Pam Rotella's Vegetarian FUN page -- News on health, nutrition, the environment, politics, and more!
NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2013
News from the Week of 6th to 12th of October 2013
Asthma drug pricing puts a simple breath at a premium (12 October 2013)
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The kitchen counter in the home of the Hayes family is scattered with the inhalers, sprays and bottles of pills that have allowed Hannah, 13, and her sister, Abby, 10, to excel at dance and gymnastics despite a horrific pollen season that has set off asthma attacks, leaving the girls struggling to breathe.
Asthma -- the most common chronic disease that affects Americans of all ages, about 40 million people -- can usually be well-controlled with drugs. But being able to afford prescription medications in the United States often requires top-notch insurance or plenty of disposable income, and time to hunt for deals and bargains.
The arsenal of medicines in the Hayeses' kitchen helps explain why. Pulmicort, a steroid inhaler, generally retails for more than $175 in the United States, while pharmacists in Britain buy the identical product for about $20 and dispense it free to asthma patients. Albuterol, one of the oldest asthma medicines, typically costs $50 to $100 per inhaler in the United States, but it was less than $15 a decade ago, before it was repatented.
"The one that really blew my mind was the nasal spray," said Robin Levi, Hannah and Abby's mother, referring to her $80 co-payment for Rhinocort Aqua, a prescription drug that was selling for more than $250 a month in Oakland pharmacies last year but costs less than $7 in Europe, where it is available over the counter.
PAM COMMENTARY: Dr. Batmanghelidj, the author of "Your Body's Many Cries for Water," found that asthma is sometimes due to dehydration. Dr. Hulda Clark, author of "The Cure for All Diseases," found the parasite Ascaris in asthma victims' lungs, and said that people are often infected as children by their pets.
Poll shows majority of Americans support kicking out all members of Congress (11 October 2013)
firstread.nbcnews.com - A recent poll held by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal shows that, if they had the chance, 60 percent of Americans would fire every representative in Congress.
The poll asked Americans this question: "If there were a place on your ballot that allowed you to vote to defeat and replace every single member of Congress, including your own representative, would you do this, or not?" 60 percent of respondents said yes, 35 percent said no, and 5 percent said not sure.
That is up from July, when 57 percent said yes, and is the highest figure ever for that poll's question.
47 percent of Americans polled say that they do not strongly identify with either the Republican or Democrat party. Only 14 percent of Americans "think things in the nation are generally headed in the right direction," as opposed to 78 percent of Americans who "feel things are off on the wrong track." This is the most negative response in this since October 2012, when the same number said the country was off on the wrong track and only 12 percent believed we were headed in the right direction.
Time to have a cow about dead cows (10 October 2013)
Ranchers are finding carcasses everywhere, often clustered together at a fence line, emerging from the melting snow. Nobody knows how many cattle were killed in the blizzard that hit South Dakota and Wyoming on Oct. 4; the actual number probably won't be tallied until spring. But it could be hundreds of thousands, the Wall Street Journal reports:
"South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch, citing estimates from industry groups, said as much as 5% of the state's 3.85 million cattle may have been killed, though he said the total death count may not be known until the spring."
As cow catastrophes go, that's a big deal. Nothing this severe has happened in recent memory. But it's not just about money; it's also an emotional blow for many ranchers. Dawn Wink blogged about the raw feelings evident in her parents' communications from their ranch:
"Mom texted me after the storm. 'No electricity. Saving power on phone. It's really, really bad....' She turned on her phone to call me later that day. 'There are no words to describe the devastation and loss. Everywhere we look there are dead cattle. I've never seen so many dead cattle. Nobody can remember anything like this.' ... 'I can't imagine writing about this. I'm not going to take photos. These deaths are too gruesome. Nobody wants to see this.'"
States pay to reopen national parks closed by federal shutdown (11 October 2013)
Utah was the first taker, with Gov. Gary Herbert wiring $1.67 million to federal officials to temporarily reopen five national parks and other national park units by Saturday.
In Arizona, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer announced Friday night that her state reached a deal with the Interior Department to pay for Grand Canyon National Park to completely reopen using state and local funds. Arizona will pay the National Park Service $651,000 to keep the Grand Canyon open for seven days. The National Park Service said that entrances to the park will open to the public at 8 a.m. Saturday.
Figures compiled by a coalition of retired park service workers indicate that some 700,000 people a day would have been visiting the 401 national park units, and that the surrounding areas are losing $76 million in visitor spending daily.
The park service said it is losing $450,000 per day in revenue from entrance fees and other in-park expenditures, such as campground fees and boat rentals.
New York officials also reached an agreement with the federal government Friday to reopen the Statue of Liberty. In the deal between Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the National Park Service, the state will pay about $61,600 daily to open Liberty Island National Park to visitors beginning this weekend.
"We will not allow this international symbol of freedom to remain closed because of the dysfunction and gridlock of Washington," Cuomo said in a release.
The National Park Service, which has had to furlough more than 20,000 employees, said the agreement allows for the park on which the Statue of Liberty stands to open Saturday and remain open through Oct. 17 for about $369,000.
Secret FISA Court Extends NSA Phone Spying (12 October 2013)
The secretive U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has approved a request made by the National Security Agency (NSA) to continue its dragnet collection of records on all U.S. phone calls.
In what it claimed to be move for transparency, the office of the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made the announcement late Friday.
Clapper "has decided to declassify and disclose publicly that the government filed an application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seeking renewal of the authority to collect telephony metadata in bulk, and that the court renewed that authority," the office's statement read.
This disclosure is "consistent with his prior declassification decision and in light of the significant and continuing public interest in the telephony metadata collection program," it continued.
However, as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)--who is among a handful of U.S. lawmakers currently drafting respective bills that claim to prohibit the NSA from conducting bulk data collection in the future--made clear that Clapper's nod towards "transparency" was superficial at face value.
"While I appreciate the recent efforts by the Court and the administration to be more transparent, it is clear that transparency alone is not enough," said Leahy.
Edward Snowden says NSA surveillance programmes 'hurt our country' (12 October 2013)
The National Security Agency whistleblower, Edward Snowden, has said that the mass surveillance programmes used by the US to tap into phone and internet connections around the world is making people less safe.
In short video clips posted by the WikiLeaks website on Friday, Snowden said that the NSA's mass surveillance, which he disclosed before fleeing to Russia, "puts us at risk of coming into conflict with our own government".
A US court has charged Snowden with violating the Espionage Act, for disclosing the programmes which he described as a "dragnet mass surveillance that puts entire populations under sort of an eye that sees everything even when it's not needed".
"They hurt our economy. They hurt our country. They limit our ability to speak and think and live and be creative, to have relationships and to associate freely," Snowden said.
"500 People Will Control American Democracy" If Supreme Court Overturns Campaign Finance Law (11 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
BURT NEUBORNE: Well, the importance of the McCutcheon case is it's the first time people have zeroed in on contribution limitations. The law is that expenditures--if you spend your own money--that's now completely uncontrolled. And so you have these extraordinarily wealthy people--the Koch brothers or George Soros, on the other side--pouring huge amounts of their own money in. Nothing can be done about that. Up until now, contributions, though, were treated differently, because the idea of a contribution created the possibility of a quid pro quo deal with a candidate. And so, contributions could be limited.
And there are two kinds of limitations. There's something called a base limitation, which limits the amount that can be given to any particular candidate or any particular committee, and then the aggregate limitation, which is a total that can be given to everybody. The numbers are huge. I mean, you wouldn't believe it. The existing numbers now are $5,200 for a candidate in an election cycle.
AMY GOODMAN: That you can give.
BURT NEUBORNE: That you can give--$32,400 on top of that to a political--to the national political party, $10,000 on top of that to the state party, and $5,000 to as many PACs as you want, and there's an unlimited number of them.
AMY GOODMAN: So it's around $50,000.
BURT NEUBORNE: The only thing that prevents that from spinning out of control, to--I did the math last night, about $3.6 million each election cycle per person--the only thing that prevents that from spinning out of control are the aggregate limitations. And the aggregate limitations are $123,200, and that's what McCutcheon says is too small.
Worse Than Nixon? Committee to Protect Journalists Warns About Obama Crackdown on Press Freedom (11 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: I found that these leaks investigations and a program called the Insider Threat Program, instituted since the Bradley Manning leaks, that requires government employees to monitor each other to make sure that they're not leaking information to anyone, including journalists, to have really frightened government officials. Many, many reporters that I interviewed here in Washington say that government officials are afraid to talk to them. They're afraid that their telephone conversations and their email exchanges would be monitored. That is to say that investigators could come in later, as they did in several leaks investigations, and use their telephone and email records in order to find the contacts between government officials and reporters. So they're simply scared to talk to reporters.
And this, this is not good, because--I just heard the president saying that he was concerned about the safety of our troops and our intelligence officers. It's important that responsible, knowledgeable government officials be able to talk to reporters about these matters, so that, among other things, they can alert reporters to information that might be harmful to national security or harmful to human life, in which case no responsible news organization would publish those.
AMY GOODMAN: What were you most surprised by?
LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: I guess I was most surprised by--you know, I'm used to reporters complaining about access, because we all want more access than we can get all the time, and that's understandable. But I was surprised by the pervasiveness of this administration's control over the--over information, by how much it discourages leaks of all kinds and not just classified information leaks, and how much it does not allow for unauthorized contacts with the press, if it can help it, and how much it uses social media and other digital means--websites and so on--to put out a lot of its own story, a lot of its own information, that makes the administration look good, while restricting access to information that would hold the government accountable for its actions.
Freed from an Egyptian jail, Canadians John Greyson and Tarek Loubani answer questions about their time in captivity (11 October 2013)
Q: It seemed quiet enough to go out of your hotel, but the day before you landed, hundreds were killed in the streets.
A: (Greyson): Mostly the streets were deserted. We thought, well, let's go see. Let's carefully make our way to Ramses Square. When we first got there, nothing going on. ..there were helicopters in the air, people would shake their fists at them...it was that cross section of civil society gathered for a protest.
The next thing that happened was the tear gas. Then suddenly there was a cry of 'doctor, doctor' and out of nowhere we saw some guys carrying a guy who had been wounded, badly shot.
(Loubani) He was bleeding from the neck and one of the preconditions of a bleeding wound is to put pressure on it, so I applied pressure, I asked them to let me check him and they stopped briefly while I did that and we decided, let's shelter somewhere. We had a brief conversation about where to go.
As it happens we were almost directly in front of (the Al-Fatah) mosque's doors. We (entered and) put him down, and before that patient died the whole room was starting to fill with wounded and with people. We basically turned Fatah into a field hospital with no supplies.
Madagascar: Bubonic Plague - Madagascar Faces New, Terrifying Threat (11 October 2013)
Johannesburg -- The already troubled African island of Madagascar faces a new and terrifying threat: bubonic plague.
In recent years, the Indian Ocean nation has become the world's top site for the storied disease, with hundreds of cases and scored of plague deaths last year. Aid officials are warning that things could get worse unless more is done to prevent and fight the spread of the often-deadly disease.
Madagascar is the world's hotspot for this flea-borne disease. It first gained infamy in the 14th century for killing some 25 million people in Europe. That epidemic earned the disease its ominous nickname, Black Death.
Last year, Madagascar saw more cases of bubonic plague than anywhere in the world, with 256 cases and 60 deaths. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says that some 500 cases have been recorded on the island every year since 2009.
The ICRC this week announced a campaign with Malagasy authorities to eliminate flea-ridden disease-carrying rodents in a prison in the capital. Prisons in the nation are often overcrowded and dirty, making them ideal breeding grounds for disease.
PAM COMMENTARY: Anyone tried a zapper on that?
10 in Florida die from bacteria found in saltwater (11 October 2013)
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Patty Konietzky thought the small purple lesion on her husband's ankle was a spider bite. But when the lesion quickly spread, she knew something wasn't right.
After a trip to the hospital and a day and a half later, Konietzky's 59-year-old husband was dead.
The diagnosis: vibrio vulnificus, an infection caused by a bacterium found in warm saltwater. It's in the same family of bacterium that causes cholera. This year, 31 people across Florida have been infected by the severe strain of vibrio, and 10 have died.
"I thought the doctors would treat him with antibiotics and we'd go home," said Konietzky, who lives in Palm Coast.
State health officials say there are two ways to contract the disease: by eating raw, tainted shellfish -- usually oysters -- or when an open wound comes in contact with bacteria in warm seawater.
Another special interest tries to wriggle out of paying for Obamacare (11 October 2013)
Now that the medical device industry appears to be on the verge of snaking out from under its Obamacare-related tax, another industry lobby has stepped up to the plate with the words, "Us too!"
We're talking about the health insurance industry, which has launched a campaign to kill a premium excise tax that will start being collected next year. As with the medical device tax, this is an example of pure special pleading. The Affordable Care Act is shot through with fees and taxes affecting almost all stakeholders in healthcare, largely because conservatives in Congress insisted that the law pay for itself. The health insurance industry simply doesn't want to carry its share.
On the surface, the health insurers' arguments make sense. They say the premium tax, which is designed to produce as much as $100 billion in revenue over 10 years, will add 2% to 3% to the costs of premiums in the individual and small-employer markets. (Self-insured policies, which are what most large employers have, aren't affected.) The industry observes that while the premium tax technically is levied on insurers, they're sure to pass it on to customers.
"The tax undermines the goal of health insurance reform by making medical coverage more expensive," says Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry's lobbying arm.
Yes, but. To begin with, if insurers really thought they'd be able to pass the tax on to consumers dollar for dollar, they probably wouldn't be squealing so heartrendingly about it. They're afraid they'll have to eat some of it themselves to compete on price with each other. That's not a groundless fear, because one hallmark of Obamacare is that it will enable insurance buyers to make more direct comparisons of the costs and services of rival insurance plans; if you're passing 100% of the premium tax, you may lose customers to a company passing on only 50%, or 25%.
How the Feds Could Fix Their Glitchy Health Care Exchange (11 October 2013)
There's been a lot of talk in recent days about how the glitchy rollout of the federal health insurance marketplace may not mean much IF the developers of healthcare.gov are able to turn it around in the next month.
To prove the point, health policy experts point to the 2006 start of Medicare Part D, the prescription drug program for seniors and the disabled, which was also bumpy.
But in a number of ways, it appears the agency that runs the federal health insurance exchange, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, hasn't modeled that website after Part D, which it also runs.
Journalists have pointed out that one major problem with the exchanges is that, until Thursday, it did not allow consumers to "window shop," or look at details of plans, before giving their personal information and being verified as eligible for coverage. Now users can do that.
Part D's signup site is quite different. Medicare beneficiaries do not have to provide any information about themselves or verify their eligibility to get detailed cost estimates.
Federal health exchange sending confusing enrollment information to insurers (11 October 2013)
At the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services, officials have portrayed the exchange as a victim of its own popularity, with a larger-than-expected crush of Americans rushing to a Web site that wasn't built to accommodate so many people at once.
That explanation puts the focus up front -- on the servers and software that help consumers take the first step of registering for an account. Evidence is emerging from the insurance industry and elsewhere, however, that the exchange also has flaws that show up further along in the process -- as consumers try to check whether they qualify for federal subsidies and as insurers try to find out who has enrolled.
For instance, one major insurance carrier, Cigna, sent a notice Wednesday to insurance brokers instructing them to wait until November to try to sign up customers who might qualify for a subsidy, according to Joseph Mondy, a Cigna spokesman. He said that the company does not yet trust the reliability of the part of the exchange that is supposed to calculate the tax credits that will, for the first time, help some Americans pay for private health coverage.
Cigna is one of the insurers that has built its own online "portal" for brokers to use, but that portal must communicate with the federal exchange to find out about a potential subsidy.
Star Scientific chief thought McDonnell was helping firm get state funding (11 October 2013)
A wealthy political donor has told federal prosecutors that he believed that Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell was helping his company get state research funding at the same time the executive was providing McDonnell's family with gifts and money, according to two people familiar with the donor's account.
E-mails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act also show that researchers and scientists working with the company thought that McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, wanted the company to receive the funding from the state's tobacco commission. The researchers were in communication with Star Scientific Inc. officials during the same months that Chief Executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. said he believed McDonnell was helping, the e-mails show.
Records show Star did not ultimately get funding from the tobacco commission. And a spokesman for McDonnell's attorney and an attorney for Maureen McDonnell denied that either the governor or his wife agreed to try to help Star get the money.
The effort to win commission funding is of keen interest to prosecutors as one piece of a possible pattern in which McDonnell and his wife offered to assist the company in 2011 and 2012, according to people with knowledge of what Williams has told investigators. That is the same time frame in which the McDonnell family received the gifts and money.
More patents issued for renewable energy tech than for fossil fuels (11 October 2013)
New patents for renewable energy technology have spiked in recent years to levels never seen for fossil fuel patents, illustrating a worldwide effort to innovate in the field, according to new research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Santa Fe Institute.
The United States issued more than 1,000 patents for renewable energy technology in 2009, a leap from about 200 per year between 1975 and 2000, the research said. In 2009, just 300 patents related to fossil fuels were issued, up from an average of about 100 a year in earlier decades.
The trend is present worldwide, according to the study of more than 73,000 patents issued in more than 100 countries between 1970 and 2009.
Between 2004 and 2009, the number of solar patents issued annually grew 13 percent each year, MIT said.
Analysis: Lawsuits likely as EPA declares US ethanol blend wall a 'reality' (11 October 2013)
(Reuters) - With two words, the U.S. environment regulator may be handing oil refiners the biggest win of a long battle to beat back the seemingly inexorable rise of ethanol fuel.
In a leaked proposal that would significantly scale back biofuel blending requirements next year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the blend wall - the 10 percent threshold of ethanol-mixed gasoline that is at the crux of the lobbying war - is an "important reality".
The agency's rationale for a cut in the volume of ethanol that must be blended echoes an argument the oil industry has been making for months: the U.S. fuel chain cannot absorb more ethanol.
Few retailers are able to sell ethanol blends beyond the 10 percent maximum, or willing to take the legal risk that comes with it, they argue.
The words will cut deep for proponents of biofuels. They have argued for years that the blend wall is largely a fiction constructed by an oil industry that doesn't want to cede any more share of a shrinking U.S. gasoline market.
Monsanto, Rural Debt and the Suicide Epidemic in India (10 October 2013)
Writing in 2009, physicist and author Vandana Shiva outlined Monsanto's contributions to a "suicide economy" in India, such as an increase in the price per kilogram of cotton seeds from 7 to 17,000 rupees. Shiva lists additional complications:
"Indigenous cotton varieties can be intercropped with food crops. Bt-cotton can only be grown as a monoculture. Indigenous cotton is rain fed. Bt-cotton needs irrigation. Indigenous varieties are pest resistant. Bt-cotton, even though promoted as resistant to the bollworm, has created new pests, and to control these new pests, farmers are using 13 times more pesticides then they were using prior to introduction of Bt-cotton. And finally, Monsanto sells its GMO seeds on fraudulent claims of yields of 1500/kg/year when farmers harvest 300-400 kg/year on an average."
There are a couple of reasons why mass farmer suicides have not generated the international attention that should ostensibly accompany such a phenomenon. For one thing, the image of desperate peasants killing themselves by the hundreds of thousands does not mesh particularly well with the portrait of India fabricated by free market pundits, who hallucinate rampant upward economic mobility among the country's citizens thanks to globalization.
According to filmmaker Leah Borromeo, director of the forthcoming Dirty White Gold about cotton and fashion, the dearth of international concern over the issue is also a result of the fact that "people haven't made the connection between our consumer habits and the lives and deaths of farmers."
Single-Payer Prescription for What Ails Obamacare (10 October 2013)
"We apologize for the inconvenience. The Marketplace is currently undergoing regularly scheduled maintenance and will be back up Monday 10/7/3013." You read it right, 3013. That was the message on the homepage of the New York state health insurance exchange website this past weekend.
Yes, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare, is going through difficult birth pains, as the marketplace websites went live only to crash. The government is not giving out numbers, but informed observers speculate that very few people have succeeded in signing up for any of the plans so far.
The ACA rollout occurred as Republicans shut down the government in their attempt to defund Obamacare. But their strategy backfired. Had there been no shutdown, all of the attention would have been on the disastrous rollout. The fundamental issue, at the core of the health-care dispute, is typically ignored and goes unreported: The for-profit health-insurance industry in the United States is profoundly inefficient and costly, and a sane and sustainable alternative exists--single-payer, otherwise known as expanded and improved Medicare for all. Just change the age of eligibility from 65 to zero.
"When Medicare was rolled out in 1966, it was rolled out in six months using index cards," Dr. Steffie Woolhandler told me Monday. "So if you have a simple system, you do not have to have all this expense and all this complexity and work." Woolhandler is professor of public health at CUNY-Hunter College and a primary-care physician. She is a visiting professor at Harvard Medical School and the co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, or PNHP. PNHP is an organization with 17,000 physicians as members, advocating for a single-payer health-care system in the U.S.
Government shutdown delayed reporting of largest oil spill since March (10 October 2013)
The oil was isolated within a 7.3-acre (29,947 square meter) area, and within the top 10 feet of clay soil, according to a report filed with the National Response Center on October 8.
The center generally makes such reports available on its website within 24 hours of their filing, but services were interrupted last week because of the U.S. government shutdown.
Jensen said he smelled the sweet Bakken crude oil four days before he discovered a black pool "as big as a deck" on a remote part of his wheat field.
"It was pretty ugly," he said. The nearby crop had "disintegrated, you wouldn't have known it was a wheat plant."
Citibank: Renewables will get bulk of world's new power investment (10 October 2013)
The world is going clean: Renewable energy will make up more than 70 percent of investment in new power generation by 2025, a Citibank report said Thursday.
Demand for power is growing around the globe and most of it will be renewable. Of the nearly $10 trillion dollars that will be poured into the power sector in the next decade, more than $2 trillion will be invested in wind, followed by $1.5 trillion in hydropower and $1.3 trillion in solar power, as nations around the world begin to make the shift away from fossil fuel generation.
While natural gas has cut into coal's dominance for power generation in the United States, the report notes that in the longer run, the lower price of solar energy will make it increasingly attractive, especially during peak demand periods, when wholesale power in Texas can cost as much as $4,500 per megawatt-hour.
"Solar steals the most valuable part of electricity generation at the peak of the day when prices are highest," the report said. German natural gas power plants have already said they are reluctant to build new generation because of the impact of solar power on their profits, according to the report.
40 Percent of Your Chicken Nugget Is Meat. The Rest Is... (10 October 2013)
Marketing isn't about giving people what they want; it's about convincing people to want what you've got--that is, what you can buy cheap, spiff up, and sell at a profit. Take the chicken nugget, that staple of fast-food outlets and school lunches.
The implicit marketing pitch goes something like this: "You like fried chicken, right? How about some bite-sized fried chicken chunks, without the messy bones?" When most people think of eating chicken, they think of, say, biting into a drumstick. What they get when they do so is a mouthful of muscle--popularly known as meat.
What people are actually getting from chicken nuggets is a bit different, according to a new study by University of Mississippi medical researchers. (Abstract here; I have access to the full paper but can't upload it for copyright reasons.) They bought an order of chicken nuggets from two (unnamed) fast-food chains, plucked a nugget from each, broke them down, and analyzed them in a lab.
One of them contained just 40 percent muscle. The rest? "[G]enerous quantities of fat and other tissue, including connective tissue and bone spicules." Mmmm, chicken bones.
The other sample had a whopping 50 percent muscle. The remainder consisted "primarily of fat, with some blood vessels and nerve present," as well as epithelium, the stuff that glands are made of.
Ralph Nader: Tea Party Energy vs. Progressive Lassitude in Congress (10 October 2013)
The difference between the sheer energy levels of far Right and the progressive Left in Congress is stunning. There is no comparison. The extreme Right know who they are: bulls. Their pathway to public recognition comes by defying the Republican Party leadership, thereby securing major media attention. This helps these extremists advance their minority-supported goals of privileges for the few at the expense of the many.
Progressive Left activists, on the other hand, make good speeches and statements but generally defer to their Party leaders who are largely out of gas, except when it comes to raising money from commercial interests.
Let's go to the specifics and proper names. Whatever your opinions may be, it is hard to argue that Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Rand Paul, Senator Mike Lee, Representative Justin Amash and about 35 other Tea Party fighters aren't getting the daily attention of the mass media and setting the agenda for their Congressional leaders.
Republican Representative Amash even managed to get both House Republicans and Democrats within a whisker of properly stopping some of the NSA's blanket snooping on Americans in July.
The high-energy extreme Right-wing in Congress can nullify the effects of overwhelming public sentiment on many matters that benefit the American people. Where is the pushback by the fifty single-payer (full Medicare for everyone) supporters in Congress as represented by H.R.676 and supported by a majority of the American people, physicians and nurses? Nowhere. The Congressional drums are being beaten against Obamacare. Both Right and Left believe, for different reasons, that Obamacare is seriously flawed. But the progressives have left this best alternative on the shelf.
NSA leaker Edward Snowden deserves a Nobel Prize, his father says (10 October 2013)
Moscow (CNN) -- The father of NSA leaker Edward Snowden told reporters in Moscow that he thinks his son deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.
He arrived there Thursday for his first visit with his son since the former government IT contractor fled the United States after leaking National Security Agency spy program details to the media.
Members of the European Parliament nominated Snowden in September for the Andrei Sakharov Prize, which honors figures who stand up to oppressive powers. The prize was awarded to Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai on Thursday.
"Edward took the Sakharov prize nomination very calmly," Lon Snowden told reporters at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport. "He wanted to expose the injustices in the American system, and wasn't doing it with any awards in mind."
Edward Snowden collected information on spy programs, in which the NSA mined phone and Internet metadata from thousands of people inside and outside of the United States. He exposed the program to the media.
Drug shipments to US suspended over Missouri execution fears (10 October 2013)
A German manufacturer confirmed on Thursday it had taken the extraordinary step of suspending shipments of a widely used drug to a US distributor this year after 20 vials were mistakenly sent to the state of Missouri to be used in executions.
Drugmaker Fresenius Kabi said shipments of the anaesthetic propofol were halted to a Louisiana distributor for four and a half months because the company feared the European Union would ban export of the drug if it was used in executions.
"We felt it was important to make sure it was restricted to the healthcare professionals," said Geoffrey Fenton, a US spokesman for the firm.
Propofol, which is mostly made in Europe, is administered about 50m times a year in the United States during various surgical procedures, the manufacturer says.
Missouri had been expected to become the first US state to use the drug in an execution scheduled for 23 October, the Death Penalty Information Center said.
Shell: New leaks close major Nigerian oil pipeline (10 October 2013)
LAGOS, Nigeria -- Shell Nigeria says new leaks have forced it to close the Trans-Niger Pipeline that carries 150,000 barrels of crude daily, 10 days after the pipeline was reopened following repairs for leaks.
Spokeswoman Precious Okolobo said in a statement Wednesday night that a team has been dispatched to repair leaks at three places in the southern Niger Delta's Ogoniland. A joint investigation including community leaders will determine the cause and impact of the spills.
Shell Nigeria said in July the pipeline is safe despite suffering 25 leaks in two years -- most blamed on theft estimated at 60,000 barrels a day.
Human rights groups say the company sometimes blames theft to avoid paying damages to local communities and to avert criticism about corrosion on the 48-year-old pipeline.
Feds seek stay in lawsuit over Arkansas oil spill (10 October 2013)
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Federal prosecutors in Arkansas asked a judge on Wednesday to stay proceedings in their lawsuit against ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. because of the federal government shutdown.
The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Chris Thyer, said in a court filing that most attorneys for the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency can't work on the case during the government shutdown -- even on a voluntary basis.
The filing says Exxon does not oppose the stay.
The lawsuit, filed jointly by federal prosecutors and Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, seeks civil penalties for the oil spill in a Mayflower subdivision. Exxon's Pegasus pipeline ruptured in March, spilling thousands of barrels of oil into a neighborhood.
Warning: Enrolling in Obamacare allows government to link your IP address with your name, social security number, bank accounts and web surfing habits (10 October 2013)
During the enrollment process, your computer also hands over your IP address which is then tied to your social security number.
This IP address is then handed over to the NSA thanks to its new mega-black-hole data center in Utah, where your IP is cross-referenced with all website visits, including:
• "Anti-government" websites
• Porn sites
• Gambling sites
• File sharing sites
• "Terrorism" support sites
• Encryption service sites like Hushmail
• Chat rooms, message boards and more
Armed with this information, the NSA can then link your seemingly-anonymous online chats, comments and posts with your social security number. Linguistic algorithms can "score" your online posts to create red flags that call for additional investigations of anyone using words like "liberty" or "patriot."
China is world's biggest net oil importer (10 October 2013)
China has achieved another world-beating status its leaders don't want: Biggest oil importer.
China surpassed the United States in September as the world's biggest net oil importer, driven by faster economic growth and strong auto sales, according to U.S. government data released this week.
Chinese oil consumption outstripped production by 6.3 million barrels per day, which indicates the country had to import that much to fill the gap, the Energy Information Administration said this week.
"China's steady growth in oil demand has led it to become the world's largest net oil importer, exceeding the United States in September 2013," the agency said in a report. "EIA forecasts this trend to continue through 2014."
Egypt President Grants Army Authority for Full Mobilization (10 October 2013)
Egypt's interim president, Adli Mansour, granted Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi the authority for full mobilization starting the beginning of November of this year.
The presidency said that a bill drafted in 1960 regarding the army's full mobilization states that the president or whoever he mandates may take all the necessary measures to confront crises.
Alaa Ezz al-Din, the former director of the army's strategic office, told Aswat Masriya that the procedure takes place in the case of war or domestic tension.
He added that it is a regular procedure, as stated in previous constitutions, that is necessary today in light of a constitutional vacuum.
The 2012 constitution was suspended after the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July.
Special Report: The real force behind Egypt's 'revolution of the state' (10 October 2013)
(Reuters) - In Hosni Mubarak's final days in office in 2011, the world's gaze focused on Cairo, where hundreds of thousands of protesters demanded the resignation of one of the Arab world's longest serving autocrats.
Little attention was paid when a group of Muslim Brotherhood leaders broke free from their cells in a prison in the far off Wadi el-Natroun desert. But the incident, which triggered a series of prison breaks by members of the Islamist group around the country, caused panic among police officers fast losing their grip on Egypt.
One officer pleaded with his comrades for help as his police station was torched. "I am faced with more than 2,000 people and I am dealing with them alone in Dar al Salam, please hurry," the policeman radioed to colleagues as trouble spread. "Now they have machine guns, the youth are firing machine guns at me, send me reinforcements."
In all, 200 policemen and security officers were killed that day, Jan 28, called the Friday of Rage by anti-Mubarak demonstrators. Some had their throats slit. One of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders to escape was Mohamed Mursi, who would become president the following year.
Four sailors arraigned in deaths of Navy divers (10 October 2013)
Reyher and Harris were diving at a testing facility at Aberdeen known as the Super Pond - a 1,070-foot-long, 150-foot-deep pond on the banks of the Bush River.
The unit's top officer, Cmdr. Michael Runkle, was relieved in the wake of the accident.
Burger and Smith initially faced the possibility of years in prison on charges of negligent homicide, involuntary manslaughter and dereliction of duty in connection to the deaths.
At a two-day preliminary hearing in June, known as an Article 32, testimony revealed numerous problems on the day of the dive, including broken equipment, tangled tethering lines and problematic breathing gear that the Navy later removed from its list of approved cold-water diving equipment.
Demands grow to see secret lists of Minnesota priests accused of abuse (10 October 2013)
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, under fire for its handling of two cases involving sexual misconduct by priests, is also fighting a battle on a second front, facing heightened demands that it release a list held in secret since 2004 of alleged sex offenders among its clergy.
A court hearing on that issue in Ramsey County was where allegations of a child pornography coverup first surfaced last week.
A total of six court hearings seeking the release of secret lists, -involving every diocese in -Minnesota, are slated for this fall, with additional actions targeting about a dozen Catholic religious orders in Minnesota, said St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who is leading the effort.
A hearing in Crookston on Wednesday marked the first of those hearings, with attorneys for an abuse victim asking a judge to compel the local diocese to release its list. Hearings in New Ulm, Duluth and Winona are next.
Release of the full tally, which might run to dozens of priests facing credible allegations of abuse, could ignite an entirely new round of accusations and lawsuits at a time when many Catholics thought the worst of the clergy sex abuse tragedy was behind the church.
Scientists threatened by demands to share data (10 October 2013)
When Christopher Lortie was earning his Ph.D. in ecology at the University of British Columbia in the late 1990s, he joined a small consortium of international ecologists who pooled their resources to study the potential effects of climate change on alpine-plant communities around the world. He spent several months trudging up and down mountains in Kluane National Park in the Yukon documenting the health of plants. In 2002, the ecologists combined their research to produce a paper for the scientific journal Nature. It was widely read and cited. They then published the data supporting their findings. It was an experience that set a precedent for Lortie: "It feels good to share."
Over the past 15 years, Lortie has shared his data and research papers, and collaborated with other investigators in ways that until recently were deemed counterproductive, or insignificant, to personal success in the sciences. He is part of a growing number of scientists who have encouraged members of their profession to make their research more transparent and accessible under the theory that sharing information will expedite scientific discovery. "There will be fantastic discoveries, and that's all that really matters," says Lortie.
In May 2012, some 65,000 people, including researchers, librarians and advocates of information sharing, signed a petition urging the Obama administration to adopt open access policies that would make the results of taxpayer-funded scientific research freely available to the public. In response, the White House issued a memorandum in February to almost two dozen federal funding agencies instructing them to create individual plans for ensuring that research papers will be available within roughly 12 months of publication. It also required agencies to make the data in those papers "stored and publicly accessible to search, retrieve, and analyze."
The policy marks a turning point in the open access movement, which has fought formidable odds for more than a decade. The movement arguably started in 2002 when a small group of organizers released a statement of principles called the Budapest Open Access Initiative. The ideas it espoused challenged the business model of a lucrative scholarly publishing industry that relied on libraries to pay exorbitant journal subscription fees, as high as $40,000 annually in some cases. In the early 2000s, proponents of open access launched the Public Library of Science (PLOS), an online-only, peer-reviewed scholarly journal that provides all its papers for free. Rather than relying on subscriptions, the PLOS business model requires authors, and by extension their funding agencies, to pay a fee for publication.
Is Homeland Security Preparing for the Next Wall Street Collapse? (9 October 2013)
Reports are that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is engaged in a massive, covert military buildup. An article in the Associated Press in February confirmed an open purchase order by DHS for 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition. According to an op-ed in Forbes, that's enough to sustain an Iraq-sized war for over twenty years. DHS has also acquired heavily armored tanks, which have been seen roaming the streets. Evidently somebody in government is expecting some serious civil unrest. The question is, why?
Recently revealed statements by former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the height of the banking crisis in October 2008 could give some insights into that question. An article on BBC News on September 21, 2013, drew from an explosive autobiography called Power Trip by Brown's spin doctor Damian McBride, who said the prime minister was worried that law and order could collapse during the financial crisis. McBride quoted Brown as saying:
"If the banks are shutting their doors, and the cash points aren't working, and people go to Tesco [a grocery chain] and their cards aren't being accepted, the whole thing will just explode.
"If you can't buy food or petrol or medicine for your kids, people will just start breaking the windows and helping themselves."
Some say health-care site's problems highlight flawed federal IT policies (9 October 2013)
Problems with the federal government's new health-care Web site have attracted legions of armchair analysts who speak of its problems with "virtualization" and "load testing." Yet increasingly, they are saying the root cause is not simply a matter of flawed computer code but rather the government's habit of buying outdated, costly and buggy technology.
The U.S. government spends more than $80 billion a year for information-technology services, yet the resulting systems typically take years to build and often are cumbersome when they launch. While the error messages, long waits and other problems with www.healthcare.gov have been spotlighted by the high-profile nature of its launch and unexpectedly heavy demands on the system, such glitches are common, say those who argue for a nimbler procurement system.
They say most government agencies have a shortage of technical staff and long have outsourced most jobs to big contractors that, while skilled in navigating a byzantine procurement system, are not on the cutting edge of developing user-friendly Web sites.
These companies also sometimes fail to communicate effectively with each other as a major project moves ahead. Dozens of private firms had a role in developing the online insurance exchanges at the core of the health-care program and its Web site, working on contracts that collectively were worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a Government Accountability Office report in June.
The result has been particularly stark when compared with the slick, powerful computer systems built for Barack Obama's presidential campaigns, which in 2008 harnessed the emerging power of social networking and in 2012 relied on aggressive data-mining efforts to identify and turn out voters. For those, the campaign recruited motivated young programmers, often from tech start-ups.
The Normalization of Violence Against Black Women (8 October 2013)
The US House of Representatives applauded the death of Miriam Carey before they knew who she was. They didn't know about her postpartum depression, or that she talked about "wack men" on Facebook, or that she had been fired from a job last year, or that she lived in Connecticut or that she had been called a great mother. They simply applauded the unpaid work of the DC police in shooting and killing her.
Carey caused a panic last Thursday when she allegedly attempted to ram her vehicle through the White House barricades. Early reports were that a shooter was on the loose, giving everyone paying attention flashbacks to just a few weeks ago and the Navy Yard shooting. But early reports are almost always unreliable, and we eventually learned that Carey was not a shooter, did not have a gun, had her 1-year-old child in the car with her and was shot as she stepped out of the vehicle. This is what our Congress stood up for and clapped.
In the aftermath, with more facts at their disposal, has there been any great sense of remorse? Does the House regret that standing ovation? Put another way: has finding out that the police shot an unarmed black mother changed anyone's perception of this fatal incident?
It should, but by and large, it won't. This is America. Violence against black women is routine and unchecked.
That's why Marissa Alexander finds herself in prison.* Last year, Alexander was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon with no intent to harm and under Florida's mandatory minimum laws sentenced to twenty years in prison after firing a warning shot to ward off her abusive husband. Her case gained widespread national attention during the George Zimmerman trial, as the now infamous Stand Your Ground law came under intense scrutiny. Alexander had attempted to have her case dismissed under Stand Your Ground, claiming her right to protect herself from a man who had repeatedly beat her, but was unsuccessful. Through appeal, Alexander has been granted a new trial, but what reason does she or her supporters have to be optimistic? The law failed to protect her before, and as Kiese Laymon points out, "The new trial is still going to have new American jurors, a new American judge, new American lawyers determining [her] black womanly right to fear."
F.A.Q. on U.S. Aid to Egypt: Where Does the Money Go, And How Is It Spent? (9 October 2013)
The Obama administration is reportedly preparing to cut much of the $1.55 billion in annual aid that the U.S. sends to Egypt.
The move, which has yet to be formally announced, comes after more than 1,000 Egyptians have died in a crackdown following the military coup this summer, including at least 51 who were killed on Sunday in clashes in Cairo and other cities. Most were apparently supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
We've taken a step back and tried to answer some basic questions about the aid, including how much the U.S. is giving Egypt, what's changed in the years since the Arab Spring and what all the money buys.
How much does the U.S. spend on Egypt?
Egypt receives more U.S. aid than any country except for Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
The exact amount varies from year to year and there are many different funding streams, but U.S. foreign assistance to Egypt has averaged about $2 billion a year since 1979, when Egypt struck a peace treaty with Israel. Most of that goes toward military aid. President Obama's 2014 budget tentatively included $1.55 billion in aid, about the same amount the U.S. has sent in recent years.
Rep. Paul Ryan fails to close Republican divide (9 October 2013)
Rep. Paul D. Ryan, the former Republican vice presidential candidate, has been a tea party favorite and a bridge between House conservatives and the party leadership ever since he took the lead in crafting a plan to scale back Medicare and other social programs to reduce federal spending.
But on Wednesday, when Ryan (R-Wis.) stepped forward to try to bring Republican factions together behind a strategy to end the government's latest budget stalemate, some of the same conservatives who once trusted him went cold.
The complaint: His plan, which centered on trimming back spending on government entitlement programs, failed to mention the demise of Obamacare as a top Republican objective. Conservatives accused him of abandoning their cause and caving in to Democrats.
"So we are going to ditch the fight over Obamacare, which is extremely unpopular, to fight for Medicare reform? Really, Paul Ryan? And they think we are politically stupid?" wrote Daniel Horowitz on RedState.com, an influential conservative website.
"This is the road to cave city," he said.
Taking on Capitalism, U.S. Torture & Dictatorships, Costa-Gavras on Decades of Political Filmmaking (9 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: And there you have that scene from Capital. Tell us the storyline, Costa-Gavras.
COSTA-GAVRAS: The storyline, it's--Marc Tourneuil, he's just an employee in the bank. And they--they push them up to the highest point, so he--they put him up there just for a while, and he decides to stay. And he does everything he can to stay up there. That's generally the story. And he becomes--he's a good man in the beginning, and little by little he becomes a kind of sympathetic monster.
AMY GOODMAN: And you base this on a book.
COSTA-GAVRAS: It's based on a book written by someone who was in the banking system, and he ran away because he was very tired and with disgust, and he did that book. But I had to change a few things, in particular the end, because at the end, the character in the book was punished. And I think this is not very real, what's going on. No banker has been in prison since all the problems we have with them. So, I--at the end, he keeps being an important person in the banking system.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And you researched the film over many years.
Dengue virus identified in Houston (9 October 2013)
Dengue fever, a virulent tropical disease thought to be eradicated from the United States in the 1950s, has re-emerged in Houston, according to a new study.
Baylor College of Medicine scientists are reporting the mosquito-borne virus has recently been transmitted in Houston, the first evidence the disease so prevalent in the developing world has spread to a major U.S. city in large numbers. In the past decade, it has been identified in Hawaii, south Florida and along the Texas-Mexico border.
"Dengue virus can cause incredibly severe disease and death," said Dr. Kristy Murray, a professor of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and the study's principal investigator. "This study shows that Houston may be at risk of an outbreak, that people need to be on the lookout."
Murray's team investigated the possibility that dengue might be in Houston because the area has the type of mosquitoes known to carry the virus and a dense population full of frequent travelers south of the border, where the virus is endemic. But the study, published Wednesday in the journal Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, found that most of the infections were transmitted in Houston.
There is no vaccine or treatment for the virus.
PAM COMMENTARY: Again, has anyone tried a Clark zapper on that? Or any of the numerous anti-viral herbs and extracts?
Global warming study pinpoints dates when cities will be off-the-charts hot (9 October 2013)
WASHINGTON--Starting in about a decade, Kingston, Jamaica, will probably be off-the-charts hot -- permanently. Other places will soon follow. Singapore in 2028. Mexico City in 2031. Cairo in 2036. Phoenix and Honolulu in 2043.
And, eventually, the whole world in 2047.
A new study on global warming pinpoints the probable dates for when cities and ecosystems around the world will regularly experience hotter environments the likes of which they have never seen before.
And for dozens of cities, mostly in the tropics, those dates are a generation or less away.
Why Big Coal's export terminals could be even worse than the Keystone XL pipeline (9 October 2013)
After spending years trying and failing to win a global climate treaty, environmental activists have finally changed tactics. Instead of pouring all their efforts into passing doomed legislation, they're picking big symbolic battles with the fossil fuel industry.
The campaign to derail the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada's tar sands is just the start. On the West Coast, environmentalists have mounted a similar attack on the coal industry, which wants to reverse its steep national decline by exporting millions of tons coal to China. Green groups believe they can prevent the shipments (and keep the coal in the ground) by stopping the construction of huge new coal export terminals at ports in Oregon and Washington. "Based on our back-of-the-envelope calculation, the burning of this exported coal could have a larger climate impact than all of the oil pumped through the Keystone pipeline," says Kimberly Larson, a spokesperson for the Power Past Coal campaign, a coalition of more than 100 environmental and community groups that oppose the coal terminals.
Here's what you need to know about the biggest climate change fight that you've probably never heard of:
Why are American environmentalists focusing on coal exports when we burn so much coal right here?
To be sure, lots of coal-fired power plants still operate in the United States, but they're quickly being squeezed out of business by new federal standards for mercury, arsenic, and other toxins, which will take effect in 2016. Any new coal-fired plants must meet strict carbon emission standards -- a virtual impossibility given the high cost of so-called "clean coal" technologies. And at any rate, the Environmental Protection Agency may actually be the least of Big Coal's worries. As a result of the fracking boom in Texas, the Midwest, and Pennsylvania, the price of natural gas in the United States has fallen to below that of coal, and it is on track to overtake its dirtier cousin as the nation's leading source of power generation...
Justice Department rests in second phase of BP oil spill trial (9 October 2013)
Justice Department attorneys rested their case Wednesday in the federal civil trial of BP and Anadarko Petroleum Corp., as the firms and the government continued to argue over how much oil was released into the Gulf of Mexico in the 87 days following the April 20, 2010, blowout of BP's Macondo well.
Justice attorneys finished questioning experts who support the government's contention that the oil spill resulted in the release of at least 4.2 million barrels of oil into Gulf. BP and Anadarko have maintained that only 2.45 million barrels of oil were released, and are set to begin making their case Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is presiding over the trial without a jury, listening attentively and interrupting at times with his own questions about the often mind-numbing testimony describing the physics and mathematical equations that experts from both sides have used to estimate the flow of oil.
BP's estimate would result in maximum fines of $2.7 billion, billion, if Barbier decides the company and its drilling partners acted with simple negligence, or $10.5 billion if the companies committed gross negligence in their actions during the drilling of the well and in stemming the flow of oil after the blowout.
California high school community shaken by cancer fears (9 October 2013)
"These teachers believe their health has been adversely affected as a result of working in our particular buildings at Malibu high school," Katy Lapajne, a language arts teacher, wrote in the letter.
The teachers pointed the finger at the removal in 2011 of 1,017 cubic yards of soil allegedly contaminated with toxic chemicals, notably polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), which had been used decades ago to tackle termites. They also suspected mould in several buildings.
A day earlier, Sandra Lyon, the superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu unified school district, addressed the auditorium audience while media trucks waited outside. "You have heard serious and alarming allegations. These reports have mushroomed in our community."
The school had begun testing for air and soil contamination last month, said Lyon. She apologised for not communicating that before the teachers' letter forced the issue into the open, but said there was no evidence students were at risk. "We know they are safe, just as much as you know that your house is safe."
Few seemed reassured. Questions rained down. Would inspectors test for radioactivity? Where was the mould? Was the water safe? Did inspectors have PhDs? How advanced were the cancer cases?
Several parents cited having children with cancer and other ailments, prompting Lucas, the mother of two students, to ask how many suffered migraines. The show of hands seemed to convince many of an epidemic.
Open release of GM insects threatens to spread pesticide resistance (9 October 2013)
(http://gmwatch.org) UK-based Oxitec has developed new genetically modified insects that it plans to release in open field trials in the coming months. The company plans to release GM olive flies in Spain and GM Mediterranean fruit flies in Brazil. The olive fly strain being used is not native to Spain, and studies of the species in Greece have identified different levels of pesticide-resistance in different areas. The flies are engineered to breed with native pests and produce offspring with them, the females of which mostly die as larvae. In this way, they plan to suppress the native pest population.
Many are concerned that release of non-native strains of GM pests could spread undesirable, unnatural traits, such as pesticide resistance.
"Use of non-native strains is reckless because Oxitec's GM pests are not sterile and the non-native strain of GM males will survive and breed with wild flies for many generations," said Dr. Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK. "It is very risky to introduce non-native strains of pests into a new country. Harmful traits such as pesticide resistance would be impossible to eradicate once they spread through the wild population."
Eyelid surgery a controversial procedure (4 October 2013)
Duong, 28, a hair and makeup stylist from San Jose, has no qualms telling friends and clients about her surgery, especially in the diverse Bay Area.
Cosmetic eyelid surgeries have long been popular in Asia, particularly in South Korea. Patients whose eyelids don't have a crease or whose crease is hard to see can get an incision along the eyelid to make a new crease, so the eye appears bigger.
The procedure also grew popular in the U.S. over the past several decades and remains a touchy, racially charged subject. But among Bay Area Asian Americans who were born in the U.S. or who immigrated at a young age, opinions are split on the matter: Some say they should avoid the surgery and embrace their heritage, while others say it is less of a taboo because they know more people who've had it done.
The long-smoldering debate over the procedure flared up again last month when Julie Chen, the television host of "Big Brother," said she had the surgery 18 years ago at the encouragement of her agent after her boss in Ohio said her eyes looked too heavy for her to be a news anchor.
Katrina vanden Heuvel: Mitch McConnell's moneyocracy (8 October 2013)
For a man who has spent his entire career preaching the gospel of lower taxes, it's astounding how much Mitch McConnell wants your money.
Sen. McConnell's zeal is impressive, but not surprising. He's about to enter the most difficult election of his career -- and he's going to need every last penny.
To his right, he faces Matt Bevin -- a conservative millionaire flush with the support of the tea party. To his left, he faces Alison Lundergan Grimes -- a popular secretary of state with deep family ties to Kentucky. The experts currently call their race a toss-up.
So, while McConnell already has an imposing $9.5 million cash on hand, it's not enough in a race that some predict could cost as much $100 million. And now, astonishingly, he's turning to the Supreme Court to get it.
Today, the Supreme Court hears McCutcheon v. FEC, in which Shaun McCutcheon, a GOP activist and businessman from Alabama, is seeking to overturn the Federal Election Commission's limit on biennial campaign contributions to federal candidates. But even that's not good enough for McConnell -- he wants the court to throw out campaign contribution limits entirely, and his lawyers have been given time during oral arguments to present this view.
Profiting from the Poor: Outsourcing Social Services Puts Most Vulnerable at Risk (8 October 2013)
In a story most in the media missed, protestors gathered under the dome at the Mississippi state capitol earlier this year to oppose a bill that would allow the state Department of Human Services (DHS) to privatize everything from child protective services to nutrition programs for the elderly.
The bill, HB 1009, which later passed, started out as a way to allow the Mississippi DHS to hire private contractors to collect child support payments -- something which Mississippi had flirted with in the past, with less than impressive results.
From 1995-2000, a wealthy but little known firm called Maximus, Inc. had been hired to collect overdue child support payments in Mississippi and, according to a joint legislative committee report, on average, had higher costs but collected less in payments than the state did during the same five-year period. During the February 2013 debate on the new bill in the state Senate, the Associated Press quoted Senator Hob Bryan as saying "I remember the disaster that Maximus was."
But memories of that failed experiment did not stop Republican lawmakers from expanding HB 1009 to include a broad provision to allow the Mississippi DHS to privatize any of its functions by contracting out to private companies.
Africa: Blood Proteins Could Help Monitor Malnutrition (8 October 2013)
Kathmandu -- Scientists have identified a range of proteins that can be used as reliable indicators of a person's nutrient levels. The discovery means portable nutrient-measuring devices could be developed that could aid understanding of malnutrition among the world's poor.
The body needs only tiny concentrations of certain substances, which include metals such as copper and selenium and vitamins A and D, but many people in the developing world have deficiencies in such micronutrients.
Although it is possible to quantify individual nutrient levels with chemical tests, populations in the developing world often lack a broad range of nutrients. This means several different tests may be needed, making it difficult and time-consuming to obtain a complete and accurate picture of people's nutritional health.
Now a study, published in the current issue of The Journal of Nutrition, shows that this 'hidden hunger' can be assessed more comprehensively using quantitative proteomics. This approach measures thousands of protein concentrations in blood samples, looking for correlations with nutrient levels. If correlations are found then protein levels can be used to easily calculate nutrient levels.
15 Things You Should Know About the Coal Industry's Plan to Ship Its Product to China (8 October 2013)
After spending years trying and failing to win a global climate treaty, environmental activists have finally changed tactics. Instead pouring all their efforts into passing doomed legislation, they're picking big symbolic battles with the fossil fuel industry.
The campaign to derail the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada's tar sands is just the start. On the West Coast, environmentalists have mounted a similar attack on the coal industry, which wants to reverse its steep national decline by exporting millions of tons coal to China. Green groups believe they can prevent the shipments (and keep the coal in the ground) by stopping the construction of huge new coal export terminals at ports in Oregon and Washington. "Based on our back-of-the-envelope calculation, the burning of this exported coal could have a larger climate impact than all of the oil pumped through the Keystone pipeline," says Kimberly Larson, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club's Power Past Coal campaign.
Here's what you need to know about the biggest climate change fight that you've probably never heard of:
Why are American environmentalists focusing on coal exports when we burn so much coal right here?
To be sure, lots of coal-fired power plants still operate in the US, but they're quickly being squeezed out of business by new federal standards for mercury, arsenic, and other toxins, which will take effect in 2016. Any new coal-fired plants must meet strict carbon-emission standards--a virtual impossibility given the high cost of so-called "clean coal" technologies. And at any rate, the Environmental Protection Agency may actually be the least of Big Coal's worries. As a result of the fracking boom in Texas, the Midwest, and Pennsylvania, the price of natural gas in the US has fallen to below that of coal, and it is on track to overtake its dirtier cousin as the nation's leading source of power generation...
Africa Must Benefit from its Mineral Resources (8 October 2013)
Africa's political economy is deeply ingrained with its history of the exploitation and (mis)management of its mineral and natural resources.
More than 500 years after commercial exploitation of Africa's resources, Africa continues to host many of the large and unexploited deposits of minerals globally. For example, Africa accounts for three-quarters of the world's platinum supply, and half of its diamonds and chromium. It has up to one-fifth of gold and uranium supplies and it is increasingly home to oil and gas production with over thirty countries now in this category.
Yet, with minor exceptions, Africa does not consume or add significant value to these and other mineral products which it has in abundance. Rather, we are net exporters of raw materials that fuel prosperity and development in other regions. Africa is largely seen as a price taker rather than a price-maker, with a marginal role in international trade.
The question that arises therefore is why the continent continues to struggle with limited economic transformation, low or no resource rents and scarce employment. In the last ten years commodity prices have hit a super-cycle, yet Africa's share of windfall earnings have been miniscule, compared to what mining companies have realized. Average net profits for the top 40 mining companies grew by 156% in 2010 whereas the take for governments grew by only 60%, most of which was accounted for by Australia and Canada, two countries that graciously want to share their experience with Africa. Indeed, most African countries got much less than this due to generous tax holidays given to mining companies!
Israel's West Bank control 'costing Palestinian economy billions' (8 October 2013)
Israel's control of a huge swath of the West Bank is costing the Palestinian economy $3.4bn (£2.1bn) a year, or 35% of its GDP, according to a report from the World Bank.
Restrictions on Palestinian access and movement within Area C, the 61% of the West Bank that is under full Israeli military control, is stunting the Palestinian economy, says the report. Area C and the Future of the Palestinian Economy, published on Tuesday, is the first comprehensive study of the potential impact of land restrictions in the region, according to the World Bank.
"Unleashing the potential from that 'restricted land' ... and allowing Palestinians to put these resources to work, would provide whole new areas of economic activity and set the economy on the path to sustainable growth," said Mariam Sherman of the World Bank.
About 180,000 Palestinians, or 6.6% of the population, live in Area C, the report says. Most Palestinians live in Area A, which is under full Palestinian control, and Area B, which is under shared Palestinian and Israeli control.
Agriculture would be massively boosted if restrictions on access and water supply were eased, the report says. Most of the farmland in Area C belongs to Palestinians, 326,400 dunams (80620 acres), compared with 187,000 dunams that are attached to Israeli settlements. All Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law, are situated in Area C.
Scientists have grown an extinct tree from ancient seeds (8 October 2013)
Get ready for the Jurassic Park of trees, because researchers managed to sprout a Judean date palm -- extinct since 500 B.C. -- from ancient seeds that were unearthed in the 1960s.
This species of palm, Treehugger writes, was destroyed more than 1,500 years ago, despite -- and in some cases because of -- its enormous cultural and strategic significance:
"From its founding some 3,000 years ago, to the dawn of the Common Era, the trees became a staple crop in the Kingdom of Judea, even garnering several shout-outs in the Old Testament. Judean palm trees would come to serve as one of the kingdom's chief symbols of good fortune; King David named his daughter, Tamar, after the plant's name in Hebrew.
"By the time the Roman Empire sought to usurp control of the kingdom in 70 AD, broad forests of these trees flourished as a staple crop to the Judean economy -- a fact that made them a prime resource for the invading army to destroy. Sadly, around the year 500 AD, the once plentiful palm had been completely wiped out, driven to extinction for the sake of conquest."
Carters pitch in on Habitat project in Oakland (8 October 2013)
At the site of a dozen under-construction Habitat for Humanity townhouses in Oakland, scores of volunteer workers busily toted boards, hammered and sawed on Monday.
One couple assiduously operated a table saw, working with the fluidity of a longtime partnership. The couple, former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter, spent almost three hours framing windows in one of the solar-panel-topped homes.
For 30 years, the Carters have devoted an annual week to hands-on work with Habitat around the globe. This was their first time doing so in the Bay Area.
"It's kind of a vacation for us," said Jimmy Carter, who just turned 89. "It's adventurous, unpredictable and challenging, but always gratifying."
Lavabit: How One Company Refused to Give FBI "Unrestricted" Access to Emails of 400,000 Customers (7 October 2013)
AMY GOODMAN: You mean you can't confirm it was Edward Snowden.
LADAR LEVISON: I can't confirm that, no. But what I can say is that what they wanted was the ability to basically listen to every piece of information coming in and out of my network. And, effectively, what they needed were my SSL private keys. For those at home that don't know what SSL is, it's the little lock icon in your web browser. SSL is the technology that effectively secures all communication on the Internet, between websites, between mail servers. It secures instant messages. And it represents the identity of a business online. And they effectively wanted that from me, a very closely guarded secret, something I've compared to the secret formula for Coca-Cola, so that they could masquerade as me or as my business on the Internet and intercept all of the communications coming in.
AMY GOODMAN: How did they come to you?
LADAR LEVISON: They knocked on my door. They left a business card on my door sometime in May, and then we ended up linking up via email and setting up an appointment. And they came by my office, and we sat down, and I spent a couple hours explaining to them the nature of my system and the nature of my business. Now, it's probably important to mention that, at least in May, they still didn't know--at least the agents that approached me--who the target of the investigation was.
But I had pretty much have forgotten about it, until they came back at the end of June with their pen/trap and trace order, which is a law that's been on the books for 40 years that allows federal law enforcement to basically put a listening device on a telephone or a network to collect meta-information. It's just that in this case, the meta-information that they wanted was encrypted. So they wanted to peel back the encryption on everyone's information as they were connecting to my server, just so that they could listen to this one user. But yet, at the same time, they wouldn't provide any kind of transparency back to me to assure me that they were only collecting information on one user. And I had a real problem with that. Given the sensitivity of the information that they were asking for, and given how it would harm my reputation if I let--if they ended up violating the court order, I just didn't feel it was appropriate to give them the access that they wanted. So I recruited Jesse, who we'll hear from in a minute, and he's been helping me fight that request ever since.
Brazil demands answers from Canada over eavesdropping allegations (7 October 2013)
Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo summoned the Canadian ambassador in the capital of Brasilia to "transmit the indignation of the Brazilian government and demand explanations," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The accusations aired on Brazil's Globo television network also prompted questions from Canadian intelligence experts about exactly what the spy service should be doing and how much Canadians should be told of its priorities.
The television report said the metadata -- or indexing details -- of phone calls and emails from and to the ministry were targeted by the Canadian agency to map the ministry's communications.
The report was based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency -- CSEC's American counterpart.
Snowden provided classified presentation slides from June describing an operation labelled Olympia that apparently involved CSEC capabilities known as "Advanced Network Tradecraft."
The slides map out communications between Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Britain, Poland and Singapore.
How a Telecom Helped the Government Spy on Me (3 October 2013)
In 2004, my telephone records as well as those of another New York Times reporter and two reporters from the Washington Post, were obtained by federal agents assigned to investigate a leak of classified information. What happened next says a lot about what happens when the government's privacy protections collide with the day-to-day realities of global surveillance.
The story begins in 2003 when I wrote an article about the killing of two American teachers in West Papua, a remote region of Indonesia where Freeport-McMoRan operates one of the world's largest copper and gold mines. The Indonesian government and Freeport blamed the killings on a separatist group, the Free Papua Movement, which had been fighting a low-level guerrilla war for several decades.
I opened my article with this sentence: "Bush Administration officials have determined that Indonesian soldiers carried out a deadly ambush that killed two American teachers."
I also reported that two FBI agents had travelled to Indonesia to assist in the inquiry and quoted a "senior administration official" as saying there "was no question there was a military involvement.''
The story prompted a leak investigation. The FBI sought to obtain my phone records and those of Jane Perlez, the Times bureau chief in Indonesia and my wife. They also went after the records of the Washington Post reporters in Indonesia who had published the first reports about the Indonesian government's involvement in the killings.
As part of its investigation, the FBI asked for help from what is described in a subsequent government report as an "on-site communications service" provider. The report, by the Department of Justice's Inspector General, offers only the vaguest description of this key player, calling it "Company A.''
Prescription drug abuse now more deadly than heroin, cocaine combined (7 October 2013)
More people are dying in the US from prescription drugs than from heroin and cocaine combined, a new study says, signaling that pill abuse is not just the leading cause of drug overdose deaths, but that it also requires more oversight and training by both doctors and state health agencies.
Deaths involving prescription pills have quadrupled between 1999 and 2010, according to a report released Monday by Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit organization in Washington that studies health policy. About 6.1 million people abuse prescription pills, and overdose deaths have at least doubled in 29 states, where they now exceed vehicle-related deaths. In 10 of those states, rates tripled; in four of them, they quadrupled.
"We've been struck how quickly this probably has emerged ... it warrants a strong public health response," says Andrea Gielen, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy in Baltimore, who served as a consultant for the report. "We're concerned about preventing misuse or overdoses, which are very real and heart-wrenching problems that have been skyrocketing recently."
Prescription-drug overdose rates are highest in the poorest regions of the US: Appalachia and the Southwest. West Virginia has the highest rate, at 28.9 deaths per every 100,000 people -- a 605 percent increase since 1999. Following close behind are New Mexico, Kentucky, Nevada, and Oklahoma.
Rates are lowest in the Midwest. North Dakota has the lowest rate of prescription drug overdose deaths, at 3.4 per every 100,000 people.
The most common misused prescription drugs are painkillers (such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin), depressants such as sedatives, and stimulants used to treat narcolepsy and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While men age 25 to 54 are most likely to abuse these drugs, rates among female abusers are accelerating. Since 1999, overdose deaths have increased 400 percent among women compared with 265 percent among men.
Chicago citizens to be exposed to alarming levels of lead from city water as old pipes get upgraded (7 October 2013)
(NaturalNews) It's bad enough that the city of Chicago is facing financial problems similar to those of Detroit; now, local taxpayers are being forced to pay for being poisoned.
For decades, the city installed lead water pipes, but in recent years, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has discovered a problem that has been tainting the water supply. Per the Chicago Tribune:
Dangerous levels of lead are turning up in Chicago homes where pipes made of the toxic metal were disturbed by street work or plumbing repairs, according to a new federal study that suggests the city's aggressive efforts to modernize its water system could inadvertently pose health risks.
Once it's in the water, lead tends to stay there for years
The city installed its lead pipes until the 1980s when connecting water mains to homes. EPA researchers say levels of lead can leach into homeowners' tap water when the pipes are disturbed by street work or altered by water main replacements and meter installations.
What's more, high levels of lead can be found in tap water for years and years afterward, according to an EPA study. And that has raised fears that the contamination could be occurring in other U.S. cities that utilized lead water main pipes.
Is Obamacare Enough? Without Single-Payer, Patchwork U.S. Healthcare Leaves Millions Uninsured (7 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: And, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, your thoughts on this program that started October 1st?
DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER: OK, well, the completer glitches will get sorted out, but the complexity that caused the computer glitches is baked into "Obamacare." The exchanges have to deal with millions of enrollees and doing income verification. They have to deal with thousands of private insurance plans. It's a very complex system. And unfortunately, that complexity also contributes to high expense. The private insurance industry that's offering the coverage through the plans has overhead costs that are about four times as high as traditional Medicare. And in addition, we're going to have overhead of about 4 percent added to insurance overhead just for the exchanges. So it's a complex system, a very expensive system, and when we see the way it's performing, we understand why we need a simple single-payer system that could save about $400 billion on administrative simplification.
AMY GOODMAN: For people who don't have insurance or want to get cheaper insurance, do you encourage them to go to the websites to sign up for the new--under these new exchanges?
DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER: Well, absolutely people need to take a look, but they also need to know that many of the new plans have high co-payments, high deductibles. They can have very restrictive networks. So, for some people, this will be a great deal. If your income is in the low range and you get a big subsidy, it can be a very good deal. If you're sort of middle-income, I think you're going to find you're paying an awful lot of money for some very skimpy coverage through the exchanges.
Obama sold voters bill of goods on health care (7 October 2013)
As a candidate for president, Barack Obama sold his signature universal health care plan with the promise that it would "cut the cost of a typical family's premium by up to $2,500 a year."
Now that the Affordable Care Act exchanges are open for business, voters are finding that the biggest problem with Obamacare isn't that some Web sites crashed last week but that the Obama promise of big savings for the average family was too good to be true.
Now that the exchanges are open for business, people who already have individual coverage have something new to not like: sticker shock. The Affordable Care Act isn't affordable after all.
Last week, I began hearing from readers whose individual policy premiums are going up, not down. A local architect sent me a notice he received from Kaiser informing him that his individual coverage will increase by $199.95 per month, or 78.9 percent. When he added his two sons, the percentage increase was even greater.
A freelance journalist told me she made $98,000 last year. But she and her retired husband, both 51, wouldn't pay $7,200 in premiums for high-deductible coverage. It's cheaper to pay the fine, she said. Besides, she added, "we're healthy."
Report: Medicaid will expand, with or without GOP support (7 October 2013)
One of the most contentious aspects of the Affordable Care Act -- aside from its existence -- is Medicaid expansion. That is, whether or not states choose to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage in 2014 to include more low-income people who previously earned too much to qualify for Medicaid yet still couldn't afford to pay for health insurance.
However, a new report released Monday says that Medicaid enrollment and spending are going to rise in the next fiscal year whether the ACA's detractors like it or not.
That's partially due to the 24 states, and the District of Columbia, that have opted to expand Medicaid coverage to include people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or around $15,856 a year for an individual.
But Medicaid enrollment will expand by an average of 8.8 percent across all states in fiscal year 2014 -- 11.8 percent in the states that do expand Medicaid and 5.3 percent in the states that don't, according to the report, in which the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured and consulting firm Health Management Associates surveyed Medicaid providers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
How Redistribution to the Rich Has Broken the Back of America (7 October 2013)
Conservative columnist Thomas Sowell recently declared, "The history of the 20th century is full of examples of countries that set out to redistribute wealth and ended up redistributing poverty."
Ironically for thinkers like him, the last 35 years have redistributed U.S. poverty by redistributing wealth to the rich. The middle class, once the backbone of a strong American society, has been broken, beaten down, pushed further and further toward poverty levels. Here are five well-documented ways that this has happened.
1. Income Redistribution is Worse than Usually Reported
We are told that the richest 1% doubled its share of income in the past thirty years. But from 1980 to 2006, according to both IRS and CBO figures, they nearly TRIPLED their share of income -- and that's after-tax income.
After 2006, the recession set everyone back temporarily, but in the first two years of the recovery, the richest 1% captured an incomprehensible 121% of the income gains (others saw debt rise faster than income).
FBI struggles to seize 600,000 Bitcoins from alleged Silk Road founder (7 October 2013)
The FBI has found that seizing an anonymous decentralised peer-to-peer currency was trickier than it seemed, following the Bureau's bust of the international drugs marketplace, Silk Road.
When Ross Ulbricht, known as Dread Pirate Roberts to users of the site, was arrested last week, the FBI seized 26,000 Bitcoins belonging to Silk Road customers. But it also attempted, unsuccessfully, to claim the nearly 600,000 - thought to be worth around $80m - which Ulbricht himself is thought to be holding.
Bitcoin is a digital currency based on a methods of cryptography similar to those used to protect confidential emails. Due to its decentralised nature -- the currency does not rely on any centralised agency to process payments, instead relying on work done by users' computers -- it is popular for a number of fringe-legal and illegal uses. One of those uses was Silk Road, where Bitcoin was required for all transactions.
In order to transfer Bitcoins out of a "wallet", the name for the digital file which contains the encrypted information necessary to spend the currency, users need to know that wallet's password or "private key".
According to Forbes' Kashmir Hill, that hurdle is causing the FBI difficulty.
"The FBI has not been able to get to Ulbricht's personal Bitcoin yet," wrote Hill. An FBI spokesperson said to Hill that the "$80m worth" that Ulbricht had "was held separately and is encrypted". At current exchange rates, that represents slightly more than 5% of all bitcoins in circulation.
Elizabeth Smart tells her story in new memoir (7 October 2013)
The disappearance of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart dominated headlines a decade ago. Now 25, Smart tells of her experiences in "My Story," a memoir published this week by St. Martin's.
"I want people to know that I'm happy in my life right now," Smart told the Associated Press in an interview. "I also, even more so, want to reach out to people who might not be in a good situation. Maybe they're in a situation that was similar to the one that I was in."
Smart was kidnapped from her home by Brian David Mitchell, an itinerant street preacher. He and his wife, Donna Barzee, held the girl captive and denied her food and water. At a remote location, she was chained and raped.
"There was a point that I stopped crying,'' Smart told Meredith Vieira on NBC on Friday night. "It's not just because I didn't feel pain any more, not because I didn't feel sorrow. It was just to keep going. I mean, it just was to survive, to live."
Smart is now married and finishing work on a degree at Brigham Young University. Her book was co-written by Chris Stewart, author of the "Wrath and Righteousness" religious thriller series, who is now a congressman from Utah.
Researchers track migratory birds using radar (7 October 2013)
Using data from 16 weather radars across the Northeast, Buler and his USGS colleague mapped areas where large numbers of songbirds stop to rest and eat. Those sites tend to be hardwood forests set within farmland or developed areas. In their June 2012 report, the two researchers identified three types of bird habitat that they called "fire escapes," "convenience stores" and "full-service hotels."
Fire escapes are small, isolated patches of habitat for birds in desperate need of shelter, such as those caught in a storm. Fire escapes have little food.
Convenience stores such as urban parks have some food, but they're not prime habitat. Full-service hotels offer the best in food and shelter.
The scientists used mathematical models to try to predict where fire escapes, convenience stores and full-service hotels would be located in areas not covered by radar data. The ground teams will check the accuracy of those models.
"The ground surveys are great," Buler said in a phone interview. "There hasn't been such a large-scale migration monitoring effort on the Delmarva Peninsula since the 1990s. We're able to get a lot finer detail about how birds are using these habitats than the radar can provide."
Canada spied on Brazil's Mines and Energy Ministry: Report (7 October 2013)
RIO DE JANEIRO--A Brazilian television report that aired Sunday night said Canadian spies targeted Brazil's Mines and Energy Ministry.
The report on Globo television was based on documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and was the latest showing that Latin America's biggest country has been a target for U.S., British and now Canadian spy agencies.
The report said the metadata of phone calls and emails from and to the Brazilian ministry were targeted by the Communications Security Establishment Canada, or CSEC, to map the ministry's communications, using a software program called Olympia. It didn't indicate whether emails were read or phone calls were listened to.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper would neither confirm nor deny the allegations when asked to respond to the report late Sunday night.
Families seek $2.6M for Chinese drywall damage (7 October 2013)
A panel of judges in the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Wednesday that will set them up to decide in the coming weeks whether Chinese drywall manufacturer Taishan Gypsum Co. Ltd. can be held accountable in American courts for its tainted products.
It's one of the biggest questions yet in the five-year legal saga, and Hampton Roads families - four from Williamsburg, two from Newport News and one from Virginia Beach - are blazing the trail for the rest of the country. They are representing at least 300 families in a class-action lawsuit, Germano v. Taishan, which was filed in 2009.
"It's a light-switch outcome," said Richard Serpe, a Norfolk attorney representing the seven local plaintiffs. "If they win it," he said of Taishan, "we have no jurisdiction in the United States."
Either side could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but if Taishan ultimately wins the argument, the $2.6 million judgment the seven have already won against the company would be worthless, and it would be pointless for the other victims to continue their fights in court.
It also would leave the plaintiffs with no recourse but to sue Taishan in Chinese courts, which Serpe said is highly unlikely.
This iPhone case has a solar panel so it can charge your phone (7 October 2013)
Remember the sun? That thing that used to blissfully blanket your skin, give you vitamin D, and make you happy, until something called "fall" happened? (Here in the Northwest, our nine months of rain have started, like the gestation of some sort of twisted depression-baby.)
Yet another reason the sun used to be awesome is that it could charge your iPhone. According to Treehugger:
"The EnerPlex Surfr series, available for the iPhone 4/4S and the Galaxy SIII, ...[is] not just lightweight and rugged and offer a backup power source, but also features an integrated thin-film solar panel capable of adding to the talk time (or surfing the web and Instagram-ing our meals) of our smartphones.
"The iPhone 4 version of the Surfr weighs just 72 grams and measures 15mm thick, and has a 1400 mAh Li-ion battery pack for keeping your phone powered through the longest days. The battery can be charged via a power outlet or boosted with the solar panel, and nearly doubles the battery life of your phone."
Pharmaceutical firms paid to attend meetings of panel that advises FDA (6 October 2013)
A scientific panel that shaped the federal government's policy for testing the safety and effectiveness of painkillers was funded by major pharmaceutical companies that paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the chance to affect the thinking of the Food and Drug Administration, according to hundreds of e-mails obtained by a public records request.
The e-mails show that the companies paid as much as $25,000 to attend any given meeting of the panel, which had been set up by two academics to provide advice to the FDA on how to weigh the evidence from clinical trials. A leading FDA official later called the group "an essential collaborative effort."
Patient advocacy groups said the electronic communications suggest that the regulators had become too close to the companies trying to crack into the $9 billion painkiller market in the United States. FDA officials who regulate painkillers sat on the steering committee of the panel, which met in private, and co-wrote papers with employees of pharmaceutical companies.
The FDA has been criticized for failing to take precautions that might have averted the epidemic of addiction to prescription drugs including Oxycontin and other opioids.
"These e-mails help explain the disastrous decisions the FDA's analgesic division has made over the last 10 years," said Craig Mayton, the Columbus, Ohio, attorney who made the public records request to the University of Washington. "Instead of protecting the public health, the FDA has been allowing the drug companies to pay for a seat at a small table where all the rules were written."
Yes, Federal Workers Are Essential (6 October 2013)
House Speaker John Boehner says of his government shutdown: "This isn't some damn game."
He is right.
When the federal government shuts down, as it has because of Boehner's decision to play politics with the traditionally perfunctory continuing resolution process, the people that Americans trust to serve the common good and the national interest are sidelined.
Yes, of course, politicians pick on federal employees in general and public workers in particular. But even the most over-the-top members of Congress recognize that a civil society is made possible by dedicated public servants who manage our parks, maintain our highways, process claims for pensions, keep job-training programs up and running, investigate civil rights violations and do their best to protect a fragile environment.
Government workers form the human infrastructure that underpins a great deal of what is good and necessary in the American experiment. We the people care for one another, we take on great challenges, we achieve great things, and we do this by forming a more perfect union and asking some of our fellow citizens to do perform the tasks that are necessary to its maintenance.
34 Egyptians killed in clashes as identity politics turns violent (+video) (6 October 2013)
Thirty-four people were killed and more than 209 injured across Egypt on Sunday as rival camps marked Armed Forces Day with rallies to defend their visions of national identity and democratic legitimacy in the deeply divided country.
Large crowds gathered nationwide to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Egypt's 1973 war with Israel. Supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi, ousted in a July 3 military takeover, also rallied in support of their leader and the democratic process they believe he embodies.
Earlier in the week, presidential spokesman Ahmed al-Muslimani warned that protests against the military would not be tolerated.
"Protesters against the army on the anniversary of victory will be carrying out the duties of agents, not activists," he said. "It is not befitting to go from a struggle against authorities to a conflict with the nation."
PG&E starts shutting down pipeline in San Carlos (6 October 2013)
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. began shutting down a natural-gas pipeline in San Carlos on Sunday to comply with a court order, company officials said.
A San Mateo County judge ordered PG&E on Friday to shut down the pipeline, known as Line 147, after e-mails from an engineer surfaced that questioned whether an 83-year-old seam weld was safe.
The type of weld, which has been notoriously problematic, was not known to exist on that portion of pipeline until work crews found it while making repairs, raising concerns about a repeat of the September 2010 explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.
The utility said in a statement that the pipeline shutdown would be completed "as early as Monday or Tuesday," but assured customers and city officials that the line was safe.
Activist group Idle No More gets busy again in Canada (6 October 2013)
In the past few weeks, First Nations groups in Canada have set up a blockade to stop shale-gas exploration in New Brunswick, marched outside the Ontario premier's house to protest high mercury levels and forced a coal-mining company in British Columbia to delay exploratory drilling.
The protests are part of a growing First Nations activism that took root in Canada last winter with the powerful movement known as Idle No More. The mass protests, which drew thousands to snow-lined streets across the country, have gone quiet in recent months, but activists insist the fight is far from over.
On Monday they will try to take that message to the wider public, with 50 events planned across Canada and the United States, along with an estimated 10 other countires, including England and India. That day marks the 250th anniversary of the British Royal Proclamation, which led to the founding of Canada.
"We must collectively send a clear message that our movement will not stop intervening in Canada's attempts to conduct business as usual," says a statement from the group declaring Oct. 7 a Day of Action.
Special Report: The education of China's oil company (6 October 2013)
(Reuters) - Yang Hua was a rising star at Chinese oil giant CNOOC Ltd back in 2005. Then, the 44-year-old chief financial officer participated in one of corporate China's biggest belly flops ever.
Yang helped CNOOC, the publicly listed arm of state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp, craft an $18.5 billion bid for Unocal Corp of Los Angeles. It turned into a debacle. Political opposition exploded in Washington, where the company had done little preparation. At home in Beijing, some board members revolted after being blindsided by the bid, and some of China's leaders were said to be queasy. CNOOC stood down and Unocal was sold to a rival, Chevron Corp.
Seven years later, Yang appeared to triumph. On February 26, CNOOC closed China's largest foreign acquisition in modern Chinese history: the $15.1 billion all-cash takeover of Calgary-based Nexen Inc. The deal caused far less rancor than the aborted Unocal effort, and it was a landmark, touted in China as foreshadowing a bigger global role for the state-owned giants that dominate the world's second-largest economy.
At a small briefing for reporters from the official Chinese media the next day, CNOOC Vice Chairman Yang Hua smiled broadly and said: "I slept like a log last night."
Bees whacks: Chemical for mosquitoes is a buzz kill (6 October 2013)
The sun sets and workers head home, an ageless commute conducted by foraging bees everywhere - 20,000 varieties, 450 in Virginia.
Their evening ritual returns them to the safety of their nests before most spray planes take to the sky - critical timing, since the chemical used to knock down mosquitoes is fatal for bees as well.
But Portsmouth, and certain parts of the Peninsula, rely on military mosquito-control measures that are cheaper but not nearly as bee-friendly. Both take advantage of a policy that makes communities near federal properties eligible for aerial sprays offered by the Air Force Reserve. The only cost: the chemical itself.
Good luck for their budgets is bad luck for their bees.
A long-standing Air Force Reserve policy says its pilots can't fly mosquito missions after dark for safety reasons. So the reserve's C-130s trundle off the runway at Langley Air Force Base as early as two hours before sunset.
Beekeepers protect their honeybees by corking up hives the night before to keep their foragers contained.
Now the Government Shutdown Is Stopping Blood Drives (6 October 2013)
Here's how the government shutdown may literally be killing people: by causing blood shortages.
For all the scorn heaped on government employees, some people forget that the faceless bureaucrats who populate Washington are often, in fact, a bunch of do-gooders--people who genuinely believe in the notion of public service. As such, they contribute to the public good in a lot of ways that are taken for granted, like their immense contribution to local blood banks. Thirty-eight percent of the population is eligible to give blood, but only 5 percent actually does so. A lot of that 5 percent apparently works for the federal government. Thanks to the shutdown, in just two days, four federal agency blood drives scheduled by one DC-area health care system have been canceled. The regional Red Cross has had to cancel six others in the Washington region.
Inova Blood Donor Services projects that the cancelations will result in its projected loss of 300 donations that would have helped 900 patients in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Inova's donated blood collections supply 24 hospitals, which bank much of the blood for inevitable disasters or, say, terrorist attacks. The Red Cross is suffering from similar disruptions, projecting the loss of 229 donations, each of which could potentially save up to three lives. A single major trauma event can easily deplete a hospital's entire blood store. The longer the shutdown goes on, the worse the situation is likely to get.
Rebecca Manarchuck, marketing director for Inova Blood Donor Services, says the Washington area supplies were already low, thanks to reduced collection rates that historically happen in the summertime. The shutdown is only compounding the shortage. Blood drives are carefully scheduled and planned well in advance. Doing them at government offices requires a host of logistical arrangements because of tight security and other considerations, meaning that rescheduling the drives for a later date won't be an easy task. And even then, donated blood can't even be used until three days after it's given to allow time for all the screening tests, resulting in some lag time before it can be given to patients in need.
The Democratic Party's New Insurgents (2 October 2013)
Amid the clamor over the budget and syria, the Democratic Party has opened what will be a prolonged debate about its future after Obama. Progressive concerns about foreign intervention, the "war on terror" and the cascading NSA scandals continue to build, but at the center of this debate will be economic policy: What can be done to make the party work for working people again? Or, more simply, whose side are Democrats on? In the opening rounds of the debate, we are witnessing the resurgence of what Paul Wellstone dubbed the democratic wing of the Democratic Party, challenging Wall Street's hold over economic policy. The recent torpedoing of Larry Summers's candidacy to head the Federal Reserve and the victory of Bill de Blasio in New York City's Democratic mayoral primary are just two expressions of this emergence.
Summers was rejected largely because Democratic senators held him accountable for championing the ruinous deregulation of Wall Street under Bill Clinton and the bailing out of the banks under Obama. Summers personified Washington's revolving-door corruption, as he pocketed millions on leaving government for the Wall Street firms he had aided while in office. His withdrawal was a repudiation of Rubinomics, the Wall Street economics named for Robert Rubin, former co-chair of Goldman Sachs and Clinton treasury secretary, whose acolytes have dominated Democratic economic policy for two decades.
De Blasio's victory is an early indication of the electoral clout of progressive insurgents. He came from the back of the pack to victory by indicting Michael Bloomberg's Gilded Age inequality, calling for raising taxes on the wealthy to invest in universal pre-K and for requiring developers to build low-income housing.
The Occupy World
Tea party republicans capture the headlines with manufactured budget crises, while Occupy Wall Street has seemingly vanished--but we live in an Occupy world. Occupy protested an economy that works for the 1 percent, not the rest of us. It said this wasn't natural or inevitable, that it came about because the 1 percent, as Senator Elizabeth Warren put it, "rig the rules."
Probe of Scott Walker's aides may factor in O'Donnell Park death trial (6 October 2013)
Walker was Milwaukee County executive and a candidate for governor when 15-year-old Jared Kellner was killed by a 13-ton concrete panel that fell from the O'Donnell parking stucture facade.
The death spawned multiple lawsuits, which were consolidated into one case scheduled for a monthlong trial starting Oct. 14.
A pretrial hearing Tuesday will examine a host of issues, including whether the judge should prevent testimony in the case about whether Walker's county staff destroyed any O'Donnell documents.
The concern was prompted by an email from Keith Gilkes, Walker's campaign manager in the governor's race, that was one of thousands of documents released in July by Reserve Judge Neal Nettesheim, who oversaw the secret John Doe probe into Walker aides and associates.
Gilkes wrote to Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch, advising her on the day of the O'Donnell death, June 24, 2010: "Keep on top of (parks director) Sue Black, (budget director Steve) Kreklow, (administration director Cindy) Archer and all staff to make sure there is not a paper anywhere that details a problem at all."
That sparked concern that Rindfleisch, then Walker's deputy chief of staff, or some other Walker aide might have carried out Gilkes' directive, said Matthew McClean, an attorney for Advance Cast Stone, the firm that made and installed the concrete panel that fell.
The county and families of Kellner and Eric Wosinski, who was injured when the panel dropped, have blamed Advance for using an unapproved method of attaching the panel to the underlying concrete wall when the parking ramp was built in 1991.
Pharmaceutical company asks FDA to withdraw approval for its own drugs (6 October 2013)
(NaturalNews) A major manufacturer of antibiotic and arsenical chicken feed drugs has voluntarily requested that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) withdraw approval for some of the combination varieties that the company has stopped manufacturing in recent years. In alleged compliance with the FDA's Judicious Use of Antimicrobials plan for improving the safety of factory animal feed, Phibro Animal Health Corporation decided to pull the drugs in response to escalating scrutiny of their combined effects on animal health and food quality, despite no real formative mandates from the FDA.
World Poultry reports that Phibro, of its own volition, recently petitioned the FDA to withdraw approval for both New Animal Drug Application (NADA) 098-371, which includes the use of nicarbazin, penicillin and roxarsone in a three-way, combination drug Type C used in animal feed for broiler chickens, and NADA 098-374, which includes nicarbazin and penicillin in a two-way, combination drug Type C used in similar feeding protocols. Both combination drugs have been approved and on the market for more than 40 years.
But the rise of deadly "superbugs," or mutated pathogens that no longer respond to standard treatments, has been staggering throughout the past decade, prompting many to call for moratoriums on the use of all antibiotics and arsenicals in animal feed. Dozens of public advocacy groups, including the Alliance for Natural Health USA and the Cornucopia Institute, have pleaded with the FDA to initiate strict bans on such drugs for the safety of the public and the health of factory farm animals.
Instead, the FDA decided to issue a non-binding guidance for drug companies to voluntarily withdraw antibiotics and arsenicals from animal feed, a definitive non-move that many prominent media outlets have repeatedly lambasted as useless. But now that the market is dictating that people no longer want to buy meat that contains antibiotics and arsenic, it appears as though some such drugs are being phased out voluntarily, no thanks to the FDA. In fact, Phibro's recent action in requesting that the FDA withdraw approval for its own drugs suggests that even some drug companies might be starting to have more sense than the FDA.
Chemical experts begin destroying Syria's weapons arsenal (6 October 2013)
(Reuters) - A team of international experts began the process of destroying Syria's chemical gas arsenal on Sunday, an official on the mission said.
The official declined to give more details. Witnesses said the experts left their Damascus hotel in the early hours on Sunday for an unknown location.
The team consists of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague and United Nations personnel assisting them in their work. It arrived in Damascus on Tuesday.
The mission, which Washington and Moscow hammered out after an August 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus prompted U.S. threats of air strikes against the Syrian government, is expected to continue until at least mid-2014.
Just who Has Been Killing Iran's Nuclear Scientists? (6 October 2013)
What to make of the latest alleged assassination in Iran of a senior officer in the Revolutionary Guards just as Iran and the US move towards negotiations? Is it a last-minute attempt by Israel or the Iranian dissident group the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) to sabotage talks -- or at least to show that they are still players in the decades-long struggle between the government in Tehran and its many antagonists?
The first account on an Iranian website stated that Mojtaba Ahmadi, the head of Iranian cyber warfare, had been found shot in the head outside Tehran. The Revolutionary Guards issued a statement denying that he had been assassinated, but admitted there had been a "horrific incident" which it was investigating. The killing appeared to be the latest in a string of killings, since 2007, in which five Iranians associated with the country's nuclear programme have been murdered in professional attacks. Men on motorcycles operating on the basis of good intelligence have stuck magnetically attachable bombs to their victims' cars.
The timing of Ahmadi's assassination looks suspicious, coming a few days after the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations and later spoke to President Barack Obama by telephone. Not everybody on either side is happy: the head of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohammed Ali Jafari, even stated openly that, while he agreed with Rouhani's UN speech, "he should have turned down a telephone conversation until after the American government had shown its sincerity towards Iran".
Jafari may be worried that Washington believes it has Iran on the run because of the devastating impact of economic sanctions.
Madonna: 'I was raped on a rooftop (6 October 2013)
Pop superstar Madonna has revealed she was raped on a rooftop in New York within months of arriving in the city.
Madonna moved to the Big Apple from Michigan in 1977 to pursue a music career, but the city was far more dangerous than the singer thought it would be, and in an article she has written for Harper's Bazaar, Madonna details some of her most frightening encounters.
She writes, "New York wasn't everything I thought it would be. It did not welcome me with open arms.
"The first year, I was held up at gunpoint. Raped on the roof of a building I was dragged up to with a knife in my back, and had my apartment broken into three times. I don't know why; I had nothing of value after they took my radio the first time."
PAM COMMENTARY: I'd be interested to know if the NYPD ever tried to catch the guy.
Shipwreck hunters find another sunken freighter in Lake Superior (6 October 2013)
DULUTH, Minn. -- The group that found a sunken freighter off near Marquette, Mich. this spring has found a second one in Lake Superior.
The Duluth News Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/15TjMOm ) the shipwreck hunters confirmed the location of Scotiadoc last month. It's in more than 850 feet of water near Thunder Bay, Ontario, possibly making it the deepest shipwreck ever found in the Great Lakes.
The 424-foot ship sank after colliding with another freighter in 1953, killing one person.
Jerry Eliason, of Cloquet, Minn., is part of the group that has found many lost ships, including the long-sought-after wreck of the Henry B. Smith offshore Michigan in May.
Is your shampoo harming your health? (6 October 2013)
(NaturalNews) Most people use a shampoo to wash their hair on a regular basis; however, many of those people aren't aware that this common hair care product may contain ingredients that could be harming their health. For many, their choice of shampoo comes down to cost, brand, perceived effectiveness or even fragrance; however, a growing number of consumers are now reading the ingredients on shampoo bottles and basing their purchasing decisions on safety.
Shampoos are generally made from a mixture of water, some form of foaming agent and a variety of other ingredients that combine to make a product that smells good, looks good and appears to do its intended job of cleaning hair. But some of the ingredients that are commonly used are harsh chemicals that have been shown to be potentially harmful to human health, either individually or in combination with other ingredients, and may pose various health risks ranging from skin conditions to cancer.
Listed below are a few of the more commonly used ingredients and just some of their potential health risks:
• Skin irritant
• Potentially toxic or harmful to organ systems
• May enhance absorption of other chemicals into the body via the skin
• Potential immune system toxicity, skin toxicity and allergies
Walleye move in to a warming Lake Superior (6 October 2013)
If you are a warm-water-loving fish looking for a Great Lake in which to swim, Lake Superior is traditionally not your best option. It's the northernmost of the five lakes, stretching far into Ontario, and it's especially deep and often covered with ice. Its frigid waters have traditionally been too cold for balmy swimmers like the walleye.
But, hey, it's a fast-changing world -- Lake Superior included.
The Daily Climate reports that water temperatures in the lake have risen by about 5 degrees F since the 1970s; ice cover has fallen by a half during the same period. And that's bringing the walleye within reach of the lake's anglers.
Just one out of every 500 charter fishing boat excursions landed a walleye in 1998; now the average such expedition nets seven. Because the waters can now sustain the popular species, the lake is being stocked with them. From the article:
"Long dedicated to the trout that sustain its commercial fishing, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community started rearing fish that historically couldn't survive in much of frigid Lake Superior."
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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