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Click to visit VeggieCooking.com NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2013

News from the Week of 22nd to 28th of September 2013

NSA Collecting Private Data to Socially-Profile Americans (28 September 2013)
New reporting by independent journalists Laura Poitras, working with the New York Times' James Risen, shows that the National Intelligence Agency is using its massive data collections capabilities to develop 'social profiles' of individuals based on their telephone calls and online habits.

In a story published online Saturday and slated to appear in Sunday's print edition of the Times, Poitras and Risen cite documents made available to them by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and report:

"Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans' social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.

"The spy agency began allowing the analysis of phone call and e-mail logs in November 2010 to examine Americans' networks of associations for foreign intelligence purposes after N.S.A. officials lifted restrictions on the practice [...]"

According to their review of internal documents provided by Snowden, Poitras and Risen explain how the NSA uses the fruits of its massive data-mining operation to then cross-references what they can discover with other information, including "bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information."
[Read more...]

Mumbai building collapse kills dozens (28 September 2013)
Rescuers have recovered 29 bodies from a collapsed five-storey apartment block in Mumbai.

More survivors and bodies are believed to be trapped in the rubble. The cause of the collapse of the 35-year old building is not known.

A shortage of cheap homes in Indian cities has led to a rise in illegal construction, often using substandard materials and shoddy methods.

In April, a building collapse killed 72 people in Thane, just outside Mumbai, India's financial centre. Officials said the structure used poor materials and did not have proper building permits.
[Read more...]

SAT scores stagnant; many unprepared for college, officials say (28 September 2013)
The average SAT scores for the high school class of 2013 remained stagnant from the previous year and fewer than half of the students who graduated were prepared for the rigors of college, officials said.

Average SAT scores for high school seniors nationwide stayed steady in reading, math and writing, according to a report released last week by the College Board, the New York-based nonprofit that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement program.

The combined average SAT score of 1498 was the same as last year; a perfect score on the three-section test is 2400.

In California, the combined average score of 1505 dropped two points from last year and 12 points from 2010.
[Read more...]

China still leads the world in emissions, with no end in sight (28 September 2013)
People write about China's growth so much it's daunting to wring out something new. But -- wow -- when you see it for the first time in a few years, it still delivers one hell of a punch.

I lived in China for a year before the Beijing's 2008 Olympics (a kind of development event horizon in China's history, towards which the whole country hurtled), and I've been back regularly enough to marvel at changes firsthand.

But I have never before been as dumbfounded as during a train ride this week from Beijing through a swathe of China's northeast coal belt. My colleague Jaeah Lee and I were whisked away from the capital on rails that carry sleek new bullet trains (in just two years, China will have completed 11,200 miles of high-speed railway lines, leaving the U.S. limping). We zoom at 186 miles per hour through unabated upheaval.
[Read more...]

Cleanest air in 50 years! How did New York do it? (27 September 2013)
Those living in American cities may not be able to go out for a nonmetaphorical "breath of fresh air" quite yet, but there are signs of a remarkable rise in the quality of the nation's air -- even though pollution remains a threat to people's health and contributes to global warming, experts say.

The air quality in New York is the best it has been in 50 years, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday.

And in Washington, D.C., the air surrounding the nation's capital has shown "major improvement" the past few years, according to Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, a nonprofit association of area leaders. The region didn't have a single "code red" alert for dangerous air quality this summer -- only the second time this has happened in 16 years, and the first since 2009.

Even Los Angeles, still the smog capital of the US, reported one-third fewer unhealthy ozone days this year compared with over a decade ago, according to the 2013 "State of the Air" analysis by the American Lung Association. And 15 of the 27 cities with the most ozone pollution improved their air quality, with 13 of the country's most smog-polluted cities experiencing their best year yet -- even though most continue to remain at dangerous levels.
[Read more...]

Vegetarians celebrate as Chipotle decides to drop bacon from its pinto beans (28 September 2013)
(NaturalNews) Longtime fans of Chipotle's bacon-simmered pinto beans will soon have to accept a vegetarian alternative in its place, as the fresh food chain recently confirmed that it is phasing out all meat and animal products from this burrito ingredient favorite. Following repeated complaints from vegetarians that its pinto beans were not properly labeled on billboard menus indicating their bacon content, Chipotle decided to just scrap the recipe altogether and come up with a new one, which has many vegetarians rejoicing.

The Consumerist first reported recently that one of its readers had spotted a sign at his local Chipotle restaurant indicating that a new pinto bean recipe had been adopted to exclude added bacon. At first, it seemed like this might just be a local change, but the company later confirmed that all of its stores would soon be getting bacon-free pinto beans as well and that the new recipe would be indiscernible from the old one. However, the ingredients in the new recipe have not been officially released.

"I couldn't tell any difference in the pinto beans in my burrito with the new formula, so that's good!" wrote the man who spotted the sign and told the Consumerist about it.

Chipotle, an industry leader constantly striving to improve food integrity
It may seem a little far-fetched to claim that the removal of bacon from a recipe will not change its flavor, at least not without some heavy chemical doctoring. But Chipotle insists the new recipe is "just as delicious" as the old one and is also suitable for vegans, which means it contains no added butter or any other animal products. It remains to be seen just what type of food science Chipotle had to employ to achieve this similar flavor profile for its new pinto beans.
[Read more...]

Convicted earthquake scientist says he can't be blamed for 309 deaths (28 September 2013)
On April 6, 2009, a 6.3 earthquake struck the Italian city of L'Aquila. The quake damaged thousands of medieval-era buildings and killed 309 people.

Those deaths prompted Italian prosecutors to charge six seismologists and a government official with manslaughter on the grounds that they gave "inexact, incomplete and contradictory information" about the mortal risks a quake in the area would pose. The idea that scientists could be held responsible for failing to predict the deadly earthquake was considered laughable -- until a court found them guilty.

It's been nearly a year since those verdicts were handed down, and one of the scientists is still arguing his case -- this time in a letter published this week in the journal Science (subscription required).

"I have been sentenced to 6 years of imprisonment for failing to give adequate advance warning to the population of L'Aquila, a city in the Abruzzo region of Italy, about the risk of the 6 April 2009 earthquake that led to 309 deaths," begins Enzo Boschi, who headed Italy's National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology and was a member of the Major Risks Commission at the time of the quake. "I have been found guilty despite the illogical charges and accusations that set dangerous precedents for the future of the scientific process."
[Read more...]

Highly toxic squalene MF59 adjuvant that caused Gulf War syndrome in military servicemen now being added to some civilian flu vaccines (27 September 2013)
(NaturalNews) Compulsory vaccination has long been a requirement to serve in the U.S. armed forces, and it is well documented that many of the vaccines administered to servicemen over the years have been experimental in nature, meaning they contained untested adjuvants and other questionable additives. But it has recently come to our attention that the highly toxic vaccine adjuvant squalene MF59, which was first given to servicemen back during the first Gulf War and later linked to causing Gulf War syndrome, is now being added to some civilian flu vaccines.

At a 2010 gathering of the American Rally for Personal Rights in Chicago, registered nurse and retired Air Force Captain Richard Rovet warned his listening audience about the dangers of squalene MF59, the devastation and horrors of which he witnessed first hand during his time in the service. The experimental oil-in-water adjuvant, which was forced on all servicemen beginning in 1999 via the mandatory anthrax vaccine, caused many of Capt. Rovet's comrades to suffer severe and permanent side effects. One of Capt. Rovet's closest friends, in fact, was actually killed as a result of squalene MF59.

"For the past 64 years, the United States Military and other agencies within our government have used our servicemen and women as test subjects, oftentimes in secret and without informed consent," explained Capt. Rovet. "In December of 1994, the United States Senate released a report titled, 'Is military research hazardous to a veteran's health? Lessons spanning half a century' ... [that] outlines the unethical use of servicemen and women as test subjects, guinea pigs."

After establishing that squalene MF59 was admittedly experimental, Capt. Rovet went on to explain how the U.S. government willfully ignored all documented evidence showing that the anthrax vaccine, and squalene MF59 in particular, was directly responsible for triggering an epidemic of Gulf War syndrome that left hundreds of thousands of servicemen seriously injured or dead. Not only this, but the U.S. Department of Defense actually ordered that both the anthrax vaccine and a related botulism toxoid vaccine, both of which contained experimental squalene MF59, not be annotated in soldiers' medical records -- they were instead generically identified as "Vac A" and "Vac B" in order to conceal their identity.
[Read more...]

Where Did Syria's Chemical Weapons Come From? (25 September 2013)
In the wake of a recent Russian-U.S. deal averting American airstrikes, Syria has begun to answer questions about its chemical weapons stockpile. One thing inspectors don't have the mandate to ask is where those weapons came from in the first place. But evidence already out there suggests Syria got crucial help from Moscow and Western European companies.

When Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was asked recently about the origins of Syria's chemical weapons, he said, "Well, the Russians supply them." Hagel's spokesman George Little quickly walked back that statement, saying Hagel was simply referring to Syria's conventional weapons. Syria's chemical weapons program, Little explained, is "largely indigenous."

But declassified intelligence documents suggest Hagel, while mistakenly suggesting the support was ongoing, was at least pointing his finger in the right direction.

A Special National Intelligence Estimate dated Sept. 15, 1983, lists Syria as a "major recipient of Soviet CW [Chemical Weapons] assistance." Both "Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union provided the chemical agents, delivery systems, and training that flowed to Syria." "As long as this support is forthcoming," the 1983 document continues," there is no need for Syria to develop an indigenous capability to produce CW agents or materiel, and none has been identified."
[Read more...]

Special Report: Myanmar old guard clings to $8 billion jade empire (28 September 2013)
(Reuters) - Tin Tun picked all night through teetering heaps of rubble to find the palm-sized lump of jade he now holds in his hand. He hopes it will make him a fortune. It's happened before.

"Last year I found a stone worth 50 million kyat," he said, trekking past the craters and slag heaps of this notorious jade-mining region in northwest Myanmar. That's about $50,000 - and it was more than enough money for Tin Tun, 38, to buy land and build a house in his home village.

But rare finds by small-time prospectors like Tin Tun pale next to the staggering wealth extracted on an industrial scale by Myanmar's military, the tycoons it helped enrich, and companies linked to the country where most jade ends up: China.

Almost half of all jade sales are "unofficial" - that is, spirited over the border into China with little or no formal taxation. This represents billions of dollars in lost revenues that could be spent on rebuilding a nation shattered by nearly half a century of military dictatorship.
[Read more...]

NSA employee spied on nine women without detection, internal file shows (27 September 2013)
A National Security Agency employee was able to secretly intercept the phone calls of nine foreign women for six years without ever being detected by his managers, the agency's internal watchdog has revealed.

The unauthorised abuse of the NSA's surveillance tools only came to light after one of the women, who happened to be a US government employee, told a colleague that she suspected the man -- with whom she was having a sexual relationship -- was listening to her calls.

The case is among 12 documented in a letter from the NSA's inspector general to a leading member of Congress, who asked for a breakdown of cases in which the agency's powerful surveillance apparatus was deliberately abused by staff. One relates to a member of the US military who, on the first day he gained access to the surveillance system, used it to spy on six email addresses belonging to former girlfriends.

The letter, from Dr George Ellard, only lists cases that were investigated and later "substantiated" by his office. But it raises the possibility that there are many more cases that go undetected. In a quarter of the cases, the NSA only found out about the misconduct after the employee confessed.

It also reveals limited disciplinary action taken against NSA staff found to have abused the system. In seven cases, individuals guilty of abusing their powers resigned or retired before disciplinary action could be taken. Two civilian employees kept their jobs -- and, it appears, their security clearance -- and escaped with only a written warning after they were found to have conducted unauthorised interceptions.

The abuses -- technically breaches of the law -- did not result in a single prosecution, even though more than half of the cases were referred to the Department of Justice. The DoJ did not respond to a request for information about why no charges were brought.
[Read more...]

Details Reveal NSA Track Record Of Flagrant Abuse, Failed Audits And Minimal Accountability (27 September 2013)
For months, the NSA and its defenders insisted that for all of the details that Ed Snowden's leaks revealed, at least there weren't any signs of intentional abuses. Even President Obama insisted that the lack of intentional abuses proved that the systems were working. And, then, of course, it came out that there actually have been a series of intentional abuses (which were apparently just revealed to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is supposed to be in charge of oversight, right before the public found out about it). We were told of approximately one willful violation per year, with many being classified as "LOVINT" for someone spying on a "love interest."

Senator Grassley asked the Inspector General of the NSA to reveal the details of those abuses, and the Inspector General has done so, revealing the details, circumstances, investigations and punishments regarding the twelve known intentional violations (without revealing names). I say "known" intentional violations because reading through these, it quickly becomes clear that there are likely many, many more intentional violations, but it's just that the NSA doesn't know about them. For all the claims of the NSA's audit abilities, it appears that many of these intentional violations were caught via self-reporting or other suspicions, rather than an audit. And, many of them were caught quite a while after the violation happened. Let's go through the revealed abuses:

"In 2011, before an upcoming reinvestigation polygraph, the subject reported that in 2004, "out of curiosity," he performed a SIGINT query of his home telephone number and the telephone number of his girlfriend, a foreign national. The SIGINT system prevented the query on the home number because it was made on a US person. The subject viewed the metadata returned by the query on his girlfriend's telephone."

Note: this only came about because the guy admitted to it before undergoing a polygraph. But, also important, this came out seven years later. Yes, the system stopped the query on his home phone number, but apparently that didn't raise any alarm bells at all to look at his other queries done around the same time. If this only came out because the guy admitted it, how many NSA analysts have done the same and just never admitted it?
[Read more...]

New FBI Director James B. Comey stunned by impact of sequestration on agents in the field (27 September 2013)
In the first week of his new job as FBI director, James B. Comey had already heard about how training had stopped for recruits at Quantico and that the bureau wasn't planning on bringing in any new agents next year, all because of budget cuts.

But Comey was stunned when he began visiting FBI field offices this month and heard directly from his special agents. New intelligence investigations were not being opened. Criminal cases were being closed. Informants couldn't be paid. And there was not enough funding for agents to put gas in their cars.

"My reaction to that .?.?. " Comey said about the gas. "I don't even want to tell you what my reaction to that was."

For the first time, FBI agents have put together a report about consequences in the field of the across-the-board government budget cuts known as sequestration.

In the 29-page report, "Voices From the Field," agents from across the country warn that budget cuts and possible furloughs are hurting public safety and threaten their ability to protect Americans.
[Read more...]

Liberal Group to Fight Dark Money...by Raising $40 Million of It (27 September 2013)
A little-known liberal group backed by the Democracy Alliance, the exclusive club of several hundred wealthy donors that funds an array of progressive causes, has adopted an unusual strategy to achieve its mission of ridding US politics of the corrupting influence of big money: raising and spending gobs of cash from undisclosed, wealthy political donors.

The group, the Fund for the Republic, recently laid out its plan for 110 donors, fundraisers, activists, and political operatives, who convened over two days in mid-September at the W Hotel in Washington, DC, for an invitation-only, closed-press gathering titled "Crony Democracy." Cohosted by the Democracy Alliance, the conference featured speakers and attendees including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, investor and progressive activist Jonathan Soros, ex-George W. Bush adviser Mark McKinnon, Stride Rite Corporation founder and major Democratic donor Arnold Hiatt, and Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry's.

The event had a single goal: convincing well-heeled donors to invest in a $40 million "surge" to combat the flood of big money into American politics. That money, to be raised over five years, according to internal planning documents obtained by Mother Jones, will be funneled through the Fund for the Republic (FFR), a 501(c)(3) charity founded in September 2012. Nick Penniman, a progressive fundraiser who runs the fund and helped organize the "Crony Democracy" event, says his group will dole out those funds to groups involved in lobbying, grassroots advocacy, litigation, and electoral work aimed at strengthening ethics and campaign finance reform laws.

Penniman says he envisions FFR and its sister group, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit called Action for the Republic (AFR)--neither of which have to disclose their donors--as an "American Cancer Society for American democracy." By that he means an ATM of sorts for the government reform movement, a central hub to which reform-seeking donors can give $50 or $5 million and know their money will underwrite the most-effective efforts. "Our long-term goal is to try to take the pain and confusion out of the giving to the cause of democracy," he says.
[Read more...]

Kenya Holding 8 Suspects in Mall Attack (27 September 2013)
Kenyan authorities say they are still holding eight people in connection with the deadly four-day siege at a Nairobi shopping mall.

Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku told reporters Friday that authorities have released three other suspects.

Earlier this week, officials said five suspected militants were killed as troops and police worked to regain control of the Westgate mall.

The official total death toll from the siege stands at 72.

Investigators continue to sift through the wreckage at the partially collapsed mall. On Friday, the Kenyan Red Cross said 59 people remain missing following the attack.
[Read more...]

China rescues 92 children in crackdown on kidnapping ring (28 September 2013)
Chinese police rescued 92 children and two women from a gang of kidnappers and arrested 301 suspects, Chinese state media reported on Saturday. The bust, which occurred earlier this month, is one of the biggest crackdowns on kidnappers in China in recent years.

Police had been investigating the gang for six months before simultaneously raiding locations in 11 provinces on Sept. 11, state news agency Xinhua said, quoting the Ministry of Public Security.

But the large bust is unlikely to put a significant dent in China's kidnapping crisis. The Chinese government says a few thousand children are kidnapped each year, but independent humanitarian agencies say the number could be closer to 70,000. By comparison, only about 100 children are abducted by strangers each year in the United States.

Experts point to several factors for China's high abduction rate. Many families still hold onto a traditional view that boys are better than girls, they say. And because of China's one-child policy, families resort to paying for boys if they can't have one of their own.
[Read more...]

India's New Food Security Bill Makes Right to Food a Law (28 September 2013)
Manju is 34. She lives in Kolkata, India, and has two school-age children. She works as a cook in six different homes, making a salary that enables her children to live in a reasonably safe place. Manju cooks many delicacies for the different families she works for, yet her children make do with a basic rice and lentil dish for most meals. They don't starve, but if Manju can't work, food is the first thing they will miss.

Manju and her family are luckier, however, than four-year-old Surjo Basfore who lives with his seven-year-old sister on Platform No. 4 of the Kalyani Railway Station in Kolkata. They beg for a living. A usual breakfast is about half a puri (a staple of fried flour cake), which brother and sister share. Lunch is about two handfuls of dal (boiled lentils) and rice.

Surjo Basfore and Manju are the human face of India's grim hunger epidemic and the dismal health conditions of those too poor to afford even basic food. The National Family Health Survey for 2005/06 stated that more than 40 percent of Indian children under the age of three are underweight, 33 percent of women aged 15 to 49 have a body mass index that is below normal, and nearly four out of five children aged 6 to 35 months are anemic.

It is for these people that the Indian government recently announced an ambitious $19.5 billion National Food Security Bill. Passed by the legislature in the first week of September, the bill promises heavily subsidized wheat and rice for those who live below the poverty line -- about 67 percent of the population.

As reported in the legislation, a total of five kilograms of food grains per month will be provided at a fixed price of Rs 1-3 ($0.02 to $0.05) per kilogram through ration shops across the country. If the food security bill works as planned, it will become one of the world's largest welfare schemes.
[Read more...]

Obama's Justice Department: Trumpeting a New Victory in War on Freedom of the Press (26 September 2013)
There's something profoundly despicable about a Justice Department that would brazenly violate the First and Fourth Amendments while spying on journalists, then claim to be reassessing such policies after an avalanche of criticism -- and then proceed, as it did this week, to gloat that those policies made possible a long prison sentence for a journalistic source.

Welcome to the Obama Justice Department.

While mouthing platitudes about respecting press freedom, the president has overseen methodical actions to undermine it. We should retire understated phrases like "chilling effect." With the announcement from Obama's Justice Department on Monday, the thermometer has dropped below freezing.

You could almost hear the slushy flow of public information turning to ice in the triumphant words of the U.S. attorney who led the investigation after being handpicked by Attorney General Eric Holder: "This prosecution demonstrates our deep resolve to hold accountable anyone who would violate their solemn duty to protect our nation's secrets and to prevent future, potentially devastating leaks by those who would wantonly ignore their obligations to safeguard classified information."

Translation: This prosecution shows the depth of our contempt for civil liberties. Let this be a lesson to journalists and would-be leakers alike.
[Read more...]

Decoding Obamacare: A Guide to New Healthcare Marketplaces Designed to Help 48 Million Uninsured (27 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Under the new health care law, everyone must be enrolled in a health insurance plan or pay a penalty by next year. With the opening day for the health insurance -- for the health exchanges less than a week away, many people still have questions about how the program will work.

AMY GOODMAN: Here in New York, people looking for health insurance will be able to turn to a network of agencies around the state to help them enrolled. One of the partner organizations is the Community Service Society of New York. To walk us through what will happen here and throughout the country, we're joined by its Vice President of Health Initiatives, Elisabeth Benjamin. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Elisabeth. You're chosen as one of -- you've been qualified as one of thousands of navigators throughout the country who are officially empowered to help people. So, what happens on Tuesday, October 1?

ELISABETH BENJAMIN: What happens on Tuesday is the state-based exchanges and the federally facilitated exchanges, or what we now call marketplaces, will be open for business. That means there will be these websites, essentially, there's one giant one for the entire country -- it's at www.healthcare.gov -- will be open and people will be able to put in some basic information about themselves and who lives with them and set up a little account, a little username and an ID, then they'll set an--put in information about themselves, their family. They'll indicate if they have a Social Security number or not. They will put that in. They'll put how much their income is roughly, and then they will be processed and determined whether they are eligible for financial aid to buy health insurance. And then they'll -- once they decide they're eligible for financial aid to buy health insurance, then they can select between the different plan options that are out there. So, basically, people will be able to start shopping for health insurance in a way that does apples to apples comparison.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, you mentioned in the state exchanges and the federal exchanges. Could you explain the difference? Where the states are running them as opposed to the federal government and why?

ELISABETH BENJAMIN: Sure. There's 17 states that have decided to move forward with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. There's seven states that are sort of half-way implementing it, and another 17 -- I'm sorry, another 27 that are just saying, we don't want anything to do with this. We're going to let the federal government come in and run the marketplace for our state. No matter where you are, you will be able to get a wide selection of insurance carriers and you will be qualified for financial aid. In New York, three quarters of the people who go to the marketplace will be eligible for some kind of financial aid to purchase commercial health insurance.
[Read more...]

Deaths linked to cardiac stents rise as overuse alleged (28 September 2013)
When Bruce Peterson left the Postal Service after 24 years delivering mail, he started a travel agency. It was his dream career, said his wife, Shirlee.

Then he went to see cardiologist Samuel DeMaio for chest pain. DeMaio put 21 coronary stents in Peterson's chest over eight months, and in one procedure tore a blood vessel and placed five of the metal-mesh tubes in a single artery, the Texas Medical Board staff said in a complaint. Unneeded stents weakened Peterson's heart and exposed him to complications including clots, blockages "and ultimately his death," the complaint said.

DeMaio paid $10,000 and agreed to two years' oversight to settle the complaint over Peterson and other patients in 2011. He said his treatment didn't contribute to Peterson's death.

"We've learned a lot since Bruce died," Shirlee Peterson said. "Too many stents can kill you."
[Read more...]

Law advising public of chemical dangers kicking in (28 September 2013)
After five years in the works, a California law intended to educate consumers about harmful chemicals in the products they buy and require businesses to adopt safer alternatives is only days away from taking effect.

The green-chemistry law, known formally as the Safer Consumer Products Regulations, goes into effect Tuesday, and on Thursday, the state's Department of Toxic Substances Control released a list of 164 chemicals that have been identified as dangerous to health or the environment.

Next, the agency will select products that contain one or more of those chemicals and encourage manufacturers to use non-harmful alternatives in their products.

The public won't see the full effects of the regulations for years, but state officials, consumer advocates, environmentalists and some businesses said California will be a healthier place to live as a result.

"I believe that once we are up and running with the program, consumers can feel much more confident that manufacturers are designing products without the need for toxic chemicals," said Debbie Raphael, director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control.
[Read more...]

Authorities raise awareness of synthetic drug dangers (28 September 2013)
The reports are bizarre. A man in only his underwear standing in traffic on First Colonial Road. Another, nude, screaming incoherently on the Boardwalk.

It takes multiple officers to subdue the person, who generally ends up in a hospital, sometimes on life support, said Crisis Intervention Team Officer Andrea Bryk. Police blame a category of drugs that includes synthetic marijuana, such as K2 or Spice, and bath salts, which are known to cause severe hallucinations.

Synthetic marijuana is typically herbs and spices sprayed with chemicals to mimic the effects of marijuana, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Bath salts are a synthetic stimulant intended to imitate cocaine or LSD, the DEA says.

The General Assembly outlawed the substances two years ago but, so far, few cases are going to court, according to a Virginian-Pilot analysis of Virginia Supreme Court data. And the charges that do end up before a judge generally get tossed, the data show.
[Read more...]

Tortured Analogies Are No Defense for Industrial Animal Cruelty (28 September 2013)
But Yancey fails to acknowledge that for this very reason Grandin is staunchly on the other side of the gestation crate argument. "Confining an animal for most of its life in a box in which it is not able to turn around does not provide a decent life," Grandin says, "We've got to treat animals right, and the gestation stalls have got to go."

When Steve Chapman, a Chicago Tribune columnist, recently visited a Midwestern farm where sows are allowed to mingle and move, he found anything but the bloodbath that Yancey predicts.

Chapman observedthat the pigs "are walking around and lounging quietly in large group pens. Some cool off under sprinklers that go off intermittently, as a few take their turn to eat. When the weather is good, they can go into an outdoor enclosure." He notes that at first there's "some fighting, as they establish their social order,[but] before long, each pig knows when it's her turn to eat and, equally important, when it's someone else's."

The farm Chapman visited isn't an anomaly. While gestation crates are commonly used today, all signs indicate that's about to change.

Experts at University of Pennsylvania have developeda breeding system now in use at dozens of commercial farms across the country that doesn't rely on gestation crates. In a 2013 survey by the National Pork Board, 53 percent of pork producers said they do not use gestation crates or plan to stop using them in favor of group housing of sows. Why? Likely because nearly every major pork purchaser in the United States--including McDonald's, Costco and Burger King--have announced plans to eliminate gestation crates from their supply chains. And some of the biggest pork producers, like Smithfield and Hormel, have announced similar plans. Meanwhile, many traditional family farms have avoided using gestation crates for generations.
[Read more...]

Captive-bred whooping crane release dates announced (28 September 2013)
Operation Migration has set September 30th as its 2013 migration departure date, according to an entry by Joe Duff in the group's In the Field blog. While Duff acknowledges the possibility of weather delays, ultra-light pilots will begin leading the young whooping cranes through their first migration south on Monday.

The pilots, followed by eight young whooping cranes and a ground crew, will depart White River Marsh Wildlife Area in Wisconsin, with a final destination of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

Also, the captive-bred whooping cranes at Horicon Marsh will be released during October, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist Sadie O'Dell. Horicon's whooping cranes are in the Direct Autumn Release (DAR) program, which provides no migration guidance to the cranes other than the opportunity to observe other crane flocks at Horicon Marsh.

O'Dell said that Horicon's DAR program does not have an exact release date, because the release must be timed according to sandhill crane activities, which are unpredictable.
[Read more...]
Richard van Heuvelen leads whooping cranes through daily flight training, St. Marie, Wisconsin, 16 September 2013.  Photo by Pam Rotella

Woman sues after her picture used in HIV ad (27 September 2013)
A Brooklyn woman has launched a lawsuit against photo agency Getty Images, seeking $450,000 in damages over the use of her photo that was used in a newspaper advertisement portraying her as being infected with the HIV virus.

Avril Nolan, 25, does not have HIV, she says through her lawyer. The photo was taken two years ago when she posed for an online fashion feature.

Nolan was alerted to the photo by a public message posted on her Facebook page, the lawsuit states.

Her lawsuit, which alleges a violation of her civil rights, charges that Getty sold a photograph of her to the New York State Division of Human Rights without her approval.
[Read more...]

In wake of gang rape, India sees rise of 'women only' taxis, buses and parks (27 September 2013)
NEW DELHI -- In the months since a gruesome gang rape riveted India, a "women-only" culture has been on the rise here, with Indians increasingly seeking out women-only buses, cabs, travel groups and hotel floors.

One city is preparing to open a women-only park. And in November, the government is launching a women-only bank it hopes will empower women financially.

In a country where reported sexual violence is increasing -- despite heightened attention to the problem -- many say the women-only spaces are a welcome refuge from lewd looks, groping and unwanted male attention. The concept appeals to women across a broad spectrum of Indian society, including a 60-year-old named Sarita, who recently traveled to New Delhi from a village in Maharashtra by train and said she still had to squabble with male passengers who tried to sit next to her in the women's coach.

"It's the ways of men," Sarita said. "They're not good. How can we coexist?"
[Read more...]

Narcoland: Journalist Braves Death Threats to Reveal Ties Between Mexican Government & Drug Cartels (27 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what is happening. What's happening with the drug cartels, the connection to the government?

ANABEL HERNÁNDEZ: First, I have to explain that I have been investigating the drug cartels for seven years and I have enough information to give my opinion about it. What I found is that in Mexico, doesn't exist really a war against the drug cartels. What exists in the government of Felipe Calderón was a war between the cartels, and the government took a side of that war, protecting to the Sinaloa Cartel. That is why all of the violence and crime grew up in Mexico.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What you describe is very similar to what happened in Colombia two decades ago when the Colombian government more or less sided with the Cali Cartel against the Medellín Cartel. Could you talk about some of what you uncovered in terms of government officials directly implicated at the same time that they were fighting the drug war, being involved with the cartels?

ANABEL HERNÁNDEZ: What I found in official documents and by testimonies is that the Secretary of Public Security in Mexico, General García Luna, was the most powerful chief of police and the government of Felipe Calderón, he was really involved with a drug cartel, with the Sinaloa Cartel. He was on the payroll as the same as the most important chief of police of the federal police. So these guys, not just protect the to the Sinaloa Cartel, they also help them to traffic drugs and money in the most important airports in Mexico.
[Read more...]

Drug 'Molly' is taking a party toll in the US (28 September 2013)
Molly, an illegal stimulant frequently sold in pill form, has become prominent in the electronic music scene over the past decade, said Anna, 26, who did not want to give her full name because she is in school and "counseling people to be healthy."

Molly is the street name for a drug that is pushed as the pure powder form of a banned substance known as MDMA, the main chemical in ecstasy. In the last five years, Molly has made its way into popular culture, helped by references to it made by entertainers such as Madonna, Miley Cyrus and Kanye West.

The drug's dangers became more clear after a rash of overdoses and four deaths this summer, including two at a huge annual electronic music festival in New York City.

The parties of the late 1980s and early '90s saw the heyday of ecstasy, but its popularity began to wane a decade ago after a number of deaths and hospitalizations.

That's when Molly made her way onto the scene.

Over the last few years, drugs sold under that name have "flooded" the market, said Rusty Payne, a spokesman with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
[Read more...]

Gov. Brown signs 2 of 3 bills fighting prescription drug abuse (27 September 2013)
Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills Friday aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse but vetoed a third that could have helped the state's medical board identify reckless doctors whose patients died on pills they prescribed.

The three bills, which garnered strong bipartisan support, were spurred by a series of investigative reports in The Times that linked drugs prescribed by doctors to nearly half the prescription-involved overdose deaths in Southern California from 2006 through 2011. Seventy-one doctors prescribed drugs to three or more patients who later died. The vast majority of deaths were unknown to the medical board.

Consumer advocates praised the governor's support of the two bills, which are aimed at giving authorities better tools and broader powers to crack down on problematic doctors. But they complained that his veto of the third bill undercut the state's ability to identify patterns of death linked to a particular doctor.

"Why would you not want to be armed with that information?" asked Ventura County Assistant Sheriff Gary Pentis. "Any time we can share information that could potentially save lives, it's important."

Brown said in a statement that he vetoed the bill that would have required coroners to report deaths involving prescription drugs to the medical board because it created an "unfunded mandate for the state, potentially in the millions of dollars." He said the two laws he did sign, along with "more vigorous efforts" by the medical board, "will help detect and prevent prescription drug abuse without further burdening taxpayers."
[Read more...]

US sending bankrupt Detroit $300 million. Think 'stimulus,' not 'bailout.' (+video) (27 September 2013)
The Obama administration is pledging nearly $300 million in federal dollars to Detroit to help shore up basic infrastructure priorities, such as improving public transit and police and eradicating blight.

Just don't call it a bailout -- a term that's still toxic on Capitol Hill, on both sides of the aisle.

On July 18, Detroit became the largest US city ever to declare bankruptcy. It owes $18 billion, including $3.5 billion in underfunded pension liabilities and $5.7 billion in other retiree benefits.

The federal effort, announced after a summit in Detroit led by top Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling, doesn't begin to fill a fiscal hole that large, but aims instead to help meet the city's most immediate infrastructure needs.
[Read more...]

Much of what you've heard about the Fukushima nuclear accident is wrong (27 September 2013)
On a heavily guarded campus east of San Francisco stands Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, one of the U.S. government's premier scientific research facilities. Hours after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011, a team of Livermore scientists mobilized to begin assessing the danger from the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. The 40-odd team members include physicists, meteorologists, computer modelers, and health specialists. Their specialty is major airborne hazards--toxic matter from chemical fires, ash from erupting volcanoes, or radioactive emissions.

The scientists' work--secret at the time and barely known to the public even today--had an enormous impact on Japan's nuclear crisis, averting a potentially disastrous U.S. overreaction. This tale reveals significant new information about the accident's severity and affords a different perspective on events at Fukushima, which have generally been portrayed as a near Armageddon.

News reports fueled the widespread view among the general public that much of eastern Japan--including Tokyo, about 150 miles southwest of Fukushima--would be badly contaminated if the struggle to contain the radiation leaks failed. Tokyo's airports were mobbed with fleeing foreigners. Senior commanders of U.S. forces in Japan were privately fearful about the risks to American military members and their families at the U.S. bases in the Tokyo area. High-ranking officers were arguing that radiation might well require a mass evacuation.

President Obama's top science advisers turned to Livermore to determine the extent of the peril to the Japanese archipelago. After days of high-intensity analysis and numerous computer runs, the scientists concluded that radiation in Tokyo would come nowhere close to levels requiring an evacuation, even in the event that Fukushima Dai-ichi underwent the worst plausible meltdown combined with extremely unfavorable wind and weather patterns. Obama was briefed on the findings, and pressure for an evacuation abated.

Key details of this episode are revealed here for the first time, based in part on U.S. government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. These revelations, together with additional new information, debunk some powerful myths about Fukushima and have weighty implications for the debate about nuclear power that has raged in the accident's aftermath. (The revelations are unrelated to the plant's current water-leakage problem, which by some reckonings is less severe and more solvable than recent headlines suggest.)
[Read more...]

Fish From Fukushima (27 September 2013)
Fishermen have resumed fishing after postponing their start when hundreds of tons of radioactive water were found leaking into the sea from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Twenty-one trawlers brought home 5 tons of seafood, including octopus and squid, from the trial operation; if they're confirmed safe in tests, they will be shipped to markets in Japan. While older people are said to be buying fish from the sea off Fukushima Prefecture, others say they wouldn't let their kids or grandkids eat it. Altogether terrifying. [Read more...]

The Vast, Unregulated Online Gun Market (27 September 2013)
Last October, while most of the country was obsessed with the presidential election only a week away, Radcliffe Haughton walked into a Wisconsin spa with an entirely different obsession. Earlier in the month, Zina Daniel, his estranged wife, obtained a restraining order against him after a long history of domestic abuse and stalking. She worked at the spa, and he had visited before--seventeen days prior, he slashed her car's tires in the parking lot outside.

But now he came with more than a knife: Haughton had a .40 caliber semi-automatic Glock handgun with him. Immediately upon entering the store, he shot Zina dead--and then murdered one of her co-workers, and then another. He continued shooting, and four other people were wounded before he finally turned the gun on himself.

The judge's restraining order specifically forbade Haughton from buying a gun, and had he gone to any licensed firearms dealer, he presumably would have been denied. Instead, Haugton went to the increasingly popular Armslist.com, where tens of thousands of guns are up for sale, and where the vast majority of the sellers are private citizens. Within days he had the Glock.

Armslist.com is only a part of the online gun marketplace, but it is a big part--there were almost 100,000 listings on the site in August. The site, and many others like it, went from being virtually unknown to hugely popular in a matter of months, as other mainstream online retail markets, like Craigslist, cracked down on gun listings...

A new study by Mayors Against Illegal Guns has revealed that every thirtieth gun sold on Armslist.com was sold to someone who would have failed a background check. Of 607 would-be buyers in the sample, which stretched from February to May of this year, 3.3 percent were sold to someone who committed a crime that prohibited firearm possession under federal law.

That ratio is many magnitudes higher than the one for licensed gun dealers--based on the rate of background check denials, only 0.87 percent of would-be buyers at licensed dealers are prohibited purchasers. The report gives a troubling analogy for the Armslist.com marketplace: if one in every thirty passengers on a Boeing 747 were on the federal terror watch list, there would be twenty-two suspected terrorists on board.
[Read more...]

Golden rice debunked: ten blatant contradictions and false claims of genetically modified rice (25 September 2013)
Here are ten important things golden rice advocates won't tell you about the unscientific faith in an untested, unproven Frankenfoods experiment:

#1) There is no scientific basis to claim that the beta carotene artificially produced in golden rice survives storage and cooking to actually be absorbed by those who eat it
No clinical trials have ever been conducted showing that the beta carotene engineered into golden rice actually makes its way from harvest, to storage, to cooking and into the human body intact. There is no evidence to support any claim that golden rice, when grown and harvested in the traditional manner of southeast Asian cultures, will actually raise levels of beta carotene in the bodies of those who eat it.

We cannot simply assume that an artificially-induced phytonutrient will survive harvesting, storage and cooking to deliver the claimed impact on human health unless it is extensively studied. The studies that have been done on golden rice and beta carotene consumption were conducted under laboratory conditions, not real-world conditions.

#2) Golden rice advocates utterly ignore the environmental risks of genetic pollution
There are no scientific studies whatsoever to show that the open-field cultivation of genetically engineered golden rice is safe for the environment. The risk of genetic pollution that might contaminate and alter neighboring rice populations has been callously and irresponsibly ignored by golden rice advocates. (This is part of the "faith" requirement to join the Church of Biotechnology.)
[Read more...]

The Real Hunger Games (25 September 2013)
Eva Perdue, her legs wrapped in a black- and-white-checked blanket, a bright red kerchief tied in her hair, sits on a couch in her small house near downtown Atlanta that Habitat for Humanity built. She once worked as a housekeeper at a Georgia state mental facility but quit nine years ago to care for a sick husband. Now 64 and widowed, Perdue herself is sick. "Curses of the liver and high blood pressure," she says. She has little money to buy any food, let alone healthy food: $98 is all she has after bills are paid from her $848 monthly Social Security check plus $68 worth of food stamps.

The morning I visited Perdue, she had eaten for breakfast the breading from two corn dogs, washed down with a cup of tea. The corn dogs she gave to her 18-year-old grandson, who lives with her. Too much salt, she said. "I can eat cereal. But I have no milk." A gallon would cost $3 or $4, which Perdue did not have. Lunch might be a small salad with some rust-tinged cabbage and carrots from a convenience store up the street. She wasn't sure about supper or what she'd eat the next day--if she ate at all.

Perdue tried to get help from Meals on Wheels Atlanta. In mid-April of 2012, she was twenty-seventh on a waiting list of 120. In November, she was still on the list, which had grown to 198. Her daughter finally found another program.

Such is the world of food rationing for the elderly--the hidden hunger few ever see. Tenille Johnson, one of two case managers at Meals on Wheels Atlanta, said there were others on the list who were even more in need than Perdue. In 2012, the program served 106,000 meals--up from 84,000 three years before--and it will serve about 114,000 this year. "We've been able to up our game and reduce the waiting list to between 145 and 160 seniors, but the need has outpaced us," says executive director Jeffrey Smythe. "The numbers are going up more quickly than we projected. We have waiting lists all over the metro Atlanta area, even in suburban counties."
[Read more...]

The $13 Test That Saved My Baby's Life. Why Isn't it Required For Every Newborn? (21 September 2013)
On July 10, my wife gave birth to a seemingly healthy baby boy with slate-blue eyes and peach-fuzz hair. The pregnancy was without complications. The delivery itself lasted all of 12 minutes. After a couple of days at Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut, we were packing up when a pediatric cardiologist came into the room.

We would not be going home, she told us. Our son had a narrowing of the aorta and would have to be transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia, where he would need heart surgery.

It turned out that our son was among the first in Connecticut whose lives may have been saved by a new state law that requires all newborns to be screened for congenital heart defects.

It was just by chance that we were in Connecticut to begin with. We live in New York, where such tests will not be required until next year. But our doctors were affiliated with a hospital just over the border, where the law took effect Jan. 1.

As we later learned, congenital heart problems are the most common type of birth defect in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about one in 555 newborns have a critical congenital heart defect that usually requires surgery in the first year of life.
[Read more...]

Officials refuse to say in Senate testimony whether cell site data had ever been used to pinpoint an individual's location (26 September 2013)
US intelligence chiefs used an appearance before Congress on Thursday to urge lawmakers not to allow public anger over the extent of government surveillance to result in changes to the law that would impede them from preventing terrorist attacks.

General Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency, conceded that disclosures by the whistleblower Edward Snowden "will change how we operate". But he urged senators, who are weighing a raft of reforms, to preserve the foundational attributes of a program that allows officials to collect the phone data of millions of American citizens.

In testy exchanges at the Senate intelligence committee, Alexander and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, refused to say on the record where the NSA had ever sought to trawl cell site data, which pinpoints the location of individuals via their phones.

They were challenged by Democratic senator Ron Wyden who, as a member of the committee, has for years been privy to classified briefings that he cannot discuss in public. "You talk about the damage that has been done by disclosures, but any government official who thought this would never be disclosed was ignoring history. The truth always manages to come out," he said.

"The NSA leadership built an intelligence data collection system that repeatedly deceived the American people. Time and time again the American people were told one thing in a public forum, while intelligence agencies did something else in private."
[Read more...]

FBI has been using drones since 2006, watchdog agency says (26 September 2013)
WASHINGTON -- Operating with almost no public notice, the FBI has spent more than $3 million to operate a fleet of small drone aircraft in domestic investigations, according to a report released Thursday by a federal watchdog agency.

The unmanned surveillance planes have helped FBI agents storm barricaded buildings, track criminal suspects and examine crime scenes since 2006, longer than previously known, according to the 35-page inspector general's audit of drones used by the Justice Department.

The FBI unmanned planes weigh less than 55 pounds each and are unarmed, the report said. The FBI declined requests to discuss its drone operations Thursday.

In June, Robert S. Mueller III, then director of the FBI, acknowledged the existence of the drone program for the first time during congressional testimony.

Mueller, who retired Sept. 4, said the bureau was in the "initial stages" of writing privacy policies so agencies flying the unmanned aircraft would avoid improper surveillance of Americans. "We're exploring not only the use but also the necessary guidelines for that use," he said.
[Read more...]

Blood donations from people vaccinated against HPV may be harmful to recipients (26 September 2013)
(NaturalNews) A shocking new report reveals that receiving blood donated from someone vaccinated with Gardasil, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine, may be downright dangerous to your health.

S.A.N.E. Vax, Inc., contracted with an independent lab which tested 13 Gardasil vials from 13 different lots from all over the world and found that the genetically modified HPV DNA strands present in Gardasil had firmly attached to the vaccination's aluminum adjuvant in a whopping 100% of the samples tested.

While natural HPV DNA does not stay in the bloodstream long, the aluminum binding allows the genetically modified recombinant HPV DNA (rDNA) to behave differently, potentially entering cells and wreaking havoc.

The vials were analyzed after a concerned parent contacted S.A.N.E. Vax, because her 13-year-old daughter developed an auto-immune reaction that would later be diagnosed as acute juvenile rheumatoid arthritis within 24 hours after receiving her third Gardasil vaccine. Two years following the incident, the girl's blood still tested positive for HPV DNA that should not be there. In fact, these strands have also been found in post-mortem samples as well, as in the case of teen Jasmine Renata, who died inexplicably in her sleep six months after receiving a Gardasil shot.
[Read more...]

How to clean a lake with an unstoppable oil spill: Drain the lake (26 September 2013)
We told you in July that tar-sands oil had been leaking into the Canadian wilderness from a drilling site for well over a month -- and that nobody knew how to stanch the flow.

It would be nice to update you on how that leak was finally fixed. No such luck: The oil is still leaking.

More than 12,000 barrels of leaked bitumen has been mopped up, but at least 100 animals have died at the Canadian Natural Resources' Primrose oil extraction site. So much bitumen has flowed into a 131-acre lake that Alberta's environment department has ordered the company to drain it and dredge it before the waterbody freezes over. From Reuters:

"The leak, one of four on the sprawling project site, sprung up from an oil sands reserve produced by a process that melts bitumen with high-pressure steam so that it can be moved and processed. The leak has yet to be stopped, and has become the latest focus for environmentalists concerned about the impact oil sands production."

"'The Alberta government should, at a minimum, put a hold on approving new underground tar sands operations until we understand how these leaks are happening and if other sites could run into similar problems,' Mike Hudema, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Canada, said in a statement."

"The order says the company must pump the water from the area of the lake that is in the vicinity of leak into the third of the lake where it can be contained by a road that cuts across the water body. Then the cleanup of the spill site can be completed."
[Read more...]

RCMP camera captures streaking fireball in northern Alberta (26 September 2013)
EDMONTON - A patrol camera mounted inside an RCMP officer's vehicle caught a fireball streaking across the night Prairie sky north of Manning.

Const. Josh Stachow was responding to reports of a vehicle that hit a black bear Saturday night with Const. Kyle Ash on Highway 35 near the hamlet of Hawk Hills, 20 kilometres north of Manning.

Shortly after 9:30 p.m., the night sky turned to day, Stachow said.

"It started getting brighter and brighter, and all of a sudden, a huge meteor came streaking across the sky," he said. "For a moment there, I had no idea what was happening."

The officer's patrol camera captured the fireball as it streaked toward the horizon. RCMP released a video clip of the sighting Wednesday.
[Read more...]

Matt Taibbi on How Wall Street Hedge Funds Are Looting the Pension Funds of Public Workers (26 September 2013)
JUAN GONZALEZ: You know, decades ago, pension funds used to invest conservatively, basically in bonds, because they knew that this was retirement money of workers that they couldn't risk. But increasingly then over the last 20 to 30 years, they have shifted more of their money into the stock markets, to the gambling of the stock market, so when the market went down then suddenly the investment returns of these pension funds went down and they were stuck then because they were projecting continued increases on those returns.

MATT TAIBBI: Sure, and among the problems here is that state and municipal pension funds are actually not covered ERISA which is the federal law governing pensions. So if there is no prudent man rule that requires a certain level of reasonability or prudence in investment, hedge funds probably would not have been a typical public or municipal investment a long time ago, but now they are being used in some cases 10%, 15 to 20% of these state funds are being put into these alternative investments. If you look on the prospectuses of a lot of these investments, they say right in the front, in huge letters, these are high risk investments, you may lose everything. It is exactly the opposite of what you want to put public money into.

AMY GOODMAN: Matt Taibbi, talk about John Arnold.

MATT TAIBBI: John Arnold is a former Enron energy commodities trader who became a billionaire, one of the world's most successful commodity traders after the collapse of Enron and he is sort of the new Koch Brothers figure. He is on a crusade. He has created something called the Arnold Foundation which is funding pension reform efforts in multiple states all across the country from Montana to Kentucky to Florida to Rhode Island where I spend a lot of time. In Rhode Island Arnold donated a lot of money to a 501(c)4 organization called Engage Rhode Island which helped promote the pension reform policies of the sort of Wall Street friendly treasurer they have in that state. And this is sort of the new formula, you have in the Citizen's United age you have some person, a hedge fund guy like John Arnold, who gives a whole bunch of money to some shadowing organization which advertises this crisis that we can't afford to pay workers any more so we have to do things differently. We gotta make cuts and then we gotta put all the money in Wall Street managed funds. That is sort of his playbook.
[Read more...]

Windmill farm seeks permit to kill eagles (26 September 2013)
A large wind farm in Solano County would be the first renewable energy project in the nation to be issued a permit to kill eagles under a plan released Thursday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The proposal, outlined in a draft environmental report, is to issue a golden eagle take permit to the Shiloh IV Wind Project, on 3,500 acres in the Montezuma Hills between Rio Vista and Fairfield.

The unusual plan would allow the company's 50 wind turbines to kill up to five golden eagles over a five-year period in exchange for a series of measures to protect the big birds, including the retrofitting of 133 nearby power poles to prevent electrocutions.

"The bottom line is a permit will help preserve eagles," said Scott Flaherty, the deputy assistant regional director of external affairs for the Fish and Wildlife Service. "I think it really does set a precedent. It shows the service can work with wind energy companies ... and ensure that we conserve eagles and other wildlife."
[Read more...]

Protest or Piracy? Greenpeace Activists Remain Jailed in Russia After Boarding Arctic Oil Rig (26 September 2013)
AMY GOODMAN: Explain to us what is happening right now in the Arctic.

KUMI NAIDOO: As we said now, the activists are in court. Already, we know that five activists, two from Russia, one from Canada, New Zealand, and Poland, have already been sentenced to what is euphemistically called pretrial detention, which is basically, detention without trial, for two months. And the charges that they are being investigated are actually piracy. In the words of one of the people, Denis Sinyakov, a Russian colleague who is the photographer on board, he said the criminal activity I am blamed for is called journalism. I will continue doing it. And that captures very well what we are seeing here. This is a disproportionate use of state authority to try to silence off a very important global conversation that needs to be had, because, right now, we are reaching the tipping points on climate. The Arctic serves as a refrigerator and air conditioner of the planet, and rather than seeing the retreating of the arctic sea ice during the summer months as a warning sign that we have to get serious about climate change. Sadly, Western oil companies like Exxon and Shell and so on are partnering with Russian state-owned companies, to actually go and try to drill for the last drops of oil in this most fragile, remote, and risky environment for such activities.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Talk about the Russian decision to begin exploration. How recent is it and what are the plans in terms of how extensive they expect it to be?

KUMI NAIDOO: The plans are pretty extensive. It is, sadly, a key part of the Russian government's economic strategy, actually, to harness the hydrocarbons of fossil fuels in the Arctic. Why this particular facility is important is that even though there are many explorations going on by different companies in different parts of the Arctic, this is the first actual drilling that is about to start. But, last year, when we participated in exactly the same protest, which I was part of last year, they said they were about to start then. Our protest slowed them down by about a week and then they suspended. So, why this is significant is that this will be the beginning of a road to disaster if the drilling actually starts. So, that is why we put so much emphasis on this particular facility.
[Read more...]

Lawsuits blaming mold for health woes can proceed (27 September 2013)
A group of lawsuits alleging that mold in military housing caused a constellation of health problems can proceed in federal court, a judge has decided.

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar's ruling, issued Wednesday, opens the door to what could be many months of litigation with 100 or more plaintiffs seeking millions of dollars in damages, attorneys in the cases say.

The lawsuits allege a wide variety of mold-caused illnesses, ranging from allergic reactions and respiratory distress to immune system suppression and brain injury.

The litigation will traverse relatively new legal terrain on two fronts, exploring evolving medical research into mold's health effects and testing the limits of a recent push by the military services to privatize base housing.

The defendant in the cases is not the government but Lincoln Military Housing, a Texas-based company that manages about 4,400 rental units in the region in a public-private partnership with local military bases.

Lincoln signed a 50-year lease with the Navy in 2005 under a 1996 privatization initiative aimed at maintaining and improving the military's aging housing stock.
[Read more...]

U.S. to consider relaxing rules on using electronics in flight (26 September 2013)
(Reuters) - Airplane passengers would be allowed broader use of mobile devices, laptops and tablets during flights, under a proposal U.S. air safety regulators are due to begin considering next week.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration will receive in the next few days advice about allowing greater use of personal electronic devices on aircraft from an advisory committee drawn from government and the aviation and consumer electronics industries, according to people familiar with the matter.

The new rules are likely to increase use of in-flight Internet service provided by companies such as Gogo Inc, and may affect standards for electronic device manufacturers, such as Apple Inc, Samsung Electronics, Google Inc and Amazon.com Inc.

The rules also could make it easier for airlines to allow passengers to plug their own electronics into in-flight entertainment systems, allowing airlines to save the weight of providing screens for everyone.

Current FAA rules require devices be switched off below 10,000 feet and ban cellphone calls at any altitude because of the risk they can interfere with airplane radios and other systems. Passengers often are allowed to make calls after a plane, even while it is on an active taxiways.
[Read more...]

A plague of hornets in China is killing people and eating bees (26 September 2013)
If you've always wanted to visit China, this ... this might not be the best time. Thanks to climate change, massive numbers of Asian giant hornets (which the size of your thumb) have been rolling through Shaanxi Province, eating honeybees and stinging humans to death. And they could be coming to your area next.

In the hard-hit city of Ankang the fatality toll has been twice the 2002-2005 average; so far in the province there have been 419 injuries and 28 deaths. And that's just humans, not honeybees, which the hornets chomp on -- well, except in Japan, where the bees have developed a pretty metal defense mechanism.

"Japanese honey bees have figured out how to fight back, by cooking hornets. After surrounding a hornet in a spherical formation, Japanese honey bees engage their flight muscles, raising their collective temperature beyond what hornets can withstand."
[Read more...]

Bank of America faces at trial ex-executive behind whistleblower case (26 September 2013)
(Reuters) - A former executive at Bank of America Corp's (BAC.N) Countrywide unit testified Thursday that the mortgage company's problematic lending practices predated the "Hustle" process for which the bank went on trial this week.

Edward O'Donnell, a former executive vice president at a Countrywide Financial Corp subsidiary, filed a whistleblower lawsuit last year against Bank of America, which bought Countrywide during the financial crisis.

O'Donnell's lawsuit is the basis of the U.S. Justice Department's case alleging that Countrywide defrauded mortgage underwriters Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by selling them mortgages that later defaulted.

O'Donnell, who stands to earn an award if the government wins at trial, was testifying for the government on Thursday, the third day of the trial.
[Read more...]

California governor signs bill granting domestic workers overtime pay (26 September 2013)
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Thursday that will temporarily require that domestic workers in the state receive overtime pay if they work more than nine hours in a day or 45 hours in a week, after he vetoed a previous version of the law last year.

The law, effective January 2014, applies to all domestic workers including live-in nannies and health care providers. Babysitters are exempt from the mandate. The overtime will only last through 2017, unless it is renewed by the state legislature.

"Domestic workers are primarily women of color, many of them immigrants, and their work has not been respected in the past," the bill's author, Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, said in a statement. "Now, they will be entitled to overtime, like just about every other California working person."

Ammiano has been the driving force behind overtime pay for domestic workers for the past three years. The original bill included a required meal and rest break for housekeepers, nannies, and health care workers for the disabled and elderly, but they were removed from the final version.
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The trouble with translating science: is this really the earliest fish with a face? (25 September 2013)
Scientists in China have discovered an 419-million-year-old fish with a bony jaw that will significantly shift our understanding of the evolutionary history of jawed vertebrates, a lineage that led to humans.

What scientists in China have not discovered -- maybe a little bit, but not really -- is "the earliest known creature with what we would recognize as a face," which is how the fossil find was pitched to reporters.

The discovery of the fish, Entelognathus primordialis, is a really cool story. It's just a different story than the cool story it was made out to be, and it makes for a neat case study on how hard it is to translate important but nuanced science for a general audience.

For some background: every week, major journals like Science and Nature send an email to reporters containing embargoed information about the studies that will be published in the upcoming issue. "Embargoed" means reporters aren't allowed to publish anything about the study until an appointed time.

The "newsworthy papers" section of this week's embargoed Nature roundup was topped with a headline that is undeniable click-bait. "Fossils: Jaw-dropping discovery of a fish with a face," the press release read.

What they mean: when researchers dug up Entelognathus in the Yunnan province of China and cleaned it up in the labratory, they discovered it was the earliest-known fish to have a modern type of jaw, with a maxilla (upper jaw) and mandible (lower jaw). All the other ancient fishes in its family, called Placoderms, have simple jaws and cheekbones. But Entelognathus' complex jaw is similar to modern bony fish, and to our human jaws.

Does that mean it's the earliest known creature with a face? Maybe, if you decide that having a jaw like a human is what "having a face" is.
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Kenya info blackout? Extraordinary lack of detail about Westgate siege. (25 September 2013)
Even as President Uhuru Kenyatta was giving his televised address on Tuesday, telling the world that the siege of Nairobi's Westgate mall was over, Kenya's "netizens" were celebrating.

With the hashtag #WeAreOne, praise for President Kenyatta, the Kenya Defense Forces, the police and the Red Cross swamped Twitter and other social media, as did elegies for the 61 civilians and six security officers the president said died during the assault.

Soon, however, the tone had noticeably hardened: "SO. MANY. QUESTIONS" tweeted @kenyanpundit. In another, Kenyan authorities had "not provided a single mugshot of the attackers," as @bonifacemwangi tweeted.

By Wednesday, a list of 85 questions drawn up by Kenyan citizens was doing the rounds online, demanding answers from their government that was either unable or unwilling to clarify fundamental aspects of the 80-hour ordeal.
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Kenya: We Need to Know Fate of Westgate Kin (24 September 2013)
Nairobi -- Families of 64 people who are reported missing have raised serious concern over silence by the government on the current situation at the Westgate shopping mall, which was seized by terrorists on Saturday.

According to the Kenya Psychological Association (KPA), lack of information is causing anxiety among people whose kin have been missing since Saturday.

KPA Chairperson Gladys Mwiti told journalists on Tuesday that the lack of information was affecting the families' and victims' psychological wellbeing.

"We do not have right now actual data of who lost their family member or a relative but we can say that some of the cases that we have seen include those that do not know where their relatives are," she said.
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Jeremy Scahill: Al-Shabab's Nairobi Mall Rampage Tied to "Disastrous" U.S. Meddling in Somalia (24 September 2013)
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right now, there is not just one al-Shabaab. There has been a real fracture within the organization, and a few weeks ago the most high-profile American jihadist that was operating with al-Shabaab, Omar Hammami, who is from Alabama, and was sort of like a rapper and propagandist for al-Shabaab, was killed. And it appears he was killed by a rival faction of the group. I think part of what we are seeing is that the section of Shabaab that is more aligned with the global vision of what was Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and Ayman al-Zawahiri's mission, is trying to make a mark for itself and I think that it's a group that is very much in trouble internally in Somalia and I think it is trying to project that it has a more globalist, jihadist agenda. So, this attack on the Westgate Mall, I think was indicative of the fact that there are multiple versions of al-Shabaab. One part al-Shabaab is primarily focused on Somali politics and taking power within Somalia, and the other is intent on sort of making a name for itself as a global terrorist player. I think that is part of what we saw here at Westgate Mall.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of Americans involved in al-Shabaab?

JEREMY SCAHILL: There has been anywhere from a couple dozen to 50 or 60 Americans that have gone to Somalia to work alongside or fight alongside al-Shabaab or other militant organizations. Many have come from the state of Minnesota, and the Somali-American community -- I was there recently -- is really caught in a difficult position because, on the one hand, they are being targeted by federal agents and they are being targeted by surveillance and they have their mosques and their community organizations being surveilled. On the other hand people in that community are very concerned about the fact that young people are being recruited from Minneapolis to go to Somalia. There have been several young Somali-Americans who have acted as suicide bombers trying to blow themselves -- or blowing themselves up at the gates of the U.S.-backed African Union forces that are in Somalia or attacking Somali Government ministries.

On the one hand, this is a real problem that you have these young people that are being recruited and going over there. On the other hand, there has been this incredible overreaction to it. I think a lot -- immigrant communities are being targeted for this. In the whole scheme of things, it is a relatively small problem. But, I think there is -- Representative Peter King has just been -- who is the informal chair of the Islamaphobe caucus in Congress has really sort of tried to paint this as some kind of bogeyman on steroids. It is a real issue, but I think that the fact that the Somali community in Minneapolis is under this kind of intense scrutiny right now, is unjust on the one hand. on the other hand, they have really been unified in speaking out and demonstrating against what happened at the Westgate mall.
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Princeton Elementary student art on display at the Whooping Crane Festival.  Photographs by Pam Rotella. Whooping Crane Festival 2013: USGS counts 575 whooping cranes alive today (24 September 2013)
Only 575 whooping cranes are alive today, according to Research Wildlife Biologist John French of the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. This is a slight decline from the previous count of 600.

Speaking at Operation Migration's 2013 Whooping Crane Festival, French said 275 whooping cranes were counted in the wild Wood Buffalo/Aransas western migratory flock, 160 in captive breeding flocks, 100 in the Eastern migratory flock, 20 in Florida's non-migratory flock, and 18 in Louisiana's non-migratory flock.

French discussed the importance of the Eastern experimental flock, and cited southern habitat challenges to the wild Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock such as drought, rising human water consumption, close proximity to Gulf shipping lanes, and river level fluctuations affecting their preferred Aransas food source, small blue crabs. He also described Patuxent's captive breeding program in detail.

According to French, Patuxent's captive breeding program stopped adding crane chicks to the non-migratory Florida flock about eight years ago. Natural predators were reducing the flock's numbers, and human development was reducing its habitat.

French added that Patuxent remains committed to increasing the Louisiana non-migratory flock and the Eastern migratory flock, but acknowledged criticism of their decision to provide more captive-bred chicks to the non-migratory Louisiana flock, which has faced a drop in numbers from shootings and natural predators.
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USGS Biologist John French speaks at the Whooping Crane Festival in Berlin, Wisconsin, 14 September 2013, photo by Pam Rotella

Whooping crane training with Richard van Heuvelen in lead ultra-light, Joe Duff with guest in second aircraft, 16 September 2013, photo by Pam Rotella

Whooping crane training with Brooke Pennypacker in front with cranes (top), and Joe Duff in second ultra-light with guest Kenn Kaufman (bottom), 13 September 2013, photo by Pam Rotella

Craniacs gather to watch flight training, 13 September 2013, photo by Pam Rotella

Craniacs gather to watch flight training, 14 September 2013, photo by Pam Rotella

Princeton Elementary students reading

MichelleTaliaferro speaks at the Whooping Crane Festival in Berlin, Wisconsin, 14 September 2013, photo by Pam Rotella

Joe Duff speaks at the Whooping Crane Festival in Berlin, Wisconsin, 14 September 2013, photo by Pam Rotella

Congress Renews Efforts to Curb NSA Surveillance (24 September 2013)
These days it's difficult to imagine Congress's return to the business of governance. Still, several lawmakers have refocused their attention on the National Security Agency's surveillance practices, suggesting that the resolve to reform did not die down during the August recess or the crises that followed. At least a dozen bills aimed at the NSA's spying powers are pending in Congress, and key committees will hold hearings in the next two weeks.

Senator Patrick Leahy spoke forcefully today at Georgetown University Law Center about the need to curb the reach of the NSA and to reconsider the structure of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that authorizes the agency's spying requests. "The Section 215 bulk collection of Americans' phone records must end," said Leahy, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for marking up several of the bills. "The government has not made its case that this is an effective counterterrorism tool, especially in light of the intrusion on Americans' privacy rights."

On Monday, Leahy and a bipartisan group of eight other senators sent a letter to the intelligence community's inspector general requesting a "full accounting" of the government's surveillance practices between 2010 and 2013, particularly in regards to US citizens. Leahy has already introduced legislation that would revise Section 215 of the Patriot Act to raise the standard required of the government to justify the collection of data in a terrorism investigation. Leahy's bill would also increase transparency, public reporting, and inspector general oversight.

Democratic Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden have also introduced legislation targeting Section 215, as have House Democrat John Conyers and Republican Justin Amash. A proposal from New Jersey Democrat Rush Holt goes even further, repealing the entire Patriot Act and the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that give the NSA its sweeping reach.
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Brazilian president: US surveillance a 'breach of international law' (24 September 2013)
Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, has launched a blistering attack on US espionage at the UN general assembly, accusing the NSA of violating international law by its indiscriminate collection of personal information of Brazilian citizens and economic espionage targeted on the country's strategic industries.

Rousseff's angry speech was a direct challenge to President Barack Obama, who was waiting in the wings to deliver his own address to the UN general assembly, and represented the most serious diplomatic fallout to date from the revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Rousseff had already put off a planned visit to Washington in protest at US spying, after NSA documents leaked by Snowden revealed that the US electronic eavesdropping agency had monitored the Brazilian president's phone calls, as well as Brazilian embassies and spied on the state oil corporation, Petrobras.

"Personal data of citizens was intercepted indiscriminately. Corporate information -- often of high economic and even strategic value -- was at the centre of espionage activity.
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Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis left note blaming electronic weapons attack (25 September 2013)
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Navy Yard shooter believed he was being subjected to an "ultra low frequency attack" and left an electronic note saying this was "what I've been subject to for the last 3 months, and to be perfectly honest that is what has driven me to this," the FBI revealed Wednesday.

Aaron Alexis, 34, a computer technician for a private Navy contractor, killed 12 people and wounded four others in the Sept. 16 rampage as he fired a sawed-off Remington 870 Express shotgun in which he had etched several statements, including "End to the torment!"

The FBI also released video and still photographs from Building 197 at the Navy Yard, including scenes of Alexis in a dark blue-and-white shirt and dark trousers, wielding the shotgun as he roamed down hallways and stairwells in search of victims.

Valerie Parlave, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington field office, said Alexis did not expect to survive the shootings that spanned nearly an hour that Monday morning.
[Read more...]

FBI video shows Navy Yard shooter (25 September 2013)
September 25, 2013 2:05 PM EDT -- The FBI released video of shooter Aaron Alexis walking inside Navy Yard with a gun on the day of the shooting. (The Washington Post) [Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: This is a very short video, and it also proceeds to the paper's next video without any action from the viewer.

How your bananas are making crocodiles sick (25 September 2013)
Bananas are one of those strange foods that we treat like an obvious, ho-hum part of our diets, when in fact it's pretty incredible that an exotic fruit that is grown almost nowhere in the United States appears every single day in every single grocery store (and even a lot of convenience stores) across the country. But bananas travel well, and so we eat a lot of them.

One of the ironies of banana production, though, is while banana fruit will survive the long journey from, say, Costa Rica to your grocery store, banana plants are always getting sick. To keep the bananas coming (and the massive market for bananas from collapsing entirely, as it inevitably will when Panama disease kills off all the Cavendish variety banana trees), banana growers spray their groves with lots and lots of pesticides.

NPR tells the story of a team of scientists who thought, "Hm, what's that doing to the rest of the ecosystem?" Like, for instance, this part of Costa Rica where bananas are growing in an area where the local streams empty into protected rainforest?

So they looked at spectacled caimans, a type of crocodile that's at the top of the food chain round those parts. (It's also a threatened species.) And they found all sorts of pesticides concentrated in the crocodiles -- pesticides that have been banned for years, like "DDT, dieldrin, and endosulfan." One scientist told NPR:

"What was revealing to me was the fact that the caiman that were near the banana plantations had not only higher concentrations of pesticides, but also they were in a poorer state of health relative to the caiman in more pristine, remote areas," says Ross.
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Anti-GMO Campaigners Claim Victory as 'Monsanto Protection Act' Stripped From Senate Bill (25 September 2013)
An amendment dubbed the "Monsanto Protection Act," which currently allows large agriculture and biotech corporations to ignore court orders involving the safety of genetically modified seeds, has been stripped from Senate's spending bill that could be voted on as early as Wednesday afternoon.

Following an organized campaign against the provision in recent months, its removal was being cheered by food safety and environmental activists as a victory.

The Monsanto Protection Act, otherwise known as the Farmer Assurance Provision rider, was wedged into a stop-gap budget bill that passed earlier this year and signed into law by President Obama in March.

The rider was the source of outrage by many and quickly dubbed a form of "corporate welfare" that benefited large biotechnology corporations firms such as Monsanto and Syngenta as it barred US federal courts from being able to prevent the sale or planting of GMO crops even if they failed to meet federal safety standards or were discovered to be harmful to humans or the environment.

In opposition to the law's passage, several online campaigns as well as street protests followed.
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Behind the Burrito: 5 Things Chipotle's Ads Don't Tell You (25 September 2013)
Chipotle Mexican Grill, the popular burrito chain that has more than 1,500 restaurants worldwide, hit the advertising jackpot earlier this month when it released a Pixar-style commercial that went viral and turned the restaurant into an overnight poster child for sustainable food. The advertisement, set to a mournful Fiona Apple song, depicts an animated scarecrow discovering the truth about factory farms--and then deciding to start his own farm instead (the scarecrow's farm is apparently vegetarian, because the animals magically disappear).

The restaurant chain has pushed hard to separate its image from McDonald's, a former investor in the company, and revamp itself as a sustainable-food choice for Americans who are against global warming and antibiotics, and in favor of fresh, locally sourced food. In its advertisements, the company throws around the word "natural" a lot--but unlike "organic," that doesn't have an actual USDA definition. So how well does Chipotle actually stack up? In an email, Chris Arnold, a spokesman for Chipotle, tells Mother Jones that "Chipotle is probably more transparent about the ingredients we use than any other national restaurant company. We have never professed to being perfect. Rather, the commitment we have made is to constant improvement, and we are always working to find better, more sustainable sources for all of the ingredients we use."

Here are five questions raised in Chipotle advertisements:

1. Does Chipotle support genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?
One of the main characters in Chipotle's scarecrow video is a creepy bird that flies around the factory farm and appears to be some kind of hybrid between a crow and a robot. In another scene, bird-robots are pumping mysterious chemicals into a chicken, inflating it like a beach ball. The video clearly implies that messing with Mother Nature is bad news--and Chipotle doesn't do it. Arnold says that "the film is about a host of issues in agriculture and industrial food production--the overuse of antibiotics, harsh crowding of animals, and the high degree to which so much food is processed. But there are no GMO references, either literal or symbolic."
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World's biggest solar thermal power plant fired up in California (25 September 2013)
The 3,500-acre Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is a startling sight in the Mojave Desert. Three sprawling units each contain a circular array of mirrors reflecting rays from the sun toward a 459-foot central tower. Water in the tower is heated by the rays to produce steam, which spins turbines and -- voila -- electricity is produced.

It all seems a bit magical, but as of Tuesday, the world's largest solar thermal power plant began feeding energy into a power grid for the first time.

How much energy? Once fully operational, the project is expected to produce 377 megawatts of power that will be sold to two Californian utilities, helping the state's electricity sector meet ambitious, state-mandated renewable energy goals. During some days it could provide enough power for more than 200,000 homes.

Partners in the project include NRG Energy, BrightSource Energy, Google, Bechtel and, of course, you and me. The federal government leased public land to the effort and backed it up with one of those loan guarantees that you heard so much about in 2011 and 2012.
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Ecuador Takes on Chevron, Global Indifference in Controversial Fights to Protect Rainforest (24 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: World leaders, including President Obama, are gathering this week here in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. On Monday, I had a chance to sit down with Ecuador's Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patiño at the United Nations. Ecuador has been at the center of several major international stories in recent years. In 2012, Ecuador granted WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange asylum. He has spent more than a year in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Over the summer, Ecuador played a role in the drama surrounding national security agency leaker Edward Snowden and his attempt to secure political asylum. Ecuador is also at the center of a closely watched environmental legal battle. Between 1964 and 1990, Texaco drilled for oil in the Ecuadorian Amazon and dumped as much as 18.5 billion gallons of highly toxic waste sludge into the rain forest. The waste contaminated the streams and rivers used by local people for drinking, bathing, and fishing. For the past two decades, there's been a legal battle over the cleanup. In 2011, an Ecuadorian court ordered the oil giant Chevron, which acquired Texaco in 2011, to pay $19 billion to indigenous and rural Ecuadorans. But, Chevron has refused to pay. Last week, Chevron was dealt a partial victory when an international arbitration panel based at the Hague delivered an interim ruling questioning the validity of the 2011 verdict. The arbitration panel claimed the lawsuit against Chevron lacked a legitimate legal foundation because Ecuador had released Texaco, they said, of all potential liability back in the 1990s. Ecuador has rejected the findings of the Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration, saying indigenous plaintiffs should not be precluded from suing Chevron. Yesterday, I sat down with Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño at the Permanent Mission of Ecuador to the United Nations. I began by asking him to explain this latest twist in the Chevron saga.

FOREIGN MINISTER RICARDO PATIÑO: [translated] This tribunal has issued some decisions. One of the decisions is that Ecuador, of course, never sued Texaco and we can't, but Chevron-Texaco could be sued by individuals for the impacts on those individuals, and not for impacts on collectives. So, that is something that has to be looked at further, but the Government of Ecuador considers that the Court of Arbitration lacks jurisdiction. And that this bilateral investment treatment is not applicable retroactively. So, just to conclude the issue of Chevron-Texaco, it is important to note that the Chevron has been millions of dollars on a campaign to discredit the Ecuadorian government, arguing there were problems with the legal process. If that is the case, then they need to address those as such in the Ecuadorian legal system. But, one of the things that they argue is that they cleaned up after devastating the Amazon and that they didn't leave anything amiss.

And Chevron-Texaco argues that any damages that is still visible wasn't their fault and corresponds to the Ecuadorian government to address.
President Correa, a few days ago, went to an area where Chevron-Texaco was operating and the president put his hands in the toxic waste pits that ChevronTexaco left, and raised his oil-stained hand up to show the world how Chevron-Texaco has destroyed the Ecuadorian Amazon, and did not use the cleanup methodologies that were available at the time to mitigate or even avoid environmental damages. So, Chevron-Texaco didn't care at all about the destruction of the environment that it caused, and that is why we are now inviting the world to come to the Ecuadorian Amazon and see for themselves the destruction that Chevron-Texaco has caused. And even though Texaco left the country in 1992, these damages are still very much evident. And we have no interest in taking legal action in this regard, we simply want to show the world that they are lying.
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Corroding Our Democracy: Canada Silences Scientists, Targets Environmentalists in Tar Sands Push (24 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Tzeporah, you have been meeting with a number of scientists. This week in the New York Times had an interesting editorial called, "Silencing Scientists" and it said "Over the last few years, the government of Canada -- led by Stephen Harper -- has made it harder and harder for publicly financed scientists to communicate with the public and with other scientists." What is going on?

TZEPORAH BERMAN: First of all, the government has shut down the majority of scientific research in the country that had to deal with climate change. This is a government in denial and they do not want to talk about climate change. So, last year they shut down the atmospheric research station, which was one of the most important places in the world to get climate data. They shut down the National Round Table on Environment and Economy, they fired hundreds of scientists, and the ones that are left are being told that they can't release the research to us, even though it is a tax payer's funded research. They're also being told they can't speak to the press unless they have a handler and it's an approved interview; they have to have a handler from the prime minister's office. So, the scientists that I've talked to, they're embarrassed, they're frustrated, they're protesting. Last week in Canada we had hundreds of scientists hit the streets in their lab coats protesting the federal government because they can't speak. They are being muzzled. To the extent that the, quiet eminent, journal Nature, last year, published an editorial saying it is time for Canada to set its scientists free.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is an amazing story. We know that in the United States, under the Bush Administration, you had James Hansen who was Head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA who had a handler who hadn't graduated from college, he was -- I think his credential was that he been active on the Bush campaign committee, re-election campaign committee, and James Hansen had to go through him to deal with the media.

TZEPORAH BERMAN: Right, well -- but, and James Hansen's still got to speak deal with -- to speak to the media. Most of the scientists that I'm talking to in Canada can't speak to the media at all. And if they want to talk about climate change, they're definitely not going to get those interviews approved. But, it is not just the scientists that are being muzzled and the climate research that's being shut down and people that are being fired, we have also seen an unprecedented attack on charitable organizations that deal with environmental research. The Canadian Government has the majority of environmental organizations under Canadian revenue audit, and so, the result is you have the majority of the country's environmental leaders not able to be a watchdog on what the government is doing. And secret documents revealed through freedom of information this year showed that the government eliminated all these environmental laws in Canada at the request of the oil industry because the environmental laws were in their way. The Embridge Northern Gateway Pipeline crosses 1000 streams and that would normally trigger in of environmental assessment process. Well, when you have no laws, you have no environmental assessment, so when they eradicated all the environmental laws 3000 environmental assessments for major industrial projects in Canada were canceled. Now those projects are just approved without environmental assessment.
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Going viral - First-ever photos: Golden eagle attacks, kills sika deer (25 September 2013)
There's just three photos covering two-seconds, but they are very rare since they capture an event not seen before: A golden eagle swoops onto the back of a sika deer, drives it to the ground and (not photographed) kills it.

"I saw the deer carcass first as I approached the trap on a routine check to switch out memory cards and change batteries, but something felt wrong about it. There were no large carnivore tracks in the snow, and it looked like the deer had been running and then just stopped and died." said lead author Linda Kerley of the Zoological Society of London, who runs the camera trap project.

"It was only after we got back to camp that I checked the images from the camera and pieced everything together. I couldn't believe what I was seeing."

The photos quickly spread across the Internet prompting some to worry about the deer's suffering.
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Exclusive: Hundreds of U.S. security clearances seen falsified (25 September 2013)
(Reuters) - Federal prosecutors have documented at least 350 instances of faulty background investigations done by private contractors and special agents for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in recent years, illustrating what some lawmakers call systemic weaknesses in the granting of federal security clearances.

Reuters calculated the total by reviewing court documents and press releases from prosecutors for 21 cases resulting in convictions that involved the making of false statements from December 2004 to March 2012.

These are the cases government officials have cited to assert that action is taken against investigators who falsely claim to have reviewed records or done interviews for background checks submitted to OPM. Not all the cases identified a specific number of fabrications.

The 350 falsified reports represent only a small percentage of the number of background investigations conducted each year, either by OPM's own investigators or a handful of private contractors it uses for most of the work.

The Government Accountability Office testified to a congressional committee in June that OPM received over $1 billion to conduct more than 2 million background investigations for government employees in fiscal 2011.
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Where Did Syria's Chemical Weapons Come From? (25 September 2013)
In the wake of a recent Russian-U.S. deal averting American airstrikes, Syria has begun to answer questions about its chemical weapons stockpile. One thing inspectors don't have the mandate to ask is where those weapons came from in the first place. But evidence already out there suggests Syria got crucial help from Moscow and Western European companies.

When Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was asked recently about the origins of Syria's chemical weapons, he said, "Well, the Russians supply them." Hagel's spokesman George Little quickly walked back that statement, saying Hagel was simply referring to Syria's conventional weapons. Syria's chemical weapons program, Little explained, is "largely indigenous."

But declassified intelligence documents suggest Hagel, while mistakenly suggesting the support was ongoing, was at least pointing his finger in the right direction.

A Special National Intelligence Estimate dated Sept. 15, 1983, lists Syria as a "major recipient of Soviet CW [Chemical Weapons] assistance." Both "Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union provided the chemical agents, delivery systems, and training that flowed to Syria." "As long as this support is forthcoming," the 1983 document continues," there is no need for Syria to develop an indigenous capability to produce CW agents or materiel, and none has been identified."

Soviet support was also mentioned, though with less details, in another intelligence estimate dated Feb. 2, 1982. That report muses about the U.S.S.R.'s motivation for exporting chemical weapons to Syria and other countries. The Kremlin saw gas as useful for allies fighting against insurgencies: For the countries that had actually used it in combat -- Kampuchea, Laos, Afghanistan and Yemen - the authors conclude that the Soviet Union saw it as a way of "breaking the will and resistance of stubborn guerrilla forces operating from relatively inaccessible protected sanctuaries."
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Report: F-16s to be used as unmanned aerial vehicles (25 September 2013)
Boeing has taken mothballed F-16s and convertED them to unmanned aerial vehicles, CNN is reporting.

The drones already have flown over Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, the network reported. Last week, a QF-16 climbed to 40,000 feet over the Gulf of Mexico. The unmanned jet broke the sound barrier.

The planes will be used in Florida as a target for live pilot training and will be used for targets.

The jets will come from the service's long-term storage, according to the network.
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It's the Austerity, Stupid: How We Were Sold an Economy-Killing Lie (23 September 2013)
TO FULLY UNDERSTAND THE R&R AFFAIR, let's return to that moment in January 2010. Technically, the Great Recession had ended several months earlier. But the economic reality of working Americans remained bleak. The unemployment rate continued to hover near 10 percent. A broader measure that includes discouraged job seekers and those forced to accept part-time work was near 17 percent. GDP was growing again after a disastrous 2009, but at an anemic rate of about 2 percent a year. Wage growth, adjusted for inflation, was actually negative: Salaries were shrinking, and still no one was getting work.

The problem, from an economist's perspective, was a simple one: The housing bubble had burst, and banks were stuck with enormous losses on their housing-related securities. They desperately needed to sell assets to remain solvent, but when everyone wants to sell all at once, and nobody wants to buy, the result is a death spiral: Falling prices require ever more asset sales, which in turn produce ever steeper price drops and further asset sales. This vicious cycle eventually transformed an ordinary recession into something far more threatening--a banking crisis recession.

Ironically, it was none other than Reinhart and Rogoff who had warned us of this in their magisterial--and sardonically titled--study of financial crises throughout history, This Time Is Different. They found that while government action might rescue broken financial systems fairly quickly (in this latest case via bank bailouts and emergency cash injections by the Federal Reserve), the wider recessions brought on by financial crises typically last a very long time. Five years is hardly unusual.

This wasn't a counsel of despair. If anything, This Time Is Different should have been taken as a well-timed warning to respond to this recession even more forcefully than usual. What was needed was for the federal government to apply the same urgency to rescuing the economy that it had to rescuing the banks.
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How Much Would A Government Shutdown Cost In Lost Economic Growth? (23 September 2013)
With congressional conservatives poised to force a government shutdown at the end of the month over the three-year-old Affordable Care Act, economists are trying to tally up what shuttering the government would cost the country. Estimates vary widely, and the totals would depend on how long a shutdown would last, but any shutdown would undermine already slack economic growth.

Some firm numbers come from the last shutdown in the late 1990s, which cost the country 0.5 percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP) growth and more than $2 billion in unnecessary expenses. Those shutdowns lasted less than a month combined, and Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Doug Elmendorf said last week that while any shutdown would be costly, the damage would "scale up" the longer the government remains shut. Moody's Analytics founder Mark Zandi testified last Wednesday that the timing of this budget fight means it would be more damaging than the Clinton-era shutdown. A three- to four-week shutdown "would do significant economic damage, reducing real GDP by 1.4 percentage points," Zandi told the Joint Economic Committee last week, and a two-month shutdown "would likely precipitate another recession." With growth already far below the level needed for the economy to return to pre-recession employment levels, that's a hit the country can ill afford.

Most of the costs of a shutdown are hard to tabulate because they involve damage to consumer, investor, and business confidence coming out of a shutdown, and lost time spent preparing for the worst in the weeks before a shutdown. The White House has already instructed agencies to begin preparing for the possibility that House leaders will force a shutdown rather than accept that they will not be able to defund Obamacare. As Ezra Klein put it, "that means a lot of hours spent on nothing useful," like preparing website notifications and new security measures and various other forms of logistical busywork necessary to be ready to shut down public services and facilities.
[Read more...]

Spilling the NSA's Secrets: Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger on the Inside Story of Snowden Leaks (23 September 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And did the decision about what to publish first, and given the fact that it has been string of continuing revelations that have come out and -- how, how was that decided on?

ALAN RUSBRIDGER: Well, to begin with, we needed some help from Snowden to point us to what he thought was important. This is not a world that is easily -- these are not documents in which the stories sit up and show themselves. This is a complex world. A lot is written in acronyms, if not in actually code, and so we had to be guided to, initially, to some of the stories that Snowden felt were most newsworthy. And it was important for him, I think, that the world had some sense of what he was trying to say before he outed himself, and so, we started doing stories about this intersection between Silicon Valley, telecom companies, and the intelligence agencies. What is, I think, something new, is putting entire populations under a form of surveillance. So, that is what we did in that first week before Snowden came out and revealed himself to be the whistleblower.

AMY GOODMAN: Edward Snowden, himself, had signed up for Special Forces in the United States., broke both of his legs in a training accident and then left. How did you confirm his credibility on all of this, who he was?

ALAN RUSBRIDGER: Well, they all spoke to him for a long time, and that is where having my Scottish Presbyterian reporter in the room was important for me. I wanted him to make -- to form a judgment about character. I mean, we obviously did all the tests of who he was, and that all stacked up. He obviously was who he said he was.
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DOJ's Wiretapping of AP Results in Lengthy Prison Term for Source (24 September 2013)
When it was first reported that the Department of Justice was illegally combing through the phone records of Associated Press offices and targeting journalists with secret subpoenas for their communication records, outrage erupted among free press advocates and journalism professionals.

Caught red-handed with the disclosures, Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder was forced to perform damage control, defending the practice against those who said it was a violation of key constitutional protections while saying that future safeguards would be put in place to censure overreach by the DOJ.

On Monday, however, a plea-agreement by a former FBI agent--who disclosed information about a terrorist plot in Yemen to the Associated Press and was discovered after the FBI secretly obtained access to the news agency's phone records--shows that, despite the outrage behind the practice of wiretapping journalists, the man is now heading to prison for a lengthy term.

As the New York Times reports:
"Federal investigators said they were able to identify the man, Donald Sachtleben, a former bomb technician, as a suspect in the leak case only after secretly obtaining A.P. reporters' phone logs, a move that set off an uproar among journalists and members of Congress of both parties when it was disclosed in May.

"Mr. Sachtleben, 55, of Carmel, Ind., who was an F.B.I. agent from 1983 until 2008 and was later hired as a contractor, has agreed to serve 43 months in prison for the leak, the Justice Department said. His case is the eighth leak-related prosecution under the Obama administration. Only three such cases were prosecuted under all previous presidents."
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Former FBI agent to plead guilty in leak to AP (23 September 2013)
A former FBI bomb technician who later worked as a contractor for the bureau has agreed to plead guilty to disclosing national defense information to the Associated Press about a disrupted terrorist plot to bring down a civilian airliner headed for the United States, the Justice Department said Monday.

Officials described the disclosure as one of the most serious national security leaks in history, saying it came in the middle of a sensitive intelligence operation. The case led to the Justice Department's controversial decision to secretly subpoena two months' worth of phone records from the Associated Press.

Donald John Sachtleben, 55, of Carmel, Ind., provided information to an AP reporter about the disruption of the plot by the Yemen-based terrorist organization al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Sachtleben also told the news agency that the United States had recovered a bomb during the investigation of the April 2012 plot and that it was being examined at an FBI lab in Quantico where he sometimes worked, according to Justice Department officials and court documents filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

Administration officials and others later described the device as extremely difficult to detect and said it was built by the Yemeni group's master bombmaker, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.
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Obama offers support to Kenya as FBI investigates American involvement (23 September 2013)
Barack Obama offered security support to Kenya on Monday, as authorities in Washington investigated reports that American citizens may have been involved in the terrorist attack on a shopping mall that killed at least 62 people.

"We're providing all the co-operation that we can as we deal with this situation that has captivated the world," he said, arriving in New York for the United Nations general assembly. "We will provide them with whatever law enforcement support is necessary and we are confident that Kenya, which has been a pillar of stability in eastern Africa, will rebuild."

The US government insists it has no firm proof that any American nationals took part in the Westgate attack, but the FBI is thought to be investigating the suspected involvement of al-Shabaab recruits from Somali communities in Minnesota and Maine. A number of US citizens have been recruited to fight in Somalia from Minneapolis, which is home to 32,000 of the estimated 100,000 Somalis who have fled the country's civil war and settled in the US.

US military forces are also already active in the horn of Africa, training the Kenyan military to help pursue radical Islamic groups.

There was a confused picture on Monday over who might be behind the shopping-centre attack, with one of a variety of conflicting Twitter accounts claiming to represent al-Shabaab insisting that three of the attackers were US citizens.
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Smithfield shareholders approve takeover (24 September 2013)
Smithfield Foods Inc.'s shareholders today overwhelmingly approved a Chinese corporation's $7.1 billion offer to buy the pork company.

About 105,800,000 shares -- or 96 percent of the total -- were cast in favor of the acquisition.

The deal will take effect Thursday, said Keira Lombardo, a spokeswoman for Smithfield. It will be the largest purchase of a U.S. business by a Chinese company.

Smithfield, founded in 1936 and based in Smithfield, Va., is the world's largest pork processor and producer, with $13 billion in annual sales.
[Read more...]

Strip club sues Oracle over employee's unpaid tab (23 September 2013)
A San Francisco strip club is suing Oracle after one of its employees ran up $33,540 in charges on a company credit card - and Oracle refused to pay the bill.

The suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, comes just as Oracle OpenWorld's mega conference gets rolling, bringing an estimated 60,000 conventioneers to town.

According to the lawsuit, the employee - identified as Jose Manuel Gomez Sanchez - used his Oracle-issued American Express card to charge $16,490 in unspecified "services" at the New Century Theater on Larkin Street during the wee hours of Oct. 2 during last year's Oracle OpenWorld fest.

It must have been some party, because the employee returned two nights later and rang up another $17,050 in charges.
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We eat three times as much cheese now as we did in 1970 (23 September 2013)
Americans have weird eating habits. While we're eating less beef and less sugar, according to a new report card from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Americans LOVE cheese, and in the past four decades, we've grown increasingly obsessed with it. Just look at this graph... [Read more...]

Got lice? Throw a party (23 September 2013)
When Dina Mei realized her 13-year old son had brought home head lice from summer camp, she did what any savvy mother would do -- she called the lice checker and ordered pizza.

Gone are the days when parents kept silent about their child having lice. "I know from being on parent council that if one parent doesn't take care of it and sends their kids to school, it just becomes a disgusting vicious cycle," says Mei.

Since her son had already been home for a couple of days before they discovered the lice, Mei knew his friends who'd come over to their home had been exposed. "I didn't know if those parents were going to check [their kids' hair] just because my son has it, so I thought let's invite the kids over, we'll have a swim, we'll order pizza and we'll check for lice," says Mei.

Enter Gina Zacher of Toronto Head Lice, the lice checker at Mei's poolside lice party. Zacher began advertising lice parties as part of her services this year, charging $80 for the first hour and $50 for every additional hour. She says lice parties are not only a great way for parents to share the cost of hiring a lice checker, but the gatherings can create a more comfortable atmosphere where kids can feel less embarrassed about being checked and treated for lice.
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Green tea polyphenols again shown to dramatically lower risk of breast and prostate cancers (22 September 2013)
(NaturalNews) The scientific evidence in support of the cancer-fighting benefits of consuming green tea and standardized extracts of green tea polyphenols is overwhelming. The ancient Chinese have known the healing properties of sipping green tea for several millennia, while western nutrition science has been much slower to hail green tea as a powerful protective agent in preventing breast and prostate cancers. Undoubtedly, if Big Pharma could figure out how to patent the natural phenols released by consuming green tea, they would have their next multi-billion dollar superstar, and one that was actually effective in fighting cancer.

Fortunately, green tea cannot be patented, and the benefits of drinking several cups of fresh brewed green tea are as close as your kitchen cabinet. Researchers have presented the results from two studies to the AACR International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research that explains the specific mechanism of action exhibited by green tea consumption to inhibit vascular endothelial growth factor and hepatocyte growth factor, both of which promote tumor cell growth, migration and invasion.

Lead study author, Dr. Suzanne Henning commented "Our study showed that drinking six cups of green tea affected biomarkers in prostate tissue... this research offers new insights into the mechanisms by which green tea consumption may reduce the risk for prostate cancer by opposing processes such as inflammation, which are associated with prostate cancer growth." The team assembled a cohort of 67 men with prostate cancer to determine the effects of green tea consumption.
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'The Economy Runs on Our Toil': Record Protests Sweep Bangladesh (22 September 2013)
50,000 garment workers demanding higher pay flooded the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh Saturday, and 20,000 shut down dozens of factories by walking off the job, in the largest demonstrations to ever sweep the notoriously dangerous and low-wage Bangladesh garment industry.

The protests continued on Sunday, with workers and their supporters blocking traffic, marching along a key highway, and clashing with police who shot rubber bullets and tear gas at crowds of thousands, the AFP reports.

"Our backs are against the wall, so we don't have any alternative unless we raise our voice strongly," Nazma Akter, president of the United Garments Workers' Federation, which groups 52 garment worker's groups, told Saturday's protest, Reuters reports. "We will not hesitate to do anything to realize our demand."

Bangladesh's garment industry is the second largest in the world, accounting for 80 percent of its annual exports. Its estimated 4 million workers, 80 percent of whom are women from rural areas, earn a paltry $38 U.S. dollars a month, making them some of the lowest-paid garment workers in the world.

Unions have demanded a wage increase that would bring them to a monthly wage of $100 dollars to lift workers out of deep poverty, but factory owners rejected the demand, offering a paltry 20 percent raise.
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Ferocity of mall attack stuns Kenyans (22 September 2013)
The attack, apparently targeting non-Muslims and Westerners who frequent the mall, shocked many in Kenya for its ferocity, but there had been warnings that it could happen.

Somalia's Al Shabab Islamists said their forces were responsible and the assault was in revenge for Kenya's Army offensive against them in Somalia, where they have been pushed out of most major towns in the past two years.

There had been repeated "threat alerts" of potential attacks targeting the shopping center, but Al Shabab's efforts in Kenya so far were limited to single grenades lobbed at bus-stop queues or into illegal pubs.

By contrast, Saturday's attack was the worst terror strike on the country since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, in which 212 people died.
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Kenyan forces locked in standoff with militants as death toll rises to 59 (22 September 2013)
Kenyan security forces are locked in a standoff with gunmen who killed at least 59 people in a shopping mall in Nairobi, where the al-Qaida-linked militants are holding an unknown number of hostages.

Gunfire was heard on Sunday and the Kenyan government, which raised the death toll from 39 overnight, said it had evacuated more than 1,000 people. It would not say how many hostages were still in the mall but believed there were 10 to 15 attackers.

Kenya's Red Cross said in a statement citing police that 49 people had been reported missing. Officials did not make an explicit link but that number could form the basis of the number of people held hostage.

"The priority is to save as many lives as possible," interior minister Joseph Lenku said, reassuring the families of the hostages.

The Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, facing his first major security challenge since his election in March, said the dead included close members of his family.

The Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack on the Kenyan capital's Westgate mall, which is frequented by westerners as well as Kenyans. Several foreigners, including at least three Britons and a Canadian diplomat, were among the dead.
[Read more...]

Densely populated Hong Kong battens down as typhoon approaches (22 September 2013)
(Reuters) - A powerful typhoon headed towards the southern Chinese city of Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated cities on Earth, on Sunday amid warnings of severe flooding as well as strong winds in the event of a direct hit.

Typhoon Usagi, the strongest storm to hit the Western Pacific this year, began pounding the Asian financial centre late on Sunday. Over 370 flights were cancelled in the city, while residents rushed home ahead of what weathermen warned could be the strongest hit by a typhoon in years.

The No. 8 signal warning was hoisted as winds intensified and the famous harbor churned with waves. The storm, which killed two people in the Philippines, was expected to buffet the city through Monday, possibly closing financial markets and the stock exchange.

The storm has weakened from "super" typhoon status but winds of over 160 kilometers per hour were expected.

China's National Meteorological Centre issued its highest alert, with more than 80,000 people moved to safety in Fujian province and authorities deploying at least 50,000 disaster-relief workers, the state Xinhua news agency reported.
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Weaponized Profits: The US Health Care System (22 September 2013)
Patients are essential to the profit-making--you cannot make that money without patients to treat and dose--but patients also have almost no protections and no say in the design of this system that injures and kills without any accountability or shame whatsoever. Sure, as I point out often, the direct correlation between lack of access to appropriate care and poor health outcomes is certainly a function of access to public or private health coverage and the approval or denials of needed care. So it's easy to target the insurance companies as villains. And those companies have earned their status by denying care and collecting premiums. Big Pharma rakes in the cash through all the channels we all have known about and by taking advantage of every chance to boost profits, avoidable accountability and protect patents. But these two target groups aren't by any means the only groups responsible for weaponized greed in the US health care system.

Ask any family member or friend of a patient injured by medical error or outright medical fraud just how quickly the white-coat ranks close around those who cause the injuries. My husband was once the victim of a botched open-heart surgery (and, thank God, lived to tell about it), and even the surgeon who discovered and repaired the error quickly made it clear after he performed the second surgery that he would not and could not testify against those who made the mistake that resulted in the need for a second open heart procedure to fix the first. His ability to continue making money within a system that protects itself would have been diminished if his fellow surgeons saw him as a risk in terms of telling the truth about medical errors. I am grateful he had enough courage to at least fix the problem since the original group of doctors were all too willing to allow my then 46-year-old husband to go home and die never knowing that his first surgery had been botched. The patient safety community knows so well that safety is not the priority in the US health system. Profits rule.

The US health care system fails to hold itself accountable for harming patients, ruining lives and defrauding government programs because to do so would hamper the ability to make money. Because health care is an industry in which human life literally is held in the balance, protecting and promoting profit-making above all else is an economic weapon that kills. It is true that having an improved and expanded Medicare for all for life system would not remove all of the problems associated with this weaponized greed, but it would certainly begin to cut into the some of the ways in which health care system greed is most commonly valued above human health. The ability to access care at the most appropriate times and settings would be of great value. Patients would have much more freedom to choose their providers and make calmer decisions about where and how to get care.

In the coming weeks, I want to explore more of the reasons I believe that an improved and expanded Medicare for all for life system would help achieve a safer and wiser health system beyond just the health care finance issues. Because if we do not stop using our health system as a weapon for profits rather than a system designed for the common good and public health, more Americans will suffer and die at the hands of those who call themselves healers than currently are killed by other, more traditional weapons. We need a health care system that uses money to fund healing instead of a system that uses money to make more money with little regard for those who need care. We've got it backasswards.
[Read more...]

Rihanna poses with protected primate in Thailand (22 September 2013)
She posted a link on Twitter to an Instagram photo that showed her in sunglasses snuggling up to a furry primate called the slow loris, and tweeted Friday: "Look who was talkin dirty to me!"

The slow loris, a squirrel-like animal with big eyes, is native to Southeast Asia and is listed as a protected species.

"Phuket authorities were alerted to the picture (of Rihanna), and last night police arrested the two individuals who brought out the loris as a photo opportunity for tourists," a Phuket district chief, Weera Kerdsirimongkon, said by telephone Sunday.

Police confiscated two lorises from the pair -- a 20-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy -- who could face charges of possession of protected animals. The charge carries a penalty of up to four years in prison and a 40,000 baht ($1,300) fine.

Weera said authorities have tried for years to crack down on the problem of vendors exploiting wildlife, particularly in popular tourist areas where people pay to pose for pictures with elephants, orangutans and other animals.
[Read more...]

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


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