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NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2013
News from the Week of 10th to 16th of November 2013
Chicago hacker sentenced to 10 years (16 November 2013)
When "hacktivist" Jeremy Hammond stood in a Chicago federal courtroom seven years ago and explained that his cybercrimes were altruistic acts of civil disobedience, he was cut a break by a judge who chalked it up to youthful folly.
Not this time.
A New York federal judge on Friday sentenced Hammond, 28, to the maximum 10 years in prison for a 2011 hacking spree that exposed confidential and sometimes personal information about law enforcement officers, private intelligence firms and U.S. government contractors and cost millions of dollars in damages. He had pleaded guilty in May.
In a lengthy statement to the court, Hammond, part of a loose band of politically motivated hackers known as Anonymous, said he knew what he was doing was illegal but had become frustrated with the ineffectiveness of peaceful demonstrations.
"I have tried everything from voting petitions to peaceful protest and have found that those in power do not want the truth to be exposed," Hammond said. "When we speak truth to power, we are ignored at best and brutally suppressed at worst."
FBI warns that Anonymous has hacked US government sites for a year (16 November 2013)
Activist hackers linked to the collective known as Anonymous have secretly accessed US government computers and stolen sensitive information in a campaign that began almost a year ago, the FBI warned this week.
The hackers exploited a flaw in Adobe Systems Inc's software to launch a rash of electronic break-ins that began last December, the FBI said in a memo seen by Reuters, then left "back doors" to return to many of the machines as recently as last month.
The news comes a day after an Anonymous activist received a 10-year sentence for his role in releasing thousands of emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor. On Friday Jeremy Hammond told a Manhattan court he had been directed by an FBI informant to break into the official websites of several governments around the world.
Hammond, who called his sentence a"vengeful, spiteful act", said of his prosecutors: "They have made it clear they are trying to send a message to others who come after me. A lot of it is because they got slapped around, they were embarrassed by Anonymous and they feel that they need to save face."
Mike Tyson, Former Boxer and Convicted Rapist, Makes Charming Film With Spike Lee (16 November 2013)
Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth affords Mike Tyson yet another big opportunity to open up. Spike Lee's new film (premiering Saturday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on HBO) documents the controversial boxing legend's one-man Broadway show. Tyson--sharply dressed, sweaty, charismatic--commands the stage for an hour and a half, dishing on his public and private ups and downs. (The show was written by his wife, Kiki Tyson.)
"I came from the gutter," he says to the packed theater. He discusses (in full-on emotional vulnerability mode) his rough childhood and deaths in the family; his star-making fights and his history of substance abuse; his adrenaline rushes and his rude awakenings. He cracks a lot of cheap jokes, including one about Mitt Romney's whiteness and one about George Zimmerman.
This documentary and one-man show are the latest steps in his years-long effort to reinvent himself. Instead of a drug-addled, off-putting, ear-chomping fighter, he's now a sensitive, vegan funnyman who writes for New York magazine, appears in the Hangover franchise, dances with Neil Patrick Harris and Bring It On cheerleaders, and makes fun of Oscar-bait and George W. Bush with Jimmy Kimmel...
Tyson's life story--the grit, the career renaissance--is no doubt compelling. But there is a hugely significant part of his "truth" that is very much disputed. On stage, Tyson ever so briefly addresses his 1992 rape conviction. Tyson served three years in prison for the rape of 18-year-old Desiree Washington, a contestant in the Miss Black America pageant. Medical examination following the incident found Washington's physical state to be consistent with rape. High-profile lawyer Alan Dershowitz tried and failed to get him off on an appeal, and Tyson maintained that the encounter was consensual and that Washington had a history of crying rape. "I did not rape [her]," Tyson says to the applauding New York audience in Undisputed Truth. (What makes this more awkward is that, in the same performance, Tyson jokes about not knowing whether to beat or sexually attack young pretty-boy Brad Pitt, who he once caught supposedly having an affair with ex-wife Robin Givens.)
Michigan bill forces disclosure of health care law's effect on premiums (16 November 2013)
State legislators are sharply divided over an emerging plan to require Michigan insurance companies to tell policyholders the impact of the federal health care law on their premiums.
Legislation pending in the Republican-led House would require that insurers give customers annual estimates of the overhaul's effect on premiums -- likely in renewal notices -- including, but not limited to, taxes, assessments and other requirements of the law. The companies also would have to include a statement saying that the estimate is attributable to the Affordable Care Act and not the passage of any laws or regulations by the governor, state lawmakers or state regulators.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Mike Shirkey of Clark Lake, says the estimate would not be unlike many other government-mandated disclaimers that businesses have to give customers. Constituents are calling his office in frustration to ask how to navigate the law, distrustful that insurers are using it as an excuse to hike premiums, he said.
"Let's create a situation where there is no doubt that if your premium changed, up or down, was it associated with the Affordable Care Act?" said Shirkey, who argues that people deserve to know all its ramifications. "It casts such as big shadow and I don't mean that in a pejorative way."
Military Stifling Support for Sexual Assault Reforms, High-Ranking Officer Says (15 November 2013)
As Congress debates an overhaul of the military justice system to stem an epidemic of sexual assault, the armed forces are struggling to conceal their own internal divisions over the scope of reform. According to a senior officer who spoke with The Nation, the military is actively encouraging service members to lobby against legislation that would curb commanders' authority over the prosecution of sexual assault cases, while suppressing pro-reform voices within the ranks.
Asked what would happen if he advocated publicly for limiting the power of commanders, the officer, a high-level Air Force lawyer (known as a Judge Advocate General, or JAG) with decades of experience with sexual assault and other criminal cases said, "It would kill my chances of ever having a good job again... I would be ostracized." He concluded, "It would be the end of my career."
At issue is a proposed change to the military justice system to give military lawyers, rather than commanding officers, the power to determine whether accusations of a serious crime warrant a trial. The Senate is divided over the proposal (introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and known as the Military Justice Improvement Act, or MJIA), one of several reforms being considered. Survivors' advocates say MJIA is critical to shield victims from retaliation, but it has elicited total opposition from the top brass, who argue that commanders' authority to convene a court-martial is essential to their ability to maintain good order and discipline.
The JAG's account raises the question of whether Congress has heard a representative range of military opinions as it considers historic reforms. According to the JAG, perspectives on taking prosecutions out of the chain of command are decidedly more mixed within the ranks than the brass' testimony would suggest. As a result, he believes, the debate in Congress has been skewed.
Momentum Forms Around Extending Long-Term Unemployment Insurance (15 November 2013)
In the past twenty-four hours, both the White House and House Democrats have said they want an extension of unemployment benefits included in the upcoming budget deal--and now senior Senate Democratic aides close to the budget discussions have told The Nation that they are pushing for an extension as well.
The Democratic Senate negotiating team for the budget talks "would absolutely be interested in whether getting a fix would be possible in this deal," said the aide, who also noted that naturally "the big question is whether Republicans would be open to that." Representative Paul Ryan, who is leading the Republican negotiating team in the House, did not return a request for comment.
Without a Congressional fix, 1.3 million Americans who are long-term unemployed--meaning they've been out of work for six months or more--will lose access to the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. Another 850,000 would lose access in the first quarter of 2014 (chart courtesy National Employment Law Project)...
The program was created in 2008 to help support Americans who remained jobless after their state unemployment funds ran out. There were 4.1 million long-term unemployed Americans in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, higher than at any point in the Great Recession.
CIA Creating Vast Database of American's Personal Financial Records: Report (15 November 2013)
Claiming the same authority as the NSA does for its bulk collection of domestic internet and phone data, the clandestine Central Intelligence Agency is compiling a "vast database" that includes the personal financial records of Americans, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In a news story published Friday, the Journal reporting shows the CIA program "collects information from U.S. money-transfer companies including Western Union" and that some of the data goes "beyond basic financial records, such as U.S. Social Security numbers, which can be used to tie the financial activity to a specific person."
According to the Journal, the program is carried out under the same provision of the Patriot Act that enables the National Security Agency to collect nearly all American phone records, the officials said. Like the NSA program, the mass collection of financial transactions is authorized by a secret national-security court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The CIA, as a foreign-intelligence agency, is barred from targeting Americans in its intelligence collection. But it can conduct domestic operations for foreign intelligence purposes.
As has been shown in other cases, it is the CIA's collusion with the FBI, which operates under different rules when it comes to domestically obtaining or handling the personal data of American citizens, that makes these kind of databases most troubling to privacy and civil liberty advocates.
Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Twitter Have a New Lobbying Target--the NSA (15 November 2013)
Not a month goes by without former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden dropping another explosive bombshell about the US government's vast surveillance programs. In response, lawmakers have proposed a flurry of bills that aim to clamp down on NSA spying. But tech companies aren't just sitting on the sidelines--the latest lobbying disclosure forms filed by Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Twitter reveal that their lobbyists are keeping an eye on a number of these anti-NSA bills. And although most of the companies won't say which specific bills they support or oppose, some new bills have popped up on their lobbying forms just as the companies are publicly demanding surveillance reform.
The lobbying disclosure forms cover the period from July 1 to September 30, the months immediately following the first Snowden disclosure about the PRISM program in June. Bills introduced after those dates, such as the tech industry-backed USA Freedom Act proposed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), aren't included. There are also some bills that were introduced pre-Snowden.
In total, during this period, Facebook spent $1.44 million on lobbying, Yahoo spent $630,000, Google spent $3.37 million, and Twitter spent $40,000. The forms don't break down whether a company poured thousands of dollars into lobbying for one bill, or had one brief conversation about it with a lawmaker or an aide. Nor do the forms reveal whether companies have lobbied for or against a given bill. And for now, most US tech companies are keeping their positions about specific bills secret, so they can present a unified front against NSA spying and keep their options open.
Representatives of the most important tech companies have, however, made public statements indicating that they're likely to support bills that allow them to shed more light on government surveillance. "I was shocked that the NSA would do this--perhaps a violation of law but certainly a violation of mission," Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt told CNN last week, in response to an October 30 Washington Post report that the NSA was tapping into Google's servers without the company's consent. "From a Google perspective, any internal use of Google services is unauthorized and almost certainly illegal." Niki Fenwick, a spokesperson for Google, said that the company doesn't comment on whether it supports specific bills, but Bloomberg News reported last week that the company, which has bulked up its lobbying presence on Capitol Hill, "seeks to end National Security Agency intrusions into its data."
Burning the Evidence: Gunmen Torch Records Documenting War Crimes, Missing Children in El Salvador (15 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Monserrat, describe what happened in your offices in San Salvador and why this is so critical at this moment, as your organization comes--that started with Archbishop Romero; he was gunned down by U.S.-backed military, paramilitary forces in 1980--why these files were so important that have been destroyed.
MONSERRAT MARTÍNEZ: Good morning. Well, the files that were taken from our office contained legal information and testimonies of cases of forced disappearance of children during the armed conflict, and, for us, have the proof to put these cases into the national system of justice in El Salvador. So, we are still evaluating the damages and the kind of information they took, but we are afraid that this information can be helpful for us, for our legal department, to put these cases into the legal system.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what has happened in recent months in terms of being able to come to terms with what happened back then that might have prompted people to do this attack?
MONSERRAT MARTÍNEZ: Well, in the last months, there has been some events in El Salvador that are a coincidence in the time. And we now--we need to know the relation between these events. But, for example, we had the problem with the Tutela Legal. It's an organization created by the archbishop, Monsignor Romero, where they contain a lot of files also on testimonies of human rights violation during the armed conflict. And the actual archbishop of San Salvador decided to shut down that organization and is not allow to anybody to obtain that information or those files. That's one of the events. The other one is what will happen with the amnesty law. There is an initiative to put down this law, and now we are respecting the decision of the court. Yesterday we have this violent attack against Pro-Búsqueda, so while we can think that there is a relation between these events, although in our case we need to evaluate first our damages and the kind of information that these three men took with them.
Obama administration announces lower quotas for ethanol in gasoline (15 November 2013)
But the move was widely seen as recognition that America's gasoline supply has hit a "blend wall", and cannot absorb ever-increasing amounts of ethanol.
America's gasoline consumption has fallen as more fuel-efficient and hybrid cars come on to the market. But the absolute numbers of the ethanol quotas kept rising. Motorists were also leery of higher blends of ethanol, such as the 15% and 85% blends on offer. There is also now less concern about developing alternatives to oil, given the boom in America's domestic oil production.
The hoped-for development of next generation biofuels, which do not use food stocks, has failed to materialise, and the oil industry has been fighting for some time to reduce the biofuels quota. Corn ethanol has also lost support from environmentalists, in light of a growing body of evidence that it offers little or no benefit in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and that producing fuel from food was driving up global food prices.
On Friday, both sides of the debate offered support for the administration's decision.
Exclusive: FBI warns of U.S. government breaches by Anonymous hackers (15 November 2013)
(Reuters) - Activist hackers linked to the collective known as Anonymous have secretly accessed U.S. government computers in multiple agencies and stolen sensitive information in a campaign that began almost a year ago, the FBI warned this week.
The hackers exploited a flaw in Adobe Systems Inc's software to launch a rash of electronic break-ins that began last December, then left "back doors" to return to many of the machines as recently as last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a memo seen by Reuters.
The memo, distributed on Thursday, described the attacks as "a widespread problem that should be addressed." It said the breach affected the U.S. Army, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, and perhaps many more agencies.
the authorities believe is continuing. The FBI document tells system administrators what to look for to determine if their systems are compromised.
Jeremy Hammond: FBI directed my attacks on foreign government sites (15 November 2013)
The Anonymous hacktivist sentenced on Friday to 10 years in federal prison for his role in releasing thousands of emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor has told a Manhattan court that he was directed by an FBI informant to break into the official websites of several governments around the world.
Jeremy Hammond, 28, told a federal court for the southern district of New York that a fellow hacker who went under the internet pseudonym "Sabu" had supplied him with lists of websites that were vulnerable to attack, including those of many foreign countries. The defendant mentioned specifically Brazil, Iran and Turkey before being stopped by judge Loretta Preska, who had ruled previously that the names of all the countries involved should be redacted to retain their secrecy.
Within a couple of hours of the hearing, the three countries had been identified publicly by Forbes, the Huffington Post and Twitter feeds serving more than a million followers. "I broke into numerous sites and handed over passwords and backdoors that enabled Sabu -- and by extension his FBI handlers -- to control these targets," Hammond told the court.
The 28-year-old hacker has floated the theory in the past that he was used as part of an effective private army by the FBI to target vulnerable foreign government websites, using the informant Sabu -- real name Hector Xavier Monsegur -- as a go-between. Sabu, who was a leading figure in the Anonymous-affiliated hacking group LulzSec, was turned by the FBI into one of its primary informants on the hacker world after he was arrested in 2011, about six months before the Stratfor website was breached.
Jailed for Life for Stealing a $159 Jacket? 3,200 Serving Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Crimes (15 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
JENNIFER TURNER: Absolutely. These sentences are grotesquely out of proportion of the crimes that they're seeking to punish. And we found that 3,278 people are serving life without the possibility of parole for nonviolent crimes, but these numbers actually underrepresent the true state of extreme sentencing in this country. Those numbers don't account for those who will die in prison because of sentences such as 350 years for a drug sale. It also doesn't account for the many millions of lives ruined by excessive sentencing in this country, as well.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And especially the impact of federal mandatory minimum sentencings, could you talk about that and the efforts to try to roll back some of those--some of those laws?
JENNIFER TURNER: Yeah, what we found was that over 80 percent of these sentences were mandatory, both in the federal system and in the states. They're the direct consequence of laws passed over the 40-year war on drugs and tough-on-crime policies that included mandatory minimum sentencing laws, habitual offender laws in the states.
And they tie judges' hands. And in case after case after case that I reviewed, the judge said from the bench--outraged, would say, "I oppose this sentence as a citizen, as a taxpayer, as a judge. I disagree with the sentence in this case, but my hands are tied." And one judge said, when sentencing one man to life without parole for selling tiny quantities of crack over a period of just a couple of weeks, he said, "This is a travesty. It's just silly. But I have no choice."
Bill would promote bogus wind-turbine syndrome lawsuits in Wisconsin (15 November 2013)
Wind-turbine syndrome doesn't exist. Sure, wind turbines can be annoying. But there isn't a shred of peer-reviewed medical evidence that they can actually make anybody sick.
Yet a new Wisconsin bill scheduled for a hearing next week would make it easier for people living within 1.5 miles of a wind turbine to sue the energy developer for "physical and emotional harm suffered by the plaintiff, including for medical expenses, pain, and suffering." And to sue for relocation expenses if they want to move away from turbines. And to sue over drops in property values. Never mind that researchers have also ruled out any impacts of wind farms on the value of nearby properties.
SB 167 wouldn't just affect new turbines. It could be applied retroactively to sue existing wind farms out of existence.
Needless to say, the bill is just another effort to stamp out the growth of renewable energy in coal-friendly Wisconsin, which is already lagging behind much of the rest of the country in wind power.
The legislation is sponsored by State Sen. Frank Lasee (R), a notorious opponent of wind energy. A hearing into the bill on Wednesday will be overseen by a fellow wind foe, State Sen. Glenn Grothman (R), whose district includes a large wind farm.
N.Y. Fed Asks Court to Dismiss Fired Goldman Examiner's Lawsuit (15 November 2013)
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit by a former bank examiner who says she was dismissed after finding fault with Goldman Sachs' conflict-of-interest policies.
ProPublica reported the allegations last month by Carmen Segarra, who the New York Fed had assigned to examine aspects of Goldman Sachs in November 2011. She was fired seven months later.
In its motion to dismiss Segarra's lawsuit, the Fed disputed that she is a whistleblower and characterized what transpired as "a non-actionable disagreement between a supervised employee and more senior colleagues over how to interpret a Federal Reserve policy."
Segarra had been hired as part of an effort by the New York Federal Reserve to comply with new authority it received from Congress to monitor so-called Too-Big-to-Fail financial institutions. The Fed recruited experts to act as "risk specialists" to examine different aspects of these complex firms.
Segarra, who previously had worked in some of the nation's largest banks, was tasked with examining legal and compliance functions at Goldman. Her supervisors told her specifically to look at whether Goldman was compliant with Fed guidance that the bank had a firm-wide conflict of interest policy, according to her Oct. 10 complaint.
Health-care Web site's lead contractor employs executives from troubled IT company (15 November 2013)
The lead contractor on the dysfunctional Web site for the Affordable Care Act is filled with executives from a company that mishandled at least 20 other government IT projects, including a flawed effort to automate retirement benefits for millions of federal workers, documents and interviews show.
CGI Federal, the main Web site developer, entered the U.S. government market a decade ago when its parent company purchased American Management Systems, a Fairfax County contractor that was coming off a series of troubled projects. CGI moved into AMS's custom-made building off Interstate 66, changed the sign outside and kept the core of employees, who now populate the upper ranks of CGI Federal.
They include CGI Federal's current and past presidents, the company's chief technology officer, its vice president for federal health care and its health IT leader, according to company and other records. More than 100 former AMS employees are now senior executives or consultants working for CGI in the Washington area.
A top CGI official said this week that the company is "extremely proud" of its acquisition of AMS. Lorne Gorber, CGI's senior vice president for global communications, said CGI had been aware of the AMS "trip-ups" but has transformed the AMS culture over the past decade. "Anyone at CGI who came from AMS would not be able to find any similarities in how they work today to how they worked a decade ago,'' Gorber said.
Obama facing Democratic dissent on healthcare law (15 November 2013)
WASHINGTON -- President Obama's botched rollout of his healthcare law has driven a wedge between the White House and its allies on Capitol Hill as more than three dozen House Democrats voted Friday to pass a Republican-backed change to the law that the administration warned would only make matters worse.
Unhappy with Obama's inability to resolve the website enrollment problems and increasingly worried about the 2014 election, a small but steady number of Democratic lawmakers are distancing themselves from a president they once enthusiastically supported on the healthcare issue.
Friday's House vote was the latest display of Democratic anxiety. Thirty-nine Democrats joined Republicans in a 261-157 vote to approve legislation, offered by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), that would allow insurers to continue selling individual policies that don't meet new federal standards under the Affordable Care Act.
A similar Democratic revolt is underway in the Senate, pushing already rocky relations between Obama and congressional Democrats to a new low. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, among the most endangered Democrats up for reelection in the Senate next year, vowed to press forward with her bill to remedy the policy cancellation problem, which picked up support throughout the week.
The Democratic defections, which the White House and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) worked to limit, reflected dissatisfaction among the lawmakers with the administration's proposed fix. That plan would give insurance companies federal permission to renew canceled policies for one year, but many lawmakers prefer a legislative fix.
The world is still losing its forests, and these beautiful satellite maps tally the toll (15 November 2013)
About a third of the deforestation occurred in the tropics, and half of that was in South America. Logging and clearing of land for farming were responsible for much of the loss. Hearteningly, the researchers found that deforestation has been slowing down in Brazil, where worldwide concerns about the loss of the Amazon have helped spur domestic efforts to save the rainforest. But that slowdown was offset by increasing losses in other countries.
"Although Brazilian gross forest loss is the second highest globally, other countries, including Malaysia, Cambodia, Cote d'Ivoire, Tanzania, Argentina, and Paraguay, experienced a greater percentage of loss of forest cover," the scientists wrote in the paper, published Thursday in Science. "Given consensus on the value of natural forests to the Earth system, Brazil's policy intervention is an example of how awareness of forest valuation can reverse decades of previous wide-spread deforestation."
The tropics lost more forest cover during the study period than any other region. The second-worst hit were the boreal forests of spruce, fir, and larch in and around the Arctic, with fire the leading cause. Previous research has shown that these forests are burning at a rate not seen in at least 10,000 years, with climate change increasing temperatures and drying out the landscape.
That wasn't the only worrisome climate-related finding in the new paper. The mountains of the American West are losing forests due not only to logging, but also because of fire and disease -- with mountain pine bark beetles marching up mountains as temperatures warm, feasting on banquets of ill-prepared pines.
Haiyan: A Disaster Made Worse By Greed (15 November 2013)
I asked Hilo if she saw any links between Western-fueled climate change and the victims of the storms. She told me, "Haiyan is a devastating example of how people in the Philippines and Southeast Asia are paying with their lives due to the exploitation of people and the plunder of resources. The reality is that we are all paying."
What is happening in the Philippines is a portent for poor nations of the world. Tacloban is witnessing a deadly intersection of abject poverty, a local environment stripped of its natural resources, and a storm intensified to catastrophic proportions by global warming. Montances told me, "There is so much poverty and so many American and Canadian corporations are logging and mining in many areas of the Philippines, including Leyte, Mindanao and other places that were hit recently. When there aren't any trees and the vegetation is taken away and there's huge open-pit mining, the water has nowhere to go when [there] are typhoons and so it floods into the coastal towns like Tacloban. It just exacerbates the damage, and destruction, and the casualties."
He concluded, "There needs to be continued pressure, and really, a mass movement of people around the world that are saying 'you know what, we cannot allow this to happen. We really need our governments to work for the people, not the interests of private corporations.' People in the Philippines understand that the urgency is now."
Hilo echoed that urgency saying, "Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina should have been wake-up calls to people in the United States. Much remains to be done to change the global system that is driving global warming. It will take dramatic changes in the West if we are going to take on the fight against global warming."
Child porn bust: The men who were charged (14 November 2013)
The bedroom resembled that of a teenager: Hockey posters on the wall. A computer.
The man it belonged to was in his late 40s.
Police had a serious reason for being in the Chatham, Ont., home where Ronald Inghelbrecht lived with his mother: officers in Toronto suspected he was a customer of a website that sold child pornography, and the Ontario Provincial Police were there to look for evidence.
"I would describe his room as being adolescent -- like he decorated it when he was 12, or 14, and he never changed it," said OPP Detective David Beckon.
Senate Faces Historic Vote on Handling Military Sexually Assault Epidemic Outside Chain of Command (14 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the origins of the Gillibrand bill. What exactly would it do?
AMY ZIERING: It would take the adjudication of these sex crimes, of sexual assault crimes, outside the chain of command and put them in a military--independent body of military adjudicators, that are not related, that wouldn't know any of the people involved, neither the perpetrator nor the assailant. And that's what we feel is sort of the Achilles' heel of this issue and the real leverage point, because what we have found in interviewing hundreds and hundreds of survivors and generals, etc., is that people don't feel comfortable reporting. They feel that they will not be--have any access to an impartial system of justice. So, that's--this bill will change that single-handedly, and we feel that once people feel safe reporting, you'll hear reports go up. Then you can have prosecutions go up, and then we can actually see these crimes reduced.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when you see the military responding to the reports of the sharp increase in sexual assaults by saying it's just a question of more people feeling the ability to come forward and report it, what's your response to that?
AMY ZIERING: Well, those numbers are interesting. I mean, the numbers are rising, but still the percentage of people reporting is 85 to 90 percent do not report. So what we're actually seeing is an increase in numbers without an increase in overall reporting. So it's interesting. There's sort of--so, it's actually--it's unclear what this actually means. And that's why we're very fearful that this epidemic is continuing to grow, unless we do something that will actually reduce it.
Alabama Man Won't Serve Prison Time for Raping 14-Year-Old (14 November 2013)
An Alabama man convicted of raping a teenage girl will serve no prison time. On Wednesday, a judge in Athens, Alabama, ruled that the rapist will be punished by serving two years in a program aimed at nonviolent criminals and three years of probation.
In September, a jury in Limestone County, in north central Alabama, found Austin Smith Clem, 25, guilty of raping Courtney Andrews, a teenage acquaintance and his then-neighbor, three times--twice when she was 14, and again when was she was 18.
Clem's defense attorney did not call any witnesses at trial, according to AL.com. After less than two hours of deliberation, the jury returned guilty verdicts against Clem on one count of first-degree rape and two counts of second-degree rape.
According to Clem's sentencing order, which Brian Jones, the Limestone County district attorney, provided to Mother Jones, Clem will serve the first half of his sentence under the supervision of the Limestone County community corrections program. The program is aimed at "redirecting the lives" of nonviolent, low-level offenders who are "likely to maintain a productive and law-abiding life as a result of accountability, guidance and direction to services they need," according to the program's website.
Andrews recalled Clem's crimes to AL.com on Thursday. When he abused her at age 14, she said, "He kept saying, 'This is OK,' and 'Don't say anything or you're going to get me in trouble," she said. Clem threatened her parents lives' if she told anyone, Andrews said. After he raped her in 2011, she had a family friend inform her parents. She couldn't bear to, she said, because "I knew it would break their hearts." That night, her parents reported Clem to the police.
Argentinians protest Monsanto as pesticide usage increases rates of birth defects, cancer (14 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) Ever since the biotechnology industry first made inroads into South America back in the 1990s, rates of birth defects, cancer and other illnesses have steadily increased, a direct result of pesticides and herbicides being sprayed near residential areas. And one group of mothers from Argentina, known as "Mothers of Ituzaingo," is demanding that the industry's largest player, Monsanto, be removed from the country for the safety of all Argentinians and their children.
The story begins in a small farming community just outside the city of Cordoba, where large plantations of genetically modified soybeans border multiple residential communities. For the past 20-or-so years, children living in these areas have been coming down with serious health conditions, including major birth defects and cancer. These conditions have been steadily rising since the advent of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the area, yet they were largely nonexistent prior to this time.
"Children were being born with deformities," says Sofia Gatica, a local mother of three whose oldest son became a victim of pesticide poisoning back in the mid-90s, about the consequences of GMOs. "Little babies were being born with six fingers, without a jawbone, missing a skull bone, with kidney deformities, without an anus -- and a lot of mothers and fathers were developing cancer."
Sofia's son did not end up with anything this severe, but he was temporarily paralyzed and had to receive care at a local hospital. Doctors were initially unsure as to what the boy actually had, but Sofia was convinced that the GMOs near here home were to blame. After all, Monsanto operated a soy plantation just 50 meters away from her family's property, where airplanes would routinely spray toxic glyphosate, also known as Roundup, over the fields.
The new statin drug scam: Half the doctors on the recommendation panel have Big Pharma ties (14 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) Half of the doctors on the panel that recommended a whopping increase in statin drug use have ties to Big Pharma. This past Tuesday, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology issued the first new guidelines in a decade for preventing heart attacks and strokes - guidelines which called for one-third of all adults to consider taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.
Doctors claim the new guidelines will limit how many people with low heart risks are put on statins simply because of a cholesterol number. However, under the new advice, one-third of U.S. adults would meet the threshold to consider taking a statin, more than twice the 15 percent of adults who are recommended statins under current guidelines.
The justification for the panel having half its members with ties to Big Pharma: Ties between heart doctors and Big Pharma are so extensive that it is almost impossible to find a large group of doctors who have no industry ties. How reassuring!
The new guidelines for recommending statin drugs
In addition to continuing to target people with higher LDL cholesterol, the panel also recommended consideration of statins for:
- People who already have heart disease.
- People ages 40 to 75 with a higher estimated 10-year risk of heart disease.
- People ages 40 to 75 with Type 2 diabetes.
TPP Exposed: WikiLeaks Publishes Secret Trade Text to Rewrite Copyright Laws, Limit Internet Freedom (14 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Bill Watson, if we can, if we could bring in Lori Wallach to respond to some of your comments, especially in terms of the--we've had lots of publicity over pharmaceuticals and the huge disparities in prices of pharmaceuticals around the globe and how this might affect the--under the TPP agreement. Lori?
LORI WALLACH: Well, free trade is a pretty theory, but as yesterday's WikiLeaks showed, the TPP has very little to do with free trade. So, only five of the 29 chapters of the agreement even have to do with trade at all. What's in that intellectual property chapter? What the Cato Institute would call rent seeking--governments being lobbied by special interests to set up special rules that give them monopolies to charge higher prices. What does that mean for you and me? In that agreement, we now can see the United States is pushing for longer monopoly patents for medicines that would increase the prices here. They're looking for patenting things like surgical procedures, making even higher medical costs. They're looking to patent life forms and seeds. And with respect to copyright, the U.S. positions are actually even undermining U.S. law. So, for Internet freedom, if you didn't like SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, the domestic law that Congress and amazing citizen activism killed last year when it was attempted to be pushed here domestically, huge chunks of SOPA are pushed through the backdoor of this intellectual property chapter.
Now, what the heck is that doing in a free trade agreement? I would imagine the Cato Institute is also wondering: Are Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the free trade philosophers, rolling in their graves? Because that is protectionism. This is patent monopolies. This is copyright extensions. This is actually exactly what Bill just talked about, which is powerful special interests--Big Pharma, Disney and the other big-content guys--undermining us as consumers--our access to the Internet, our access to affordable medicine--and they're using their power to put that into an agreement that they've got misbranded as "free trade." That's what's the real TPP. So maybe, actually, we agree, between the consumer group Public Citizen and Cato, that what's in TPP, whatever you think about free trade, ain't so good for most of us.
Google invests another $80m in solar (14 November 2013)
Google will sink another $80 million into big solar power projects in California and Arizona, the Internet search giant reported Thursday.
Google will invest in six projects currently under development by Recurrent Energy of San Francisco, facilities that will generate a combined total of 106 megawatts when they come online next year. Global investment firm KKR will also invest in the projects.
Google, based in Mountain View, has turned into a prolific financier of renewable power, spending more than $1 billion on solar and wind projects in the United States and abroad.
"You'd think the thrill might wear off this whole renewable energy investing thing after a while," wrote Kojo Ako-Asare, Google's head of corporate finance, on the company's blog. "Nope -- we're still as into it as ever, which is why we're so pleased to announce our 14th investment."
Cap and trade survives California court challenge (14 November 2013)
A Superior Court judge has rejected a business group's attempt to scuttle a key element of California's cap and trade system for reining in greenhouse gasses.
Judge Timothy Frawley of the Superior Court of California for the County of Sacramento has denied a petition to invalidate the state's sale of "allowances" -- essentially, permits that allow companies to emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. The decision, dated Tuesday, was made public Thursday.
Under cap and trade, state regulators set a limit on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories and other businesses. That "cap" declines a little bit each year. Companies then buy allowances, giving them the right to emit specific amounts of greenhouse gasses. They can also sell the allowances to each other.
The California Chamber of Commerce filed the lawsuit last year, just one day before the state's first scheduled allowance sale, or "auction." The court consolidated that case with a similar suit, filed this spring by the Pacific Legal Foundation.
Microsoft shows off digital-crime-fighting center (14 November 2013)
Microsoft opened the doors Thursday to its multimillion-dollar Cybercrime Center, a 16,800-square-foot facility that is one part crime-fighting headquarters and one part sleek showcase for Microsoft technologies.
Part of the reason Microsoft developed the center was to make sure it had the latest state-of-the-art tools it needed to fight increasingly savvy criminals.
"As the cybercriminals are getting more sophisticated, our abilities are getting more sophisticated," said David Finn, associate general counsel of Microsoft's digital-crimes unit, during a tour of the facility Thursday.
The center brings together company units that focus on piracy and intellectual property theft, and on digital crimes, including botnets and malware and technology-facilitated child sexual exploitation.
George W. Bush Still Plans to Appear at Jews-for-Jesus-like Event Tonight (14 November 2013)
Despite an uproar in the Jewish community, former president George W. Bush is still slated to deliver the keynote address to a fundraiser for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute in Irving, Texas, tonight. The MJBI trains people to persuade Jews to recognize Jesus as their messiah. Followers of the group believe that if enough Jews are converted, Christ will return to Earth.
After Mother Jones broke the news about Bush's appearance last week, "a small shitstorm...kicked up over the President's decision," writes Rob Eshman, editor of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
"I have yet to meet a Jewish person who hasn't heard about this," Tevi Troy, Bush's White House liaison to the Jewish community from 2003 to 2004, told CNN Wednesday. Troy had high praise for Bush's support of Israel and the Jewish community, but, he added, "I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed." A spokesman for the Republican Jewish Coalition did not respond to a request for comment.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas issued a statement Tuesday expressing their disappointment regarding Bush's scheduled appearance: "Support of this group is a direct affront to the mutual respect that all mainstream religious groups afford each other to practice the principles of their respective beliefs."
Turmeric improves skin health, protects from UVB radiation damage and aging, concludes Japanese study (14 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) The Holy Powder of India, turmeric, is spreading its healing influence around the world, blessing the open mind with its plethora of health benefits. (It is a great brain-boosting, mood-enhancing antidepressant). Used extensively in Ayurvedic, Unani and Chinese medicine, turmeric cures hepatic disorders and conditions caused by inflammation in the body. In topical applications, turmeric is supreme, proven to heal skin infections and treat boils efficiently.
Bright orange-yellow, turmeric is voluptuous to the eyes; its key component, curcumin glows strong as a natural blood-cleansing, antioxidant, cancer-killing super spice.
In all honesty, this bright orange-yellow color should be replacing the pink colors associated with the whole breast cancer awareness advertising malarkey. A study from Zehijian, China, shows that curcumin has the capability to kill triple negative breast cancer cells by inducing programmed cell death (apoptosis). In the US, curcumin-based treatments could replace, and should replace, expensive radiation treatments immediately.
In any case, turmeric could be used to protect skin cells from the damaging effects of radiation treatments, which are practically forced onto people who have cancer.
A Nun Takes on the Drug War: Consuelo Morales on Crusading Against Mexican Cartels, Corrupt Police (14 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Nik Steinberg, after Human Rights Watch issued its report documenting 249 disappearances during President Calderón's administration, the government acknowledged for the first time it kept a database of more than 27,000 people reported missing or disappeared. Talk about this.
NIK STEINBERG: Well, you know, during the previous administration, under President Calderón, with disappearances and with other human rights abuses, the line was that there were no human rights abuses, that the military and the police didn't commit abuses, that they were committed by cartels, and that the victims were members of cartels. The admission by the new government, by the Peña Nieto government, which took over at the end of last year, that more than 27,000 people were missing or disappeared is a very important one, because it acknowledges the scale of the problem. What it doesn't do, and what this administration hasn't done, is said what they're actually going to do to investigate these cases. And that's a very important question.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, in October, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam said most of those reported as disappeared have been found, that the number of those who remained unaccounted for is, quote, "much less than the figures that are being cited."
NIK STEINBERG: Yeah, you know, I think it's--this has been a line from the Peña Nieto administration since it released this list, has been now to downplay the problem and say, "Look, we're going to find most of these people. Most of these people are people who left with a significant other or tried to migrate to the U.S." But they've never provided any empirical evidence of this claim. And, in fact, what we know from working with the families of the disappeared is that all of the cases that we've documented, the authorities have done nothing to take the basic steps to bring to justice security forces or members of organized crime who have committed these abuses. So, we don't see the evidence. We hear a lot of talk about this, but we haven't seen anything to actually prove this.
Look who's eating your plastic now: A whole unprecedented ecosystem (14 November 2013)
We already knew that barnacles, lanternfish, and whales have been gobbling up plastic. It turns out that the problem is even bigger than we thought -- because it is much, much smaller. Welcome to the "plastisphere," the tiny plastic-based ecosystem developing within the world's oceans.
The alien-sounding title is fitting, as scientists have found more than 1,000 species of microbes living there, some of which still have not been identified. The group of organisms supported by the plastic was significantly different from, and much more diverse than, other microbial communities in the ocean, suggesting that the plastic particles are providing a haven for microbes that otherwise might not survive, or even arise in the first place.
The study, done by a team in Woods Hole, Mass., took a high-resolution look at plastic particles between 1 and 5 millimeters in size (I believe the unscientific term is "itty bitty specks"). The critters camped out on them are even tinier, but taken together act as a full-blown ecosystem, not unlike a coral reef. Plant-like microbes cluster at the giving end of the food chain while other, animal-like microbes feed on them, and on each other. There are even decomposers and a few synergistic microbes getting along like Disney woodland creatures.
Defying Medical Board, FDA Approves Painkiller That Could Be the Next Oxycontin (13 November 2013)
Late last month, the US Food and Drug Administration made it significantly harder for doctors to prescribe Vicodin, Lortab, and other highly addictive painkillers that have killed tens of thousands of Americans over the past decade. Lawmakers praised the agency's move, but the next day, over the objections of its medical advisory board, the FDA approved Zohydro, a new drug that has 5 to 10 times more of the heroin-like opioid hydrocodone than Vicodin.
"If you approve this pill, you surely will be signing a death sentence for thousands of people, especially young kids," Avi Israel, a father whose 20-year-old son committed suicide after becoming addicted to doctor-prescribed hydrocodone, told FDA officials at the December hearing.
The FDA's advisory board, an appointed group of medical experts who evaluate drugs used in anesthesiology and surgery, voted against Zohydro 11-2 last December. As several board members noted, most opioid painkillers on the market also include acetaminophen, the main ingredient found in Tylenol, a combination that is less likely to lead to addiction. But like OxyContin, the "Hillbilly Heroin" the Drug Enforcement Agency has blamed for hundreds of deaths in a single year, Zohydro includes a high dose of its main opioid ingredient undiluted by acetaminophen. That could lead to higher rates of abuse, the FDA's medical advisers warned.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released data showing that painkillers are essentially the worst drug epidemic in US history, killing 16,000 people in 2010 alone. Painkillers that include hydrocodone and its cousin, oxycodone, are widely abused by users who crush, snort, or inject the drugs, seeking a high. Zohydro is made from high-dose hydrocodone undiluted with acetaminophen; OxyContin uses undiluted, high-dose oxycodone. "Oxycodone and hydrocodone are very similar drugs and Zohydro (extended release hydrocodone) is similar to OxyContin (extended release oxycodone)," Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer at the Phoenix House Foundation, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, tells Mother Jones. "This drug will almost certainly cause dependence in the people that are intended to take it," Judith Kramer, a professor at Duke University Medical Center who voted against the drug, testified in December.
Among the advisory board's other objections: Zohydro's manufacturer, Zogenix, disregarded FDA recommendations that opioid painkillers include a gel-like plastic preventing them from being crushed and snorted; the drug is meant to be used by cancer patients, but was never widely tested on those patients; and during the study's trial run, 2 of 575 test subjects are believed to have committed suicide, one by hoarding the drug and overdosing after the study was over.
Doctors urge wider use of cholesterol drugs (13 November 2013)
For decades, if you asked your doctor what your odds were of suffering a heart attack, the answer would turn on a number: your cholesterol level.
Now the nation's first new heart disease prevention guidelines in a decade take a very different approach, focusing more broadly on risk and moving away from specific targets for cholesterol.
The guidance offers doctors a new formula for estimating risk that includes age, gender, race and factors such as whether someone smokes.
And for the first time, the guidelines take aim at preventing strokes, not just heart attacks. Partly because of that, they set a lower threshold for using medicines to reduce risk. They recommend using statin drugs such as Lipitor and Zocor, and identify four groups of people they help the most.
The end result: Twice as many Americans -- one-third of all adults -- would be told to consider taking statins, which lower cholesterol but also reduce heart risks in other ways.
Two Secret Service agents cut from Obama's detail after alleged misconduct (13 November 2013)
A call from the Hay-Adams hotel this past spring reporting that a Secret Service agent was trying to force his way into a woman's room set in motion an internal investigation that has sent tremors through an agency still trying to restore its elite reputation.
The incident came a year after the agency was roiled by a prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, prompting vows from senior officials to curb a male-dominated culture of hard partying and other excesses.
The service named its first female director, Julia Pierson, seven months ago, and an extensive inspector general report on the agency's culture launched in the wake of the Car-tagena scandal is expected to be released in coming weeks.
The disruption at the Hay-Adams in May involved Ignacio Zamora Jr., a senior supervisor who oversaw about two dozen agents in the Secret Service's most elite assignment -- the president's security detail. Zamora was allegedly discovered attempting to reenter a woman's room after accidentally leaving behind a bullet from his service weapon. The incident has not been previously reported.
In a follow-up investigation, agency officials also found that Zamora and another supervisor, Timothy Barraclough, had sent sexually suggestive e-mails to a female subordinate, according to those with knowledge of the case. Officials have removed Zamora from his position and moved Barraclough off the detail to a separate part of the division, people familiar with the case said.
Meet the Punk Rocker Who Can Liberate Your FBI File (13 November 2013)
Ryan Shapiro has just wrapped up a talk at Boston's Suffolk University Law School, and as usual he's surrounded by a gaggle of admirers. The crowd-, consisting of law students, academics, and activist types, is here for a panel discussion on the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a 2006 law targeting activists whose protest actions lead to a "loss of profits" for industry. Shapiro, a 37-year-old Ph.D. student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, contributed a slideshow of newspaper headlines, posters, and government documents from as far back as the 1800s depicting animal advocates as a threat to national security. Now audience members want to know more about his dissertation and the archives he's using. But many have a personal request: Would Shapiro help them discover what's in their FBI files?
He is happy to oblige. According to the Justice Department, this tattooed activist-turned-academic is the FBI's "most prolific" Freedom of Information Act requester--filing, during one period in 2011, upward of two documents requests a day. In the course of his doctoral work, which examines how the FBI monitors and investigates protesters, Shapiro has developed a novel, legal, and highly effective approach to mining the agency's records. Which is why the government is petitioning the United States District Court in Washington, DC, to prevent the release of 350,000 pages of documents he's after.
Invoking a legal strategy that had its heyday during the Bush administration, the FBI claims that Shapiro's multitudinous requests, taken together, constitute a "mosaic" of information whose release could "significantly and irreparably damage national security" and would have "significant deleterious effects" on the bureau's "ongoing efforts to investigate and combat domestic terrorism."
So-called mosaic theory has been used in the past to stop the release of specific documents, but it has never been applied so broadly. "It's designed to be retrospective," explains Kel McClanahan, a DC-based lawyer who specializes in national security and FOIA law. "You can't say, 'What information, if combined with future information, could paint a mosaic?' because that would include all information!"
Fearing that a ruling in the FBI's favor could make it harder for journalists and academics to keep tabs on government agencies, open-government groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Security Archive, and the National Lawyers Guild (as well as the nonprofit news outlet Truthout and the crusading DC attorney Mark Zaid) have filed friend-of-the-court briefs on Shapiro's behalf. "Under the FBI's theory, the greater the public demand for documents, the greater need for secrecy and delay," says Baher Azmy, CCR's legal director.
Testify in court: Environmental crusader Rev. Billy might face prison (13 November 2013)
A little over a month ago, the Reverend Billy was arrested on a New York subway platform. This was a little unusual, but not very. The Reverend, a performance artist and activist named Bill Talen, had just been singing, dancing, and preaching into a megaphone inside of a Chase branch in midtown Manhattan, about how the bank's investment practices were contributing to climate change. He was accompanied by a group of performers dressed like the golden frog of Central America [PDF], one of the first known species to become extinct as the direct result of climate change.
Reverend Billy has been arrested, he estimates, at least 75 times since 1999, when the Reverend first appeared in front of the recently opened Disney Store in Times Square in a white leisure suit and clerical collar. Since then, he's used the persona of the televangelist to stage theatrical protests about the influence of corporations on American life. In recent years, Talen and the 50-odd performers that now make up the core of the Church of Stop Shopping have focused on the role that corporations play in climate change and species extinction.
"I'm not getting better at jail as I get older," Talen wrote the day of his release from the Tombs, "It's awful." But, he continued, he was glad to be back in Brooklyn. Then, Talen got news that he wasn't expecting. The City of New York was charging Talen and choir director Nehemiah Luckett with riot in the second degree, menacing in the third degree, unlawful assembly, and two counts of disorderly conduct for the Chase protest. The pair faces up to a year in prison. Their trial begins on Dec. 9. I spoke to the free-for-now Talen over the phone (the judge denied the DA's $30,000 bond request and released them on their own recognizance):
Q. Were you surprised to be arrested after that performance at Chase?
A. This idea of going into that lobby, going into that point of purchase, going into that elevator -- we've been exploring that for a decade. So this is not new to us.
Typhoon Haiyan: eight die in food stampede amid desperate wait for aid (13 November 2013)
Eight people have been killed in the typhoon-ravaged central Philippines after thousands of Haiyan survivors stormed a government-owned rice warehouse seeking food supplies.
The Philippines National Food Authority said police and soldiers stood by helpless as people streamed into the warehouse in Alangalang, Leyte province -- an area where hunger and desperation are running high after Haiyan made landfall early on Friday morning, ravaging vast swaths of Leyte and Samar islands. The security forces could only watch as more than 100,000 sacks of rice were carried away.
The eight were crushed to death when a wall in the warehouse collapsed, spokesman Rex Estoperez told the Associated Press. Other rice warehouses were dotted around the region, he said, refusing to give their locations for security reasons.
The Philippines government has come under fire for failing to deliver aid adequately or quickly enough, with growing frustration in the hardest hit areas, such as Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province where dead bodies have piled up on the streets and residents have resorted to looting to find food.
Mexican call center tries to connect families to missing migrants (13 November 2013)
TUCSON -- The mother calling from the Mexican state of Chihuahua hadn't heard from her son for days and she feared the worst.
Her voice cracked. She spoke quickly. She told the young man on the other end of the phone that she needed help.
In Tucson, a meticulously coiffed young operator wearing a dark tie responded calmly in Spanish.
"When was the last time you spoke with him?" he asked.
They last talked, she said, right before her 23-year-old son embarked on an illicit journey into the United States, trudging through the Arizona desert. The operator, busily typing notes into his computer, listened sympathetically.
The six U.S. nuclear power plants most likely to shut down (13 November 2013)
The nuclear power industry is melting down in America, and in the rest of the Western Hemisphere too.
Nuclear plants still generate nearly 20 percent of electricity in the U.S. But a report by investment research firm Morningstar in its latest Utilities Observer publication warns about the sector's risks. The report says "the 'nuclear renaissance' is on hold indefinitely" in the West thanks to low electricity prices, largely driven by the natural-gas fracking boom but also by new renewable energy projects, and controversy in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown:
"Aside from the two new nuclear projects in the U.S., one in France (Flamanville), and a possible one in the U.K. (Hinkley Point C), we think new-build nuclear in the West is dead. ...
"We don't expect an end to the new nuclear construction in China and South Korea or the development interest in India and elsewhere in Asia. ... Nuclear power is not going to disappear as a long-term option and it will continue to evolve. However, an investment in a new Western nuke plant even with the best available technology today will remain a rare experiment."
Japan passes law to launch reform of electricity sector (13 November 2013)
(Reuters) - Japan's upper house passed legislation on Wednesday to start the most ambitious reform of its electricity sector since 1951, a process prompted by the Fukushima nuclear crisis that may end with the break-up of powerful regional monopolies.
The reforms, including the establishment of a national grid and the liberalization of the power market for homes, are central to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's drive to overhaul the economy, as high energy costs threaten to derail efforts to reverse decades of stagnation.
Regional monopolies, including Tokyo Electric Power Co and Kansai Electric Power Co, supply almost 98 percent of Japan's electricity and terms for access to their transmission lines make it onerous for new entrants.
Wrenching control of transmission from the monopolies to create a national grid became a big issue after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that sparked the Fukushima disaster and highlighted an inability to transfer power to areas suffering shortages.
Air Force Officer Acquitted Of Groping Woman At Bar (13 November 2013)
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who once oversaw the Air Force's sexual assault response team, was found not guilty of groping a 23-year-old woman at a bar in Virginia earlier this year.
The jury of five men and two women in Arlington, Va., deliberated for an hour and 15 minutes before deciding to acquit Krusinski, 42 on a charge of misdemeanor assault. His accuser had said he grabbed her backside on May 5 outside a Crystal City bar.
But as The Associated Press reports:
"Defense lawyers argued that there were inconsistencies in her story. In particular, the defense [homed] in on the woman's testimony admitting she punched Krusinski a few times in the face in retaliation. Numerous other witnesses, though, described seeing her hit him countless times.
"Prosecutors had urged the jury not to be distracted by what happened after the alleged grope."
Police have said that Krusinski was drunk on the night of the alleged assault.
Toad moustache mystery solved by Guelph researchers (13 November 2013)
The strange moustache sported by a rare Chinese toad was a long-standing evolutionary enigma. Why, scientists wanted to know, did the male Emei moustache toad grow a band of hard spikes on its upper lip in February, only to shed it three weeks later?
On a cold night in 2011, Cameron Hudson stood over a mountain stream in Sichuan trying to answer that question. The University of Guelph graduate student spied two toads locked in combat.
Hudson captured video and sent it to his adviser in Ontario, Jinzhong Fu, a professor of evolutionary biology.
The mystery was solved.
The True Patriots in Congress Trying to End NSA Tyranny (12 November 2013)
Good old George can stop spinning in his grave. Yes, that George, our most heroic general and inspiring president, who warned us in his farewell address "to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism. ..." It's an alert that's been ignored in the nation's hysterical reaction to the attacks of 9/11 that culminated in the NSA's assault on our Constitution's guarantee of "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. ..."
That right was reaffirmed boldly and righteously Monday, for the entire world to hear, by F. James Sensenbrenner, the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which unanimously had produced the USA Patriot Act. Speaking on Monday at the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament, Sensenbrenner blasted the misuse of the Patriot Act by the NSA and other government agencies entrusted with ensuring the nation's safety.
"But the NSA abused that trust. It ignored restrictions painstakingly crafted by lawmakers and assumed a plenary authority we never imagined," the Wisconsin congressman said. "Worse, the NSA has cloaked its operations behind such a thick cloud of secrecy that even if the NSA promised reforms, we would lack the ability to verify them.
"The constant stream of disclosures about U.S. surveillance since June has surprised and appalled me as much as it has the American public and our international allies," Sensenbrenner continued. "I have therefore introduced legislation along with Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that will curtail surveillance abuses and restore trust in the U.S. intelligence community."
Their bill is titled the "USA FREEDOM Act," the acronym a shortcut for United and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and Online Monitoring. As Sensenbrenner points out, "The title intentionally echoes the Patriot Act because it does what the Patriot Act was meant to do--strike a proper balance between civil liberties and national security."
How Private is Your Online Search History? (12 November 2013)
The ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Justice to find out whether federal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors think they need a warrant to obtain people's search queries from online search engine operators, or whether they think they can obtain it on a lower standard like a subpoena.
The queries we enter into online search engines can reveal a great deal of deeply private information about us. A search for "psychologists in Pittsburgh" is pretty revealing; a search for "birth control morning after pill" or "gonorrhea treatment" even more so. Knowing that a person searched for "atheist organizations in Alabama" or "how do I come out of the closet" could expose them to stigma. And entering "divorce lawyer," "domestic violence shelter," or "marriage counseling" can expose sensitive facts, as can searching for "whistleblower protections" or "civil disobedience tactics." Because this information is so revealing, most of us would want it to be protected against snooping and disclosure.
Unfortunately, the public knows little about the policies and practices of the government when it seeks people's search queries from search engine operators as part of a criminal investigation. This information is important, because the major online search engines--Google, Microsoft's Bing, Yahoo!, and Ask.com--log and retain information about users' search queries. The retained information includes not only the search terms entered into the search engines, but also unique identifying information about the users entering those terms, such as the Internet Protocol (IP) address assigned to the user by the user's internet service provider, and the unique cookie ID assigned to the user's computer by the search engine operator itself. Although some search engines automatically encrypt the connection between users' computers and their servers to protect the privacy of search terms as they travel over the internet, search query information is still saved by the companies on their end, and therefore available to law enforcement. (At least one search engine, Duck Duck Go, states that it doesn't log or retain search queries at all).
There are two kinds of information law enforcement might seek from a search engine: records of search queries entered by a particular person or persons; and a list of the names, IP addresses, or other identifying information for some or all people who have entered a particular query into the search engine's webpage. Representatives of the two largest search engines, Google and Bing, have suggested that they think the government needs a warrant to get this information. But we don't know what the government's policies are, nor how the search engines have reacted when presented with a government request for users' search query data. Other than a 2006 instance in which Google resisted an extremely broad Justice Department subpoena for search records, we don't know of any cases where search engines have challenged government requests, in court or out.
Pollution is making Chinese sperm damaged and "ugly" (12 November 2013)
Sperm: Usually so beautiful, right? (Not really, but just go with it.) But in China, pollution is making sperm so long and gross that it's a wonder anyone is having sex at all.
Li Zheng, the director of Shanghai's biggest sperm bank, discovered the fugly sperm as part of a decade-long study on male infertility. Thanks to poor air quality, Chinese men's sperm is weird-looking and sometimes doesn't even swim at all. Writes Quartz:
"The just-completed research found that two-thirds of the semen specimens at Shanghai's biggest sperm bank failed to meet World Health Organization sperm-count standards."
Philippines faces "nightmare" recovery in Haiyan's wake (12 November 2013)
A difficult recovery effort, hampered by security threats, bottlenecks, and an almost complete lack of communications, is still in its infancy in the Philippines four days after a powerful typhoon plowed through the country.
Super Typhoon Haiyan -- also known locally as Yolanda -- made landfall several times on Friday, leaving in its wake up to 10,000 casualties (a figure that comes from local officials on the island of Leyte and reported by the Associated Press; the official Philippine government count is much lower). The Joint Typhoon Warning Center data reported sustained winds approached 195 miles per hour three hours before landfall, with gusts of up to 235 miles per hour. Stunningly scary footage captured by a CCTV/Weather Channel team during Haiyan's height shows damaging storm surges ripping buildings apart, "like a tsunami." The storm made landfall again in Vietnam on Monday morning local time.
The Philippines, a group of more than 7,100 islands, is no a stranger to tropical cyclones (this is the 24th just this year). And just as more than 9.5 million people who were in the storm's path survey the damage and locate loved ones, the country is facing another tropical depression, Zoraida.
"We are always between two typhoons. The farther we are from the previous one, the nearer we are to the next one," said Amalie Obusan, a Greenpeace climate campaigner in the Philippines, by phone. "Now it seems like a very cruel joke ... Every year, every super typhoon is much stronger than the previous year."
Troubled HealthCare.gov unlikely to work fully by end of November (12 November 2013)
Software problems with the federal online health insurance marketplace, especially in handling high volumes, are proving so stubborn that the system is unlikely to work fully by the end of the month as the White House has promised, according to an official with knowledge of the project.
The insurance exchange is balking when more than 20,000 to 30,000 people attempt to use it at the same time -- about half its intended capacity, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal information. And CGI Federal, the main contractor that built the site, has succeeded in repairing only about six of every 10 of the defects it has addressed so far.
Government workers and tech-nical contractors racing to repair the Web site have concluded, the official said, that the only way for large numbers of Americans to enroll in the health-care plans soon is by using other means so that the online system isn't overburdened.
This inside view of the halting nature of HealthCare.gov repairs is emerging as the insurance industry is working behind the scenes on contingency plans, in case the site continues to have problems. And it calls into question the repeated assurances by the White House and other top officials that the insurance exchange will work smoothly for the vast majority of Americans by Nov. 30. Speaking in Dallas a week ago, President Obama said that the "Web site is already better than it was at the beginning of October, and by the end of this month, we anticipate that it is going to be working the way it is supposed to, all right?"
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Many Americans Haven't Heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and More (12 November 2013)
Jim Javinsky in for Thom Hartmann here -- on the news...
You need to know this. Many Americans oppose NAFTA and other trade deals, but they haven't even heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison describes the TPP as the "largest corporate power grab you've never heard of." Despite 19 rounds of negotiations that started all the way back in 2005, many of the details of the TPP still remain secret, even to members of Congress. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a massive trade agreement among 12 nations, including the US. And it's being negotiated by government trade officials and corporate lobbyists. Representative Alan Grayson said that the TPP is "a punch in the face to the middle class of America," and added, "but I'm not even allowed to tell you why." The deal would give multinational corporations the right to challenge our laws and regulations if firms believe those laws limit their "expected future profits." Not only would this trade agreement threaten American jobs, but it could seriously harm our national sovereignty. Regulations that protect workers, set environmental standards, or limit risk for consumers could be challenged if corporate greed isn't allowed to reign supreme. Despite all of these dangerous possibilities, Americans are being kept in the dark about the TPP, and trade negotiators don't even want Congress weighing in. They're demanding so-called "fast track" authority, which would block any changes to the law, and only allow our elected leaders an "up or down" vote. Unions, consumer protection groups, environmental activists, and even members of Congress are calling for changes to the law, or a flat-out rejection of the entire deal. For the sake of our nation, these groups are working to inform more Americans, and fighting to stop the TPP while we still have a chance.
Floating offshore wind turbines spinning near Fukushima (12 November 2013)
Even as the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant sits idle, dribbling radiation and awaiting deconstruction, refreshing winds of change are gusting off the nearby shoreline.
A floating wind turbine began operating about 12 miles off the Fukushima coast on Monday, the first of many planned in a region best known for the 2011 meltdown. From Bloomberg:
"The project, funded by the government and led by Marubeni Corp., is a symbol of Japan's ambition to commercialize the unproven technology of floating offshore wind power and its plan to turn quake-ravaged Fukushima into a clean energy hub.
"'Fukushima is making a stride toward the future step by step,' Yuhei Sato, governor of Fukushima, said today at a ceremony in Fukushima marking the project's initiation. 'Floating offshore wind is a symbol of such a future.'"
The secret, dirty cost of Obama's green power push (12 November 2013)
Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.
Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can't survive.
The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact.
Farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than before the ethanol boom, and the effects are visible in places like south central Iowa.
McAuliffe says he'd veto bill to allow uranium mining (12 November 2013)
Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe said Monday he would veto any legislation to facilitate uranium mining in Virginia.
The issue has resonance in Hampton Roads, which draws drinking water from Lake Gaston, downstream from a rich uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County. Mining interests have been trying for years to get a 31-year-old moratorium lifted so the ore can be mined.
Speaking with reporters after a Veterans Day event at Nauticus, McAuliffe said he would veto any bill to lift the moratorium or to establish a regulatory framework for mining.
"I don't support uranium mining," he said. "First and foremost as governor, my job is to make sure that our communities and our citizenry are safe. I'm not
comfortable with the science to the point that I can say that with uranium mining, we would be safe. I'm afraid it would get into the drinking water."
Gasoline prices to keep falling through 2013, AAA says (12 November 2013)
HOUSTON -- The price of gasoline has dropped again -- after reaching its lowest point in nearly 33 months on Monday -- and will keep falling through the end of the year, according to automotive organization AAA.
U.S. drivers paid a national average of $3.19 for a gallon of regular gasoline on Monday, the cheapest average since February 2011, according to AAA. On Tuesday, the average price dropped a penny to $3.18.
AAA expects the national average could fall close to $3 per gallon by the end of the year, as U.S. demand for gasoline sinks and the global crude oil price drops. An ample national gasoline supply -- about 8 percent higher than a year ago -- is putting more downward pressure on prices, AAA said.
The national average gas price has dropped for 10 consecutive weeks, falling a total of 41 cents per gallon since Labor Day, according to AAA.
Typhoon Haiyan: The Global Poor Bear the Deadly Brunt of Climate Change (12 November 2013)
In 1494, Spain and Portugal were in serious competition over other peoples' lands. This bothered the church, and Pope Alexander VI made it his duty to write up the Treaty of Tordesillas, which dictated that Spain was free to attempt to conquer lands west of an imaginary line on the Atlantic, and Portugal could attempt the same for all lands east of that line, essentially creating Eastern and Western hemispheres.
A little more than two decades later, Spain's influence in what it thought was a new world grew nearly as much as its avarice. It wanted more lands, and all the resources that came with those lands. Ferdinand Magellan, who was Portuguese, offered his services to King Charles of Spain. His plan was to sail west, as the treaty obliged--but to sail so far west that he would essentially reach the Eastern Hemisphere, and attempt to conquer those lands for Spain. He eventually landed in what we now call the Philippines.
What we remember today is that Magellan led the first circumnavigation, going not only around the world itself but also cleverly around an international treaty. What we forget--or never learned to begin with--is that the nearly two-year voyage ended poorly for the explorer. Magellan was cunning enough to deceive a powerful religion and a budding empire, and was even crafty enough to get some indigenous leaders to sign on board for their own colonization on an island called Mactan, off the island Cebu in the Philippines.
But that wasn't the case when it came to a local indigenous chief named Lapu Lapu. Magellan was sure that he could convince Lapu Lapu that he, too, should accept colonization, and he scheduled a meeting to do just that. And in case words didn't do trick, Magellan brought along ships, mortars and more than 6,000 warriors that would. What Magellan wasn't prepared for was the ferocity of Lapu Lapu's resistance, backed by thousands of his indigenous warriors, who emerged victorious in the 1521 Battle of Mactan. Spain could claim that its agent sailed around the world--but it couldn't claim that he could conquer anything. The Spanish would wait almost forty-five years before attempting to colonize the islands again.
Ontario affordable housing waiting lists still climbing (12 November 2013)
Waiting lists for affordable housing in Ontario continued their "slow and steady climb" in 2012 despite the province's modest economic gains, says a new report being released Tuesday.
Almost 158,500 households -- including about 72,700 in Toronto --were waiting for affordable homes as of December last year, according to the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association's annual waiting list survey.
The number represents more than 3 per cent of Ontario households, the highest rate since the association began collecting statistics in 2003, the report notes.
The association's members operate more than 163,000 non-profit units in 220 communities across the province. To meet the need they would have to almost double the supply of rent-geared-to income housing, the report says.
Calgary Zoo seeks expert help after fungal infection kills third penguin this year (12 November 2013)
Calgary Zoo is calling on penguin experts worldwide for help with a respiratory disease that claimed another of its birds over the weekend.
Houdini, a 14-year-old male Gentoo penguin, was euthanized Sunday after he did not respond to intensive treatment for aspergillosis -- a fungal infection that affects a bird's respiratory system.
He is the third penguin at the zoo to succumb to the disease this year.
Zoo head of veterinary services Sandie Black said Calgary was talking to zoos overseas about what they had done to combat aspergillosis, which is a common cause of death among captive penguins.
FWP: Lake trout increase may cause decline in Swan drainage bull trout redds (12 November 2013)
Swan Lake allowed sport fishing for bull trout for several years, but changed the rules to catch-and-release in 2012. Fraley said the change was needed to offset the bull trout lost in the netting efforts.
The netting project started in 2009. Bull trout redds had been increasing steadily in the 1980s and 90s, Fraley said. In the peak years of 1997 and 1998, biologists found more than 800 redds in the Swan River basin. But those totals declined about 15 percent between 1999 and 2001, followed by another 15 percent drop between 2002 and 2005.
Lake trout were first detected in Swan Lake in 1998, and believed to be working their way up the Swan River from Flathead Lake. Studies in 2006 confirmed the population had been growing since the 1990s, and that the species was reproducing in Swan Lake.
Bull trout were declared a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1998. Unlike lake trout, bull trout spawn in small mountain streams in early fall and then return to lakes and rivers to spend the rest of their adult lives. A single redd may contain egg clusters from several bull trout.
Two moose found dead on wildlife refuge near Cochrane (12 November 2013)
It's hunting season in Alberta, but concerns are being raised about where people are shooting after two moose were found dead in a wildlife refuge.
The moose, called Polly and Beau, were being cared for at the Cochrane Ecological Institute, a charity that rescues and rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife.
In the past week, both of the animals have been found dead in their 65-hectare fenced enclosure and the operator believes they were both shot by hunters.
"We've been hearing gunshots ever since the season opened," said Clio Smeeton, president of the institute.
Tina Turner formally 'relinquishes' U.S. citizenship (12 November 2013)
This item just in via an "activity" report from the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, headlined "Soul Legend Relinquishes U.S. Citizenship."
"Long-time Swiss resident Tina Turner" was in the embassy Oct. 24 to sign her "Statement of Voluntary Relinquishment of U.S. Citizenship under Section 349 (a)(1) of the INA" -- the Immigration and Naturalization Act.
Turner, who turns 74 in a couple weeks, retired from the concert stage in 2009. She had an abusive, 14-year marriage to Ike Turner (they divorced in 1976), with whom she recorded Jessie Hill's classic "Ooh Poo Pah Doo," and John Fogerty's "Proud Mary."
Turner has lived in Switzerland for nearly two decades. In July, she married her boyfriend of 27 years, German music producer Erwin Bach (unclear if related to Johann Sebastian). Turner had taken the oath of Swiss nationality April 10. She's fluent in German, the report said, and she declared that she no longer has any strong ties to the United States "except for family, and has no plans to reside in the United States in the future."
The key word in the embassy report apparently is the term "relinquishment." That means, a knowledgeable source told us, that she did not "formally renounce her U.S. citizenship under 349(a)(5) Immigration and Nationality Act, but took Swiss citizenship with the intent to lose her U.S. citizenship." As opposed to formal renunciation -- a much more complex process, we were told -- there are no "tax or other penalties for loss of citizenship in this fashion."
76,000 soldiers 'chaptered out' of veterans' benefits since 2006 (11 November 2013)
Dave Philipps is a reporter at the Colorado Springs Gazette, located in Fort Carson's hometown. He began to hear stories about soldiers like Jensen, and has spent months writing a series documenting numerous battle-damaged soldiers forced out of the military without benefits.
"If they kick out these soldiers in a way that they get anything other than honorable discharge, then they don't automatically qualify for the VA [federal benefits for veterans]," Philipps said. "They get their education benefits taken away. They can't even apply for unemployment. And so, they're really left with nothing."
It's called being "chaptered out." Soldiers may be discharged for reasons ranging anywhere from tardiness to substance abuse, and more serious crimes like assault. Many have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and some also have traumatic brain injuries (TBI), both of which can influence behavior and judgment.
Philipps said the number of soldiers getting kicked out for misconduct has gone up every year since the war in Iraq began. Since 2006, 76,000 soldiers have been chaptered out, Philipps calculates.
Train loaded with oil derails, explodes, pollutes Alabama wetlands (11 November 2013)
Yet another oil-hauling train has derailed and exploded, this one sending flaming cars loaded with North Dakota crude into Alabama wetlands.
The 90-car train derailed early Friday, causing flames to shoot 300 feet into the air. No injuries were reported. One family living in the marshy area was evacuated from their home following the accident. The L.A. Times has the details:
"A train that derailed and exploded in rural Alabama was hauling 2.7 million gallons of crude oil, according to officials.
"The 90-car train was crossing a timber trestle above a wetland near Aliceville late Thursday night when approximately 25 rail cars and two locomotives derailed, spilling crude oil into the surrounding wetlands and igniting a fire that was still burning Saturday."
Fast-growing Internet virus ransoms computers (11 November 2013)
Terry Dent knew it was a scam as soon as she read the warning message on her computer.
The 57-year-old widow admits she might not be the most computer-literate woman in the world, but she knew she hadn't downloaded any child pornography. And even if she had, she knew the FBI wouldn't be asking her to use a prepaid credit card to pay a $300 fine to unfreeze her computer.
"I'm not stupid," she said. "I wasn't going to send anyone anything."
But other people do. And keep doing it.
According to computer security and identity theft experts, Dent's computer was infected with a version of the Reveton virus. The virus is a popular form of "ransomware" that takes over a computer and prevents users from operating it, supposedly until they pay a fee.
Typhoon Haiyan: 942 confirmed dead in Philippines - live updates (11 November 2013)
A witness report of the moment the typhoon hit Cebu city, from commenter Kookaro:
"It blew out the power, tore the metal sheeting off a nearby apartment block, flattened palm, banana and coconut trees and sent rivers of rain water down the road.
"I was fortunate to be living in a relatively robust and modern concrete building. The destruction in Tacloban and Samar is near-total. A terrible tragedy for these are already some of the poorest communities in the Visayas region. That there is widespread 'looting' - or more accurately, a desperate search for food, water, shelter - is not a surprise given the situation.
"Natural disasters, such as the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Bohol last month and now this typhoon, can never be prevented, but they do need to be planned for - as the world continues to heat up, as the weather patterns become increasingly dynamic, so we need to be better prepared. We also need to be that much more responsible to the planet, and to each other."
Typhoon Haiyan: President Aquino puts death toll at 2,000-2,500 (11 November 2013)
The New York Times has produced a powerful graphic that uses satellite imagery to map, in great detail, areas of destruction in Tacloban City. Individual buildings are color-coded according to extent of damage.
The graphic also takes a broader view of the Philippines to show areas of the coastline where storm surge was the greatest threat. The crescent-shaped coastline forming San Pedro and San Pablo Bay, south of Tacloban City, was hardest hit. But the storm surge topped 1 meter on both north- and south-facing shorelines in the interior.
See the graphic here.
Typhoon survivors beg for help; Philippine rescuers struggle (11 November 2013)
Dazed survivors of a super typhoon that swept through the central Philippines killing an estimated 10,000 people begged for help and scavenged for food, water and medicine, threatening to overwhelm military and rescue resources.
As President Benigno Aquino deployed hundreds of soldiers in the coastal city of Tacloban to quell looting, reports from one town showed apocalyptic scenes of destruction in another region that has not been reached by rescue workers or the armed forces.
The government has not confirmed officials' estimates over the weekend of 10,000 deaths, but the toll from Haiyan, one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded, is clearly far higher than the current official count of 255. The Armed Forces in the central Philippines reported a death toll of 942.
"The situation is bad, the devastation has been significant. In some cases the devastation has been total," Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras told a news conference.
Vaccine fraud exposed: Measles and mumps making a huge comeback because vaccines are designed to fail, say Merck virologists (11 November 2013)
Merck knowingly falsified its mumps vaccine test results to fabricate a "95% efficacy rate" say former Merck virologists Stephen Krahling and Joan Wlochowski in their shocking False Claims Act document.
As I wrote last year, " In order to do this, Merck spiked the blood test with animal antibodies in order to artificially inflate the appearance of immune system antibodies."
From the False Claims Act complaint:
"Merck also added animal antibodies to blood samples to achieve more favorable test results, though it knew that the human immune system would never produce such antibodies, and that the antibodies created a laboratory testing scenario that 'did not in any way correspond to, correlate with, or represent real life ... virus neutralization in vaccinated people,' according to the complaint."
White House considers appointing civilian NSA chief amid calls for reform (11 November 2013)
In the first likely structural reform of the National Security Agency since the Guardian began publishing Edward Snowden's revelations, the Obama administration is giving strong consideration to appointing a civilian to run the surveillance apparatus and splitting it from the military command that has been its institutional twin since 2010.
But skeptics say those plans appear more cosmetic than substantive, leaving alone the central questions of bulk surveillance and potentially leaving the military with diminished capacity to safeguard its data from foreign attacks.
General Keith Alexander is scheduled to retire from the agency in the spring of 2014. The White House is reportedly compiling a list of civilians to replace the embattled director, giving a new and potentially reassuring face to a surveillance agency now infamous for bulk spying.
A similar plan being considered would disaggregate the NSA from the new military command created around it for defending the US military's data and computer networks, an institutional divorce that also has a political upside for the administration -- though perhaps less of a military nor intelligence one.
Tesla fire postscript: driver praises his torched car (11 November 2013)
As federal officials mull whether to investigate last week's Tesla Model S fire, the driver has offered his own take on the accident.
And he has nothing but love for the car.
Juris Shibayama, an orthopedic surgeon from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, wrote an account of the incident for the Tesla Motors company blog, which posted it on Saturday. He describes cruising at 70 mph on a freeway, following a truck. He suddenly saw a rusted trailer hitch lying in the middle of his lane, with the ball sticking up in the air. The truck in front of him cleared it, but Shibayama's Model S wasn't so lucky.
"I felt a firm 'thud' as the hitch struck the bottom of the car, and it felt as though it even lifted the car up in the air," he wrote. "My assistant later found a gouge in the tarmac where the item scraped into the road."
About 40,000 Americans are said to have signed up for plans on HealthCare.gov (11 November 2013)
Roughly 40,000 Americans have signed up for private insurance through the flawed federal online insurance marketplace since it opened six weeks ago, according to two people with access to the figures.
That amount is a tiny fraction of the total projected enrollment for the 36 states where the federal government is running the online health-care exchange, indicating the slow start to the president's initiative. The first concrete evidence of the popularity -- and accessibility -- of the new federal insurance exchange emerged as the White House has been preparing to release this week the first official tally of how many people have chosen coverage using the Web site, HealthCare.gov.
One administration official said Monday that the official figure will include people who have paid for a health plan and those who simply picked a plan and put it in their online shopping cart.
The administration's only known previous projections come from internal memos, released on Capitol Hill, that predicted that about a half-million Americans would have selected insurance by the end of October. It was unclear whether that figure, cited in a letter last month by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), included only people who enrolled in private health plans or also low-income people who joined Medicaid.
Africa: Helping Mothers to Deliver Healthy Children Safely (11 November 2013)
Holding the hand of Kumi as she went into labor at 3 am is a moment I'll never forget. Kumi lives in small hut in rural Ethiopia, hours away from the nearest health facility - and just hours away from my hometown of Addis Ababa.
As a mother myself, it is disturbing to know that there are still millions of mothers like Kumi who do not have access to the basic essentials for delivering a child, including light, clean equipment, and trained medical staff.
Fortunately, despite her challenging circumstances, Kumi had a safe delivery and a healthy newborn child. She named her daughter Adame - which means lucky day.
The reality is, however, that complications during pregnancy and childbirth are still among the leading causes of death among young women in the developing world.
Jim Hightower: Five Million Missing American Workers (10 November 2013)
Well, yes, the official jobless rate has edged down to 7.2 percent, but don't get giddy, for that's not the total score. In December 2007, when Wall Street's reckless greed crashed our economy, the unemployment rate stood at only 5 percent, the average length of being unemployed was half of today's, and far fewer people were forced into part-time work or had to find multiple jobs to make ends meet.
Plus, family income was higher back then for all but the richest 1 percent of Americans.
But there's an even more telling statistic that we rarely hear about: the employment/population ratio. This indicator tells us the number of working-age adults actually in the workforce, meaning they're employed at least part-time or are looking for jobs.
This important number has plummeted by five million people since the crash. They're not working, and they're not counted as unemployed.
Cancer cluster identified in Highland, NY, as wave of children diagnosed with leukemia (10 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) There must be something in the water in Highland, New York, a small town just across the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie where at least six young children were recently diagnosed with the same form of leukemia, one after another. CBS New York reports that the New York State Department of Health (NYSDH) has launched an investigation into what many local parents now say is an unusual and seemingly contagious wave of cancers with no obvious explanation.
Each of the six diagnoses occurred within the past 20 months, according to reports, and all of those diagnosed have been children younger than age 10. Also disturbing is the fact that all of the children live in the same neighborhood and on the same street, suggesting what the media has now dubbed a possible "cancer cluster," or an unusually high rate of the same form of cancer in a localized area.
"The oncology doctor as soon as she looked at his labs knew that he had leukemia," said Stephanie Lucas, mother of four-year-old Cameron, to reporters. Young Cameron was diagnosed this past March with leukemia after suffering frequent fevers, which eventually developed into chronic pain in his arm. "It was just shocking. You never expect it to happen to your child."
Nine-year-old Alexandra Malheiro, who lives right down the street, was also recently diagnosed with leukemia, as were four other young children in the neighborhood. Alexandra's mother, Stacey, told reporters that, once the first child was diagnosed, more quickly followed suit until the entire neighborhood was plagued with cases. She finds the whole situation strange and, like many others, is actively seeking answers.
Amazon to deliver on Sundays using Postal Service fleet (10 November 2013)
The Internet has been blamed for the death of the mail, but now it's offering hope to the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service.
Amazon announced Monday that it will begin Sunday deliveries using the government agency's fleet of foot soldiers, office workers and truck drivers to bring packages to homes seven days a week.
To accommodate the online retailing giant, the Postal Service said it will for the first time deliver packages at regular rates on Sundays. Previously, a shipper had to use its pricey Express Mail service and pay an extra fee for Sunday delivery.
The initiative will begin immediately in Los Angeles and New York and spread to the Washington area and much of the rest of the nation next year, Postal Service officials said. The partnership should help the turnaround effort underway at the financially strapped Postal Service, they said.
Proposed desalination plant could harm ocean environment, report says (10 November 2013)
A proposed seawater desalination plant in Huntington Beach could significantly harm parts of the Southern California ocean environment unless substantial changes are made in its design and operation, according to the staff of the state Coastal Commission.
A staff report prepared for this week's commission vote on the project highlights the potential downside of large-scale efforts to turn the salty water of the Pacific Ocean into drinking supplies for coastal California.
"There are ways to do desal in a fairly environmentally benign way," said Tom Luster, an environmental scientist with the commission. "This one will have some fairly significant adverse effects."
Poseidon Resources, a small, privately held company based in Stamford, Conn., first proposed the Huntington Beach desalter, and a similar one now under construction in Carlsbad in San Diego County, in 1998. Both would be the largest seawater-to-drinking-water operations in the country, each producing enough purified water every year to supply roughly 100,000 households.
Poseidon intended to avoid the expense and environmental problems of building and operating ocean intake and discharge systems by locating its facilities next to power stations and tapping into the huge volumes of seawater used to cool the generating equipment.
Global warming finally reaches the last Arctic region (10 November 2013)
Lakes of the Hudson Bay Lowlands, in northeast Canada, are showing evidence of abrupt change in one of the last Arctic regions of the world to have experienced global warming, according to Canadian research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal.
The research team consisting of Kathleen Rühland, John Smol, and Neal Michelutti from Queen's University Ontario, Andrew Paterson of Ontario's Ministry of the Environment, and Bill Keller from the Laurentian University Ontario, retrieved sediment cores from lakes around the western shoreline of Hudson Bay and looked for changes in the microscopic algae that settle at the lake bottom after death.
These algae, known as diatoms, are at the base of the food chain and are an important component of lake ecosystems. When they die and fall to the lake bed, they leave behind an environmental archive in the sediment layers that continually accumulate year after year. By examining the changes through time, researchers can trace the environmental history of the region.
The Hudson Bay Lowlands were one of the last holdouts against the trend of global warming in the Arctic, but has in a very short period succumbed. In contrast to most of the Arctic, the lowlands maintained relatively stable temperatures until at least the mid-1990s. The region has been an Arctic refugium from warming due to the persistence of sea ice on Hudson Bay, the largest northern inland sea, that provides natural cooling.
Why US veterans are returning to Vietnam (10 November 2013)
A photo of Greg Kleven, dated April 1967, shows him posing in front of a tin-roofed hooch, wearing an undershirt so stained it matches the sand beneath his feet. In his right hand, he is holding an M-16 rifle. His shaved head is cocked to the left and he's sticking out his tongue in a half smile.
The 18-year-old enlistee is three months into his tour of Vietnam in a Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance company, a special operations unit similar to the Navy SEALs. He looks brash and ready to take on any Viet Cong who cross his path.
"We had all of the difficult missions," Mr. Kleven recalls. "We blew up bridges and parachuted out of planes. Each patrol was like an individual war."
As we talk in his apartment overlooking the Nhieu Loc Canal in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, it's hard to find any trace of that brazen marine in Kleven today. Two decades after leaving Vietnam on a stretcher with a bullet wound to his back, Kleven returned to the country for good in 1991, making him, he says, the first American to live in Ho Chi Minh City after the war.
New Yorkers donate time to help rebalance supply in bike-share program (10 November 2013)
NEW YORK - Each morning, commuters using the nation's largest cycle-sharing system face a question that decides whether the workday begins in disappointment or with a smooth glide: Will any Citi Bikes be available?
A cadre of data vigilantes - including up to 80 software engineers, analysts and urban planners - work in their free time to make the answer yes.
Without help from New York's Transportation Department, they analyze ridership patterns at meetings held by the nonprofit Code for America at tables with laptops - and sometimes beer.
"You're checking out a bike, you're checking it in," said Peter Drier, 37, director of technology for prime brokerage services at Wells Fargo who attends the meetings. "Those transactions, from a technological standpoint, are very simple, very Wall Street-like: Buy, sell. Check in, check out."
The biggest complaint of 64 percent of users is being unable to access or return one of the 6,000 bikes, according to a survey by the cycling advocate Transportation Alternatives. The nation's most populous city plays constant catch-up with the 93,000 riders to replenish barren docks and make room for returns.
AshleyMadison sued by ex-worker who claims she wrote too many fake female profiles (10 November 2013)
A dating website for married people who want to cheat on their spouses is being sued by a former employee who says she damaged her wrists typing up hundreds of fake profiles of sexy women.
Doriana Silva is seeking $20 million from Ashley Madison for what she calls the company's "unjust enrichment" at her expense, plus another $1 million in punitive and general damages.
In her statement of claim, Silva -- a Brazilian immigrant living in Toronto -- says she was hired to help launch a Portuguese-language version of the site and promised a starting salary of $34,000 plus benefits.
She was soon asked to create 1,000 "fake female profiles" meant to lure men to the new Brazilian Ashley Madison site -- and given only three weeks to complete the work, the document alleges.
"The purpose of these profiles is to entice paying heterosexual male members to join and spend money on the website," it reads.
GCHQ used 'Quantum Insert' technique to set up fake LinkedIn pages and spy on mobile phone giants (10 November 2013)
GCHQ uses doctored websites including those from the business network LinkedIn to secretly install surveillance software on the computers of unwitting target companies and individuals it wants to spy on, the German news magazine Der Spiegel has reported.
The disclosures, which were said to be based on the contents of intelligence data leaked by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, came less than a week after The Independent revealed the existence of a suspected secret GCHQ listening post on the roof of the British embassy in Berlin.
Der Spiegel said that GCHQ, the Government's surveillance centre based in Cheltenham, used "manipulated copies" of web pages put online by the business network LinkedIn to gain access to the computers of suspects it was targeting. LinkedIn has some 260 million users in more than 200 countries.
GCHQ and the National Security Agency, its US equivalent, were said to have developed a practice codenamed "Quantum Insert" to install spy software on the computers of targets without their knowledge. A LinkedIn spokesman was quoted as saying: "We were never told about this alleged activity and we would never approve of it, irrespective of what purpose it was used for."
Taiwan's 'White Shirt Army,' spurred by Facebook, takes on political parties (10 November 2013)
TAIPEI, Taiwan -- For decades this island has been bitterly divided into blue and green, the colors of its rival political parties. But that two-toned dichotomy has been upset in recent months by a sea of youths dressed in white.
Now known as the "White Shirt Army," the young people have become the biggest, most surprising social movement in Taiwan's recent history. Some experts believe their emergence represents a shift in the political thinking and direction of the country.
"We don't support any side or leader," said Liulin Wei, a lanky, soft-spoken 30-year-old who sparked the movement with a short online post four months ago. "We are for civil rights, common values, democracy. And we made it very simple to join. You just put on a white shirt."
The group's emphasis on civil-society issues comes after decades in which Taiwanese politics have been dominated by the existential question of independence from mainland China. While China considers Taiwan a rebellious province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary, Taiwan insists on its rights as a self-governed entity.
Look What's Behind the Recent Slowdown in Global Warming (10 November 2013)
Climate deniers like to point to the so-called global warming "hiatus" as evidence that humans aren't changing the climate. But according a new study, exactly the opposite is true: The recent slowdown in global temperature increases is partially the result of one of the few successful international crackdowns on greenhouse gases.
Back in 1988, more than 40 countries, including the US, signed the Montreal Protocol, an agreement to phase out the use of ozone-depleting gases like chlorofluorocarbons (today the Protocol has nearly 200 signatories).
According to the EPA, CFC emissions are down 90 percent since the Protocol, a drop that the agency calls "one of the largest reductions to date in global greenhouse gas emissions." That's a blessing for the ozone layer, but also for the climate. CFCs are a potent heat-trapping gas, and a new analysis published today in Nature Geoscience finds that slashing them has been a major driver of the much-discussed slowdown in global warming.
Without the Protocol, environmental economist Francisco Estrada of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México reports, global temperatures today would be about a tenth of a degree Celsius higher than they are. That's roughly an eighth of the total warming documented since 1880.
Estrada and his co-authors compared global temperature and greenhouse gas emissions records over the last century and found that breaks in the steady upward march of both coincided closely. At times when emissions leveled off or dropped, like during the Great Depression, the trend was mirrored in temperatures; likewise for when emissions climbed.
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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