Pam Rotella's Vegetarian FUN page -- News on health, nutrition, the environment, politics, and more!
NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2012
News from the Week of 8th to 14th of September 2013
Molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor poses calamity for marine life (14 September 2013)
Fish began dying en masse in the waters around Honolulu after hundreds of thousands of gallons of molasses spilled into Honolulu Harbor early this week, and there's nothing officials can do to clean it up.
Thousands of fish have died from the sugary sludge. Crabs lay dead along the harbor bottom while more fish floated listlessly, some seeming to gasp above the surface of the water contaminated by the syrupy sweetener.
The spill is one of the worst man-made disasters to hit Hawaii in recent memory, officials said, not least because no one has quite seen anything like it.
"There's nothing you can do to clean up molasses," said Jeff Hull, a spokesman for Matson Inc., the company responsible for the leak. "It's sunk to the bottom of the harbor. Unlike oil, which can be cleaned from the surface, molasses sinks."
Morocco: Western Sahara Mass Grave - Basque Forensic and Research Team Releases Its Findings (14 September 2013)
San Sebastián -- The Basque forensic team has released the findings of its extensive research on a case of human remains of Saharawi persons in Fadret Leguiaa in the region of Samra, near Amgala and Meheris, Western Sahara, who had been executed by Moroccan armed forces on February 1976.
The eight Saharawi persons are six adults - Salma Daf Sidi Salec, Sidahmed Segri Yumani, Salama Mohamed-Ali Sidahmed Elkarcha, Salma Mohamed Sidahmed, Mohamed Abdalahe Ramdan and Mohamed Mulud Mohamed Lamin - and two children - Bachir Salma Daf and Sidi Salec Salma.
These findings have been released as a report under the title "Meheris: a possibility of hope; mass graves and the first Sahrawi disappeared who have been identified" by Carlos Martín Beristain and Francisco Etxeberria Gabilondo.
It is the result of extensive research that began with the completion of a study on the general problem of human rights violations in Western Sahara, published in 2012 by the Hegoa Institute of the University of the Basque Country, titled "The Oasis of Memory: Historical Memory and Human Rights violations in the Western Sahara", which has had its continuity in the research on certain cases of people who were arrested and then made to disappear during that period.
Shell Oil Spill Victims Reject 'Derisory and Insulting' Compensation Offer (14 September 2013)
A Niger Delta community affected by oil spills has rejected a compensation offer from oil giant Shell they see as "totally derisory and insulting."
The residents of Bodo, Nigeria are represented by the London-based law firm Leigh Day to seek damages for two 2008 spills that devastated tens of thousands of residents in dozens of villages and unleashed a thick, black river of death that has choked mangroves and riverways for years.
The Guardian reports:
"On Friday the full scale of the spills could be seen from the air with over 75 sq km of mangrove forests, creeks, swamps and channels thick with crude oil. Estimates of how much oil was spilled ranged from around 4,000 barrels to more than 300,000. Communities this week reported that no cleanup had been done and that water wells were still polluted."
Oil spill: Chevron to pay $41.6 million for Brazil oil spill (14 September 2013)
RIO DE JANEIRO, SEPT 14: US energy giant Chevron and Swiss-based rig operator Transocean have signed a deal with Brazilian prosecutors to settle the lawsuits over an oil spill off the coast of Rio de Janeiro.
Chevron has agreed to pay $41.6 million in compensation over the leak of 3,000 barrels of crude in November 2011 from the deepwater Frade field, 370 kilometers northwest of the picturesque coastal city, the Rio prosecutor's office had said yesterday.
The deal requires Chevron to accept "unprecedented obligations" to prevent new incidents and provide compensation to "put an end" to two civil lawsuits, the office said in a statement.
Chevron and Transocean did not immediately comment on the agreement.
U.S., Russia reach agreement on seizure of Syrian chemical weapons arsenal (14 September 2013)
GENEVA -- The United States and Russia agreed Saturday on an outline for the identification and seizure of Syrian chemical weapons and said Syria must turn over an accounting of its arsenal within a week.
The agreement will be backed by a U.N. Security Council resolution that could allow for sanctions or other consequences if Syria fails to comply, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said.
Kerry said that the first international inspection of Syrian chemical weapons will take place by November, with destruction to begin next year.
Senior administration officials had said Friday the Obama administration would not press for U.N. authorization to use force against Syria if it reneges on any agreement to give up its chemical weapons.
The Russians had made clear in talks here between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kerry that the negotiations could not proceed under the threat of a U.N. resolution authorizing a military strike. Russia also wanted assurances that a resolution would not refer Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the International Criminal Court for possible war-crimes prosecution.
Lessons from Iraq, Libya loom large as diplomats ponder Syrian weapons probe (14 September 2013)
When Moammar Gaddafi renounced chemical weapons in 2003, the Libyan dictator surprised skeptics by moving quickly to eliminate his country's toxic arsenal. He signed international treaties, built a disposal facility and allowed inspectors to oversee the destruction of tons of mustard gas.
But Gaddafi's public break with weapons of mass destruction was not all that it seemed. Only after his death in 2011 did investigators learn that he had retained a large stash of chemical weapons. In a hillside bunker deep in Libya's southeastern desert, Gaddafi had tucked away hundreds of battle-ready warheads loaded with deadly sulfur mustard.
The story of Gaddafi's deception now looms over nascent efforts to devise a plan for destroying the chemical arsenal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, another strongman who, in a stunning reversal, agreed in principle last week to give up his stockpile under U.S. and Russian pressure.
Arms control experts say the experience of Libya and other former chemical weapons states such as Iraq could be instructive -- in ways good and bad -- as diplomats map out a path for finding, securing and destroying Syria's estimated 1,000 metric tons of chemical agents. Many also fear that clearing Syria of its chemical weapons could prove to be uniquely challenging, in part because the inspectors would be dropped into the middle of a war zone.
E coli cases are probed for link to major UK outbreak (14 September 2013)
THE Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is probing several cases of E coli poisoning here to see if they are linked to a major UK outbreak.
Some 17 people have become ill with E coli 0157 in the past month here, while there have also been 19 cases in Britain -- where contaminated watercress is the suspected cause.
One person in Ireland has been treated for E coli poisoning in recent weeks, and health bosses are trying to pinpoint the cause, which could be linked to contaminated water or food.
FSAI director of consumer protection Ray Ellard said that news of a similar E coli 0157 outbreak in Britain on Thursday focused attention on whether there was a common cause in the two countries.
Unprecedented salvage effort will try to hoist Costa Concordia (14 September 2013)
All the superlatives apply to the marine salvage operation about to unfold off the Italian island of Giglio: largest, most expensive, most complicated. And first of its kind.
In an unprecedented feat of engineering that could make history or fail catastrophically, teams will begin Monday morning to hoist the wrecked cruise ship Costa Concordia, which has been resting on its side atop two rocks near an ocean cliff for the last 20 months. The project's anticipated price tag: nearly $800 million.
The job, known as "parbuckling," involves a complicated system of 56 enormous cables, 58 pulling machines, 11 multistorey flotation tanks, six undersea platforms and 1,180 bags of cement. Weather permitting, the process is scheduled to begin at first light on Monday in Italy -- 16 months after the initial work at the site began, and 20 months after the shipwreck in which 32 passengers and crew died.
"If it doesn't work, then I don't think anybody can say it's because we did this wrong or that wrong," said Mark Hoddinott, general manager of the London-based International Salvage Union. "They've done everything right. Now they're going into this area where this has never been done with a ship this size before."
Photo of Virginia Beach is out of this world - literally (14 September 2013)
In 1977, David Alan Harvey was in his early 30s and had been working as a photographer for various publications, including National Geographic, for about a decade.
In September of that year, a team led by author and astrophysicist Carl Sagan oversaw the launch of NASA's Voyager 1, a spacecraft designed to study the outer solar system. The team included a capsule aboard the spacecraft with items representative of life on Earth, such as music by Mozart.
Among the 100 photos chosen were two by Harvey that were originally published in National Geographic: one of a smiling man in Malaysia holding his daughter on his shoulder; the other of geese flying into a red sunset, taken at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach.
Harvey's photos have since traveled through our galaxy far, far, away.
NASA reported this week that new data from Voyager 1 indicates that the probe has left the influence of the sun and entered interstellar space after a 36-year odyssey through the solar system, across more than 11 billion miles.
FISC judge orders review of secret court rulings on NSA phone surveillance (13 September 2013)
A judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has ordered the Obama administration to review for possible public release legal opinions issued by the secret court dealing with the constitutionality of the widespread collection of phone records by the National Security Agency.
Friday's ruling by one of the FISC judges, F. Dennis Saylor IV, a US district judge in Boston, is important, because it could mark a new willingness by the court to permit a level of public scrutiny of its decisions.
The special court was created in 1978 to facilitate judicial oversight of the government's use of highly classified sources and methods to track potential terrorists and head-off future attacks.
The FISA court had authorized the collection of telecommunications meta-data that formed a massive surveillance effort that was disclosed, in part, by leaks last summer from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The disclosures have prompted significant public concern and debate about the extent of government collection of information about ordinary Americans as part of its anti-terrorism surveillance.
The ruling on Friday came as a result of a motion filed in June by the American Civil Liberties Union directly to the FISA court.
Fisa judge: Snowden's NSA disclosures triggered important spying debate (13 September 2013)
The court that oversees US surveillance has ordered the government to review for declassification a set of secret rulings about the National Security Agency's bulk trawls of Americans' phone records, acknowledging that disclosures by the whistleblower Edward Snowden had triggered an important public debate.
The Fisa court ordered the Justice Department to identify the court's own rulings after May 2011 that concern a section of the Patriot Act used by the NSA to justify its mass database of American phone data. The ruling was a significant step towards their publication.
It is the second time in a week that a US court has ordered the disclosure of secret intelligence rulings. On Tuesday, a federal court in New York compelled the government to declassify numerous documents that revealed substantial tension between federal authorities and the surveillance court over the years.
On Thursday, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, conceded that the NSA is likely to lose at least some of its broad powers to collect data on Americans.
Everything We Know About What Data Brokers Know About You (13 September 2013)
We're continuing to learn new details about how the American government is collecting bulk records of citizens' communications -- from demanding that a telephone company hand over the daily records of "all telephone calls in its systems," to collecting an unknown number of emails, instant messages and Facebook messages.
It's not clear how much information about ordinary people's conversations the National Security Agency has gathered. But we do know there's a thriving public market for data on individual Americans -- especially data about the things we buy and might want to buy.
Consumer data companies scoop up large amounts of consumer information about people around the world and sell it, providing marketers details about whether you're pregnant or divorced or trying to lose weight, about how rich you are and what kinds of cars you drive. But many people still don't know data brokers exist.
Regulators and some in Congress have been taking a closer look at this industry, and are beginning to push the companies to give consumers more information and control over what happens to their data. The prominent data broker Acxiom recently launched aboutthedata.com, a site that allows you to review some of the information the company has connected to your name -- and, potentially, edit and update it as well.
Inequality for All: Robert Reich Warns Record Income Gap Is Undermining Our Democracy (13 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: You use the image of a suspension bridge to talk about inequality in the film.
ROBERT REICH: Because, up until this new study, shows that to 2012 actually is the new peak. The old peaks were 1928 and 2007. Which is interesting because in 1929 and 2008 we had crashes. And I think it is not coincidental. Because when so much of the income and wealth go to the top, the rest simply don't have the purchasing power to keep the economy going at full employment.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what's happened to everyone else.
ROBERT REICH: What's happening to everybody else is not only wages eroding and a very large number of discouraged workers, who basically, are never going to be able to find jobs, but economic insecurity. Most Americans today, even if they have jobs, even if the jobs pay fairly well, are much more insecure than Americans have ever been at work before, at least in living memory. Because we have a huge number of contingent workers, huge number of part-time workers, huge number of workers who can't know what their paychecks are going to be because they're paid on a contingency fee, bonuses, working hours, billable hours. That means they cannot plan and have to live, to some extent, from paycheck to paycheck. That insecurity, coupled with declining wages, coupled with more and more concentration of income and wealth at the top, has led to an economy that is very vulnerable and a democracy that is also very vulnerable, because all of that money at the top is being transformed into political power every day.
Some employers see perks of hiring older applicants; cite experience, dedication, enthusiasm (13 September 2013)
Older people searching for jobs have long fought back stereotypes that they lack the speed, technology skills and dynamism of younger applicants. But as a wave of baby boomers seeks to stay on the job later in life, some employers are finding older workers are precisely what they need.
"There's no experience like experience," said David Mintz, CEO of dairy-free products maker Tofutti, where about one-third of the workers are over 50. "I can't put an ad saying, 'Older people wanted,' but there's no comparison."
Surveys consistently show older people believe they experience age discrimination on the job market, and although unemployment is lower among older workers, long-term unemployment is far higher. As the American population and its labor force reshape, though, with a larger chunk of older workers, some employers are slowly recognizing their skill and experience.
About 200 employers, from Google to AT&T to MetLife, have signed an AARP pledge recognizing the value of experienced workers and vowing to consider applicants 50 and older.
Duff speaks in Princeton before Whooping Crane Festival (13 September 2013)
Operation Migration leads captive-bred whooping cranes through a "guided migration" program. In contrast to the Direct Autumn Release (DAR) whooping crane program at Horicon Marsh, where young whooping cranes must rely on older cranes in the area for guidance flying south, whooping cranes assigned to Operation Migration are taught to follow an ultra-light aircraft through their first migration from Wisconsin to Florida. The program, famous for its crane-costumed handlers and pilots, has successfully reestablished a whooping crane flyway that had previously disappeared from over-hunting.
The group's training site was moved from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge to White River Marsh Wildlife Area in 2011 due to black fly problems at Necedah, causing a high rate of nest abandonment. Duff described the problem to his group's new neighbors:
"We moved to White River Marsh because we originally did this study in Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, which is a lovely spot for bird walks and good habitat, lots of food, but unfortunately they have a large population of black flies. And, black flies -- you're probably familiar with them. They bite you behind the ears, and in the collar and stuff, unlike a mosquito who lands on your shirt, can't really bite you. But black flies burrow in.
"So, there's this bird who's nesting on the ground in the middle of a marsh. All of a sudden it turns 75 degrees, and the black flies come out en masse, burrow into their feathers, and just torment them until they abandon the nest.
California takes aim at hunters' lead bullets (13 September 2013)
California would become the first state in the nation to ban hunting with lead bullets under a bill approved by the Legislature this week that environmentalists hope will inspire the rest of the country to follow suit.
AB711, which awaits Gov. Jerry Brown's signature, would require all ammunition used for hunting in California to be made out of something other than lead, the primary ingredient in bullets for so long that it is now a part of American lore. Hollywood cowboys and gangsters have a habit of filling or threatening to fill their rivals "full of lead."
The problem, according to the authors of the bill, is that leftover fragments from lead ammunition are extremely harmful, even deadly, to humans and nontarget animals, including the endangered California condor. Toxicologists and other experts say spent ammunition is the largest unregulated source of lead that is knowingly discharged into the environment.
"The Centers for Disease Control and leading scientists from around the country agree that there is no safe level of lead exposure for humans," said Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, the chairman of the Assembly Health Committee and a co-author of the bill.
The legislation was overwhelmingly approved by lawmakers at the Capitol despite a fusillade of attacks by gun lobbyists.
America warming up to new hydropower (13 September 2013)
Flooding an area with a new reservoir to produce hydropower would seldom, if ever, be a popular idea with environmentalists. But what about the thousands of existing reservoirs that serve other purposes in America -- the ones that control floods, entertain boaters, and store drinking water?
Funneling water from those reservoirs over newly installed turbines could be a relatively benign way of boosting zero-carbon hydroelectric power supplies.
That's the logic that the Obama Administration has adopted as it's worked with agencies and private utilities to tap underutilized hydropower generation potential, part of its "all of the above" approach to energy policy.
And it seems to be working.
The AP reports that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued 25 hydropower operating permits last year -- the most since 2005. And it issued 125 preliminary permits last year, up from 95 the year before. There are 60,000 megawatts worth of preliminary permits and projects awaiting approval nationwide.
Monsanto ponies up and Big Ag pulls ahead in GMO labeling horse race (13 September 2013)
If the GM food labeling battle is a horse race, Big Ag just upgraded to a genetically modified super horse. With wings.
Just a few weeks ago those in favor of GMO labeling in Washington state were in the lead, having raised $3.5 million, nearly four times as much as those opposed. But, as we noted at the time:
"The relative weight of contributions, however, is likely to shift rapidly as the Washington initiative approaches its Nov. 5 moment of truth at the ballot box. Last year, the campaign against the California proposition spent $42 million in the six weeks before the vote."
Monsanto validated this prediction last week, dropping $4.6 million into the campaign. Then DuPont Pioneer added another $3.2 million. The groups campaigning to pass the labeling initiative are getting more "in-kind" contributions, that is, use of office space, equipment, and volunteer labor. But the total value of the in-kind donations -- around $400,000 -- are relatively small. The tides have turned.
It's one thing to win the money race, and quite another to win at the ballot box. California's labeling initiative failed by less than 3 percentage points (48.6 percent voting for labeling, 51.4 percent voting against) even though opponents outspent supporters of the initiative five to one. And people in Washington favor the idea of labeling -- convincing them to change their minds, or stay home on election day would take a lot of work. The most recent poll [PDF] suggests that 43 percent of voters will "definitely" vote for the labeling law (compared to just 11 percent who said they'd definitely vote no), and 23 percent say they will "probably" vote yes (compared to 10 percent who said they would probably vote no).
Tax penalties for individuals, companies who opt out of health reform law (13 September 2013)
Under the health reform law, everyone who files a federal income tax form is required to have insurance. Most employers also have to offer it. The idea is that for reform to work, everyone needs to enroll so that there is a good mix of healthy and sick people paying into and using the system. People can choose not to have insurance and companies can choose not to offer plans. But it will cost them. Analysts with The Hilltop Institute at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County explain the penalties for those who choose not to participate in reform.
What if an individual chooses not to buy health insurance?
Individuals choosing not to have health insurance in 2014 will be subject to a penalty that accrues for each month he or she goes without coverage. There are exceptions for individuals whose reported income is below the federal tax-filing threshold or who have one of the exemptions specified in federal law, such as religious conscience or hardship. The federal tax-filing threshold varies based on filing status. Single people under age 65, for example, don't have to file if their annual income is below $9,750. (The IRS offers a breakdown on its website.)
The penalty will be the greater of:
• A fixed percentage of "applicable income" -- defined as the difference between an individual's household income and the applicable tax-filing threshold. The percentages are: 1 percent for 2014; 2 percent for 2015; and 2.5 percent for 2016 and beyond.
• A fixed annual dollar amount assessed on each taxpayer and dependent. The fixed amounts are: $95 in 2014; $325 in 2015; and $695 in 2016 and beyond.
The problems with Michelle Obama telling us to drink more water (13 September 2013)
Sounds nice in theory, but it's about as toothless as a geriatric jellyfish. (Or, really, a jellyfish of any age.) Writes the Atlantic:
"The problem is ... that there is no recommended daily amount of water. If we knew how much we should be drinking, and it turned out we weren't drinking enough, then yes, tell us to drink more. If they were telling us to replace soda in our diets with water, that would also be reasonable and potentially productive. They're explicitly not doing that, though."
... Even though that's exactly what they SHOULD be saying. The AP notes:
"The consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest said the message should be to drink less soda.
"'Soda and other sugar drinks are one of the biggest promoters of obesity and diabetes, and advocating drinking more actual water and less sugar water is one of the most important messages that 'Let's Move' could deliver,' said Michael Jacobson, the center's executive director."
9 Surprising Foods With More Sugar Than a Krispy Kreme Doughnut (13 September 2013)
It's Friday! After a long week of work, you're probably ready to curl up on the couch with a big box of doughnuts. But having read Gary Taubes' expose in Mother Jones on the sugar industry's terrifying campaign to convince the American public that sugar won't kill you, maybe you'll reach for a "healthier" option instead--like a green Odwalla "Super Food" smoothie.
Not so fast. According to a new report by Credit Suisse, you might be better off eating a doughnut than some of the stuff marketed as healthy. Here are nine surprising foods that have more sugar than a Krispy Kreme doughnut, which, at 10 grams, seems saintly in comparison:
1. LUNA BAR: 11 GRAMS
2. GRANDE STARBUCKS LATTE: 17 GRAMS
Syria: And for the kids ... a slice of Al Qaeda pie (13 September 2013)
WASHINGTON--Are pie-eating contests the way for Al Qaeda to endear itself into the heart of rebel Syria?
How about street festivals in town squares featuring lighthearted tug-of-war competitions with a side of Assad-bashing jihad? Or the splashy bestowal of gifts on Syrian children during Eid al-Fitr, the religious holiday marking the end of Ramadan?
And for the parents? Bags of food, below-market fuel and free medical services, all doled out under the branded black flag of ISIS -- the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, which now is emerging as a key player in the evolving jihad against the Syrian regime.
After more than two years of turmoil costing an estimated 100,000 lives and two million refugees, Syria can rightly be called the land that fun forgot.
But fun -- a charm offensive aimed at gaining the trust and support of war-frazzled children -- is now a central feature of Al Qaeda's strongest affiliate in Syria, according to one fresh analysis of the immensely complicated rebel mosaic.
Henry Kissinger: A diplomatic colossus who is still a key influence in US amid Syria crisis (13 September 2013)
There is a 90-year-old "war criminal" helping to frame the foreign policy of the Obama administration. Perhaps a little surprising. Until, of course, you realise that the old boy in question is Henry Kissinger, and he has been advising the White House on a subject he knows well -- the Russians.
That the Americans are actively co-operating with Putin on the Syrian crisis and the eradication of Assad's chemical weapons is as startling a development as it is a welcome one, and Kissinger, we are told, has been guiding thinking behind the scenes. Asked recently in public whether America and Russia can enjoy a fresh bout of the sort of détente with Russia he famously pioneered in the early 1970s, Kissinger replied that "it will be extremely difficult, but if they can it will be beneficial to all. Russia will gain prestige, Obama will be vindicated and Assad will be removed, and that would be the best possible outcome." Sharp as ever, then.
Although recent developments are nowhere on the scale of the strategic arms limitations talks and treaties between the US and the Soviet Union driven by Kissinger four decades ago -- the first thawing in the Cold War and the first meaningful limits placed on the nuclear arms race -- it is a hopeful development. It is also one that suggests that the two superpowers are relearning the merits of another doctrine Kissinger was associated with -- "realpolitik", the recognition that where raw national interests can be made to converge through diplomacy, then lasting good can emerge.
Its apogee was the Paris Peace Accord of 1973. This, formally, ended the Vietnam War, which President Nixon and Kissinger had concluded was unwinnable. Kissinger achieved the signal honour of jointly gaining the Nobel Peace Prize for that achievement. His North Korean counterpart, Le Duc Tho, declined the award, indicating that the accords didn't represent real peace at all -- an accurate view. The American humourist Tom Lehrer quipped that Kissinger's award represented the "death of satire". But it did allow the US to start to extricate itself from its agony.
Despite 'grave danger,' government allows Internet forums to go unchecked (10 September 2013)
Part 4: Parents bypass weak laws and authorities don't enforce them. A police officer gives away his adopted son. 'It could have been Hannibal Lecter.'
TUCSON, Arizona -- Tom and Misty Mealey brimmed with hope as a battered purple pickup pulled up to their Virginia home.
It was July 5, 2009, and their houseguests had arrived -- a husband and wife who had driven from upstate New York to the Mealey residence just outside of Roanoke.
Until that day, the Mealeys hadn't met Calvin Eason, then 40, or his wife Nicole, 30. Both were "shabbily dressed," and they didn't immediately impress, Misty Mealey recalls. Still, if all went well, the Mealeys were prepared to give the Easons one of their children: a 5-year-old boy they had adopted from Guatemala months earlier.
The boy suffered from a condition called reactive attachment disorder, which makes bonding with caretakers difficult. He had grown increasingly violent, breaking windows, hitting the Mealeys' three other children and urinating on their toys. At night, the Mealeys locked him in his room to keep their family safe.
CDC: Controversial anti-smoking campaign is working (9 September 2013)
An estimated 1.6 million smokers attempted to quit smoking because of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Tips From Former Smokers" national ad campaign, according to a study released by the CDC. As a result of the 2012 campaign, more than 200,000 Americans had quit smoking immediately following the three-month campaign, of which researchers estimated that more than 100,000 will likely quit smoking permanently. These results exceed the campaign's original goals of 500,000 quit attempts and 50,000 successful quits.
The study surveyed thousands of adult smokers and nonsmokers before and after the campaign. Findings showed that, by quitting, former smokers added more than a third of a million years of life to the U.S. population. The Tips campaign, which aired from March 19 to June 10, 2012, was the first time a federal agency had developed and placed paid advertisements for a national tobacco education campaign. Ads featured emotionally powerful stories of former smokers living with smoking-related diseases and disabilities. The campaign encouraged people to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW, a toll-free number to access quit support across the country, or visit a quit-assistance website. The study on the campaign's impact is published today by a medical journal, The Lancet.
"This is exciting news. Quitting can be hard and I congratulate and celebrate with former smokers -- this is the most important step you can take to a longer, healthier life," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. "I encourage anyone who tried to quit to keep trying -- it may take several attempts to succeed.''
The study found that millions of nonsmokers reported talking to friends and family about the dangers of smoking and referring smokers to quit services. Almost 80 percent of smokers and almost 75 percent of non-smokers recalled seeing at least one of the ads during the three-month campaign.
Delhi gang-rape: four men sentenced to death (13 September 2013)
A judge in Delhi has sentenced to death four men convicted for their role in the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapist in the Indian capital last year.
Bus cleaner Akshay Thakur, gym instructor Vinay Sharma, fruit-seller Pawan Gupta and unemployed Mukesh Singh were convicted earlier this week of rape, unnatural sex, murder, conspiracy and destruction of evidence. They had denied the charges against them and their lawyers have said they will appeal against both the verdict and the sentence.
The sentence was pronounced at 2.30pm by Yogesh Khanna, the judge who has heard the case over seven months at the district court of Saket in south Delhi.
It will be automatically referred to a high court bench of two judges who will consider the sentence and the appeal that lawyers for the four men have said they will file.
Snowden Documents Reveal NSA Gave Israeli Spies Raw Emails, Texts, Calls of Innocent Americans (12 September 2013)
ALEX ABDO: It's difficult to explain. And it's, you know, of course, not surprising that the NSA is sharing foreign intelligence with our intelligence partners, but what's troubling is that along with the foreign intelligence is information about innocent Americans that hasn't been taken out of the data that's being shared with our intelligence partners. And it's troubling for a couple of reasons, the first of which, we haven't known about this, and this may have been going on for years, and the second of which, there's no avenue for Americans, innocent Americans who are swept up into these dragnets and have their information handed over to our intelligence partners, to stop that flow of information, to assert their rights and prevent it. So this has been going on for some time, it seems, and it raises new questions about the NSA's--the extent to which we should trust the NSA with information, very sensitive, about innocent Americans.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what limitations were placed on the information that was--that was handed over to the Israelis, in terms of what they could do with it or how long they could hold it?
ALEX ABDO: Well, based on the documents that were released, it seems as though we basically had a "trust us" regime in place for the sharing of data with Israel. And that's cold comfort, I think, to the potentially thousands or millions of Americans who find their way into these international surveillance dragnets of the NSA. But there's simply no way of knowing right now how many Americans were affected, how the information was used, or what other measures the NSA may have taken or may not have taken to protect our privacy.
AMY GOODMAN: And what the information was that was handed over, is it the actual--is it the metadata of phone calls, who you called, when you called them? Is it the actual phone call?
ALEX ABDO: It sounds as though it was all of that. The NSA was sharing what they call raw signals intelligence, which includes things like who you're calling and when you're calling, but also the content of your phone calls, the text of your emails, your text messages, your chat messages. It sounds as though all of that was handed over in what they call this raw intelligence.
The American Way of Poverty: As Inequality Hits Record High, Sasha Abramsky on the Forgotten Poor (12 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Our next guest, Sasha Abramsky, chronicles the stories of those struggling with poverty in America today, much like Michael Harrington did 50 years ago. His new book is called, "The Other American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives." Abramsky's reporting on poverty is funded by a grant by the Open Society Foundation's Special Fund for Poverty Alleviation. Sasha Abramsky, welcome to Democracy Now! . We just, as I was mentioning, had a mayoral race where the main candidate on the the Democratic side was talking about income inequality, the 47% of New Yorkers who live at or near the poverty level. Talk about what you found is going across the country.
SASHA ABRAMSKY: Well, the inspiration for my book was this idea that even before 2008, something was going wrong with the economy and the way it was functioning for most ordinary Americans. So, if you go back to the middle Bush years, by some measures, the economy was doing well, unemployment was quite low, the stock market was quite high, real estate values were going up. But, even then, if you started talking to people on the ground in New York, in Philadelphia in Los Angeles in rural communities all around the country, what you would find was increasingly people were juggling bills to make ends meet. So, maybe they were able to pay their rent or mortgage one month, but they would have to forgo a car payment. Maybe they would be able to buy clothes for their kids, but it meant that they were missing meals at the end of the week they were having to rely on food pantries and charity.
Now, obviously, after 2008, all of those crisis got magnified because you suddenly had an unemployment crisis on top of everything else. You had people burning through their life savings trying just to survive, just to make sure they had a roof over their head. You had families routinely going into bankruptcy when they had a health emergency. You had low income workers in rural areas, when gas prices went up a dollar a gallon, as they did, that was enough to collapse their financial security. I went around the country and started talking to people. It seemed to me that much as with Harrington about half a century ago, there was a story that was being missed here. That we were talking about affluence before 2008, or we were talking about the struggling middle class after 2008, but what we weren't talking about was poverty. We were leaving out of the American story tens of millions of Americans who on a daily basis just weren't making ends meet and that is the story that I chronicle in my book.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of President Obama's record on poverty?
New Jersey boardwalk blaze (PHOTO GALLERY FROM REUTERS) (13 September 2013)
New Jersey firefighters spray water at a burning building as they work to control a massive fire in Seaside Park in New Jersey September 12, 2013...
Ig Nobel prize for discovery that opera is good for a mouse's heart (12 September 2013)
Masanori Niimi, of Teikyo University in Tokyo, won the medicine prize for his finding that mice given heart transplants survived longer when they listened to particular music. Whereas mice normally survived an average of seven days, those that listened to Verdi's opera La Traviata survived 27 days. Those listening to the Irish singer Enya survived 11 days.
Brad Bushman, of Ohio State University, won the psychology prize for confirming the familiar sense of feeling more attractive when you've had a few too many drinks.
In his study, participants had to make a speech about how attractive, original and funny they were, which was rated by independent judges.
Those who were drunk when they made the speech (and even those who thought they were drunk) gave themselves more positive self-evaluations. But the ratings from independent judges showed this was unrelated to actual performance.
Dung beetles find their way - in the stars (12 September 2013)
How do lost dung beetles find their way home? By using the Milky Way to navigate, according to a team of researchers awarded the dubious honour of an Ig Nobel award in biology and astronomy.
The annual Ig Nobels, announced in America on Friday, are a parody of the Nobel Prizes given out by the jokey journal The Annals of Improbable Research.
The awards, selected from hundreds of entries, are given to research which both makes people laugh and think.
Among the award-winning dung beetle team is Australian-born Eric Warrant, whose unusual field of physics and entomology played a key role in the research which was the first to document the use of the Milky Way for orientation and navigation in the insect world.
Hay contaminated with Monsanto GMOs rejected for export (12 September 2013)
Pity a Washington farmer who grew a crop of GMO-free alfalfa only to have it rejected for export -- because tests showed it had been tainted by a genetically modified variety.
An exporter found the farmer's hay to have been contaminated with Roundup-resilient alfalfa, which was developed by Monsanto and approved for use by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011. Farmers who grow the GMO alfalfa can douse their fields with the herbicide Roundup without hurting the crop.
GMO opponents have warned for more than a decade that, because alfalfa is a perennial crop largely pollinated by honeybees, it would be almost impossible to keep the genetically modified version from mixing with conventional alfalfa. Cross-fertilization could devastate conventional and organic growers' businesses, they said.
ExxonMobil company charged with fracking-related crimes (12 September 2013)
ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy is being prosecuted for alleged environmental crimes after it spilled fracking wastewater into a Pennsylvania river in 2010.
The company's response? It claims the criminal charges could harm the environment.
We told you about this spill in July -- that's when the company agreed to pay a $100,000 federal fine for spilling 57,000 gallons of contaminated fluids out of sloppily maintained tanks in Penn Township and into a tributary of the Susquehanna River. It also agreed to spend $20 million to get its frackwater treatment and disposal facilities up to scratch in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Following a grand jury investigation, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane's office announced this week that XTO was also being charged with five counts of violating Pennsylvania law:
"The grand jury found that XTO hired a company to recycle waste water at the Marquardt site from Nov. 4, 2010 through Nov. 11, 2010. After that one-week period, XTO directed that company to remove their processing equipment from the site and transport it to another XTO well site in West Virginia. However, XTO allegedly continued to transport and store gas well waste water at the Marquardt site despite not having the proper equipment on site to safely store or process it."
Along with a rocket, NASA launched one poor frog into the air (6 September 2013)
A still camera on a sound trigger captured this intriguing photo of an airborne frog as NASA's LADEE spacecraft lifts off from Pad 0B at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The photo team confirms the frog is real and was captured in a single frame by one of the remote cameras used to photograph the launch. The condition of the frog, however, is uncertain.
Helium balloons lift aviator Jonathan Trappe Up for transatlantic trip (12 September 2013)
An American aviator has begun the first attempt to cross the Atlantic suspended by hundreds of coloured balloons. Jonathan Trappe took off from Caribou, Maine, on Thursday morning as his capsule was lifted by 370 helium-filled balloons in heavy fog and he headed east from the US.
The concept may sound like the story from the Disney film Up but Trappe, 39, specialises in cluster ballooning and was the first person to cross the Channel and the Alps using the method.
The transatlantic trip could be as long as 2,500 miles (4,000km) and take between three and five days. Depending on the weather, he could land anywhere between Iceland and Morocco.
Trappe is relying on state of the art weather data from the meteorologist who advised Felix Baumgartner on his record-breaking skydive from the stratosphere last year. The latest weather reports suggested winds would take Trappe to western Europe.
Suit says drivers' records illegally checked 600 times (12 September 2013)
Eighteen people, including a state legislator, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against more than 50 counties, cities and state agencies, claiming their driving records were illegally looked up at least 600 times.
The group, which includes two members of the Wabasha County Board and others involved in county politics, said that they were the targets of retaliation for political positions they took.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said that his family's records were looked up 133 times over eight years, including 95 times for himself alone.
One woman, Julie Porcher, said her information was accessed immediately after the publication of her letter to the editor accusing the County Board of overspending.
Attorney Eric Kaardal described the group, which includes 14 residents of Wabasha County, as "reformers." He alleged that law enforcement officials and others accessed his clients' records to dig up "any dirt" they could find.
Widespread misuse of the state's driver's license database by public employees has spurred a wave of litigation against cities and counties across Minnesota. About 20 individual suits, including the one announced Thursday, claim that public employees -- mostly in law enforcement -- snooped into the records.
Hacker steals data of two million Vodafone Germany clients (12 September 2013)
(Reuters) - A hacker has stolen the names, addresses and bank account numbers of about 2 million Vodafone Germany customers who should beware that criminals may now try to elicit other information such as passwords, the company said.
The mobile phone operator, which has around 32 million clients in Germany said on Thursday that the hacker, who had gained access to one of its servers, had not obtained any passwords, security numbers or connection data.
"It is hardly possible to use the data to get direct access to the bank accounts of those affected," the mobile phone network operator said in a statement.
But it warned customers that criminals could launch so-called "phishing" attacks, using fake e-mails, to try to trick them into revealing more details.
Pastor Terry Jones arrested ahead of planned Quran burning (12 September 2013)
A Florida pastor was arrested Wednesday as he drove a pickup truck towing a large barbecue-style grill filled with kerosene-soaked Qurans to a park, where the pastor had said he was planning to burn 2,998 of the Muslim holy books-- one for every victim of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Sheriff's deputies in Polk County, Fla., arrested Pastor Terry Jones, 61, and his associate pastor, Marvin Sapp Jr., 44, each on a felony charge of unlawful conveyance of fuel. Jones had said he was heading to a nearby park in Mulberry to burn the Qurans on Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the attacks. Sheriff's officials said that Jones was also charged with unlawful open-carry of a firearm, a misdemeanor, and that Sapp faces a charge of having no valid registration for the trailer.
Both were being booked Wednesday night into the Polk County jail, according to Sheriff Grady Judd.
Mulberry's mayor, along with area elected officials, a sheriff's deputy and several Polk County residents have talked about the need to express love and tolerance for all faiths on Sept. 11.
Jones is the pastor of a small evangelical Christian church. He first gained attention in 2010 when he planned to burn a Quran on the anniversary of 9/11, although he eventually called it off. His congregation did burn the Muslim holy book in March 2011 and last year he promoted an anti-Muslim film. All three incidents sparked violence in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
On Syria, Putin's Anti-War Case Outshines Obama's Call for Bombs (12 September 2013)
According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, those who consider the United States of America "exceptional" above other countries--including President Obama--represent an "extremely dangerous" mindset when it comes to international relations and global peace.
The closing salvo in a sharply worded, yet conciliatory, open letter to the American people in the form of a New York Times op-ed on Thursday, Putin suggests that amid the ongoing crisis in Syria the U.S. should maintain its leadership role in the world, but drop its claim to ultimate superiority.
Though new diplomatic efforts are underway at the United Nations over Syria's civil war, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry set to begin two-day talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday--a comparison of Putin's op-ed with Obama's televised address on Tuesday reveals an ironic twist for some observers who note that the former KGB official and noted authoritarian is running circles around the Nobel Peace Prize laureate when it comes to promoting a settlement in the region that doesn't include cruise missile strikes or a bombing campaign.
Putin's op-ed--an attempt "to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders," he says--argues that the world must respect the structures established by the creation of the United Nations if it wants to avoid the horrific consequences that could be unleashed if the U.S. decides to strike Syria without sanction by the international community. He writes:
"No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization."
Study: 1 in 4 men in parts of Asia have raped (12 September 2013)
LONDON (AP) -- About one in four men in some parts of Asia admitted raping a woman, according to the first large studies of rape and sexual violence. About one in 10 admitted raping a woman who was not their partner.
International researchers said their startling finding should change perceptions about how common violence against women is and prompt major campaigns to prevent it. Still, the results were based on a survey of only six Asian countries and the authors said it was uncertain what rates were like elsewhere in the region and beyond. They said engrained sexist attitudes contributed, but that other factors like poverty or being emotionally and physically abused as children were major risk factors for men's violent behavior.
A previous report from the World Health Organization found one-third of women worldwide say they have been victims of domestic or sexual violence.
"It's clear violence against women is far more widespread in the general population than we thought," said Rachel Jewkes of South Africa's Medical Research Council, who led the two studies. The research was paid for by several United Nations agencies and Australia, Britain, Norway and Sweden. The papers were published online Tuesday in the journal, Lancet Global Health.
ICE phone app seeks public's help in reporting child predators (12 September 2013)
Recognizing the wide range and immediacy of social media, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is launching a new smartphone app designed to seek the public's help with fugitive child predators.
The app is believed to be the first of its kind in federal law enforcement and allows tips to be reported anonymously through the app, by phone or online, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Operation Predator App allows those who download it to receive alerts about wanted predators, to share the information with friends through e-mail and social media tools, and to provide information to ICE's Homeland Security Investigations by calling or submitting an online tip. The app enables users to view news about arrests and prosecutions of child predators and additional resources about ICE and its global partners in the fight against child exploitation, the department announced Thursday.
Currently, the app can be downloaded from Apple's App Store or iTunes. ICE is also planning to expand compatibility to other smartphones in the near future. The app is available for download at http://bit.ly/1eixbIM.
This new ICE smartphone app includes a fugitive last seen in Minneapolis and Fargo, N.D.
Al-Jazeera takes legal action over treatment of its journalists in Egypt (12 September 2013)
Al-Jazeera, the pan Arabic news channel, has hired a high profile London law firm to take action against the Egyptian government over its treatment of its journalists.
The Qatar-based broadcaster has instructed Carter-Ruck to take action following the forced closure of its offices in Cairo, the deportation of some of its journalists and producers earlier this month, and the jamming of one of the two satellites it uses to reach Egyptian viewers.
Earlier this month a court in Egypt ordered al-Jazeera's local affiliate to stop broadcasting, along with three other TV channels known for their coverage of Muslim Brotherhood protests, saying that they had operated illegally.
It also follows the deportation of three freelance journalists working for al-Jazeera days after the broadcaster carried appeals from leaders of ousted-president Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood to stage protests against the army-backed government.
Detroit may end health care coverage for retirees under 65, replace it with $125 monthly stipends (12 September 2013)
Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr is considering a plan to replace current health care benefits for retirees under 65 with a stipend of $125 a month to buy coverage beginning next month from the state's new health insurance exchange, city officials said on Wednesday.
The city intends to help those retirees figure out the best health insurance plan offered under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Michigan's insurance marketplace where the plans will be sold launches Oct. 1 and coverage is effective Jan. 1.
Retirees over 65 would transition to Medicare, according to preliminary plans Orr's office previously disclosed as he leads a team to restructure the city's obligations as part of its filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy.
It is uncertain how much health care coverage Orr's stipend of $125 a month would buy because neither the state nor insurers are saying how much plans available under the new health care system will cost.
Great, now you have to worry about living too close to an airport (12 September 2013)
If you're the sort of person who lives near an airport or enjoys being healthy, there's a new reason to freak out: airplane gasoline still contains scary levels of lead. Michael Behar reports on Kelly Kittleson, a single mom with four kids who lives directly under Hillsboro Airport's main flight path:
"Like most Americans, she had no idea [lead] was still in use in airplanes--the last remaining mode of transportation in the United States to use leaded fuel. (It was banned from automobile gasoline in 1996 after a phase-out that commenced with the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970.) When the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality surveyed the airport in 2005, it found a lead cloud hovering above Hillsboro, a circular plume spanning 25 square miles. At its center--right about where the Kittlesons live--lead levels were twice as high as the National Ambient Air Quality Standard threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"In children, lead can damage the central nervous system, resulting in learning disabilities, stunted growth, and hearing loss, as well as cause anemia. Recent findings indicate that children who are repeatedly exposed exhibit violent behavior in later life. Adults may be at risk of kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, miscarriages, and premature births."
Two of Kittleson's children have ADHD, and a neighbor has fibromyalgia, adrenal fatigue, and a thyroid disorder. Their pediatrician, Dr. James Lubischer, is convinced lead is to blame. A 2008 study showed that less than half of the amount of lead considered toxic by the CDC hurts kids' cognitive ability; another researcher has found only a slight increase in kids' blood levels means they're more likely to have ADHD.
New fertility information bears well for older women (12 September 2013)
I often joke that working in women's media for six years has made me way too aware about how one's fertility declines with age. My husband and I decided to start trying to conceive when I was 29, in part, because I knew, from all of the articles I'd read on the job, that my eggs were rapidly shriveling up and dying with each passing day.
I should amend that statement.
I thought I knew my eggs were rapidly shriveling up and dying. A jaw-dropping new article by Jean Twenge in the Atlantic shows that a lot of what we've been told about the fertility plunge that happens to women in their 30s has been highly oversold.
Here's just one example of how imprecise the popular literature surrounding fertility is. Facts that I remember parroting to my husband -- that I had a 20 percent chance of conceiving each time I ovulated -- turn out to be based on no specific published medical literature. The study that Twenge did discover, by biostatistician David Dunson, who is now at Duke University, found that:
Intercourse two days before ovulation resulted in pregnancy 29 percent of the time for 35- to 39-year-old women, compared with about 42 percent for 27- to 29-year-olds. So, by this measure, fertility falls by about a third from a woman's late 20s to her late 30s. However, a 35- to 39-year-old's fertility two days before ovulation was the same as a 19- to 26-year-old's fertility three days before ovulation. According to Dunson's data, older couples who time sex just one day better than younger ones will effectively eliminate the age difference.
'Did you know a 3rd tower fell on 9/11?': Ads questioning truth of 9/11 appear on Ottawa buses (11 September 2013)
OTTAWA -- Did you know a third tower fell on 9/11?
The question appears on 300 buses in Ontario this week in a global advertising campaign challenging the official version of the Sept. 11, 2001, disaster in Manhattan.
New York-based Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth is trying to rally public pressure for a new official inquiry into whether the World Trade Center towers and neighbouring WTC Building 7 were actually toppled by shadowy U.S. forces using controlled demolitions.
Though the group is careful not to blame anyone in particular, the implication is that elements allied with the former administration of president George W. Bush needed to manufacture sufficient reason to justify planned military assaults on Afghanistan and Iraq.
"We just want a thorough, honest investigation and wherever it leads, it leads," said Ted Walter, a chief organizer for the month-long "ReThink911.org" ad campaign.
The call to action is running on billboards, subways, buses and taxis in 10 North American cities, from New York to Vancouver, as well as overseas in London and Sydney.
The Long Lesson, and New Legacy, of September 11 (11 September 2013)
I spent the better part of Tuesday trying to figure out just exactly what President Obama would say during his address to the nation that night. His speechwriters were probably mainlining caffeine, I figured, because the whole narrative had been turned inside out in a day. On Monday morning, the speech was going to be about convincing the American people that bombing kids because of dead kids is the way to go.
But then Secretary of State John Kerry made his offhand remark about Syria turning over its chemical weapons, which motivated the State Department to announce that anything Secretary Kerry might have said was not to be taken as Secretary Kerry actually saying anything, and all while Susan Rice was on TV advocating a military strike.
To call this run of events "incoherent" is to savagely insult the whole concept of incoherence. It was a mess, a jumble, all of a piece with the whole garbled thing to that point, but when Russia jumped up and endorsed the idea, followed by Syria itself, everyone in the Obama administration finally took a deep breath, stepped back, and said, "OK, yeah, that might actually work."
What followed was a day of backing down, looking around, and accepting the fact that a negotiated settlement was, in the end, the best possible option. Congress was getting ready to eat the president's lunch, the American people hated the whole thing, and Mr. Obama was looking at the end of his presidency, for all intents and purposes, with three years left to go.
I give him and his people great credit for hitting the brakes on the attack plan with the alacrity they did. They screwed up the front end of this thing to an awesome degree, but got it right on the back end. Moreover, they had the wherewithal to recognize the essential wisdom of The First Law Of Holes: when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Plenty of the presidents in my lifetime alone would have kept digging until they were buried.
Who Did 9/11? (10 September 2013) [Rense.com]
Art & Compilation By David Dees
PAM COMMENTARY: There are millions of images spread across entertainment products, and the "9/11" in some of these old pictures may be coincidence. I'm sure it's possible to do the research and find out who was personally responsible for most or all of this artwork. If certain names, or organizations connecting the names, keep popping up, then maybe it's a good theory.
But I'm not assuming that a foreign government like Israel was involved, as the wording at the top of this collection implies. In the case of 9/11, most of the best evidence didn't point to a foreign entity at all, but rather to the Bush/Cheney administration and their oil-grabbing friends.
9/11 - Press for Truth (full movie) (11 September 2013) [Rense.com]
Out of the grieving thousands left behind on September 11th, a small group of activist families emerged to demand answers. In 9/11 Press For Truth, six of them (including three of the famous "Jersey Girls") tell for the first time the powerful story of how they took on the powers in Washington--and won!--compelling an investigation, only to subsequently watch the 9/11 Commission fail in answering most of their questions.
NSA repeatedly ignored court surveillance rules, documents show (11 September 2013)
For more than two years, the National Security Agency violated legal guidelines set up by the secret federal intelligence court that oversees it, misleading the court's judges about the surveillance it was conducting, top secret court documents released by the Obama administration show.
The court documents, released Tuesday, include a harshly worded court opinion in which a federal judge berates the NSA not just for failing to conduct phone record searches in accord with legal guidelines meant to protect Americans' privacy, but for misleading the court that agency searches complied with those guidelines -- when, most often, they did not.
While the release of the documents served to comply with the administration's pledges of increased transparency regarding surveillance policy and safeguards to Americans' privacy, critics of that policy said the documents' contents provide evidence of serious limitations in the judicial oversight of surveillance practices.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) provides secret legal opinions intended to oversee intelligence community requests for surveillance. Under the court's supervision, the NSA began collecting phone metadata in 2006 -- the phone numbers at either end of a call, the call's duration, time of day and other data, but not the content of the call itself.
Johns Hopkins and the Case of the Missing NSA Blog Post (10 September 2013)
Citing concerns about linking to classified material, Johns Hopkins University asked a professor this morning to remove a blog post discussing last week's revelations about the NSA's efforts to break encryption. The post had linked to government documents published by ProPublica, the Guardian, and the New York Times.
Several hours later, after computer science professor Matthew Green tweeted about the request, the university reversed itself.
Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins, which is short drive from the NSA's headquarters at Fort Meade, works closely with the spy agency.
The university's Applied Physics Laboratory, which employs about 5,000 people, does many projects with the NSA.
According to the lab's website, "APL staff working with NSA are engaged in strategic planning, development of enterprise and program architectures, conducting quantitative analysis to support engineering decisions, development of engineering processes, and formulation of the governance structures for the work in the new Technology Directorate (TD)."
Bloomberg Gets Zuccotti-Parked as Dem Voters Back Anti-1% NYC Mayoral Candidate (11 September 2013) [BuzzFlash.com]
Oh to be a fly on the wall as the Big Apple's "Mayor 1%" -- Michael Bloomberg -- gobbled down antiacids as he learned that the next mayor of NYC is likely to be a hard-left-soak-the-rich advocate for the middle class, poor and jobless. Actually, that man who is the odds on favorite to occupy Gracie Mansion is literally the Public Advocate for the city of New York, a citywide elected position that literally speaks out on behalf of its citizens.
Not largely known outside of the NYC region, the Public Advocate is in essence the person who would replace a sitting mayor if he or she resigned or could not perform the duties of mayor. That man is Bill de Blasio, and he is on the verge of winning yesterday's NYC Democratic primary, possibly with the necessary 40% of the vote to avoid a run-off. (If there is a run-off, he is already the widely favored candidate to face a weak Republican opponent in the general election).
As CBS News just reported Wednesday morning:
"After running as a hard-left populist who vowed to raise taxes on the rich in order to boost public education funding, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio easily topped a field of competitors in the Democratic primary to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday."
Household stats give jolt to great Canadian dream (11 September 2013)
OTTAWA--The great Canadian dream of a sprawling middle class, awash in home ownership and healthy incomes, has been hit with a jolt of reality -- in the form of StatsCan's National Household Survey.
The newly released numbers from the 2011 census reveal a wide, demographic chasm between the nation's poor -- those whose annual income falls well below the $27,000 median figure for an individual-- and the richest in Canada.
The numbers also give Canadians a better picture of the famed "1 per cent," whose wealth turned into a protest chant during the widespread "Occupy" demonstrations a couple of years ago.
The richest 10 per cent of Canadians make more than $80,400 in individual income, the survey shows. But the wealthiest 1 per cent -- about 272,600 people in total -- make more than $191,100. These one percenters, according to the census, are mainly white, married men between the ages of 45 and 54, born in the shadow of the postwar boom years that spawned the great Canadian dream.
Home ownership, at the centre of those decades-old aspirations, has also taken its toll on Canadian households, the NHS shows. While 69 per cent of households in Canada own their home, their mortgage debts are high -- sometimes crippling.
More than 25.2 per cent of households are spending more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter, surpassing the standard measure for having an affordable home. That's up slightly from 24.9 per cent in 2006.
U.S. weapons reaching Syrian rebels (11 September 2013)
The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, according to U.S. officials and Syrian figures. The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear -- a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria's civil war.
The arms shipments, which are limited to light weapons and other munitions that can be tracked, began arriving in Syria at a moment of heightened tensions over threats by President Obama to order missile strikes to punish the regime of Bashar al-Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons in a deadly attack near Damascus last month.
The arms are being delivered as the United States is also shipping new types of nonlethal gear to rebels. That aid includes vehicles, sophisticated communications equipment and advanced combat medical kits.
U.S. officials hope that, taken together, the weapons and gear will boost the profile and prowess of rebel fighters in a conflict that started about 21 / 2 years ago.
Although the Obama administration signaled months ago that it would increase aid to Syrian rebels, the efforts have lagged because of the logistical challenges involved in delivering equipment in a war zone and officials' fears that any assistance could wind up in the hands of jihadists. Secretary of State John F. Kerry had promised in April that the nonlethal aid would start flowing "in a matter of weeks."
Killing of chickens in Jewish ritual draws protests in L.A. (11 September 2013)
In a parking lot behind a Pico Boulevard building, inside a makeshift tent made of metal poles and tarps, a man in a white coat and black skullcap grabs a white-feathered hen under the wings and performs an ancient ritual.
He circles the chicken in the air several times and recites a prayer for a woman standing nearby whose aim is to symbolically transfer her sins to the bird. The young man then uses a sharp blade to cut the hen's throat.
In the days before Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, this ritual will be repeated untold times in hastily built plywood rooms and other structures in traditional Orthodox Jewish communities from Pico-Robertson to Brooklyn. Promotional fliers on lampposts in this neighborhood advertise the kaparot service at $18 per chicken or $13 apiece for five or more.
But the practice is increasingly drawing the ire of animal rights activists, and some liberal Jews, who say the custom is inhumane, paganistic and out of step with modern times.
"An animal sacrifice in this day and age?" said Wendie Dox, a Reform Jew and animal rights activist who lives nearby. "That is not OK with me."
This year, activists have launched one of the largest, most organized efforts ever in the Southland to protest the practice, known variously as kaparot, kapparot or kaparos.
Death by Corporation, Part IV: Dissolving the Planet for Oil (9 September 2013)
One of the most iconic scenes in movie history occurs near the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark. A fictitious German army officer and Indiana Jones's archeological nemesis have captured Jones and his newly found ark of the covenant. As Jones somehow knows to look the other way, his nefarious but ignorant captors open the chest holding the ark. Demons pour out and within seconds their exhilaration turns to horror as their flesh hideously melts off their bones, and they die a spectacular death by an unspecified supernatural acid.
There is a real-life counterpart to this Indiana Jones supernatural acid - hydrofluoric acid, or HF. It's not quite as depicted in Breaking Bad, but through exposure of skin or eyes, or when inhaled or swallowed, HF readily penetrates tissue, poisoning as it goes. Symptoms of exposure to hydrofluoric acid may not be immediately evident, but because HF interferes with nerve function it can wreak systemic havoc, resulting in death. HF is likely still being used and stored by a refinery near you.
But just when you thought that the oil companies couldn't possibly put more poison into our air and water, do more damage to the earth, to our climate, to our future and our hope for survival, along comes "matrix acidizing," the oil industry's latest stroke of genius to extract oil from shale formations by literally disintegrating underground rock formations using - you guessed it, hydrofluoric acid.
During the summer of 1986, Amoco, Allied-Signal, Du Pont and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory voluntarily conducted a series of six experiments involving atmospheric releases of HF in an attempt to characterize its behavior. These studies, known as the "Goldfish studies," were conducted at the Department of Energy Liquefied Gaseous Fuels Spill Test Facility in Nevada and showed that the HF did not remain a liquid following accidental release. Instead, under the conditions simulating a petroleum refinery explosion (HF above its boiling point and liquefied under pressure), 100 percent of the released liquid HF formed dense, rolling clouds of toxic vapor. The clouds expanded rapidly, and researchers measured dangerous concentrations at distances of three to six miles downwind. A person caught in this cloud would experience burning eyes, nose and throat. Soon their lungs would become inflamed and overwhelmed with fluid, followed by acute respiratory distress syndrome, ARDS, and most likely death within a few hours.
Cancer survivor drives Hopkins mistletoe therapy trials (11 September 2013)
At first blush, Page was taken aback by the thought of being cured by mistletoe extract, which is sold under the brand names Iscador, Helixor and a handful of others, in liquid form in injectable vials.
"I'm like, 'mistletoe, what's that? That's what I see at Christmastime,' she said. 'Why haven't I been told about this before?'"
According to the institute, several trials of mistletoe have been undertaken and are under way in Europe for those countries' official approval. In the U.S., the institute lists two mistletoe trials besides Hopkins, although the sites are not given and the results not yet published.
Still, after Hinderberger explained that mistletoe contains viscotoxin, a poisonous substance that actively and directly kills cancer cells and boosts patients' cancer-fighting immune system via special proteins called lectins, Page became very interested. Once he added that the substance also prevents new blood-vessel formation in cancers and promotes natural cell death, she was all in.
"When I found out from my oncologist that I only had a 10 percent better chance of survival by taking chemo(therapy), I decided to burn the boats and not look back," she said. "Why would I want to destroy everything in my body for just a 10 percent chance?"
DUI statistics point to higher mix of women (11 September 2013)
As a watchdog of DUI court cases, Cathy Stanley has noticed the trend for over a decade -- more female defendants standing in front of judges.
Statistics as well as a report scheduled to be released Thursday support her observation. Research shows that while the number of male drivers arrested for DUI has seen declines since 1995, the number of female drivers arrested has been rising.
In 2011, the latest year FBI statistics were available, DUIs by female drivers accounted for nearly 25 percent of all DUI arrests, compared with about 10 percent in the early 1980s.
Stanley, a former addictions counselor who since 2007 has supervised the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists' court watchers in Cook and surrounding counties, said that spike has its roots in societal changes. The multiple demands of career, mother, home manager, community volunteer and related roles became particularly acute in the recession, she said, and continue during the current, sluggish economy.
Drivers behaving badly: Survey finds differences in how men and women act out (11 September 2013)
If you see a driver swearing in front of her kids in the car or flipping people off, it's most likely to be a woman.
A recent survey of 1,000 adults, commissioned by Insurance.com, asked about their rude driving behaviour. The survey found women were more likely to respond to driving frustrations by swearing, brake-checking or "flipping someone off" than men are.
But men were no angels either. The survey found they are twice as likely as women to key someone's car or flash drivers with their high-beams just to be mean.
Here's what drivers admit to, with results broken down by gender:
Honked at someone driving too slowly: 41 per cent
(Women: 39 percent. Men: 43 per cent.)
Swore in front of the kids while driving: 37 per cent
(Women: 44 per cent. Men: 30 per cent.)
Press Play, Smile. (VIDEO) (11 September 2013) [Rense.com]
Comments from zengardner.com:
This is breathtakingly beautiful from a wonderfully talented young man in South Africa named Dan Mace. What an uplifting message we all need to take to heart in the midst of this tumultuous battle we're all encountering. Just wonderful! [Hat tip: Thanks for sharing Patrick, fabulous, like you said!] - See more at: http://www.zengardner.com/press-play-smile/#sthash.T16pizm9.dpuf
PAM COMMENTARY: I linked directly to the YouTube video partly because this is just a featured YouTube that may be removed from the page at any time, but also because of the lack of security information on that web site.
Here are the (animated!) rules you should follow to live in NYC or any other city (11 September 2013)
Nathan Pyle is an illustrator who, one day, decided to make a bunch of drawings communicating all the tips and tricks he'd picked up living in New York City.
They were very good tips!
Income gap between rich and poor is biggest in a century (11 September 2013)
If you feel you're falling behind in the income race, it's not just your imagination. The wealth gap between the top 1% and the bottom 99% in the U.S. is as wide as it's been in nearly 100 years, a new study finds.
For starters, between 1993 and 2012, the real incomes of the 1% grew 86.1%, while those of the 99% grew 6.6%, according to the study, based on Internal Revenue Service statistics examined by economists at UC Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics and Oxford University.
The top 1% is defined as familes with incomes above $394,000 in 2012.
The Great Recession hit the top 1% harder than other income groups, but the wealthy recovered quicker too. From 2009 to 2012, as the U.S. economy improved, incomes of the top 1% grew more than 31%, while the incomes of the 99% grew 0.4% - less than half a percentage point.
"This implies that the top 1% incomes captured just over two-thirds of the overall economic growth of real incomes per family over the period 1993-2012," economist Emmanuel Saez of UC Berkeley writes.
The 1929 stock market crash that preceded the Great Depression, followed by World War II, reduced an earlier national income gap for decades. But it began to grow again in the 1970s, and has widened since.
Children suffer from growing economic inequality among families since recession (10 September 2013)
American families are becoming increasingly polarized along race, class and educational lines, according to a new report released Wednesday, a sign of growing economic inequality that was exacerbated by the Great Recession.
The report, "Divergent Paths of American Families," found a widening gap in recent years between families that are white, educated or economically secure and minority families, those headed by someone with a high school degree or less, and poor families.
The concern, report authors say, is not that American families are becoming diverse. Advances in civil rights and women's economic independence have opened up individual choice and transformed the American family in the past 50 years. The concern, they wrote, is that the divisions fall along race, class and educational lines and that they are accelerating.
"I was struck by how strong the divide has become in terms of education," said report author Zhenchao Qian, a sociologist at Ohio State University. "The gap between the haves and the have-nots, and the children who excel and who lag behind, grew larger than ever in the 2000s."
House vote to slash food stamps is coming while Syria holds the headlines (10 September 2013)
Hey, remember how House Republicans are looking to cut $40 billion in food stamps over the next 10 years, kicking millions out of the program and forcing hundreds of thousands into food insecurity? While the rest of the country is talking about Syria, House Republicans are planning to hold a vote on those cuts next week, without all the usual debate:
"Next week the House will vote on legislation to cut SNAP by roughly 5 percent. The bill is bypassing the House Agriculture Committee, which oversees food stamps, because it is a priority of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
"'There's not been a single hearing on food stamps at all. Not one,' said [Democratic Rep. Jim] McGovern, one of the panel's most outspoken opponents of cutting nutrition assistance. (The previous Congress, which wrapped up last year, held several hearings on nutrition legislation, though McGovern notes that the Agriculture Committee's membership has since changed.) 'I hope through all this Syria stuff, that we're able to shed a bit of light on this, because I think most Americans, if they realize what's going on, would be outraged.'"
The House cuts won't become law, since the Senate won't pass them and President Obama won't sign them. But Republicans are sure to use them to try to get the Senate to pass deeper cuts than the $4 billion over 10 years it already voted on--an unnecessary cut to an effective, efficient program--making one thing absolutely clear: Republicans want poor Americans, including many who work, to go hungry.
Chomsky: Instead of "Illegal" Threat to Syria, U.S. Should Back Chemical Weapons Ban in All Nations (11 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about President Obama's speech and the crisis in Syria, we're joined by the world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky. He has authored numerous books. His latest is On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare, that's out next week. He joins us via Democracy Now! video stream from his home in Massachusetts.
Noam, welcome to Democracy Now! First, let's get your response to President Obama announcing last night in a nationwide address, which I'm sure was watched worldwide, that for the moment there would be no strike on Syria, as the U.S. supports the Russian plan to deal with the chemical weapons stockpile of Syria?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the Russian plan is a godsend for Obama. It saves him from what would look like a very serious political defeat. He has not been able to obtain virtually any international support for this--the action he's contemplating. Even Britain wouldn't support it. And it looked as though Congress wasn't going to support it either, which would leave him completely out on a limb. This leaves him a way out.
He can maintain the threat of force, which incidentally is a crime under international law, that we should bear in mind that the core principle of the United Nations Charter bars the threat or use of force, threat or use of force. So all of this is criminal, to begin with, but he'll continue with that. The United States is a rogue state. It doesn't pay any attention to international law.
He--it was kind of interesting what he didn't say. This would be a perfect opportunity to ban chemical weapons, to impose the chemical weapons convention on the Middle East. The convention, contrary to what Obama said, does not specifically refer just to use of chemical weapons; it refers to production, storage or use of chemical weapons. That's banned by the international norm that Obama likes to preach about. Well, there is a country which happens to be--happens to have illegally annexed part of Syrian territory, which has chemical weapons and is in violation of the chemical weapons convention and has refused even to ratify it--namely, Israel. So here's an opportunity to eliminate chemical weapons from the region, to impose the chemical weapons convention as it's actually formulated. But Obama was very careful not to say that he--for reasons which are too obvious to go into--he--and that gap is highly significant. Of course, chemical weapons should be eliminated everywhere, but certainly in that region.
Lac Megantic: Oil in blast as volatile as gasoline, safety board says (11 September 2013)
OTTAWA--The oil that burst into flame in the deadly Lac-Mégantic train derailment in July was as volatile as gasoline, but was documented as less dangerous crude oil, the Transportation Safety Board says.
Lead investigator Don Ross said tests showed the oil was wrongly documented.
"When we analyzed the product samples from the nine intact tank cars from the Lac-Megantic accident we identified the product as having the characteristics of a packing group 2 flammable liquid," he told a news conference today.
"Packing group 2 is the packing group that gasoline is in." He said the Lac-Mégantic oil was improperly classed as a less-hazardous packing group 3 product.
"The lower flash point of the crude oil explains in part why the crude oil ignited so quickly once the Class 111 tank cars were breached." This raises questions about the suitability of the cars themselves, he added.
New Alberta wetlands policy seeks to minimize negative impacts of industry (11 September 2013)
EDMONTON - The provincial government will provide flexibility in its new policy to protect wetlands and will allow industries to pay into a public education fund or build a marshland elsewhere to compensate for destroying a wetland.
The new policy, which moves away from the no-net loss principle, calls for a hierarchy of wetlands with a policy geared to offer more protection to "high value" wetlands, said Diana McQueen, minister of environment and sustainable resource development.
Oilsands developers and other industry would be asked to avoid or minimize negative impacts on wetland. If that's not possible, they could be asked to replace a wetland near the original area or pay into a fund.
McQueen said Tuesday the policy calls "for consideration of environmental, social and economic factors" in making decisions on whether to preserve a wetland. She declined to name the locations of "high value" wetlands.
Neil Young pans Keystone pipeline, likens oilsands landscape to Hiroshima (11 September 2013)
Young declared himself "against the Keystone pipeline in a big way" as he described a recent driving visit to Fort McMurray, home base to northern Alberta's oilsands development.
"The fact is, Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima," Young, 67, said at an event Tuesday in Washington hosted by Democratic Senator Harry Reid and the National Farmers Union.
"Fort McMurray is a wasteland. The Indians up there and the native peoples are dying. The fuel's all over, there's fumes everywhere. You can smell it when you get to town."
His comments came the same day that Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was in the American capital talking up Canadian environmental policy and TransCanada's Keystone project, which is designed to carry Alberta oilsands bitumen to refineries on the Texas gulf coast.
Iconic photos from the 9/11 tragedy (11 September 2013)
The Statue of Liberty is seen at first light in this view from Jersey City, N.J., against a smoke-filled backdrop of the lower Manhattan skyline, early Saturday, Sept. 15, 2001.
'Get on your knees!': Police video showing the dramatic moment George Zimmerman was taken back into custody is released hours after his lawyer quits (11 September 2013)
Mark O'Mara, who represented Zimmerman when he was acquitted of murder in the death of Trayvon Martin, made his shock announcement that he would be leaving his client as police continued their investigation into the warring couple.
Police said they are now looking at an iPad belonging to Shellie Zimmerman to see if footage on the device sheds any light on the cause of their altercation in Lake Mary, Florida on Monday. It could be used to bring charges against either of the couple.
The iPad captured video of the dispute but because it was smashed, it needs to be examined in a crime lab, Lake Mary police spokesman Zach Hudson said.
Shellie called 911 on Monday saying her husband had punched her father in the nose and was threatening them with a gun. But she later changed her story and decided against pressing charges.
NSA violations led judge to consider viability of surveillance program (11 September 2013)
A judge on the secret surveillance court was so disturbed by the National Security Agency's repeated violations of privacy restrictions that he questioned the viability of its bulk collection of Americans' phone records, according to newly declassified surveillance documents.
Judge Reggie Walton, now the presiding judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (Fisa) court, imposed a significant and previously undisclosed restriction on the NSA's ability to access its bulk databases of phone records after finding that the agency repeatedly violated privacy protections.
The documents, mostly from 2009 and declassified Tuesday, describe what Walton said were "thousands" of American phone numbers improperly accessed by government counterterrorism analysts.
They also indicate that US government officials, including NSA director Keith Alexander, gave misleading statements to the court about how they carried out that surveillance.
Despite repeated public assurances of NSA competence, the agency told the Fisa court in 2009 that "from a technical standpoint, there was no single person who had a complete understanding" of its phone records "architecture".
All that led to "daily violations" for more than two years of call records from Americans "not the subject of any FBI investigation and whose call detail information could not otherwise have been legally captured in bulk," Walton wrote.
Orphaned in Russia, brought to America, and then abandoned time and again (11 September 2013)
The Whatcotts say they tried therapy and support groups. They even reached out to a Russian judge to undo the adoption.
When nothing worked, they turned to what Priscilla now calls "the underground network." In an early example of adoptive parents using the Internet to seek a new home for an unwanted child, Inga was orphaned repeatedly.
In the next six months, the Whatcotts sent her to three different families. None wanted to keep her. In one home, Inga says she had sex with a sibling who then urinated on her. In another, she says the father molested her.
Sent to a Michigan psychiatric facility at the age of 13, Inga says she had sex again -- this time with her therapist. Michael Patterson, the therapist, was acquitted of first degree criminal sexual conduct and remains a licensed social worker in Michigan. He says he "did not cross the line" physically with Inga and remembers her as "a very troubled child."
On Patterson's last point, no one disagrees. When Michigan institutionalized her, officials characterized Inga's troubles this way: "substance abuse, domestic violence, separation from parents, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, attachment issue and mental health issues."
To Inga, the situation seemed bleak: "My parents didn't want me. Russia didn't want me. I didn't want to live."
Massive water discovery will transform drought-prone 'cradle of mankind' in northern Kenya (11 September 2013)
UNESCO and the Kenya Government today announce the discovery of one of the worlds largest underground water aquifers in the desert north of Turkana, an area best known for fossils, famine and poverty. The finding by Radar Technologies International (RTI) was made using space based exploration technology called WATEX system. The largest aquifer at 250 billion cubic meters of water which is equivalent in volume to Lake Turkana one of the largest lakes in the Great Rift Valley, and 25 times greater than Loch Ness. More importantly the annual recharge rate, the amount of water that can be sustainably exploited per year, is estimated to 3.4 billion cubic meters, nearly three times the water use in the New York City.
The man behind the RTI is the energetic white haired French Alain Gachet who says the worst thing he has ever seen in his life is people dying of thirst.
"This discovery will transform Turkana. In 10 years time I see no more suffering, no more dying of hunger or thirst, people will have schools, roads, farms. Life will be much better for them and famine will be a thing go the past".
For Turkana where malnutrition rates can be as high as 37%, this discovery Is better than oil. It is an opportunity for local development.
Mauritania: Modern-Day Slave Finds Freedom in the Desert (11 September 2013)
At SOS Esclaves offices in Nouakchott, Mauritania's capital, Matallah Ould Mbarak Alsalem prepares tea. Matallah is a handyman and cleaner at SOS Esclaves, an NGO dedicated to the fight against slavery and coming to the aid of slaves and former slaves. He is one himself.
Born in a desert region of north-eastern Mauritania, his mother was a Hratine, a slave, and by convention so was he. The Hratine, the main slave caste, are descendents of black African ethnic groups subjugated for the most part by white Arab Berbers. Estimates indicate that 10-20 percent of Mauretania's 3.5 million people are slaves, though exact numbers are hard to come by.
They are their masters' property and live to do their masters' biding - as do their children, who are often the result of a master's rape. Escape from slavery is rare and often a solo endeavor, requiring a near perfect set of events to randomly unfold. Matallah was lucky. He was also extraordinary.
"Matallah is the only former slave I've ever known who tried to free his family," says Messaoud Boubacar," who runs SOS Esclaves in Mauritania.
Obama takes Syria case to the public in White House address (10 September 2013)
President Obama said Tuesday that he would seize one last diplomatic opening to avoid a military strike on Syria, while trying to convince a skeptical United States that it must retaliate against the Middle Eastern nation's alleged use of chemical weapons if the effort fails.
In a nationally televised prime-time address from the East Room of the White House, Obama cautiously embraced a Russian proposal that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad give up its stockpile of chemical weapons, signaling that he would drop his call for an assault on the regime if Assad complies.
But with little guarantee that diplomacy would prevail, Obama spent the bulk of his 17-minute speech trying to directly address the concerns that have moved public opinion and Congress against him over the past week.
The president argued that a military response is in the national interest, although he conceded that Syria poses no direct threat to the United States. Obama said that not responding to Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons in an Aug. 21 attack that killed more than 1,400 outside Damascus would allow him to use them again and would embolden other regimes hostile to the United States, including Iran.
As Assad Regime Accepts Russian Plan on Chemical Weapons, A Debate on Syria's Path Forward (10 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
RANIA MASRI: Yes, well, I think it strongly reveals both President Obama's international isolation, with his only main ally supporting a bombing campaign against Syria being the Saudis, who have themselves funded many of these so-called rebels in Syria, and at the same time President Obama is facing increasing domestic opposition, from the Republicans to the Democrats, across the political spectrum.
What I see coming out of Russia actually is proof of the power of political settlements and of the importance of diplomacy. Given the horrendous consequences of a bombing campaign on Syria, and particularly on the Syrian people, and given the extraordinary need for a political settlement, this demonstration by the Russian government and the Syrian government shows a strong possibility towards the power of a political settlement.
And I think it also reveals a great deal that those who claim to speak on behalf of the Syrian people here in the United States, be it either the Syrian National Coalition or the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, any of these so-called opposition forces here in the U.S., how they have been so adamant to support a bombing campaign against their own country. And yet, when we look into who they are, we see that they are actually puppets representing Saudi Arabia much more than they represent the people of Syria.
AARON MATÉ: Let's get a response to that from Rafif Jouejati. Your assessment of Rania's statement that exile Syrian groups are unfairly backing a bombing campaign?
RAFIF JOUEJATI: I think many in the Syrian expatriate communities certainly do favor a military strike. This is not because they are puppets of the Saudi government, as Rania says. This is not because they don't represent the Syrian people. I believe this is because many, many Syrians inside Syria--not in the United States, but inside Syria--feel that Assad will not stop unless he is stopped militarily. This is the man who is responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians. This is the regime that is responsible for the internal displacement of at least four million people, two million refugees abroad. So, Syrians, who are inside, are feeling that there is no hope but for a military strike.
40 Years After Chilean Coup, Allende Aide Juan Garcés on How He Brought Pinochet to Justice (10 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
Juan Garcés, you have also published a new book simply called Allende. Talk about that day 40 years ago tomorrow, 40 years ago, September 11, 1973, when you were with President Allende in the palace. Talk about what happened.
JUAN GARCÉS: Well, 40 years before, Chile was the most developed, democratic country in the Spanish-speaking world, with a robust Parliament and robust political parties, effective freedom of the press, providence in the society to different opinions and worships. And suddenly, in one day, all changed. What is interesting to consider is that before this living--this living democracy was replaced by a regime where there were systematic torture, extraordinary--there were acts of terrorism against--against the democratic society, extrajudicial executions, extraordinary--how do you say--kidnappings and sending the people to another country to be tortured, rendition--extraordinary renditions. And the Plan Condor, the cooperation among the international--
AMY GOODMAN: Operation Condor.
JUAN GARCÉS: Operation Condor.
AMY GOODMAN: That extended to places like Argentina and others.
JUAN GARCÉS: And the coordination between the regional services to kidnap the respective archenemies and torture them and making them disappear. And what is a matter of concern that the methods that were applied by this dictatorship against the people that was for a representative form of government, those methods you can see them working now and being applied worldwide. You have extraordinary renditions. You have extrajudicial killings. You have secret centers of detentions.
AMY GOODMAN: You're talking about the United States now?
JUAN GARCÉS: I am very concerned that those methods, the habeas corpus ineffectiveness, were applied in Chile with the knowledge and the backing of the Nixon-Kissinger administration in this period. And I am very concerned that the same methods are being applied now under--in other explanations, in many countries with the backing of the United States. That is something that is--I consider as very dangerous for everyone.
"Make the Economy Scream": Secret Documents Show Nixon, Kissinger Role Backing 1973 Chile Coup (10 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AARON MATÉ: That's President Nixon speaking in 1972. Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive, can explain to us what Nixon is talking about here, and put it in context of the U.S. role in destabilizing Chile?
PETER KORNBLUH: Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger launched a preemptive strike against Salvador Allende. They decided to stop him from being inaugurated as president of Chile. He hadn't even set foot in the Moneda Palace, when Nixon and Kissinger just simply decided to change the fate of Chile. Nixon instructed the CIA to make the Chilean economy scream, to use as many men as possible. The first plan was to actually keep Allende from being inaugurated as president. And then, when that plan failed, after the assassination of the Chilean commander-in-chief that the United States was behind, General René Schneider, Kissinger then went to Nixon and said, "Allende is now president. The State Department thinks we can coexist with him, but I want you to make sure you tell everybody in the U.S. government that we cannot, that we cannot let him succeed, because he has legitimacy. He is democratically elected. And suppose other governments decide to follow in his footstep, like a government like Italy? What are we going to do then? What are we going to say when other countries start to democratically elect other Salvador Allendes? We will--the world balance of power will change," he wrote to Nixon in a secret document, "and our interests in it will be changed fundamentally."
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Kissinger's role. Most recently, people may have seen Stephen Colbert dancing around him, the--Henry Kissinger, of course, still alive, considered an elder statesmen by most of the press in the United States. Give us a thumbnail sketch of his role.
PETER KORNBLUH: I just got back from Chile, and I did a number of TV shows there, and everybody said, "We're trying to hold our own people accountable here for the atrocities that took place during the Pinochet regime, but why isn't Henry Kissinger being held accountable? Why isn't the United States held accountable for the role that they played in the atrocities that were committed in Chile, starting with the coup itself and then going on with the repression that followed?" And Kissinger really is the--not only the key survivor of the policy-making team of that era, but truly when you go through the declassified documents that are laid out in the book, The Pinochet File, you see that he is the singular most important figure in engineering a policy to overthrow Allende and then, even more, to embrace Pinochet and the human rights violations that followed.
He had aides who were saying to him, "It's unbecoming for the United States to intervene in a country where we are not--our national security interests are not threatened." And he pushed them away. "Nope, we can't--we can't let this imitative phenomena--we have to stop Allende from being successful." He had aides that came to him the day after the coup and said, "I'm getting reports that there's 10,000 bodies in the streets. People are being slaughtered." And he said, "Go tell Congress that this new military regime is better for our interests than the old government in Chile." And we have this fabulous document of him talking to Pinochet, a meeting in 1976, in which his aides have told him, "You should tell Pinochet to stop violating human rights." And instead he says to Pinochet, "You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende. We want to support you, not hurt you."
Colorado senators ousted in recall vote after supporting gun bill (10 September 2013)
The national gun control debate took center stage Tuesday in Colorado's first-ever recall elections, with two senators losing their seats as a result of supporting laws introducing background checks for gun purchases, and ammunition clip limits.
Senate President John Morse and fellow Democrat Sen. Angela Giron conceded defeat Tuesday night, after both voted for 15-round limits on ammunition magazines and for expanded background checks on private gun sales after the deadly mass shootings in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater and at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. last year.
"I'm a fighter," Giron said in her concession speech, according to The Denver Post. "We will win in the end, because we are on the right side."
She said she didn't regret the votes that lead to her ouster, the Post reported.
The measures were passed by the state's Democratic-led legislature this year without any Republican support and signed into law by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The NRA said the election sent a clear message to lawmakers that they should protect gun rights and be accountable to their constituents, not to "anti-gun billionaires" -- a swipe against New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supported Giron and Morse.
California Leads Nation in Wind Turbine Eagle Deaths (10 September 2013)
A new study released Tuesday indicates that California may have more wind turbine faciilities responsible for killing eagles than any other state. The study, conducted by six U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff biologists, showed that at least 27 golden eagles perished at 13 California wind turbine facilities between 1997 and June 2012, with a startling rise in reported mortalities in 2011.
Only Wyoming rivaled California's eagle wind turbine death toll in the facilities studied, with 29 golden eagles and two bald eagles killed at two wind facilities during the survey period. And the study didn't include documented mortalities at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area, responsible for dozens of eagle deaths each year.
Through the United States overall, 85 eagles were killed at 32 wind facilities in 10 states, with nearly 80 percent of those fatalities taking place in the last five years as wind facilities are built nationwide.
The study, with the self-explanatory title "Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Mortailities At Wind Energy Facilities In The Contiguous United States,": was published Tuesday in the September issue of theJournal of Raptor Research. Despite the authors' employment status with USFWS, the paper bears the obligatory disclaimer that the results aren't endorsed by the agency.
The authors, led by USFWS raptor biologist Joel Pagel, say the results of their study are almost certainly an underestimate of actual eagle kills. As wind facilities in the U.S. aren't required to report eagle mortalities, the authors had to rely on voluntary reports from wind turbine operators and other public domain data, which mainly reflected inadvertent finds of dead or injured eagles. From that data, the authors excluded at least 17 reports that lacked unambiguous evidence of either mortality or mortal injury.
FDA orders more stringent labeling for opioid drugs (10 September 2013)
Responding to calls to stem a growing epidemic of prescription drug addiction and overdose deaths, federal officials are urging doctors to reserve the most powerful pain drugs for patients who need long-term, around-the-clock treatment that can't be managed by other means.
Leaders of the Food and Drug Administration said they hoped new drug labeling guidelines unveiled Tuesday would prompt doctors to be more cautious in prescribing long-acting and extended-release forms of oxycodone, morphine and other narcotic painkillers, known as opioids.
Such drugs -- sold as OxyContin, Opana and other brand names -- account for less than 10% of all opioid prescriptions written in the U.S. More widely prescribed, fast-acting opioids, including hydrocodone, were not affected by the FDA action.
As a class, opioid painkillers have fueled a surge in prescription drug overdoses, which in 2009 surpassed traffic accidents as a leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S. They are abused by more than 12 million people each day and contributed to 16,651 overdose deaths in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Shop-bought baby foods have far lower nutrient content than homemade meals (10 September 2013)
BABY foods made by firms including Cow and Gate, Heinz and Ella's Kitchen have far less nutrients than homemade meals, according to a new study.
Many contain high levels of sugar and some are promoted for use from four months of age -- a time when babies should still be on a diet of breast or formula milk.
Babies would need to eat twice as much shop-bought food to get the same energy and protein as meals cooked at home, researchers found.
It found that many of the weaning foods would not serve their purpose of giving a baby extra nutrients or a range of tastes.
Current guidelines encourage weaning from six months of age, with babies fed only breast or formula milk before this time.
But some parents choose to wean early and baby foods are often marked as "suitable from four months".
How posture influences mood, energy, thoughts (10 September 2013)
In Erik Peper's holistic health class at San Francisco State University, every half hour or so he stops lecturing and encourages his students to "get up and wiggle."
The exercise is intended as more than a simple mental break. It is deeply rooted in an idea the Dutch behavioral scientist has spent much of his career investigating: the potential for posture to influence a person's state of mind.
"Students are exhausted, they are tired," said Peper. "The body for a moment gets more activated, and their energy levels go way up."
After a few minutes of wacky exercises, students return to the lecture, now seated upright in their chairs, alert and engaged. The idea may seem obvious, but its underpinnings are less so.
Pork it over: U.S. OKs Chinese purchase of its largest pig company (10 September 2013)
Well they've done it. The U.S. government has signed off on a deal to sell the biggest player in the domestic pork industry to a Chinese firm, merging the two biggest pig producers in the world. The feds had held up the merger since May to determine if it might be a threat to national security. And now they've decided that no, foreign control of the bacon supply will not imperil our country's integrity. You may feel differently.
And actually there are people who have real concerns. Here's Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), for example, writing at Politico:
"Smithfield may only be the beginning. Experts testified at a recent Senate Agriculture Committee hearing that China is watching this deal and waiting in the wings to purchase more U.S. food companies... To be sure, the purchase of one American food company does not jeopardize America's food independence. But Smithfield is our largest pork producer -- will China or other countries seek to purchase our largest poultry, or dairy, or corn producers next? Is it in America's security interests if in a decade or two our food supply is 30, or 60, or 90 percent foreign owned?"
Stabenow's whole op-ed is a good primer for this issue, and worth a read. Essentially, China has a lot to gain when its companies buy American businesses, but China is more restrictive when it comes to American companies buying its businesses.
I've spent a lot of time reporting on swine farming, and Smithfield grows hogs in a way that I find repellent: It's a form of agriculture that squeezes farmers, hurts pigs, and smells like hair burning in a pit toilet. But it's also amazingly efficient in converting feed to perfectly identical cuts of meat. Shuanghui, the Chinese company buying Smithfield, wants access to that expertise. Say what you like about Smithfield -- it's not throwing dead pigs into rivers these days. Brutally efficient is better than just plain brutal. Still, I eagerly await the day when the much more humane Niman Ranch announces that it's buying Shuanghui.
There's arsenic in your rice, but don't worry about it, says FDA (10 September 2013)
Whenever you eat rice, a prevalent but poisonous element is all over your meal like, well, white on rice.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration tested 1,300 samples of rice and rice-based products and found that they all contained very low levels of arsenic [PDF].
Grains of rice tested had average levels of inorganic arsenic ranging from 2.6 to 7.2 micrograms per serve. Tragically, instant rice contained the least amount of arsenic and brown rice had the most. Products containing rice ingredients also contained arsenic.
That isn't much arsenic -- a microgram is one-millionth of a gram, and there are 28 grams in an ounce. But is it dangerous?
In the short term, the FDA says no. "These amounts of detectable arsenic are not high enough to cause any immediate or short-term adverse health effects," the agency wrote on its website. In the long run? Nobody's really sure. "The FDA intends to conduct a risk assessment considering how much arsenic is consumed from rice and rice products, and whether there are variations in health effects for certain segments of the population."
A bee's-eye view of a black-eyed Susan (3 September 2013)
At Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore every May, the winning horse in the Preakness Stakes is draped with a blanket covered with what appear to be the Maryland state flower, the black-eyed Susan. But the flower doesn't bloom until later in the season. Those crafting the victory blanket must resort to using yellow Viking daisies -- and painting the centers black.
That might fool race fans, but bees can see through the ruse. With eyes equipped to detect ultraviolet light, a bee can pick out an additional band in the black-eyed Susan's bull's-eye. The insect's livelihood depends on it. At the center of the target is the flower's nutritional payload, nectar and pollen, which also glows in UV light.
As with other members of the sunflower family, black-eyed Susan flower heads are composed of two kinds of florets. The dark center is made up of numerous disc florets, each of which contains male and female reproductive components. When a bee or other pollinator fertilizes a disc floret, it develops a single seed that ripens and falls from the flower head in the autumn. Seeds can remain viable for more than 30 years.
Circling the disc florets are bright yellow ray florets, which flag down pollinators and act as landing strips. The inner portion of each ray floret contains several compounds that absorb UV rays. The outer portion reflects UV rays, contributing a visually energetic outer ring to the pattern -- provided you're a bee.
Dear US lawyer: I'm overseas and need your help (and trust account) (9 September 2013)
It is well known that Nigerian scam artists have built a lucrative cottage industry using Internet ploys to raid the bank accounts of gullible Americans.
Foreign solicitations replete with hilarious misspellings and grandiose offers of easy money have become a clichéd staple of e-mail junk files.
But now, a recent case from central Pennsylvania reveals an entirely new level of sophistication by these criminals. Their target this time: law firm trust accounts.
The scam involves hiring a lawyer to help recover funds owed by a North America-based company from a real estate transaction, a divorce settlement, or a lawsuit claim.
The fraud begins with an e-mail letter from a prospective client who claims to be overseas and in need of legal help to collect the debt.
To disguise the Nigerian origin of the scam, the group used Asian client names and bank accounts in Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and China.
Delhi rape: how India's other half lives (10 September 2013)
It was a Sunday evening routine: heavy drinking, some rough, rustic food, and then out in the bus, cruising Delhi's streets looking for "fun". This particular Sunday, 16 December last year, was like many others for Ram and Mukesh Singh, two brothers living in a slum known as Ravi Das Colony. The "fun", on previous occasions, had meant a little robbery to earn money for a few bottles of cheap whisky and for the roadside prostitutes who work the badly lit roads of the ragged semi-urban, semi-rural zones around the edges of the sprawling Indian capital.
However, this Sunday evening was to end not with a "party", as one of the men later called their habitual outings, but with the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman. The incident was to prompt a global outcry and weeks of protests in India, and to reveal problems often ignored by those overseas who are perhaps too eager to embrace a heartwarming but simplistic narrative of growing prosperity in the world's biggest democracy.
If sympathy lay, naturally, with the 23-year-old physiotherapist who was the victim of the attack, fascination focused on her assailants. These were not serial sex criminals, psychopaths or brutalised men from the margins of society. Their backgrounds were, perhaps more worryingly, like those of tens of millions of Indian men.
Nor was Ravi Das Colony "the underbelly" of the Indian capital, as one local newspaper described it. A few hundred homes crammed on to a patch of land flanked by a road, a temple and a recently restored medieval tomb, it lies like an outpost of another, poorer India amid the relatively well-off suburbs to the south of the city.
PAM COMMENTARY: This is a very long article, and a good read for the effects of "urbanization" in India.
All four men found guilty in Delhi gang-rape trial (10 September 2013)
Four men have been convicted for their roles in the gang-rape and murder of a young woman in a moving bus in Delhi last year.
Judge Yogesh Khanna delivered the verdict on Tuesday morning shortly after noon local time at the district court of Saket in south Delhi.
"I convict all of the accused. They have been found guilty of gang rape, unnatural offences, destruction of evidence ... and for committing the murder of the helpless victim," Khanna said.
The bus cleaner Akshay Kumar Singh, gym instructor Vinay Sharma, fruit-seller Pawan Gupta and unemployed Mukesh Singh will be sentenced on Wednesday and are likely to face death by hanging, though life imprisonment is a possibility. Their lawyers said they would appeal.
With tears in her eyes and wearing a pink sari, the mother of the 23-year-old victim -- who cannot be identified under Indian law -- sat just a few feet from the four men who stood against a wall in the court as Khanna read the verdict.
Outside the courthouse, where dozens of protesters had gathered, a chant began quickly after the verdict: "Hang them! Hang them! Hang them!"
Syria says it accepts Russia's chemical weapons proposal (10 September 2013)
With President Obama scheduled to address a deeply skeptical nation on Tuesday night to make the case for military strikes on Syria for its use of chemical weapons, the diplomatic solution that has been floated in recent days may be at hand:
"The Syrian government has accepted a Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control to avoid a possible U.S. military strike, Interfax news agency quoted Syria's foreign minister as saying on Tuesday.
"'We held a very fruitful round of talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday, and he proposed an initiative relating to chemical weapons. And in the evening we agreed to the Russian initiative,' Interfax quoted the minister, Walid al-Moualem, as telling the speaker of Russia's lower house parliament house in Moscow."
On Monday night, President Obama said that "he's open to though skeptical of" this plan, but did say he would put military strikes on hold if such an agreement were reached:
"The president said his team will engage in talks with Russia and Syria. 'We're going to run this to ground,' he told CNN. 'And John Kerry and the rest of my national security team will engage with the Russians and the international community to see can we arrive at something that is enforceable and serious.'"
The Hidden Rot: We Don't Fully Understand the Consequences of Budget Cuts (9 September 2013)
Federal rules for food assistance require able-bodied recipients who do not have dependent children (a very small percentage of food stamp recipients) work at least twenty hours per week in order to receive the aid for longer than three months, but states can waive that requirement when jobs are scarce, and many states have chosen to do so during the recession.
Kansas is the fifth state to reinstitute the work requirement, and ThinkProgress reports that Oklahoma and Wisconsin are poised to follow suit.
In Kentucky, tens of thousands of low-income people have seen childcare and kinship care all but eliminated from this year's budget.
Al Jazeera America reports that, with few exceptions, no new families will receive public childcare subsidies, and current recipients will be cut from the program if they earn more than 100 percent of the federal poverty level ($19,000 per year for a three-person household, the lowest eligibility rate of any state).
Furthermore, no additional families will get kinship care, which is a monthly subsidy that encourages relatives to take custody of orphaned, abused and neglected children (and runs half the cost of a foster care placement).
Judge rules against Indiana's right to work law (9 September 2013)
A Lake County judge has ruled Indiana's so-called "right to work" law unconstitutional.
During a legal challenge launched by Local 150, Judge John Sedia took issue with the part of the law requiring unions to represent workers while making illegal for them to require membership dues.
"The right to work law here is unsafe, unfair and an unnecessary law and now it's been ruled unconstitutional, so we couldn't be more pleased," said Jeff Harris, spokesman for the Indiana AFL/CIO.
"The court in Lake County has said (to the legislature), you're requiring this statute, you're requiring citizens and organizations in this state to provide services without compensation and that's got to be problematic for any legislature or any attorney general," said Stephanie Jane Hahn, an attorney who specializes in employment law.
Problematic or not, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has already indicated that his office will appeal the ruling directly to the Indiana Supreme Court.
FBI continues to investigate Hastings for 'controversial reporting' (9 September 2013)
The FBI released a heavily redacted document on Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings, Monday, which revealed the law-enforcement agency is continuing to investigate what it characterized as "controversial reporting" by the journalist, who died in a late-night car crash in Los Angeles in June.
The FBI turned over the three-page document to Al Jazeera and Ryan Shapiro, a doctoral candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who specializes in FOIA research, in response to a joint-Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against the agency.
In a declaration released with the records, Denny Argall, the FBI'S public liaison officer, wrote that after the agency searched for responsive records it located one "cross reference" file pertaining to a pending criminal investigation. The FBI would not comment further about the nature of the probe.
The papers revealed that the FBI still considers Hastings' work highly sensitive; even the title of the case file has been withheld under a FOIA exemption that claims that the information, if disclosed, could interfere with an ongoing law-enforcement investigation.
One of the excerpts in the FBI document is completely redacted and marked "S" (for "secret") and "Per Army," under an exemption aimed at protecting national security. Additional redactions were used to protect techniques and procedures for law-enforcement investigations and prosecutions.
Texas fire marshals turned away by five facilities with big ammonium nitrate stockpiles (4 September 2013)
In the months since the fertilizer plant blast that killed 15 and injured 200 in West, Texas, in April, the state has been trying to check for fire hazards at similar facilities. But five facilities storing 10,000 pounds or more of ammonium nitrate, the same dangerous fertilizer chemical that made the West explosion so deadly, have turned fire marshals away. And that's just fine, under Texas state law.
Not only can fire marshals not make unannounced inspections or go into businesses that don't want them there, but officials don't seem overly concerned about the refused inspections at plants storing dangerous chemicals:
"State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy said "well, sure" when asked whether those facilities refusing to admit inspectors raised concern.
"'In their defense, they may have a very good reason,' Connealy said. [...]"
One weird trick to fix farms forever (10 September 2013)
"Our cover crops work together like a community -- you have several people helping instead of one, and if one slows down, the others kind of pick it up," he says. "We're trying to mimic Mother Nature." Cover crops have helped Brandt slash his use of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides. Half of his corn and soy crop is flourishing without any of either; the other half has gotten much lower applications of those pricey additives than what crop consultants around here recommend.
But Brandt's not trying to go organic -- he prefers the flexibility of being able to use conventional inputs in a pinch. He refuses, however, to compromise on one thing: tilling. Brandt never, ever tills his soil. Ripping the soil up with steel blades creates a nice, clean, weed-free bed for seeds, but it also disturbs soil microbiota and leaves dirt vulnerable to erosion. The promise of no-till, cover-crop farming is that it not only can reduce agrichemical use, but also help keep the heartland churning out food -- even as extreme weather events like drought and floods become ever more common.
Those are big promises, but standing in the shade of Brandt's barn this June morning, I hear a commotion in the nearby warehouse where he stores his cover-crop seeds. Turns out that I'm not the only one visiting Brandt's farm. The Natural Resources Conservation Service -- a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that grew from Dust Bowl-era efforts to preserve soil -- is holding a training for its agents on how to talk to farmers about cover crops and their relationship to soil.
Inside the warehouse, where 50-pound bags of cover-crop seeds line one wall, three dozen NRCS managers and agents, from as far away as Maine and Hawaii, are gathered along tables facing a projection screen. Brandt takes his place in front of the crowd. Presenting slides of fields flush with a combination of cover crops including hairy vetch, rye, and radishes, he becomes animated. We listen raptly and nod approvingly. It feels like a revival meeting.
This magical salt mine is the only mine we've ever actually wanted to visit (10 September 2013)
Google may be secretly trying to destroy the world with carbon emissions. In theory, Google Street View enables us all to visit places we'd never otherwise access from the low-carbon comfort of our own homes. But, in reality, most of these tours -- including this new one of Poland's Wieliczka Salt Mine -- seems designed to make everyone who sees them buy a plane ticket IMMEDIATELY to fly halfway around the world.
Because, really, how can you see this mine -- with its chandeliers made of salt, its replica of the Last Supper, carved into a wall of rock salt, and its Virgin Mary, also made of salt -- and not want to go there as soon as possible?
The mine was in operations for centuries and has been a tourist destination since the 1400s. The first visitor's book was begun in 1775. You can also get subterranotherapy -- "treatment services in the underground mining chambers with the use of a unique micro-climate: an air free of pollution and allergens, rich in micronutrients, with a constant temperature, high humidity, and free from harmful radiation."
Sadly, that high humidity is also slowly dissolving all the magical sculptures, so if you want to see them for yourself, you should buy a plane ticket soon!
40 Years After Chile Coup, Family of Slain Singer Víctor Jara Sues Alleged Killer in U.S. Court (9 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the lawsuit you have just filed.
JOAN JARA: Well, this lawsuit, which is for the central justice and accountability, is a civil lawsuit, but the--our aim is not to receive pecuniary, because this doesn't help at all. It's to reinforce the extradition petition, which was approved by the Chilean Supreme Court and is now in United States territory. It's somehow to support that and to appeal to public opinion here in the United States. We know we have--there are many people here. In repeated visits here, I have met so many friends who have condemned the coup on the 11th of September, 1973. And I appeal to all the people who listen to Víctor's songs, who realize--and for all the victims of Pinochet, for their support and appeal to their--your own government to remit a reply positively to this extradition request.
AMY GOODMAN: After break, we'll also be joined by your lawyer to talk more about the lawsuit. But describe what happened on September 11, 1973. Where were you? Where was Víctor?
JOAN JARA: Yeah, well, we were both at home with our two daughters. There was somehow a coup in the air. We had been fearing that there might be a military coup. And on that morning, together, Víctor and I listened to Allende's last speech and heard all the radios, the--who supported Salvador Allende, falling off the air as, one by one, being replaced by military marches.
Víctor was due to go to the technical university, his place of work, where Allende was due to speak to announce a plebiscite at 11:00, and Víctor was to sing there, as he did. And he went out that morning. It was the last time I saw him. I stayed at home, heard of the bombing of the Moneda Palace, heard and saw the helicopter's machine gun firing over Allende's residence. And then began the long wait for Víctor to come back home.
Was U.S. Journalist Charles Horman Killed by Chile's Coup Regime With Aid of His Own Government? (9 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Missing certainly made your husband famous throughout the United States, that film by Costa-Gavras, but also showed that Charlie, though, was an American. It was thousands of Chileans who were killed in those years under Pinochet. Talk about the day that your husband was taken. You both were living in Santiago?
JOYCE HORMAN: We were living in Santiago. And he had just managed to get back from Viña del Mar, where he had taken a friend of ours from New York right before the coup and was trapped there for five days. So, he returned on Sunday, and then, Monday, he was going to go and find out about airplane tickets downtown. The curfew had been lifted during the day. So he and our friend, Terry, went down to the center of Santiago to look for tickets or a way out.
AMY GOODMAN: What did he see, where he was?
JOYCE HORMAN: Where he was, well, he saw American battleships off the shore. He saw the launch of the coup in Viña del Mar. They experienced that all the roads had been blocked and the trains had been stopped that night, Monday night before the coup, which is why he knew that was happening. But he also--he also met, in the hotel that they stayed, military--U.S. military people who were taking quite a large credit for the coup and were very excited about the success. And my husband, the journalist, knew that that was not something that anybody in the United States knew about. So, he was aware that it was incredible information at that point.
Bird's-eye view: Why crows thrive in the urban jungle (VIDEO) (9 September 2013)
In an age of booming cities, rising temperatures, and vanishing wildlife, there's at least one critter that's doing just fine: the humble crow. But if it weren't for us, they wouldn't have it nearly so good. Find out why in this video...
Man loses 245 pounds with the three P's (9 September 2013)
"I'm lucky; people have always been nice, or at least they try to be," Gibson said. "People would often give me a back-handed compliment like 'you're handsome for a fat kid.'"
He met his wife, Sheree, at a fraternity function in 2004. They were in graduate school at the time. They married two years later.
Soon after he watched her tear up over "The Biggest Loser," he cut himself trying to force a zipper closed on a pair of pants that were too tight. That's when he finally decided he had enough.
He had to lose weight, and he wanted to do it in a way that would stick.
Rather than cut out all bad food, he gradually reduced the amount he was eating.
"I loved fried chicken, so I decided I would eat six pieces instead of eight," Gibson said. "Then I'd reduce it further to four pieces, and then eventually dropped fried chicken all together. I ate meat more like it was a protein condiment. Now I don't eat any meat at all. I'm a dedicated vegan."
Americans use the Internet to abandon children adopted from overseas (9 September 2013)
The Reuters investigation found that some children who were adopted and later re-homed have endured severe abuse. Speaking publicly about her experience for the first time, one girl adopted from China and later sent to a second home said she was made to dig her own grave. Another re-homed child, a Russian girl, recounted how a boy in one house urinated on her after the two had sex; she was 13 at the time and was re-homed three times in six months.
"This is a group of children who are not being raised by biological parents, who have been relocated from a foreign country" and who sometimes don't even speak English, says Michael Seto, an expert on the sexual abuse of children at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group in Canada. "You're talking about a population that appears to be especially vulnerable to exploitation."
Giving away a child in America can be surprisingly easy. Legal adoptions must be handled through the courts, and prospective parents must be vetted. But there are ways around such oversight. Children can be sent to new families quickly through a basic "power of attorney" document -- a notarized statement declaring the child to be in the care of another adult.
In many cases, this flexibility is good for the child. It allows parents experiencing hard times to send their kids to stay with a trusted relative, for instance. But with the rise of the Internet, parents are increasingly able to find complete strangers willing to take in unwanted children. By obtaining a power of attorney, the new guardians are able to enroll a child in school or secure government benefits -- actions that can effectively mask changes of custody that take place illegally outside the purview of child welfare authorities.
Obama Plans 'Shock and Awe' in Syria (9 September 2013)
President Obama's plan to have Congress approve his ill-considered war on behalf of Al Qaeda in Syria will shock everyone, when it happens, with its sheer intensity. Those expecting a "limited" strike against a handful of Syrian military installations, including those involved in delivering chemical weapons, are in for a rude awakening. Instead, what the president will order will be a lot closer to President George W. Bush's "shock and awe" bombardment of Baghdad before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
That isn't to say that Obama is planning an invasion of Syria. He's not. (Although if the state collapses, and Syria descends into chaos, the United States may very well end up with "boots on the ground" and body bags for American soldiers.)
In trying to market his war plans to Congress and the American public, Obama has repeatedly stated that he's seeking authority for a limited war, and some officials have suggested -- especially at the beginning of Obama's war push -- that "the strike," as the belligerent Secretary of State John Kerry calls it, might involve only a couple of dozen cruise missiles. Don't believe that for a second.
Even the drafts of resolutions being circulated in Congress suggest that Obama will get the "authority" to wage war against Syria for up to 60 days, with the possibility of an extension. That's war, folks, not a "strike."
Congress to reconvene as Assad denies responsibility for gas attack (9 September 2013)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has warned the United States against striking his country and denied using chemical weapons against his own people, as President Barack Obama prepares to embark on a media campaign Monday to push for air strikes on Syria and Congress reconvenes from its summer recess.
In a CBS interview, his first with an American television network in two years, Assad said an attack by international forces may prompt retaliation from Syria's allies. He also denied that he was behind the chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people, and said evidence was not conclusive that there had been such an attack.
Involvement in the Syrian war runs against the interests of the United States, said Assad during the CBS News interview. He also warned about "repurcussions" if the U.S. strkes Syria: "Expect every action," he said.
"You should expect everything," Assad added during the interview. "Not necessarily from the government. It's not only the government ... in this region. You have different parties, you have different factions, you have different ideology."
The full interview will be broadcast Monday, the same day that Congress reconvenes, and will be juxtaposed against a spate of interviews by Obama as he pushes for the authorization of air strikes in Syria. Obama will tape interviews with six media networks, including PBS, CNN and FOX News.
"There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people," CBS on Sunday quoted Assad as saying in an interview conducted by Charlie Rose in Damascus.
Report claims chemical weapons used in Syria without Assad's approval (+video) (9 September 2013)
President Barack Obama and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will vie for the limelight on American airwaves today as CBS and PBS air a pre-recorded interview with Mr. Assad, and Mr. Obama makes a case for military action against his country on six American networks.
Hours after interviewing the Syrian leader about international accusations that the regime was behind a chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians last month, television interviewer Charlie Rose said that Assad "denied that he had anything to do with the attack... . He denied that he knew, in fact, that there was a chemical attack, notwithstanding what has been said and notwithstanding the videotape. He said there's not evidence yet to make a conclusive judgment," The New York Times reports.
Assad's denials will be aired as Obama argues in interviews that the US has evidence that regime forces carried out the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that killed more than a thousand civilians and that a limited air strike is the correct international response.
Obama is scrambling to make his case as Congress reconvenes today after summer recess. Last week he said he would seek authorization for a military strike from lawmakers, but opposition appears to be building, not waning, as he makes appeal after appeal. Obama will also give a televised speech to the US public on Tuesday night.
The Globe and Mail reports that the first crucial vote will likely be Wednesday in the Senate, on a resolution authorizing "limited and specific use" of the US military against the Syrian regime. A final vote in the Senate will come at the end of the week, and a House vote is expected next week.
Guam EPA asks for help to test for radioactivity (9 September 2013) [Rense.com]
With the recent acknowledgment from Japan that the ruined Fukushima nuclear power plant continues to spill contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean, more than two years after the plant's meltdowns, the local government hopes to get additional federal government assistance.
The Guam Environmental Protection Agency is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assist in the local government's efforts to be more proactive in conducting more tests to ensure the seawater around Guam remains safe from harmful levels of radiation and that locally caught fish are safe to eat, said Eric Palacios, administrator of Guam EPA.
He said Guam EPA has requested for a federal grant to buy one or two radiation detection wands, each costing approximately $30,000 to $60,000, depending on the features.
Guam EPA also has asked for federal assistance to fund an initial $200,000 project to test tissue from locally caught fish for traces of harmful radiation levels or presence of other toxic chemicals.
U.S. EPA also is being asked to fund the fish tissue-testing program, Palacios said.
US scientists assessing damage from California wildfire as blaze rages on (9 September 2013)
Scientists are assessing the damage from a massive wildfire burning around Yosemite National Park, laying plans to protect habitat and waterways as the fall rainy season approaches.
Members of the federal Burned Area Emergency Response team were hiking the rugged Sierra Nevada terrain Saturday even as thousands of firefighters still were battling the four-week-old blaze, now the third-largest wildfire in modern California history.
Federal officials have amassed a team of 50 scientists, more than twice what is usually deployed to assess wildfire damage. With so many people assigned to the job, they hope to have a preliminary report ready in two weeks so remediation can start before the first storms, Alex Janicki, the Stanislaus National Forest BAER response coordinator, said.
Team members are working to identify areas at the highest risk for erosion into streams, the Tuolumne River and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, San Francisco's famously pure water supply.
Late decoy aficionado's collection to be auctioned (9 September 2013)
When Maddox died nearly two years ago, he left a large, complex estate with collections of property and duck decoys. Thousands of duck decoys.
One auctioneer estimates it is one of the largest collections in the mid-Atlantic states, encompassing more than 5,000 working decoys and decorative pieces from famous carvers along the coast.
Maddox left no direction for his family in his will.
After trying to the give his treasures to the federal park service and the city of Virginia Beach, the Maddox family made a difficult decision: to sell the collection. It goes to auction this month and could fetch up to $750,000.
His widow, Gladys Maddox, said she hates to see it go. "It's so much history."
Black bears come home to East Texas (9 September 2013)
Louisiana Black Bears, which haven't been seen in these parts since the 1950s, are returning to the region, hungry for fresh sources of food and looking for mates.
The bears are moving naturally back to the Lone Star State across rivers from Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, said Donna Work, with the Texas A&M Forest Service.
"If they are coming over, they need a place to stay," she said. The bears are threatened and illegal to kill.
Work said bear populations in neighboring states have grown substantially in recent years, forcing rogue male bears to move to Texas in search of their own territories. The last black bear spotted in East Texas was killed in Polk County in the 1950s, Work said.
Rent this chicken (9 September 2013)
As we've learned recently, owning backyard chickens isn't a pile of roses. It's more like a pile of eggs, poop, and feathers. A pile that keeps on growing well after your chickens stop laying eggs. A pile that people don't want to deal with, so they try to give away their chickens away on Craigslist.
But two brilliant people who call themselves "Homestead Phil & Jenn" have a proposal for you. They will rent you chickens. For $350, they will show up at your house in May, drop off two hens, a chicken coop, enough chicken feed to last you six months, and feed dishes. (If you live more than 50 miles away from a town that's about 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, there's an additional delivery fee.) Come November, they will come back, pick the chickens up, and keep them warm and cozy through the winter, when they don't lay as many eggs.
If, as happens, you get particularly attached to your rent-a-chickens, Homestead Phil & Jenn will sell you the whole shebang. If a predator eats your chickens or if they get sick and die, Phil & Jenn will also replace them for free "as long as the death of the Rent The Chicken was not due to neglect."
Plus, you don't have to keep them their whole long lives after they're done laying eggs. Phil & Jenn don't say what happens to the chickens after they've lived out their lives as rental chickens, but we suspect that, unlike some backyard chicken novices, they don't have much problem turning past-their-prime hens into soup.
Former Military Contractor Tries to Sell Secret Surveillance Rock on eBay for $10 Million (9 September 2013)
Perry says that Lockheed agreed to pay between $250,000-$500,000 for the final version of the device. (A Lockheed financial statement Perry sent Mother Jones shows that Lockheed was billed $4,000 for each public key encryption system, which doesn't include the rest of the hardware.) Perry says his $96,000 salary was funded by these purchases as well as the investors that put money into the company. But Perry claims that after the RockCam was certified by DoD, he was fired by his fellow AWA shareholders (none of whom contacted by Mother Jones would comment) and the company dissolved because Lockheed did not pick up the product. Then, a couple years later, "spy rock" arrived...
Last year, Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to Tony Blair, admitted that MI6, the British secret service, had used a spy rock, planted in a park in Moscow, to communicate with secret agents there in 2006. Powell called the security breach "embarrassing." After the rock was discovered, Russian leader Vladimir Putin then ordered a crackdown on foreign-funded NGOs, accusing them of destabilizing the country.
Perry claims that spy rock borrows technology he developed with RockCam--and as a result, he wants compensation for his 10 percent shareholder's claim. However, there's no evidence that Lockheed made the famous spy rock (MI6 does not answer press questions). According to Wired, it's not entirely outside the realm of possibility that Lockheed is in the fake surveillance rock business, as it's leaving small wireless sensors--disguised as rocks--across the Afghan countryside, in order to perform "unobtrusive, continuous surveillance" for decades. But one technology expert told Mother Jones that RockCam is a glorified camera, and spy rock acts as a mailbox for uploading wireless files, so the only thing they have in common is the fake rock (Perry argues that his design has "wireless networking capabilities").
Melissa Dalton, a spokesperson for the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Skunkworks Group, would not comment on the eBay sale nor documents Perry sent Mother Jones allegedly showing his relationship with the company. Mark Wright, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, says that on cursory investigation, "We couldn't find any knowledge of DOD involvement with this project." However, after sending additional requested information about the project, another DOD spokesperson said that "we're researching it" but did not respond by deadline.
PAM COMMENTARY: I'm not sure why Snowden's name was tossed in at the end, as exposing civil rights violations isn't the same as actually developing electronic surveillance technology.
Snowden may have worked for an agency that spied on people, but he didn't invent the equipment himself. And those who invent it can't necessarily control how it's used, because they're usually different from the people who use it.
USDA pilot program fails to stop contaminated meat (8 September 2013)
A meat inspection program that the Agriculture Department plans to roll out in pork plants nationwide has repeatedly failed to stop the production of contaminated meat at American and foreign plants that have already adopted the approach, documents and interviews show.
The program allows meat producers to increase the speed of processing lines by as much as 20 percent and cuts the number of USDA safety inspectors at each plant in half, replacing them with private inspectors employed by meat companies. The approach has been used for more than a decade by five American hog plants under a pilot program.
But three of these plants were among the 10 worst offenders in the country for health and safety violations, with serious lapses that included failing to remove fecal matter from meat, according to a report this spring by the USDA inspector general. The plant with the worst record by far was one of the five in the pilot program.
In these cases, the contaminated meat did not leave the plants because it was caught by government inspectors once it reached the end of the processing line. But federal officials consider this too late in the process and repeatedly cited the plants for serious safety failures.
While the inspection procedures are still in the experimental stage, the USDA has allowed other countries to use a process deemed to be equivalent in plants producing red meat for export to the United States.
One year later: beef industry bounces back after recall, but worries linger (8 September 2013)
The United States quickly closed its border last September to beef from the plant, which slaughtered up to 40 per cent of Canada's cattle. Canadian officials then shut the plant down and sent 2,200 workers home.
In the weeks that followed, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency pulled back more than 2,000 products across the country involving millions of kilograms of beef.
U.S. food safety regulators announced a similar recall of products in more than 30 states.
There were 18 confirmed cases of people who became sick in Canada from a specific and potentially deadly strain of E. coli linked to XL Foods beef. A civil lawsuit was filed.
Brazilian-based meat-packing giant JBS USA took over management of the Brooks plant from Nilsson Bros. in October and completed its purchase of XL Foods in January. The sale included the plant in Brooks, a beef-packing plant in Calgary, a feedlot in Brooks and adjacent farmland that supports the feedlot operation.
The plant now employs 2,400 workers and processes 3,800 cattle each day. Products are shipped to customers in Canada, the U.S., Egypt, Asia and Mexico.
Mexican president proposes sweeping social changes (8 September 2013)
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto proposed sweeping changes to the country's social programs Sunday, laying out a plan for Mexico's first nationwide pensions, unemployment insurance and capital-gains taxes.
Some Mexican local governments, and particularly Mexico City, have experimented with small supplementary payments to the unemployed and people older than 70, but the country as a whole has not had unemployment insurance and only has a patchwork of pension plans.
A privately managed individual retirement system instituted in the 1990s includes only a minority of workers, most of whom have built up miniscule balances in their accounts.
The changes are part of a series of ambitious reforms that Pena Nieto hopes to push through in his first year in office. Some, like educational reforms that introduce teacher evaluations, have sailed through congress, but others face an uphill fight.
Pena Nieto's proposal would cut most of the industry-specific tax loopholes written into Mexico's tax codes over decades. He proposed the country's first carbon tax on fossil fuels used by industry, a levy often touted as a way to combat climate change. He also called for a tax on soft drinks, which he said is needed to combat Mexico's high rate of obesity.
"The tax reform is a social policy reform," Pena Nieto said in a speech at the presidential residence announcing the plan.
Tens of thousands protest Mexican oil reforms (8 September 2013)
MEXICO CITY -- Tens of thousands of Mexicans jammed the center of their capital city Sunday to protest President Enrique Peña Nieto's plan to allow foreign firms to invest in and collaborate with the state-run oil company, whose independence from outside influence has been a source of national pride for decades.
The city government estimated that 44,000 people crowded downtown's Avenida Juarez to hear the anti-reform arguments of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the two-time presidential candidate and de facto leader of the Mexican left.
Although reform supporters appear to have enough votes in congress and state legislatures to approve the proposal, which requires a constitutional change, Lopez Obrador insisted Sunday that a popular uprising, if large enough, could stop the plan in its tracks.
"I am sure we are going to stop these anti-patriotic reforms," Lopez Obrador said, standing in front of a three-story sign that read: "NO TO THE ROBBERY OF ALL TIME." He added: "Don't let anyone think it's not possible."
Peña Nieto took office in December, and the overhaul of the Mexican oil industry is arguably the most important proposal in his ambitious reform agenda. It was also bound to be the most controversial. President Lazaro Cardenas kicked foreign oil companies out of the country in 1938 after years of what many here believed to be exploitative behavior. The Mexican constitution currently declares that all oil and gas is the property of the Mexican people, and the 1938 expropriation is celebrated yearly with a national holiday.
Rape hearing offers an unflattering glimpse of Naval Academy culture (7 September 2013)
The drinking began even before they left for the party. Seven shots of coconut rum, give or take, the female midshipman would say later. Straight from the bottle.
Invites to the "toga and yoga" party at the illicit off-campus football house had been hard to come by. But more than 100 young people -- many of them athletes at the U.S. Naval Academy -- still crammed themselves into every corner of the split-level they had nicknamed "the Black Pineapple." In the yard, a -princess-themed moon bounce eventually busted under the weight of the midshipmen jumping on it.
More than a year later, the details of that night in April 2012 were conjured again and again in a hearing room at the Washington Navy Yard, where prosecutors attempted to prove that three former Navy football players sexually assaulted a female midshipman at the party.
The hearing, which concluded Tuesday, will determine whether the case goes to a court-martial. Its outcome is still weeks away, but the testimony provided a sometimes unflattering glimpse into the culture of the Naval Academy, one of the country's storied training grounds for military leaders.
The 11 midshipmen who took the witness stand described a world of binge drinking, casual sex, social-media harassment and lying -- behaviors that can be found on any other college campus. But for some academy alumni, it was a disturbing portrait of an institution that imposes strict rules on aspiring young officers whose educations are funded by U.S. taxpayers.
"One cannot cast these behaviors aside and say, 'They're just college students,' " one self-described academy graduate commented online on a Washington Post story about the hearing. "Midshipmen are first and foremost leaders in training who are necessarily held to a higher standard. Would you want any of them as your son's or daughter's division officer aboard a ship? I think not."
Stonehenge was built on solstice axis, dig confirms (8 September 2013)
English Heritage says it has discovered a "missing piece in the jigsaw" in our understanding of Stonehenge, England's greatest prehistoric site. Excavations along the ancient processional route to the monument have confirmed the theory that it was built along an ice age landform that happened to be on the solstice axis, according to Professor Mike Parker Pearson, a leading expert on Stonehenge.
The Avenue was an earthwork route that extended 1.5 miles from the north-eastern entrance to Wiltshire's standing stones to the River Avon at West Amesbury. Following the closure of the A344 road, which cut across the route, archaeologists have been able to excavate there for the first time.
Just below the tarmac, they have found naturally occurring fissures that once lay between ridges against which prehistoric builders dug ditches to create the Avenue. The ridges were created by Ice Age meltwater that happen to point directly at the mid-winter sunset in one direction and the mid-summer sunrise in the other.
Parker Pearson said: "It's hugely significant because it tells us a lot about why Stonehenge was located where it is and why they [prehistoric people] were so interested in the solstices. It's not to do with worshipping the sun, some kind of calendar or astronomical observatory; it's about how this place was special to prehistoric people.
"This natural landform happens to be on the solstice axis, which brings heaven and earth into one. So the reason that Stonehenge is all about the solstices, we think, is because they actually saw this in the land."
24-hour device offers better blood pressure test, Twin Cities doctors say (8 September 2013)
While few doubt that routine checks help millions of Americans control their high blood pressure, there is growing evidence that these point-in-time readings overdiagnose some patients -- people whose numbers go up at the doctors' office simply because of nerves -- while underdiagnosing others whose hidden hypertension puts them at greater risk for stroke and heart disease.
"The reality is [that] your blood pressure fluctuates day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute," said Dr. David Ingham, who practices at Allina's Center for Outpatient Care in Edina. "And those fluctuations are important."
Over the past year, Ingham and his colleagues have been testing a new device on more than 1,000 Twin Cities patients to see whether 24-hour blood pressure monitoring can provide a more accurate diagnosis.
One of those patients is 37-year-old Jeff Zoss of Minnetonka, who agreed to wear the wireless monitor. It was strapped to his left arm and took his blood pressure every 20 minutes, then tracked his scores so they could be uploaded to the doctors.
'Flushable' personal wipes clogging sewer systems, utilities say (8 September 2013)
Next time you go to toss that "flushable" wipe in the toilet, you might want to consider a request from your sewer utility: Don't.
Sewer agencies in the Washington area and across the country say the rapidly growing use of pre-moistened "personal" wipes -- used most often by potty-training toddlers and people seeking what's advertised as a more "thorough" cleaning than toilet paper -- are clogging pipes and jamming pumps.
Utilities struggling with aging infrastructure have wrestled for years with the problem of "ragging" -- when baby wipes, dental floss , paper towels and other items not designed for flushing entangle sewer pumps.
The latest menace, officials say, is that wipes and other products, including pop-off scrubbers on toilet-cleaning wands, are increasingly being marketed as "flushable." Even ever-thickening, super-soft toilet paper is worrisome because it takes longer to disintegrate, some say.
Invasive wasp adds sting to end-of-summer attacks (8 September 2013)
Dive-bombing yellow jackets are out in full force, ruining barbecues and family picnics throughout California, but another stinging pest may also be responsible for spoiling the outdoor party buzz.
The European paper wasp, which is spreading quickly across Northern California, is at least partially responsible for an increase this year in yellow jacket complaints, particularly in the Sierra foothills and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region, according to experts.
The invading alien insects, which were first detected in the Sacramento area around 1989, have combined with a huge population of native western yellow jackets to form what is essentially a gauntlet of stinging wasps.
"The European paper wasp, which is about the same size (as the yellow jacket) but more slender, has built up to enormous numbers in some communities," said Lynn Kimsey, a professor of entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of entomology at UC Davis. "They have been making their way out of the Sacramento area for the past 20 years."
Science confirms: Politics wrecks your ability to do math (8 September 2013)
Everybody knows that our political views can sometimes get in the way of thinking clearly. But perhaps we don't realize how bad the problem actually is. According to a new psychology paper, our political passions can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills. More specifically, the study finds that people who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.
The study, by Yale law professor Dan Kahan and his colleagues, has an ingenious design. At the outset, 1,111 study participants were asked about their political views and also asked a series of questions designed to gauge their "numeracy," that is, their mathematical reasoning ability. Participants were then asked to solve a fairly difficult problem that involved interpreting the results of a (fake) scientific study. But here was the trick: While the fake study data that they were supposed to assess remained the same, sometimes the study was described as measuring the effectiveness of a "new cream for treating skin rashes." But in other cases, the study was described as involving the effectiveness of "a law banning private citizens from carrying concealed handguns in public."
The result? Survey respondents performed wildly differently on what was in essence the same basic problem, simply depending upon whether they had been told that it involved guns or whether they had been told that it involved a new skin cream. What's more, it turns out that highly numerate liberals and conservatives were even more -- not less -- susceptible to letting politics skew their reasoning than were those with less mathematical ability.
But we're getting a little ahead of ourselves -- to fully grasp the Enlightenment-destroying nature of these results, we first need to explore the tricky problem that the study presented in a little bit more detail.
Global warming? No, actually we're cooling, claim scientists (8 September 2013)
There has been a 60 per cent increase in the amount of ocean covered with ice compared to this time last year, they equivalent of almost a million square miles.
In a rebound from 2012's record low an unbroken ice sheet more than half the size of Europe already stretches from the Canadian islands to Russia's northern shores, days before the annual re-freeze is even set to begin.
The Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific has remained blocked by pack-ice all year, forcing some ships to change their routes.
A leaked report to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) seen by the Mail on Sunday, has led some scientists to claim that the world is heading for a period of cooling that will not end until the middle of this century.
PAM COMMENTARY: I wonder how much wind farms and hybrid cars contributed to the "pause" in global warming.
Chinese activist jailed over Yahoo email is freed (8 September 2013)
A Chinese activist who was arrested nearly a decade ago after a politically sensitive email he sent was disclosed by Yahoo has been released from prison, a writers' group has reported.
Authorities sentenced Shi Tao, a journalist and poet in the central Chinese city Changsha, to a 10-year jail term in April 2005 for "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities". It was later revealed that the US internet giant Yahoo had given the Chinese government access to Shi's email account, facilitating his arrest.
Shi, 45, was released in the north-western city Yinchuan on 23 August, 15 months before the end of his sentence, according the Independent Chinese Pen Centre, an affiliate of the nonprofit writer's group Pen International. He is currently living with his mother in Yinchuan, the group said in a statement on Saturday. The reasons for his early release are still unclear.
In 2004, Shi used his Yahoo email account to send details of a Chinese government directive ordering journalists to play down the 15th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown to a New-York-based human rights forum. Beijing prohibits open discussion of the crackdown, in which People's Liberation Army soldiers opened fire on unarmed pro-democracy protesters, killing hundreds.
Iowa Debates Permitting Blind People To Carry Guns In Public (8 September 2013)
As lawmakers across the country debate gun safety laws, law enforcement officials in Iowa are split on whether the state should continue issuing guns to blind people. So far the state has already issued several such permits, though it has not tracked how many.
Advocates for the permits make a strong legal case. Refusing to issue permits to people with visual impairments could very well violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits people with disabilities from being treated differently under the law. Likewise, unlike driving, which is considered a privilege, gun ownership is generally understood to be a constitutional right, making it difficult to impose limitations on it. In Iowa, people with visual impairments are already allowed to own guns privately, so the question at hand is whether there is a different safety concern when it comes to letting them carry guns in public.
Warren Wethington, sheriff of Cedar County, Iowa, strongly supports the public permits because he understands that it is possible for blind people to learn how to shoot guns. His own daughter is legally blind, but he has taught her how to operate firearms and she expects to obtain a permit when she turns 21 in a few years. According to Wethington, "If sheriffs spent more time trying to keep guns out of criminals' hands and not people with disabilities, their time would be more productive."
As the Des Moines Register explains, there are other states that, unlike Iowa, require either a vision test or a live fire test, in which the applicant for the permit must prove an ability to shoot and hit a target. Indeed, some Iowa sheriffs have denied permits to blind applicants on the basis that they might be a danger to themselves or others, though those individuals can appeal. In 2012, a New Jersey man successfully won a legal case to keep his gun collection despite the fact that he is blind. The National Federation of the Blind generally opposes vision-related restrictions, because as its director of public relations Chris Danielsen points out, "presumably [blind people] are going to have enough sense not to use a weapon in a situation where they would endanger other people, just like we would expect other people to have that common sense."
Army Under Cyber Attack In Alaska? Military Sites Offline (8 September 2013) [Rense.com]
(Thomas Dishaw) Social media reports have indicated that all three of Alaska's Military websites are currently offline, indicating that something is very wrong in the last frontier state.
The bases affected are Fort Richardson, Fort Greely, and Fort Wainwright.
According to data they have been offline almost 24 hours, with the outage taking place at 12am on 9/7/13.
Efforts to connect with www.wainwright.army.mil , www.greely.army.mil, and www.usarak.army.mil all failed after multiple attempts.
Is Alaska under cyber attack? Could this be a war game exercise leading up to the Syrian conflict? No official reports have been released but one could speculate this could be a major warning or just a glitch in the matrix.
AEIC is also reporting an earthquake that struck the region at 10:35 pm on Saturday night with the magnitude unknown. Some people speculate that this could have caused a massive military outage, but I'm sure our Government has better preparedness plans in place that would stop something like that from happening.
Discriminatory, racist material angers Danville neighborhood (6 September 2013)
Residents of a quiet, peaceful section of Marshall Terrace, a Danville neighborhood near West Main Street, woke Thursday morning to an unwelcome surprise in their front lawns.
Small, rolled up flyers had been placed in front of their houses, sporting racial and other discriminatory slurs.
While no one knows for sure who passed out the material, the handouts did sport the signature of the Loyal White Knights, a branch of the Ku Klux Klan.
At least two different flyers have been identified so far. One ad called for America to "wake up," and asked readers who have had enough of "racial mixing" to "support the white revolution."
Omega 3s and fancy soap: Boomers a key market for retailers, with right marketing (8 September 2013)
Many baby boomers who have become empty nesters or retired have the disposable income to spend and they're willing to spend it on themselves, especially when it comes to buying healthier food and high-quality beauty products, McVie said.
That may mean spending more for the heart-friendly omega-3 eggs instead of the plainest and cheapest kind, or getting a high-quality soap that will be kind to their skin.
McVie says this comes in part from a growing awareness about healthy living, as well as a realization that if they are going to live longer, boomers should take better care of themselves.
"They think about it as making an investment in their own health rather than an expense to minimize at all costs," he said.
Susan Eng, vice president for advocacy at CARP Canada, says that while she agrees there are high-spenders in the boomer demographic, many seniors are also struggling and shouldn't be forgotten.
A sluggish economy, boomerang kids who won't move out, aging parents, a lack of savings and medical challenges are all weighing on boomers, who are ending up with high debt levels, more working years, and even the threat of bankruptcy.
Africa: 47 Sub-Saharan African Countries Agree On Frequency Coordination for Digital Switchover in 2015 (5 September 2013)
Geneva -- Frequency coordination negotiations have succeeded in setting up the mechanism to deploy digital television in 47 Sub-Saharan African countries.
The consolidation of national plans to implement the digital switchover in the African region is in conformity with the deadlines of June 2015 (for UHF) and June 2020 (for VHF in 33 countries) set in 2006 by ITU's Regional Radiocommunication Conference (RRC-06), which adopted the GE06 TV Plan.
This landmark also makes Africa the first region to be in a position in 2015 to allocate bandwidth freed up by the transition to digital television - the so-called 'digital dividend' - to the mobile service for both the 700 MHz and 800 MHz bands. Decisions of the World Radiocommunication Conference 2012 (WRC-12) to facilitate availability of the digital dividend to the mobile service will be effective with some technical refinements immediately after the next World Radiocommunication Conference in 2015 (WRC-15).
ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré expressed his appreciation to the high level of cooperation extended to the process by African Telecommunications Union (ATU) and its Secretary-General, Mr Abdoulkarim Soumaila.
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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