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Click to visit VeggieCooking.com NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2012

News from the Week of 31st of March to 6th of April 2013

Salt-based solar thermal power plant takes shape in Nevada (6 April 2013)
What makes Crescent Dunes unique among commercial-scale solar power plants is its integrated energy storage system. According to developer SolarReserve, the facility can provide up to 10 hours of full power storage, which enables it to supply power on an on-demand basis, just like any fossil fuel or nuclear power plant.

Crescent Dunes is similar to a conventional concentrating solar power (CSP) system, using thousands of special mirrors called heliostats to focus solar energy on a central tower.

The difference is the use of molten salt, which flows through receiver panels at the top of the tower, consisting of alloy tubes. The salt retains solar energy in the form of heat, ranging in temperature from 500 degrees Fahrenheit to more than 1,000 degrees. That enables salt to double as both an energy transfer and an energy storage mechanism.

Unlike water, molten salt remains in a liquid state at these high temperatures, enabling it to be transported to ground level and stored through a relatively inexpensive system of pipes and tanks. On an as-needed basis, the heated salt is used to boil water to operate a steam-driven turbine, a part of the process that is exactly like any conventional fossil fuel power plant.
[Read more...]

Frackers lose $1.5 billion yearly thanks to leaky pipes (6 April 2013)
Of all the many and varied consequences of fracking (water contamination, injured workers, earthquakes, the list goes on) one of the least understood is so-called "fugitive" methane emissions. Methane is the primary ingredient of natural gas, and it escapes into the atmosphere at every stage of production: at wells, in processing plants, and in pipes on its way to your house. According to a new study [PDF], it could become one of the worst climate impacts of the fracking boom -- and yet, it's one of the easiest to tackle right away. Best of all, fixing the leaks is good for the bottom line.

According to the World Resources Institute, natural gas producers allow $1.5 billion worth of methane to escape from their operations every year. That might sound like small change to an industry that drilled up some $66.5 billion worth of natural gas in 2012 alone, but it's a big deal for the climate: While methane only makes up 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (20 percent of which comes from cow farts), it packs a global warming punch 20 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

"Those leaks are everywhere," said WRI analyst James Bradbury, so fixing them would be "super low-hanging fruit."

The problem, he says, is that right now those emissions aren't directly regulated by the EPA. In President Obama's first term, the EPA set new requirements for capturing other types of pollutants that escape from fracked wells, using technology that also, incidentally, limits methane. But without a cap on methane itself, WRI finds, the potent gas is free to escape at incredible rates, principally from leaky pipelines. The scale of the problem is hard to overstate: The Energy Department found [PDF] that leaking methane could ultimately make natural gas -- which purports to be a "clean" fossil fuel -- even more damaging than coal, and an earlier WRI study found that fixing methane leaks would be the single biggest step the U.S. could take toward meeting its long-term greenhouse gas reduction goals.
[Read more...]

Foreign wind farms cause uproar in Mexican villages (6 April 2013)
Foreign energy firms have flocked to a narrow region of southern Mexico, known as one of the world's windiest places, to build towering wind turbines, but some projects have angered and torn indigenous villages.

The construction of wind farms has soared across Mexico, with the gusty Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the state of Oaxaca attracting investors from as far as Europe, Japan and Australia.

The projects are a key part of Mexico's efforts to combat climate change, one of the priorities of former president Felipe Calderon that has been picked up by his successor, Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December.

This renewable energy had a capacity of just two megawatts nationwide in 2006, according to Mexican Wind Energy Association (Amdee). Today, it has grown to 1,400 megawatts, with a goal of 12,000 megawatts by 2020, representing 15% of the nation's energy.

But some indigenous groups have blocked two projects in Oaxaca, including one that would become Latin America's biggest wind farm, fearing that they would wreck fishing and farming while dividing people over the rent payments.
[Read more...]

Legislation could add roadkill to Montana menus (6 April 2013)
The idea came from something a state lawmaker noticed while cruising the wide-open roads of Montana. The highway often has carcasses -- plenty of them.

"There are a lot of animals and a lot of roadway in Montana," state Rep. Steve Lavin said. "I've had a ton of people ask me after striking a deer or an elk, 'Can I take it?' And I have to say no.'"

But that could soon change.

If a bill becomes law, Montana motorists could take home certain roadkill -- and cook it up.

And no, the "roadkill bill" -- HB 247 --wouldn't mean open season on animals on the state's roadways. The legislation, which cleared the state Senate in March and awaits the governor's signature, emphasizes that the animal has to have been accidentally killed.
[Read more...]

First 'magic mushroom' trial for depression treatment hits stumbling block (6 April 2013)
The world's first clinical trial designed to explore using a hallucinogen from magic mushrooms to treat people with depression has stalled because of British and European rules on the use of illegal drugs in research.

David Nutt, president of the British Neuroscience Association and professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, said he had been granted an ethical green light and funding for the trial, but regulations were blocking it.

"We live in a world of insanity in terms of regulating drugs," he told a neuroscience conference in London on Sunday.

He has previously conducted small experiments on healthy volunteers and found that psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms, has the potential to alleviate severe forms of depression in people who don't respond to other treatments.

Following these promising early results he was awarded a £550,000 (about $849,000 Canadian) grant from the UK's Medical Research Council to conduct a full clinical trial in patients.

But psilocybin is illegal in Britain, and under the United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances it is classified as a Schedule 1 drug -- one that has a high potential for abuse and no recognised medical use.
[Read more...]

Magic mushrooms' psychedelic ingredient could help treat people with severe depression (6 April 2013)
Drugs derived from magic mushrooms could help treat people with severe depression. Scientists believe the chemical psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms, can turn down parts of the brain that are overactive in severely depressive patients. The drug appears to stop patients dwelling on themselves and their own perceived inadequacies.

However, a bid by British scientists to carry out trials of psilocybin on patients in order to assess its full medical potential has been blocked by red tape relating to Britain's strict drugs laws. Professor David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, will tell a conference today that because magic mushrooms are rated as a class-A drug, their active chemical ingredient cannot be manufactured unless a special licence is granted.

"We haven't started the study because finding companies that could manufacture the drug and who are prepared to go through the regulatory hoops to get the licence is proving very difficult," said Nutt. "The whole field is so bedevilled by primitive old-fashioned attitudes. Even if you have a good idea, you may never get it into the clinic, it seems."

Research by Nutt has found that psilocybin switches off part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. It was known that this area is overactive in individuals suffering from depression. In his tests on healthy individuals, it was found that psilocybin had a profound effect on making these volunteers feel happier weeks after they had taken the drug, said Nutt -- who was sacked as the chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in 2009 after repeatedly clashing with government ministers about the dangers and classification of illicit drugs.
[Read more...]

Province pushes Keystone XL pipeline with another round of U.S. ads (6 April 2013)
CALGARY-- Alberta is releasing another series of advertisements in U.S. publications aimed at convincing Americans that approving the Keystone XL pipeline would benefit both sides of the border.

The advertisements, which carry a $77,000-price tag, are being rolled out in the Washington Post and news websites this week as Premier Alison Redford returns to Capitol Hill to pitch power brokers on the value of the controversial oil pipeline.

"These ads are targeted at key decision-makers in the Washington area," Neala Barton, press secretary for Redford, told the Herald.

"We want them to know about the province's strong environmental record and the huge potential for energy security and job creation that the pipeline would bring."
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: They're getting to be like American companies. Bad press? Oil spill on TV ruining through an American neighborhood? Time for some new commercials!

Syrian women who fled to Jordan tell of horrific rapes back home (6 April 2013)
AMMAN, JORDAN--The cell was small with iron bars across the door. Three women, all naked, were chained to each corner. Nour was stripped, taken to the fourth, and handcuffed to the wall.

Every day, for more than 60 days, Nour says she and the other prisoners were raped in one of Syria's most notorious detention centres. Some of her attackers at the Palestine Branch of Military Intelligence in Damascus were in uniform, others in civilian clothes.

"They had visitors in the prison playing cards and they said in front of us, 'if you want sex, there are girls here,' " she says. Two girls died in the cell, she says.

Nour, which is not her real name, wrings her small white hands constantly as she speaks, the only sign of distress as she recalls with precision and composure the assaults she suffered between December 2011 and February 2012. When her body was being violated she emptied her mind, she says. Her body no longer belonged to her but she could try to protect her soul.

"This war has taken me from one world to another life," she says. "We have a saying that the wheel of life turns. But the wheel turned over on me. I used to have a normal life."
[Read more...]

How the CIA started its controversial drone war in Pakistan (6 April 2013)
Nek Muhammad knew he was being followed.

On a hot day in June 2004, the Pashtun tribesman was lounging inside a mud compound in South Waziristan, speaking by satellite phone to one of the many reporters who regularly interviewed him on how he had fought and humbled Pakistan's army in the country's western mountains. He asked one of his followers about the strange, metallic bird hovering above him.

Less than 24 hours later, a missile tore through the compound, severing Muhammad's left leg and killing him and several others, including two boys, ages 10 and 16. A Pakistani military spokesman was quick to claim responsibility for the attack, saying that Pakistani forces had fired at the compound.

That was a lie.

Muhammad and his followers had been killed by the CIA, the first time it had deployed a Predator drone in Pakistan to carry out a "targeted killing." The target was not a top operative of al-Qaeda, but a Pakistani ally of the Taliban who led a tribal rebellion and was marked by Pakistan as an enemy of the state. In a secret deal, the CIA had agreed to kill him in exchange for access to airspace it had long sought so it could use drones to hunt down its own enemies.
[Read more...]

Revealed: Aurora shooter James Holmes was taking prescription antidepressants and hypnosis drugs (5 April 2013)
(NaturalNews) Once again the alternative press is proven correct with the assertion that the No. 1 cause of violent shootings is mind-altering psychiatric drugs. New information has been released about the prescription drugs being taken by James Holmes, the mind-controlled Aurora Colorado "Batman" movie theater shooter, and it reveals he was taking two mind-altering prescription medications, including a generic version of Zoloft.

I publicly predicted this on July 20 of 2012, when I wrote, "it is highly likely that James Holmes has been on psychiatric drugs. Not only does he fit the classic definition of a person typically put on psych drugs -- young white disturbed male -- his actions in the movie theater almost perfectly resemble those of the psyched-out shooters in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold."

The establishment tried to bury this fact for as long as possible, but as the LA Times now reports, "District Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. reversed previous rulings on public access and made public the arrest affidavit and 12 search warrants."

Those search warrants reveal James Holmes was taking a chemical cocktail of psychiatric drugs, including:
• Sertraline, a generic version of Zoloft (antidepressant)
• Clonazepam, a benzodiazepine drug known to have "hypnotic properties"
[Read more...]

Book review: 'The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth' By Mark Mazzetti (5 April 2013)
On May 1, 2011, CIA Director Leon Panetta was in command of the single most important U.S. military operation since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: the Navy SEAL Team 6 assault on a mysterious compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was suspected to be hiding. The SEALs were sneaking into Pakistan without the permission of its government on a covert "deniable" mission in a country that was supposedly allied to the United States. Because U.S. law forbids the military to do this kind of work, the SEALs were turned over to the control of the CIA and were "sheep-dipped" to become, in effect, spies under Panetta's nominal control.

Yet isn't the CIA's real job to steal other countries' secrets, rather than to carry out targeted killings?

A few years before the bin Laden operation, Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, then the head of Joint Special Operations Command, had turned the Army's Delta Force and Navy SEAL Team 6 into a fighting machine in Iraq and Afghanistan that increasingly mounted operations to gather intelligence -- what McChrystal termed "a fight for knowledge."

Yet aren't Special Operations forces the "door kickers" whom you send in to kill or capture terrorists rather than the guys who collect intelligence?
[Read more...]

The GOP's Drug-Testing Dragnet (3 April 2013)
The annual Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) conference, held in 2012 in San Antonio, Texas, looks like any other industry gathering. The 600 or so attendees sip their complimentary Starbucks coffee, munch on small plates of muffins and fresh fruit, and backslap old acquaintances as they file into a sprawling Marriott hotel conference hall. They will hear a keynote address by Robert DuPont, who served as drug policy director under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Nothing odd about any of this until you consider that the main subject of the conference is urine.

Seventy-seven years old, DuPont adopts the air of a sprightly televangelist as he outlines what he calls "the new battle lines" in the war on drugs, one that "begins with kids." At the climax of his speech, DuPont offers "the new paradigm" of drug treatment: a program that one controversial Hawaiian judge administers to all drug-addicted probationers he oversees. "If they test positive," he says, his voice slowly rising into a high-pitched yell, "they go to jail that day! No discussion!... No discretion! To jail that day!"

As DuPont finishes his speech, the hundreds of drug-testing company representatives in the audience rise to give him a standing ovation.

DuPont is in an expansive mood following his speech. Since the 1980s, he has been in the business of selling drug-testing services to employers. As far as he's concerned, drug tests should be given to "anybody who receives a benefit," from unemployment insurance to welfare. "Test 'em all!" he exclaims.
[Read more...]

Canada's economy loses 54,500 jobs in March (5 April 2013)
A dismal report on Canada's labour market -- 54,500 lost jobs in March and an uptick in the unemployment rate -- set off a flurry of disappointment on stock markets, in Ottawa and at Queen's Park on Friday.

The big decline, which more than wiped out gains chalked up in February and pushed the jobless rate up to 7.2 per cent, did not come as a complete surprise.

For months, economists had said that the pace of job growth didn't match the sluggish feel of the Canadian economy.

However, when combined with disappointing trade data and U.S. job numbers released separately on Friday, the drop in Canadian jobs draws attention to the risks still lurking in the economy.
[Read more...]

Discouraged job seekers behind shrinking labor force (5 April 2013)
(Reuters) - Americans giving up the hunt for jobs were likely behind a sharp drop in the U.S. workforce last month, a bad sign for an economy that is struggling to achieve a faster growth pace.

The number of working-age Americans counted as part of the labor force -- either with a job or looking for one -- tumbled by 496,000 in March, the biggest fall since December 2009, the Labor Department said on Friday. That pushed the so-called workforce participation rate to a 34-year low of 63.3 percent.

March marked the second month in a row that the participation rate declined -- 626,000 people have dropped from the work force since January.

Friday's report showed a decline in the number of discouraged job seekers last month after a pop in February, which at first glance might suggest the drop in the workforce was mainly because of shifting demographics.
[Read more...]

This graphic shows what's behind 11,300 lost jobs in Canada (5 April 2013)
Economists did not expect this: Canada's worst jobs performance in almost four years, with 54,500 people joining the ranks of the unemployed last month,

And 11,300 of those jobs were lost in Alberta, hiking the unemployment rate to 4.8 per cent, up from 4.5 in March.

But those are the bigger numbers scroll through the finer details and you get a sense of where to find the economy's weak points.
[Read more...]

Application deluge for high-tech visas forces lottery (5 April 2013)
American companies are so eager to hire highly skilled foreign workers that a cap on new visas has been reached within a matter of days.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Friday that it has received more than 85,000 applications from employers seeking visas for computer programmers, engineers, physicians and other educated workers with specialized skills. Of the total visas, 20,000 are set aside for people with graduate degrees from American universities.

Because the 85,000 limit was exceeded within five days of the April 1 opening date, a lottery will be held to distribute the visas. A superstar software engineer sponsored by Microsoft has the same chance of landing an H-1B visa as does a person hoping to work for a lesser-known company.

"It basically shows the main problem of this system, which is that there's no way of prioritizing. When this takes place, it'll cause a big frenzy," said Neil Ruiz, an associate fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Last year, the cap was reached in slightly more than two months. As the country emerged from recession in 2010, the cap was not reached for 10 months. The last time a lottery was used was 2008.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: That's already a huge number of foreign workers to take on, with such a high unemployment rate. More American techies come into the market every day -- especially with technical schools advertising high-paid jobs in order to stay afloat and get people to pay for their degree. Yet those colleges continue to churn out grads who can't find any work at all.

Chemo scandal: Pharmacists' regulator refuses to disclose inspection reports for implicated drug supplier (5 April 2013)
The public agency responsible for licensing pharmacies in Ontario refuses to provide inspection reports for Marchese Hospital Solutions, the company that hospitals say supplied weaker-than-prescribed chemotherapy drugs for nearly 1,200 Canadian patients.

There is almost no information about what Marchese and companies like it do to keep patients safe. One researcher who investigates mistakes in health care has just launched a review of the issue.

"The study we're doing addresses the question of how much error is occurring in the mixing process because we don't know that with any degree of reliability," said Tony Easty, a researcher with Toronto's University Health Network whose review was prompted by his investigation of a fatal chemotherapy overdose in an Edmonton patient in 2006.

"We don't know which processes are truly the optimal processes to follow," said Easty. "We're trying to bring evidence to that so you're not just hoping double-checking is effective."

His study, which focuses on hospitals that perform in-house mixing, could affect quality control in all facilities that compound chemotherapy drugs.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: I'd be interested in survival rates. It's possible that people who received the diluted drugs had the same survival rate, or even a better one. The article mentions that three people died who received the diluted drugs, but how many people died with the normal dose? Did any of the "normal dosage" group survive at all?

At National Conference for Media Reform, Activists Hope to Stop Murdoch, Koch-Backed Consolidation (5 April 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about what this conference--why close to 2,000 people are gathering here today.

CRAIG AARON: Well, this is the nation's largest conference devoted to media, technology and democracy. People are coming from all over the country--media activists, policy makers, journalists--people who are really committed to involving the public in the future of the media. And I think that's what you'll see throughout the weekend, talking about the future of the Internet, the threats of media consolidation, how do we sustain and support public and community media, how is cultural change going to influence political change--all of these issues connecting here--and really bringing together the people who are doing this in local communities to meet with people in other communities who are also getting involved--really share strategy, share tips and get motivated and inspired for the difficult fights ahead.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Craig, we just quoted Rupert Murdoch talking about cross-ownership rules that limit media consolidation being a relic of a bygone era. Your reaction? And this whole issue of increasing media consolidation versus the supposed democratizing influence of the Internet?

CRAIG AARON: Well, I think the thing we've seen is we know the results of going the path that Rupert Murdoch wants, and it's been a complete disaster. Ten thousands of--tens of thousands of journalists have lost their jobs. We see companies getting bigger and bigger and bigger, so big that, like the Tribune Company, they topple over or fall under the weight of their own debt. We know that doesn't work. So the idea that the FCC would clear the way for somebody like Rupert Murdoch, somebody being investigated for bribing foreign officials, somebody being investigated for all kinds of malfeasance, to clear the way for him to take over one of the biggest newspapers in the country is really an outrage.

And what we need to remember is, when it comes to local news and information, media ownership still matters very much. And the reason Rupert Murdoch wants the L.A. Times is because it is by far the dominant outlet in Los Angeles when it comes to news and information. It's perhaps the dominant publication when it comes to Hollywood. And Rupert Murdoch, of course, has vast Hollywood interests. And it has a lot of political power in, you know, the nation's most populous state. So the idea that these rules are relics simply because the Internet exists is just not true. The same kind of media power that we see in the traditional media, people like Rupert Murdoch are trying to bring into the new media, and that's why the FCC's supposedly old rules still matter.
[Read more...]

Judge approves $4M for Libby asbestos attorneys (5 April 2013)
A state judge has ruled that lawyers for victims of asbestos exposure in Libby are entitled to more than $4 million in fees and expenses out of a $19.6 million settlement with chemical manufacturer W.R. Grace and Co.

Some victims had objected to the amount as excessive. They wanted the money to go toward future medical care for more than 2,200 people sickened by asbestos dust from a Grace mine near Libby.

But state District Judge James Wheelis said in a recent order that the 20 percent fee was "fair and reasonable."

He cited the 18,000 hours of work that attorneys from three firms said they put into the case, which carried a risk of failure that could have left them with nothing.
[Read more...]

This year, amber waves of grain to be replaced by CORN (5 April 2013)
Ride a train through swaths of the Midwest in the summer and it's hard to imagine how the country could ever produce more corn. Well, imagine it: Farmers will cover 97.3 million acres of land with the monoculture crop this year.

That's more than in any other year since 1936, when, like now, the drought-plagued nation's corn reserves had run low. But unlike the 1930s, corn prices are high now in part because of demand for exports, biofuels, corn-syrup-flavored candy, and feed for factory farming.

From the Twin Cities Pioneer Press:

"In its annual spring plantings report issued Thursday, March 28, USDA said farmers nationwide intend to plant the most corn acres since the 1930s. For Minnesota, it's the most corn ever. Minnesota soybean acres will fall 4 percent.

"'The profitability of corn was just too hard to pass up for producers,' said Brian Basting of Advance Trading."
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: Burning BT corn in our gas tanks is probably the best use for it. One study found that due to the heat used in ethanol production, "the Bt disappears in less than 15 minutes." It's still a hazard for wildlife in the field, though.

Spoof Kickstarter celebrates the 'New Canada' with oil-filled souvenirs (5 April 2013)
Made-up Canadian LaMar DiCuois is a designer, so he recognizes that Canada is due for a rebranding. Instead of boring maple syrup in fanciful containers, why not come up with a souvenir that highlights the strengths of the New Canada? The strengths of the New Canada, of course, being the Alberta tar sands and the shady politicians who love them.

Accordingly, DiCuois' fictional Kickstarter campaign, produced by sketch comedians Deep Rogue Ram, will fund the development of oil-filled snow globes featuring Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cronies. And for $400,000 and up -- pocket change for oil company executives -- you can get your own! They leak a little, but don't worry about that. That will be fixed.
[Read more...]

How to avoid a horned owl beat-down in K-Country (5 April 2013)
Heads up! Yes, literally.

Early this week, Kananaskis Country officials closed some rock climbing routes near Grassi Lakes because there are Great Horned Owls nesting in a nearby cave.

Apparently the owls return to the same spot every year. And, every year, conservation officers get reports of the owls dive bombing the climbers in the area.

So, it's become an annual closure to prevent injury to people using the area and give the owls their space.
[Read more...]

Bird flu fears lead to Shanghai poultry market cull (5 April 2013)
Officials closed Shanghai's poultry market on Friday and slaughtered more than 20,000 birds as the death toll from a new outbreak of bird flu rose to six.

Huhai market for live birds was closed after authorities detected traces of the H7N9 virus in pigeons, according to the Xinhua state news agency.

Live poultry trading sections of two markets in the city's Minhang district have also been shuttered. Online videos showed groups of workers in protective suits shoving chicken carcasses into rubbish bags.

Since last month, 14 cases of H7N9 infection have been reported in Shanghai and four eastern provinces, the first time the strain has been detected in humans.

Chinese health authorities are actively monitoring 400 people who have been in contact with H7N9 patients, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which says the virus cannot be transmitted from person to person.
[Read more...]

Morning-after pill ruling reanimates debate (5 April 2013)
A federal court ruling Friday requiring the government to make the morning-after pill available to females of any age without a prescription reignited a politically fraught debate that has stretched for more than a decade, vexing two administrations.

In a 59-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman in New York offered a scathing rebuke of the 2011 decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to bar over-the-counter sales of the pill to girls younger than 17. Sebelius had overruled a recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration, which had found the emergency contraceptive was "safe and effective in adolescent females" and could be used properly by young women without consulting a doctor.

Plan B is available to teenagers younger than 17 only with a prescription. Older women must request it from a pharmacist. If Korman's ruling stands, the product would be available to women of all ages and would no longer be placed behind the pharmacy counter. The judge ordered the FDA to lift the age restrictions within 30 days. The Obama administration has not said whether it will appeal the ruling.

Korman called Sebelius's decision "politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent."

He also accused the FDA of acting in "bad faith" after years of delays on a citizen petition asking that the drug, known as Plan B, be made available over the counter without a prescription.
[Read more...]

WikiLeaks activist in New York to protest US whistleblowers clampdown (5 April 2013)
Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the Icelandic MP who was part of a small team of activists that produced the WikiLeaks dump of US state secrets, has arrived in the United States for the first time since the controversy three years ago, to protest against what she sees as a disproportionate clampdown by the US government on internet whistleblowers.

Jónsdóttir is marking the third anniversary of the "Collateral Murder" video --which put WikiLeaks on the map on 5 April 2010 by revealing footage of a US apache helicopter attack on unarmed civilians in Baghdad -- by staging an exhibition of still photographs drawn from the video in New York. She hopes the display will draw attention to the plight of Bradley Manning, the US soldier currently facing court martial for being the source of the WikiLeaks material, as well as increase public debate about the treatment of online whistleblowers.

"The crackdown on whistleblowers has gone way beyond what is reasonable," she says in an interview with the Guardian. "There is no other US president who has prosecuted as many whistleblowers as Obama -- that's not in the spirit of transparency that he promised when he was elected."

Jónsdóttir believes that the American public has failed to keep up with the pace of change, that has seen a rapid transference of whistleblowing activity onto the internet. "The general public doesn't understand that activism to keep our government honest has moved online."
[Read more...]

Trayvon Martin's parents settle wrongful-death claim (5 April 2013)
SANFORD -- Trayvon Martin's parents have settled a wrongful-death claim for an amount thought to be more than $1 million against the homeowners association of the Sanford subdivision where their teenage son was killed.

Their attorney, Benjamin Crump, filed that paperwork at the Seminole County Courthouse, a portion of which was made public Friday.

In the five pages of the settlement that were available for public review, the settlement amount had been marked out. Lower in the agreement, the parties specified that they would keep that amount confidential.

When asked during an earlier interview whether the amount was more than $1 million, Crump said: "I have no comment on that subject ... I know you did not get that from me."

Trayvon was shot to death by Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman at the Retreat at Twin Lakes townhomes in Sanford on Feb. 26, 2012. Zimmerman served as head of the Neighborhood Watch and called police that evening, describing Trayvon as suspicious. He has said the teen attacked him and he fired in self-defense.
[Read more...]

Weekly jobless claims climb to 385,000, most in four months (4 April 2013)
WASHINGTON -- First-time jobless claims unexpectedly climbed to a four-month high last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, providing more evidence that the economic recovery might be heading into another spring slowdown.

The number of people filing initial claims for unemployment benefits rose to 385,000 for the week ending Saturday, an increase of 28,000 from the previous week's revised figure, the Labor Department said.

Economists polled by Bloomberg had estimated that claims dropped slightly last week to 353,000.

Some of the increase could stem from difficulties the Labor Department has with seasonal adjustments around the Easter holiday and school spring breaks.

"The Good Friday holiday bounces around every year and can be hard to adjust for," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in New York.
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Report: 6.8 percent in Va. at or below minimum wage (4 April 2013)
Nearly 7 percent of Virginia workers who receive hourly wages were paid at or below minimum wage last year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday. Only five states had higher percentages, the study said. Idaho was the highest, at 7.7 percent; Alaska the lowest, at 1 percent. The U.S. average was 4.7 percent.

About 2.7 percent of Virginia's workers were paid at minimum wage and 4.2 percent below minimum wage. The 6.8 percent total was lower than the recent peak of 7.9 percent in 2010, but higher than 2.4 percent in 2004.

In North Carolina, 6.2 percent of hourly workers were at or below minimum wage, which has been $7.25 since 2009. President Barack Obama wants to raise it to $9 by 2015.
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On 45th Anniversary of His Death, Martin Luther King Jr. on the Power of Media and the Horror of War (4 April 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: In a moment, we're going to look at an historical trial in New York over the police department's stop-and-frisk program. But first, we're going to turn to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King. It was 45 years ago today that Dr. King was assassinated, shot on the balcony of his hotel room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. We're going to play a part of a speech Dr. King made to the National Association of Radio Announcers the previous year in Atlanta, Georgia. He spoke about the power of the media and the horrors of the war in Vietnam. It was August 11th, 1967.

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: We're going to transform this neighborhood into a brotherhood. We have got to get rid of war. John Fitzgerald Kennedy said on one occasion that mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.

And there is a war taking place today in a little Asian country. And the tragedy is that it is the most powerful, the richest nation in the world, that happens to be a predominantly white nation, at war with one of the smallest, poorest nations, that happens to be a colored nation.

And we all know the physical casualties, the nightmarish physical, physical casualties of that war. We see them. We see the rice fields of that little Asian country being trampled at will and burned at whim. We see crying mothers with little babies tightly clutched in their arms as they stand and watch their little huts burst forth into flames. We see fine young men from our own nation dying in mounting numbers, being wounded every day. We see Vietnamese boys and girls, men and women, dying every day. And we see little children being burned with napalm.
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Testimony, Recordings at Trial Reveal the Racial Biases and Arrest Quotas Behind NYPD's Stop & Frisk (4 April 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the importance of the testimony of Eric Adams, a former police captain and now a state senator, directly saying that Ray Kelly told him in a meeting that they were specifically seeking to instill fear in young black and Latino men? Now, of course, not only has Kelly denied that, but some of the other people who were supposedly in the meeting have been somewhat more equivocal about what was actually said. But the importance of that testimony at the trial?

SUNITA PATEL: Well, it's key testimony. We have unrefuted testimony that this is what Kelly said. You know, the judge has said, we have said, you know, Ray Kelly can come and testify about it, but he's not going to. And as a result, we have this statement that is--has not been challenged in the court. And you have the highest-level official, the commissioner of the police department, saying that this is a tactic that is being used to instill fear in black and Latinos.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to a part of the video used to train New York City police officers. In this clip, an instructor describes a forcible stop and frisk.

POLICE INSTRUCTOR: A level-three, or stop-question-and-frisk, street encounter is a permissible seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, because it is based upon reasonable suspicion. The courts look again to a reasonableness test to determine whether a person has been seized.
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'Extinct' turtle species actually never existed, scientists say (4 April 2013)
A Seychelles freshwater turtle species declared extinct after decades of futile searches, in fact never existed, scientists said Thursday.

While Man has the extinction of several turtle and tortoise species on his conscience, DNA evidence has now cleared him of exterminating Pelusios seychellensis, a team from Germany and Austria wrote in the journal PloS One.

"It never existed," the researchers said.

Genetic comparisons showed the species to be one and the same as a widespread West African turtle called Pelusios castaneus, of which a handful of individuals may have been brought to the archipelago by humans long ago, and mistaken for endemic.

Even more likely -- dried museum specimens of the now discredited P seychellensis were wrongly labelled as originating in the Seychelles, said the team.
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Craigslist killer sentenced to death for murdering 3 men he lured with phoney job offers (4 April 2013)
AKRON, OHIO--A self-styled street preacher was sentenced to death Thursday in the killings of three down-and-out men lured by bogus job offers posted on Craigslist.

The jury that convicted Richard Beasley of murder recommended that he face execution. The judge had the option of reducing the sentence to life in prison.
Beasley, 53, was convicted of teaming up with a teenager in 2011 to use the promise of jobs on an Ohio farm to lure them into robberies. Three men were killed, and a fourth who was wounded testified at Beasley's trial.

The judge read the three death sentences in a hushed courtroom crowded with victims' relatives, some of them holding back tears.

Beasley skipped the chance to speak to the judge before the sentencing on the aggravated murder convictions. He listened to the verdict with his head on his chest, sitting in a wheelchair he uses for back pain.

Later, about to be sentenced on other crimes including kidnapping, Beasley said he sympathized with the families of victims but said he was innocent and expects to have his conviction overturned on appeal.
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Obama talks climate, raises funds in S.F. (4 April 2013)
President Obama dropped into San Francisco Wednesday night for a pair of high-dollar fundraisers during which he underscored his concerns about climate change and his drive to return Nancy Pelosi to the speakership of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The visit drew protests from opponents of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and from Republicans, who slammed it as a jaunt to "billionaires' row."

Obama appeared first at a cocktail reception at the Sea Cliff home of billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor, where about 100 guests paid $5,000 to $34,200 to attend the fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He later had dinner at the Pacific Heights home of Gordon and Ann Getty.

The president, in Denver earlier Wednesday for a speech on gun control, landed at San Francisco International Airport about 5:30 p.m. In a drive lasting about 20 minutes, his motorcade was met with shout-outs from people on the street as it wound through the Sunset District and Golden Gate Park before arriving at Steyer and Taylor's oceanfront home.

Obama chuckled as he pointed out that the Golden Gate Bridge was invisible. His hosts even apologized to him that it was covered in fog.
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U.S. considers less prison time for ex-Enron CEO Skilling (4 April 2013)
(Reuters) - Jeffrey Skilling, the former Enron Corp chief executive serving a 24-year prison term over the energy company's spectacular collapse, may get a chance to leave prison early.

The U.S. Department of Justice has notified victims of Enron's fraud and 2001 bankruptcy that prosecutors may enter an agreement with Skilling that could result in a resentencing.

Skilling, 59, has served about 6-1/4 years in prison following his May 2006 conviction by a Houston federal jury on 19 counts of securities fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors.

It is unclear how much Skilling's sentence could be reduced, and a Justice Department official said no agreement has been reached. CNBC, the television business channel, said prosecutors and Skilling's lawyers have been negotiating a shorter term.

Skilling has maintained his innocence, and according to court filings has been pursuing a new trial.
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Male baldness linked to risk of coronary heart disease, research claims (3 April 2013)
Bald men are at greater risk of developing heart problems than those who retain a full head of hair -- but only those with hair loss on top of their heads, and not at the front, are affected, new research suggests.

While baldness is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), men who have a receding hairline are not at heightened risk of the condition, according to a study in the journal BMJ Open.

Researchers in Japan who examined six previous studies from Europe and America of the link between baldness and CHD, comprising 36,990 men, found that five of the studies confirmed an association.

Men who have lost most of their hair are 32% more likely to go on to develop heart trouble compared with full-headed peers, according to three studies, which tracked men's health for at least 11 years. But men aged less than 55-60 were 44% more likely to suffer coronary artery disease, the researchers say. The three other studies put the increased risk even higher: at 70% for balding men overall and 84% for younger men.

The authors said that in their meta-analysis "vertex baldness was significantly associated with an increased risk of CHD among younger men as well as among all participants, and the association was dependent on the severity of baldness. Vertex baldness is more closely associated with systemic atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries] than with frontal baldness."
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Cancer clinics are turning away thousands of Medicare patients. Blame the sequester. (3 April 2013)
Cancer clinics across the country have begun turning away thousands of Medicare patients, blaming the sequester budget cuts.

Oncologists say the reduced funding, which took effect for Medicare on April 1, makes it impossible to administer expensive chemotherapy drugs while staying afloat financially.

Patients at these clinics would need to seek treatment elsewhere, such as at hospitals that might not have the capacity to accommodate them.

"If we treated the patients receiving the most expensive drugs, we'd be out of business in six months to a year," said Jeff Vacirca, chief executive of North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates in New York. "The drugs we're going to lose money on we're not going to administer right now."

After an emergency meeting Tuesday, Vacirca's clinics decided that they would no longer see one-third of their 16,000 Medicare patients.

"A lot of us are in disbelief that this is happening," he said. "It's a choice between seeing these patients and staying in business."
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PAM COMMENTARY: When I had some bad symptoms of breast cancer, I didn't even consider the more expensive cancer treatment options. I used a combination of some of the best alternative cancer treatments. And it only cost a few hundred dollars!

You might think that was a risky decision, but cancer is always risky. All of my relatives who've opted for "conventional" cancer treatment, at least within the past 50 years, have died. That's right, the only relations who I know survived conventional medical treatments for cancer were treated before the more expensive drugs came out -- back when doctors didn't have the latest generation of cancer drugs.

I'll give the example of my Aunt Sharon. A few years ago, she had a small lump in one of her breasts. She was elderly and didn't want to be bothered with the risk of breast cancer again, and so she opted to have a double mastectomy as a "preventative measure" on the recommendation of her doctor. When my mother called me and told me Aunt Sharon's plans, I already knew what would happen. But people have to make their own decisions. A lot of my relatives were the type of people who'd always trust their doctors. When my mother called about Aunt Sharon again, less than a year later, and told me she'd died of cancer that somehow came back, I wasn't at all surprised.

The moral of the story: expensive doesn't always mean better. The people turned away from conventional cancer treatment may actually survive because of it.

Good news, Arkansas: Tar-sands oil isn't oil-oil (3 April 2013)
So far, the thousands of barrels of tar-sands oil that spilled into a middle-class neighborhood in central Arkansas on Friday have driven 22 families from their homes and killed and injured a grip of local wildlife. So far, the oil hasn't contaminated the local lake or drinking water supply, according to ExxonMobil. It's a "major spill," according to the EPA, and the cause is so far still under investigation.

But since it's not oil-oil, ExxonMobil hasn't paid into the government clean-up fund that would help bankroll the epic scrub-down necessary to rid poor unsuspecting Mayflower, Ark., of all that bitumen.

"A 1980 law ensures that diluted bitumen is not classified as oil, and companies transporting it in pipelines do not have to pay into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund," writes Ryan Koronowski at Climate Progress. "Other conventional crude producers pay 8 cents a barrel to ensure the fund has resources to help clean up some of the 54,000 barrels of pipeline oil that spilled 364 times last year."

Here, this helpful infographic might clear things up for you...
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Organic rice farmer in India yields over 22 tons of crop on only two acres, proving the fraud of GMOs and Big Ag (3 April 2013)
(NaturalNews) Despite all the claims made by industry-funded hacks that genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) and other industrial agricultural methods are necessary for the future of humanity, it is the traditional growing methods that continue to shine through as the real sustainers of life. As reported by Gaia Health, Indian rice farmers using traditional, organic growing methods are achieving yields far higher than farmers using more modern methods.

In the case of Sumant Kumar, rice yields have surpassed the national average per hectare (about 2.5 acres) nearly ten-fold. According to reports, Kumar is currently yielding about 22.4 tons of rice per hectare, greatly surpassing that of other rice farms currently outputting roughly 2.3 tons per hectare. His secret? A traditional crop management protocol known as System of Root Intensification, or SRI.

Farmers adhering to SRI techniques will typically plant about half the number of seeds as farmers using more modern methods, and will space them out at intervals of about 10 inches. They also plant their seeds much younger, and keep the soil dryer, while paying much closer attention to weed growth. By hand-removing weeds, SRI farmers are able to allow more water and nutrients to feed their rice plants, which results in significantly higher yields.

"Farmers use less seeds, less water and less chemicals but they get more without having to invest more," says Dr. Surendra Chaurassa, agriculture minister to the region where Kumar's farm is located, as quoted by The Observer. "This is revolutionary. I did not believe it to start with, but now I think it can potentially change the way everyone farms. I would want every state to promote it. If we get 30 to 40 percent increase in yields, that is more than enough to recommend it."
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Kidnapped Ethiopian girl rescued by caring, protective lions (3 April 2013)
A 12-year-old girl kidnapped by a group of seven men in the Ethiopian city of Bita Genet was found several days after her abduction, safe under the watchful eyes of three lions. Not only were the lions guarding her, they allegedly chased off her captors.

The girl was reportedly abducted by the seven men with the idea that she would be forced into marrying one of the them. According to the United Nations, about 70 percent of the marriages taking place in Ethiopia are the result of similar kidnappings. And nearly 100 percent of those abduction-marriages are not thwarted by kindly wildlife.

While it is certainly within reason to consider this a miracle, a wildlife official did point out that the lions -- who guarded the girl for about a half day -- may have heard her crying and mistaken her for a cub. Interesting theory, but don't lions know the difference between a Person and a Furry Thing that Looks Just Like Them? Although who wants to complain? It's such a great story.

It's so great, in fact, that Twitter is going nuts about it today even though this event took place and was reported on in 2005. Possibly because there's been so much rape in the news lately, and it's nice to hear a story with a happy ending. Or maybe we just like stories where animals behave in the noble, humane way we wish people would.
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PAM COMMENTARY: Usually lions aren't so nice to potential prey animals, but animals rescuing other species on an occasional basis, especially the young, is well-documented.

Japan's whale 'research' a flashpoint in global dispute over international ban on commerical whaling (3 April 2013)
Japan says the work that goes on at the Institute of Cetacean Research is crucial for studying whale populations; critics counter it is a way to get around an international ban on commercial whaling.

The institute can be found in a nondescript white-brick office building in Tokyo's port district.

Down a hallway and through an unmarked door is a small lobby with a model ship, a poster showing various whale species, and a sign that reads "Keep Out".

Captured whales are studied by the Institute, which refers to its work on them as "lethal research" before their meat is sold across Japan, including in restaurants in nearby Tsukiji market, where a sushi-style piece of the purple flesh costs a few dollars.
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Leaks reveal secrets of the rich who hide cash offshore (3 April 2013)
Millions of internal records have leaked from Britain's offshore financial industry, exposing for the first time the identities of thousands of holders of anonymous wealth from around the world, from presidents to plutocrats, the daughter of a notorious dictator and a British millionaire accused of concealing assets from his ex-wife.

The leak of 2m emails and other documents, mainly from the offshore haven of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), has the potential to cause a seismic shock worldwide to the booming offshore trade, with a former chief economist at McKinsey estimating that wealthy individuals may have as much as $32tn (£21tn) stashed in overseas havens.

In France, Jean-Jacques Augier, President François Hollande's campaign co-treasurer and close friend, has been forced to publicly identify his Chinese business partner. It emerges as Hollande is mired in financial scandal because his former budget minister concealed a Swiss bank account for 20 years and repeatedly lied about it.

In Mongolia, the country's former finance minister and deputy speaker of its parliament says he may have to resign from politics as a result of this investigation.
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Two suspected of most Eastern Shore arsons (3 April 2013)
Five months. A total of 77 arsons, with two more attempted. More than 1,200 hotline tips. An investigation that involved 12 volunteer fire departments, Virginia State Police, the Accomack County Sheriff's Office, and state and federal agencies.

After all of it, police charged a couple Tuesday in an overnight blaze and said additional charges are expected soon. Police said they are confident the two are responsible for a majority of the fires set since November.

Tonya Susan Bundick, 40, and Charles R. Smith III, 38, also known as Charles Applegate, both of Parksley, are charged with one count each of felony arson and one count of felony conspiracy to commit arson in connection with a Monday night fire on Airport Drive in Melfa.

They were being held without bond in the Accomack County Jail and were due in court for arraignment today. The motive is still under investigation, police said.
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Couple arrested in arson on Virginia's Eastern Shore (2 April 2013)
One of Virginia's worst serial arsonists eluded a massive police hunt for five months, setting nearly 80 fires on the Eastern Shore. Following night after night of futility, authorities finally got a break Monday: They say they caught him in the act.

A surveillance team watched as the man torched an abandoned home in Accomack County and then escaped in a gold minivan, police said. The stop and the arrests that followed didn't put an end to the mystery for a frightened community, but only raised the question of why.

Police said the man who set the fire was Charles R. Smith III, 38, who friends said was a former captain with a volunteer fire department in Accomack County. His girlfriend, Tonya S. Bundick, 40, was driving the getaway car, police said.

The arrests shocked friends and neighbors, who said the couple did not fit the portrait of serial arsonists. They live in a single-family home, and Smith has an auto body shop in Tasley. Bundick, who has two school-age children, runs a small clothing shop.
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Virginia Governor McDonnell on two-way street with chief executive of struggling company (30 March 2013)
Events surrounding the first daughter's wedding show the extent of the bond.

Just about the time Cailin McDonnell got married, Williams's company, Star Scientific, was introducing a dietary supplement called Anatabloc, whose key ingredient is found in tobacco and other plants.

Anatabloc was crucial to the future of the company, which has been losing money for years. But the science behind the product -- an anti-inflammatory the company hopes might be helpful to people with such ailments as Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis -- was unproven.

Three days before her daughter's June wedding, Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida, where she spoke at a seminar for scientists and investors interested in anatabine, the key chemical in Anatabloc, according to people who attended the conference.

The governor's wife told the group that she supported the product and touted the pill, which is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, as a way to lower health-care costs in Virginia, the attendees said.
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PAM COMMENTARY: If they have that kind of money to throw at a political family, it's odd that they don't just spend the money on getting their product approved as a new drug.

All those fracking jobs come with an increased risk of lung cancer (2 April 2013)
While all the damage hydraulic fracturing could do to the Earth is pretty well-covered, we mostly overlook the risks it poses to fracking workers. Each well requires thousands of tons of fracking sand full of fine silica, which can penetrate lungs and lead to incurable silicosis and even lung cancer.

To find out how much those frackers were at risk, Eric Esswein, a workplace safety and exposure expert with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), strapped on a face mask and dug in. NPR reports:

"He and his colleagues visited 11 fracking sites in five states: Arkansas, Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas. At every site, the researchers found high levels of silica in the air. It turned out that 79 percent of the collected samples exceeded the recommended exposure limit set by Esswein's agency.

"There were some controls in place, says Esswein, who notes that 'at every site that we went to, workers wore respirators.'

"But about one-third of the air samples they collected had such high levels of silica, the type of respirators typically worn wouldn't offer enough protection."
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NASA sends fleet of small drones to inspect noxious volcano plumes (2 April 2013)
Last month, a team of NASA researchers sent three re-purposed military drones with special instruments into a sulfur dioxide plume emitted by Costa Rica's 10,500-foot Turrialba volcano.

The team, led by principal investigator David Pieri of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada-Flintridge, launched 10 flights involving the small, unmanned spy planes.

The six-pound, twin-electric-engine planes, called Dragon Eyes, recorded video outside and inside the plume. The drones also collected data from several remote-sensing instruments, sulfur dioxide and particle sensors and automatic atmospheric sampling bottles keyed to measure sulfur dioxide concentration.

"Scientists believe computer models derived from this study will contribute to safeguarding the National and International Airspace System, and will also improve global climate predictions and mitigate environmental hazards (e.g., sulfur dioxide volcanic smog, or 'vog') for people who live near volcanoes," NASA said.
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Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America from Monsanto to Wal-Mart (2 April 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Let's go back to Senator Jon Tester of Montana. It's unusual that a family farmer is a senator these days, but that's just what Senator Tester is. In March, he tried to block the rider decried by critics as the "Monsanto Protection Act." He spoke from the Senate floor.

SEN. JON TESTER: Mr. President, Montana is home to thousands of working families that make a living off the land. Like my wife and I, they're family farmers and ranchers. The House of Representatives is prepared to toss those working families aside in favor of the nation's large meatpacking corporations.

The House inserted a provision in the bill that gives enormous marketing power to America's three largest meatpacking corporations, while stiffing family farmers and ranchers. Family-run production agriculture faces tremendous market manipulation. Chicken farmers, hog farmers, cattle ranchers all struggle to get a fair price from the meatpackers, and if they fight back, they risk angering corporate representatives and being shut out of the market. Thanks to this provision, the Agricultural Department will not be able to ensure a fair, open market that put the brakes on the worst abuses by the meatpacking industry. What's worse is that the USDA took congressionally mandated steps to protect ranchers from market manipulation over the last few years. That's what we told them to do in the 2008 farm bill. And this provision will actually overturn rules that the USDA has already put into place. But apparently, intense, behind-the-scenes lobbying won out in the House of Representatives, and now we're back to square one with the big meatpackers calling the shots.

The second provision sent over from the House tells the USDA to ignore any judicial ruling regarding the planting of genetically modified crops. Its supporters are calling it "Farmer Assurance Provision." But all it really assures is a lack of corporate liability. The provision says that when a judge finds that the USDA approved a crop illegally, the department must re-approve the crop and allow it to continue to be planted, regardless of what the judge says. Now let's think about that. The United States Congress is telling the Agricultural Department that even if a court tells you that you've failed to follow the right process and tells you to start over, you must disregard the court's ruling and allow the crop to be planted anyway. Not only does this ignore the constitutional idea of separation of powers, but it also lets genetically modified crops take hold across this country, even when a judge finds it violates the law--once again, agribusiness multinational corporations putting farmers as serfs. It's a dangerous precedent. Mr. President, it will paralyze the USDA, putting the department in the middle of a battle between Congress and the courts. And the ultimate loser will be our family farmers going about their business and feeding America in the right way.
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The Monsanto Protection Act? A Debate on Controversial New Measure Over Genetically Modified Crops (2 April 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
WENONAH HAUTER: Well, this rider is unprecedented and really outrageous interference with our courts and the separation of powers. Now, the biotech industry has been working to get a rider like this into federal legislation since early last spring, when they attempted to attach it to the farm bill, which actually never passed. Now, what happened is, in all of the pressure to pass a spending bill that would allow government agencies to continue operating, the rider was attached, and it went through Senator Barbara Mikulski's Appropriations Committee. And she left this rider in the bill, and we hold her responsible. Now, part of the problem with these large spending bills that have to pass very quickly is there's a lot of room for this kind of mischief. And these spending bills are a response to the dysfunction in Congress when we can't have a normal budgeting process.

And what this rider actually does is it prevents the courts from stepping in under our most important environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act, which gives citizens the right to sue: If they believe that the government is about to make a very large and important decision that will have many impacts, they can sue for judicial review. And this rider will prevent that in the case of genetically engineered crops being planted after a court says that there hasn't been a proper environmental assessment. We're very concerned about this, because there are a number of crops in the pipeline, like 2,4-D corn, which could actually be impacted by this rider.

Now, because this is a budget bill and the budget bill will run out at the end of this fiscal year, which is September 31st, this bill or this rider will no longer be in effect. However, we should be concerned. Because of the dysfunction in Congress, it's possible that the spending bill that was just passed could just be reauthorized for the coming months until a new budget could be debated and passed. So, activists are organizing around the country to put pressure on elected officials to make sure that this doesn't happen.
[Read more...]

Even the Tea Party is pissed about the 'Monsanto Protection Act' (2 April 2013)
Feeling angry about the "Monsanto Protection Act"? You know, the sneakily passed piece of legislation that allows GMO crops to be planted even in defiance of a court order? Well, you're not alone! The law is so scary that it's inspiring outrage from the far right.

It's always a delight to see the left and right agree on anything, and when it comes to fighting genetically modified giant Monsanto, it may well take just that kind of a passionate coalition to get anything done.

But it's not the GMO issue that's turning Tea Party Patriot Dustin Siggins' stomach -- it's the precedent this could set for other corporations that might want legal immunity. From Siggins' blog:

"This all can be boiled down into a single, common phrase: a special interest loophole, and a doozy at that. We are used to subsidies, which give your tax dollars to companies to give them advantages over competitors. We are used to special interest tax loopholes and tax credits, which provide competitive and financial benefits to those with friends in Congress. And we are familiar with regulatory burden increases, which often prevent smaller companies from competing against larger ones because of the cost of compliance.

"However, this is a different kind of special interest giveaway altogether. This is a situation in which a company is given the ability to ignore court orders, in what boils down to a deregulation scheme for a particular set of industries."
[Read more...]

Messy end to tree protests (2 April 2013)
Six people protesting a freeway bypass under construction in Mendocino County were arrested Tuesday after Caltrans crews cut down two pine trees in which some of them had been camping for weeks, officials said.

California Highway Patrol officers fired several bean-bag projectile rounds at two of the protesters, and one of the protesters poured feces on CHP officers before Caltrans chopped down the tree in which they had been sitting, authorities said.

Among those arrested was Amanda "Warbler" Senseman, 24, who was the first protester to take to the trees Jan. 28 in an attempt to stop construction of a Highway 101 bypass around her hometown of Willits.

CHP officers were hoisted up in a cherry picker to the tree-branch level and brought her down just before 8 a.m., said Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie. A Caltrans contractor then cut down the pine "to prevent any others from using that tree," Frisbie said.
[Read more...]

SEC says companies may announce key data on social media (2 April 2013)
(Reuters) - Regulators said on Tuesday that companies can use Twitter, Facebook and other social media to make key announcements as long as they tell investors which sites they will use, an effort to help companies navigate the new media age.

The guidance from the Securities and Exchange Commission seeks to clarify disclosure rules after the agency opened an inquiry into a post made last July on the personal Facebook page of Netflix's chief executive, Reed Hastings.

The SEC investigated whether his announcement that the movie and TV streaming service had hit 1 billion hours viewed in June violated a rule that requires important information to be disclosed to investors at the same time.

The SEC said on Tuesday that it did not initiate an enforcement action or allege wrongdoing in that situation.
[Read more...]

London residents shocked by news that Canadians named in terror attack (2 April 2013)
"How could such a nice boy who grew up in a good place be part of such a thing?" Tacrotas said, shaking her head and admitting she cried when she heard the news on Monday.

She said his father, a short man with greying hair, had been in just last week.

"The poor man. I feel so sorry for him," she said.

CBC News said Monday night that Katsiroubas, and Ali Medlej, both friends from London in their early 20s, are likely the two that blew themselves up in a final blast as government troops launched a major assault on Jan. 19 to recapture an Algerian gas plant.
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Keystone XL: Will viral video of oil spill in Arkansas derail pipeline? (1 April 2013)
WASHINGTON--Pictures don't lie. And as much as some would like to write off the oil-drenched images flying across Facebook and Twitter Monday as an April Fool's joke gone rogue, they are real.

That actually is a river of Alberta crude gushing through an Arkansas suburb. And gushing onward to YouTube, virally, throughout Easter weekend.

Like Jed Clampett's worst nightmare, Canada's diluted oilsands bitumen has never looked so ugly, coursing for the first time across the driveways of everyday Americans.

The black ooze comes as yet another black eye to Canada, just as the Obama White House readies to make a final call on Keystone XL. America's already tortured pipeline politics just got stickier.
[Read more...]

Fukushima meltdown appears to have sickened American infants (1 April 2013)
Fallout from that Fukushima meltdown thing a couple years back? It's not just the Japanese who are suffering, though their plight is obviously the worst.

Radioactive isotopes blasted from the failed reactors may have given kids born in Hawaii and along the American West Coast health disorders which, if left untreated, can lead to permanent mental and physical handicaps.

Children born in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington between one week and 16 weeks after the meltdowns began in March 2011 were 28 percent more likely to suffer from congenital hypothyroidism than were kids born in those states during the same period one year earlier, a new study shows. In the rest of the U.S. during that period in 2011, where radioactive fallout was less severe, the risks actually decreased slightly compared with the year before.

Substantial quantities of the radioisotope iodine-131 were produced by the meltdowns, then wafted over the Pacific Ocean and fell over Hawaii, the American West Coast, and other Pacific countries in rain and snow, reaching levels hundreds of times greater than those considered safe.
[Read more...]

NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly 'wanted to instil fear' in black and Latino men (1 April 2013)
The commissioner of the New York City police department views the controversial practice of stop, question and frisk as a means to instil fear in young African American and Latino men, a New York state senator testified in a federal court on Monday.

State senator Eric Adams, who retired from the NYPD after rising to the rank of captain during a 22-year career, said commissioner Ray Kelly described his views on stop and frisk during a July 2010 meeting in the office of then-governor David Patterson.

Adams had traveled to Albany for a meeting on 10 July 2010 with the governor to give his support for a bill that would prohibit the NYPD from maintaining a database that would include the personal information of individuals stopped by the police but released without a charge or summons. In discussing the bill, which ultimately passed, Adams said he raised the issue of police stops disproportionately targeting young African American and Latino men.

"[Kelly] stated that he targeted and focused on that group because he wanted to instil fear in them that every time that they left their homes they could be targeted by police," Adams testified.

"How else would we get rid of guns," Adams said Kelly asked him.
[Read more...]

ExxonMobil Tar Sands Oil Pipeline Ruptures in Arkansas as Obama Ponders Fate of Keystone XL (1 April 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: ExxonMobil confirmed the pipeline was carrying western Canadian Wabasca Heavy crude at the time of the leak. According to Inside Climate News, this type of crude oil is especially difficult to clean up when it spills into water. Efforts are currently underway to prevent the oil from contaminating the nearby drinking source, Lake Conway.

The spill is refueling calls on the Obama administration to reject the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The proposed 1,700-mile pipeline would deliver tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas.

For more, we go to Bill McKibben, co-founder and director of 350.org, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. We did invite ExxonMobil on the air; they declined.

Bill, can you talk about the significance of this spill?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, one thing to bear in mind is, when we're thinking about this--whether or not to approve this Keystone pipeline, the pipe that just burst in Arkansas carries less than a tenth of the amount of this heavy tar sands crude that Keystone would. It's about 80,000 barrels a day, not 900,000 barrels a day. So, multiply the pictures you're seeing from Arkansas by 10, and then, of course, transpose them on top of the Ogallala Aquifer--not a pretty picture in any way.

Also, of course, the Pegasus pipeline, just like the Keystone pipeline, was touted for having the latest and most advanced leak-detection technology, and on and on and on. This is just one more sign of what a misbegotten adventure this whole tar sands thing is. There's an tremendous op-ed piece in New York Times today from the Canadian writer Thomas Homer-Dixon, pointing out that a plurality of Canadians oppose this pipeline and are eager to get rid of the whole tar sands business. You know, this is--this is a disaster not waiting to happen; it's a disaster happening in slow motion. And the only question is whether the Obama administration and the Kerry State Department are going to go along with it or not.
[Read more...]

Oily ducks found following Arkansas oil spill (1 April 2013)
MAYFLOWER, Ark. (AP) -- The environmental impacts of an oil spill in central Arkansas began to come into focus Monday as officials said a couple of dead ducks and 10 live oily birds were found after an ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured last week.

"I'm an animal lover, a wildlife lover, as probably most of the people here are," Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson told reporters. "We don't like to see that. No one does."

Officials are urging people in Mayflower, a small city about 20 miles northwest of Little Rock, not to touch any injured or oiled animals as crews clean up Friday's spill.

About 12,000 barrels of oil and water have been recovered since ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline sprung a leak, spewing oil onto lawns and roadways and nearly fouling a nearby lake.
[Read more...]

Oregon set to ban GM salmon and mandate GMO labeling (1 April 2013)
(NaturalNews) All across the country, people are rising up and demanding that the foods they eat be properly identified and honestly labeled. And the constituency of the state of Oregon is no exception, where a trio of legislative bills recently introduced would require that all genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) be properly labeled, as well as prohibit the import and sale of GM salmon, the first transgenic animal to ever be preliminarily approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human consumption.

H.B. 2175, whose chief sponsor is Representative Deborah Boone (D-Cannon Beach), provisions that all foods containing or made with genetically-engineered (GE) material be properly labeled in the state of Oregon. Any food products made with or containing GMOs that are not properly labeled beginning on January 1, 2014, will be deemed misbranded, and its manufacturer held liable for breaking the state's food labeling requirements.

In the same vein, H.B. 2530 prohibits GE salmon not only from being cultivated and farmed within the state of Oregon, but also from being imported and sold there. As we reported in years past, the "Frankensalmon," known officially as "AquAdvantage," was approved by the FDA against the will of the people, and without adequate safety studies proving the fish was safe for human consumption and that it would not contaminate wild fish.

In the event that H.B. 2530 is not passed, H.B. 3177 is waiting in the wings as a backup. This bill, which was proposed by both Rep. Paul Holvey (D-Eugene) and Rep. David Gomberg (D-Central Coast), proposes to require that GE salmon be properly labeled. Like H.B. 2175, H.B. 3177 designates that all GE salmon sold without a proper label is misbranded, and thus in violation of the law.
[Read more...]

Study maps sea turtle deaths (1 April 2013)
"We lose hundreds or thousands of turtles each year in populations that are already at risk," said lead author Bryan Wallace of Duke University. "Many sea turtle populations around the world could face local extinction if we don't reduce bycatch."

Researchers also found that near-shore fisheries pose a significant threat to turtles, rivaling that of large scale, open ocean fisheries.

The highest bycatch rates in the world were found in small-scale fishing operations off the coast of Baja California, Mexico. There, a 100-boat fishing fleet has been found to be lethal to as many loggerhead turtles annually as all other fisheries in the North Pacific combined, according to Conservation International.

Last year more than 2,000 turtles were killed by the small fleet, marking a 600 percent increase over previous mortality estimates, the group said.
[Read more...]

Joe Mac the bonnet master (31 March 2013)
"My living room looks like an explosion in a drag queen factory," said Joe Mac, who spent the past two months creating this year's collection of outlandish Easter bonnets in his apartment. His favorite was probably a towering red dome covered in faux rose petals with little white thorns. In second place: a bonnet made entirely of lottery tickets, or maybe the brown butterfly bonnet he likened to a topiary.

They're all going to good homes. The week before Easter, Mac hauls his creations to Trax, a bar on Haight Street, where he offers them for 20 bucks a pop. What he doesn't sell there, he'll hock in the Castro this coming week at a discount, just so he doesn't have to bring them back home.

"At the end of the day it'll be like a fire sale," Mac said. " 'Buy me a beer and you get a bonnet for $3.' But I won't give them away."

He's never sad to see a bonnet go. It's the process he enjoys more than the creation itself.

"I love doing it," Mac said. "There is a part of my brain that's creative, and if I don't use it then I get bitter."

Mac, 57, started 15 years ago by making half a dozen bonnets for a Castro bar that wanted to decorate its walls. Every year he says this year will be the last -- and this year is no exception. He says it with a big smile on his face.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: It takes some extra time to load, but this is a "fun" kind of Easter article.

Easter card to readers

Arkansas residents evacuate as Exxon-Mobil tar sands pipeline ruptures (31 March 2013)
An Exxon-Mobil oil pipeline ruptured Friday afternoon in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, forcing the evacuation of 20 homes and shutting down sections of interstate highway. According to Little Rock's KATV, a hazardous materials team from the Office of Emergency Management has contained the spill and is currently attempting a cleanup.

The burst pipe is part of the Pegasus pipeline network, which connects tar sands along the Gulf coast to refineries in Houston. Thousands of gallons of crude oil erupted from the breach around 3:00 p.m. on Friday, spilling through a housing subdivision and into the town's storm drainage system, fouling drainage ditches and shutting down Highway 365 and Interstate 40.

Residents were evacuated to avoid health hazards from crude oil fumes and to keep stray sparks from igniting the standing oil. Emergency workers contained the spill by hastily constructing earthen dams.

Exxon-Mobil reportedly has a crew investigating the accident. The company released a statement Friday that read, in part, "We are working with emergency responders and local authorities to respond to the incident and are establishing an information line for community support. We regret that this incident has occurred and we apologize for any disruption or inconvenience this has caused."
[Read more...]

Steel walls used to quarantine goo in Elizabeth River (31 March 2013)
Three major environmental projects, each trying to cope with some of the most toxic hot spots in the Elizabeth River, have found a common strategy: constructing steel walls to contain pollution and protect waterfront property.

The projects are all under way in the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth, where shoreline factories for decades churned out and used creosote, a tarlike wood preservative. Processing wastes, containing cancer-causing agents, were dumped into the river or buried nearby in makeshift landfills at a time when environmental laws did not exist.

Today, the bottom of the Southern Branch remains soaked in spots with black, sticky goo. The contamination oozes like an unhealing sore. Local fish suffer from cancerous lesions and tumors, and the state had to impose fishing and crabbing restrictions to protect public health.

Environmentalists trying to resurrect the Elizabeth, a waterway once given up for dead, say there is little hope of success without addressing the hot spots. A rallying cry for river advocates, emblazoned on T-shirts and coffee mugs, is "The Goo Must Go!"
[Read more...]

Guantanamo hunger strikers ready for death: lawyer (31 March 2013)
The scale of the protest is hotly disputed by officials at the camp and rights lawyers acting for detainees.

Several attorneys representing prisoners say the majority of the estimated 130 prisoners at Guantanamo's Camp 6 wing, which houses "low-value" detainees, are on hunger strike.

US authorities put the number of hunger strikers at 37, a four-fold increase since the first tally released on March 11.

Navy Captain Robert Durand, a spokesman for the prison, said 11 of the hunger strikers were being fed with feeding tubes, while two of those had been hospitalized for rehydration and observation.

For David Remes, a lawyer representing 15 detainees, including 13 hunger strikers, the protest at the prison is "is unprecedented in its scope, in its duration, in its determination."
[Read more...]

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Sources (if found on major news boards):
[AJ] - InfoWars.com, PrisonPlanet.com, or other Alex Jones-affiliated sites
[BF] - BuzzFlash.com
[DN] - DemocracyNow.org
[R] - Rense.com
[WRH] - WhatReallyHappened.com


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All original content including photographs © 2013 by Pam Rotella. (News excerpts copyright by their corresponding authors, news organizations, or other copyright holders, and quoted here typically as "fair use" or "teaser" paragraphs to generate interest in the full articles.)