in serious jeopardy before this whole scandal erupted.
Rove then listed off a handful of people who are interested in his seat, his spot on the ticket, if he actually does leave, including a former senator of Missouri, Jack Danforth, who specifically told Rove that the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's running mate was actually what galvanized him, because, he said, "Well, this indicates to me that Romney is really serious about tackling entitlements and entitlement reform, so I want to get in on that." So there's this whole group of people sort of champing at the bit to take over Akin's spot, and Akin, so far, is refusing to buckle, even though all of his financial support, you know, from the Republican committee, from outside groups, has all been withdrawn and redeployed to other states where they feel that they have a better shot.
Court rules that L.A. can't destroy homeless people's property (5 September 2012)
Los Angeles and other cities are barred by the U.S. Constitution from randomly seizing and destroying property homeless people temporarily leave unattended on city streets, a federal appeals court decided Wednesday.
Upholding a court order against Los Angeles, a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, 2-1, that the personal possessions the homeless leave for a short time on city sidewalks may be taken only if the possessions pose an immediate threat to public safety or health or constitute criminal evidence.
Even then, the court said, the city may not summarily destroy the property and must notify the owners where they can pick it up.
Wednesday's ruling came as cities across the state grapple with ways to keep streets clean and safe without running afoul of the rights of the homeless who live there.
Pakistan orders Save the Children foreign workers to leave (5 September 2012)
Pakistan has given foreigners working for Save the Children a week to leave the country after becoming convinced that the aid organisation was used as cover by US spies hunting Osama bin Laden.
The aid group had been under suspicion from authorities ever since a doctor accused of assisting the CIA in its search for the al-Qaida leader claimed that Save the Children had introduced him to US intelligence officers.
But now Pakistani officials claim they have "concrete proof" backing up the story of Shakil Afridi, the doctor from the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan who confessed to the ISI, the country's military spy agency, after being arrested last year.
Although Save the Children and the US government have always denied any relationship between the CIA and the aid organisation, Pakistani officials say they are fully justified in expelling the few foreign staff still working in the country.
According to a foreign diplomat the six foreigners will have to leave by next Wednesday.
Michelle Obama's speech: Both apolitical and politically masterful (5 September 2012)
CHARLOTTE - The most devastating attack on Mitt Romney at Tuesday's Democratic Convention came from Michelle Obama, who did not mention Romney's name and said not a single cross thing about him.
She devastated him by implication. If Romney was the son of privilege, she and her husband were anything but. What she said directly is that Barack Obama understands people who are struggling. What she didn't have to say is Mitt Romney doesn't.
As a general matter, her speech was a big hit: good enough that even Fox News was kind to her. But the specific stories -- about her father working through the pain of multiple sclerosis, about the debts she and her husband accumulated from college -- served a powerful campaign purpose. A speech that was thoroughly apolitical on the surface carried multiple political messages, linking a very traditional message about parenting with a call for social justice.
And it was almost entirely done though personal stories.
"And when my brother and I finally made it to college, nearly all of our tuition came from student loans and grants," she said at one point. "But my dad still had to pay a tiny portion of that tuition himself. And every semester, he was determined to pay that bill right on time, even taking out loans when he fell short. He was so proud to be sending his kids to college...and he made sure we never missed a registration deadline because his check was late. You see, for my dad, that's what it meant to be a man."
Afghan military says it has expelled, arrested 'hundreds' of its troops (5 September 2012)
KABUL -- Afghanistan's military said Wednesday that it has arrested or expelled from its ranks hundreds of soldiers, part of a major effort to stop the growing number of fatal attacks on U.S. and NATO troops by their Afghan partners.
This year, the strikes -- known as "insider attacks" -- have killed at least 45 troops, the vast majority of them Americans. The attacks have caused deep mistrust between foreign troops and Afghan security forces, posing a vital challenge to the United States as it reduces its combat role in the 11-year war.
Afghan army authorities refused to share further details about the arrests and expulsions but said the action was the first of its kind aimed at preventing the attacks.
"It involves hundreds of soldiers," said Gen. Abdul Manan Farahi, the head of intelligence at the Afghan Defense Ministry.
Insight: Banner of Lenin flies over would-be Russian farm boom (5 September 2012)
(Reuters) - This year's wheat, piled in steel sheds on the Banner of Lenin collective farm, shimmers greyish-gold in the dusty air, a vision of plenty worthy of a Soviet propaganda poster.
In Soviet times, the 15,000 hectare farm, in Russia's Black Sea breadbasket region of Krasnodar, would deliver its wheat to the local elevator for shipping inland to make bread.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the farm has turned itself into a 1 billion rouble ($30.93 million) per year business producing wheat, fruit, sausages and sugar. It sells its 45,000-50,000 tonnes of high-quality milling wheat at the farm gate to be shipped to consumers such as Turkey.
It is emblematic of a Russian agriculture industry that is trying to establish itself as a force on world markets. With the world's fourth largest acreage of arable land and few constraints on fresh water supplies, Russia wants to use its natural wealth to spur the economy.
Deepwater Horizon: US ramps up rhetoric on BP over oil spill (5 September 2012)
In new court papers, the justice department gave examples of what it calls "gross negligence and wilful misconduct" over the spill, the largest in US history.
The court filing is the sharpest position yet taken by the US government as it seeks to hold the British group largely responsible. Gross negligence is a central issue to the case, set to go to trial in New Orleans in January 2013. A gross negligence finding could nearly quadruple the civil damages owed by BP under the Clean Water Act to $21bn (£13.2bn).
The US government and BP are engaged in talks to settle civil and potential criminal liability, though neither side will comment on the status of negotiations.
"The behaviour, words, and actions of these BP executives would not be tolerated in a middling size company manufacturing dry goods for sale in a suburban mall," government lawyers wrote in the filing on 31 August in federal court in New Orleans.
The filing comes more than two years after the disaster that struck on 20 April 2010 when a surge of methane gas known to rig hands as a "kick" sparked an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig as it was drilling the mile-deep Macondo 252 well off Louisiana's coast. The rig sank two days later.
100 suitcases drenched in raw sewage after pipe bursts at Heathrow Terminal 5 (5 September 2012)
British Airways passengers are kicking up a stink after a pipe burst at Heathrow Terminal 5, drenching 100 suitcases in raw sewage.
The leak occurred in the terminal's baggage hold on Monday, with travellers forced to leave their bags behind after the airport sent them off to be cleaned.
Many of the passengers are still waiting for their luggage to be returned.
A source told The Sun: 'The smell was absolutely foul, as was the mood of the passengers who had to leave without their bags.'
There was some speculation that Monday's problem could be linked to the fact that Terminal 5, which was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in March 2008, was built on a site previously occupied by Perry Oaks sewage works.
Old oil washes up in La. after Hurricane Isaac (5 September 2012)
NEW ORLEANS -- Old oil has washed up on some Louisiana beaches after Hurricane Isaac and officials are testing whether it's left over from BP"s Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010.
Officials late Tuesday restricted fishing in waters extending a mile off a roughly 13-mile stretch of coastline.
The weathered oil was in the form of tar. The state Wildlife and Fisheries Department said there was a large mat of tar on one beach and concentrations of tar balls on adjacent beaches. An adviser to Gov. Bobby Jindal said later surveys found several more tar mats. Their size was not immediately clear.
Oil company BP PLC said it was too early to say if the tar came from oil that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded.
Strikers march at S Africa's platinum mine (5 September 2012)
More than 1,000 striking South African miners have demonstrated at Lonmin's Marikana mine, where police shot dead 34 of their colleagues last month.
Dozens of police arrived at the scene on Wednesday while a helicopter hovered above the protesting rock-drill operators, whose strike to demand a hefty pay hike is now in its fourth week, crippling Lonmin.
One man at the front of the column waved a placard reading "We want 12,500 or nothing else", a reference to the group's demand for a hike in base pay to $1,500 a month, more than double their current salary.
Another protester, who did not wish to be named, said the demonstrators were heading to Lonmin's nearby Karee mine to "take out the people who are working in the mine shaft".
Ahead of Charlotte DNC, Hundreds Protest Corporate Giants in "March on Wall Street South" (4 September 2012) [DN]
MIKE BURKE: What are your thoughts on the selection of Charlotte to be the home of the Democratic National Convention, considering North Carolina is a right-to-work state?
LISA KLEIN: Yeah, I think we've got a lot of work to do down here. In some ways, I'm glad that it's here, so we can bring attention to the causes down here and that we do need to change this right-to-work state, because people are being taken advantage of because it is a right-to-work state. So, this is part of the reason why I've got my family up out here, for--to protect them and other workers in the future, because people get terminated very easily under this right-to-work law that they have here.
PROTESTERS: Tell me what you need, what you really, really need! Justice! Tell me what you want, what you really, really want! Justice!
ALLI McCRACKEN: My name's Alli McCracken, and I'm the CODEPINK D.C. office coordinator. And I'm marching today because we want money out of politics, and we want to hold the Obama administration accountable for the money in politics and also for the wars that he's perpetuated all around the world, dragging on Bush's wars but also starting new ones, with drone strikes, in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines. We're here to say, "End the wars and bring our war dollars home."
Baldemar Velásquez Draws on Years of Farm Worker Organizing to Continue Struggle in Anti-Union South (4 September 2012) [DN]
AMY GOODMAN: So, let me start with the question of the Democrats' choice to have their Democratic convention here in Charlotte, a right-to-work state. No hotel in Charlotte is unionized. What are your thoughts about this? Were you opposed to this?
BALDEMAR VELÁSQUEZ: Well, there's a lot of things that we consume that are non-union products. Every day, even the best of us trade unionists find ourselves in stores, grocery stores, other places--certainly the food we eat are not entirely unionized in terms of maybe the food processing industry, to some extent. But certainly a lot of the vegetables and fruits that we eat, they come from the hands of farm workers that feed the nation, and there's hardly any union representation around the country as far as that goes.
But the important thing is that, here in North Carolina, like you said, the union density being so low, it's kind of like facing a bully. Sometimes you got to get in his face and tell him what he's doing is wrong and to inject some reality to that person to change his ways. And the science of labor relations in agriculture in this state is nonexistence. The only precedent we have here is our agreement that we have here covering 7,000 guest workers, where now we are in the process of establishing a science of labor relations with the employers and workers and how to get along and how to resolve problems, and I think it's got to be expanded.
AMY GOODMAN: Baldemar, talk about the work camps, what are they, about an hour from here.
BALDEMAR VELÁSQUEZ: They're--in the farms that we have under the union contract, there are much better standards, because they're under--they're guest workers that come with a visa, and we've been able to guarantee rights of those workers. But outside of that, the majority of the workforce in this state is undocumented, over 90 percent of the workforce. And they live in, literally, squalor. They're brought here mostly by labor contractors, who are themselves very abusive. And the oversight, in terms of enforcement of the regulatory laws that we have on the books, are difficult to do in remote areas of the state. So they're out of sight and out of mind, not only to the public, but to the regulators. And so, our job is to go out there and try to expose this and organize those workers and compel the industries that are responsible for this labor force and hold them accountable. And we're talking about the strategy we pioneered back in the '80s in terms of the supply chain of the major manufacturers and buyers of the crops that contract crops here in the state.
Vegetarian McDonald's: Its first non-meat restaurant to open in India (4 September 2012)
McDonald's, that carnivore's haven of beefy Big Macs and chicken McNuggets, is going vegetarian.
The fast food giant will open its first non-meat restaurant next year in India, in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar. The branch, to be located by the much-visited Golden Temple, will serve herbivore options tailored to the country's cultural tastes, according to AFP.
Much of the Indian population avoids certain types of meat. Hindus consider cows sacred and don't eat beef, while Muslims avoid pork. Indian McDonald's restaurants already feature much less meat than the chain's locations in other countries.
The company's bestseller in India is the McAloo Tikki burger, which features a fried potato patty and is responsible for a quarter of sales. The chain has fewer than 300 branches in India -- a growing market for fast food that has already attracted competitors such as Subway, KFC and more.
Research in recent years suggest that Indians spend a quarter of their income on food, compared to the 1.5% they shell out for health issues.
PAM COMMENTARY: So, why India and not here?
Frozen embryos better for IVF treatment, study claims (4 September 2012)
USING frozen embryos in all IVF treatments rather than as a last resort could lower the risk to both mother and baby, a study claims.
Babies which grow from frozen embryos are less likely to be born preterm or underweight and have a lower risk of dying in the days after their birth, a study found.
Using embryos which have been frozen and then thawed, rather than being implanted shortly after being created, also reduced the risk of bleeding in the mother during pregnancy.
Researchers said the increased reliability of frozen embryos could be down to the delay between removing the eggs from the mother and implanting it back in the mother after fertilisation.
In IVF treatment, doctors stimulate the ovaries to produce a number of eggs, and remove and fertilise them all. The healthiest-looking ones are implanted three to six days later, and the remainder are frozen for future use.
Fresh embryos can be implanted a matter of days after they are removed from the mother, meaning the lining her womb may not have fully recovered from the invasive procedure and could be damaged, researchers said.
Hackers' claim raises questions of snooping (4 September 2012)
A hacking group said Monday it released more than 1 million Apple device numbers allegedly pulled from an FBI agent's laptop, a claim that raises troubling questions about the scope of government snooping into the lives of citizens.
At least if it's true. The FBI press office denied AntiSec's claims, characterizing them in a tweet as: "Totally false." Late Tuesday, the "hacktivist" group hadn't provided any additional response, and many questions remained unanswered.
But in its original post, AntiSec said it leaked the unique device identifiers, or UDIDs, to call attention to what it sees as evidence of the federal agency collecting iPhone and iPad data that could allow it to track the activity of citizens. The organization claims the original file it downloaded included information about some 12 million devices, often including personal details like names, addresses and cell phone numbers.
If it is true, privacy experts and civil liberties groups said it would be an alarming development - yet part of a troubling trend.
"It is a piece of the puzzle that suggests the extent to which the government has moved beyond targeted surveillance in particular cases to massive surveillance of all Americans," said Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. She added that it should be unacceptable for an FBI agent to carry around a trove of citizens' personal details on a lightly secured laptop.
Flawed Organic Foods Study: Media Attempts Psyop to Confuse the Public (4 September 2012) [AJ]
For starters, the "study" isn't even a study. It was just a review of other studies. No new laboratory analysis was done whatsoever!
The "review" was conducted at Stanford University and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. You can read the abstract here:
As the study itself concludes:
• Exposure to chemical pesticides was significantly lower in organic foods (roughly 30% less than conventional foods).
• Exposure to "superbugs" in meat (antibiotic-resistant bacteria) was also significantly lower in organic foods (roughly a 33% risk difference).
• The study conclusion says, right out, that "Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria."
Homeland Security's domain seizures worries Congress (3 September 2012) [AJ]
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is seizing domains and taking down URLs in the name of copyright infringement, but its tactics are worrying certain members of Congress.
In a letter (pdf) sent last week to Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary Janet Napolitano, three members of the House Judiciary Committee aired their unease.
"We are concerned about your Departments' seizure of domain names under Operation In Our Sites, launched in November 2010," the letter said. "Our concern centers on your Department's methods, and the process given, when seizing the domain names of websites whose actions and content are presumed to be lawful, protected speech."
The three Congress members -- Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Jared Polis -- and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, point to one case that exemplifies a situation where Homeland Security got it wrong. Over a year ago, the government took down a hip-hop Web site owned by a man who goes by Dajaz1 on the basis that it linked to copyrighted songs. However, the links didn't actually infringe on copyrights.
Ohio Secretary of State refuses to restore early voting pending appeal (4 September 2012)
Ohio's Secretary of State, Jon Husted, will not set new early voting hours despite a court order, according to a memo released by his office.
"Announcing new hours before the court case reaches final resolution will only serve to confuse voters," the memo states. "Therefore, there is no valid reason for my office or the county boards of elections to set hours for in-person absentee voting the last three days before the election at this time."
The memo prohibits county election boards from setting hours for the Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday before the election.
On Friday, a federal judge ruled that Ohio must restore in-person early voting to all voters through the Monday before Election Day. The Obama campaign had sued the state after the Ohio legislature and Husted canceled early voting in 2012 for everyone except members of the military and their families.
CDC to test for brain-eating amoeba suspected in SW Indiana man's death; beach ordered closed (4 September 2012)
INDIANAPOLIS - A parasite commonly referred to as the "brain-eating amoeba" infected a man teaching his daughter to swim in a southwestern Indiana lake, killing him within weeks, his father said Tuesday.
State and federal officials have not yet confirmed that Waylon Abel, 30, of Loogootee, died of a rare, usually fatal infection known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, but an autopsy report released Friday listed it as the primary cause of death.
Abel went to Jasper Memorial Hospital with a headache, nausea vomiting and fever on Aug. 4 and received antibiotics, the autopsy report said. He returned 12 hours later and was diagnosed with what doctors suspected was bacterial meningitis.
"He said, `Dad, I don't feel good. Pray for me.' I told him I would," said John Abel of Shoals.
The Loogootee man's condition worsened, and he was placed on a ventilator and airlifted Aug. 7 to St. Mary's Medical Center in Evansville, where he died hours later, five days before his 31st birthday. The story was first reported Aug. 31 in the Washington Times-Herald.
PAM COMMENTARY: Again, a zapper might help with that...
Tens of thousands of dead fish rotting on Lake Erie shore (4 September 2012)
Tens of thousands of rotting fish are lining a 40-kilometre stretch of shoreline along Lake Erie, reports the provincial environment ministry, which is investigating the cause.
A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Environment said Tuesday the kill was reported on the weekend. So far it appears the fish may have died from the affects of a naturally occurring lake inversion rather than a spill, but cautioned the investigation is continuing.
The question now is which agency is responsible for cleaning up the rotting carcasses of thousands of yellow perch, carp, sheepshead, catfish, big head buffalo and suckers, which kept untold beachgoers from enjoying their Labour Day weekend.
"It (the water) was quite putrid really ... I had never experienced anything like this," said Neville Knowles, of London, Ont. and cottager at Rondeau Provincial Park for more than 50 years.
The dead fish stretch from west of the fishing village of Port Stanley in Elgin County to the village of Morpeth in Chatham-Kent or just east of Rondeau.
"There was a significant number of fish, tens of thousands," the environment ministry's Kate Jordan told the Star.
Tracking a Subtle Scent, a Dog May Help Save the Whales (1 September 2012)
OFF THE COAST OF SAN JUAN ISLAND, Wash. -- A dog named Tucker with a thumping tail and a mysterious past as a stray on the streets of Seattle has become an unexpected star in the realm of canine-assisted science. He is the world's only working dog, marine biologists say, able to find and track the scent of orca scat, or feces, in open ocean water -- up to a mile away, in the smallest of specks.
Through dint of hard work and obsession with an orange ball on a rope, which he gets to play with as a reward after a successful search on the water, Tucker is an ace in finding something that most people, and perhaps most dogs, would just as soon avoid.
And it is not easy. Scat can sink or disperse in 30 minutes or less. But it is crucial in monitoring the health of the whales here, an endangered group that is probably among the most studied animal populations in the world. Most of the 85 or so orcas, or killer whales, that frequent the San Juans, about two hours northwest of Seattle, have been genotyped and tracked for decades, down to their birth years and number of offspring.
And none of this could happen as easily as it does without Tucker and his wet, black nose -- or the new tricks that he taught the scientists.
Paul Ryan won't back down on statements branded as false (4 September 2012)
CLEVELAND -- Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan declined on Tuesday to back away from statements in his party convention speech that nonpartisan fact checkers have branded as false or misleading.
In a round of television interviews, the Wisconsin congressman was challenged by network anchors to defend statements on Medicare, the federal deficit and the 2008 closing of a GM plant in his hometown, Janesville.
Asked by NBC "Today" show anchor Matt Lauer whether he would concede that some of his statements "were not completely accurate," Ryan responded: "No. Not in the least, actually."
Factcheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, found that Ryan's nomination acceptance speech last week in Tampa, Fla., "contained several false claims and misleading statements." Politifact, a project of the Tampa Bay Times and other news organizations, faulted the speech for falsehoods as well.
Anonymous claims hack caught FBI spying on millions of Apple customers (4 September 2012)
Hackers with the amorphous protest movement "Anonymous" and "AntiSec" said Monday night they caught the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) red-handed spying on Apple customers, and published over 1 million unique device identification numbers they allegedly pulled out of an FBI database.
In all, the hackers claimed that the FBI files they accessed had more than 12 million Apple UDIDs, the unique identifier associated with every iPhone and iPad that comes off the production line. They also said that most UDIDs in the FBI's database had names, cell phone numbers and addresses attached to them, which were edited out before publication. Apple has sold nearly 200 million iPhones and more than 50 million iPads since both devices' debut.
Apple has been phasing out the UDID standard, and recently made changes to prevent third-party applications from sending users' UDIDs to unknown parties. Apple told a congressional inquiry in 2010 that it cannot track iPhones in real time, but a hacker named Eric Smith noted that third party applications can transmit UDIDs, which could potentially be linked to the owner and used to track that person.
And that's precisely what hackers with Anonymous think the FBI was doing.
They claimed to have tapped into a Dell laptop owned by Special Agent Christopher K. Stangl, an FBI cyber security expert. They downloaded several files, including one that contained "12,367,232 Apple iOS devices including Unique Device Identifiers (UDID)" and other personal information, they wrote in a text file published online. "[The] personal details fields referring to people appears many times empty leaving the whole list incompleted [sic] on many parts. no other file on the same folder makes mention about this list or its purpose."
Julian Assange's backers lose £200,000 bail money (4 September 2012)
Julian Assange's high profile backers, including socialite Jemima Khan, are understood to have lost the £200,000 they posted for his bail as he remains holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
The Wikileaks founder breached the conditions by seeking political asylum before he was due to be extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault charges.
A raft of high-profile figures including socialite Jemima Khan, journalist John Pilger, film director Ken Loach and publisher Felix Dennis have all confirmed they raised the cash as security to help free him which a judge ordered be forfeited at an earlier hearing.
Nine high profile backers, including two members of the British aristocracy, a Nobel Prize winner and an academic, will today be told at Westminster Magistrates Court whether the £140,000 they promised between them if he refused to surrender to the authorities will also be lost.
President Barack Obama surveys Hurricane Isaac's damage, meets with officials and residents in LaPlace (3 September 2012)
Air Force One touched down at Louis Armstrong about 4:20 p.m. Obama was met on the tarmac by Gov. Bobby Jindal, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Sen. Mary Landrieu, Sen. David Vitter, Reps. Cedric Richmond and Jeff Landry and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, who has been at GOSHEP in Baton Rouge for several days.
The group then headed out to LaPlace.
Kenner residents lined the streets out of the airport to watch the motorcade and residents in LaPlace stood on Highway 3188 to watch and wave. A crowd of dozens cheered 'We want the president' as the motorcade drew near the St. John the Baptist Parish Emergency Operations Center in the Percy C. Hebert Building.
After meeting for about 45 minutes Obama and other officials, now joined by St. John the Baptist Sheriff Mike Tregre and Parish President Natalie Robottom, traveled to the Ridgewood subdivision in LaPlace. Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nunngesser also attended the meeting at the Emergency Operations Center.
Rep. Eric Cantor: Labor Day celebrates business owners (3 September 2012)
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) on Monday mistakenly described Labor Day as a celebration of entrepreneurs and business owners, rather than workers.
"Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success," the conservative congressman said in a statement. "I am committed to keeping taxes low and reducing red tape to make it easier for Virginia's small business owners to start hiring again, create more jobs and ensure a thriving economy for the future so more people can achieve the American dream."
However, Labor Day actually celebrates the victories of trade and labor organizations in the United States, who fought for 8-hour work days and other standards that most Americans take for granted.
The first Labor Day was organized by the Central Labor Union of New York City in 1882, according to the Department of Labor. Other labor organizations across the country quickly adopted the celebration.
PAM COMMENTARY: He was never accused of being the smartest guy in Congress...
Bradley Manning's lawyer demands sentence cut (3 September 2012)
The civilian lawyer of Bradley Manning, the US soldier suspected of transferring hundreds of thousands of state secrets to WikiLeaks, is demanding that at least seven years be lopped off any sentence he might be given on grounds that he was improperly treated while in military custody.
The legal pleading by David Coombs, Manning's chief lawyer, was disclosed in a new motion to the military court that is hearing the soldier's court martial that he posted on his blog on Monday . The motion discloses in heavily redacted form some of the information the defence has gleaned in recent weeks about the way the soldier was treated while he was held for almost 10 months in solitary confinement at the military brig in Quantico marine base in Virginia in 2010/11.
Coombs argues that a stash of about 700 emails that have been disclosed to the defence reveal that military commanders in the brig completely ignored the professional advice of psychiatrists and other medical experts who had examined Manning and found him at no risk to himself and others. Instead, the commanders pressed ahead with harsh conditions that some critics, including the UN, define as torture.
On the back of the new information, Coombs has refined his demand to the military court in a reflection perhaps of his growing confidence in the evidence that he has amassed. He has repeated his call that in the light of Manning's alleged mistreatment at Quantico all 22 charges against him should be dropped, but he now adds that at very least the soldier should have 10 days lopped off any sentence for each of the 265 days he was held in harsh conditions at Quantico. That amounts to just over seven years.
Beware of the cat: Britain's hidden toxoplasma problem (4 September 2012)
A parasite spread by cats is infecting 1,000 new people every day in Britain -- about 350,000 a year -- according to an official assessment of the risks posed by toxoplasma, which can cause serious illness and has been tentatively linked with schizophrenia and other psychotic disturbances.
In news that will challenge public perceptions about the country's most popular pet, official figures to be published later this week will reveal the shocking levels of infection within the UK human population of Toxoplasma gondii, a microscopic parasite that forms cysts in the human brain and other vital organs of the body.
Toxoplasma infections come either through direct contact with cats or from eating contaminated meat or vegetables, tests on British blood donors have revealed.
Although the clinical signs can be mild, risk groups, such as pregnant patients with compromised immune systems, can suffer very serious side-effects, leading to congenital birth deformities, blindness, dementia and even death.
Medical data loss remains a problem at hospitals (3 September 2012)
The recent loss of a thumb drive that endangered the personal information of 2,200 patients at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center was one of 10 similar losses of personal data from hospitals in the Houston area over the last three years.
An inattention to data security is a persistent problem in the health care industry that is starting to draw increased scrutiny from federal and state officials, with fines for exposing patient information ranging in the millions of dollars and officials being jailed in some instances, experts say.
Health industry officials reported 489 instances of data loss nationwide involving information on 500 or more patients in each case since reporting regulations took effect in late 2009. The cases involved more than 21 million patients, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Losses of data involving fewer than 500 patients totaled 55,000 during the same period. Each loss is a potential violation of the 1996 Health Insurance Portability Act, known as HIPAA.
Sunshine vitamin 'may help treat tuberculosis' (3 September 2012)
Vitamin D could help the body fight infections of deadly tuberculosis, according to doctors in London.
Nearly 1.5 million people are killed by the infection every year and there are concerns some cases are becoming untreatable.
A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed patients recovered more quickly when given both the vitamin and antibiotics.
More tests would be needed before it could be given to patients routinely.
Tim Harper: U.S. election: Barack Obama's journey from rock star to struggling incumbent (3 September 2012)
That is Romney channelling Ronald Reagan, who famously made the question, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?'' the centrepiece of his defeat of Carter, the sitting Democrat, more than three decades ago.
The Obama campaign has to counter that with a message that will tell Americans they will be better off four years from now if they re-elect the president.
Republicans also tried to turn the universe on its axis by parading speaker-after-speaker to the podium to highlight their poor, up-by-the-bootstraps, brave-immigrant-parent-fleeing-oppression biography.
Obama will take the high road, but leave attacks on Romney as a man out of touch with the ordinary American to surrogates over three nights here, with Vice-President Joe Biden leading the charge.
Biden did just that at a Sunday rally in Green Bay, Wisc. when he asked the crowd: "How many of you have offshore bank accounts?''
PAM COMMENTARY: This is from a Canadian paper, and the author may not know that the quote "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?'' originally came from Carter as a part of his "misery index" critique of the Ford administration. Reagan was throwing it back in Carter's face because the economy had suffered "stagflation" under Carter. People were unhappy with that, and it may have helped Reagan to become President. Little did voters know that once Reagan was elected, the country would suffer a long and deep "Reagan Recession." Rather than working on the economy, Reagan spent his time threatening nuclear warfare, attacking unions, and allowing VP Bush to run Iran-Contra, among other questionable activities. Later, suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia, Reagan claimed to have no memory of Iran-Contra, despite having posed for pictures with several of its key players.
In fact, supporters of the elder President Bush blamed Reagan for the recession of the early 90s when Bush first took office, and technically they're correct. Reagan's horrible economic record is something Republicans won't mention, though, because Reagan still has some popularity with people who don't remember that era or who are too young to have lived through it personally. Under Reagan, the northeast went from an industrial powerhouse to what the press called the "rust belt," and Wisconsin dairy farmers went bankrupt at such a rate that California was able to offer them incentives in a successful quest to become the nation's top dairy-producing state.
We'll fight for your bargaining rights, Joe Biden tells union members at Detroit Labor rally (3 September 2012)
Protecting collective bargaining rights was the primary message of the Labor Day festivities in Detroit Monday, both in the annual parade which attracted tens of thousands of union members and during a speech by Vice President Joe Biden.
"They don't believe in your very right to bargain," Biden told the crowd of about 3,500 people standing next to the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit.
"These guys don't get it. Right to work means the right to work for less. As long as we're here, it will not happen."
Secret Service recovers truck with Biden supplies (3 September 2012)
DETROIT (AP) -- The Secret Service says it has recovered a stolen rental truck that was carrying equipment for Vice President Joe Biden's Labor Day visit to Detroit.
Agency spokesman Ed Donovan tells The Detroit News that the U-Haul truck stolen early Sunday outside the Westin Book Cadillac hotel was found Monday in a parking lot about three miles away.
Donovan had said the truck had equipment but no weapons on board. He declined to say whether any of the equipment was stolen.
Ivy walls lower with free online classes from Coursera and edX (3 September 2012)
As the school year revs up, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Anant Agarwal looks forward to teaching his most popular class. Last semester, Circuits and Electronics welcomed in 154,000 students -- 35 times as many as the entire undergraduate enrollment at MIT.
The class kicked off MIT's new push into online learning. It was the inaugural course of edX, a collaboration with Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, to offer top-notch education free of charge to anyone with Internet access.
"If you took the online class, the material would be identical" to the on-campus version, says Mr. Agarwal, president of edX and director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. "It was the same level of difficulty. They took the same exams." Students even received grades, just not academic credit.
This fall, edX will offer seven courses ranging from computer science to public health. Agarwal hopes his circuits class will once again attract students ages 16 to 98 and from more than 150 countries -- people who may never get the chance to attend or be able to afford a world-class engineering course.
Coconut Oil shown to help fight tooth decay (3 September 2012)
COCONUT oil fights tooth decay and could find its way into toothpaste and mouthwash, research suggests.
Scientists found that when the oil was treated with digestive enzymes it became a powerful killer of mouth bugs.
The bacteria it attacked included Streptococcus mutans, an acid-producing microbe that is a major cause of tooth decay.
Researchers were following up earlier work which showed that partially digested milk made S. mutans less likely to stick to tooth enamel.
Ebola outbreak coming to an end in Uganda, continues in Congo (3 September 2012)
While Ebola continues to kill in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an outbreak of the virus in neighboring Uganda appears to be coming to an end, the World Health Organization said Monday, reporting that no new cases of the deadly virus had been confirmed in Uganda for a month.
Since the Ugandan outbreak began, 24 people are believed to have suffered from the virus, including 17 who died, the United Nations agency said. The last person confirmed to be stricken recovered from the virus and was discharged more than a week ago.
"All contacts of probable and confirmed cases have been followed up daily and have completed the recommended 21 days of monitoring for any possible signs or symptoms of Ebola," the WHO said in a statement Monday. Ebola isolation facilities remain on standby.
The Ugandan outbreak was first declared by its health ministry in late July, spurring health officials and the president to warn Ugandans against handling dead animals and burying those who might have died from the virus. Many of the recent cases have been tied back to the funeral of a baby girl whose mother was also sick, Doctors Without Borders said last month.
Israel: Welcome to the land of criminals and bad drivers (3 September 2012)
Israel has a new reason to be concerned about is image abroad, if the official travel advisories issued to tourists by governments from Australia and Japan to the US are anything to go by.
Extracts from the stark warnings issued to would-be visitors compiled by the liberal daily Haaretz last week paint an unflattering picture which the paper summarizes as that of "a primitive crime-ridden country, full of bad drivers, religious extremists and even undrinkable water."
The US State Department in its advice to would-be travellers to the Holy Land lays heavy but - for now at least - arguably somewhat out of date emphasis on the need for its citizens to "use good judgment and exercise caution when visiting public areas and using transportation facilities in order to minimize exposure to possible terrorist attacks." Austria even advises against using public transport throughout the country.
More immediately pertinent may be the warning that Americans arriving at Ben-Gurion airport and other crossings, "have been subjected to prolonged questioning and thorough searches... detained and/or arrested on suspicion of security-related offences" and had "laptops and other electronic equipment confiscated" in a minority of cases without being returned.
The US advisory adds: "Israeli security officials have also requested access to travellers' personal e-mail... or other social media accounts as a condition of entry."
China factory surveys signal economic growth easing into Q3 (3 September 2012)
(Reuters) - China's vast manufacturing sector has been badly hit by slowing new orders, two complementary surveys showed, a sign that the pace of growth in the world's second-largest economy will weaken well into the third quarter and possibly beyond.
The final reading of the HSBC China manufacturing purchasing managers' index (PMI) for August fell to a seasonally adjusted 47.6, its lowest level since March 2009, down from 49.3 in July and slightly below a flash reading of the index late last month.
It followed China's official factory purchasing managers' index (PMI) - one of the early indicators of the state of the economy - which fell to a lower-than-expected 49.2 in August, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Saturday.
It was the first time since November 2011 that the official PMI had fallen below 50, which separates expansion from contraction. Economists polled by Reuters last week had expected it to slip to 50 from 50.1 in July.
Mitt Romney exited Bain Capital with rare tax benefits in retirement (2 September 2012)
Details of Romney's retirement assets are somewhat vague because he has released only one year of full tax returns and declined to provide additional specifics about his personal finances. But interviews with Bain executives and accounting professionals show that he was able to take advantage of tax benefits in innovative ways open only to a narrow slice of extremely affluent people -- mostly those who work in private-equity firms and other investment partnerships.
His severance package, for instance, allowed him to continue sharing in the profits of the company as if he were still a partner managing it, according to his 2010 tax return and interviews with present and former Bain executives. And because he benefited from the firm's investments as if he were an active Bain partner, he paid taxes at a lower rate on these earnings than if they were treated as ordinary retirement income. Romney negotiated the package when he was leaving the firm, Bain executives said, while he set up his IRA long before.
IRAs were established by Congress nearly 40 years ago to help people save for their retirement. Under the law today, individuals may contribute up to $5,000 per year and employers may contribute up to $50,000 a year to an employer-sponsored IRA. The money is invested, and the investments grow tax-free until retirement. There is no limit on how much money an IRA can earn tax-free.
What determines an IRA's growth is the performance of the investments, and Bain enabled Romney, its other employees and its partners to score big on that front. It was not uncommon for senior Bain executives to accrue IRAs valued at tens of millions of dollars, according to former and present company employees, by buying into Bain investments at very low prices and then reinvesting the returns in other low-priced Bain investments after the initial investments appreciated.
Bain Capital and other firms subpoenaed in New York tax probe (2 September 2012)
At least a dozen US private equity firms -- including Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's former company - have been subpoenaed by the New York state attorney general as part of a probe into whether a tax strategy they employed is proper, a source familiar with the situation confirmed.
Among the firms being targeted are Bain Capital, KKR & Co LP, TPG Capital LP, Apollo Global Management LLC and Silver Lake Partners LP, the source said.
Bain was once headed by Romney, who hopes to unseat President Barack Obama in the upcoming US elections.
The subpoenas, which were sent out in July, seek documents related to the conversion of fees these private equity firms charge for managing investors' assets into fund investments, the source said. This means the investigation predates the release last month of confidential Bain fund documents by Gawker that revealed such a practice.
Paul Ryan's Large Lies and One Big Truth (30 August 2012)
The political logic embedded in Ryan's formulation was even more telling. He dismissed the goal of providing health insurance to those who can't afford it as something "we didn't even ask for." Who is "we"? We is the majority of Americans who do have health insurance. We outnumber the 50 million who don't. They can go screw themselves. Ryan actually called Obama's decision to cut what he deemed wasteful spending in Medicare to cover the uninsured his "coldest power play." It is a cold power play to give medical care to people who can't get it, and an act of compassion to take it away from them.
The political blogosphere has taken apart Ryan's brazen dishonesty brick by brick so that barely anything remains. I have been writing about his dishonesty for three years. I have the equivalent of a master's degree in Ryan lie-ology. I've heard many of his lurid fantasies innumerable times and I haven't got it in me to go through it all again -- his deep dishonesty largely reflects the fundamental gap between the radicalism of his agenda and his need for public acceptance. I'll merely point out that, even if all the smaller component dishonesties of Ryan's speech were true, the larger points they undergirded were false as well.
Ryan began by castigating Obama for borrowing money to fund a stimulus. He then castigated Obama for making his "first order of business" the passage of health-care reform rather than economic rescue, when Ryan himself had just told the audience that the first thing Obama had done was actually to pass a plan intended to rescue the economy. Having argued that Obama erred by distracting himself with health care rather than devote all his energies to the recovery, Ryan immediately promised he and Romney would repeal Obamacare -- wouldn't that also possibly distract from their own economic focus?
In the same vein, Ryan told unemployed Americans, "if you're feeling passed by, you have not failed, your leaders have failed you" -- and then, moments later, sneered that Obama saw economically struggling Americans as "victims of circumstances beyond our control." Ryan believes fervently that Obama's failures are the sole exception to the general rule that individuals are the masters of their own economic fate. To bolster his claim that people move in and out of economic classes constantly without government intervention, Ryan described a few menial short-term jobs he had performed in his early years, boasting, "I never thought of myself as stuck in some station in life" -- as if, but for his own gumption and elbow grease, the heir to one of the richest families in his town was really at risk of staying in his summer lawn-mowing job forever.
Paul Ryan Bets on the Ignorance of America (29 August 2012)
Paul Ryan has a reputation as a nerdy budget wonk, but tonight in his RNC speech, he transformed into an attack dog. Running the gamut on the many, varied transgressions of President Obama -- including the stimulus, the jobs crisis, ObamaCare, the debt, Medicare, and, obviously, "You didn't built that" -- Ryan had the crowd laughing, booing, and frequently showering him with piercingly loud standing ovations thanks to a slew of pitch-perfect applause lines. While this is just a hunch, we expect that his focus on Obama's inability to adequately revive the economy probably hit home with a lot of moderate voters. In short, it was, without a doubt, the best, most effective speech of the convention.
It was also appallingly disingenuous and shamelessly hypocritical. To name but a few examples that the official and unofficial fact-checkers will be picking over tonight:
• Ryan claimed that the stimulus was a useless waste of money that did nothing for the American people and failed to address what should have been Obama's number one priority: creating jobs. But the stimulus did create jobs, millions of them. And Ryan requested some of those supposedly worthless stimulus funds for his district.
• Ryan said that Obama promised "in 2008" that the stimulus would save a GM plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, but "that plant didn't last another year." In reality, Obama made those remarks in February 2008 while running for president, the plant's closing was announced in October 2008, and it closed in December 2008 -- before Obama even took office, and months before the stimulus went into effect.
Global food prices spike 10% in July, thanks largely to drought (31 August 2012)
The drought that desiccated the Midwest severely reduced the quality and quantity of this year's corn harvest. This isn't news in and of itself. The international impact of the drought, however, is.
Yesterday, the World Bank announced that global food prices went up substantially in July.
"Global food prices soared by 10 percent in July from a month ago, with maize and soybean reaching all-time peaks due to an unprecedented summer of droughts and high temperatures in both the United States and Eastern Europe, according to the World Bank Group's latest Food Price Watch report.
"From June to July, maize and wheat rose by 25 percent each, soybeans by 17 percent, and only rice went down, by 4 percent. Overall, the World Bank's Food Price Index, which tracks the price of internationally traded food commodities, was 6 percent higher than in July of last year, and 1 percent over the previous peak of February 2011."
Here's why. The Department of Agriculture's weekly weather and crop bulletin [PDF] tracks corn harvest and quality in the 18 states that last year produced 94 percent of the nation's corn acreage.
Wyoming drops federal protection of gray wolves (31 August 2012)
The US government will remove wolves from its endangered species list in Wyoming, allowing the state to shoot the animals on sight in most areas.
The decision by US Fish and Wildlife Service comes after a 20-year programme to grow the wolf population.
Environmental groups threatened legal action against the move.
There were once almost two million gray wolves in North America, but they were nearly wiped out by fur traders and hunters in the 1930s.
Judge's wolf-hunt injunction may delay Wisconsin wolf hunt (1 September 2012)
A Dane County judge Friday temporarily halted the use of dogs during Wisconsin's inaugural wolf hunt, and the state Department of Natural Resources was scrambling to figure out whether the hunt would proceed.
The request for an injunction was sought by a group of Wisconsin humane societies, which argued that hunting wolves with dogs was likely to result in violent or fatal confrontations between animals because the agency did not write rules regulating either training dogs -- when they can also encounter wolves -- or hunting with them.
The coalition of humane societies is also asking that the DNR be ordered to write such rules. Dane County Circuit Judge Peter Anderson has yet to rule on that part of the lawsuit.
Anderson said in his ruling Friday that, despite his injunction, the DNR could move forward with a hunt that does not involve dogs. Whether that will happen remained unclear late Friday afternoon.
Cynthia Hirsch, a lawyer with the state Department of Justice representing the DNR, argued that prohibiting the use of dogs would put the agency in violation of the law passed by the state Legislature that required the agency to set up the hunt and prescribed many of the details, including the use of dogs.
And on Thursday, DNR officials said they would have to cancel the hunt if the judge issued an injunction because the agency would not have time to create regulations on the use of dogs before the Oct. 15 hunt begins. Wisconsin is the only state that has approved the use of dogs to hunt wolves.
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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