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Click to visit VeggieCooking.com NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2013

News from the Week of 1st to 7th of September 2013

Senator Tammy Baldwin's speech interrupted by anti-war protesters at Fighting Bob Fest in Madison (7 September 2013)
Anti-war protesters interrupted Senator Tammy Baldwin's speech at Fighting Bob Fest in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday.

Carrying signs that read "Drones fly kids die," "No war intervention in Syria!" and "War is a racket" among others, protesters marched to the front of the stage while Baldwin was speaking and interrupted her speech with chants and and a call for people to stand up if they were against war in Syria. A significant portion of the audience stood.

The protesters then sang "Which side are you on, Tammy, which side are you on?" to the tune of Florence Reece's mining union song "Which Side Are You On?"

Baldwin did not attempt to silence or evict the protesters, and responded by saying that she'd heard and seen their concerns. Prior to the protest, Baldwin had not committed to vote for or against military action in Syria.
[Read more...]

Anti-war activists protest Senator Tammy Baldwin at Fighting Bob Fest, 7 September 2013, photo by Pam Rotella

Internet experts want security revamp after NSA revelations (7 September 2013)
(Reuters) - Internet security experts are calling for a campaign to rewrite Web security in the wake of disclosures that the U.S. National Security Agency has developed the capability to break encryption protecting millions of sites.

But they acknowledged the task won't be easy, in part because internet security has relied heavily on brilliant government scientists who now appear suspect to many.

Leading technologists said they felt betrayed that the NSA, which has contributed to some important security standards, was trying to ensure they stayed weak enough that the agency could break them. Some said they were stunned that the government would value its monitoring ability so much that it was willing to reduce everyone's security.

"We had the assumption that they could use their capacity to make weak standards, but that would make everyone in the U.S. insecure," said Johns Hopkins cryptography professor Matthew Green. "We thought they would never be crazy enough to shoot out the ground they were standing on, and now we're not so sure."

The head of the volunteer group in charge of the Internet's fundamental technology rules told Reuters on Saturday that the panel will intensify its work to add encryption to basic Web traffic and to strengthen the so-called secure sockets layer, which guards banking, email and other pages beginning with Https.
[Read more...]

20,000 North Koreans 'disappear' from gulag (7 September 2013)
Tens of thousands of North Korean inmates of Camp 22, one of the regime's most brutal labour colonies, have disappeared, according to a human rights group that is demanding an inquiry into their fate.

There are fears that up to 20,000 people may have been allowed to die of disease or starvation in the run-up to the closure of the camp last year.

The suspicion has emerged after a report by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) detailing the situation in penal colonies as Kim Jong-un consolidated his power after taking over from his father, Kim Jong-il who died in 2011. The Washington-based organisation gleans information from defectors, including former guards and the occasional survivor of a prison camp, as well as examining satellite imagery.

It focused much of its attention on Camp 22, a compound sprawled across 770 square miles, making it larger than London. The report discloses that two camps have closed in the past year but that 130,000 individuals are still being held in penal labour colonies.
[Read more...]

North Carolina voters fear new ID law will keep them from polls (7 September 2013)
HOPE MILLS, N.C. -- Alberta Currie, the great-granddaughter of slaves, was born in a farmhouse surrounded by tobacco and cotton fields. Her mother, Willie Pearl, gave birth with the assistance of a midwife.

No birth certificate was issued; a birth announcement was handwritten into the Currie family Bible.

Today, 78 years later, that absence of official documentation may force Currie to sit out an election for the first time since 1956. Under a restrictive new voter ID law in North Carolina, a state-issued photo ID is required for voting as of the 2016 election.

Voters can obtain a state-issued ID at no cost. But that requires getting to a state driver's license office, waiting in line -- and providing documents that many voters lack, among them an original or certified birth certificate and original Social Security card.

The law's Republican backers say the new measure combats voter fraud and ensures voting integrity. Civil rights groups contend that the bureaucratic obstacles are a part of a blatant attempt to make it difficult for Democratic-leaning voters -- particularly African Americans, students and the elderly -- to obtain IDs needed to vote.
[Read more...]

Maryland seeks out uninsured to inform about health reform (7 September 2013)
As Maryland health officials prepare for nationwide health reform, the goal is clear: enrolling the state's estimated 800,000 uninsured residents. But finding them is a challenge.

There is no master list or map of the uninsured, who make up 14 percent of the state's population. And though census data can identify concentrations, including those in Baltimore City, Price George's County and the rural Eastern Shore, it doesn't provide detailed information about neighborhoods that should be targeted.

To close that gap, officials are using upgraded electronic health records to develop maps highlighting where Marylanders overuse emergency rooms for care -- one indicator of the uninsured -- or where pockets of disease develop. New surveys could break health demographics down to the community level. And community health groups and state health leaders plan to flood pharmacies, grocery stores and street festivals this fall to find those who need care but are unaware of their options.

"Understanding where health care problems are and how they can be prevented is a critical need," state Health Secretary Joshua M. Sharfstein said, adding that the new maps "will help the state both reduce suffering and disease and control costs."
[Read more...]

U.S. Forest Service set to decide on fracking in George Washington National Forest (7 September 2013)
George Washington National Forest is more than just one of the largest expanses of pristine land in the East. It's the leafy cradle of the Shenandoah, James and Potomac rivers, a source of drinking water for millions of people in greater Washington.

The forest -- nearly 2 million acres of natural splendor straddling Virginia and West Virginia -- might also hold another treasure: natural gas trapped under a deep layer of rock called the Marcellus Shale.

By the end of the month, the U.S. Forest Service is expected to decide whether to ban or allow the controversial method of drilling called hydraulic fracturing under the forest's new, 15-year management plan. The decision will settle a raging dispute between conservationists and the oil and gas industry.

The oil and gas industry argues that it would be unfair for the government to "slam the door" on hydraulic fracturing in the forest for such a long period of time, and points out that natural gas is a cleaner fuel than coal. Conservationists say the drilling method, also referred to as fracking, could contaminate water at its source. The process involves drilling a deep vertical well, then bending it horizontally so millions of gallons of water and toxic chemicals can be blasted into the earth to fracture shale and release gas.

The Forest Service proposed banning the practice two years ago, a move criticized by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) as overreach. But the proposed ban is backed by two agencies that provide drinking water to 4.5 million customers from the Potomac: the Army Corps of Engineers -- which operates the Washington Aqueduct, from which the District, Arlington County and Falls Church withdraw water -- and the Fairfax County Water Authority.
[Read more...]

US teen births fall to historic low: what has been helping (6 September 2013)
At first blush, the nation's economic struggles since 2008 may not seem all that relevant to a teenager. But in fact, the economic downturn tracks well with overall declines of fertility among women of all ages. And certainly, poor economic prospects would logically discourage some teens from getting pregnant intentionally.

"Teens track what their older peers are doing, and they are keen observers of the culture around them," says Albert. "Imagine you're growing up in a family that's had to cut back, or your best friend's father is unemployed. It's reasonable to say that in the abstract, that has had a sobering effect."

In fact, Albert says, there are many likely factors that could be feeding into the lower teen birth rate. One is MTV's two shows focused on teen parenthood -- "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom," on which the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy played an advisory role.

In a survey last year, the National Campaign found that most teens took a sobering message from those shows -- to a degree greater than adults expected. Among young people age 12 to 19, 77 percent said the shows help teens better understand the challenges of pregnancy and parenting. Only 53 percent of adults felt that way about teens' perceptions.
[Read more...]

Molly: what clubgoers say about the drug -- and why officials are worried (6 September 2013)
It's an anthem for teens and young adults the world over, revelers who "pop a Molly" before they hop into the bacchanalian beat, beat, beat of tangled bodies at music festivals and dance clubs. But it's got city officials and public health officials singing a much different tune.

The subculture of DJs and dance parties has come under fire this week after two revelers died at New York's Electric Zoo Festival, apparently after overdosing on MDMA. This prompted the city to urge organizers of the festival, which has drawn 100,000 attendees each of the past five years, to cancel last Sunday's finale.

"It's very tragic. The bottom line is what you see here is people doing drugs that shouldn't be doing drugs, and you see the fatal consequences," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a news conference Tuesday. "And when people want to go down that slippery slope and say, 'Oh, it's just fun,' it isn't just fun. There are two families that are not going to have their children come home."

Another teen died of an apparent overdose at Boston's House of Blues last week, prompting city officials to investigate. And in Washington, police officials are looking into whether a death over the weekend at a club was also due to the drug.
[Read more...]

Film revives claims about Robertson and Africa charity (6 September 2013)
A documentary that explores Pat Robertson's purported use of charity resources for a diamond-mining mission in Africa will receive its world premiere tonight at the Toronto International Film Festival.

A release from the Canadian festival stated that "Mission Congo" is "eye opening" and claimed that it "deals with Robertson's exploitation of one of the worst humanitarian crises of modern times for what appeared to be his own personal gain."

Filmmakers Lara Zizic and David Turner interviewed former employees of Robertson's Operation Blessing International as well as government officials in Africa during the three years the project was in production. The film claims that Robertson, a Virginia Beach televangelist, exploited the Rwandan refugee crisis by using planes to advance a diamond-mining endeavor.

The filmmakers got the idea for the documentary from a series of Virginian-Pilot articles written by Bill Sizemore in the 1990s detailing how Robertson, via his television show "The 700 Club," raised money for the Rwandan refugee crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sizemore was interviewed by the producers and appears in the film.

In a statement released from Toronto, Zizic and Turner said that "sometimes a story hits you so profoundly that you simply have to act. ... We felt that these activities, and implied level of deception, were unfathomable on so many levels that we had to find out more." The filmmakers said Robertson had declined to be interviewed for the film but that they had invited him to participate in a discussion after the premiere.
[Read more...]

Laid-Off Workers: Ken Cuccinelli's Campaign Tricked Us Into Appearing in GOP Attack Ad (5 September 2013)
On Wednesday, the campaign of Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who is running for governor in Virginia, released a new TV ad hammering Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe for investing in the fiber-optics company Global Crossing. When Global Crossing filed for bankruptcy in January 2002, hundreds of workers were laid off and many current and former employees saw their 401(k) accounts and severance pay packages wiped out. "Yet political insider and investor Terry McAuliffe cashed in," Cuccinelli's ad says. McAuliffe banked $8 million on an investment of $100,000.

The new ad features three former Global Crossing workers. Like last year's powerful ads featuring middle-class workers talking about Mitt Romney's business record, the ex-Global Crossing employees give the ad its emotional resonance. But here's the catch: Two of the three employees tell Mother Jones that they were never told their words would be used in a political attack ad appearing in a state some 400 miles away.

Deb Goehring, one of three ex-employees who appear in Cuccinelli's ad, says she received a call out of the blue this summer asking if she would appear in a documentary film about the human toll of the Global Crossing bankruptcy. She says she spoke with a film crew for an hour and a half at a nearby hotel and signed a waiver allowing the filmmakers to use her interview however they pleased.

The filmmakers asked Goehring several times about McAuliffe and the money he made off the company. "I said I don't really know anything about Terry McAuliffe," Goehring told Mother Jones. "He was not involved in day-to-day operations in any way that I saw. As far as I'm concerned, he was like me, a stockholder, and he was able to make money at it. More power to the man. Good for him."

Goehring says she never recalls any mention of her interview being used for a political ad. She didn't know her interview had been used by the Cuccinelli campaign until a Mother Jones reporter told her about it. "If I had known that's what it was for, I never would've agreed to the interview," she says. "I know nothing whatsoever about Terry McAuliffe, and I don't have any feelings about him one way or the other."

In the ad, Goehring describes being laid off in August 2001: "I got walked out and that was it. My career was over." After viewing the ad, Goehring replied, "Wow, that was likely the only negative thing that I said in the entire hour-and-a-half interview. But, it's true, I did get walked out and my career with GC was over. However, that has nothing whatsoever to do with [McAuliffe], as far as I know."
[Read more...]

Unemployment dips to 7.3 percent, but only 63% of Americans are in labor force (6 September 2013)
Americans are participating in the workforce at the lowest level in 35 years, according to government data released Friday, as lackluster job growth fails to offset the droves of people who have given up looking for work.

According to the Labor Department, the economy added a disappointing 169,000 jobs in August. In addition, the government lowered its estimate of the number of jobs created in June and July by 74,000 positions.

The grinding pace of recovery has hollowed out the workforce. Government data showed that only 63.2 percent of working-age Americans have a job or are looking for one, the lowest proportion since 1978. Nearly 90 million people are now considered out of the labor force, up 1.7 million from August 2012.

"We just don't see this consistent, strong job market that's really going to entice people to go back into it," said Michael Evangelist, policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project. "You don't want people falling out of the labor force where they're not able to contribute and not able to find work."
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: Something people already know -- that the unemployment rate is a lie. Once people run out of Unemployment Compensation benefits, they're rarely included in state statistics.

Food Insecurity, Hunger Plague US at Record Levels (5 September 2013)
Food insecurity in the United States remains at record levels for the 5th year in a row, with 17.6 million households having difficulty feeding their families, and 7 million of these suffering from "very low food security" that forced them to go hungry in 2012, a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveals.

A shocking 14.5 percent of all U.S. households--amounting to 49 million people--suffered food insecurity in 2012, with poor households, "households with children headed by single women or single men," and African American and Hispanic households hardest hit.

"[W]hat we're seeing are a lot of working families that are unable to make ends meet. We're seeing a lot of seniors and we are definitely serving a lot more children," Carey Miller, executive director of the Food Bank of Iowa in Des Moines that distributes products to pantries, soup kitchens and emergency shelters in nearly half the state, told USA Today.

While the report showed a slight improvement since 2011, the authors say that it is not statistically significant and that hunger rates have remained alarmingly high since the 2008 Great Recession. "The prevalence of food insecurity has been essentially unchanged since 2008," the report reads.
[Read more...]

African Green Revolution Forum Warns of Severe Finance Gap in African Agriculture (6 September 2013)
The African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) has warned that a Green Revolution cannot materialise in Africa without a major concerted effort to secure financing for agricultural production.

The Forum, which brought together over 200 delegates from across Africa and internationally, focused on the critical role to be played by public-private partnerships and inclusive business models in the development of Africa's agriculture.

The Forum heard that the global gap in finance for agriculture stands at US$ 450 billion, an issue which is more acute in Africa than anywhere else. Evidence shows that only 10% of African smallholder African farmers have access to the financing they need to expand their production and raise their income.

Irungu Houghton, Convenor of the AGRF, said: "Throughout the African continent, we are witnessing successful partnerships between the private and public sectors and smallholder farmers. But these partnerships are still too rare. We will only be able to transform Africa's agriculture, and alleviate food insecurity and poverty, if smallholders have the funds to boost their crop yields and expand their business."
[Read more...]

Montana court blocks attempt to modify rapist's 30-day sentence (6 September 2013)
A Montana judge's attempt to modify a 30-day prison sentence he gave a teacher convicted of raping a student was blocked Friday by the state's Supreme Court.

Four of the six justices on Montana's highest court ruled that District Judge G. Todd Baugh could not move forward with a resentencing hearing scheduled for Friday in a bid to void the sentence imposed last week on Stacey Rambold.

Rambold, 54, a Billings high school teacher, was convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl, who killed herself in 2010 while the case was pending. When sentencing Rambold, Baugh said that the victim was "older than her chronological age," implying that she shared a degree of culpability.

Baugh sentenced Rambold to 15 years in prison but suspended all but 31 days of the sentence, with a credit for a single day served in jail. The penalty violated the mandatory minimum sentence of two years.

On Friday, the 71-year-old judge complied with the Supreme Court's ruling and canceled the hearing, but he held what amounted to an impromptu news conference in his courtroom, according to witnesses.
[Read more...]

"Undermining the Very Fabric of the Internet": Bruce Schneier on NSA's Secret Online Spying (6 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What about this issue of the NSA trying to access the keys to encryption of various Internet and technology companies?

BRUCE SCHNEIER: And they are. And again, the question is, what is the economics? So, for example, a lot of our electronic commerce is based on public key cryptography SSL and something called certificates. Certificates are trusted keys signed by some trusted authority, generally a large company. If you can get that master signing key, you can use that to break quite a lot of security. So, there, that's likely to be much more vulnerable. If it's an individual key--let's say you have a encryption key protecting a main office and a branch office, and it's based on a key you generated yourself--for the NSA to get that, they have to go in and hack the computer. Now, they do that. They have teams for that. But that's resource-limited. You know, presumably, they're going to go after the highest-profile, highest-value targets first. So, again, the matter is making yourself more expensive to hack.

AMY GOODMAN: Bruce Schneier, you write, "I have resisted saying this up to now, and I am saddened to say it, but the U.S. has proved to be an unethical steward of the internet. The U.K. is no better. The NSA's actions are legitimizing the internet abuses by China, Russia, Iran and others." Explain.

BRUCE SCHNEIER: So this is a problem right now. We're seeing some new nationalism rise on the Internet. Countries like Russia, China, Iran, Tunisia are trying to push a Internet sovereignty nationalism movement that gives them the ability and permission to subvert the Internet on their citizens, whether it's surveillance, whether it's propaganda, whether it's censorship. These are all on the rise. And the United States is, quite sensibly, pushing back against that, that we need a free and open Internet. At the same time, it turns out, they are doing these exact same things. And now, when we go into international meetings and say, "We need an open Internet, we need a free Internet," the countries all look at each other and now going to say, "Well, you can't trust the Americans." And guess what? You can't trust the Americans. So what the U.S. is doing is actually undermining U.S. efforts to maintain a free and open Internet. That's very frustrating. It's counterproductive. It's damaging to us, to the world. And, you know, I wish it wasn't so, but it turns out we are not being good stewards of the Internet.
[Read more...]

The End of Internet Privacy? Glenn Greenwald on Secret NSA Program to Crack Online Encryption (6 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
Glenn, welcome back to Democracy Now! We haven't spoken to you since your partner, David Miranda, was held at Heathrow for nine hours, the airport in Britain, and we want to get to that. But first, talk about the significance of this latest exposé that both The Guardian, The New York Times and ProPublica have published today.

GLENN GREENWALD: First of all, I think there's significance just in the partnership itself. It's very unusual for three media organizations to work so closely on a story of this magnitude. And that happened because the U.K. government tried forcibly to prevent The Guardian from reporting on these documents by pressuring The Guardian editor-in-chief in London, Alan Rusbridger, to destroy the hard drives of The Guardian which contained these materials, which is why they ended up making their way to The New York Times and ProPublica. So I think it clearly backfired, now that there are other media organizations, including probably the most influential in the world, The New York Times, now vested in reporting on the story.

The significance of the story itself, I think, is easy to see. When people hear encryption, they often think about what certain people who are very interested in maintaining the confidentiality of their communications use, whether it be lawyers talking to their clients, human rights activists dealing with sensitive matters, people working against oppressive governments. And those people do use encryption, and it's extremely important that it be safeguarded. And the fact that the NSA is trying to not only break it for themselves, but to make it weaker and put backdoors into all these programs makes all of those very sensitive communications vulnerable to all sorts of people around the world, not just the NSA, endangering human rights activists and democracy activists and lawyers and their clients and a whole variety of other people engaged in sensitive work.

But encryption is much more than that. Encryption is really the system that lets the Internet function as an important commercial instrument all around the world. It's what lets you enter your credit card number, check your banking records, buy and sell things online, get your medical tests online, engage in private communications. It's what protects the sanctity of the Internet. And what these documents show is not just that the NSA is trying to break the codes of encryption to let them get access to everything, but they're forcing the companies that provide the encryption services to put backdoors into their programs, which means, again, that not only the NSA, but all sorts of hackers and other governments and all kinds of ill-motivated people, can have a weakness to exploit, a vulnerability to exploit, in these systems, which makes the entire Internet insecure for everybody. And the fact that it's all being done as usual with no transparency or accountability makes this very newsworthy.
[Read more...]

Revealed: The NSA's Secret Campaign to Crack, Undermine Internet Security (6 September 2013)
The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.

The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show.

Many users assume -- or have been assured by Internet companies -- that their data is safe from prying eyes, including those of the government, and the N.S.A. wants to keep it that way. The agency treats its recent successes in deciphering protected information as among its most closely guarded secrets, restricted to those cleared for a highly classified program code-named Bullrun, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.

Beginning in 2000, as encryption tools were gradually blanketing the Web, the N.S.A. invested billions of dollars in a clandestine campaign to preserve its ability to eavesdrop. Having lost a public battle in the 1990s to insert its own "back door" in all encryption, it set out to accomplish the same goal by stealth.
[Read more...]

Replacing poultry inspectors with factory workers might not be greatest idea, says GAO (6 September 2013)
Who would you rather have check factory chickens for signs of illness and smears of crap -- a USDA inspector or a factory employee?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has long stationed its own inspectors along factory lines at poultry plants. But now it's preparing to reassign those workers to other tasks and allow the agricultural companies to inspect their own birds along processing lines, which would help speed up business operations.

Food-safety groups are raising alarms about the proposed shift, and a new government report indicates that they might well have reason to be concerned.

The USDA's draft poultry-inspection rules are based on the results of pilot projects in which private-industry inspections were shown to be safe, the department says. But the new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office says the USDA lacks the data needed to make such claims. The GAO report points out that the department "has not thoroughly evaluated the performance of each of the pilot projects over time even though the agency stated it would do so when it announced the pilot projects," and at least in one case it used "snapshots of data" from limited periods of time instead of data from the whole period of the pilot project.
[Read more...]

Iran-Contra Redux? Prince Bandar Heads Secret Saudi-CIA Effort to Aid Syrian Rebels, Topple Assad (6 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Adam. Why don't you just start where you begin your piece, A Veteran Saudi Power Player Works to Build Support to Topple Assad"? Americans know him most famously as "Bandar Bush," because this former Saudi ambassador to the United States was so close to the Bush family. He was the ambassador who was there, for example, September 11, 2001. What is his connection to the Syrian rebels?

ADAM ENTOUS: Well, I mean, he--he really didn't have a strong connection to these rebels until a couple years ago, when the king of Saudi Arabia decided to put him in the job of intel chief last summer. And since then, he's been very aggressive in arranging arms shipments and funding for these rebels. Really what he's doing is he's reprising a role that he played in the 1980s when he worked with the Reagan administration to arrange money and arms for mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan, and also worked with the CIA in Nicaragua to support the Contras. So, in many ways, this is a very familiar position for Prince Bandar. And it's amazing to see, you know, the extent to which veterans at the CIA were excited to see him come back, because, you know, in the words of a diplomat who knows Bandar, he brings the Arabic term wasta, which means under-the-table clout. You know his checks are not going to bounce and that he'll be able to deliver the money from the Saudis.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, your article provides enormous detail--for instance, the role of Jordan and the training, not only by the CIA, but by Saudi forces. Could you talk about Jordan's role now in the training of the rebels?

ADAM ENTOUS: Right. So, what happened was, is, initially, the Saudis, Qatar, Turkey and, to a certain extent, the CIA in more of an observatory capacity, had set up their operations for arming the rebels out of Turkey. And about a year ago, a little over a year ago, you know, the Saudis were watching as these arms were flowing in, and were concerned that they were going to what the Saudis and what the Americans would consider to be the wrong rebels, and this would include Islamist groups, Muslim Brotherhood-connected groups. And so they decided to pull out of Turkey and move to Jordan.

They convinced the king of Jordan, who was a little--a little bit reticent initially to accept this being done in their territory, because they were worried about reprisals, where, for example, there are large refugee camps for Palestinians just north of the Jordan-Syria border, inside Syria, and the fear for the Jordanians was that the Syrians would literally push those refugees into Jordan and further destabilize the kingdom. What we found in our reporting is, is that Bandar spent many hours with the king and with his military chiefs, reassuring them that the Saudis would support the Jordanians through this. And then CIA Director David Petraeus was involved, as well, in helping assure the Jordanians that the U.S. would have Jordan's back.
[Read more...]

The Real Reason for War With Syria (6 September 2013)
The resolution in favor of American intervention in Syria conceals an agenda for escalation far beyond, as a statement by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez described it, a "narrow" and "focused" US response to the chemical weapons attack on August 21. The American public and Congress are being fooled into a broader effort that looks a lot like war and regime change.

Maybe it's the price the president paid for Senator John McCain's vote. But McCain's amendment, which says, "It is the policy of the United States to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria as to create favorable conditions for a negotiated settlement," suggests escalation will not be far behind air strikes.

The measure authorizes: two or three months of sustained bombing and missile strikes, aimed at decisively damaging Assad's military bases and infrastructure; increasing the capabilities of the insurgent forces--somehow without strengthening Al Qaeda--and profoundly weakening Assad's capacity to continue in power. The prohibition of boots on the ground, so important to Congress, does not cover CIA boots on the ground, nor the boots of American advisers and trainers just over the Syrian border.

Kerry even alluded to where this might go, when in his official Senate testimony he said that the authorization should not rule out "boots on the ground." Kerry told the committee that he believed US troops might have to be used if chaos ensues or militant rebel elements threaten to take control of chemical weapons stockpiles. In other words, "boots on the ground" are stage of escalation not necessary at the present--but which might be necessary as a consequence of the chain of events the United States now is fomenting. Under sharp questioning, Kerry backtracked, saying, "Let's shut that door now as tight as we can," then adding that it was only a hypothetical question and that there would be no boots on the ground "with respect to the civil war."
[Read more...]

Google encrypts data amid backlash against NSA spying (6 September 2013)
Google is racing to encrypt the torrents of information that flow among its data centers around the world in a bid to thwart snooping by the NSA and the intelligence agencies of foreign governments, company officials said Friday.

The move by Google is among the most concrete signs yet that recent revelations about the National Security Agency's sweeping surveillance efforts have provoked significant backlash within an American technology industry that U.S. government officials long courted as a potential partner in spying programs.

Google's encryption initiative, initially approved last year, was accelerated in June as the tech giant struggled to guard its reputation as a reliable steward of user information amid controversy about the NSA's PRISM program, first reported in The Washington Post and the Guardian that month. PRISM obtains data from American technology companies, including Google, under various legal authorities.

Encrypting information flowing among data centers will not make it impossible for intelligence agencies to snoop on individual users of Google services, nor will it have any effect on legal requirements that the company comply with court orders or valid national security requests for data. But company officials and independent security experts said that increasingly widespread use of encryption technology makes mass surveillance more difficult -- whether conducted by governments or other sophisticated hackers.
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Google opposes move to block its Gmail scans (5 September 2013)
Google's attorneys say their long-running practice of electronically scanning the contents of people's Gmail accounts to help sell ads is legal, and have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to stop the practice.

In a federal court hearing Thursday in San Jose, Google argued that "all users of e-mail must necessarily expect that their e-mails will be subject to automated processing."

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 10 individuals, is expected to be certified as a class action and is widely seen as a precedent-setting case for other e-mail providers.

The plaintiffs say Google "unlawfully opens up, reads, and acquires the content of people's private email messages" in violation of California's privacy laws and federal wiretapping statutes. The lawsuit notes that the company even scans messages sent to any of the 425 million active Gmail users from non-Gmail users who never agreed to the company's terms.
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NSA: classification guide for cryptanalysis (5 September 2013)
Guide reveals that NSA 'obtains cryptographic details of commercial cryptographic information security systems through industry relationships' [Read more...]

G-20 leaders agree to cut use of potent greenhouse gases (6 September 2013)
Leaders from the United States, China and 23 other countries agreed to reduce the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs -- greenhouse gases commonly used in refrigeration -- at the Group of 20 summit in Russia on Friday.

HFC emissions are expected to reach the equivalent of 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions globally by 2050 if left unchecked, according to White House statistics.

President Barack Obama released two statements at the G-20 on Friday, one cosigned by Chinese President Xi Jinping, and another by the leaders of 23 smaller countries and the European Union, supporting the use of the Montreal Protocol to reduce the use of HFCs.

The Montreal Protocol provides governments with guidelines to reduce emissions of certain gasses. It is the same Protocol that helped virtually eliminate the use of chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons, the notorious ozone-depleting gases released from aerosol cans. Its success in getting countries to phase out those gases led former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to call the Montreal Protocol "perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date."

But the Protocol's success has had the unintended consequence of encouraging manufacturers to use HFCs, which can now be found in virtually every air conditioner and refrigerator.

HFCs don't deplete ozone, unlike their now-banned predecessors, but they are still a potent greenhouse gas that is widely believed to contribute significantly to global warming. The most common HFC is 1,430 times more damaging to the climate system than carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
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Beauty sleep or brains sleep? Switching off 'helps regrow brain cells' (4 September 2013)
SCIENTISTS have made a breakthrough in answering the age-old question: Why do we need sleep?

According to a study in the US, sleeping activates a gene which allows certain types of brain cell to be replenished.

Called myelin, the cell is vital for the role it plays in insulating the circuitry of the brain and allowing electric impulses to be fired. Though the research has so far only been conducted in mice, it has big implications for our understanding of the impact missing out on sleep could have on the human body.

The authors of the report, which has been published in The Journal of Neuroscience, said the breakthrough could lead to further studies and in particular speculated that sleeplessness might aggravate some symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) -- a disease which damages myelin.

In the study released today, lead scientist Dr Chiara Cirelli and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin in the US measured the activity of genes related to "oligodendrocytes", which make myelin both as part of healthy regeneration and in response to injuries.

They found that the genes in mice that promoted myelin production were turned on during sleep. By contrast, other genes that are involved in cell death and stress response were found to be on in mice who were forced to stay awake.
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CDC: Use of e-cigarettes among U.S. teens doubles (5 September 2013)
(Reuters) - Twice as many U.S. middle and high school students used electronic cigarettes, which mimic traditional cigarettes and deliver nicotine as a vapor, in 2012 than a year earlier, and these teens could be on the way to a lifelong addiction, according to a government report released on Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 10 percent of high school students surveyed reported using e-cigarettes in 2012, up from 4.7 percent in 2011.

Some 2.7 percent of middle school students surveyed had used e-cigarettes in 2012, up from 1.4 percent in 2011.

Last year, nearly 1.8 million middle and high school students nationwide tried e-cigarettes, the report said.

"The increased use of e-cigarettes by teens is deeply troubling," said CDC Director Tom Frieden. "Nicotine is a highly addictive drug. Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine and conventional cigarettes."
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Surge in Alzheimer's disease linked to cleanliness (5 September 2013)
Scientists have linked the 'hygiene hypothesis' -- the idea that lack of exposure to germs, viruses and parasites harms the immune system -- to rising rates of Alzheimer's in richer nations.

Evidence shows that countries where the risk of infection is relatively low have more people suffering from Alzheimer's.

Likewise, better sanitation and the expansion of cities go hand-in-hand with higher incidence of the disease, the most common form of dementia.

Taken together, infection levels, sanitation and urbanisation account for 42.5pc of the variation in rates of Alzheimer's between different countries.
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PAM COMMENTARY: They're probably seeing some other statistical trend that's more often found in developed countries. For example, Alzheimer's could come from the higher consumption of meat, or exposure to environmental chemicals, like the organophosphate pesticides and herbicides related to mad cow disease and CJD (often mistaken for Alzheimer's).

Detroit's dirty petcoke piles disappear, but where did they go? (6 September 2013)
The Koch brothers finally took their towering piles of tar-sands oil refinery waste away from Detroit.

But where did they send the stuff? That's a bit of a mystery.

Huge piles of petroleum coke started building up along the city's riverfront after a refinery began processing tar-sands oil from Canada in November. Koch Carbon, an affiliate of Koch Industries, peered into the dark mass and saw, ka-ching, opportunity, so it bought up all the waste.

The material has little commercial value in the U.S., where burning it would likely violate clean air laws unless expensive emissions-control equipment were used. But it can be sold for a decent-enough price in other countries with laxer air pollution laws. Indeed, we told you in June that ships were hauling some of the waste back to a power plant in Canada -- but not enough of it to keep the piles from growing.
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New Snowden documents say NSA can break common Internet encryption (5 September 2013)
(Reuters) - The U.S. National Security Agency has secretly developed the ability to crack or circumvent commonplace Internet encryption used to protect everything from email to financial transactions, according to media reports citing documents obtained by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The Guardian, The New York Times and journalistic nonprofit ProPublica reported on Thursday that the U.S. intelligence agency used a variety of means, ranging from the insertion of "back doors" in popular tech products and services, to supercomputers, secret court orders and the manipulation of international processes for setting encryption standards.

The publications said the NSA and its British partner Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) reported making strides against Secure Sockets Layer technology, which protects millions of websites beginning in "Https," and virtual private networks, which are common for remote office workers and for people seeking to obscure their locations.

Privacy advocates have succeeded in convincing Google Inc, Facebook Inc and other popular service providers to turn on SSL for all of their users, but the new disclosures suggest that the effort could be futile against the NSA.

The Times and ProPublica cited an intelligence document saying the NSA spends more than $250 million a year on its "Sigint Enabling Project," which "actively engages the U.S. and foreign IT industries to covertly influence and/or overtly leverage their commercial products' designs" to make them "exploitable."
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100 arrested in Walmart protests across US, union says (5 September 2013)
Police in 11 cities across the United States arrested at least 100 people protesting outside Walmart stores Thursday, organizers said. The demonstrators were calling for higher wages and the reinstatement of workers fired after participating in a June strike against the company.

Walmart is the United States' largest private employer, with 1.3 million workers in the country.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which helped organize the demonstrations but does not negotiate for Walmart workers, said in a news release that 100 protesters were arrested, and that workers would strike on Black Friday -- the day after the Thanksgiving holiday, when U.S. retailers traditionally offer large discounts -- in November.

The protesters say Walmart workers cannot afford to live on their pay, and want them to receive at least $25,000 a year.
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Bernie Sanders: Billions for "Another War," But No Money for Needs at Home (5 September 2013)
The Vermonter, who caucuses with the Democrats but has a history of breaking with presidents of both parties on matters of principle, is asking questions that are more likely to be heard on Main Street than in the cloistered conference rooms where administration aides are asking members of Congress to authorize the use of force against Syria.

"We've cut back on education, we've cut back on nutrition programs, we've thrown kids off Head Start," says Sanders. "We have billions to spend on a war but no money to take care of the very pressing needs of the American people. That bothers me a lot."

Like most senators, Sanders has not made a formal declaration on how he will vote when the chamber takes up the authorization measure that was approved Wednesday on a 10 (7 Democrats, 3 Republicans) to 7 (5 Republicans, 2 Democrats) vote of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Senator Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, voted "present.")

Sanders says he will keep listening to the arguments made by the White House. "But," he said on MSNBC's "The Ed Show" Wednesday night, "I would be less than honest with you if didn't say I had very, very deep concerns about this proposal. And, by the way, I can tell you that in my office the phones are bopping off the hook and almost unanimously people are opposed to what the president is talking about."
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Kerry portrait of Syria rebels at odds with intelligence reports (5 September 2013)
(Reuters) - Secretary of State John Kerry's public assertions that moderate Syrian opposition groups are growing in influence appear to be at odds with estimates by U.S. and European intelligence sources and nongovernmental experts, who say Islamic extremists remain by far the fiercest and best-organized rebel elements.

At congressional hearings this week, while making the case for President Barack Obama's plan for limited military action in Syria, Kerry asserted that the armed opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "has increasingly become more defined by its moderation, more defined by the breadth of its membership, and more defined by its adherence to some, you know, democratic process and to an all-inclusive, minority-protecting constitution.

"And the opposition is getting stronger by the day," Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

U.S. and allied intelligence sources and private experts on the Syrian conflict suggest that assessment is optimistic.

While the radical Islamists among the rebels may not be numerically superior to more moderate fighters, they say, Islamist groups like the al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front are better organized, armed and trained.
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Exclusive: Technical snafus confuse charges for Obamacare plans (5 September 2013)
(Reuters) - Technical glitches still plague the display of new healthcare plans to be offered to millions of uninsured Americans starting in 26 days, including how medical charges and deductibles are listed, industry officials say.

Health insurers planning to sell policies to people who are currently uninsured, under President Barack Obama's healthcare reform, say they expect the problems will be remedied by October 1, when consumers will be able to buy health insurance from state exchanges. On Wednesday, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the lead Obamacare agency, said it was on schedule to sign final agreements with insurers between September 9 and September 11, allowing them to sell specific policies on the exchanges.

"Our timeline remains the same," said CMS in a statement, "and we are working to ensure that any issues are resolved before open enrollment."

Although the signing of agreements with insurers is a mere two days behind the original schedule, it led to speculation that there were serious technical snags. Late last week a conference call between the government's information technology contractors and insurance industry representatives revealed some of those problems, which centered on how information about health plans, such as charges for medical claims and deductibles, was displayed on a "preview" website, according to people with knowledge of the call.
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Egypt Interior minister survives bomb attack on his convoy (5 September 2013)
CAIRO--A bomb targeted the convoy of Egypt's interior minister Thursday in Cairo in the first attack on a senior government official since the country's Islamist president was toppled in a coup two months ago, raising concerns over a possible campaign of violence by his supporters.

The assassination attempt against Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of the police force, signalled the arrival in the capital of the sort of insurgency-style attacks that have been escalating in the Sinai Peninsula.

Sinai has been roiled in unrest and lawlessness for years, but Islamic militants have carried out more frequent and deadlier attacks on security forces there since the July 3 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi.

The bombing also harkened back to the insurgency waged by Islamic militants in the 1980s and 1990s against the rule of now-ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak. At that time, militants targeted several senior officials, killing the parliament speaker and nearly killing the then-interior minister. Mubarak himself survived an assassination attempt in 1994, when militants attacked his convoy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
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PAM COMMENTARY: Watch out for the video and commercial that start playing with sound, without the reader taking any action.

Tens of Thousands March Against Mexico School Privatization (VIDEO) (5 September 2013)
Public School teachers have taken to the streets in Mexico City to protest draconian educational reforms pushed forward by the Mexican government aimed at gutting unions and privatizing schools. [Read more...]

Oil refiners don't care about Keystone XL anymore (5 September 2013)
We've heard from the Canadian oil industry that the Keystone XL pipeline is essential for the expansion of tar-sands operations. But here in America, oil refiners are now saying they don't much care whether the damned thing ever gets built.

The U.S. has its own oil boom going on, thanks to fracking, and a lot of that oil is being transported by railcar. Meanwhile, existing pipelines from Canada to the U.S. are being expanded, a process that doesn't require new federal approvals.

The Wall Street Journal quotes a Valero executive saying that if the industry "just sat around and waited for Washington" to approve Keystone, "we'd never get anything done." More from that article:

"U.S. companies that refine oil increasingly doubt that the controversial Keystone XL pipeline expansion will ever be built, and now they don't particularly care. ..."
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Ranch family strikes deal to preserve huge tract of environmentally sensitive grassland (5 September 2013)
Ducks Unlimited Canada is celebrating its largest and most ecologically important acquisition in history, protecting up to 2,500 hectares of sensitive grasslands and wetlands southeast of Calgary.

Preserving the massive area -- equal to the size of up to 4,500 football fields -- not only results in the conservation of important waterfowl and native habitat, but also myriad environmental benefits, including carbon storage, through wetlands, improved water quality and the mitigation of flooding and drought.

"Flying over this area, you can see acres and acres of developed farmland. And then, suddenly, there is this -- this jewel inside of a desert," said DUC President Mac Dunfield at a special celebration event Wednesday at the site about 110 kilometres southeast of Calgary.

As part of its corporate strategy to preserve and reclaim sensitive lands, Shell Canada is contributing up to $3 million toward the purchase of the land, owned by two generations of the Marsh ranching family.
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Chile just got really good at creating drinking water from fog (5 September 2013)
Who'd like a tall glass of fog? Apparently the answer is "people in Chile and 16 other very dry countries." And so, along with scientists from MIT, Chilean scientists developed a new, super-efficient way to wring air-juice out of the sky. Writes Wired:

"A fog-harvesting system that is up to five times more efficient than previous systems at turning airborne water into drinking water has been developed by researchers at MIT in collaboration with colleagues in Chile.

"Fog harvesting is not a new technique -- it's already used to pull drinking water out of the air in at least 17 different countries. Systems generally consist of some sort of vertical mesh, a little like a large tennis net. The technique is inspired by specialized plants and insects that survive in some of the world's driest regions by drawing water from the air in this way.

"The research team has managed to optimize the nets by fine-tuning the size of the filaments in the nets, the size of the holes between the filaments, and the coating applied to the filaments."
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Namibia: Drought in Namibia - Snapshot of the Future? (5 September 2013)
Namibia, the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa, is currently facing its worst drought in 30 years.

In the Kunene region in the north, rain has not fallen for two years, and the UN recently estimated that 778,000 people - approximately one third of the population - are either moderately or severely food insecure. And this has had knock-on effects in the south of Angola, where an estimated 1.5 million people are also believed to be food insecure.

In Namibia, hospitals are admitting increasing numbers of people suffering from malnutrition - with one district hospital in the Ohangwena region reporting a 76% increase in paediatric malnutrition since March - and many groups are finding it difficult to maintain their ways of life.

To tackle these problems, the Namibian government has pledged $20 million in relief for the worst-affected households, and UNICEF is trying to raise $7.4 million to reach the 109,000 children under-five who are at risk of severe malnutrition.
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Barack Obama raises possibility of new legislation to curb NSA powers (4 September 2013)
Barack Obama has raised for the first time the prospect of new legislation to limit the powers of the NSA, the US spy agency caught up in controversy over the sweep of its surveillance operations.

Answering a question at a joint press conference with Swedish prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt on Wednesday, Obama said there were "legitimate questions" about the NSA. He said existing laws may not be sufficient to deal with advances in technology that have allowed the NSA to gather much more data than before.

There have been calls for new legislation from members of Congress to limit the powers of the NSA, but this is the first time that Obama has hinted he might back such a move. Until now, Obama has only proposed limited changes and is awaiting recommendations from a review body he set up.

The president's language was more sympathetic towards the privacy camp than it has been over the past few months. Just because the US intelligence agencies could do something did not meant it should, Obama said, particularly if the US is being too intrusive in looking into the behaviour of other governments.

Technological changes meant the "risks of abuse are greater than they have been in the past", he said.
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Iraqi Kurdistan gets three hours to build for 5,000 refugees (4 September 2013)
Trucks cut through the dry makeshift streets, spreading dust over the tops of the tents stretching through Kawergosk Refugee Camp near Arbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish province. Three weeks ago, this was empty land on the edge of a tiny town.

In the late afternoon of Aug. 15, Rezgar Mustafa, mayor of the Khabat district about 12 miles west of Arbil, got a call from the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. He was told he had three hours to prepare for the arrival of about 5,000 Syrian refugees, mostly ethnic Kurds.

Tens of thousands of refugees have streamed across Kurdistan's northern border with Syria in recent weeks. They initially amassed just over the border, but there was little in the way of readily available food and shelter there, so the International organization for Migration, in coordination with the Kurdish Regional government, brought them to the camp by bus by or drove themselves south in their own private vehicles.

Since then, the camp has become home to about 15,000 Syrian refugees. An additional 5,000 refugees have been sent to a camp near Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan's second largest city.
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As Syria deteriorates, neighbors fear bioweapons threat (4 September 2013)
Last month's alleged chemical attack near Damascus has re-focused attention on Syria's 30-year-old biological weapons research and raised concerns about whether the government there could activate an effort to make a weapon.

Syria's bioweapons program, which U.S. officials believe has been largely dormant since the 1980s, is likely to possess the key ingredients for a weapon, including a collection of lethal bacteria and viruses as well as the modern equipment needed to covert them into deadly powders and aerosols, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern officials and weapons experts.

This latent capability has begun to worry some of Syria's neighbors, especially after allegations that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad used internationally banned chemical weapons against civilians in an Aug. 21 attack.

Top intelligence officials in two Middle East countries said they have examined the potential for bioweapons use by Syria, perhaps as retaliation for Western military strikes on Damascus. Although dwarfed by the country's larger and better-known chemical weapons program, Syria's bioweapons capability could offer the Assad regime a way to retaliate because the weapons are designed to spread easily and leave few clues about their origins, the officials said.
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Chelsea Manning formally appeals for presidential pardon (4 September 2013)
Chelsea Manning, the US soldier convicted of transmitting hundreds of thousands of state secrets to WikiLeaks, has formally appealed to President Obama to have her 35-year sentence commuted.

The army private, 25, formerly known as Bradley Manning, has written to Obama and the secretary of the army, John McHugh, asking to be granted a pardon or for her sentence to be reduced to the more than three years' time served. In a statement, which the soldier already made public following last month's sentencing, Manning said her decision to leak to Julian Assange's anti-secrecy group was "made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in ... It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people."

In a covering letter to the pardon, Manning's civilian lawyer David Coombs adds a harder note, criticising his client's 35-year sentence as one that "grossly exaggerates the seriousness of his conduct. The sentence was disproportionate to both the offense and the offender. It will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on future whistleblowers and damage the public's perception of military justice."

Manning was last month acquitted of the most serious charge against him -- that he "aided the enemy" -- but convicted of 20 counts relating to the gigantic stash of state secrets she transmitted to WikiLeaks. The files included hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables from embassies around the world, war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq and files on Guantánamo detainees.
[Read more...]

Same-sex spouses can collect veterans' benefits (4 September 2013)
WASHINGTON -- Spouses of veterans in same-sex marriages will be allowed to collect federal benefits, the Obama administration announced Wednesday in a move following the Supreme Court decision that struck down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act in June.

President Obama directed the executive branch to stop enforcing two provisions that restricted the U.S. from awarding spousal benefits to veterans in legal gay marriages. The provisions define "spouse" as a "person of the opposite sex," Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. wrote Wednesday in a letter to Congress, adding that the Supreme Court's decision in United States vs. Windsor "strongly supports the conclusion that those provisions are unconstitutional under the 5th Amendment."

The Obama administration has made a series of policy decisions since the Windsor decision to extend federal benefits to legally married gay couples. Wednesday's announcement went further in that it declared unconstitutional and therefore invalid an existing statute that was not considered by the Supreme Court.

"The continued unwinding of discrimination against legally married couples in the aftermath of the Windsor decision is a welcome development," James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and AIDS Project, said in a statement. "The federal government is right to ensure that legally married couples, where a spouse has served valiantly in the military, are treated equally."
[Read more...]

Study: Shift from pensions to 401(K)s increasing inequality (3 September 2013)
A new study from the Economic Policy Institute sounds the alarm over the impending retirement crisis, demonstrating how unevenly retirement fund gains have been distributed since the 401(K) displaced traditional pension plans. This, the study argues, has increased inequality.

If you just look at the surface, you'd think retirees would be doing great, because the average size of retirement accounts has grown since the 1990s, and has recovered from the bubble bursting in 2000. Additionally, aggregate saving and household net worth as a percentage of income are rebounding some since the great recession began in 2008. But, and it's a big but,

"Retirement insecurity has worsened for most Americans as retirement wealth has become more unequal. For many groups, the typical (50th-percentile, or median) household has no savings in retirement accounts and balances are low even when focusing only on households with savings. Retirement savings are characterized by large differences between mean and median values because mean savings are skewed by large balances at the top."

This is what it looks like...
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1,200 chickens catch a flight to freedom today (4 September 2013)
Operation Chicken Airlift began with a phone call last month from a California egg farmer to the Animal Place sanctuary in Grass Valley.

Thousands of "laying hens" that had outlived their usefulness were about to meet their demise, the farmer said. Was the animal group interested in saving them from death by carbon monoxide?

Thus began a unique rescue effort that will send 1,200 white Leghorn chickens on a $50,000, cross-country cargo flight this evening from Northern California to upstate New York. On the East Coast, the chickens will be ferried to sanctuaries where they will live outside of cages and roam the land without the expectation of producing breakfast for the egg-loving public.

"We're ready," said Jenny Brown of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in New York, which will take in 200 of the birds. "We've got perches and nest boxes for them, lots of grass, even a small area where they can wander into woods. They will be able to spread their wings and feel the sunshine for the first time in their lives. It is a joy and honor and privilege for us to give these chickens a second chance."

The airlift effort, which is being funded by an anonymous donor, is unprecedented in its scale and complexity, said Marji Beach, education director for the Grass Valley sanctuary.
[Read more...]

Why are there pesticides and GMOs in our national wildlife refuges? (4 September 2013)
You might think that national wildlife refuges would be places where wildlife could take refuge from the environmental insanity of modern American agriculture.

But you'd be wrong.

Birds, insects, and other wildlife are sharing refuges with genetically engineered crops and being exposed to poisonous pesticides.

A lawsuit [PDF] filed by environmental groups last week argues that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Midwestern division is violating federal law by allowing the use of pesticides and the planting of GMOs at wildlife refuges in four states without conducting thorough site-by-site environmental reviews.
[Read more...]

Coalition deal preserves panorama of High Sierra (4 September 2013)
A development war that has raged for more than a decade ended Tuesday when an agreement was reached to preserve forever a sweeping panorama of Sierra forest, pristine meadow and a long-coveted mountaintop overlooking Lake Tahoe.

The decision by a coalition of conservationists, land owners and developers will protect 6,376 acres of land sloping up from the Martis Valley to Brockway Summit, near the Northstar at Tahoe Resort, creating a huge corridor of protected High Sierra wilderness.

The deal means Sierra Pacific Industries, the timber company that owns the land, will give up its development rights and eventually sell to conservationists the entire northern half of its holdings in the Martis Valley, one of the most biologically diverse stretches of land in the Tahoe region.

The purchase, combined with the Martis Creek Lake National Recreation Area and portions of the Tahoe National Forest, would create 50,000 acres of contiguous open space.
[Read more...]

Feds spend $120 million to 'grease' Enbridge's Northern Gateway bid, Greens say (4 September 2013)
VICTORIA -- Federal Green party Leader Elizabeth May claims leaked documents show taxpayers are subsidizing the bid to build the proposed $6-billion Northern Gateway oil pipeline with about $120 million in government studies.

While Ottawa is cutting major science research projects across Canada, May says the documents reveal the federal government has embarked on at least two major initiatives that are "greasing the wheels" for Enbridge (TSX:ENB), the Calgary-based firm proposing the pipeline.

May says the Harper government is spending at least $78 million on marine spill studies specifically connected to bitumen, the molasses-like crude that will be shipped in the pipeline between Alberta and B.C.

She also says the documents reveal Ottawa is spending $42 million to study ways to improve weather forecasting in the coastal regions that will be used by oil tankers if the project is approved by the federal Joint Review Panel.
[Read more...]

Former senior EPA adviser Beale expected to plead guilty in $900,000 pay fraud (4 September 2013)
Over the past 12 years, John C. Beale was often away from his job as a high-level staffer at the Environmental Protection Agency. He cultivated an air of mystery and explained his lengthy absences by telling his bosses that he was doing top-secret work, including for the CIA.

Now, Beale is charged with stealing nearly $900,000 from the EPA by receiving pay and bonuses he did not deserve. He faces up to three years in prison.

Beale, 64, who was a senior policy adviser in the Office of Air and Radiation, is expected to plead guilty at a hearing scheduled for Monday at U.S. District Court in Washington.

"This is a situation where one individual went to great lengths to deceive and defraud the U.S. government," said EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson.
[Read more...]

Coal company accidentally turns a creek into concrete (4 September 2013)
Global mining giant Xstrata sent contractors with truckloads of grout to repair gaping cracks and chasms it created on a hilly ridge in an Australian conservation area while mining for coal.

You're probably wondering to yourself, "How could this possibly go wrong?"

When the contractors got there, they made a blunder that would be hilarious were it not so devastating.

As grout was being poured into a crack at the top of the cliff, it was gushing out of another crack at the bottom. An estimated 200 tons of grout -- enough to fill 12 cement trucks -- flowed into a creek. There it hardened, turning what had been a tranquil waterway in the Sugarloaf State Conservation Area into a 370-yard concrete pathway. From the Newcastle Herald:

"To make its descent [the grout] had swamped smaller trees, flooding around rocks and logs along its path."
[Read more...]

Ariel Castro dead after prison officials find him hanging in his cell (4 September 2013)
Ariel Castro, the man sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for the abductions of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, is dead.

Castro was found hanging in his cell at 9:20 p.m. Tuesday at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient, south of Columbus, said JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

He was housed in protective custody, which means he was in a cell by himself and rounds are required every 30 minutes, Smith said. She had no other details about how he was hanging when he was found.

Emergency life saving measures were attempted by prison staff. Eventually he was transferred to the medical center at Ohio State University, where he was pronounced dead at 10:52 p.m.
[Read more...]

Mexico bus drivers idle after 'revenge' killings (4 September 2013)
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) -- Half of the drivers who work a bus route on which two colleagues were shot to death last week, possibly by a woman seeking revenge for purported sexual abuse of female passengers, didn't show up for their jobs Tuesday.

Only 10 of the 20 drivers assigned to the 4A bus route in this border city took the wheel, "because they are afraid," a dispatcher said.

"There were a lot fewer passengers, too," said the dispatcher, who refused to be quoted by name out of fear of being targeted. "Everyone is afraid something could happen," he added.

Officials said plainclothes police officers were aboard some buses and conducting weapons searches to prevent further killings.

Mexican prosecutors released a police sketch of a female suspect drawn from the testimony of at least 20 witnesses. It shows a woman wearing a sun visor over hair pulled back on her head.

They said they were looking into claims made over the weekend in an email from the self-styled "bus driver hunter," who said she is seeking revenge on behalf of fellow women who she alleged had been abused by bus drivers in Ciudad Juarez, which is across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.
[Read more...]

Safety inspectors target oil-hauling train (4 September 2013)
All that combustible fuel being produced by America's fracking boom has federal transportation safety officials on edge.

Inspectors have started scrutinizing train manifests and tank car placards on trains departing from North Dakota's Bakken region. The region is producing copious quantities of fracked oil, which is being carried to refineries in railway cars -- many of them in a railcar model that's prone to explode.

Operation Classification, aka the Bakken Blitz, was launched last month, just weeks after one such train carrying Bakken oil derailed and exploded in Quebec, killing 47 people and leveling much of the formerly scenic town of Lac-Mégantic. The U.S. Department of Transportation says it began planning the inspections in March after officials noticed discrepancies between the contents of rail cars and the hazardous warnings they bore. From Reuters:

"'We need to make sure that what is in those tankers is what they say it is,' Cynthia Quarterman, administrator of the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, told reporters."
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'We have our plans': Putin warns US against military action in Syria (4 September 2013)
Vladimir Putin has warned the US against launching military action in Syria, stating that Russia has "plans" on how it would react if such a scenario unfolded.

The Russian president's comments came as Barack Obama for the first time portrayed his plans for US military action as part of a broader strategy to topple Bashar al-Assad, as the White House's campaign to win over sceptics in Congress gained momentum.

In an interview with Associated Press and Russia's state Channel 1 television, Putin said it was too early to talk about what Russia would do if the US attacked Syria but added: "We have our ideas about what we will do and how we will do it in case the situation develops toward the use of force or otherwise. We have our plans."

At the same time he said Russia did not exclude supporting a UN resolution on punitive military strikes if it were proved that Damascus used poison gas on its own people. But he described the idea that Syrian government forces would use chemical weapons at a time when he said they were in the ascendancy and knowing the potential repercussions as absurd. Given his comments, and the fact that Russia has protected Syria from punitive action at the UN security council before, his suggestion that Russia might support a resolution on strikes is unlikely to be given much credence in the US.
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Could U.S. Military Action Turn Syrian Civil War into a "Widespread Regional War"? (3 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: What would be the effects of a military strike against Syria?

FAWAZ GERGES: First of all, Amy, we have two sets of concerns, as you know, you and I, and the debate in the United States has focused mainly on the legality and legitimacy and the need to defend the principle, the Geneva convention, the use of--against the use of chemical weapons or mass destruction--weapons of mass destruction. Really, the debate has not really focused on the potential consequences and implications of a potential U.S. action against the Syrian government.

One point must be made very clear here, is that this is no longer an internal Syrian conflict between the Assad government and the opposition. The conflict has mutated from an internal struggle into a regional war by proxy. This is mainly a regional war by proxy. You have two major camps: a Saudi-Turkish-Qatari camp, and you have an Iranian-Hezbollah-Syrian camp. And both camps are battling one another on Syria's killing field. And that's why we have to understand that any particular potential U.S. military action would basically--the United States would be taking sides.

In this particular region, I mean, wide war that's taking place in Syria, my take, my reading--and I could be wrong--is that the disadvantages of a U.S. military strike or strikes would outweigh any potential advantages. And let me run quickly, you know, power points. First, it would exacerbate tensions inside Syria and in neighboring states. It would intensify sectarian tensions inside Syria and neighboring states, in particular in Lebanon and Iraq. It would deepen the involvement of regional powers further in Syria, particular Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, on the one hand, and Iran, Hezbollah and, to a smaller extent, Iraq.

It would rekindle the collective memory of Arabs and Muslims of previous Western hegemonic attempts. I mean, the Iraq model is very alive in the Arab imagination. Once, Amy, American bombs fall on Damascus, many people would forget the alleged use of chemical weapons and would focus on American--basically, previous American attempts to dominate the region, whether rightly or wrongly, but that's how--the collective memory of the people in that part of the world. In fact, one of the points that has not really taken into account, I would argue, if the American military campaign basically is limited, as President Barack Obama had suggested--has suggested, this would also go a long way to really turning Assad into a hero, an Arab hero, a hero standing up to the might of the most powerful Western nation in the world.

And there is the risk of a widespread regional war, if my reading is correct. If this is mainly a regional war by proxy, this has the potential to expand beyond Syria. Already, Lebanon is in the eye of the storm, on the brink of all-out war. There is a major fierce battle taking place inside Iraq. Jordan is in a very fragile position. So, the consequences are tremendous, not just for Syria, but for the region as a whole.
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New hearing ordered in Montana rape case after judge's comments spark outrage (3 September 2013)
BILLINGS, Mont. -- A former teacher sent to prison for 30 days for raping a student is set to return to court Friday because the sentence may have been illegal, but the move has failed to quiet criticisms of the judge overseeing the case.

District Judge G. Todd Baugh said Tuesday that state law appears to require a two-year mandatory minimum prison term for Stacey Rambold, 54, of Billings.

"In the Court's opinion, imposing a sentence which suspends more than the mandatory minimum would be an illegal sentence," Baugh wrote.

But that did little to sway Baugh's critics, including hundreds of protesters who rallied outside the Yellowstone County Courthouse last week to call for the judge's resignation.
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Rapist collapses in terror when police report that his victim was HIV-positive (2 September 2013)
Richard Thomas was sentenced to five years and four months after admitting raping the woman at her home in Leigh, Greater Manchester.

He knew she was ill but did not know she had HIV and collapsed when police told him, Liverpool Crown Court heard.

Thomas, 27, of Sandringham Drive, Leigh, raped the woman after she had taken a sleeping tablet.

He said he had been drinking heavily and taken drugs, and could not recall the attack but believed the woman, the court heard.
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Protests against Chevron highlight Argentine energy woes (3 September 2013)
Activists in southern Argentina are threatening to intensify protests against a deal struck between state-run energy firm YPF and international oil giant Chevron.

Lawmakers in Neuquén province approved the $1.2 billion pact last week amid violent protests outside the provincial legislature, where police fired rubber bullets at around 5,000 anti-fracking demonstrators. Mapuche natives also blockaded a YPF plant, and one of the community's leaders said Monday that "We're not ruling out further action."

Opposition to developing the Vaca Muerta in southwest Argentina -- one of the world's largest nonconventional hydrocarbon deposits -- reflects similar clashes across Argentina. Energy and mining projects, often foreign investment-led, are frequently resisted by environmental, social, and political movements here.

These battles arise "one after the other" -- from protests against nuclear power to hydroelectric dams -- because President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's government has never outlined its long-term strategy for the energy sector, says Juan Carlos Villalonga, president of Los Verdes, an environmental organization.
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Acting Older Isn't Being Older: How We Fail Young Rape Victims (2 September 2013)
Last year, a defense attorney called an 11-year-old gang rape victim a "spider" luring men into her web. When the New York Times covered the case, they reported that she "dressed older than her age," wore make up and hung out with teenage boys. It wasn't a new framing; when young girls are raped--especially young girls of color--they're frequently blamed for "enticing" adult men or painted as complicit in the attack because of their supposed sexual maturity. From the criminal justice system that re-traumatizes assault victims to a media that calls rape cases "sex scandals" or insists statutory rape isn't "rape rape", we are failing young sexual assault survivors every day.

One young woman we have failed is Cherice Moralez. When Moralez was 14, she was raped by her 49-year-old teacher. She killed herself a few weeks before her seventeenth birthday. Last week, a Montana judge sentenced Stacey Dean Rambold--who admitted raping Moralez--to just thirty days in jail. Judge G. Todd Baugh said Moralez was "older than her chronological age," and was "as much in control of the situation" as her rapist. Baugh also said the assault "wasn't this forcible beat-up rape."

While state prosecutors are seeking to appeal the sentence and the case has generated justifiable outrage, some believe the thirty days was too much. Former lawyer Betsy Karasik, for example, used the case as an example to argue for the decriminalization of student-teacher "relationships" in The Washington Post. Karasik insisted that no one she knew who had sex with teachers was "horribly damaged" and that "many teenagers are, biologically speaking, sexually mature."

But biological maturity or "acting" mature is not the same thing as being an adult. Roxane Gay writes, "People often want to 'complicate' the statutory rape conversation by talking about the sexual empowerment of adolescents and this and that. These exercises in intellectual masturbation are pointless."
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Costly 'ice wall' to be deployed at Fukushima reactors (3 September 2013)
TOKYO--The Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will spend $470 million on a subterranean ice wall and other steps in a desperate bid to stop leaks of radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear station after repeated failures by the plant's operator.

The decision is widely seen as an attempt to show that the nuclear accident won't be a safety concern just days before the International Olympic Committee chooses between Tokyo, Istanbul and Madrid as the host of the 2020 Olympics.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi plant has been leaking hundreds of tons of contaminated underground water into the sea since shortly after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami damaged the complex.

Several leaks from tanks storing tainted water in recent weeks have heightened concerns the plant's owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., isn't able to contain the problem.
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PAM COMMENTARY: WARNING: There's a video in this article that starts playing, with sound, without the reader taking any action. I try to warn readers about that, just in case they don't want any sound coming from their computer.

Courts discreetly confirm MMR vaccine causes autism (3 September 2013)
(NaturalNews) You won't hear anything about it from the mainstream media, but the federal government's kangaroo "vaccine court" has once again conceded, albeit quietly, that the combination measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine does, indeed, cause autism. In a recently published ruling, part of which was censored from public view, a young boy was awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars after it was determined that the MMR vaccine led to a confirmed diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Ten-year-old Ryan Mojabi's parents say he first suffered an encephalopathy after being vaccinated for MMR on December 19, 2003. Known as a "table injury," encephalopathy is a recognized, compensable adverse reaction to vaccines, and one that the kangaroo vaccine court has previously linked to vaccines. According to Ryan's parents, the MMR vaccine caused their son's encephalopathy, which manifested as "neuroimmunologically mediated dysfunctions in the form of asthma and ASD."

After being bumped around from court to court, Ryan's case was eventually heard by the vaccine court's Autism Omnibus Proceedings, according to The Huffington Post. And in the end, the federal government agreed that Ryan's encephalopathy had been caused by the MMR vaccine, a landmark ruling that confirms what Dr. Andrew Wakefield found more than 15 years ago when studying gut disorders in children given the MMR vaccine.

"Ryan suffered a Table injury under the Vaccine Act -- namely, an encephalitis within five to fifteen days following receipt (of MMR)," admitted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding the case. "This case is appropriate for compensation," it added, in full agreement with the court's decision.
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Cooling Pacific has dampened global warming, research shows (3 September 2013)
Cooling waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean appear to be a major factor in dampening global warming in recent years, scientists said on Wednesday.

Their work is a big step forward in helping to solve the greatest puzzle of current climate change research -- why global average surface temperatures, while still on an upward trend, have risen more slowly in the past 10 to 15 years than previously.

Waters in the eastern tropical regions of the Pacific have been notably cooler in recent years, owing to the effects of one of the world's biggest ocean circulatory systems, the Pacific decadal oscillation.

Many people are aware of the El Niño and La Niña weather systems, which affect the Pacific and bring hotter and stormier or cooler weather in cycles of just a few years, and can have a strong effect on global weather. But few are aware that both of these systems are just part of the much bigger Pacific decadal oscillation, which brings warmer and cooler weather over decades.
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Whales get suntans too, study finds (3 September 2013)
We're not the only ones who get summer tans. So do whales -- and their DNA gets damaged in the process too, scientists say. The new findings, published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports, could lead to better sunscreens and other sun protection products for humans.

The study authors already knew that the UV radiation in sunlight caused some whales' skin to react like human skin, forming sunburn-like blisters. But was this response similar at a molecular level, too?

To find out, the team analyzed skin samples from the backs of 106 blue whales, 23 sperm whales and 55 fin whales during their annual migration from the Arctic Ocean to the sunnier Gulf of California, which lasts from February to April.

In all three species, the number of cells that produce the pigment melanin increased over this time period as UV radiation levels rose, similar to what happens in humans. Blue whales, the palest of the three species, showed the greatest increase in melanin-producing cells, or melanocytes, most likely because they had so few of them to begin with, said Mark Birch-Machin, a molecular biologist at Newcastle University in England and a co-author of the study.
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Saving North America's Tallest Bird (2 September 2013)
On the cold, misty morning of February 12, 2013, Iliana Pena, conservation director for Audubon Texas, and I are trying to feel good about the future of whooping cranes. In Captain Tommy Moore's metal birding boat, Skimmer, we are cruising the Intracoastal Waterway inches from the western shore of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast. With us is Wade Harrell, whooping crane recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 1937 President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated the refuge, thereby protecting the 47,200-acre Blackjack Peninsula between Aransas and San Antonio bays. Since then it's grown to 115,000 acres and been named a Globally Important Bird Area. Today the refuge helps sustain somewhere between 178 and 362 whooping cranes, up from 15 in 1941. The Fish and Wildlife Service thinks the number is probably around 257 but can't say for sure because it has come up with a controversial new system of estimating rather than counting. These birds migrate from breeding grounds in northern Canada to wintering habitat here in south Texas.

A second population of about 100 whoopers, started with captive-reared birds fed by volunteers and aviculturists in crane costumes and imprinted to follow ultralight aircraft, migrates between Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin and Chassahowitzha and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuges on Florida's west coast. They're doing well in the wild but reproduction is low. A non-migratory flock established at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in south-central Florida seems to have failed, but another of about two dozen in southwest Louisiana shows great promise.

During the past 70 or so years the naturally migrating population has increased at an average of 4.5 percent annually. Still, Pena and I have a bad feeling about the onslaught of new threats in Texas--climate change that is flooding salt marshes and bringing habitat-wrecking black mangroves up from the south, and coastal development, drought, and water withdrawals from the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers that have raised salinity in bays and estuaries, thereby killing the blue crabs and other invertebrates that sustain the cranes. A recent federal court decision may have resolved the water-withdrawal issue, but persistent drought, possibly related to climate change, remains a concern.
[Read more...]

One-person Wyoming town re-opens as Vietnamese coffee hub (2 September 2013)
The tiny Wyoming town of Buford, which was sold at auction last year by its sole resident amid international fanfare, will officially re-open this week as a hub for the sale of coffee distributed by its new Vietnamese owner.

In an on-site and Internet auction in April 2012, Nguyen Dinh Pham, 38, offered a winning bid of $900,000 for the town, billed by auction organizers as the nation's smallest, at just over 10 acres.

The high-elevation hamlet -- 8,000 feet above sea level on Interstate 80 in southeastern Wyoming -- came complete with a convenience store, gas station and modular home, as well as its own ZIP code.

It sprang to life in the 1860s as a military fort to guard the building of the transcontinental railroad and sported a population of as much as 2,000 in the decades that followed.
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Oxford researchers determine timeline for rise of Egypt's early dynasties (3 September 2013)
A team led by Oxford University's Michael Dee, reporting in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A, widen the methods used for estimating the date.

They took radiocarbon measurements from more than 100 samples of hair, bones and plants found at burial sites and held in museum collections today.

The archaeological and radiocarbon evidence were then knitted together in a mathematical model.

It calculates the accession of King Aha -- the first of eight dynastic rulers in early Egypt -- as taking place between 3111 BC and 3045 BC, with a probability of 68 percent.
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King Richard III suffered from roundworm infection, scientists say (3 September 2013)
King Richard III may have suffered from a parasite as nasty as his reputation. The remains of the medieval monarch -- villainized by William Shakespeare as a tyrant who killed his nephews in order to seize the throne -- show signs of roundworm infection, scientists say.

Archaeologists have undertaken careful analysis of Richard III's remains since excavating them from a parking lot in the English town of Leicester in 2012. They've discovered several roundworm eggs in the soil around his pelvis, suggesting that the parasite lived in the king's intestines.

Roundworms infect humans when they ingest food or water contaminated with fecal matter containing their eggs. The eggs hatch into larvae, which migrate to the lungs, where they mature. They then crawl up the airways to the throat to be swallowed back into the intestines, where they can grow into adults around a foot long.

The symptoms of roundworm infection are often mild, but can lead to malnutrition in severe cases. It spreads quickly in poor sanitary conditions, such as those in medieval Europe.
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US drug agency partners with AT&T for access to 'vast database' of call records (2 September 2013)
US law enforcement officers working on anti-drugs operations have had access to a vast database of call records dating back to 1987, supplied by the phone company AT&T, the New York Times has revealed.

The project, known as Hemisphere, gives federal and local officers working on drug cases access to a database of phone metadata populated by more than four billion new call records each day.

Unlike the controversial call record accesses obtained by the NSA, the data is stored by AT&T, not the government, but officials can access individual's phone records within an hour of an administrative subpoena.

AT&T receives payment from the government in order to sit its employees alongside drug units to aid with access to the data.
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NSA 'spied on communications' of Brazil and Mexico presidents (2 September 2013)
The National Security Agency spied on the communications of the presidents of Brazil and Mexico, a Brazilian news program reported, a revelation that could strain US relations with the two biggest countries in Latin America.

The report late Sunday by Globo's news program Fantastico, was based on documents that journalist Glenn Greenwald obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, was listed as a co-contributor to the report.

Fantastico showed what it said was an NSA document dated June 2012 displaying passages of written messages sent by Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto, who was still a candidate at that time. In the messages, Pena Nieto discussed who he was considering naming as his ministers once elected.

A separate document displayed communication patterns between Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her top advisers, Fantastico said, although no specific written passages were included in the report.
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Brazil summons US envoy over NSA spying claims (2 September 2013)
The U.S. ambassador to Brazil was summoned by authorities Monday to account for fresh allegations that his nation's National Security Agency (NSA) directly spied on President Dilma Rousseff, an official said.

Ambassador Thomas Shannon arrived and left the Foreign Ministry without speaking to reporters, and there was no comment from the Brazilian side, even as Rousseff met separately with top ministers to discuss the case.

"If these facts prove to be true, it would be unacceptable and could be called an attack on our country's sovereignty," Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said Monday.

Glenn Greenwald, a Guardian newspaper columnist who obtained secret files from NSA leaker Edward Snowden, has told Globo television that the agency snooped on the communications of Rousseff.

The June 2012 document "doesn't include any of Dilma's specific intercepted messages, the way it does for Nieto,'' Greenwald told the Associated Press news agency in an email. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto's communications were also being monitored by the NSA even before he was elected in July, 2012, it has been alleged.

Greenwald continued: "But it is clear in several ways that her communications were intercepted, including the use of DNI Presenter, which is a program used by NSA to open and read emails and online chats.''
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Diana Nyad completes historic swim from Cuba to Key West (2 September 2013)
KEY WEST -- Long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, on her fifth attempt to cross the treacherous Florida Straits, completed the historic journey Monday afternoon.

The 64-year old Nyad accomplished her life-long dream when she staggered onto a Key West beach just before 2 p.m., becoming the first person to complete the treacherous swim without the wave-breaking aid of a protective shark cage. Her 110-mile voyage took 52 hours, 54 minutes and 18.6 seconds to complete, according to Nyad's team.

The crowd at Smather's Beach swarmed her in the water, applauding and waving American and rainbow flags. In typical Key West fashion, conch shells sounded. About 2,000 people gathered to witness history being made.

Police had barricaded a section of the beach for her arrival, but Nyad swam off course the last few hundred yards. The crowds hustled down the beach to try and glimpse her as she pulled herself out of the water.
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Handcuffed woman falls from moving LAPD patrol car, video indicates (2 September 2013)
A handcuffed woman was ejected from a moving Los Angeles Police Department patrol car, in a dramatic incident that left her seriously injured and raised questions about the involved officers' version of how the fall occurred.

In the early morning hours on March 17, after a night out in Koreatown, 28-year-old Kim Nguyen and two friends were waiting in a restaurant parking lot for a sober friend to pick them up, Nguyen said in an interview with The Times.

A pair of LAPD officers drove by in a marked patrol car, stopped, and approached Nguyen, she said.

After briefly questioning Nguyen and her two male friends, the officers left, but circled back, as Nguyen was running across the street toward a late-night cafe.
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Wal-Mart and the Living Wage Debate (2 September 2013)
On this evening's Labor Day broadcast of America Tonight, Chris Bury reports on a closely watched battle involving the Washington, D.C. City Council, the city's mayor and Walmart over whether giant retailers must pay a living wage to their employees in the nation's capital.

Weeks ago, the city council voted to mandate a living wage for big-box retailers, and the bill was sent Friday to Mayor Vincent Gray for his signature or veto. Walmart has indicated that it might scale back its plans to expand inside D.C. if the wage requirement takes effect.

We've compiled some interesting reads on the living wage issue and how mega-retailers and customers could be affected:

What is a living wage in D.C.?

Should the bill be signed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray and pass a congressional review period, retailers with corporate sales of $1 billion or more and operating in spaces 75,000 square feet or larger would be required to pay employees no less than $12.50 an hour. The city's minimum wage is $8.25.
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Beatings, evictions reveal ugly side of China's local debt pile (2 September 2013)
(Reuters) - When Xu Haifeng's home was razed three years ago, she went to China's capital Beijing to complain about the city and county governments that ordered the demolition.

Since then, she says family members have been kidnapped at least 18 times, typically having black bags thrust over their heads before being taken to a hotel-turned-illegal jail in the eastern city of Wuxi and locked for weeks in a tiny, windowless room.

Xu's story is shocking even in a country that has become used to tales of arbitrary and sometimes violent land expropriations. It illustrates how the stresses from the deep indebtedness of China's local governments extend beyond banks into the lives of ordinary Chinese, as hard-up authorities resort to any means they can in a desperate scramble for funds.

"Our Wuxi is now steep in debt," said Xu. "The Wuxi city today relies on drawing from residents' financial wealth and stealing residents' land to survive."

Her 74-year-old mother, she says, has been abducted nearly a dozen times and held illegally for almost a year in a campaign to silence the family's demands for proper compensation.
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India passes massive program to feed 800 million in poverty (2 September 2013)
NEW DELHI -- India passed into law Monday an ambitious program to provide nearly free food to some 800 million Indians. Supporters hailed it as a long-overdue fix for the nation's rampant poverty, while critics slammed it as a shameless and electoral ploy the country can't afford that will encourage more waste and corruption.

The National Food Security Bill gives two-thirds of India's population the right to buy 12 pounds of rice, wheat, millet or other cereals each month at no more than 3 cents per pound. It also provides food free to pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under 6 years old.

The government put the price tag of supplying about 62 million tons annually at $18 billion, which would make it one of the world's largest such programs. A Ministry of Agriculture study estimated the actual cost could be at least 30% higher.

Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress Party, pushed hard to get the bill passed as her party prepares to run in general elections early next year on a legacy of policy drift, corruption scandals and economic setbacks.
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Eyes on storks? Egyptian fisherman thought bird was foreign spy (2 September 2013)
If it looks like a stork, walks like a stork ... it's probably a foreign spy. This, at least, was the conclusion of an Egyptian fisherman who took patriotic exception to a migratory bird near his home in Qena, southern Egypt.

Spotting an unlikely metallic device attached to the stork and suspecting it contained a camera -- or worse -- the fisherman concluded the stork was a spy acting on behalf of foreign powers.

Dutifully apprehending the bird with a citizen's arrest, the man brought the stork -- initially feared to be a swan -- to a nearby police station. Local veterinary experts were summoned. An inspection took place. To the relief of all, the stork turned out to be bearing nothing but a wildlife tracker, apparently fixed to its feathers by French scientists researching birds' migratory paths. The device was no longer working.

The stork is not the first fowl to have fallen foul of Egyptian authorities. In January, state media reported that a stricken carrier pigeon had been sent to Egypt's criminal investigation department after being found with a suspicious microfilm.
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Undercover at the Tar Sands: What It's Really Like Working for Big Oil (28 August 2013)
On its surface, Fort McMurray, Alberta, looks like any other small Canadian city, with rows of new houses, condo developments and a Wal-Mart. Recycling bins line the streets, and residents schlep cloth bags to the store because the community banned plastic bags. But there's one big difference between Fort Mac and other towns: This is ground zero for Canada's controversial tar sands operations. Like tens of thousands of others, I saw green in the tar-like bitumen-drenched sand, and I came here to cash in. (I'm writing anonymously to protect my colleagues, my friends and myself.)

The majority of oil-related work happens north of town. Follow Highway 63 for about 20 minutes and you'll see a sprawling series of smoke stacks at the Syncrude Canada Ltd. processing facility. You can smell the oil in the air, and smog hangs across the otherwise crisp northern horizon. Drive further, and things get even worse. Koch Carbon's giant pile of petroleum coke in Detroit is nothing compared to what the oil companies have up here. Shell, Imperial Oil, Exxon, Encana, Husky, BP, Suncor Energy, CNR, Southern Pacific and Petro-Canada all have a stake in this game, and there's an estimated 170 billion barrels of crude on the line.

Thousands of employees are put up in temporary housing settlements. The big "camps" have gyms and rec rooms with pool and ping pong tables; a few even have ice rinks, yoga classes and movie theaters. For the most part, though, it's all insulated aluminum-sided trailers with private sleeping quarters and communal bathrooms.

The camps serving Shell's Albian Sands project and Imperial Oil's Kearl worksite are among the biggest. Shell's complex -- two camps collectively known as "the Village" -- is home to about 2,500 employees. Meanwhile, Imperial Oil's Wapasu camp houses more than 7,300. It even has its own airstrip to accommodate workers as they fly in and out on chartered 747s.
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Fire in Yosemite offers forest management lessons (1 September 2013)
A large part of the answer may be found in Stephens' interrupted expedition. His four-person research team was in the process of measuring tree diameters and densities on 15,000 acres that had been studied by the U.S. Forest Service in 1911.

The group found as many as 400 trees per acre on the land. That's compared with between 60 and 90 trees per acre in 1911. There was also between 30 and 40 tons of woody debris per acre on the forest floor, compared with 6 to 8 tons 92 years ago, Stephens said. Besides the dramatic increase in tree density, the researchers found more undergrowth species and, although there were still many old growth trees, the average size of the trees was smaller than in 1911, he said.

"We know the last fire in that area was in about 1905. That's 100 years without fire," Stephens said. "If you don't clear trees and brush and do some prescribed burning, you are eventually going to get a very closed forest that is very dense."

Fires have historically been common in California, where burning actually prompts many native plants and trees to release more seeds. American Indians used to purposely set fires in an effort to clear out excess brush and prompt new growth, but the large trees normally survived. Experts say many areas of California, where fires used to burn every 10 or 15 years, are now more vulnerable to catastrophic fire because the forests are overgrown.
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7 More National Parks Threatened by Fire (30 August 2013)
California's massive Rim Fire has now charred more than 192,000 acres, including 45,000 acres in Yosemite National Park. But Yosemite isn't the only national park facing the threat of wildfires. Across the western United States, rising temperatures, past fire suppression policies, and invasive species are increasing the fire risk--meaning some of country's greatest natural treasures could one day go up in smoke.

Here are seven beautiful parks where the danger is very real.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
America's first national park is also one of the most threatened by fire. Anthony Westerling, a wildfire expert at the University of California-Merced's School of Engineering, says that large blazes were once relatively infrequent in the northern Rocky Mountains but that climate change could dramatically increase fire activity in the Yellowstone area.

In 2011, Westerling and his colleagues found that continued warming "could completely transform" fire activity in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, which includes the Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks. In fact, by the middle of this century, both the frequency of fires and the area burned could be greater than at any time in the past 10,000 years. The researchers concluded that these changes would result in a "real likelihood of Yellowstone's forests being converted to nonforest vegetation during the mid-21st century" because new trees wouldn't have a chance to grow between the increasingly frequent fires.
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Sarin gas used in Syria attack, Kerry says (1 September 2013)
Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Sunday that fresh laboratory tests show that Sarin nerve gas was used in an Aug. 21 attack in Syria that killed more than 1,400 people, the first time that U.S. officials have pinpointed what kind of chemical weapon was used.

In an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," Kerry said blood and hair samples from emergency workers in east Damascus had tested positive for Sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent. He said that U.S. officials learned of the lab results in the past 24 hours, citing the evidence as yet another reason for Congress to pass President Obama's request to authorize the use of military force against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"So this case is building and this case will build," Kerry said, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by NBC. "I don't believe that my former colleagues in the United States Senate and the House will turn their backs on all of our interests, on the credibility of our country, on the norm with respect to the enforcement of the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons."

In an unclassified intelligence assessment released Friday, U.S. officials had said they believed that the Syrian government had used "a nerve agent" in the Aug. 21 attack in the Damascus suburbs. But the intelligence report did not specify what kind, and questions have remained about precisely what chemical weapons may have been involved and who ordered their use. Syria is believed to have multiple nerve agents and poison gases in its chemical weapons stockpile.
[Read more...]

Doctor: Napalm-like attack on Syrian schoolkids was 'apocalyptic' (30 August 2013)
Children in the Syrian province of Aleppo earlier this week suffered napalm-like burns after an incendiary agent was dropped on their school by what rebels say was a government jet. At least 10 people were killed, and dozens more were injured.

A humanitarian doctor who treated the children after the Monday incident described the scene as "apocalyptic."

"As they all started to arrive, it felt like I was living a horror film," said the volunteer doctor, who asked only to be identified by her first name, Roula. "As they were coming in, because of their burns, they were radiating so much heat. The hospital got so, so hot."

Roula said her first thought after seeing the "petrified" children covered in unidentified white matter was that there had been another chemical attack -- something she and others have feared ever since an Aug. 21 massacre in Damascus was determined by the U.S. and other nations to have involved chemical weapons.
[Read more...]

Police arrest Indian spiritual leader on charges of raping teenage girl (1 September 2013)
JAIPUR, India - A controversial spiritual guru was arrested early Sunday on a rape charge filed by a teenage girl in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan, police said.

Asaram Bapu was arrested at a spiritual retreat in central India and flown to the city of Jodhpur, where police say he is wanted for allegedly raping the girl, said Ajay Singh Lamba, a top police officer.

The case is the latest in a series of high-profile rape cases in India that have fueled public protests and raised questions about how police handle the cases and treat the victims.

The girl filed a complaint two weeks ago accusing the Hindu religious preacher of raping her when she visited his retreat in Jodhpur with her mother. The girl's family says they have been followers of Asaram Bapu for more than a decade.
[Read more...]

A mighty spirit (1 September 2013)
When she was 16, she says, her father tried to force her to touch his genitals after a night of drinking. She pulled away, ran into her room, locked the door and cried herself to sleep.

Not until she was 24, however, did she find out how widespread the abuse was. Living in Norfolk after a stint in the Navy, she reconnected with a childhood friend who told her she had been abused by Clemons' father as a teenager.

Then she reached out to her younger sisters. They told her that their father had done things to them, too.

The day of that revelation is burned into her memory. "No, no, no!" she remembers screaming. "Why? They were innocent!"

After her hysteria calmed, she called the Belmont County, Ohio, Sheriff's Department and reported her father as a suspected child sexual abuser.

Making the call was painful, she says.
[Read more...]

Mandela discharged from South Africa hospital (1 September 2013)
Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid leader and former South African president, has been discharged from hospital and has returned home after being treated for a recurring lung infection, according to government sources.

"Madiba's condition remains critical and is at times unstable," the South African president's office said on Sunday, referring to the 95-year-old Mandela by his clan name.

"His team of doctors are convinced that he will receive the same level of intensive care at his Houghton [in Johannesburg] home that he received in Pretoria," the statement said.

This comes after a weekend statement by a family member that he had been discharged was denied by Mac Maharaj, the presidential spokesperson.

Mandela had been receiving medical treatment in a Pretoria hospital for almost three months since June 8.
[Read more...]

British Journalist And TV Personality Sir David Frost Dies At 74 (1 September 2013)
Veteran British journalist and broadcaster Sir David Frost has died from a suspected heart attack while aboard a luxury cruise ship. He was 74.

The Guardian and The Daily Mail both report that Frost was in the process of giving a speech aboard the Queen Elizabeth II, en route from Southampton to Lisbon, when he collapsed.

Frost, whose programs included That Was The Week That Was, which ran for two years on the BBC before being picked up by American television, and The Frost Report, conducted hundreds of high-profile interviews over the years, including his most famous, a 1977 talk with Richard Nixon in which the former president for the first time acknowledged some fault over the Watergate scandal.

The Mail says Frost "probably interviewed more world figures from royalty, politics, the Church, show-business and virtually everywhere else, than any other living broadcaster [and] was the most illustrious TV inquisitor of his generation."
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: The Guardian also ran a nice article with embedded videos, David Frost: a career in clips.

Radiation readings spike at Fukushima nuclear plant (1 September 2013)
Radiation readings near a tank holding highly contaminated water at Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant has spiked 18-fold, the plant's operator said Sunday, as the company and officials struggle to bring the crisis under control after more than two years.

Radiation of 1,800 millisieverts per hour was detected near the bottom of one storage tank Saturday, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said. An Aug. 22 reading measured radiation of 100 millisieverts per hour at the same tank.

Japanese law has set an annual radiation exposure safety threshold of 50 millisieverts for nuclear plant workers during normal hours.

Last month, TEPCO revealed that water was leaking from the tank. Japan's nuclear regulator later raised the severity of the leak from a level 1 "anomaly" to a level 3 "serious incident" on an international scale for radiation releases.
[Read more...]

Young Mexican immigrant returns to nation she barely knows (31 August 2013)
Just months after the concert, in the spring of 2010, while her friends were chattering about what to wear to prom, Pinzon faced an irreversible decision -- whether to return to Mexico -- that would forever shape her future.

Pinzon was 17 and living in the United States illegally. She wanted to go to college, but she knew that wasn't an option. She worried about being deported. She thought she could go back to Mexico, get her degree, build her skills and then, hopefully, a U.S. company would sponsor her to return on a visa. She might be back in as little as four or five years.

It didn't work out that way.

When Washington lawmakers debate pro and con, immigration is framed as a political issue. But the repercussions are real for young people such as Pinzon, whose parents chose the difficulties of starting new lives in the United States illegally over the safety and small horizons of home. This fractured relationship between right and left, Republicans and Democrats, has half a million young people like Pinzon caught in a state of limbo between countries.
[Read more...]

Gangnam-style weddings a big hit -- for Chinese tourists (31 August 2013)
Standing by the window of a French chateau, the young bride-to-be glows in the afternoon sun as she gazes into her fiancé's eyes. This Chinese couple's fairy-tale moment, however, isn't unfolding at a Bordeaux estate.

The 20-something Beijing lawyers and fans of South Korean pop idol Rain are part of a small but growing number of affluent Chinese for whom the craze for all things South Korean means flying to Seoul for the weekend to have wedding pictures taken.

China is the source of one quarter of all tourists to South Korea, and a handful of companies in South Korea's $15-billion wedding industry are wooing an image-conscious slice of the Chinese jet set happy to drop several thousand dollars on a wedding album with a South Korean touch.

The draw for many of the well-heeled Chinese isn't Seoul's ancient palaces or the fiery cuisine. It's an elegant urban style exemplified by Gangnam, the tony Seoul district made globally famous by South Korean rapper PSY's "Gangnam Style." Helping shape that image is the popularity of South Korean cosmetics and fashion and the many South Korean stars whose looks are widely copied in China.

"The style in South Korea is more sophisticated and cuter than what we have in China. We came here because South Korea is the leader in fashion and makeup," said the bride-to-be, Yang Candi, as two stylists fussed over her hair during a recent photo shoot.

South Korea's tourism ministry estimates that more than 2.5 million Chinese visitors spent an average of $2,150 per person in 2012, more than any other nationality. That's helping companies such as iWedding, the largest of the South Korean wedding planners hosting Chinese tourists, to flourish.
[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.)