Pam Rotella's Vegetarian FUN page -- News on health, nutrition, the environment, politics, and more!
NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2013
News from the Week of 13th to 19th of October 2013
Guardsman blew whistle, then his career blew up (19 October 2013)
Twelve years after his father gave his life for the unit, a Suffolk man says his military career has been effectively shut down because he accused senior leaders of a local National Guard squadron of engaging in and tolerating sexual harassment.
At a time when the military services nationally are under unprecedented scrutiny for sexual harassment and abuse, Master Sgt. Dan Summerell says his story is a cautionary tale of the repercussions that can flow from standing up to such misconduct.
His treatment makes a mockery of the services' policy of intolerance for sexual misconduct, he said in an interview.
"They tell us if we see sexual harassment, we must come forward," he said. "I came forward and got beat to death."
Meat So Cheap You Could Die (19 October 2013)
Thanks to the shutdown, the government is doing less to protect Americans from foodborne pathogens and deal with the aftermath of outbreaks.
The timing couldn't be worse.
Ten days after the shutdown began, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 317 people in 20 states and Puerto Rico had confirmed cases of salmonella from Foster Farms chicken. Although 42 percent of them had to be hospitalized, thankfully none had died by that point.
The CDC had to bring 30 furloughed employees in its foodborne division back to work to cope with the Foster Farms situation. The Food and Drug Administration has furloughed the majority of its 1,602 investigators.
India charges 33 aboard armed U.S. 'anti-piracy' ship (19 October 2013)
(Reuters) - India has charged 33 men aboard an armed ship operated by a U.S. maritime security firm for failing to produce papers authorizing it to carry weapons in Indian waters, police said on Saturday, a move that could trigger diplomatic tensions.
The captain and the chief engineer were not among those arrested in Friday's action.
The crew have been charged with illegal procurement of diesel and possession of arms and ammunitions without required documentation.
"The captain kept saying that he would produce the required documentation, but whatever was produced was inadequate," a police officer, who did not wish to be identified, told Reuters from the southern city of Chennai.
Police are still checking the authenticity of the documents on the ship, Chacko Thomas, a spokesman in India for Virginia-based AdvanFort, which owns the Sierra Leone-flagged ship Seaman Guard Ohio, told Reuters.
Charges possible for toppled ancient Utah rock (19 October 2013)
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Authorities are mulling whether to press charges against a Boy Scouts leader who purposely knocked over an ancient Utah desert rock formation and against the two men who cheered him on after they posted video of the incident online.
Two of the men, who were leading a group of teenage Boy Scouts on a trip, said the top of the rock formation was loose and they feared it was dangerous.
"This is about saving lives," Dave Hall, who shot the video, told The Associated Press on Friday. "One rock at a time."
The rock formation at Goblin Valley State Park is about 170 million years old, Utah State Parks spokesman Eugene Swalberg said. The central Utah park is dotted with thousands of the eerie, mushroom-shaped sandstone formations.
In a video shot last Friday and posted on Facebook, Glenn Taylor of Highland can be seen wedging himself between a formation and a boulder to knock a large rock off the formation's top. Taylor and his two companions can then be seen cheering, high-fiving and dancing.
40 years later: Foreign oil dependence has soared since the embargo (photos) (19 October 2013)
On October 17, 1973, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries instituted an oil embargo against countries supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War, launching the United States into an fuel crisis. The nation's oil capital was not immune. In Houston, many stations ran out of gas and drivers waited in long lines for a 10-gallon sip of gasoline from pumps that remained open but subject to rationing.
The nation's dependence on foreign oil has grown considerably since then. In 1973, the United States was pumping out 9.2 million barrels of oil per day, an enviable 2.7 million more than it does today in the midst of an oil boom. As a result, the nation imported just 3.3 million barrels per day in 1973, about 5.3 million less than it does today.
Better yet, gasoline cost less than 40 cents per gallon then, the equivalent of about $2.10 today.
Food Stamp Outage Highlights Problems With Privatization of Public Services (18 October 2013)
Over the weekend, low-income shoppers in 17 states were unable to use their electronic food stamp debit cards. In this reporter's neighborhood in downtown New Orleans Saturday evening, rumors swirled around grocery store cash registers and street corners. Was the government shutdown to blame? Did the deadlock in Washington mean nutritional assistance was gone for good?
The public soon learned that government shutdown was not to blame. Xerox, a private company that state welfare agencies had contracted for computing services, admitted that a "routine test" caused a computer glitch that temporarily shut down the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system in Louisiana, Ohio, Michigan and 14 other states.
It turns out that the EBT incident is not the first screwup under Xerox's watch. Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), a subsidiary of Xerox since 2000 that specializes in privatizing government administrative services for the most economically vulnerable Americans, has taken heat in the past for siphoning excessive fees from welfare recipients, mismanaging Medicaid payment systems, and failing to complete multimillion dollar contracts for public agencies.
One of ACS's high-profile snafus occurred in Indiana after state politicians decided to outsource major public services as part of a failed privatization scheme, according to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD):
"Indiana's 2006 experiment involving a $1.16 billion contract awarded to a consortium of firms including Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. (ACS) went so badly that the governor cancelled the contract at an unknown cost to the state, and the state legislature even considered banning privatization altogether."
A new method against genetically modified salmon: Get retailers to refuse to sell it (18 October 2013)
Consumer and environmental activists, facing likely defeat in their bid to block government approval of the first genetically engineered salmon, are trying a different tack to keep the fish off America's dinner plates: Getting retailers not to sell it.
And they're making headway.
Some of the nation's most recognizable chains -- including Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Target -- have agreed in recent months to steer clear of the fish. A spokeswoman for Safeway, the nation's second-largest grocery chain, said the chain doesn't have "any plans to carry GE salmon." Activists are pressing Kroger, the country's largest grocer, to make a similar commitment.
"The goal is to make sure there is not an available market for genetically engineered seafood," said Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner at Friends of the Earth, an international network of environmental organizations helping to lead the effort to make the fish unwelcome. "People don't want it, and markets are going to follow what people want."
Greenpeace activists await trial among harsh winds, tears and no sympathy (18 October 2013)
Locals call Radishchev Street the "street of tears". On one side is Murmansk's biggest funeral parlour; on the other is pretrial detention centre No 1, a foreboding facility fronted by rusting metal gates and crumbling walls.
It is here that the 28 activists and two freelance journalists detained aboard Greenpeace's ship the Arctic Sunrise are being held pending trial.
Friday marked 30 days since Russian coastguards descended from helicopters to take the Arctic Sunrise by storm during Greenpeace's protest against the Prirazlomnaya oil rig.
The environmentalists were brought to the Arctic port city of Murmansk and have been charged with "piracy as part of an organised group" -- an offence which carries a jail sentence of 10-15 years.
Throughout the week, activists have been brought one by one from the detention centre to courtrooms in central Murmansk, asking to be released on bail ahead of the pending trials.
The Military-Industrial Pundits: Conflicts of Interest Exposed for TV Guests Who Urged Syrian War (18 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
KEVIN CONNOR: Sure. The report really maps out the extent to which the policy conversation on the airwaves around Syria was really dominated by individuals with ties to the defense industry. And these ties, as you laid out there, really were never disclosed--rarely disclosed, only 13 times out of 111 appearances that we identified during the Syria debate.
Now, the importance of that is that readers and viewers at home, who are, you know, seeing these people comment, are introduced to them as having gravitas and credibility--former secretaries of state, diplomats, generals with expertise. You would think these are independent experts who probably retired with a healthy pension, when in fact they're representing interests that would profit from heightened military activity abroad in Syria. So that has a corrupting effect on the public discourse around an issue like Syria that's so--so important. And it really goes back to the responsibility of media outlets to disclose these ties and also the individuals here who are implicated in the culture of corruption and the revolving door in Washington.
Anjali mentioned earlier, on the first segment, about the jobs program for the defense industry. And there's a jobs program in place for the foreign policy establishment as they move out of their public positions onto the boards of these corporations. These aren't--these are part-time positions, but they're very high-paying positions. They have financial incentives and fiduciary responsibilities to companies that are profiting from war, profiting from current levels of defense spending. And this is something that viewers at home should be notified of. And it perhaps should preclude their involvement in debates like this, or perhaps they should not get the podium and platform they're given for their views, given the fact that they have these conflicts of interest that are quite serious in some cases.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Kevin, your report focuses largely on Stephen Hadley, who served as a national security adviser to President George W. Bush. During the debate on Syria, he appeared on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Bloomberg TV. None of these stations informed viewers that Hadley currently serves as a director of the weapons manufacturer Raytheon that makes Tomahawk cruise missiles. He also owns over 11,000 shares of Raytheon stock, which traded at all-time highs during the Syria debate. Here's Stephen Hadley being interviewed by Greta Van Susteren on Fox News about the so-called red line on Syria...
Drone strikes by US may violate international law, says UN (18 October 2013)
A United Nations investigation has so far identified 33 drone strikes around the world that have resulted in civilian casualties and may have violated international humanitarian law.
The report by the UN's special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson QC, calls on the US to declassify information about operations co-ordinated by the CIA and clarify its positon on the legality of unmanned aerial attacks.
Published ahead of a debate on the use of remotely piloted aircraft, at the UN general assembly in New York next Friday, the 22-page document examines incidents in Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan and Gaza.
It has been published to coincide with a related report released earlier on Thursday by Professor Christof Heyns, the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, which warned that the technology was being misused as a form of "global policing".
No, You Can't Just Go to the Emergency Room--Unless You Want to Go Broke (18 October 2013)
About three weeks ago I was walking home from the grocery store when a group of teenagers demanded my wallet, cellphone, and--for reasons I can't fully explain--gallon of whole milk. Although I made no effort to resist, I ended up with a laceration on my lip that required stitches, fairly intense swelling on both sides of my head that required X-rays, and a bruised rib. And I was down a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs. It sucked.
On Tuesday, though, I got some good news--a billing statement from George Washington University Hospital, where I got my stitches, CAT scan, painkillers, and a tetanus shot. Thanks to my employer-provided insurance company, Carefirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, I ended up paying about $50. But if I didn't have insurance, like 47 million working-age adults nationally and approximately 23 percent of 18-to-25-year-olds, it would have increased the bill by a factor of more than a hundred. The sutures alone were $1,400, and another $300 to have them taken out four days later. I'm a young journalist at a nonprofit magazine. I do my best to budget responsibly. But I don't have $5,000 of disposable income just lying around. My unfortunate encounter with typically wayward millennials could have left me broke.
I mention this because conservative lawmakers have spent much of the last four years--and the three weeks since the Affordable Care Act's exchanges opened on October 1--arguing that emergency rooms are a suitable replacement for having health insurance. "We do provide care for people who don't have insurance," Mitt Romney explained during his 2012 presidential campaign. "If someone has a heart attack, they don't sit in their apartment and die." During last year's campaign, now-Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) took heat from doctors groups when he argued against all evidence that it would be cheaper for the state to keep sending the 6.1 million Texans who lack health insurance to emergency rooms than it would to expand Medicaid. And in 2011, then-Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) explained that he was rejecting the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion in the nation's poorest and unhealthiest state because "there's nobody in Mississippi who does not have access to health care." After all, his office explained, there was always the emergency room.
But by the time the uninsured get to the emergency room, the damage has already been done. According to a study from Harvard Medical School, someone dies as a consequence of not having health insurance about once every 12 minutes in the United States, because they aren't able to seek basic primary care treatment that can prevent more serious problems. (About 9,000 Texans will die each year as a result of Gov. Rick Perry's rejection of the Medicaid expansion, according to an analysis by the Institute for Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.) But Barbour and his colleagues missed the broader economic point: Someone has to pay for emergency room visits. Emergency care can help literally stop the bleeding--it did in my case. But it's expensive, and it's not a substitute for regular primary care or health insurance.
Journalists Find 12-Year-Old Girls Making Old Navy Jeans for Gap in Bangladeshi Factory (18 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
ANJALI KAMAT: Yeah, so, you know, there have been a series of disasters in garment factories in Bangladesh over the past several years, but there's been a lot of attention to it in the past year. We went to Bangladesh in June to look at what was happening with Wal-Mart's supply chain in Bangladesh. And we were interested in a pair of shorts, part of Wal-Mart's Faded Glory line, that had been found in the ruins of Tazreen, which was a factory that burned down last November, killing at least 112 workers. So we spoke to workers. We spoke to activists. We also spoke to different people along the supply chain.
And one of the things we found, very clearly, was that it is very convenient for large corporations and large retailers like Wal-Mart to not know very much about their supply chain and to remain in the dark about that, because it gives them plausible deniability when there's an accident. And this is something that an auditor who used to work for Wal-Mart told us. It's something that advocates in the U.S., like Scott Nova from the Worker Rights Consortium, told us. And it was played out by what we saw in the supply chain in Bangladesh. I mean, at the very bottom of the supply chain, what we found is that there's very little oversight, and you have factories that are basically in people's backyards, in their apartments. And large corporations pretend to know nothing about these operations. But this is where--this is the building blocks of the garments that we all buy. And it's not just Wal-Mart.
What we found is we ended up in a small finishing house, where garments are finished. They're sort of trimmed, and the buttons are put on, the elastic band is put on. It's the final step before the garments are shipped out. And we found this small finishing house with, you know, one small window, bars on the windows, no fire extinguisher, just a thatched roof, about 25 young girls and boys working there on Old Navy jeans. And we found children as young as 12 putting in elastic bands into Old Navy jeans. When we took our findings to Gap Inc., they denied--
AMY GOODMAN: Which owns Old Navy.
ANJALI KAMAT: Which owns Old Navy. They denied any connection to this finishing house, said they didn't know about it, and claimed that the products were either counterfeit or had been improperly acquired. But we collected tags, Old Navy tags, at the finishing house, and we matched the barcodes from these tags to products that were being sold at Old Navy stores in the U.S. So, you know, Gap's claim that these are counterfeit are really--should be called into question.
Rare whale found on Venice Beach likely died elsewhere (18 October 2013)
Some witnesses had reported that the mammal was alive when it washed ashore, but that was not consistent with the state of decomposition evident in the body, Dines said.
"The only thing significant is the stomach was empty," said Dines. "It did have some nylon braiding but nothing that would cause a significant blockage."
Some of the animal's ribs were broken, but those injuries likely occurred after death, he added.
The museum will add the animal's skeleton to its collection of more than 4,000 marine mammal skeletons, the second largest repository in North America.
Stejneger's beaked whales normally roam deep, cold waters of the northern Pacific Ocean, and are rarely seen close to California's shores. The last time one washed up here was about 15 years ago, according to Dines.
Rep. John Conyers Pushes for a "Full Employment" Bill as Congress Votes to End Shutdown (17 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
REP. JOHN CONYERS: Yes, it's--there were--there are a lot of things that were filtered into it that really had nothing to do with it. But we're still wrestling, in the minds of many legislators, the issue between austerity and investment. And to me, that argument has been resolved in favor of investment, but there are still people that think that we can save our way. And this overemphasis on the national debt, to me, ignores the fact that we lost jobs. We lost work. We need a full employment bill. It's my hope that we can take the aim to create full employment for everybody in America and put it number one on our domestic agenda, so that we create jobs and that we train people for important work and how to work.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Congressmember Conyers, President Obama has agreed to put Social Security and Medicare on the table. You rallied with members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and retiree advocates against the proposed chained CPI Social Security cuts. So, this certainly isn't over.
REP. JOHN CONYERS: No, no, not at all. And, you know, the president has been stable, and he and Majority Leader Reid, they set a good example for us. And I think that he's got to really create a legacy that has a lot more to do with putting everybody back to work. The recession is not over yet. The recovery is slow. Unemployment is still way too high. And there's so much more that we could do.
And to think that you would have so many members, 144 in the House and 18 in the Senate, who would say, "Well, there's nothing wrong with shutting down the whole government, not raising the debt ceiling, and really hurting the credit rating of the largest, most powerful country in civilization." And it's just unimaginable, the actions that they would turn to to get their way on a very small and modest bill, "Obamacare." We're talking about universal healthcare for everybody, single-payer. That's what the new direction is. And yet, this kind of "everything or nothing, and we're going to get our way on any bill," that kind of an attitude destroys, really, or compromises the democratic legislative process--
Edward Snowden: US would have buried NSA warnings forever (17 October 2013)
Edward Snowden, the source of National Security Agency leaks, has insisted that he decided to become a whistleblower and flee America because he had no faith in the internal reporting mechanisms of the US government, which he believed would have destroyed him and buried his message for ever.
One of the main criticisms levelled at Snowden by the Obama administration has been that he should have taken up an official complaint within the NSA, rather than travelling to Hong Kong to share his concerns about the agency's data dragnet with the Guardian and other news organisations. But in an interview with the New York Times, Snowden has dismissed that option as implausible.
"The system does not work," he said, pointing to the paradox that "you have to report wrongdoing to those most responsible for it." If he had tried to sound the alarm internally, he would have "been discredited and ruined" and the substance of his warnings "would have been buried forever".
Snowden, 30, conducted the interview with the New York Times over the past few days, communicating from Russia, where he has been granted a year's asylum, with a Times journalist in New York via encrypted email. He took the opportunity to try to quash several of the most widely aired criticisms of his actions.
How Congress Just Stuck It to Monsanto (17 October 2013)
Other than reopening the government and averting a global financial crisis, one good thing about the funding bill passed last night was that it put an end to a corporate giveaway known colloquially as the Monsanto Protection Act.
Formally called the Farmer Assurance Provision, the measure undermined the Department of Agriculture's authority to ban genetically modified crops, even if court rulings found they posed risks to human and environmental health. Republican Senator Roy Blunt worked with the genetically modified seed giant Monsanto to craft the initial rider, and it was slipped into a funding resolution that passed in March. There was concern that an agreement to end the shutdown would extend the provision, which is set to expire at the end of the month.
Jon Tester, a farmer and Democratic senator from Montana, removed the measure from the bill yesterday. "All [the Farmer Assurance Provision] really assures is a lack of corporate liability," Tester argued in March. "It...lets genetically modified crops take hold across the country--even when a judge finds it violates the law."
The Monsanto Protection Act incited strong opposition from food safety and civil liberties advocates, as well as food businesses, environmentalists and groups representing family farmers. Although it was temporary, the rider curtailed already weak oversight over the handful of agro-giants that control the GMO market by allowing crops that a judge ruled were not properly approved to continue to be planted.
Striking the rider from the continuing resolution probably won't do much to limit Monsanto's influence in Washington, unfortunately. The company knows how to work the revolving door: former chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee Blanche Lincoln has recently been hired as a lobbyist. Monsanto spent $6.3 million on lobbying in 2011, surpassing all other agribusinesses besides the tobacco company Altria. Lately, the company has vigorously fought against state-led efforts to label GM foods, and reportedly lobbied for amendments to the Farm Bill to prohibit such labeling.
Greens sue EPA over Pacific Northwest's increasingly acid waters (17 October 2013)
Carbon emissions are turning seawater acidic, and environmentalists say that's a violation of the Clean Water Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the EPA, challenging the agency's assertion that the increasingly acidic ocean off Oregon and Washington meets federal water-quality standards.
Perhaps a quarter of the carbon dioxide that we pump into the air mixes into the sea, where it reacts with water to produce bicarbonate. The byproducts of these reactions are loose hydrogen atoms, which lower the marine pH. The concentration of hydrogen ions in surface ocean waters has risen 26 percent since the Industrial Revolution, reducing pH levels by 0.1 unit.
Rising ocean acidity has hit the Pacific Northwest hard, and local shellfish hatcheries have been in crisis since 2005. That's because the deep near-coastal waters experience extensive upwelling -- in which waters rise and sink, carrying minerals and nutrients up and down like elevators. Strong upwelling zones off Chile and southern Africa are also being severely affected by acidification.
GMO corn crop trials suspended in Mexico (17 October 2013)
Mexico, birthplace of modern maize, will remain (virtually) free of genetically modified varieties for now.
A moratorium on the growing of GMO corn has been in place in Mexico since 1988, but the government has recently made moves to allow the practice. That raised the ire of activists, farmers, and human rights groups -- dozens of whom filed a lawsuit seeking to block field trials by Monsanto and other international companies.
Last week, a Mexican federal judge issued an order that suspends field trials from moving forward, citing risks of imminent environmental harm.
GMO corn imports will continue to be allowed. For Mexico, this is a battle over farming practices and environmental impacts, such as pesticide use and damage caused to insects; it's not a fight about the safety of eating genetically modified food. From a report in Agriculture.com:
"The issue at hand relates to cultivation," Andrew Conner, manager of global technology for the U.S. Grains Council told Agriculture.com Wednesday. ...
Huge Differences by Region in Prescribing to Elderly, Study Finds (16 October 2013)
Elderly Americans are prescribed medications in inexplicably different ways depending on where they live, according to a new report from Dartmouth researchers.
The most depressed older patients--or at least the ones being medicated -- live in parts of Louisiana and Florida. There's a cluster with dementia around Miami. And the seniors who have the most trouble sleeping? They live, perhaps unsurprisingly, in Manhattan.
The study by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice examined geographic variations in the drugs elderly Medicare patients received in 2010. Researchers mapped where patients got medications they clearly needed and where they got drugs deemed risky for the elderly. They also looked at differences in the use of so-called discretionary drugs, which they say are widely prescribed but of uncertain benefits.
The report's findings underscore those of a ProPublica investigation in May, which found that some doctors who treat Medicare patients often prescribe drugs that are dangerous or inappropriate for certain patients. ProPublica also found that the federal officials who run Medicare have done little to scrutinize prescribing patterns in their drug program, known as Part D, or question doctors whose practices differ from their peers.
Report: Homes for Indigent Addicts Have Poor Conditions, Unsavory Ties to Drug Clinics (17 October 2013)
Beds in closets. Vermin infestations. Drug-dealing house managers. Fire hazards hidden from building inspectors.
These are just some of the conditions turned up by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice during a year-long examination of New York City's shadowy network of residences for indigent addicts and alcoholics.
John Jay's report on these so-called "sober" homes, released today, paints a picture of an unsafe and unregulated housing system for which no government agency wants to take ownership, leaving tenants at landlords' mercy.
Beyond being subjected to dangerous and unsanitary living conditions, many residents of sober homes, also known in New York as "three-quarter houses," told John Jay's team they were required to attend specific outpatient drug treatment programs or face eviction. These programs, some of dubious quality, allegedly pay home operators fees for referring patients for services from Medicaid and other government programs. Such referrals are illegal under federal and state law.
Which 100 global fashion brands signed the accord to beef up safety in Bangladesh? (17 October 2013)
Six months after the devastating Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 100 of the world's leading garment brands and retailers have signed a binding, 5-year legal agreement aimed to drastically improve safety conditions for workers.
The Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord now covers 2 million workers in 1,600 factories used by 100 brands, the Swiss-based union IndustriALL announced on Thursday along with the UNI Global Union.
Both unions are working with the brands and other non-governmental organizations to implement the accord, which will bring inspections to all the 1,600 factories within 9 months. If factories are found to have fire, electrical or structural problems, the brands must work with the factory owners to pay for the needed upgrades. All inspections will eventually be posted on the accord's website.
"We are delighted to reach this landmark figure. With this support we can make a difference on the ground. We are sending a strong message to all the companies that stand outside of the Accord: sign up and get engaged," said UNI general secretary Philip Jennings in a release.
Skull of Homo erectus throws story of human evolution into disarray (17 October 2013)
The site was a busy watering hole that human ancestors shared with giant extinct cheetahs, sabre-toothed cats and other beasts. The remains of the individuals were found in collapsed dens where carnivores had apparently dragged the carcasses to eat. They are thought to have died within a few hundred years of one another.
"Nobody has ever seen such a well-preserved skull from this period," said Christoph Zollikofer, a professor at Zurich University's Anthropological Institute, who worked on the remains. "This is the first complete skull of an adult early Homo. They simply did not exist before," he said. Homo is the genus of great apes that emerged around 2.4m years ago and includes modern humans.
Other researchers said the fossil was an extraordinary discovery. "The significance is difficult to overstate. It is stunning in its completeness. This is going to be one of the real classics in paleoanthropology," said Tim White, an expert on human evolution at the University of California, Berkeley.
But while the skull itself is spectacular, it is the implications of the discovery that have caused scientists in the field to draw breath. Over decades excavating sites in Africa, researchers have named half a dozen different species of early human ancestor, but most, if not all, are now on shaky ground.
California poised to adopt first-in-nation energy storage mandate (16 October 2013)
A California law that requires utilities to get 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind is widely credited with accelerating the state's cleantech economy. Now state regulators are poised to compel utilities to invest in "energy storage," which could jump-start technology long considered the holy grail of the electricity industry.
On Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission is expected to vote on a groundbreaking proposal that would require PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to collectively buy more than 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage by 2020 -- roughly enough electricity to supply nearly 994,000 homes.
The first-in-the-nation mandate is expected to spur innovation in emerging storage technologies, from batteries to flywheels. Once large quantities of energy can be stored, the electric grid can make better use of solar, wind and other technologies that generate energy sporadically rather than in a steady flow, and can better manage disruptions from unpredictable events such as storms and wildfires.
"There's plenty of sun out there, and it's going to take storage," Gov. Jerry Brown said in a speech at a solar industry conference in San Francisco this summer. "We need to bottle sunlight."
Fast-Food Giants Make Billions While Their Workers Use Billions in Welfare Benefits (16 October 2013)
Wages at America's fast-food chains are so low that millions of employees have been receiving at least $7 billion a year in welfare benefits between 2007 and 2011, according to a new study by University of California and University of Illinois labor economists.
"Our research estimates the public cost of low wages--low wage jobs in the fast food industry," said Ken Jacobs, chair of the U.C. Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. "We specifically focus on the core, frontline fast-food workforce. These are people you are most likely to see when you walk into a fast-food restaurant."
"The median wage for these workers is $8.65 an hour," Jacobs said Tuesday. "Only 13 percent have health benefits through their employer. The combination of low wages, meager benefits and often part-time hours means that many of the families of fast-food workers must rely on taxpayer-funded safety net programs to make ends meet."
But the billions in taxpayer subsidies is only half of the story, the labor economists said, because a companion report, also released Tuesday, found that the 10 largest fast-food chains made more than $15 billion in profits and shareholder give-backs in 2012--revealing the industry could afford to pay living wages.
Obama signs bill to raise debt limit, reopen government (16 October 2013)
After shutting down the U.S. government for 16 days and driving the nation toward the brink of default, a chastened Congress voted late Wednesday to reopen federal agencies, call hundreds of thousands of civil servants back to work and raise the $16.7 trillion debt limit.
An agreement struck by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ended a stalemate created last month, when hard-line conservatives pushed GOP leaders to use the threat of shutdown to block a landmark expansion of federally funded health coverage.
That campaign succeeded mainly in undermining popular support for the Republican Party, however. By late Wednesday, dozens of anxious GOP lawmakers were ready to give President Obama almost exactly what he requested months ago: a bill to fund the government and increase the Treasury Department's borrowing power with no strings attached.
"We've been locked in a fight over here, trying to bring government down to size, trying to do our best to stop Obamacare," House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told a Cincinnati radio station. "We fought the good fight. We just didn't win."
The Senate overwhelmingly ratified the deal Wednesday evening, 81 to 18, with more than half of Senate Republicans voting yes.
Insight: As Obamacare tech woes mounted, contractor payments soared (17 October 2013)
(Reuters) - As U.S. officials warned that the technology behind Obamacare might not be ready to launch on October 1, the administration was pouring tens of millions of dollars more than it had planned into the federal website meant to enroll Americans in the biggest new social program since the 1960s.
A Reuters review of government documents shows that the contract to build the federal Healthcare.gov online insurance website - key to President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform - tripled in potential total value to nearly $292 million as new money was assigned to the work beginning in April this year.
The increase coincided with warnings from federal and state officials that the information technology underlying the online marketplaces, or exchanges, where people could buy Obamacare health insurance was in trouble.
In March, Henry Chao, deputy chief information officer at the lead Obamacare agency, said at an insurance-industry meeting that he was "pretty nervous" about the exchanges being ready by October 1, adding, "let's just make sure it's not a third-world experience." At the same event, his colleague Gary Cohen said, "Everyone recognizes that day one will not be perfect."
The contract to build Healthcare.gov, issued to the CGI Federal unit of Montreal-based CGI Group, has come under scrutiny after the site, offering new subsidized health insurance in 36 states, stalled within minutes of its October 1 launch, leaving millions of Americans unable to create accounts or shop for plans.
Oreos May Be As Addictive As Cocaine (16 October 2013)
If you have ever found yourself unable to resist just one more Oreo, you're not alone. That "stuf" is like crack, neurologically speaking.
A new study from Connecticut College shows that Oreos are as addictive as cocaine, at least for lab rats. According to the new study, eating the iconic black and white cookies activated more neurons in the rat brain's "pleasure center" than drugs such as cocaine.
"I haven't touched an Oreo since doing this experiment," neuroscience assistant professor Joseph Schroeder said in a school press release.
The research looked at the rats' behaviors and the effects the cookies had on their brains. Rats were put into a maze and given the choice of hanging out near rice cakes or Oreos. The tasty sandwich cookies won that popularity contest handily. Those results were compared to a different test, where rats were given the choice of loitering in an area of a maze where they were injected with saline or in another corner where they could get a shot of cocaine or morphine.
The rats in the study liked the cookies about as much as they liked the drugs, congregating near the cookie side of the maze as much as they would on the drug side.
Much like humans, rats also prefer the delicious creamy center to the cookie. "They would break it open and eat the middle first," said Jamie Honohun, one of the students who worked on the study.
Obama Admin Tries to Block Supreme Court Review of NSA Spying (16 October 2013)
The Obama Administration is asking the Supreme Court not to hear a challenge to the National Security Agency's telephone records collection program.
In July, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a nonprofit that focuses on civil liberties and privacy, filed a petition to the Court, saying the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court overstepped its bounds in ordering Verizon to give the NSA all telephone communications "wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls," and as such should halt this disclosure. EPIC's petition marked the first NSA challenge brought to the Supreme Court; other challenges to NSA surveillance brought by civil liberties groups have targeted a lower court.
In June, the Guardian revealed the existence of this program, based on leaks from Edward Snowden. The paper reported:
"The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April."
Maryville rape case puts Missouri town under spotlight (16 October 2013)
In the farmland of northwestern Missouri, a 2012 rape case that never went to trial has put tiny Maryville under siege from state politicians, national journalists and a hackers' collective pledging retribution.
Early on Jan. 8, 2012, Melinda Coleman, a widow who had recently moved to town with her four children, discovered her 14-year-old daughter, Daisy, sprawled outside her home in 22-degree weather. The girl was incoherent, clad only in a T-shirt and sweatpants, her hair brittle from the cold.
Daisy and a 13-year-old friend had snuck out of the Coleman home late the night before to go drinking at a party with some older boys. The 13-year-old, who was back in Daisy's bedroom, said she had been raped. Daisy wasn't sure what had happened.
Melinda Coleman called 911 and took both girls to the hospital. Three of the boys at the party, including a 17-year-old linebacker on the high school football team, Matthew Barnett, were arrested. Barnett, who comes from an influential local family, was accused of raping Daisy, and 17-year-old Jordan Zech was accused of filming part of the incident. A 15-year-old was accused of raping the 13-year-old, who said she had repeatedly told him "no."
Special prosecutor sought in Mo. sex assault case (16 October 2013)
MARYVILLE, Mo. (AP) -- A northwest Missouri prosecutor said Wednesday that he's asking for a special prosecutor to look at the case of a 14-year-old girl who says she was plied with alcohol and raped by a 17-year-old acquaintance.
The announcement from Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice came amid increased scrutiny in recent days over how he handled the case.
Melinda Coleman, the mother of 14-year-old Daisy Coleman, claims justice was denied when Rice dropped felony charges against the 17-year-old boy in March 2012, two months after Coleman found her daughter passed out on the family's front porch in below-freezing temperatures. The mother also has said the family had to move from the small town of Maryville because of harassment over the allegations.
The county sheriff and Rice have insisted their investigation collapsed after the Colemans became uncooperative with investigators and refused to answer questions. Coleman says she and her daughter did cooperate and that investigators didn't do enough to push the case forward.
Rice stood behind his earlier statements at a news conference Wednesday but said he was asking a court to appoint a special prosecutor because of publicity surrounding the case and recent media stories questioning the integrity of the justice system in the county. Rice said the special prosecutor will investigate and decide whether charges will be refiled.
Companies leading US move away from oil-based vehicle fuels (16 October 2013)
WASHINGTON -- Commercial vehicle fleets will lead the United States' transition away from oil-based fuels to power cars and trucks, leading business executives predicted Wednesday.
The transformation has already started, with Waste Management adopting garbage trucks powered by compressed natural gas and FedEx partnering in research on electric and hybrid alternatives.
FedEx CEO Fred Smith said he believes electric vehicles will increasingly be used for short-haul, light-duty commercial vehicles, particularly those using next-generation batteries that can store more power. In the meantime, he predicted that natural gas will be the fuel of choice for heavy-duty trucks.
In particular, Smith said, cities are excited about the clean profile of electric vehicles.
"Light-duty electric vehicles will take off," he said, "These city governments love them for their zero emissions."
Indigenous Nations Are at the Forefront of the Conflict With Transnational Corporate Power (16 October 2013)
On Monday, October 7, 2013, indigenous nations and their allies held 70 actions throughout the world proclaiming their sovereignty. The call to action was issued by Idle No more and Defenders of the Land to coincide with the 250th anniversary of the British Royal Proclamation of 1763, which was the first document in which an imperial nation recognized indigenous sovereignty and their right to self-determination. As we wrote last week, treaties with First Nations are not being honored, and even the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does not adequately recognize the sovereignty of indigenous peoples.
In Canada, where the Idle No More movement was founded, an attack is being waged by the Harper government on the rights of the First Nations. A bill referred to as C-45 weakens laws that protect the land and allows transnational corporations to extract resources from First Nations' lands without their consent. Idle No More was founded on December 10, 2012 (the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), when Chief Theresa Spence began a hunger strike to protest C-45 on an island across from the Canadian Parliament.
The Idle No More (INM) movement has grown exponentially during the past year to become a worldwide movement. At its core, the INM taps into issues that are essential to all people. INM is a struggle against transnational corporations that collude with governments to allow the exploitation of people and the planet for profit, and it is a struggle for a new economic paradigm. INM is also about facing up to the horrific history of the way that colonizers have abused and disrespected indigenous peoples so that there can be reconciliation and justice and so that the peoples of the world can coexist peacefully. And INM is about the recognition that indigenous peoples are stewards of the Earth and must lead the way to protect the Earth and teach others to do the same.
Throughout the year, there have been teach-ins, round dances, flash mobs and rallies to raise awareness of the ongoing racist and exploitative treatment of indigenous nations as well as the continued decimation of their land to extract resources. There have been long walks, rides and canoe trips to call for healing of the Earth and for the recognition of indigenous sovereignty. And there have been blockades and other nonviolent direct actions to stop further degradation of the planet. INM has already achieved some successes.
Documents reveal NSA's extensive involvement in targeted killing program (16 October 2013)
It was an innocuous e-mail, one of millions sent every day by spouses with updates on the situation at home. But this one was of particular interest to the National Security Agency and contained clues that put the sender's husband in the crosshairs of a CIA drone.
Days later, Hassan Ghul -- an associate of Osama bin Laden who provided a critical piece of intelligence that helped the CIA find the al-Qaeda leader -- was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan's tribal belt.
The U.S. government has never publicly acknowledged killing Ghul. But documents provided to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden confirm his demise in October 2012 and reveal the agency's extensive involvement in the targeted killing program that has served as a centerpiece of President Obama's counterterrorism strategy.
An al-Qaeda operative who had a knack for surfacing at dramatic moments in the post-Sept. 11 story line, Ghul was an emissary to Iraq for the terrorist group at the height of that war. He was captured in 2004 and helped expose bin Laden's courier network before spending two years at a secret CIA prison. Then, in 2006, the United States delivered him to his native Pakistan, where he was released and returned to the al-Qaeda fold.
NSA director Keith Alexander and deputy expected to depart in early 2014 (16 October 2013)
The director of the National Security Agency and his deputy are expected to depart in the coming months, US officials said on Wednesday, in a development that could give President Obama a chance to reshape the eavesdropping agency.
Army general Keith Alexander's eight-year tenure was rocked this year by revelations contained in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the agency's widespread scooping up of telephone, email and social media data.
Alexander has formalized plans to leave by next March or April, while his civilian deputy, Chris Inglis, is due to retire by year's end, according to US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
One leading candidate to replace Alexander is Vice Admiral Michael Rogers, currently commander of the US navy's 10th Fleet and US Fleet Cyber Command, officials told Reuters. The 10th Fleet and Fleet Cyber Command both have their headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland. The NSA is also headquartered at Fort Meade.
There has been no final decision on selecting Rogers to succeed Alexander, and other candidates may be considered, the officials said.
Freeing Marissa Alexander (16 October 2013)
Three years ago, a single warning shot sent Marissa Alexander to prison. Last month, an appeals court overturned her conviction, ruling that the jury received flawed instructions on self-defense. Supporters are calling for the prosecutor to drop all charges rather than subject Alexander to a new trial.
As reported earlier on Truthout, Marissa Alexander, a mother of three and a survivor of abuse, had given birth to a baby girl in July 2010. The previous year, she had obtained a restraining order against her ex-husband Rico Gray. When she learned that she was pregnant, she amended it to remove the ban on contact while maintaining the rest of the restraining order.
On August 1, 2010, she and Gray were at home when Gray attacked her. "He assaulted me, shoving, strangling and holding me against my will, preventing me from fleeing all while I begged for him to leave," Alexander recounted in an open letter to supporters. This was not the first time that he had assaulted her.
Alexander escaped into the garage but realized she had forgotten the keys to her truck and that the garage's door opener was not working. She retrieved her gun, which was legally registered, and re-entered her home to escape or grab her phone to call for help. "He came into the kitchen ... and realized I was unable to leave ... he yelled, 'Bitch, I will kill you!' and charged toward me. In fear and desperate attempt, I lifted my weapon up, turned away and discharged a single shot in the wall up in the ceiling," she recounted. Gray called the police and reported that Alexander had shot at him and his sons. Alexander was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Alexander attempted to invoke Stand Your Ground, but a pretrial judge ruled that she could have escaped her attacker through the front or back doors of her home. In a 66-page deposition, Gray admitted to abusing all five of the women with whom he had children, including Alexander. Several witnesses, including Alexander's daughter, younger sister, mother and ex-husband testified that they had seen injuries that Gray had inflicted on her.
Obamacare's Website Is Crashing Because It Doesn't Want You To Know How Costly Its Plans Are (14 October 2013)
A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare's federally-sponsored insurance exchange is crashing. Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping. This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government verifies your information and decides whether or not you're eligible for subsidies. HHS bureaucrats knew this would make the website run more slowly. But they were more afraid that letting people see the underlying cost of Obamacare's insurance plans would scare people away.
HHS didn't want users to see Obamacare's true costs
"Healthcare.gov was initially going to include an option to browse before registering," report Christopher Weaver and Louise Radnofsky in the Wall Street Journal. "But that tool was delayed, people familiar with the situation said." Why was it delayed? "An HHS spokeswoman said the agency wanted to ensure that users were aware of their eligibility for subsidies that could help pay for coverage, before they started seeing the prices of policies." (Emphasis added.)
As you know if you've been following this space, Obamacare's bevy of mandates, regulations, taxes, and fees drives up the cost of the insurance plans that are offered under the law's public exchanges. A Manhattan Institute analysis I helped conduct found that, on average, the cheapest plan offered in a given state, under Obamacare, will be 99 percent more expensive for men, and 62 percent more expensive for women, than the cheapest plan offered under the old system. And those disparities are even wider for healthy people.
That raises an obvious question. If 50 million people are uninsured today, mainly because insurance is too expensive, why is it better to make coverage even costlier?
Political objectives trumped operational objectives
The answer is that Obamacare wasn't designed to help healthy people with average incomes get health insurance. It was designed to force those people to pay more for coverage, in order to subsidize insurance for people with incomes near the poverty line, and those with chronic or costly medical conditions.
Another U.S. Whistleblower Behind Bars? Investor Jailed After Exposing Corrupt Azerbaijani Oil Deal (15 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: While Bourke remains in jail, the masterminds and key players behind the bribery scheme--the men he blew the whistle on--remain free. Viktor Kozeny, who is known as the Pirate of Prague, lives in a gated community in the Bahamas. Attorney Hans Bodmer serves on the board of a Swiss bank. And a third man, a U.S. citizen named Tom Farrell, lives in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where he runs a bar. Bodmer and Farrell pleaded guilty and signed agreements to provide testimony in related cases.
We recently spoke to Michael Tigar, the renowned attorney, law professor and author, who is representing Rick Bourke. We also spoke to Scott Armstrong, a journalist formerly with The Washington Post who has closely followed the case. He is founder and former executive director of the National Security Archives and former chairperson of the Government Accountability Project. I began by asking attorney Michael Tigar to lay out the story.
MICHAEL TIGAR: In 1998, in the spring, Rick Bourke invested--he and his family--$8 million in a plan formed by Viktor Kozeny, a Czech entrepreneur, for the privatization of the hydrocarbon industry of Azerbaijan. Kozeny was a crook. He stole every bit of Rick Bourke's money and all of the other investors' money. He bribed Azeri officials. He lives today happily unextradited in the Bahamas. The scheme was put together by a Swiss lawyer named Hans Bodmer, who was given a no-jail plea by the United States government and who sits happily in Zurich today laundering money for Russian oligarchs, and by a fellow named Tom Farrell, who was the bagman, who operates--an American citizen--operates happily--the Russians apparently like him--a bar in Saint Petersburg.
When Rick Bourke found out about the stealing in 1998, he went to the New York District Attorney's Office, and he appeared before a grand jury in the state of New York. They indicted Kozeny for theft. Bourke then went to the federal government. They said, "Oh, no, Kozeny's not a thief. He might be guilty of some other offenses." They indicted Kozeny for offenses for which, as a matter of fact, he couldn't be extradited. They could have extradited him on the theft charge. And instead, they indicted Bourke on the testimony of Bodmer and Farrell that Bourke had known about the bribery of Azeri officials, testimony that, perhaps in the course of this trial, we can deconstruct, because it was ill-motivated.
Today, Rick Bourke is in jail. I regard him as a whistleblower. And we were unsuccessful, even after a United States attorney stood in the United States Court of Appeals in Lower Manhattan and told the court that the United States Attorney's Office in this judicial district is perfectly happy to put on false testimony knowing that it's false, that it happens all the time, but that Rick Bourke isn't entitled to any relief on that basis.
Watch: Are police profiling transgender Americans? (16 October 2013)
The modern gay rights movement was born on June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, on Christopher Street in New York City's West Village. Resistance broke out in response to a violent police raid against the gay community, and riots continued for several days. Many of the key leaders were transgender women, such as Sylvia Rivera, who had started her activism during the 1950s civil rights movement and continued until her death in 2002.
More than 40 years later, correspondent Christof Putzel and I returned to Christopher Streeet and found that even in a place long considered a haven for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, many LGBT individuals are still living in fear of police violence.
Mitchyll Mora, a young activist, said police had harassed him for dressing feminine, and his friends for not fitting into narrow gender roles.
"Christopher Street is a historic location, and it's always been a haven for queer folks, especially young folks of color. But with gentrification, there's been aggressive policing here, and that's a really scary thing," Moratold us. "It's scary when safe spaces are taken away from us."
PAM COMMENTARY: Sounds like a crazy program to waste police time, when the responsible use of extra time is to work on backlogs of unsolved crimes.
Could your gluten intolerance be the result of a mineral deficiency? (16 October 2013)
(NaturalNews) If you are one of the millions of Americans who suffers from either gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity, it may be that you are actually deficient in certain trace minerals rather than allergic to wheat. A growing number of doctors with an understanding of the fact that many of today's foods are lacking in vital nutrients are discovering that their gluten-averting patients experience dramatic health improvements when they get their mineral levels back up to par.
One such mineral for which a majority of Americans is likely deficient is zinc. Holistic Nutrition Therapist, Clinical Herbalist and Healing Foods Chef Katie Bauer, M.A., C.N.E., C.H., explains in a recent blog posting how many people with gluten intolerance and Celiac disease suffer from severe malabsorption, which means they are not absorbing enough nutrients. Many Americans, she points out, already consume less than 10 milligrams per day of zinc, which is less than the amount required for good health -- and those with gluten issues are absorbing even less.
Gluten is commonly believed to harm the ability of the small intestine to absorb nutrients like zinc, which in turn leads to deficiency. This may be the case for some, but it may also be the case that people with gluten intolerance are not consuming enough zinc, which could be exacerbating or even directly causing gluten intolerance symptoms. Zinc, after all, is critical for the proper function of more than 100 enzymes in the body, including those that regulate digestion.
"Zinc supports a healthy immune system, is needed for wound healing, and is involved in energy metabolism, hemoglobin production, carbon dioxide transport, prostaglandin function, synthesis of collagen, protein synthesis, and vitamin A metabolism," writes Bauer. "Zinc is important for male fertility and supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence."
Zinc has also been scientifically shown to be a powerful healing agent for damaged mucosal lining, a thin membrane that protects the body from contamination during digesting. Many people with gluten issues suffer from a damaged digestive tract, for which supplementation with the synergistic nutrient blend zinc and l-carnosine could provide lasting improvement and even healing.
PAM COMMENTARY: Zinc is also important for eye health and the immune system.
Five year update on the guy who cured his stage IV prostate cancer with baking soda (16 October 2013)
Now here it is, over five years later, and apparently Vernon's still going strong, according to his website reports, videos and announcements. The last known blog posting from Vernon was in August of 2013.
That's five years and two months after being pronounced cancer-free at a Veterans Administration hospital.
The mainstream medical standard for considering cancer cured is five years in remission or cancer-free. That self-imposed standard is rarely met with surgeries, radiation treatments and chemotherapy sessions. Many die from those treatments within five years!
But after less than two weeks of intense bicarbonate of soda or baking soda (not baking powder) and blackstrap molasses consumption, he escaped not only cancer but toxic orthodox treatments.
PAM COMMENTARY: Again, I don't endorse everything that I post here. It's notable that the article's author says "Although this author and most others wouldn't go it alone with only the baking soda-molasses protocol, it worked for him."
My sentiments also. The baking soda protocol is interesting and probably has some merit, but the alternative cancer protocol that I trusted with my own life can be found here. I combined key parts of several reputable alternative cancer protocols by famous alternative doctors.
BP oil spill: Ex-Halliburton manager pleads guilty to destroying evidence (15 October 2013)
A former Halliburton manager pleaded guilty Tuesday to destroying evidence in the aftermath of the deadly rig explosion that spawned BP's massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Anthony Badalamenti, 62, of Katy, Texas, faces a maximum sentence of a year in prison and a $100,000 fine after his guilty plea in US district court to one misdemeanor count of destruction of evidence. His sentencing by US district judge Jay Zainey is set for 21 January.
Badalamenti was the cementing technology director for Halliburton Energy Services Group, BP's cement contractor on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Prosecutors said he instructed two Halliburton employees to delete data during a post-spill review of the cement job on BP's blown-out Macondo well.
Last month, a federal judge accepted a separate plea agreement calling for Halliburton to pay a $200,000 fine for a misdemeanor stemming from Badalamenti's conduct. Halliburton also agreed to be on probation for three years and to make a $55m contribution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, but that payment was not a condition of the deal.
North Dakota officials might finally spill details about oil spill (16 October 2013)
After discovering that the public, legislature, and governor were all kept in the dark for more than a week about a major oil spill on a North Dakota wheat farm, lawmakers wanted answers on Monday. But the state department that kept news of the 20,600-barrel spill to itself had more spin than answers. (The feds also withheld the information because they were being furloughed.)
David Glatt, head of the environmental section of the North Dakota Health Department, defended his department's secrecy during the Energy Development and Transmission Committee hearing. He said the 11-day delay in notifying the public about the spill was a proper response, adding that the spill happened in the "best place it could've occurred."
But by Tuesday, following a closed-door meeting between the governor's staff and different state departments, some officials were sounding more contrite. From the Bismarck Tribune:
"North Dakota's Oil and Gas Division director Lynn Helms said the department's stance is that the Tesoro Corp. pipeline was a rural pipeline under federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration jurisdiction. ...
"The state doesn't have any laws requiring public notification of spills."
Drift catchers use citizen science to fight pesticide pollution (16 October 2013)
When Laura Krouse heard the roar of a crop duster as it flew low, ducking under utility wires to lay down a blanket of herbicides, she sprang into action. Working deftly, she set up a small air vacuum resembling a clothes hanging rod close to her field of vegetables, corn, and hay, not far from where the plane was spraying the neighbor's 10,000-acre farm. There, it would inhale samples of the air to later be tested to see if the chemicals were drifting onto her land.
Upon seeing Krouse, the pilot circled low enough that she could see his face. His expression read, Just what is that you're doing, Laura? "He was checking on me," Krouse says, "and if anyone dare ask, I'd tell them straight out that I'm taking air samples."
Krouse, who for 25 years has run the 72-acre Abbe Hills Farm in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, is a drift catcher, a toughened breed of farmers who are taking matters concerning the threats of agricultural chemicals into their own hands. She is among 20 Iowa farmers who last winter trained with the California-based Pesticide Action Network (PAN) to use the air monitoring technology PAN specifically designed for laymen. Back home, the farmers took air samples during spraying times throughout this past season.
"I grow vegetables that are susceptible to certain weedkillers, many of which my neighbors use," says Krouse, who uses organic practices, though her farm is not certified organic. "All it takes is for some of the tomatoes and veggies to get a whiff of a herbicide and they show damage."
Tar-sands waste going to fuel dirty power plants in China (16 October 2013)
As cheap tar-sands oil flows through America's refineries, the dusty byproduct -- known as petroleum coke, or "petcoke" -- is piling up throughout the country. The stuff is too nasty to burn in U.S. power plants, so oil companies are doing the next best thing -- shipping it to China, where somebody else can burn it.
Petcoke has been heaping up along the Calumet River in Chicago -- and the problem will likely get worse once BP turns its Whiting Refinery into one of the world's biggest tar-sands processors. Over in Michigan, Detroit's mayor and other lawmakers recently fought for months before ridding their riverfront of mounds of petcoke that a Koch Industries subsidiary had stockpiled there.
So where does the petcoke go from there? The U.S. EPA will not issue new petcoke burning licenses. It's just too dirty. Some has been sent back to Canada to be burned in power plants there. And now the Wall Street Journal reports that China's hunger for the dirty fuel is surging:
"While countries across Latin America, Europe and even the Middle East are buying a lot of U.S.-produced gasoline and low-sulfur diesel that meets their stringent air-quality control, China is in the market for something dirtier.
"The country, which has pledged not to sacrifice the environment for short-term economic gain, is buying an increasing amount of a byproduct called petroleum coke from U.S. refiners. ..."
U.S. Eases Rules on Exporting Military Technology to Secure Role as World's Leading Arms Dealer (16 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
To talk more about this, we're joined by Bill Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.
Bill, we thank you very much for being with us. You've just completed a report on the Obama administration's loosening of controls over U.S. arms exports. Your latest book, Prophets--that's P-R-O-P-H-E-T-S-- Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. Talk about what this Obama administration relaxing of the sending of weapons and parts means.
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Sure. I think the amazing thing, which you mentioned, is that the United States already dominates the trade. It's not clear they can make a lot more money here, but they're trying. And one of the things that will happen is, if you're a smuggler and you want to do a circuitous path through a third-party country, those countries are now getting license-free spare parts, surveillance equipment and so forth, that can then go on to a human rights abuser, to a terrorist group. And detecting this is going to be much more difficult without the State Department licensing process.
AMY GOODMAN: How did this happen?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, the industry has been pushing for this for two decades, and they have a couple points of leverage. Of course, they have campaign contributions. They've got people on the advisory committees that help develop these regulations. They've done studies making bogus claims about the economic impacts. And the Obama administration, more than even the Bush administration, bought into industry's arguments--argued, "Well, we're going to streamline this. It's going to make things more efficient. We're going to get the economic benefits." And I think they took a great risk in taking those industry suggestions, not looking hard enough at the human rights proliferation and anti-terrorist implications of that. So, I they they may have had good intentions, but I think they tilted way too far towards the industry.
NSA collects millions of e-mail address books globally (15 October 2013)
The National Security Agency is harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans, according to senior intelligence officials and top-secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The collection program, which has not been disclosed before, intercepts e-mail address books and "buddy lists" from instant messaging services as they move across global data links. Online services often transmit those contacts when a user logs on, composes a message, or synchronizes a computer or mobile device with information stored on remote servers.
Rather than targeting individual users, the NSA is gathering contact lists in large numbers that amount to a sizable fraction of the world's e-mail and instant messaging accounts. Analysis of that data enables the agency to search for hidden connections and to map relationships within a much smaller universe of foreign intelligence targets.
During a single day last year, the NSA's Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers, according to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation. Those figures, described as a typical daily intake in the document, correspond to a rate of more than 250?million a year.
Study ties BPA to possible miscarriage risk (14 October 2013)
BOSTON -- New research suggests that high levels of BPA, a chemical in many plastics and canned food linings, might raise the risk of miscarriage in women prone to that problem or having trouble getting pregnant.
The work is not nearly enough to prove a link, but it adds to "the biological plausibility" that BPA might affect fertility and other aspects of health, said Dr. Linda Giudice, a California biochemist who is president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. The study was to be presented Monday at the group's annual conference in Boston. Last month, ASRM and an obstetricians group urged more attention to environmental chemicals and their potential hazards for pregnant women.
BPA, short for bisphenol-A, and certain other environmental chemicals can have very weak, hormonelike effects. Tests show BPA in nearly everyone's urine, though the chemical has been removed from baby bottles and many reusable drink containers in recent years. The federal Food and Drug Administration says BPA is safe as used now in other food containers.
Most miscarriages are due to egg or chromosome problems, and a study in mice suggested BPA might influence that risk, said Dr. Ruth Lathi, a Stanford University reproductive endocrinologist.
With a federal grant, she and other researchers studied 115 newly pregnant women with a history of infertility or miscarriage; 68 wound up having miscarriages and 47 had live births.
"Edward Snowden is a Patriot": Ex-NSA CIA, FBI and Justice Whistleblowers Meet Leaker in Moscow (14 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: And explain why you compare Edward Snowden to Sam Adams.
RAY McGOVERN: Well, Edward Snowden came by very sensitive information, which he recognized that he had a choice. He could sit around and say, "Well, you know, isn't that funny?" and draw his $100,000 salary, be very, very comfortable in Honolulu, but he decided, "Well, you know, I took a--I took a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I see--look what Tom Drake has done. I see what happened to Bradley Manning, where Julian Assange is. If I want to get this information into the mainstream, I got to get out of Dodge, OK?" And very cleverly, he got in touch with Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitrus, met them in Hong Kong, gave them all the information that he wanted to get out, and then found himself kind of stranded there. To the rescue? WikiLeaks, in the person of Sarah Harrison, who arranged with the Russian consulate there his onward travel to Latin America. Latin America? Yeah, he was going to transit Moscow so he wouldn't have to go the other way, where he could be stopped.
Now, this thing is full of ironies, OK? Today is Columbus Day. I was thinking on the way in, my favorite history on the discovery of America, it started this way. Columbus--America was discovered by a man who was looking for something else, and the next two centuries were spent trying to find a way around or through it. History is like that, full of ironies, very chancy. Well, here's Edward Snowden. He's in Hong Kong. He wants to get to Latin America to a secure place. He's on his way to Moscow, in transit--he was ticketed forward to Latin America. And in the process, the U.S. revokes his passport. He's stranded. He spends the next month in the transit part of Sheremetyevo airport, and he seeks asylum in Russia. What's the end result? He ends up in the place which is by far the most secure place on the globe, because no SEAL Team 6 or fancy drone is going to violate Russian sovereignty by taking a shot at Edward Snowden.
Judge Who Framed Voter ID Laws As Constitutional Says He Got It Wrong (15 October 2013)
When the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago issued a critical 2007 ruling defending the constitutionality of Voter ID laws, Judge Richard Posner authored the decision.
The arguments Judge Posner made for upholding Indiana's Voter ID law framed out some of ythe essential underpinnings for the 2008 determination of the US Supreme Court -- in the case of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board -- that has since served as a justification for the enactment of ever harsher laws in states across the country.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, "a total of 34 states have passed voter ID laws of some kind." Not all of those laws have been implemented, with a number of them facing court challenges.
With the status of voting issues protections complicated by the Supreme Court's June, 2013, decision to invalidate key sections of the Voting Rights Act, the wrangling over Voter ID laws in states such as North Carolina and Texas has only become more legally complex and confusing.
So it should count for something that Judge Posner now says that he was mistaken in his 2007 decision.
Yasser Arafat's belongings have traces of polonium-210, say scientists (15 October 2013)
Swiss scientists have given details of their suspicious findings of traces of the radioactive substance polonium-210 on personal items belonging to the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, which fuelled claims that he was poisoned by Israel in 2004.
The discovery of polonium-210 on Arafat's effects was first made public last year. His body was exhumed from its mausoleum in the West Bank city of Ramallah last November for tests, but no results have been disclosed.
In a paper in the Lancet, toxicologists said they had examined 38 items belonging to the late Palestinian leader, including underwear and a toothbrush, and compared them with a control group of 37 items of Arafat's that had been in storage for some time before his death.
They found traces of the substance that "support the possibility of Arafat's poisoning with polonium-210", the scientists reported.
Virginia voters holding their noses in governor's race (14 October 2013)
One is a wealthy businessman and former party official with a history of dubious business dealings and no record of public service. The other is a champion of the religious right who has turned off women voters in droves because of his controversial stances on social issues.
Say hello to Virginia's 2013 gubernatorial candidates.
Terry McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and confidante of the Clintons, has reportedly used his extensive political rolodex repeatedly to land lucrative investments and cash out at the right moments. His last venture -- an electric-car company called GreenTech that was supposed to pad his job-creating credentials after his failed 2009 bid for Virginia governor -- is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Meanwhile, GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli, the state attorney general, has been one of the most strident anti-abortion voices in the state, supporting a controversial "personhood" bill that would have given legal rights to human embryos. Cuccinelli is also a favorite of the tea party.
Wisconsin's sand-mining boom could fuel fracking abroad (14 October 2013)
When most people think about Wisconsin, cheese, breweries, and cornfields spring to mind. But the fracking industry is interested in something else the Badger State has to offer: sand.
A sand-mining boom has gotten rolling in Wisconsin over the last three years. The state's quartz-based sand is strong and spherical, nicely suited for injecting underground with water and chemicals to prop open cracks in fractured shale, allowing natural gas and oil to be fracked.
The spoils of Wisconsin's $1 billion frac sand--mining industry are already being hauled by rail to fracking fields as far away as Texas and Pennsylvania. But the sand miners have their sights set higher. At a conference last week, one industry leader said the silica could eventually be shipped to South America and China, helping other countries plunder their own lands for cheap fossil fuels. "Wisconsin is the global epicenter, and we're just getting started," said Richard Shearer, president and CEO of Superior Silica Sands. More from The Capital Times:
"'I like to say thanks to God and the glaciers' for leaving behind the right kind of sand in Wisconsin, [Republican Gov. Scott] Walker told the receptive audience that included lobbyists, attorneys and rail officials."
Salmonella and Hepatitis Outbreaks Start Up as Government Shuts Down (11 October 2013)
Food-borne pathogens are not cooperating with the Republican shutdown of the US government.
In fact, they are busy sickening and killing Americans in more than 18 states, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are scrambling to recall furloughed employees to deal with a dangerous food-borne salmonella outbreak and a lethal Hepatitis outbreak in Hawaii.
The dual outbreaks have been linked to contaminated Foster Farms chicken products and the Dallas-based USPLabs LLC dietary supplement, OxyElite Pro. The outbreaks have sickened more than 300 people so far, killed one and hospitalized 87, with reports of antibiotic resistance for the precipitating strain of salmonella Heidelberg. No recall is currently in effect for Foster Farms chicken, but USPLabs LLC has ceased distributing the supplement until the FDA investigation is complete.
US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors have not been affected by the ongoing government shutdown as many meat and poultry facilities cannot legally operate without a USDA inspector on site. But more than 45 percent of all FDA employees have been furloughed, leaving daily operations such as crucial inspections of food imports on hiatus until the government reopens.
Hospital CEO pay not tied to quality of care: study (14 October 2013)
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Hospital CEOs' pay isn't linked to their hospital's benefit to the community. Nor is it linked to the quality of care the hospital provides, a new study found.
Instead, the chief executive officers, or CEOs, tended to earn more at hospitals with high patient satisfaction ratings and advanced technology.
"I was hoping I'd see even some modest relationship with quality performance," said Dr. Ashish Jha. "I think we were a little disappointed."
Jha worked on the study at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. He and his colleagues combined data from tax returns, hospital surveys and performance and cost reports.
A Walmart Shopping Frenzy After Food Stamp Cards Malfunction (14 October 2013)
MANSFIELD, LA (KSLA) -
Shelves in Walmart stores in Springhill and Mansfield, LA were reportedly cleared Saturday night, when the stores allowed purchases on EBT cards even though they were not showing limits.
The chaos that followed ultimately required intervention from local police, and left behind numerous carts filled to overflowing, apparently abandoned when the glitch-spurred shopping frenzy ended.
Springhill Police Chief Will Lynd confirms they were called in to help the employees at Walmart because there were so many people clearing off the shelves. He says Walmart was so packed, "It was worse than any black Friday" that he's ever seen.
Lynd explained the cards weren't showing limits and they called corporate Walmart, whose spokesman said to let the people use the cards anyway. From 7 to 9 p.m., people were loading up their carts, but when the cards began showing limits again around 9, one woman was detained because she rang up a bill of $700.00 and only had .49 on her card. She was held by police until corporate Walmart said they wouldn't press charges if she left the food.
Lynd says at 9 p.m., when the cards came back online and it was announced over the loud speaker, people just left their carts full of food in the aisles and left.
Facebook no longer lets users hide from search (13 October 2013)
NEW YORK (AP) -- Facebook is getting rid of a privacy feature that let users limit who can find them on the social network.
Facebook Inc. said Thursday that it is removing a setting that controls whether users could be found when people type their name into the website's search bar.
Facebook says only a single-digit percentage of the nearly 1.2 billion people on its network were using the setting.
The change comes as Facebook is building out its search feature, which people often use to find people they know -- or want to know -- on the site.
Facebook, which is based in Menlo Park, Calif., says users can protect their privacy by limiting the audience for each thing they post about themselves.
Indian stampede kills Hindu worshippers (13 October 2013)
The death toll from a stampede near a temple in central India has risen to 109 after many of the injured succumbed to injuries, officials say.
Thousands of Hindu pilgrims were crossing a bridge over the Sindh river leading to a temple in Madhya Pradesh state on Sunday when they panicked at rumours the bridge would collapse, triggering a stampede.
Autopsies had been carried out on 109 bodies by late Sunday, the district medical officer, RS Gupta, said on Monday.
Hundreds of thousands of devotees had thronged the remote Ratangarh village temple to honour the Hindu mother goddess Durga on the last day of the popular 10-day Navaratra festival.
Detectives: Whisper app helped man rape 12-year-old (11 October 2013)
LYNNWOOD, WA (KIRO/CBS) - A man who admitted to raping a 12-year-old girl used the Whisper app to locate her, according to police investigators.
Ron Peterson, 21, was arrested for child rape and released on bail after admitting to taking the girl to a motel where they had sex.
Detectives said Peterson, who does not have a history of sex crimes, used the app to chat with the girl and convinced her to send sexy photos of herself. He then told her by phone how to remove the screen from her bedroom window and run away.
Users of the Whisper app post about alcohol, adultery - anything on their mind.
The site shows their locations to other users nearby, making it easy to meet up.
However, its convenience for potential predators is a concern for law enforcement.
Miriam Carey didn't have to die. Police need better training in mental illness. (13 October 2013)
Officers fired 17 shots over several minutes before one round killed the driver, 34-year-old Miriam Carey, on the northeast side of the Capitol.
Of course, the officers couldn't have known that Carey had been diagnosed with postpartum depression with psychosis and that her understanding of their commands may have been clouded by an alternate reality in her head. But if they'd had better training, they might have realized that she wasn't intentionally defying their orders as much as she was panicked, confused and in the midst of an emotional breakdown. They might have figured out a way to calm her down without killing her.
Standard training regimes prepare officers to deal with people demonstrating various degrees of defiance. Police are taught to apply a "force continuum" that starts at its lowest level with the presence of an officer on the scene and escalates, as needed, through verbal commands; a light touch; grabbing, pushing or tackling; nonlethal weapons; and eventually deadly force.
But that model doesn't address how, as they ratchet up force, police officers can distinguish people who are defiant because of bad intent from people who don't understand or aren't able to process their commands.
The most common cause of unintentional defiance is a language barrier. Depending on where they patrol, officers may learn how to say "stop" and "drop the gun" in Spanish, Haitian Creole, Somali or Hmong. But there are still cases in which language difficulties and snap judgments lead to deadly outcomes. The 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo in New York may have been one of them. Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea with somewhat limited English, didn't comply with plainclothed officers when they ordered him to "show us your hands" -- a complicated phrase for a nonnative speaker. Police killed him as he stood unarmed in the vestibule of his apartment building.
Doctor says raw foods diet cured his type 1 diabetes (13 October 2013)
(NaturalNews) Is it possible to reverse type 1 diabetes (T1D, previously known as insulin-dependent diabetes or IDDM) simply by enjoying a raw food diet? According to Dr. Kirt Tyson, a naturopathic doctor who practices in Arizona, eating a diet that primarily consists of raw foods can dramatically reduce blood sugar levels in type 1 diabetics, perhaps even stopping their insulin dependency.
How one doctor stopped his insulin dependence
Dr. Tyson speaks from experience. A former self-proclaimed fast food junkie and a type 1 diabetic himself, he now believes in the amazing power of eating raw.
During an interview with Robyn Openshaw, also known as Green Smoothie Girl and author of "12 Steps to Whole Foods," he revealed that, prior to starting a raw food diet, his blood sugar level was extremely high (diabetic ketoacidosis) at around 300 mg/dL. Anything above 240 mg/dL is cause for concern.
However, within 2-3 weeks of eating raw foods - nuts, seeds and vegetables with no dairy, meat or fruits - he checked his blood sugar again. The unbelievable result? His blood sugar level dropped to an acceptable, safe range: 76 mg/dL. Today, he says he only needs insulin if he becomes sick (which causes blood sugar levels to rise).
Who has time to judge Madoff's associates? (13 October 2013)
(Reuters) - It is hard enough to seat an impartial jury in a case stemming from the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.
But lawyers on both sides of the trial of five former employees of Bernard Madoff are grappling with what may be an even tougher challenge: they must find jurors willing and able to put their lives on hold for nearly half a year.
With so many defendants and so much evidence to present, prosecutors have said the trial could last five months, a fact that has weighed heavily on jury selection, which ran for three days this week and continues next Tuesday.
Even before that, U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain requested a pool of about 400 people, an unusually high number, from which to select 12 jurors and six alternates.
Jury experts and trial veterans said a trial of such length significantly trims the potential pool and can lead to a jury that slews heavily towards the retired, the unemployed and people who work for the government or big companies, which pay employees on jury duty, with unknown effects on verdicts.
Mushroom's price plunges as supply soars (10 October 2013)
Chemult, Ore. -- The dusty white pickup truck rolled to a stop on the edge of the Oregon woods, where a father-and-son team of mushroom buyers, the Souvannasays, had set up their tent and scale. "Five," John Souvannasay said before the driver could even open his mouth. With a resigned nod, the man shoved the gear knob into park.
Some commercial hubs obsess over the price of stock shares, or real estate, or in centuries past, tulip bulbs. This dot of a town in south central Oregon, population 135, briefly flowers each fall into a global capital of the wild mushroom trade, with all eyes fixed on a commodity that few Americans have tasted, or perhaps even heard of: the matsutake.
And at $5 a pound for the best-grade raw matsutakes straight from the woods, paid on a recent evening to pickers at buying tents here like the Souvannasays', the market has just about crashed into the dirt. For the truffle of Asia, as the matsutake has been called - and worshiped, during its great bull market heyday a generation ago - there is far more supply than demand.
Fevered market in '90s
A mostly Asian American, freelance army of pickers, drawn by economic need or family tradition, still floods into the woods each morning armed with digging sticks and hope. But the economic winds at day's end are harsh.
Oil spill legal worries still haunt BP investors (13 October 2013)
Before its Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico blew out in 2010, killing 11 workers and causing a massive oil gusher at the bottom of the ocean, BP ruled the industry along with other Big Oil titans.
More than three years later, the slimmed-down London oil company is still years away from putting the spill behind it, as protracted legal battles and potential liabilities still haunt the company and its investors.
Even though the company has sold off $40 billion in assets, mostly for liquidity to pay for oil spill costs, the resumption of a civil trial in New Orleans has stirred up renewed investor anxiety about the possibility of $18 billion in pollution fines.
"They don't want people to focus on liabilities," said Guy Baber, an analyst with Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. "In a perfect world, BP would be able to tie a bow around it and put it behind them. Unfortunately for BP and investors, a settlement seems less likely than it did coming into this year."
The year before the worst oil spill in U.S. history, BP was the world's top oil producer, but since then it has slashed production 18 percent and fallen behind four other oil giants, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
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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