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NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2013
News from the Week of 20th to 26th of October 2013
Thousands Demand End to Government Spying (26 October 2013)
In the wake of revelations that the NSA is tapping the communications of 35 world leaders--including prominent allies--in addition to the rampant surveillance of international and American citizens, thousands of outraged individuals are convening in Washington Saturday to declare: "Stop spying on us!"
In the biggest protest yet against government intrusion--which had recently been thrust into the spotlight through disclosures by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden--Americans are coming together to demonstrate to the world that we disapprove of the actions undertaken by our leaders.
A live stream of the rally will be available here and below beginning at 12 PM EST.
Protesters marched to the National Mall where they convened in a Rally Against Mass Surveillance in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool. Among the speakers are former Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Social critic Naomi Wolf, Former senior NSA executive and whistleblower Thomas Drake and whistleblower and attorney Jesselyn Radack--who will read a statement on behalf of Snowden.
Saturday morning, a series of solidarity rallies were held in eight cities throughout Germany where news that the United States had tapped the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel continues to make waves throughout the country.
Hundreds of North Dakota spills went unreported (26 October 2013)
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- North Dakota, the nation's No. 2 oil producer behind Texas, recorded nearly 300 oil pipeline spills in less than two years, state documents show. None was reported to the public, officials said.
According to records obtained by The Associated Press, the pipeline spills -- many of them small -- are among some 750 "oil field incidents" that have occurred since January 2012 without public notification.
"That's news to us," said Don Morrison, director of the Dakota Resource Council, an environmental-minded landowner group with more than 700 members in North Dakota.
Dennis Fewless, director of water quality for the state Health Department, said regulators are reviewing the state's policies for when to publicly report such incidents after a massive spill was discovered last month in northwestern North Dakota by a wheat farmer. State and company officials kept it quiet for 11 days -- and only said something after the AP asked about it.
Soon after the AP published its report Friday, the Health Department announced it is testing a website to publish information on all spills reported to the department.
North Dakota regulators, like in many other oil-producing states, are not obliged to tell the public about oil spills under state law. But in a state that's producing a million barrels a day and saw nearly 2,500 miles of new pipelines last year, many believe the risk of spills will increase, posing a bigger threat to farmland and water.
Orca trainer saw best of Keiko, worst of Tilikum (26 October 2013)
Victoria, British Columbia (CNN) -- Colin Baird still remembers the day he got the call from work more than 23 years ago, when he learned of his co-worker's fate.
"We need you to come in," said his colleague from the Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria.
His fellow trainer, 20-year old Keltie Byrne, had slipped and fallen into the orca tank. Byrne was an exceptionally strong swimmer but she was no match for the aquarium's killer whales.
"She tried to get back out and the other girl tried to pull her up, but the whale grabbed her back foot and pulled her under," eyewitness Nadine Kallen told CNN affiliate CTV in 1991. "And then the whales -- they bounced her around the pool a whole bunch of times, and she was screaming for help.
Greenpeace activist dangles from Eiffel Tower in Russia protest- (26 October 2013)
(Reuters) - A Greenpeace activist suspended himself from the Eiffel Tower on Saturday to call for the release of 30 people who have spent more than a month in a Russian jail over a protest against oil drilling in the Arctic[.]
After lowering himself from the second tier of the Paris landmark, the man unfurled a large yellow sign saying: "Free the Arctic 30." He was brought down about two hours later by firemen without incident.
Twenty-eight Greenpeace activists and two journalists were arrested last month after trying to scale a Gazprom oil platform off Russia's northern coast, the country's first offshore oil platform in the Arctic.
Original charges of piracy against the group were lessened on Wednesday to hooliganism, which still carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
"We're here to ask the French government to do everything in their power to get the release of the 28 activists and two journalists who have been in jail in Russia for 38 days now," Greenpeace France member Cyrille Cormier said.
PAM COMMENTARY: This article has a video ad that appears in the middle of the page and starts playing, with sound, without the reader taking any action.
Monsanto's Very Bad Week: Three Big Blows for GMO Food (26 October 2013)
It hasn't been a good week for Monsanto and the rest of the biotech industry.
Just three days ago, Mexico banned genetically engineered corn. Citing the risk of imminent harm to the environment, a Mexican judge ruled that, effective immediately, no genetically engineered corn can be planted in the country. This means that companies like Monsanto will no longer be allowed to plant or sell their corn within the country's borders.
At the same time, the County Council for the island of Kauai passed a law that mandates farms to disclose pesticide use and the presence of genetically modified crops. The bill also requires a 500-foot buffer zone near medical facilities, schools and homes -- among other locations.
And the big island of Hawaii County Council gave preliminary approval to a bill that prohibits open air cultivation, propagation, development or testing of genetically engineered crops or plants. The bill, which still needs further confirmation to become law, would also prohibit biotech companies from operating on the Big Island.
But perhaps the biggest bombshell of all is now unfolding in Washington state. The mail-in ballot state's voters are already weighing in on Initiative 522, which would mandate the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Knowing full well that 93 percent of the American public supports GMO labeling, and that if one state passes it, many others are likely to follow, entrenched agribusiness interests are pulling out all the stops to try to squelch yet another state labeling effort.
Health insurance coverage gap troubles Virginians (26 October 2013)
Churchill is among about 28,400 low-income people in South Hampton Roads -- more than a fifth of the region's uninsured -- who will fall into a health insurance coverage gap if Virginia doesn't expand eligibility for Medicaid, according to a Pilot analysis of census data.
These folks either make too much money to qualify under Medicaid's current standards, or they can't get full coverage from the state-federal insurance program because most adults without school-age children aren't eligible.
But people in the gap also make too little to be candidates for government-subsidized coverage or discounts on insurance premiums through tax credits. That assistance is available on plans sold through the new health insurance marketplaces, which were created by the Affordable Care Act.
"They're still stuck in the same place that they've always been stuck in," said Cathy Revell, executive director of the Chesapeake Care Clinic. "And that's really unfortunate, because the capacity of safety net providers to take care of them is going to fall short."
Inside the wire: A fascinating look inside Southern prison farms that were built on slave plantations in the 1960s and '70s (26 October 2013)
Documentary photographer Bruce Jackson has created a striking photographic record of Southern prison farms of the 1960s and '70s, when he was given unsupervised access to prison grounds, guards and prisoners themselves.
In his book, Inside the Wire, Jackson documents a prison culture that 'is a direct descendant of the 19th century slave plantation,' the Texas and Arkansas prison systems, where he shot photographs between 1964 and 1979.
'Not only were southern agricultural prisons based on the structural model of the American slave plantation, but many of them occupied land that had literally been slave plantations before the Civil War, and secular plantations on which work and living conditions were not much changed after it,' writes Jackson in Inside the Wire.
Jackson's initial intention was to study black convict worksongs and folk culture, and his used his camera only to record details for his research.
Etna eruption closes air space (26 October 2013)
Mount Etna, Europe's most active volcano, has erupted, sending up a towering plume of ash visible in much of eastern Sicily.
Etna's eruptions are not infrequent, although the last major one occurred in 1992.
A spokesman for Catania Airport said the eruption forced the closure of nearby air space before dawn, but authorities later lifted the order.
Several inhabited villages dot the mountain's slopes, but evacuations were not necessary despite the lava flow.
Wellstone's Revenge: How Minnesota Democrats Took Their State Back (26 October 2013)
Blodgett steered Wellstone to victory again in 1996, and almost six years later, as the senator, his wife, Sheila, his daughter Marcia, and three campaign staffers boarded a Beechcraft King Air A100 to attend a funeral, Blodgett set his mind to the day ahead--a debate in Duluth, a rally with actor Josh Hartnett in St. Paul. But the Beechcraft never arrived, crashing south of Eveleth and killing everyone on board.
Blodgett was shattered. He pulled himself together enough to recruit former Vice President Walter Mondale to run in Wellstone's place, but Norm Coleman, a onetime campus radical turned Republican rising star and Rove acolyte, eked out a 2-point win. After the election Blodgett was unemployed and adrift. He turned over the same thought in his head: It can't end like this. "If we didn't have Paul and Sheila around," he recalled some years later, "we had to figure out the next best thing."
The next best thing became Wellstone Action, an organization conceived by Blodgett to train candidates, campaign managers, and activists to win elections the "Wellstone way"--promising bold policy ideas, investing heavily in grassroots organizing, and forging diverse coalitions. In May 2003, Wellstone Action held its first Camp Wellstone, a two-and-a-half-day crash course in campaigns and elections, and in the ensuing years 55,000 people would graduate from these trainings. Of the 112 DFL lawmakers elected to the Legislature last year, 40 were Camp Wellstone alums. US Rep. Tim Walz and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie graduated from the same Camp Wellstone class in 2005.
In a way, Blodgett had kept Wellstone's spirit alive, bottling up his teachings and tactics and spreading them far and wide. He didn't know it then, but the groundwork for Minnesota's progressive comeback was being laid.
CHARTS: The Hidden Benefits of Food Stamps (25 October 2013)
In September, just two days after a Census Bureau report showed that food stamps helped keep 4 million Americans out of poverty last year, the US House of Representatives approved a $39 billion cut to the program (known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) over the next decade.
The House proposal, now being negotiated along with smaller, yet still significant, Senate cuts of $4 billion, would result in 3.8 million people being removed from food stamps in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The haggling comes at a time when more than 15 percent of Americans remain mired in poverty, and more than half are at or near the poverty line when stagnant middle-class wages are matched against rising costs of living, US Census data show.
Although the Republican-controlled House cuts are unlikely, given a promised veto from President Obama, food stamps will still be slashed by $5 billion on Nov. 1, when the 2009 Recovery Act that increased the aid along with other stimulus spending expires. The 13.6 percent temporary boost in food stamp dollars helped more than half a million Americans escape food insecurity, and millions more to climb out of poverty--4.7 million in 2011 alone, according the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
Eighty-three percent of food stamps go to households with children, seniors, and nonelderly people with disabilities. The Nov. 1 reduction means $36 less per month for a family of four and $11 less for a single person. In 2012, the average recipient got $133.41 in food stamps per month--that works out to $1.48 per meal. "Without the Recovery Act's boost, SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014," reports the CBPP.
U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Calls for Release of Info on Bush-Era Kidnappings, Torture (25 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Ben Emmerson, finally, you've called on Britain and the U.S. to release confidential reports into the countries' involvement in the kidnapping and torture of terrorism suspects, accusing them of years of official denials. Can you expand on that?
BEN EMMERSON: Yes, I presented in my last report to the Human Rights Council a series of principles on accountability for what are described in international law as gross or systemic human rights violations. And I think that there's no doubt that the conspiracy that involved the commission of acts of secret detention, torture and rendition under the Bush administration constitute gross and systematic human rights violations. And international law is clear on this. There is no superior orders defense. There is no principle that would justify--just as at the Nuremberg trials there was no principle that would allow someone to say, "Well, this is what was ordered by my officials." There must be--international law requires that there be--a system for achieving accountability.
And we know that the Feinstein Senate committee report into the activities of the CIA is said to be a very thorough and comprehensive analysis and to identify who made the decisions, who committed the acts alleged, and where and how and why. And a crucial part of the duty of accountability under international law is the so-called right to truth. And that's a right that's not just belonging to the victims, but to society at large. And, therefore, I mean, the time has come, unequivocally, for the release of the Feinstein report. I mean, if there have to be particular redactions in order to protect the identity of operatives from reprisals, so be it. But the key findings of the Feinstein report and of a parallel report commissioned and prepared and provided to the British prime minister in relation to the United Kingdom's involvement in these activities must now be made public. And we will not stop calling for the publication of this material until at least a sufficient amount of it has been put into the public domain.
Germany and France demand talks with US over NSA spying revelations (25 October 2013)
The French and German governments have demanded talks with the US by the end of the year as the row over the spying activities of the US National Security Agency intensifies.
Their calls follow reports that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had her phone monitored by the NSA and reports that the agency eavesdropped on calls made by members of the French administration.
The revelations are threatening to create a major rift between the US and its European allies. The former Belgian prime minister and leader of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that such activities had to be curtailled. "There is no reason to spy on Angela Merkel. It's a real scandal," he said. "A new agreement is needed between the EU and the US; this cannot continue.
Others, however, were less shocked by recent reports. "I can't believe anyone is terribly surprised," Kurt Volker, a former US ambassador to Nato, told the same programme. Volker said every government tried to collect the best possible information, adding: "As a government official for many years I assumed that my cellphone and email account were susceptible to spying."
The controversy deepened on Thursday when the Guardian revealed the NSA had monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders after being given the numbers by an official in another US government department. The latest claims, which emerged from a classified document provided by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, have further overshadowed this week's EU summit in Brussels.
Leaked memos reveal GCHQ efforts to keep mass surveillance secret (25 October 2013)
The UK intelligence agency GCHQ has repeatedly warned it fears a "damaging public debate" on the scale of its activities because it could lead to legal challenges against its mass-surveillance programmes, classified internal documents reveal.
Memos contained in the cache disclosed by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden detail the agency's long fight against making intercept evidence admissible as evidence in criminal trials -- a policy supported by all three major political parties, but ultimately defeated by the UK's intelligence community.
Foremost among the reasons was a desire to minimise the potential for challenges against the agency's large-scale interception programmes, rather than any intrinsic threat to security, the documents show.
The papers also reveal that:
• GCHQ lobbied furiously to keep secret the fact that telecoms firms had gone "well beyond" what they were legally required to do to help intelligence agencies' mass interception of communications, both in the UK and overseas.
• GCHQ feared a legal challenge under the right to privacy in the Human Rights Act if evidence of its surveillance methods became admissible in court.
Republicans Demand Social Security and Medicare Cuts: Is It Reported? (25 October 2013)
Republicans are demanding cuts in Social Security and Medicare if Democrats want to change the terms of the "sequester." I'm sure their Tea Party "base" would be shocked if they understood this. So would most Americans. So is the media giving Americans the information they need in order to make informed decisions?
Yesterday The Hill reported, in "House GOP says sequester is leverage in next budget battle," that House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan is pushing for cuts in Social Security and Medicare:
"In a meeting with House conservatives, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), told rank-and-file lawmakers that, as the party's chief budget negotiator, he would push instead [of killing Obamacare] for long-term reforms to entitlement programs in exchange for changes to sequestration spending cuts that Democrats are expected to demand.
"[. . .] Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) said that during the GOP meeting, Ryan pointed to sequestration as the party's leverage with Democrats and said the Republican negotiators would not accept revenue increases in exchange."
Diebold Charged With Bribery, Falsifying Docs, 'Worldwide Pattern of Criminal Conduct' (25 October 2013)
One of the world's largest ATM manufacturers and, formerly, one of the largest manufacturers of electronic voting systems, has been indicted by federal prosecutors for bribery and falsification of documents.
The charges represent only the latest in a long series of criminal and/or unethical misconduct by Diebold, Inc. and their executives over the past decade.
According to Cleveland's Plain Dealer, a U.S. Attorney says the latest charges are in response to "a worldwide pattern of criminal conduct" by the company....
Federal prosecutors Tuesday filed charges against Diebold Inc., accusing the North Canton-based ATM and business machine manufacturer of bribing government officials and falsifying documents in China, Indonesia and Russia to obtain and retain contracts to provide ATMs to banks in those countries.
Can Fracking Showdown on Native Land Help Break Canada's Cycle of Colonialism? (25 October 2013)
The story here, the real story, is virtually the same story in every indigenous nation: Over the past several centuries we have been violently dispossessed of most of our land to make room for settlement and resource development. The active system of settler colonialism maintains that dispossession and erases us from the consciousness of settler Canadians except in ways that is deemed acceptable and non-threatening to the state.
We start out dissenting and registering our dissent through state-sanctioned mechanisms like environmental impact assessments. Our dissent is ignored. Some of us explore Canadian legal strategies, even though the courts are stacked against us. Slowly but surely we get backed into a corner where the only thing left to do is to put our bodies on the land. The response is always the same--intimidation, force, violence, media smear campaigns, criminalization, silence, talk, negotiation, "new relationships," promises, placated resistance, and then more broken promises.
Then the cycle repeats itself.
This is why it is absolutely critical that our conversations about reconciliation include the land. We simply cannot build a new relationship with Canada until we can talk openly about sharing the land in a way that ensures the continuation of indigenous cultures and lifeways for the coming generations. The dispossession of indigenous peoples from our homelands is the root cause of every problem we face, whether it is missing or murdered indigenous women, fracking, pipelines, deforestation, mining, environmental contamination, or social issues as a result of imposed poverty.
U.S. tells terror suspect it will use surveillance evidence, setting up possible legal challenge (25 October 2013)
The Justice Department on Friday informed a terrorism suspect in Colorado that it intends to use evidence against him gathered through the government's warrantless surveillance program, a move that will likely lead to a constitutional challenge to the law.
It is the first time the government has informed a criminal defendant that it intends to use "information obtained or derived from acquisition of foreign intelligence information conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act."
It is important because the Supreme Court last term declined to consider the constitutionality of the law amended five years ago because it said those who brought a lawsuit against it could not prove they had been subject to its provisions.
With the filing Friday, "it's the first time since 2008 when the act was signed into law that the government has acknowledged the use of surveillance derived from the law in a criminal prosecution," said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Jaffer, who argued the previous case at the Supreme Court, said it was a "big deal" that "will undoubtedly set up a constitutional challenge to it."
A Drone Warrior's Torment: Ex-Air Force Pilot Brandon Bryant on His Trauma from Remote Killing (25 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: You're speaking--you're hearing them in headphones, and you're watching them on a computer monitor.
BRANDON BRYANT: Yeah, we're like--there's like a chat program. Like so, that's the easiest way to communicate because of the satellite delay. But we weren't in radio communications with anyone except for the guys that were on the ground, so we heard them asking for air support.
And so, we got confirmation to fire on these guys. And the way that they reacted really made me doubt their involvement, because the guys over there, the locals over there, have to protect themselves from the Taliban just as much as armed--us--we do, as U.S. military personnel. And so, I think that they were probably in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the way that--I've been accused of using poetic imagery to describe it, but I watched this guy bleed out, the guy in the back, and his right leg above the knee was severed in the strike. And his--he bled out through his femoral artery. And it--
AMY GOODMAN: You saw that on your computer screen?
BRANDON BRYANT: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: It's that detailed?
California Watchdog: "Koch Brothers Network" Behind $15 Million Dark-Money Donations (25 October 2013)
On Thursday, the California attorney general and the state's top election watchdog named the "Koch brothers network" of donors and dark-money nonprofits as the true source of $15 million in secret donations made last year to influence two bitterly fought ballot propositions in California. State officials unmasked the Kochs' network as part of a settlement deal that ends a nearly year-long investigation into the source of the secret donations that flowed in California last fall.
As part of the deal, two Arizona-based nonprofits, the Koch-linked Center to Protect Patients Rights and Americans for Responsible Leadership, admitted violating state election law. The settlement mandates that the two nonprofits pay a $1 million fine to California's general fund, and the committees who received the secret donations at the heart of the case must also cut a check to the state for the amount of those donations, which totaled $15.08 million.
But those hoping to get the identities of the actual donors behind this dark money scheme are mostly out of luck. The settlement deal does not include the names of any flesh-and-blood donors--just the names of the shadowy nonprofits that shuffled money around the country during last year's elections. However, partially redacted documents released by the Fair Political Practices Commission do point to a few major donors involved in this dark money daisy chain, including investor Charles Schwab, machine tool magnate Gene Haas, Gap chairman Bob Fisher, and prominent philanthropist Eli Broad.
California officials hailed the settlement as a new record, but conceded that full disclosure was out of their reach. "This case highlights the nationwide scourge of dark money nonprofit networks hiding the identities of their contributors," Ann Ravel, the chairwoman of California's Fair Political Practices Commission, said in a statement. "The FPPC is aggressively litigating to get disclosure and working on laws and regulations to put a stop to these practices in California."
Malcom Segal, the attorney for CPPR, one of the two Arizona nonprofits named in the settlement, said in a statement that his client made an honest mistake in this case. "They believed they were in compliance," Segal said. "But the FPPC believed they were mistaken about their compliance and (under state law) even a mistake is punishable conduct."
As U.S. Faces New Scrutiny on Drones, U.N. Report Finds Hundreds of Civilian Deaths in Pakistan (25 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your findings.
BEN EMMERSON: Well, I think, first of all, the first point to make is this is not a final report, so "findings" is perhaps putting it too high. This is a process of dialogue which will involve a number of reports, both to the General Assembly and to the Human Rights Council. And what I'm presenting to the General Assembly this morning is an interim report.
In terms of the key issues, what we sought to do was to take an overview of the use, the deployment of armed drones both by the United States and the United Kingdom in Afghanistan and other parts of the world, and of course by Israel in Gaza, as well, to get a sense of the difficulties involved in assessing civilian casualty levels. And I make it absolutely clear there are real practical problems in that process, partly due to the lack of transparency from the states engaged in these counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations, and partly because of the sheer topographical challenges involved in conducting investigations in these largely ungoverned or poorly governed spaces.
So, at this stage, the principal recommendation of the report is that where states have a credible information from any source, including sources like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, that civilians have been killed or injured, then they are under an obligation, of course, to conduct their own investigations--and, no doubt, all states do conduct their own investigations when deploying this technology--but more important than that for the public process, that the results of those investigations should be disclosed. We've seen, for example, in Afghanistan, a couple of instances where both the U.S. and, in one case, the U.K. have released, declassified investigation reports or the summaries of the findings of investigation reports involving drone strikes where civilians have been killed. And that type of transparency goes an awful long way to allaying people's concerns that there is a disproportionate risk of civilian casualties.
Could this glow-in-the-dark road coating replace streetlights? (25 October 2013)
Good news for the three of you cities enthusiasts who are also ravers! A British company has created a spray-on street coating that soaks up UV rays during the day and spits them out at night in the form of pretty, glowy light. I hope you also like sci-fi, because it's called Starpath:
"Starpath doesn't produce electricity, but it does offer a possible alternative to street lighting, with very low installation and maintenance costs, as it can be just sprayed onto an existing surface and then further coated to make it waterproof...
"The coating is currently being trialled in Christ's Pieces, a park in the center of Cambridge, UK, where it has been sprayed on a total area of 150 sq m (1,600 sq ft). Pro-Teq says the coating took only 30 minutes to apply, with the surface being ready for use after only four hours."
Starpath is anti-slip and non-reflective, so basically the only thing it can't do is beam you into another world. Check it...
How to Write About Rape: Rules for Journalists (25 October 2013)
Feminists spend a lot of time taking journalists and media institutions to task for the way they cover rape--and for good reason. Victim-blaming runs rampant in headlines and news features, sexual assault is often misnamed or mischaracterized, and women's behavior is treated with more scrutiny than rapists' crimes. Media makers are smart, interesting people who--like all people--make mistakes. But even well-meaning missteps cause harm. So for those writers, editors, producers and pundits who are looking to cover stories about sexual assault in a fair and accurate way, here are some suggestions:
--When an adult is charged with assaulting a minor or someone is someone is accused of assaulting an unconscious person, don't refer to the crime as "sex with a child" or "sex with an unconscious person." Call it rape--because that's what it is. I understand there are legal issues to consider when a perpetrator has been accused but not found guilty, but even an alleged crime needs to be accurately described. "Sex" with someone who is unable to consent because of age, consciousness or ability is not sex; it is always rape.
--If you find yourself writing or editing a sentence that describes what a rape victim wore, the kind of makeup she had on or that she acted "older than her age" (I'm looking at you, New York Times)--stop it. Cut it. Burn it with fire. Unless it is of direct importance to the case--like this infamous Italian case where criticism over a judge's comments on clothes were taken to task--it's not only unnecessary, it's harmful. Victims of sexual assault are already blamed enough in our culture without the media perpetuating the lie that their behavior had some bearing on the violence that was perpetrated against them.
--If the victim you are reporting about comes from a marginalized community--if they are queer, trans, poor, disabled, an immigrant, a person of color or a sex worker--take extra care that the pernicious stereotypes that surround that community do not impact your piece. Make broader links--different communities have different and disproportionate rates violence perpetrated against them. Interview people who are experts on this. Include information and expertise from organizations that work within these communities.
Carcinogens emitted from Canada's main fossil fuel hub, study says (25 October 2013)
WASHINGTON -- A new study has detected air pollutants, including carcinogens, in areas downwind of Canada's main fossil fuel hub in Alberta at levels rivaling those of major metropolises such as Beijing and Mexico City.
The study by researchers from UC Irvine and the University of Michigan also found a high incidence of blood cancers such as leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma among men in the area, compared with the rest of Alberta and Canada.
"When you get cancers that can be caused by the carcinogens we are seeing, that is reason for concern," said Isobel J. Simpson, a lead author of the study and a researcher at UC Irvine's chemistry department.
The Alberta government said the study provides an inaccurate picture of pollution in the so-called Industrial Heartland, a three-county area where oil, chemicals and oil sands crude are processed.
"Based on the results of our monitoring, we see no evidence to suggest that people in the Industrial Heartland region are exposed to levels of the chemicals indicated in the paper," said Nikki Booth, spokeswoman for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, the provincial regulator.
Is DDT a time-bomb behind the obesity epidemic? (25 October 2013)
Michael Skinner didn't start the experiment with the hypothesis that he'd find a connection between the insecticide DDT and obesity.
"We didn't expect to find that," he said. "In fact, the frequency of obesity really came as a surprise."
Skinner, a scientist at Washington State University, wanted to take a close look at the way DDT affected inheritance. So his team injected DDT into pregnant rats and watched first their children, and then their grandchildren (or is it grandrats?). It was only in the third generation, the great-grand-rat, that they saw it: Fully half of these rats were obese. The implication is that the same thing could be happening with humans.
"Is there a correlation between the fact that we were all exposed to DDT in the 1950s for 10 years, and the fact that we are now seeing high levels of obesity?" Skinner asked. His work suggests that there could be.
FDA recommends tightening access to hydrocodone pain-killers (25 October 2013)
(Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday recommended tighter restrictions on products that contain hydrocodone, an opioid painkiller present in commonly prescribed, potentially addictive drugs such as Vicodin.
Until now, Vicodin and other products that contain less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone have been classified as Schedule III controlled substances. The FDA recommends reclassifying them more restrictively -- potentially as Schedule II products, in line with opioid pain-killers such as oxycodone and morphine.
Reclassifying the products would make them harder to obtain, both by addicts and by legitimate pain patients. Physicians are not allowed to call in a prescription for a Schedule II product to a pharmacy. Instead, patients must present a written prescription.
In addition, patients would not be allowed as many refills before returning to see their doctors, potentially representing a hardship for patients in chronic pain.
The proposed change was urged by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is battling a rising tide of prescription drug abuse. The change must be approved by the Department of Health and Human Services and the DEA, which will make a final scheduling decision.
Coral reefs are producing a chemical that staves off global warming (25 October 2013)
Coral reefs have long been thought to be unusually sensitive to the effects of global warming -- but as it turns out, they're not as helpless as we thought. According to new research published in Nature, when they're under stress, coral can emit a chemical that cools down the local climate.
The chemical is called dimethylsulfoniopropionate, or DMSP, and it can increase the production of clouds in the coral's immediate area by seeding the atmosphere with sulfur aerosols, which water vapor condenses around. More clouds mean cooler temperatures -- not overall, alas (we can't rely on coral to clean up our messes), but in the local area and the short term.
Of course, that means that the more coral die from global warming, the fewer resources they'll have. But maybe that will cause so much stress that they'll pump out DMSP at an even faster rate! Man, if only we could all produce stress-related chemicals that temporarily alleviated whatever was bugging us.
California fines groups $16 million for funneling money to campaigns (25 October 2013)
SACRAMENTO -- California officials are imposing a record $16 million in penalties on secretive political groups that funneled money into initiative campaigns in 2012, ending a yearlong investigation that showed gaps in state disclosure laws.
Two campaign committees in California are being ordered to pay a total of $15 million to the state, a sum equivalent to the donations they received, which regulators said were improperly reported. Two Arizona nonprofits, one linked to billionaire Republican donors Charles and David Koch, will pay a combined $1-million fine as part of a settlement.
The nonprofits are not being required to reveal their donors' identities, even though disclosure was at the root of the investigation. Under existing campaign finance laws, the state cannot force the groups to release the names, officials said.
"California law doesn't provide adequate disclosure of political contributions made through dark-money nonprofits," said Fair Political Practices Commission Chairwoman Ann Ravel, who announced the investigation's resolution Thursday along with the commission's largest-ever penalties.
The case highlighted how some big-ticket donors have sought to influence political campaigns by relying on off-the-books methods. Anonymous donations have exploded in popularity since 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that many nonprofits can spend unlimited money on elections.
Enbridge rejects Ontario demands on pipeline (25 October 2013)
A third-party review of risk and engineering assessments, a $1 billion U.S. insurance policy and a full hydrostatic test of an aging pipeline that cuts across Toronto aren't necessary, Enbridge argued in its final reply to federal regulators who will decide whether to approve an overhaul of Line 9B.
Last week during public hearings, Ontario's Ministry of Energy urged the National Energy Board to insist upon the test and reviews of company-produced assessments before even considering Enbridge's plans to increase capacity to a maximum 300,000 barrels a day and reverse its flow to westbound, allowing it to carry, in part, heavy crude from Alberta.
In a 38-page written reply to evidence presented at the hearings, held in Montreal and Toronto, Enbridge argued the energy board itself constitutes an independent review.
"The proposed requirement for an "independent third party" is unnecessary, inappropriate and should not be imposed," reads the submission released Friday.
A hydrostatic test, where water is pumped into a pipeline at high pressure to determine its soundness, isn't necessary given Enbridge's use of in-line inspection tools, the company has argued. Nor, it said, is $1 billion insurance to cover cleanup and compensation of a disastrous spill -- a figure determined based on the to-date costs of cleaning up a 3.3-million-litre Enbridge spill in Michigan in 2010, the worst ever to occur on U.S. soil.
Ex-inmates: Drugs easy to get at Watson's work center (25 October 2013)
Three former inmates in Sheriff Bill Watson's work release center say inmates used heroin and other drugs while incarcerated there.
The work center off Frederick Boulevard houses both inmates who work under the supervision of armed deputies doing tasks such as mowing and inmates who work at businesses learning job skills. Watson's management of the center came under question last year, when several inmates escaped from the program.
Former inmate Anthony Rodgers told Circuit Judge Johnny E. Morrison during a probation violation hearing in May that he maintained his heroin habit while at the work center, according to a transcript of the hearing. The Pilot recently obtained a copy.
Rodgers was in the sheriff's custody from Aug. 29, 2011, to Feb. 6, 2012.
Morrison questioned Rodgers carefully.
"You were getting high while you were in the Portsmouth City Jail?" Morrison asked.
"At the work center," Rodgers said.
Ontario brings in sweeping changes to protect animals (25 October 2013)
Meilleur began a review of animal laws in Ontario in the wake of a Star series in which former trainers blamed health problems at Marineland on sporadically poor water and insufficient staffing. John Holer, owner of the Niagara Falls animal park, has always denied any problems or staffing shortages. He told the Star last year that "we take care of the animals better than I would take care of myself."
Meilleur said of the Star investigation: "If it weren't for their work, we wouldn't be here today."
Meilleur told the Star she quickly realized the OSPCA lacked the power and ability to deal with the kind of large, complex investigations the province now requires.
Ontario will give the OSPCA $5.5 million annually to "create a team of specially trained investigators" to inspect the province's 60 zoos and aquariums, which in future will be registered. The team will also deal with "puppy and kitten mills," and the OSPCA will "provide regular progress reports to the government."
The marine mammal standards are being drafted by a team of experts, with a deadline of June 2014. In the meantime, inspections of marine parks will be carried out under the existing animal laws of Ontario.
PAM COMMENTARY: This article has an embedded video that starts playing, with sound, without the reader taking any action.
Titan: Land o' methane lakes (25 October 2013)
New images captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft reveal a land of liquid methane and ethane lakes spotting the north pole of Titan, Saturn's largest moon.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge released the new images this week, saying that a fortunate coincidence of seasonal change and spacecraft positioning made the pictures possible.
"The view from Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer gives us a holistic view of an area that we'd only seen in bits and pieces before and at lower resolution," read a statement from Jason Barnes, a participating scientist at the University of Idaho, Moscow.
"It turns out that Titan's north pole is even more interesting than we thought."
Titan is the only body in the solar system, other than Earth, that features stable bodies of liquid on its surface, according to NASA.
The War Between CNN and SeaWorld Over 'Blackfish' Escalates (24 October 2013)
Judgment Day has arrived for SeaWorld--well, at least in the court of public opinion.
Tonight, the documentary about captive orcas, Blackfish, premieres on CNN. The film centers on the 2010 death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by Tilikum, raising serious questions about the highly profitable practice of keeping killer whales in captivity. While SeaWorld has criticized film, they have declined requests by CNN to be interviewed on camera. But, this week, company spokesman Fred Jacobs did provide written answers to a few of the most poignant issues in the documentary.
Most of these topics are discussed in my book, Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity. Readers will recognize SeaWorld's latest attempt at positive spin as part of its eternal drive to make orcas in swimming pools appear to be a good thing, especially for the whales.
Here are some of the main points raised in the CNN Q&A with Jacobs, paired with what I discovered researching Death at SeaWorld.
Normally chatty northern whales have quieted down, Vancouver Aquarium researchers notice (24 October 2013) [Rense.com]
But finding the pods has become more difficult because they're not as loud.
"We were still blundering into them from time to time, finding them without the hydrophone and when we did, they were generally -- not always, but most of the time -- very quiet," Barrett-Lennard said.
Whales use sound to find each other, to locate prey and just to communicate, he said. The whales appear to be foraging actively and behaving normally in most every other way.
"We're seeing everything that we would expect to see visually but when we drop the hydrophone over the side, they're being very, very quiet," he said.
The whales have also been seen the past two summers travelling in smaller groups further offshore to find food -- behaviour more typical in winter than summer.
The team has also noticed an unusually high mortality rate among pod matriarchs, with seven or eight deaths among older females in the pod in the past two years. Normally, the team notices one or two deaths per year.
Mexico blocks Foster Farms chicken imports amid salmonella fears (24 October 2013)
Mexico has blocked imports of Foster Farms chicken from three Central California processing facilities linked to an outbreak of salmonella.
The Mexican government told the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday that it was removing from its list of approved exporters two Foster Farms plants in Fresno and one in Livingston, where the poultry company is headquartered.
The blocked three plants were identified by the USDA as the likely origins of a salmonella outbreak that has sickened at least 338 people across the U.S. since March.
Despite intensifying demands for a recall, the USDA allowed the plants to remain open after Foster Farms developed new protocols to reduce rates of contamination.
Federal inspectors and Foster Farms have maintained that poultry from the processing sites is safe to eat if handled properly and cooked to a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
The strain of salmonella involved in the outbreak, known as Salmonella Heidelberg, has proved especially virulent and resistant to some antibiotics. That's one reason the outbreak's hospitalization rate is double that of the average salmonella outbreak.
Freebased nicotine has 45 million U.S. smokers hooked (24 October 2013)
(NaturalNews) How can so many people be so stuck in a "habit" and unable to escape? What if you found out that the third most addicting drug in the world was "juiced up" with a potent, deadly and volatile chemical, and has been for five decades? Let's get right into this one: ammonia does not register on nicotine level testing, but a chemical process similar to freebasing cocaine is used to enhance the potency of nicotine up to 35 times, and this alone converts bound nicotine molecules into free molecules, reaching the heart and brain within 3 seconds. This form of nicotine is highly addictive and travels so quickly in the body because it vaporizes into a gas that is absorbed by the lungs and then distributed to the brain and heart immediately.
Decades ago, the entire tobacco industry, better known as "Big Tobacco," was brought to court in Minnesota for marketing fraud and for illegally "hooking" their customers with this supercharged nicotine. By 1990, tobacco companies were shown to be using more than 10 million pounds of ammonia compounds each year; that is why Marlboro nearly put every other brand out of business back in the 1960's and early 70's, because they were the strongest and fastest-hitting nicotine fix or "nic-fit" brand. Once R.J. Reynolds caught on to the "Breaking Bad" style of cooking nicotine with ammonia, the rest of Big Tobacco jumped on board, and here we are today, 45,000,000 people deep in America alone, and the number is growing.
An addiction expert at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine conducted a study on this and said, "The modern cigarette does to nicotine what crack does to cocaine."
Also, Ian Jones, a nicotine expert at Bath University in the UK, said, "Free-base nicotine is the most damaging form because it is the optimal configuration for binding to the nicotine receptors in the brain and heart." Therefore, smoking a pack a day in 2013 is equivalent to smoking 700 cigarettes in 1960, before commercial cigarette manufacturers starting cooking the nicotine with ammonia. So the question then is, if you're a smoker, are you hooked to a deadly gas?
U.S. ambassador summoned by Germany over reports NSA targeted Merkel's cellphone (24 October 2013)
LONDON--The United States monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders according to classified documents leaked by fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden, Britain's Guardian newspaper said on Thursday.
Phone numbers were passed on to the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) by an official in another government department, according to the documents, the Guardian said on its website.
It added that staff in the White House, State Department and Pentagon were urged to share the contact details of foreign politicians.
"We are not going to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity, and as a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations," a White House spokeswoman said, reacting to the report.
PAM COMMENTARY: The video in this article starts playing, with sound, without the reader taking any action.
Officials alert foreign services that Snowden has documents on their cooperation with U.S. (24 October 2013)
U.S. officials are alerting some foreign intelligence services that documents detailing their secret cooperation with the United States have been obtained by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, according to government officials.
Snowden, U.S. officials said, took tens of thousands of military intelligence documents, some of which contain sensitive material about collection programs against adversaries such as Iran, Russia and China. Some refer to operations that in some cases involve countries not publicly allied with the United States.
The process of informing officials in capital after capital about the risk of disclosure is delicate. In some cases, one part of the cooperating government may know about the collaboration while others -- such as the foreign ministry -- may not, the officials said. The documents, if disclosed, could compromise operations, officials said.
The notifications come as the Obama administration is scrambling to placate allies after allegations that the NSA has spied on foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The reports have forced the administration to play down operations targeting friends while also attempting to preserve other programs that depend on provisional partners. In either case, trust in the United States may be compromised.
Chemical industry never developed methods to assess multiple chemical exposure health risks (24 October 2013)
(NaturalNews) According to the latest available statistics, there are more than 80,000 approved chemicals currently in commercial use. But believe it or not, only a few hundred of these chemicals have ever gone through proper safety testing by their manufacturers or by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prior to hitting the market. And fewer still have been tested in variable combinations with other chemicals, even though this is how most people are exposed to them on a daily basis.
This major public health scandal made a cover story recently published in the American Chemical Society (ACS) journal Chemical & Engineering News (CEN), which discusses some of the strategies the EPA is employing to catch up with better regulating this runaway chemical insurgence. But missing from this important dialogue is any talk about how the EPA plans to test chemicals as they occur in real life -- in combination with other chemicals.
It is an undisputed fact that the EPA has never considered either the acute or chronic health implications of multiple chemical exposures, instead relying on empty promises from the industry concerning the safety of its chemicals. This means that the vast majority of pesticides, cleaning products, laundry detergents, hand soaps, fragrances and various other consumer products currently on the market are nothing more than large-scale science experiments being conducted on human test subjects.
"Many people assume that the chemicals in their detergents, floor cleaners, and other household products have undergone rigorous safety testing," writes Britt E. Erickson for CEN. "But little is known about the potential risks associated with most of the estimated 80,000 chemicals in commerce today."
PAM COMMENTARY: My father once told me that while he was an industrial engineer (roughly the 1950s-70s timeframe), he told his managers in a meeting that their company hadn't tested a new chemical for safety in combination with other chemicals or naturally occurring environmental substances. Management told him that they weren't going to worry about that, and the extra tests were never considered.
Naughty Nuns, Bad Bankers and Ballot Bandits (24 October 2013)
On May 6, 2008, 12 fraudulent voters, dressed as nuns, attempted to cast ballots in the presidential primary in Indiana.
Luckily, ten of them were caught, stopped cold by Indiana's new voter photo ID law. The law had been found to be constitutional by Federal Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
It turns out the nuns that Posner's ruling turned away were, in fact, nuns. All the sisters had photo driver's licenses, but they had expired (the licenses, not the nuns). The Sisters of the Holy Cross, had, mercifully, given up driving (they were pushing 90 years of age.)
It was a cute story that ran nationwide. What wasn't so cute, and ran nowhere in the US press, was that 72,000 black voters were blocked at the polls by this Posner-blessed photo ID law.
Dark Money Groups Pay $1 Million in Fines in California Case (24 October 2013)
Two dark money groups linked to conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have paid a record $1 million in fines to California to settle allegations that the combined $15 million they spent on two ballot proposals in the state was not properly disclosed.
The civil settlement, announced Thursday afternoon in Sacramento, caps a year of investigation into the activities of the two Arizona groups, Americans for Responsible Leadership and the Center to Protect Patient Rights.
The settlement disclosed new details in the case, including how the money was raised and how the Center to Protect Patient Rights disguised its two contributions to two California political committees. As part of the settlement, the Center to Protect Patient Rights conceded it was responsible for funneling $11 million through Americans for Responsible Leadership to a political committee spending money to fight a tax-hike measure and to support a proposition restricting unions' political power.
The Center to Protect Patient Rights also gave an additional $4 million to another dark money group, the American Future Fund, which gave the money to another political committee spending on the anti-union measure.
Hundreds of dogs killed by contaminated jerky treats made in China; FDA still mystified by cause (24 October 2013)
(NaturalNews) Thousands of family dogs across the USA have been sickened by pet jerky treats made in China, and nearly 600 dogs have died. The FDA has issued a warning over the deadly jerky treats but has not forced any sort of product recall.
So far, the cause of the fatalities remains a mystery. The FDA says it has tested jerky treats for heavy metals, pesticides, antibiotics, chemicals and even Salmonella but cannot find the cause. The agency is warning pet owners to watch their pets for symptoms of poisoning which may include "decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucus), increased water consumption and / or increased urination."
Click here to view the FDA's fact sheet on contaminated jerky treats.
According to USA Today, the deadly jerky treats "come mostly from China," and the number of dogs sickened or killed by these treats has been rising all year.
The treats causing this epidemic of death, says USA Today, are "made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes or dried fruit."\
Al Gore: Keystone XL is an 'atrocity' (24 October 2013)
WASHINGTON -- In a rousing speech Thursday that included a Steve Martin impression and more than a couple colorful analogies, former Vice President Al Gore insisted that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is an "atrocity" that must be rejected.
Speaking to a summit in Washington D.C. by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, Gore suggested that the decision on whether to permit the cross-border pipeline tests President Barack Obama's climate change legacy.
"I hope, as he gets down to the lick-log and the decision on this XL pipeline, that he really understands very clearly what is at stake here," Gore said. "This should be vetoed. It is an atrocity -- a threat to our future."
TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL pipeline would carry oil sands crude harvested in Alberta to refineries along the Gulf Coast. The State Department is reviewing whether the proposed pipeline is in the national interest, with a final decision expected no sooner than next year. But if other executive agencies disagree, the final decision would end up in Obama's hands.
Because the oil in Canada's oil sands -- a sticky, viscous hydrocarbon known as bitumen -- generally is extracted through particularly energy-intensive methods, environmentalists say it produces more carbon dioxide emissions over its life span, from production to combustion. Gore cast it as a part of a portfolio of "subprime carbon assets" the U.S. keeps tapping.
Obama under fire as contractors shift blame over healthcare website errors (24 October 2013)
More than 50 different companies, five government departments and 36 states were involved in building the website, which is designed to help millions of uninsured Americans find affordable coverage from private insurers.
But extensive bugs and delays in the registration and enrolment process have now forced the government to postpone a February 15 deadline for purchasing coverage, allowing an extra six weeks before fines are levied on those without insurance.
Angry Republicans and Democrats turned on the main private contractors behind the website on Thursday to seek an explanation for the glitches, but largely failed to show who was responsible for design or implementation flaws.
The closest admission of failure came from Andrew Slavitt of Maryland-based contractor QSSI, who revealed that systems to check identity were flooded with 178,000 requests on the first day that healthcare.gov was live, after a last-minute government decision to make people create accounts on the site before they could compare insurance products.
"After its launch, healthcare.gov was inundated by many more people than anticipated, which overwhelmed systems, including ours," he told the committee.
Creators of buggy HealthCare.gov site to face Congress (24 October 2013)
House lawmakers grilled the contractors who developed the glitch-plagued Affordable Care Act (ACA) website during a hearing Thursday, a day after the Obama administration said that people who obtain health insurance by March 31 would not face tax penalties for being uninsured.
Previously, Americans would have needed to sign up by Feb. 15 to avoid penalties, according to The New York Times. Essentially, the administration is extending the February deadline by six weeks so it coincides with the end of the open-enrollment period for health insurance.
According to the The Washington Post, administration officials said the extension is not a result of technical problems with the site, HealthCare.gov.
Nevertheless, the contractors who built the buggy Web portal had to answer to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday during a hearing where the two companies, CGI Federal and Quality Software Systems Inc. (QSSI), faced tough questions about the problems Americans have faced in trying to sign up for health care.
Lawmakers are trying to determine why the online portal for uninsured Americans in 36 states has malfunctioned since its Oct. 1 start, the beginning of a six-month enrollment period that is expected to draw at least 7 million people to sign up for federally subsidized private insurance for 2014.
More Democrats voice Obamacare concerns as website blame goes around (24 October 2013)
(Reuters) - The Obama administration launched its troubled healthcare insurance website after only a minimum of crucial system-wide testing, despite contractors warning officials repeatedly about performance risks, a congressional panel heard on Thursday.
Witnesses said the administration did not conduct end-to-end testing of the system's technology backbone until just the two weeks before one of the lynchpins of President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare policy opened to consumers on October 1.
At a U.S. House of Representatives oversight committee hearing, contractors also blamed the administration for a last-minute design change that has been identified as a flaw responsible for leading millions of visitors into system bottlenecks.
Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency implementing the online marketplace, acknowledged the contractors' testimony.
"Due to a compressed time frame the system wasn't tested enough," Bataille said. "What's important to realize is that we are putting in place a much more robust performance testing system now."
Barnacles are accidentally eating our plastic trash (24 October 2013)
Barnacles in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are attaching themselves to trash and eating little plastic particles. Researchers don't yet know the implications of these findings, but it's a safe bet that they're not good.
American scientists inspected the gastrointestinal tracts of 385 gooseneck barnacles collected from the garbage patch, aka the North Paciﬁc Subtropical Gyre, and found microplastic in a third of them. Some specimens had a single piece of plastic in their stomach, while others had gobbled down as many as 30. Results of this research were published Tuesday in the journal PeerJ.
Miriam Goldstein of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography described her research in the blog Deep Sea News:
"Gooseneck barnacles look kind of freaky. Like acorn barnacles (the ones that more commonly grow on docks), they're essentially a little shrimp living upside down in a shell and eating with their feet. Unlike acorn barnacles, gooseneck barnacles have a long, muscular stalk. ...
"[E]ventually I found myself in the lab dissecting barnacles in order to identify them. As I sat there, I thought 'Well, I'm working on these barnacles anyway -- wonder what they're eating?' So I pulled out the intestine of the barnacle I was working on, cut it open, and a bright blue piece of plastic popped out. I reached into my jar o' dead barnacles and dissected a few more, and found plastic in their guts as well."
Exclusive: René González, Lone Cuban 5 Member Freed from U.S. Prison, Speaks Out from Havana (24 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: That was the acclaimed actor and activist, Danny Glover, in a clip from the documentary, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up, by the late filmmaker Saul Landau. Danny Glover was asking people in California about the Cuban Five, the subject of our show today.
Fifteen years ago, five Cuban intelligence agents were arrested in the United States. Four remain locked up. The fifth will join us today from Havana. They say they were not spying on the United States but trying to monitor violent right-wing Cuban exile groups here responsible for attacks inside Cuba.
NELSON VALDÉS: The Berlin Wall comes to an end in the fall of 1989. The Soviet Union comes to an end in November 1991. The Cuban economy is going into a free fall. And the Cuban exiles decide that they have to enhance the attacks that they're going to carry out on Cuba.
FABIÁN ESCALANTE: [translated] We had to send our men in order to know what plots they were hatching. And where were they hatching those plots? In Miami.
How to get children to eat their veg (24 October 2013)
Many Irish parents born in the 1970s and 1980s have childhood memories of being told they were not leaving the dinner table until they had finished their vegetables.
These kids often grew up viewing fruit and vegetables as an essential part of a healthy diet. But instead of passing on the same values to their own children, modern-day parents became more likely to give in to requests for snacks or fast-food rather than face tantrums.
Some experts partly blame this lack of parental discipline to Ireland's ballooning child obesity epidemic, where one-in-four kids is now overweight or obese. A fifth of the food Irish children now consume are treats high in fat, sugar or salt, and these foods have displaced fruit and vegetables in daily diets, according to Safefood, which launched a nationwide campaign this week aimed at giving parents practical steps to ensure their offspring maintain a healthy weight.
Annabel Karmel, a UK-based cookery writer who tells parents how to cook healthy meals for youngsters, has warned that our kitchens are fast becoming like cafés, with parents dishing up multiple meals to fussy family members every evening. Parents of kids who refuse to eat their dinner should not give them another option.
Crazy pumpkin carvings (PHOTO GALLERY) (24 October 2013)
Pumpkin sculptors like Alfred Paredes and the artists at Villafane Studios take Jack-O-Lantern's to another level. See their work and more crazy carvings.
Americans will have an extra six weeks to buy health coverage before facing penalty (23 October 2013)
The Obama administration said Wednesday night that it will give Americans who buy health insurance through the new online marketplaces an extra six weeks to obtain coverage before they incur a penalty.
The announcement means that those who buy coverage through the exchange will have until March 31 to sign up for a plan, according to an official with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Administration officials said that the rejiggered deadline is unrelated to the many technical problems that have emerged with the Web site, HealthCare.gov, in its first three weeks. Instead, they said, it is designed to clear up a timing confusion about the 2010 law, which for the first time requires most Americans to buy health coverage or face a penalty.
Under the law, health plans available through the new federal or state marketplaces will start Jan. 1, but the open enrollment period runs through the end of March. The law also says that people will be fined only if they do not have coverage for three months in a row. The question has been this: Do people need to be covered by March 31, or merely to have signed up by then, given that insurance policies have a brief lag before they take effect?
Police face lawsuits in shootings of three emotionally disturbed people (23 October 2013)
The last words Elsa Cruz heard her husband say, in response to police officers banging on his locked front door, were: "Don't knock on my door, it's against my will."
She'll never forget what came next.
"I heard, bluh, bluh, bluh -- the sound of the tool as they broke the door down. There was silence, then a loud bang."
The shot hit her husband Samuel, a Puerto Rican artist living in New Rochelle, New York, in the chest, and left him dying in a pool of blood in their home.
The encounter that led to the shooting, which happened in May of this year, began when Cruz, 55, called 911 to try to get medical help for her husband, who had become agitated. When police arrived, she told them that he had schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but did not have a weapon. She begged them to allow her to talk to him, but they refused and told her to stay away. She sought refuge in a neighbour's apartment below the one she shared with her husband, within earshot of the unfolding tragedy.
What the Democrats Can Learn From Ted Cruz (23 October 2013)
In the same manner that Susan Sontag once acknowledged that the 9/11 terrorists were not, in fact, cowards, it is time to admit that Ted Cruz is not as craven as he seems. A fraud, a wacko bird, a fool, an amateur, Jim DeMint without the charm--yes, all the names his fellow Republicans are calling the senator from Texas bear the sting of truth. But you have to give the man this: he has the courage of his convictions and the nerve to use a diversity of tactics to advance them.
Cruz, who keeps a sign once favored by Ronald Reagan that says It Can Be Done in his office, is best understood not as a statesman seeking to build a legislative record but as a right-wing ideological activist working to change the terms of debate. "I'm convinced there is a new paradigm in politics--the rise of the grassroots," he told National Review's Robert Costa. "And on Obamacare, I've said from the start, that if typical Washington rules apply, we can't win this fight.... The only way this fight will be won is if the American people rise up and hold our elected officials accountable."
In the short-term calculation, Cruz was disastrously wrong; no populist revolt against Obamacare was in the making. In fact, his theatrics cost the Republicans a chance to score easy points against the bungled rollout of HealthCare.gov, as John McCain testily pointed out on CNN. In the medium view, his insurrection escalated a long-simmering feud between the Tea Party and the GOP establishment into an all-out civil war that will convulse the party through at least the midterm elections. But in the largest sense, his strategy is working. As George Packer pointed out in The New Yorker, the government that emerged from sixteen days of a shutdown was dealt a thousand paper cuts, as already overloaded and underfunded agencies became even less efficient, less responsive to the needs of ordinary citizens. Meanwhile, another round of budget cuts and another debt ceiling showdown loom, and Cruz, for one, has already pledged to shut down the government again.
This is bad news for the Democratic Party, whose response to the Tea Party's histrionics has been to seek the sensible center, playing the soporific role of pragmatic, compromise-seeking adult technocrats. As long as a majority of the GOP is hell-bent on breaking bad, this identity positions the Democrats as contrast winners. But put in the context of historic and rising inequality, shrinking government budgets, unabated unemployment and foreclosure crises, and crumbling schools and roads, Democrats start to look like management consultants in cheap suits brought in to wind down the American empire.
"Cash for Kids": Firms Behind Juvenile Prison Bribes Reach $2.5 Million Settlement in Civil Suit (23 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Well, now the private juvenile detention companies at the heart of the kids-for-cash scandal in Pennsylvania have settled a civil lawsuit for $2.5 million. The state has also passed much-needed reforms aimed at improving its juvenile justice system and ensuring that such abuses aren't repeated.
For more, let's go to Philadelphia to Marsha Levick, chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center, which helped expose the corrupt judges and represented the families' class action suit.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Marsha. Just lay out this latest settlement, which follows an earlier one a few years ago, and just the horror of this. These two judges who were found guilty of bribing are in prison now?
MARSHA LEVICK: The two judges are in prison. The latest settlement is a fairly straightforward settlement, as you described it: $2.5 million that will provide further compensation to the juveniles. I really think that this is an opportunity, obviously, to close another chapter on what happened in Luzerne County.
And I would add, I think, really listening to the story leading up to this about the private for-profit centers elsewhere, it's really important, I think, for us as a country, I think, for your listeners, to know that while we can talk about what happens in private centers, some of which, frankly, are not-for-profit, the same kinds of abuses can occur in state-run facilities, as well.
Bank of America is found liable for Countrywide mortgage fraud (23 October 2013)
NEW YORK -- Bank of America has been found liable for fraud in the sale of faulty loans by its Countrywide mortgage unit, a major victory for the federal government as it continues to pursue cases stemming from the financial crisis.
A federal jury in Manhattan sided with prosecutors who alleged Countrywide Financial Corp. churned out risky home loans in a process called "the Hustle" and then sold them to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The Calabasas company, once considered the crown jewel of American mortgage lending, made big profits unloading loans that were later rendered worthless during the housing crisis in 2008.
The decision is the first civil fraud verdict against Countrywide, and experts said the decision would probably invite more aggrieved investors to sue and could embolden other investigations aimed at Countrywide or other banks.
Dr. Arjun Srinivasan: We've Reached "The End of Antibiotics, Period" (22 October 2013)
Explain to me why the discovery of antibiotics was so important for medicine.
Antibiotics were one of [the most], if not the most, transformational discoveries in all of medicine. Infections are something that we struggled to treat for many, many years, for centuries before the advent of antibiotics, and infections were a major cause of death before the advent of antibiotics.
So with the discovery of this new class of drugs, we overnight had an ability to care for people and offer them not just a treatment but a cure for an illness that previously would have taken their lives in a rapid manner. ...
They really are miracle drugs, and not only have they saved the lives of millions and millions of people ... but antibiotics have opened up new frontiers in medicine that would be impossible without them.
Jim Crow II (22 October 2013)
In 1962, Bernard Lafayette Jr., a slim, erudite, 21-year-old civil rights activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was looking for a new assignment. He'd just finished exams at Nashville's Fisk University, where he was one of a pioneering group of students who had desegregated Nashville's lunch counters during the sit-ins and integrated interstate bus travel with the Freedom Rides. During the latter mission, Lafayette was beaten in Birmingham and arrested in Jackson, and he narrowly escaped death when his bus was attacked by white supremacists in Montgomery.
In the summer of 1962, Lafayette visited SNCC's headquarters in Atlanta. SNCC executive secretary James Forman showed him a large map with tacks in places where the group was active. One place--Selma, Alabama--had a large X over it. SNCC had abandoned the city, Forman told Lafayette, because the organizing work was "too hard." Only 156 of its 15,000 eligible black residents were registered to vote. "During the past decade," writes Gary May in Bending Toward Justice, the first history of the Voting Rights Act's passage in 1965, "only seventy-five blacks--twenty-eight of them college graduates--had tried to register, and all had failed." Lafayette, one of the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement, departed for Selma that fall.
He encountered a city that Andrew Young, a top aide to Martin Luther King Jr., called the "most oppressive" in the South. It had been a major slave-trading port in the Black Belt and an important manufacturing center for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The city was ransacked by the Union in 1865 and occupied during Reconstruction, when Selma briefly elected black congressmen, city councilmen, county commissioners and state legislators. That era officially ended in 1901, when Alabama passed a new constitution that effectively denied black suffrage and black voter registration in the county plunged to less than 1 percent. Selma became the state headquarters of the White Citizens' Council, known as the "KKK in suits."
The city was ruled by a tyrannical segregationist, Sheriff Jim Clark, who fashioned himself after Gen. George S. Patton, as well as by a board of registrars that implemented a literacy test requiring black voters to name all sixty-seven county judges in Alabama in order to get on the rolls. (Most whites, of course, never faced this test.) On June 12, 1963--the same day Medgar Evers was assassinated in Mississippi--Lafayette was nearly beaten to death by white supremacists across from his home when he went to help the driver of a broken-down car. He wore the bloodstained shirt for almost a month afterward, to show the black residents of Selma not to be afraid.
Top White House security official fired over critical tweets (23 October 2013)
A senior White House national security official has been fired after being unmasked as the voice behind a Twitter account that embarrassed the Obama administration by aiming stinging criticism at government figures.
As director of nuclear non-proliferation, Jofi Joseph was helping to negotiate nuclear issues with Iran. But for more than two years, he also sent hundreds of tweets, many of them containing personal insults, using the Twitter handle @NatSecWonk.
In his Twitter biography, which has been taken down, Joseph described himself as a "keen observer of the foreign policy and national security scene" who "unapologetically says what everyone else only thinks".
In one tweet, he said: "'Has shitty staff.' #ObamaInThreeWords." In another, he made fun of the choice of husband by one of Hillary Clinton's top aide, comparing their partnership unflatteringly to two senior White House officials.
"Was Huma Abedin wearing beer goggles the night she met [former congressman] Anthony Weiner? Almost as bad a pairing as Samantha Powers and Cass Sunstein ...." he wrote.
Obama the irate I.T. customer: Promises to iron out glitches on healthcare website (23 October 2013)
WASHINGTON -- President Obama conceded Monday that technical "kinks" had bedeviled the rollout of the federal healthcare website, but said the administration had launched a "tech surge" to fix it and emphasized that the law would give uninsured Americans access to reasonably priced, quality insurance.
"Nobody is madder than me about the fact that the website isn't working as well as it should, which means it's going to get fixed," Obama told supporters in the Rose Garden. But he insisted: "The product, the health insurance, is good. The prices are good. It is a good deal. People don't just want it; they're showing up to buy it."
With the shutdown and debt limit crisis past, Washington's attention has turned to persistent problems with the website, which processes enrollments for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. But the site -- healthcare.gov -- has been plagued since it opened Oct. 1 by glitches that threaten to overshadow Obama's signature domestic accomplishment.
The president relaunched his campaign to sell the law as Republicans announced plans for hearings on the balky website. A Gallup poll last week found that 7 out of 10 uninsured Americans were "not too familiar" or "not familiar at all" with the online marketplaces.
Poof goes the middle class (23 October 2013)
Imagine a future in which real wages for most workers decline year after year; a future in which middle-class jobs that disappeared in the Great Recession won't be coming back; a future in which young Americans either squeeze into an increasingly wealthy elite or tumble to the bottom, with fewer and fewer in what we once called the middle class.
Actually, that's a description of the present. The future looks even bleaker, according to libertarian economist Tyler Cowen.
For his new book, "Average Is Over," Cowen projected current trends out over the next 20 years. His conclusion?
"Our future will bring more wealthy people than ever before, but also more poor people," he writes. "Rather than balancing our budget with higher taxes or lower benefits, we will allow the real wages of many workers to fall -- and thus we will allow the creation of a new underclass."
New species of the Amazon rainforest - in pictures (23 October 2013)
At least 441 new species of animals and plants have been discovered over the past four years in the vast, underexplored rainforest of the Amazon. The discoveries made from 2010 to 2013, include a flame-patterned lizard, a vegetarian piranha, and a monkey that purrs like a cat.
Watch: Are computer laws too tough on 'hacktivists'? (22 October 2013)
In July 2011, the FBI arrested 16 members of the group, accusing them of launching attacks against MasterCard, Visa and PayPal because the companies refused to process payments to Julian Assange's whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
The attack, known as a distributed denial of service attack, or DDoS, involved using a program called the Low Orbit Ion Canon to send thousands of requests to the targeted website at a coordinated time. Overwhelmed with the volume of requests to view a page, the websites crashed.
In response, 14 members of Anonymous were indicted and charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), a law enacted after a mid-1980s computer-hacking scare. Some of the counts carried more than a decade in prison.
Those charges, and others brought under the CFAA against "hactivists" seeking to remedy what they see as social injustice through online protest, have critics arguing that the potential punishment under the law doesn't fit the crime.
Tor Ekeland, a New York lawyer who represents several hacktivists being charged under the CFAA, told America Tonight that he's frustrated by the broad wording of the law.
Health co-ops, created to foster competition and lower insurance costs, are in danger (22 October 2013)
When the new health-care law was being cobbled together, Congress decided to establish a network of nonprofit insurance companies aimed at bringing competition to the marketplace, long dominated by major insurers.
But these co-ops, started as a great hope for lowering insurance costs, are already in danger.
While the debut of the Affordable Care Act this month has been marred by widespread computer problems, the difficulties the co-ops face have been less obvious to consumers. One co-op, however, has closed, another is struggling, and at least nine more have been projected to have financial problems, according to internal government reviews and a federal audit.
Their failure would leave taxpayers potentially on the hook for nearly $1 billion in defaulted loans and rob the marketplace of the kind of competition they were supposed to create. And if they become insolvent, policyholders in at least half the states where the co-ops operate could be stuck with medical bills.
Canada's CGI Group at centre of furor over troubled Obamacare website (22 October 2013)
WASHINGTON--Congressional Republicans on Tuesday announced a new investigation into the troubled rollout of President Barack Obama's health care reforms, aimed at learning what role the White House may have played in decisions about the design and development of problem-plagued website Healthcare.gov., built by a subsidiary of Canada's CGI Group Inc. of Montreal.
In a letter to two top White House technology officers, Republicans on the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee said their investigation already points to significant White House involvement in discussions between the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and contractor CGI Federal.
CGI Federal is a subsidiary of CGI Group Inc., Canada's largest technology company which employs 39,000 people worldwide and recorded revenue of $4.8 billion in 2012.
CGI officials have also told committee staff that the widely criticized design feature requiring visitors to create accounts before shopping for insurance was implemented in late August or early September, barely a month before the Oct. 1 start of open enrollment.
Judge ends delay in Arkansas oil spill suit (22 October 2013)
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- A judge has granted federal prosecutors' request to end a delay in a lawsuit over the ExxonMobil oil spill in central Arkansas.
U.S. District Judge James Moody on Monday granted prosecutors' request to lift a stay in the case. Moody granted their request to delay proceedings earlier this month because of the partial government shutdown.
Prosecutors said in previous court filings that most attorneys with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were unable to work on the case, even on a voluntary basis, because of the lapse in federal funding.
The lawsuit filed jointly by federal prosecutors and Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel seeks civil penalties for the oil spill in Mayflower. Exxon's Pegasus pipeline ruptured in March, spilling thousands of barrels of oil.
Killed BART workers both expert track engineers (22 October 2013)
They were a bit of an engineering odd couple.
Chris Sheppard was the soft-spoken innovator who spent a career in sun and rain seeing how rail tracks were holding up to constant pounding. Laurence "Larry" Daniels was the fiery expert known to ignite otherwise dull conference panels with insistent explanations of why he was right and everyone else was wrong.
But they had this in common: They were experts in reducing the sound made when trains rumble over rails, and renowned in the close-knit field of railroad engineering, colleagues said.
Sheppard, 58, of Hayward was a project manager for BART responsible for figuring out how to minimize the shriek of passing BART trains. Daniels, 66, of Oakland was a contractor hired by BART to give his advice and expertise.
"It is a shock to the whole industry that these two guys are gone, and it is going to be a big hole to fill," said Hugh Saurenman, founder of ATS Consulting, a Pasadena rail engineering firm that does work for BART.
Dick Cheney's Transcendent Cynicism (22 October 2013)
Despite the chaos it has unleashed within and around the party for which the 72-year-old former vice president serves as a grouchy grand old man, Cheney declared: "I don't see it as a negative. I think it's much better to have that kind of ferment and turmoil and change in the Republican Party than it would be to have it outside."
"These are Americans," he says of the Tea Partisans. "They're loyal, they're patriotic and taxpayers, and they're fed up with what they see happening in Washington. I think it's a normal, healthy reaction and the fact that the party is having to adjust to it is positive."
That's rich coming from Cheney.
No matter what anyone thinks about the Tea Party movement in its current managed and manipulated form, many of its most sincere adherents joined what they thought was a grassroots challenge to the Republican establishment.
And no one says establishment like Dick Cheney: a permanent fixture in and around Republican administrations since Richard Nixon turned the key at the White House. No one has fought harder than this guy has to maintain the crony capitalist project that has made the modern GOP a lobbying agency for Wall Street speculators, bailout-seeking bankers and defense contractors like his own Halliburton.
Wisconsin's Frac sand bill won't be taken up until spring, Assembly speaker says (22 October 2013)
Madison -- The Assembly will wait until this spring to take up a bill to limit local government restrictions on the state's burgeoning sand mining industry, its top leader said Tuesday.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said he supported the proposal but thought it would take more time for the bill to have a public hearing and work through any questions that are raised.
"I support the bill but I want to make sure it has a robust process," Vos said.
The proposed measure would prohibit counties and other local governments from placing limits on more than 100 state sand mines that have popped up since 2010. The projects are normally the province of the state Department of Natural Resources.
Vos said that his priorities for the two-week legislative session starting on Nov. 5 are to pass bills that overhaul worker training, mental health programs and elections law in the state.
The election bill would include a tweak to loosen the state law requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polling place, a measure passed by Republicans in 2011 that is still being litigated in several court cases. One potential change being discussed would allow voters without a photo ID to still vote if they signed a statement saying that they were too poor to get a state photo ID or had religious objections to it.
Utility trying to bury solar in Arizona (22 October 2013)
A battle between the solar-panel industry and a major utility in Arizona is heating up.
The fight is over net-metering rules, which require utilities to purchase excess electricity produced by solar panel--owning customers. Hearings to consider proposed rule changes are scheduled for next month.
A lot of money is at stake -- for Arizona Public Service Co., the utility pushing the proposed rule changes, and also for solar installers and solar-panel owners.
APS wants to slash its payments to each solar-panel owner by between $50 and $100 a month. It says the payments are a burden on customers who don't own solar panels. The solar industry, meanwhile, is saying the proposed changes would cripple its growth.
Deadly 911 Calls: NYPD Kills African Immigrant Student Inside Home After Mother Calls for Ambulance (22 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
RANDOLPH McLAUGHLIN: In Mohamed Bah's case, his mother called 911 hoping to get an ambulance to come and take her son to the hospital. Two officers arrived, and she explained to them, "I didn't call the police; I wanted an ambulance." And they explained to her that "The way it works in New York is we come first and check on the situation, and then we'll get the ambulance." She and the two officers went upstairs to the fifth floor in the apartment building, and the officers knocked on Mr. Bah's door. He opened the door. And when he saw the officers, he said, "I didn't call you. You've got the wrong door." And he tried to shut the door. Instead, they forced their way in, and there was a little struggle back and forth with the door. But at no time did he yell at them. At no time did he brandish a weapon. He shut the door and locked it.
The officers then told Mrs. Bah and her colleagues to go back outside. So they left the building, assuming that the officers would help to get an ambulance. And as she stood outside, she saw more and more officers coming in with shields, riot gear, all sorts of weapons, guns, tasers. There were so many officers in the hallway at one point that you literally couldn't get by them. They commandeered the entire building. They wouldn't let anyone in, wouldn't let anyone out. Over about an hour of yelling, banging on the door, putting things under the door like a mirror of some sort, they broke the door down, tasered, beanbagged and shot him eight times. The last bullet went into his head, and had stippling around the entry wound, which says that that shot, which probably took his life, was at close range.
Memphis Model: Police Pioneer Use of Crisis Intervention Teams to Deal with Mentally Sick (22 October 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
Welcome to Democracy Now! You've heard these stories, Sam Cochran, of family members calling police to get their loved ones to a hospital or to get them help, and the police shooting their--coming to the scene and shooting the people dead. Can you talk about your response and what Memphis has done?
SAM COCHRAN: Well, first of all, that's--stories like this is happening across the United States of America. All we have to do is search newspaper articles, and you'll read events similar to this throughout. And communities are looking, very intensely, how can we might do things better?
In Memphis, years ago, in fact, 1987, our officers responded to a call that came in through our 911 system. It was reported to our dispatcher that the individual had a mental illness, 27 years old. He was armed with a very large knife. He was cutting himself. He was threatening family members. He was also threatening neighbors that were also arriving on the scene. And they needed help. Our officers arrived. After a very brief encounter with this individual, he was shot multiple times and died as a result.
The headlines of that particular event, newspaper coverage of that particular event, caught the attention of our mayor at that particular time, and saw that our community was hurting, saw that our police department was hurting, and formed a community task force to address these issues. And he charged this particular task force with the mission to come up with a plan, a program to provide safety for the officers, safety for the family members, and safety for the consumers of mental health services, people who have mental illness.
Shutdown ends, but angst for contractors remains (22 October 2013)
McLEAN, Va. (AP) -- Federal employees are back to work, but the possibility of another government shutdown looms, creating angst for the web of contractors who work in the Washington area and beyond.
Nailing down the scattershot effect on that group is difficult, but one thing is clear: While furloughed federal employees had their back pay reinstated at the end of the 16-day shutdown, no such provision is made for contractors. Those who weren't paid during the shutdown were out of luck. Some contractors lived in limbo leading to and during the shutdown, unsure of the status of their contracts. And with the possibility of another shutdown in January, some contractors remain in that limbo.
Tim Pleus, project manager for Tysons Corner contractor OBXtek, leads a team of about 10 people working on a website development contract for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In the days before the shutdown, Pleus said he and his superiors were relatively confident their contract would not be affected and that work could go on as normal.
Then, the afternoon of Oct. 1, OBXtek received word that the contract was indeed encompassed under the shutdown.
Fracking linked to rape, meth addiction, and STDs (21 October 2013)
Yet another reason to hate fracking: It's connected with an increase in STDs, car crashes, drug-related crimes, and sexual assault in areas where the oil and gas industry sets up shop. Or in Vice-speak, fracking workers have "an insatiable appetite for raw sex and hard drugs." Writes Peter Rugh on Vice:
"Critics of fracking have compared it to raping the Earth, but where drilling has spread, literal rape has followed. Violence against woman in fracking boomtowns in North Dakota and Montana has increased so sharply that the Department of Justice (DoJ) announced in June that it plans to spend half a million dollars investigating the correlation...[T]he DoJ speculated that 'oil industry camps may be impacting domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the direct and surrounding communities in which they reside.'"
Yikes. You can "correlation doesn't equal causation" all day, but Rugh is persuasive: Fracking workers are overworked, undertrained, and seven times more likely to die on the job than the rest of us. (On a rig, 12-hour shifts are the new normal.) So workers are under an unbelievable amount of stress -- and it's yielding antisocial results. Food and Water Watch certainly agrees:
"'We've found that fracking brought a host of social costs to communities where drilling has begun,' said FWW's Program Director Emily Wurth. 'These are the real costs of fracking that are never discussed.'"
For Tepco and Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, toxic water stymies cleanup (21 October 2013)
TOKYO -- Two and a half years after a series of nuclear meltdowns, Japan's effort to clean up what remains of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant is turning into another kind of disaster.
The site now stores 90 million gallons of radioactive water, more than enough to fill Yankee Stadium to the brim. An additional 400 tons of toxic water is flowing daily into the Pacific Ocean, and almost every week, the plant operator acknowledges a new leak.
That operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., known as Tepco, was put in charge of the cleanup process more than two years ago and subsequently given a government bailout as its debts soared. The job of dismantling the facility was supposed to give Tepco an opportunity to rebuild credibility.
But many lawmakers and nuclear industry specialists say that Tepco is perpetuating the kinds of mistakes that led to the March 2011 meltdowns: underestimating the plant's vulnerabilities, ignoring warnings from outsiders and neglecting to draw up plans for things that might go wrong. Those failures, they say, have led to the massive buildup and leakage of toxic water.
Barack Obama calls François Hollande following NSA revelations in France (21 October 2013)
The White House conceded on Monday that revelations about how its intelligence agencies have intercepted enormous amounts of French phone traffic raised "legitimate questions for our friends and allies".
In a statement released after a phone call between Barack Obama and his counterpart, François Hollande, the White House made one of its strongest admissions yet about the diplomatic impact of the disclosures by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The French government had earlier summoned the US ambassador in Paris on Monday to demand an urgent explanation over claims that the National Security Agency had engaged in widespread phone and internet surveillance of French citizens.
The French daily Le Monde published details from the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, suggesting the NSA had been intercepting French phone traffic on what it termed "a massive scale".
CEO-to-worker pay gap is obscene; want to know how obscene? (20 October 2013)
It's also not a new finding that outsized CEO compensation depresses employee morale, especially among middle managers. The great management guru Peter Drucker advised companies to stick to a ratio of about 20 to 1 between the pay of the CEO and that of the average worker. That's "the limit beyond which they cannot go if they don't want resentment and falling morale to hit their companies," Drucker wrote, according to a comment on the CEO pay rule submitted to the SEC by Rick Wartzman, executive director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University.
Drucker's standard was in line with the ratios of the 1970s and early '80s, when he wrote those words. Today they seem positively quaint. The average CEO-to-worker pay ratio in 2012 was about 350 to 1. That's down somewhat from where it was before the 2008 recession, but it would have to come down a great deal more to return to the non-obscene range.
It's plain that this ratio typically has little to do with an executive's performance. The CEO-to-average-worker pay ratio of the 250 largest companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index ranges from 1,795 to 1 (J.C. Penney's Ron Johnson) to 173 to 1 (Agilent Technologies' William Sullivan), according to Bloomberg, which ran the data for 2012.
Do those figures reflect the two CEOs' relative value to their companies? Well, no. Agilent shares have risen 49% over the last year, while J.C. Penney's have fallen 73%. Johnson's compensation was the product of his November 2011 recruitment by the Penney board, which expected him to work the same magic on the stumbling department store chain that he had at Apple, where he created the fabulously successful Apple Stores. But he was terrible at Penney, and within 17 months he was gone.
The thrust of the business community's attack on the CEO rule is its supposed complexity and cost. The Center on Executive Compensation, a corporate think tank, groused this summer that it's inflexible and "unjustifiably complex." The rule requires companies to calculate the median pay of all employees -- that is, the level at which half are paid more and half less -- rather than just a simple mean average, which would be easier. Other critics say it will make companies with lots of overseas workers earning Third World wages look especially bad.
CN defends safety record in face of three train derailments within a month (20 October 2013)
GAINFORD, Alta. - CN Rail is defending its safety record after three high-profile derailments involving trains carrying hazardous materials within the space of a month while apologizing for the latest mishap.
Thirteen cars on a CN (TSX:CNR) freight train carrying a cargo of oil and liquefied petroleum gas went off the rails near the tiny hamlet of Gainford, about 80 kilometres west of Edmonton, early Saturday morning.
There were two explosions reported and the community was evacuated as a precaution.
The situation was so volatile that firefighters simply backed off and let the fire burn itself out. They estimated it could take at least 24 hours for that to happen and told a news conference late Saturday that it could be up to 72 hours before residents could return to their homes.
Saturday's mishap occurred two days after residents in the Alberta community of Sexsmith were forced from their homes when four CN rail cars carrying anhydrous ammonia left the rails. That followed the derailment of 17 CN rail cars, some carrying petroleum, ethanol and chemicals, in western Saskatchewan on Sept. 25.
Rumor of 1997 PETA anthrax attack led to FBI inquiry (20 October 2013)
The FBI in the late 1990s looked into claims that the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was planning an anthrax attack near Washington, D.C., and moved its headquarters here to distance itself from the contamination zone.
According to FBI documents, agents in Maryland began investigating a tip in 1997 that PETA was targeting the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID, which is based at Fort Detrick and does testing on animals.
According to a document dated November 1997, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve told FBI investigators he learned from someone with ties to PETA that the group had "a long-range plan to create a major incident."
"Part of PETA's long-range plan is to infiltrate by gaining employment with various research facilities," the document says. "PETA intends to create an incident... that would benefit their cause. PETA intends to cause a release of anthrax."
Guardian wins two online journalism awards for NSA Files reporting (20 October 2013)
The Guardian has won two 2013 Online Journalism Awards. At a ceremony in Atlanta on Saturday night, the Guardian accepted the Gannett Foundation Award for Investigative Journalism and the Gannett Foundation Watchdog Journalism Award, both for its work on the issue of National Security Agency surveillance.
Now working in partnership with the New York Times and ProPublica, since June the Guardian has investigated and reported upon NSA files leaked to it by the former NSA analyst Edward Snowden. The investigation has expanded to the include the operations of GCHQ, the British government's surveillance centre. The three journalists who broke the story were Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill.
Joshua Hatch, chair of the Online Journalism Awards and senior editor for data and interactives at The Chronicle of Higher Education, said: "It was a story that couldn't be ignored and that's what watchdog is. When that story came out, people not only in the US but around the world stood up and took action.
"The reaction speaks for itself. And it was done effectively online. They got the most important story of the year and they told it well. This was a combination of most important and told well. That's a tough combination to beat."
Global treaty demands mercury reduction in mining, but not in vaccines or dental fillings (20 October 2013)
(NaturalNews) There is a global initiative currently gaining momentum to vastly reduce the amount of mercury that gets released into the environment as a result of metal mining and other industrial processes, a move that would better protect public health by limiting exposure to this deadly toxin. But strangely absent from this promising international undertaking, known officially as the Minamata Convention on Mercury, is any talk about the continued use of mercury in both vaccines and dental fillings.
On October 7, government officials from across the globe began meeting in Kumamoto, Japan, according to reports, to discuss how they plan to go about adopting the treaty, which will pave the way for it to eventually be signed and ratified. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that the convention will require that participating nations reduce mercury use and emissions across a broad range of industries and processes.
"Millions of people around the world are exposed to the toxic effects of mercury," says Juliane Kippenberg, senior children's rights researcher at HRW, concerning the treaty's purpose. "This treaty will help protect both the environment and people's right to health."
This is all good and fine as it pertains to global industry, which is responsible for releasing nearly 2,000 tons of mercury every year into the atmosphere, according to the latest available figures from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Nearly three-fourths of all mercury emissions worldwide, in fact, come from small-scale gold mines, coal-fired thermal power plants and the production of nonferrous metals.
U.S. military investing heavily in Africa (20 October 2013)
WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon has begun a burst of spending in Africa, expanding its main base on the continent and investing in air facilities, flight services, telecommunications and electrical upgrades as the U.S. military deepens its footprint in a region with a rising threat of Islamist terrorism.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in expenditures, detailed in unclassified federal documents, demonstrate Africa's increasing importance to U.S. military and counter-terrorism operations as the war in Iraq has ended and American troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
By far the most significant expansion is occurring at Camp Lemonnier in the deeply impoverished nation of Djibouti, a sleepy backwater on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, just north of Somalia. The sprawling base, built out of a onetime outpost of the French Foreign Legion, has been the Pentagon's primary facility in Africa for a decade.
Defense officials last month awarded $200 million in contracts to revamp the base's power plants and build a multistory operations center, aircraft hangar, living quarters, gym and other facilities on a sun-scorched 20-acre site next to the tiny country's only international airport (with which it shares a runway).
Report: NSA spied on Mexican government and president (20 October 2013)
The National Security Agency recorded 70.3 million French civilian telephone conversations from Dec. 10, 2012, to Jan. 8 of this year, French newspaper Le Monde reported Monday.
The agency also intercepted communications of the Mexican government for years, has read text messages and listened to phone calls of President Enrique Pena Nieto and has hacked into the email servers of private companies in Latin America, according to a report published on Sunday by Der Spiegel, a German newspaper.
Both reports are based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is in Russia evading U.S. persecution for revealing classified information from the NSA.
The news is the latest in a long line of revelations about the secretive agency. Previous document releases revealed that the agency intercepts and monitors the communications of U.S. citizens without warrants and conducts surveillance on several other countries, including U.S. allies.
Le Monde's report emerged as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Paris for diplomatic talks about a peace process for Israel and the Palestinian territories. The U.S. ambassador to France has been summoned to the French foreign ministry to discuss the newspaper's allegations.
Fire rages after another train derails in Canada (19 October 2013)
GAINFORD, Alberta (AP) -- Emergency crews battled a massive fire Saturday after a Canadian National tanker train carrying oil and gas derailed west of Edmonton, Alberta, overnight. No injuries have been reported so far.
Canadian National spokesman Louis-Antoine Paquin said 13 cars -- four carrying petroleum crude oil and nine loaded with liquified petroleum gas -- came off the tracks around 1 a.m. local time in the hamlet of Gainford, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Edmonton. The entire community of roughly 100 people was evacuated.
Paquin says three cars containing gas were leaking and on fire. Local officials feared there could be an explosion and declared a state of emergency.
"It's still a risky situation so we need to contain as much as possible and keep people far away," said Carson Mills, spokesman for Parkland County, which includes Gainford.
A resident described hearing a series of crashes moments before a huge fireball shot into the sky.
"The fireball was so big, it shot across both lanes of the Yellowhead (Highway) and now both lanes of the Yellowhead are closed and there's fire on both sides," said a witness identified only as Duane.
Radioactivity level spikes 6,500 times at Fukushima well (19 October 2013)
Radioactivity levels in a well near a storage tank at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan have risen immensely on Thursday, the plant's operator has reported.
Officials of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said on Friday they detected 400,000 becquerels per liter of beta ray-emitting radioactive substances - including strontium - at the site, a level 6,500 times higher than readings taken on Wednesday, NHK World reported.
The storage tank leaked over 300 tons of contaminated water in August, some of which is believed to have found its way into the sea through a ditch.
The well in question is about 10 meters from the tank and was dug to gauge leakage.
TEPCO said the findings show that radioactive substances like strontium have reached the groundwater. High levels of tritium, which transfers much easier in water than strontium, had already been detected.
Thousands of citizens in India killed by reckless Big Pharma drug trials (19 October 2013)
Because it is a rapidly developing nation with lax regulatory protocols, India has been a primary target of the pharmaceutical cartel in its never-ending quest to dominate the medical systems of the world. Major drug companies have been largely successful in swindling the Indian government to approve trials for all sorts of "new chemical entities" (NCEs), many of which have been tested on rural Indians in poorer communities, where there is minimal access to proper medical care.
The situation has apparently gotten so out of control in India that several human rights advocacy groups have taken to the legal system for a remedy, filing a petition back in February pressuring government officials to take action. India's Supreme Court listened and, following a recent hearing, agreed to give the government an ultimatum that forces it to provide evidence backing the science behind its approval of these trials. The health ministry reportedly has just two weeks to comply with this order.
"Clinical trials of NCEs are being conducted without following proper protocol, and companies are taking advantage of poor people," says Amulya Nidhi, coordinator of Health Right Forum, a non-profit campaign seeking to end illegal and unethical drug trials in India.
The organization's website adds that an increasingly large number of clinical trials are taking place in the country with little oversight, which poses extreme risks for public health. This is evidenced by the fact that more than 1,500 Indian people died during clinical trials that took place just between the years of 2010 and 2012. And many more will follow them into their early graves, that is unless the government steps in now and stops multinational drug companies from preying on the less fortunate for massive financial gain.
"Trials of NCEs have fired controversy in India because of the high number of deaths that have occurred in the last few years," writes Dinsa Sachan for Chemistry World. "According to information from the health ministry, 1,542 deaths were reported in clinical trials between 2010 and 2012."
Virginia's Democratic Party loses challenge against purge of 38,000 voters from rolls (18 October 2013)
A federal judge on Friday rejected an effort by the Virginia Democratic Party to restore more than 38,000 names to the state's voter rolls that it claimed were possibly purged in error, saying the evidence did not convince him that anyone had been disenfranchised.
"I just don't find that there's a strong showing here of any inequitable treatment or the deprivation of anyone's rights," U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton said as he denied the Democrats' request.
The ruling was a slight rebuke to the Democratic Party, which had sued the state Board of Elections, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, and hinted that there was a political motive behind the removal of the names.
Lauren Harmon, the party's executive director, said after the hearing that officials had not decided if they will pursue further legal action but were pleased, at least, that their suit shined a light on what they consider a tainted process.
When loved ones go missing, don't count on technology to save them (18 October 2013)
The first patrol officer who responded to the Reston call stayed at the family's home for 10 hours. He contacted the missing man's bank, as did the man's wife, to see if or where his debit card was being used. They got nothing.
Detectives involved in the search said that was unsurprising. The man did not have an online account set up that his wife could check. But even if he did, the bank told her the following Monday, the addresses of where he used the card would not be available.
Debit and credit cards "are not designed to track people's whereabouts," said Nessa Feddis, senior vice president for consumer protection and payments at the American Bankers Association. "They're designed to facilitate financial transactions."
Transactions on weekends are even trickier because banks and many other businesses use that time to upgrade or reset their computer networks, making customers' new information inaccessible. And some smaller banks, such as the one the missing man uses, outsource their weekend work to third-party companies that can't access that information, Feddis said.
Mental illness: is 'chemical imbalance' theory a myth? (18 October 2013)
"It's certainly been blown up inside the profession. No insiders believe in these (neurotransmitter imbalance) theories anymore," says Edward Shorter, a medical historian at the University of Toronto.
"That's true of thousands and thousands of researchers. But somehow that news has not filtered through to the public as a whole," says Shorter, who has written numerous books on psychiatric practices.
Some top neuroscientists argue that this is nonsense, that neurotransmitters are a critical and obvious aspect of psychiatric research and therapy.
A key proof of this, they say, is that drugs targeting these brain chemicals have worked wonders -- miracles even -- in controlling mental and neurological ailments such as schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease.
But if this is so, asks psychotherapist and author Gary Greenberg, why have many drug manufacturers jettisoned the neurotransmitter theory?
Why are they now shuttering or shrinking their massive, psychiatric research labs, where they'd sought new compounds to follow in the blockbuster footsteps of antidepressants like Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft?
"The brain is turning out to be a moving target," says Greenberg, who wrote a controversial article on the subject for The New Yorker last month.
Secret list of food companies funding GMO-labeling opposition slush fund (18 October 2013)
(NaturalNews) As Natural News reported yesterday, the Grocery Manufacturers Association got caught red-handed violating Washington state fair election laws by running a money laundering slush fund designed to conceal the identities of food companies giving money to block I-522.
The CEO of the GMA, Pamela Bailey, reportedly told donors in an email that their identities would be hidden from the public, thereby shielding them from any public backlash even while their money would be used to try to buy the election and defeat GMO labeling (so that consumers would be left in the dark about what they're buying).
In response to this, the Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson accused the GMA of violating state law, and the AG's office asked a Superior Court to issue restraining order to force the GMA to comply with state election laws.
Just one day after this scandal surfaced, the GMA apparently decided to stop violating the law and disclose the list of companies that funneled money into its secret slush fund. That list is published below. You can also find the list at HeraldNet.com.
Shutdown ended, but the economic whacking it gave us is far from over. Where is the long view? (17 October 2013)
By now, everyone following the government shutdown has probably heard that in 16 days it ripped $24 billion out of the U.S. economy. That's Standard & Poor's estimate, released Wednesday. It's probably as good an educated guess as anyone's. But it is just a guess. And it could be six months to a year before we have a really good grip on the real costs. Before then, of course, given that the deal to end the shutdown is a temporary matter and the tea party seems perfectly capable of continuing to shoot itself in the foot and blame the bullet, there is no guarantee we won't see another round of this in early 2014.
Some view the shutdown and accompanying maneuvers as mere theater, and obviously elements of that exist. But this doesn't lessen the impact of the shutdown on the workings of an economy riven with the worst inequality of wealth and income in more than a century and plagued by a tepid 51-month "recovery" almost all of whose benefits have flowed to the top one percent. Nearly six years after the Great Recession began, unemployment remains at 7.3 percent and only that low because so many have bailed out of the workforce altogether.
What's most troubling is that too few economists and almost no politicians see these acute problems as being mostly mere symptoms of chronic problems with the economy, not the least of which is the highly predatory capitalism associated with over-financialization of the entire system.
Amid this continuing mess, it may seem like small potatoes that Standard & Poor's estimates that the shutdown has (or will) cut 0.6 percent off the fourth-quarter gross domestic product, which is what that $24 billion figure amounts to. S&P had previously forecast a 3 percent growth rate for the fourth quarter (on an annualized basis) but now is calling it closer to 2 percent. And S&P's previous forecast has been high compared with others. At IHS Global Insight on Wednesday, analysts lowered their fourth-quarter GDP growth estimate to an annualized 1.6 percent from 2.2 percent. In December, estimates for GDP growth for all of 2013 were running as high as 3.5 percent.
The Government Shutdown Was a War Against the Poor (16 October 2013)
A common talking point on left and right is that the Republican-engineered shutdown realizes a long-sought conservative goal: the wholesale shrinking of the federal government. But even during a shutdown, $250 billion--about four-fifths of what is normally spent--is automatically allocated every month. Social Security, Medicare, the military and national security are essentially insulated from shutdown shenanigans. For fiscal conservatives, at best the shutdown will nibble at the margins. So if this "crisis" isn't really about reducing spending on big-ticket items, what is it about? It seems, increasingly, like subterfuge for curtailing safety net programs the GOP has long loathed.
In fact, it's precisely because so many government functions do continue that the impact on programs that are not "entitlements" or otherwise seen as politically untouchable is particularly acute. Despite the disproportionate amount of media attention paid to shuttered national parks, the bulk of the pain has largely fallen on programs like Head Start, WIC, Meals on Wheels, drug treatment and mental health services, loans to low-income homebuyers, job training programs, workplace and environmental inspections, and so on.
That so many political figures can blithely say that a shutdown is no big deal speaks to a catastrophic failure in our institutions: increasingly, our political classes have become unresponsive to the needs of those lowest on the country's economic ladder. That absence of empathy is one of the great scandals of our age.
As of press time, we don't know how long the government shutdown will continue or whether it will segue into the even more gratuitous act of failing to raise the debt ceiling. But regardless of the outcome, we do know that the posturing has already caused huge disruptions and hardships for America's most vulnerable. A few days in, Arizona suddenly stopped issuing TANF checks, and thousands of poor families were left not knowing when or if their benefits would arrive. The state subsequently reversed that decision, but by then those hand-to-mouth families had already endured wrenching delays. In North Carolina, women on WIC scheduled to get their benefits after October 8 were told that no new payments were being made--and no new applications for the state's program were being accepted. Utah also stopped taking new applications, and about a half-dozen other states also curtailed their programs. Thousands of low-income kids are going without early education, as Head Start programs in several states go unfunded. In Florida, large programs shuttered their doors within days of the start of the shutdown.
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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