Pam Rotella's Vegetarian FUN page -- News on health, nutrition, the environment, politics, and more!
NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2013
News from the Week of 24th to 30th of November 2013
Sex assault of sleeping woman on street reveals nothing has changed: DiManno (30 November 2013)
It's the common police refrain when a sexual predator is on the loose, on those occasions when they say anything publicly at all: Lock your doors, ladies.
But what if you don't have a door?
What if you're homeless and sleeping rough, exposed not just to the elements but any sex deviant who happens along?
In September, one woman who took shelter on the stoop outside Street Health was twice violated by different men within the span of an hour.
Earlier that very evening, the annual Take Back the Night march had been held in Regent Park. Then a couple of young men reclaimed it -- the night and the streets and the vulnerable women who live out there.
Black Friday protests demand improved conditions from Walmart (30 November 2013)
Thousands of Walmart workers and their supporters in the trade union movement have begun a nationwide series of Black Friday rallies against America's largest private employer, protesting against wages and conditions they say are so low that many employees are forced to rely on government assistance.
Protests are being staged in cities across the US including Los Angeles, Chicago, the Bay Area, Miami, Minneapolis and Washington. The campaigners, who include many current Walmart workers as well as former employees and members of the alliance Our Walmart, are demanding wages of at least $25,000, more full-time openings and an end to retaliation against workers who speak out about their conditions.
With rallies planned outside 1,500 stores, the wave of protests will mark a dramatic increase in the opposition to Walmart's pay structure from Black Friday 2012, when similar events were staged in about 1,000 stores.
"I think we got our message across, and people listened," said Isaiah Beaman, 21, a Walmart worker in Landover, Maryland, who travelled to Alexandria in Virginia to join about 200 protesters there. "All we want is for Walmart to give us a living wage and show us some respect -- that's not too much to ask from a multi-billion dollar company."
More liberal, populist movement emerging in Democratic Party ahead of 2016 elections (30 November 2013)
For more than two years, President Obama has endorsed reducing Social Security payments as part of an ambitious deal to tame the national debt. But then Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) -- viewed by supporters on the left as a potential 2016 presidential candidate -- embraced a far different proposal: increasing benefits for seniors.
As Obama struggles to achieve his second-term domestic agenda, a more liberal and populist voice is emerging within a Democratic Party already looking ahead to the next presidential election. The push from the left represents both a critique of Obama's tenure and a clear challenge to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the party's presumptive presidential front-runner, who carries a more centrist banner.
The left's influence will be on display in coming weeks when a high-profile congressional committee formed after the government shutdown faces a deadline to forge a budget agreement. Under strong pressure from liberals, the panel has effectively abandoned discussion of a "grand bargain" agreement partly because it probably would involve cuts to Social Security.
"The absolute last thing we should do in 2013 -- at the very moment that Social Security has become the principal lifeline for millions of our seniors -- is allow the program to begin to be dismantled inch by inch," Warren said recently on the Senate floor, announcing her support for a bill that would expand the program.
Daily dose of lycopene has great health benefits (30 November 2013)
The summer's last vine-ripened tomato may be just a sweet memory by now, but you still can get your daily dose of its cancer-fighting, heart-protecting phytonutrient lycopene. This superhero isn't just found in tomatoes. You can find it in other red and orange fruits and vegetables -- except for strawberries or cherries -- and it knocks out a full crew of disease-causing bad guys.
You've probably heard that lycopene can lower prostate cancer risk by 23 per cent with just two servings of cooked tomato products a week. But more recent discoveries show that one serving a day could reduce your level of heart-threatening, lousy LDL cholesterol as much as 10 per cent. And dishing up more servings could lower stroke risk up to 55 per cent, support strong bones and even help you get a good night's sleep.
All these health benefits come from lycopene's unmatched ability to devour excess free radicals -- at healthy levels, those oxygen molecules roam your body, powering cells, helping the immune system and converting calories into cellular energy. But when you eat fried foods, pack on extra weight and live with negative stress, you throw free radical production into overdrive. And excess free radicals cause chronic inflammation, unhealthy gene changes and generally rust you from the inside out.
Enter lycopene. We like it as Mother Nature intended it, from a tomato (cooked is best, raw is still great) that you eat at breakfast, lunch or dinner. True, supplements and tomato extracts are all the rage in Europe, and they're showing up on natural-food store shelves in North America, but over and over, science has shown you can't get all the powerful health-preserving benefits of nutrients found in food if they are taken in one at a time as a supplement. Even superstars like lycopene rely on a cast of supporting players to get their job done. So, if you absolutely will not eat tomatoes, we think a supplement is a good idea (just make sure you get one that contains lycopene -- some tomato extracts don't). But for the rest of you, here's our plan to help you get your daily dose of lycopene from food. It's such a powerful health booster that you only need a little (about 10 mg a day) to get big benefits.
'Day of Rage' Marks Resistance to Israel's Expulsion Plan (30 November 2013)
Thousands of people in Israel, the occupied territories and around the world took part in actions on Saturday to mark opposition to an Israeli plan that would expel up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins living in the Negev desert.
Dubbed a "Day of Rage," the day's protests were held against the proposed Prawer Plan, which would destroy roughly 35 "unrecognized" villages and enact new Israeli settlements.
If the plan gets its final approval, it "would be the largest confiscation of Palestinian-owned land since the 1950s," writes Nadia Ben-Youssef of the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
According to a media release posted by the International Solidarity Movement,
The Prawer-Begin plan will allow Israeli police to use force in its expulsion of Palestinian-Bedouins. It will also permit the police to arrest and imprison any Palestinian-Bedouin up to two years for violating the law. The plan negates Palestinian-Bedouin ownership rights in their ancestral land, it gives Israel's Prime Minister unprecedented powers to implement the plan and it legitimizes the use of violence and coercion in the execution of the plan. Moreover, it is a plan that has at its heart the demographic transformation of the Naqab (Negev) area, by expanding Jewish-Israeli presence on the expense of the indigenous Palestinian-Bedouins. In short, the Prawer-Begin Plan rises to a crime against humanity as delineated in the Rome Statue, Article 7.1 (d) and 7.2 (d).
Bangladesh Garment Factory Ablaze As Worker Anger Boils (30 November 2013)
Workers are suspected of causing a fire that engulfed one of Bangladesh's biggest garment factories which produces clothing for well-known retailers including the Gap and Walmart.
Firefighters were still battling flames on Friday after the 10-story building in the industrial district of Gazipur was set ablaze around midnight on Thursday.
Fifteen trucks carrying garments were also reportedly set ablaze.
"We were the biggest supplier of Gap in Bangladesh," Nur-e-Alam, a senior manager of factory owner Standard Group, told Reuters. "Our cargoes were ready for shipment and all that was burnt up."
Shots fired as Thai anti-government protests turn violent (30 November 2013)
(Reuters) - Gunshots were fired and an anti-government crowd attacked motorcyclists and vehicles near a stadium rally by supporters of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Saturday, as tensions boiled over amid attempts to topple her from power.
Several people were wounded when shots were fired as chaos erupted in Bangkok's Ramkamhaeng area, where protesters armed with sticks attacked a bus and taxi and badly beat two people, police and Reuters witnesses said.
The U.S. embassy in Bangkok expressed concern about the rising political tension. It was unclear who had fired the shots and how many people were injured, Adul Saengsingkaew, national police commissioner-general, told Reuters.
With a Sunday deadline set by demonstrators for the ousting of the government, police called for military backup to protect parliament and Yingluck's office, Government House, where protesters tore down stone and razor wire barriers ahead of a planned move to occupy it.
Glasgow pub helicopter crash - live updates (30 November 2013)
Gordon Smart, editor of the Sun's Scottish edition, saw the crash from a multi-storey car park nearby.
He told Sky News: "I thought it was a plane that was going to crash. I looked up at the sky and I could see the helicopter falling, tumbling ... and then there was an eerie silence for the last part of the fall.
"But the thing that was disturbing and shocking was there was no explosion. I couldn't understand why a helicopter would fall from that height and not explode. To see the angle, the speed and the trajectory of the fall ... it was a horrific sight."
Black Friday fights happen at Walmart stores across country (29 November 2013)
Violence erupted at several Walmart stores across the U.S. on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
NBC affiliate WVVA in Virginia reported that one man was stabbed during a fight over a parking space at a Walmart store. Police said one man threatened the other with a gun before a knife was pulled. The 35-year-old victim's arm was sliced to the bone.
Police said they seized a rifle at the scene. Both men were arrested.
At the Walmart in Rialto, California, at least three people were involved in a fight over cutting in line, the NBC station in Los Angeles said. Two were arrested and an officer suffered minor injuries while breaking up the brawl.
Activists Are Arrested Protesting Walmart's Low Wages (29 November 2013)
Walmart employees and supporters protested in cities all across the country on Black Friday in opposition to Walmart's low wages and poor treatment of workers. In some cases, protesters volunteered to engage in acts of civil disobedience and were arrested by police. Organizers expected 1,500 total protests in California, Alaska, New Jersey, Virginia, Florida, Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, Washington and Canada. In Secaucus, New Jersey, thirteen activists were arrested after sitting in the middle of the street to block traffic.
Marc Bowers said he worked at a Walmart in Dallas, Texas, for eight years before he was fired for participating in a strike. After Walmart fired him, he decided to get more involved with worker organizing, including traveling to New Jersey for this year's Black Friday protest. Bowers said he hopes to inspire other workers enduring similar hardships. (Photo: Elaine Rozier and Marc Bowers, right, at today's New Jersey protest)
"If you let people know what's going on, they'll get involved too. They're probably fed up with the same things," he said.
Bowers added that this labor struggle will influence future generations.
Of monarchs and milkweeds: How one species' pest is another's repast (29 November 2013)
Experts have known for years that monarchs are declining (and we've written about this before). But now the numbers are so low that the species is in danger of collapse.
There are several suspects in this decline. Logging in the Mexican overwintering zone hurts the butterflies. Broad-spectrum insecticides in both agriculture and gardens kill many every year. Climate change is almost certainly taking a toll, because insect's lifecycles are tuned to the changing of the seasons. As the seasons slip, that timing gets disrupted. Spring came late this year in much of the North American butterfly habitat, and surveys found fewer of almost every kind of butterfly, not just monarchs.
What imperils monarchs the most is the disappearance of their breeding habitat. The caterpillars eat only one plant: Milkweed. And milkweed has been vanishing from the landscape.
Well, that's not quite right: It hasn't just been disappearing, we have been disappearing it. Milkweed is, after all, a weed. It causes problems on farms, retarding the growth of crops. By demanding the cheapest food possible we implicitly demand that farmers keep their fields weed free, kill milkweed, and -- by extension -- kill monarchs.
Plants genetically engineered for resistance to the herbicide glyphosate helped rid fields of milkweed. It's a pretty tough, perennial plant, but it's no match for glyphosate. Several studies have [PDF] linked herbicide tolerant crops to the decline of milkweeds.
Tax breaks relied upon by many could vanish soon (29 November 2013)
A slowed effort to overhaul federal tax laws has put scores of tax breaks in jeopardy, including provisions that benefit teachers, parents of college students, homeowners and small businesses.
The tax breaks will expire at the end of the year unless Congress decides to extend them. But given Washington's gridlock, that might be a long shot.
They include provisions that allow individuals to deduct state and local sales taxes, and one that lets schoolteachers deduct money they spend on classroom supplies. Other expiring breaks including some exemptions for college tuition and mortgage insurance premiums.
Businesses would lose several tax credits or deductions - including breaks for some research expenses and "work opportunity tax credits" that entice employers to hire veterans, individuals on federal assistance programs or teens needing a summer job. Other vulnerable breaks target specific industries, including railroad track maintenance, film and television productions, and a so-called NASCAR credit that allows new racetrack owners to more quickly depreciate their investment.
Tax credits for production of wind energy and other renewable energy are also due to expire, as are breaks for the installation of more energy-efficient appliances or systems in homes and businesses.
I Tried to See Where My T-Shirt Was Made, and the Factory Sent Thugs After Me (29 November 2013)
As a child, Aruna dreamed of going to college. But by the time she was 15, when her government-subsidized schooling ended, she understood that she was too poor. Then, a stranger promised to change her life. He offered her a job at a textile factory that has supplied companies including, until recently, UK-based maternity wear maker Mothercare. Her pay would be about $105 a month--enough for food for her family, her further education, and most importantly, the chance to build a dowry.
As a child, Aruna dreamed of going to college. But by the time she was 15, when her government-subsidized schooling ended, she understood that she was too poor. Then, a stranger promised to change her life. He offered her a job at a textile factory that has supplied companies including, until recently, UK-based maternity wear maker Mothercare. Her pay would be about $105 a month--enough for food for her family, her further education, and most importantly, the chance to build a dowry.
When Aruna arrived at the factory, about 40 miles from her home, she found a vast facility where close to 1,000 girls, many in their teens, lived 10 or 15 to a room. From 8 a.m. till 10 p.m. every day, including weekends, she fed and monitored rusty machines that spun raw cotton into yarn. Her bosses often woke her in the middle of the night because, she recalls, there was "always some sort of work, 24 hours a day." Aruna made just a quarter of the $105 a month she was promised, about $0.84 a day.
Aruna shows me a scar on her hand, more than an inch long, where a machine cut her. She often saw girls faint from standing for too long. One had her hair ripped out when it got caught in a machine. Others were molested by their supervisors. "They said we would get less work if we slept with them," Aruna says. Sometimes girls would disappear, and everyone would speculate whether they'd died or escaped. Still, she needed the money, so she worked there for two years. After she left, a garment workers advocacy organization called Care-T helped her get her current job at the hospital, where she is slowly saving up for a dowry. When I ask if she still has her sights set on college, Aruna shakes her head and tears fill her eyes. But almost instantly, she wipes them away. There's no point thinking about that, since she already has a steady income. "I like my job at the hospital now," she says. Most of her friends are still working at the factory. (The names of Aruna and other former factory workers have been changed to protect them from retaliation.)
Thai protesters swarm grounds of army headquarters (29 November 2013)
ANGKOK -- Protesters in Thailand stormed the grounds of the national army headquarters on Friday, asking the military to support their increasingly tense campaign to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
In a letter addressed to the army chief, the protesters stopped short of calling for a coup but urged military leaders to "take a stand" in Thailand's spiraling political crisis and state which side they are on.
The crowd of 1,200 people stayed on the sprawling lawn of the Royal Thai Army compound for two hours before filing out peacefully. It was a bold act heavy with symbolism in a country that has experienced 18 successful or attempted military coups since the 1930s.
The most recent was in 2006, when the military ousted Yingluck's brother, former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who is living overseas to avoid a corruption conviction but is central to Thailand's political conflict.
Ebony and Ivy: The Secret History of How Slavery Helped Build America's Elite Colleges (29 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: It's a very Northern story, actually. You know, when you think about the colonial world, until the American Revolution, there's actually only one college in the South: William & Mary. There are a couple of other attempts, but they fail. The other eight colleges are all Northern schools. And they're actually located in key sites, for the most part, of the merchant economy and where the slave traders had sort of come to power and rose as the sort of financial and intellectual backers of the new culture of the colonies.
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about Harvard.
CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: Sure. Harvard, actually, from its very beginnings in 1636, the college, by 1638, actually has an enslaved man living on campus, who's referred to as "the Moor." And--
AMY GOODMAN: The Moor.
Got the winter blues? Vitamin B12 and other B vitamins may help alleviate depression (29 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) Adding vitamins to your diet can help reduce the feeling of depression, winter blues or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). B vitamins, especially vitamin B12, have been shown to help those suffering from feelings of anxiety or depression. Simply adding nutritional supplements can help lift the blues, especially during stressful periods of life. Many vitamins can be sourced from foods, but some, like vitamin B12, are difficult to source from food, so vitamin supplements are suggested. Winter depression and seasonal affective disorder are not only mental conditions. B vitamins are major contributors to how the brain and nervous system function, so getting proper nutrients in the diet can improve mood.
Vitamin B12 is needed to make red blood cells and nerves, and natural sources of vitamin B12 are only found in animal products, such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy, and cannot be made in the body. As there are no vegetarian sources of vitamin B12, vegetarians need to supplement. Stomach acid is needed to absorb vitamin B12 from foods, and many people do not have enough stomach acid to break down foods in order to obtain this vital nutrient, especially as aging decreases the amount of stomach acid secretion. For this reason, the National Institute of Medicine recommends that those over the age of 50 add supplemental B12 to their diet. Early symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency include numbness or tingling in the hands, joint pain, loss of taste or smell, and balance problems. A severe deficiency can create symptoms of depression and even delusional thinking.
Biotin is one of the water-soluble B vitamins. Known as B7 or vitamin H, biotin is used to turn sugar into energy in the body. Necessary for the walls of every cell in the body, biotin is also used in maintaining the nerve cells. Studies have shown that biotin can also reduce stress by maintaining the proper functioning of the nerves. Biotin added to the diet can help symptoms of depression, or the lassitude and somnolence associated with the winter blues.
Another B vitamin, niacin, known as vitamin B3, has been shown to help with depression and chronic brain syndrome, or dementia. Niacin is made in the body and can also be found in a variety of foods such as milk, eggs, yeast, beans, meat and fish. Niacin may also help improve memory, according to some sources.
Thiamin, or vitamin B1, is used to make energy by breaking down sugar in the body. It is also utilized in creating red blood cells. Thiamin can be found in foods such as grains and yeast, as well as in dairy products. Thiamin has been found to help treat symptoms of depression and irritability.
PAM COMMENTARY: Vitamin D is also important in climates that don't have much sunlight during winter months, and of course Omega-3 fatty acids are always important in preventing depression.
Obamacare -- a question of morality (29 November 2013)
There was a lot of bloviating about the Affordable Care Act on the talk shows last weekend. The Obamacare critics' chief focus was the open-enrollment fiasco, the un-kept presidential promise and the millions of cancellation notices. Overlaying the palaver was the unrestrained glee of health-reform opponents.
The same weekend, in a section of our nation's capital where pompous politicians and self-important opinion-makers seldom venture, the Affordable Care Act was the subject of thanks and praise at the First Baptist Church at Randolph Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW.
The talk-show criticism and the pulpit defense crystallized the Obamacare debate. Drawn into sharp relief is the struggle taking place in this country between doing what is right and good and an unashamed indulgence in the immorality of indifference.
The issue couldn't be put more simply.
Forty-nine million Americans do not have health insurance. For many of them, the ability to deal with their illnesses and injuries depends on their ability to pay. Lacking the money, some of them just go without the care they need. Better to put food on the table for the kids than to check out that awful pain in the gut. Can't afford to do both.
In North Carolina, a hard-right shift hits a roadblock (29 November 2013)
During an appearance at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C, a key center of power for the conservative movement, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory portrayed himself as a business-minded policy wonk, earnestly extolling the benefits of infrastructure development and government-efficiency measures. He might as well have been describing someone else.
For the last year, McCrory has engineered a hard-right shift in North Carolina that has crippled millions in his state. His 2012 election gave Republicans control of all three branches of the state's government for the first time since Reconstruction and they took advantage of it. In 2013 alone, North Carolina has said no to expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, approved a tax plan that redistributes wealth from poor to rich, cut education by half a billion dollars, instituted perhaps the toughest voting restrictions in the country, weakened campaign-finance laws, and passed its own version of Texas' controversial abortion measure.
In short, the GOP has turned America's 10th-largest state --traditionally known as a rare bastion of southern moderation--into a massive testing ground for pure conservative ideology. The hard-right lurch has already inflicted hardship on countless North Carolinians. And it has offered a real-world glimpse of the playbook that many conservatives--including McCrory's hosts at Heritage--would like to use across the country.
For McCrory--and his audience at Heritage--his extreme red-state experiment was supposed to deliver a success story that conservatives could be proud of. Instead, a growing backlash against the overreach--laws affecting women, minorities and the poor--is starting to cause real pain for the governor and his allies. His approval ratings have declined sharply, as have those for his Republican legislators.
Technology lets peeping Toms take spying to new level (28 November 2013)
Digital cameras are everywhere. In phones. In purses. And, thanks to some peeping Toms, in restrooms.
Police and victims' rights advocates are warning the public to be more aware of their surroundings as voyeurs find themselves increasingly able to buy better, easier-to-conceal cameras for less money.
Spy cameras that cost hundreds of dollars a few years ago can now be purchased online for as little as $15. One pending criminal case in Chesapeake involves a camera that looks like a car's key fob.
"The technology just keeps getting smaller and cheaper," said Ilse Knecht of the National Center for Victims of Crime. "It really enables people who might not have engaged in this in the past to get out there."
Phillips 66 kills hundreds of birds in Texas, gets fined by feds (28 November 2013)
Less than a week after announcing $1 million in penalties for Duke Energy for failing to protect birds from its wind turbines in Wyoming, the feds have announced a similar settlement involving bird deaths caused by a much dirtier energy source.
Last year, hundreds of migratory birds made the mistake of stopping at a 22-acre brine water pond in Hutchinson County, Texas. It was not the nourishing stopover they were expecting. The water in the brine pond, maintained by Phillips 66, was poisonous. About 260 birds were killed, mostly teal, a type of duck. The Amarillo Globe-News reports:
"Company officials reported the incident to wildlife officials in August 2012 and began taking steps to keep migratory birds from the pond, according to information from the company's compliance settlement.
"Phillips ... established an emergency treatment center for injured birds at the Borger facility, installed bird deterrent devices and contracted with another firm to keep birds away from the pond with a boat and air horns, federal authorities said."
A pope's pointed message (28 November 2013)
"Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."
That passage is not from some Occupy Wall Street manifesto. It was written by Pope Francis in a stunning new treatise on the Catholic Church's role in society -- and it is a powerful reminder that, however tiresome the political trench warfare in Washington may be, we have a duty to fight on.
The full implementation of Obamacare matters. Raising the minimum wage matters. Reforming a financial system that, as Francis noted, "rules rather than serves" matters. Hearing the anguished voices of those left hopeless by poverty matters; answering their pleas with education, health care and employment matters even more.
Francis, the first Jesuit and first non-European in the modern era to be named pope, clearly intends to make a real difference in the world -- too much of a difference, it appears, for some conservatives: Sarah Palin, a born-again Christian who attends a nondenominational church, said recently that Francis's open-arms attitude on social issues "has taken me aback." Would that a few more words might take her all the way aback to the obscurity from which she came.
Plan calls for Portsmouth ship to destroy chemical weapons (28 November 2013)
Destroying Syria's deadliest chemical weapons on land would come with vexing diplomatic and security problems as well as environmental issues. To avoid those potential troubles, U.S. officials say, the Obama administration is exploring the use of a government-owned ship to carry out the disposal in international waters.
Under a plan yet to be approved, the chemicals would be transported to the MV Cape Ray in the Mediterranean Sea. The nearly 700-foot ship, based in Portsmouth, Va., and owned by the Transportation Department's Maritime Administration, would be outfitted with a special system to neutralize the chemical material. U.S. warships would provide an escort and security.
The decision to proceed with the chemical disposal plan at sea would be made by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a global chemical weapons watchdog agency with 190 member states. In a statement Wednesday in the Netherlands, the watchdog agency said the effort to ship Syria's chemical arsenal out of the country "continues to pose challenges due to the security situation on the ground."
No country has committed to disposing of the chemical weapons on its own soil, which is why the U.S. offer to destroy the deadliest of the chemical components at sea is seen as a likely option. The U.S. officials who disclosed aspects of the U.S. portion of the plan spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about it by name.
Keystone pipeline hurt by cool Canada-U.S. relations, says ex-PM Joe Clark (28 November 2013)
The Harper government's stalled efforts to convince the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline have been a failure of diplomacy, says former prime minister Joe Clark.
Clark, in Calgary this week to promote his new book, How We Lead: Canada in a Century of Change, said the Conservative government has been hampered by its lack of action on environmental issues and the inability to find common ground with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Death of accused serial killer angers friend of victim (28 November 2013)
The death on Thursday of an accused serial killer awaiting trial on charges of murdering six people infuriated the friend of one of his alleged victims, who called him a "piece of slime."
Itzcoatl "Izzy" Ocampo died after being found sick in his jail cell, authorities said. Ocampo, 25, was charged last year in a "serial thrill-kill" rampage in Orange County that left four homeless men and a woman and her son dead.
"All this guy did was take away from people," said Ron Cady, a friend of Paulus "Dutch" Smit, a 57-year-old homeless man who was stabbed more than 60 times in December 2011 outside the Yorba Linda Library.
Cady, 52, wanted Ocampo to go to trial and said he was angry that the victims' families would not get to see him brought to justice.
The shooting of Justin: Victim shot in neck angered by 2-year sentence for his attackers (28 November 2013)
More than two years after he was shot through the neck and left for dead in a North York parking lot, Justin Ling-Leblanc's attackers have finally been sentenced.
After accounting for pretrial custody, the two young men found guilty of armed robbery and aggravated assault will each serve two more years. With good behaviour they could walk free in the spring of 2015.
Prosecutors sought significantly stiffer sentences.
"Two years, that's nothing. If that's the consequence of shooting somebody in the neck, why not go out and do it some more?" said Justin, 23, who miraculously survived after the .22-calibre bullet went in below his left ear, travelled in front of his spinal cord, and behind his jugular veins and carotid arteries before exiting the other side.
It's what police call a "through-and-through."
Navy suspends contracts with firm in port scandal (28 November 2013)
In a widening scandal, the Navy cut ties Wednesday with a second international company over "questionable business integrity" involving lucrative contracts to service U.S. ships in foreign ports.
The Navy announced that it has suspended contracts with British-based Inchcape Shipping Services Ltd. and its affiliated companies. The firm has provided "ship husbanding" services to U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean.
Navy officials said the suspension of Inchcape is not connected to the investigation into another longtime contractor in the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia.
The investigation into Glenn Defense Marine Asia has led to criminal charges in San Diego against two Navy commanders, a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent, and two Malaysian business executives.
Once flying high among currencies, loonie faces downgrade to 88-cents, says bank (28 November 2013)
OTTAWA--The humbling of the once high-flying Canadian dollar has only just begun.
It's been 10 months since the loonie last enjoyed parity status with the U.S. dollar, but analysts say Canadians should not expect a rebound any time soon. They forsee the currency falling through the 90-cent US floor.
U.S. investment banker Goldman Sachs is the latest financial house to sell the loonie short, forecasting the currency to coast into the 88-cent range next year. That is an even gloomier outlook than the one issued by the TD Bank a few months ago, which predicted it near 90 cents by the close of 2013.
The loonie closed up 0.08 of a cent at 94.46 cents US on Thursday on the news that Canada's current account deficit had narrowed. It may gain a little more lift Friday if Statistics Canada reports, as expected, a healthy 2.5 per cent advance in the economy for the third quarter.
But these temporary recoveries are fooling no one -- the loonie has lost about seven per cent in value from the beginning of the year and fundamentals point to further deterioration.
EVMS students create, run free clinic in Norfolk (28 November 2013)
For Cara Wright, taking someone's blood pressure at a free clinic on Southampton Avenue in Norfolk is pretty straightforward.
Not so the other tasks the third-year medical student has taken on this year:
Finding money for medical supplies. Persuading fellow Eastern Virginia Medical School students and community doctors to help treat the uninsured. Figuring out what to do when patients don't show up for appointments.
That has given the 30-year-old Northern Virginian student new insight into the needs of the uninsured in the community where she's spent the past three years.
Tough Thanksgiving for Food Stamp Families (27 November 2013)
Forget conservative fantasies of food stamp beneficiaries living high on the public dole and feasting on king crab legs--life on food stamps is anything but luxurious.
The average daily food stamp benefit is $4.44, which as you might imagine is almost unworkable. It's very difficult for beneficiaries not to go over that amount each day, and data collected by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that 90 percent of benefits are redeemed by the twenty-first day of each month. So the last week of the month is particularly rough for people who rely on food stamps...
That's worth reflecting on during this Thanksgiving week--a holiday known almost exclusively for its food, and one that always falls during the last week of the month. Having anything resembling a proper Thanksgiving meal on $4.44 per person is already basically impossible, and most beneficiaries are over-budget by this point anyhow.
Remember, too, that on November 1 food stamp benefits were reduced thanks to indifference by both Democrats and Republicans towards the already paltry benefit amount. So this Thanksgiving is even tougher than years' past, and the upcoming winter months will be as well. Nonprofits that serve the hungry are buckling under increased demand.
Sex assaults on sleeping street woman raise questions all around: DiManno (27 November 2013)
On the steps of a social outreach agency, a woman is sleeping. It is about four o'clock in the morning.
A young man comes along. He sexually assaults her and leaves. Then, within the hour, another young man comes along. He sexually assaults her, too.
Who is she? Police might not yet know.
Did the woman even realize she'd been attacked, twice? Police can't or won't say.
Was she aware or was she insensate, on drugs, drunk, mentally ill? Police aren't speculating.
"Because it's an open investigation, I don't want to tip any part of it," says Det. Marilyn White, of the Sex Crimes Unit.
Why Reporters in the U.S. Now Need Protection (27 November 2013)
As the experience of our incredibly courageous honorees tonight demonstrates, in many places around the world the life of a journalist who is determined to find and report the truth is no better today than it was 32 years ago. Reporters, editors, photographers, and publishers are still threatened, beaten, and murdered, often with impunity. The core mission of CPJ is just as critical as it ever was, in many respects more so.
What has changed is the position of us, American journalists. We are still far better off than our beleaguered cousins in danger zones abroad, of course.
But financially, I don't need to tell this group of the hammering our industry has taken in the last decade. Publications shrinking or even closing, journalists bought out or laid off, beats shrunk or eliminated.
And now, more recently, we are facing new barriers to our ability to do our jobs -- denial of access and silencing of sources.
For the starkest comparison, I urge any of you who haven't already done so to read last month's report, commissioned by CPJ and written by Len Downie, former editor of the Washington Post. It lays out in chilling detail how an administration that took office promising to be the most transparent in history instead has carried out the most intrusive surveillance of reporters ever attempted.
Cell phone radiation breast cancer link - New study raises grave concerns (27 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) A new study raises concerns of a possible association between cell phone radiation exposure and breast cancer in young women.
The research team, led by Dr. Lisa Bailey, a former president of the American Cancer Society's California Division and one of California's top breast surgeons, studied four young women - aged from 21 to 39 years old - with multifocal invasive breast cancer.
The researchers observed that all the patients developed tumors in areas of their breasts next to where they carried their cell phones, often for up to 10 hours per day, for several years. None of the patients had a family history of breast cancer. They all tested negative for BRCA1 and BRCA2 - breast cancer genes linked to about one-half of breast cancer cases - and they had no other known breast cancer risks.
Imaging of the young girls' breasts revealed a clustering of multiple tumor foci in the part of the breast directly under where their cell phones touched their body.
Creigh Deeds: 'I am alive for a reason' (27 November 2013)
(CNN) -- Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds, who was stabbed multiple times by his son, said he will work to change how mental health services are delivered so that "other families don't have to go through what we are living."
Deeds' son, Austin "Gus" Deeds, committed suicide after the fight.
"I hope we can make a positive change as a result of this tragedy," Deeds told The Recorder, a newspaper based in Monterey, Virginia.
"I think there may be a bigger problem here. I am alive for a reason, and I will work for change. I owe that to my precious son," he said.
Al Gore is a vegan now -- and we think we know why (27 November 2013)
Republican caricatures of Al Gore notwithstanding, the former vice president was never a stereotypical woolly environmentalist. A practicing Southern Baptist, Gore attended divinity school and, though he opposed the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the military rather than protesting it. Gore rose in the 1980s as a moderate "New Democrat," who was friendly to business, hawkish on foreign policy and, yes, excited about the possibilities of technological innovation. As vice president, he set about the earnest work of "reinventing government" to make it more efficient.
Gore's attraction to environmentalism, much like that of New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's, is that of a serious wonk, not a dirty hippie who finds water conservation a convenient excuse not to bathe.
And so it is actually quite remarkable that, as Forbes reported in this week's issue and The Washington Post confirmed with a source close to Gore on Monday, he has gone vegan. Forbes merely tossed in a throwaway line referring to Gore as "newly vegan," in a story about investors looking at ways of replacing eggs with plant-based formulas. The Post was unable to get any further details beyond confirmation from an unnamed Gore associate.
Perhaps, as the Post's Juliet Eilperin suggests, Gore was worried about his health. Former President Bill Clinton, who was famously fond of McDonald's, became a vegan in 2011. (He had a quadruple bypass in 2004.) Gore, as conservatives never tire of pointing out, put on a few pounds after leaving office.
The Pope Slams "Tyranny" of Capitalism and "Idolatry of Money," But Opposes Shift on Women, Abortion (27 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Pope Francis has used his first major written work to attack capitalism as "new tyranny," while urging global leaders to fight poverty and inequality in a document published Tuesday. Pope Francis denounced the "idolatry of money" and "trickle-down" economics policies as well as consumerism and a financial system which he says rules rather than serves. The pope urged politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education, and health care." The pope also criticized the media for how they cover economic issues. He wrote, "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" -- In his 84 page document, called "The Joy of the Gospel" the pope called for a more decentralized, less Vatican-focused church that puts the concerns of the poor and the marginalized at its center. However, the pope rejected change in two other areas; the ordination of women to the priesthood and the church's view on abortion. At a news conference, Bishop Rino Fisichella read part of the document.
BISHOP RINO FISICHELLA: It is essential we recover interpersonal relationships to which we must accord a priority over the technology which seeks to governor relationships as with the remote control deciding where, when, and for how long to meet others on the basis of one's own preferences. As well as the more usual and more diffused challenges, however, we must be alive to those which impinge more directly on our lives. The sense of daily uncertainty with evil consequences, the various forms of social disparity, the fetishism of money and the dictatorship of a faceless economy. The exasperation of consumption and unbridled consumerism. In short, we find ourselves in the presence of a globalization of indifference and the sneering contempt towards ethics, accompanied by a constant attempt to marginalize every critical warning over the supremacy of the market which with its trickle-down, creates the illusion of helping the poor. If the church, today, appears still highly credible in many countries of the world, even where it is a minority, it is because of her works of charity and solidarity.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Bishop Rino Fisichella reading out part of Pope Francis' first papal pronouncement. Well, for more we're joined by two guests, both longtime dissidents within the Catholic Church. In San Francisco, we're joined by Matthew Fox, author of over two dozen books, most recently, "Letters to Pope Francis: Rebuilding a Church with Justice and Compassion," and "Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation." He is a former Catholic priest who was first stopped from teaching liberation theology and creation spirituality by Cardinal Ratzinger, then expelled from the Dominican order to which he had belonged for 34 years. He is currently serves as an Episcopal priest. Via Democracy Now! video stream we're joined by Father Roy Bourgeois. 2012 the Vatican dismissed Bourgeois from the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers which he served for 45 years over his support of women's ordination. Father Bourgeois is the founder of the School of the Americas Watch, which just held its annual protest against what is now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Southern Cooperation of Fort Benning, Georgia. It used to be called the School of the Americas. The organization was also in Honduras monitoring the recent elections. Father Roy Bourgeois wrote the book "My Journey from Silence to Solidarity." Matthew Fox, Roy Bourgeois, thank you so much for joining us. I want to start with Matthew Fox. You have written this open letter to the Pope calling for rebuilding a church-based on compassion, a radical message. Do you think he delivered that message?
MATTHEW FOX: I think that he delivered a tremendous message yesterday with this document about justice in the world. I think it goes far beyond church reform. I like that, that his perspective is not just about caring for the church, but going beyond and taking on the powerful forces of the economies that we are currently dealing with that he is willing to really critique the economy with strong language and connecting it to the biblical tradition of justice and the prophetic work on behalf of the poor. As he says, priority for the poor is the gospel itself. So, I commend him for that. Obviously, within the church itself, he is still very weak when it comes to women issues. He said, for example a few months ago, we need women theology. Well, my goodness, for 45 years, there has been women in theology. Women have been first ignored and then condemned. In fact, the first objection by Ratzinger to my work, the number one is that I'm a feminist theologian, number two that I call God mother and so forth. So, there has been women in theology for 34 years that the Vatican has turned its back on. So, there's a lot of work to do in the church itself, but I'm glad that he is thinking beyond the church and he's seeing the church more as the people of God and not as hierarchy. He is quite strong on that. That was one of the key element of the reform of the Vatican Council that in fact, that previous two popes turned their back on, and as I wrote in my book, "The Pope's War," really they created a schism because they did turn their back on the preferential option for the poor that the Vatican Council and the Gospels are pretty explicit about that.
EU dismisses claims that U.S. guilty of financial spying (27 November 2013)
(Reuters) - The European Union backed down on Wednesday from threats to suspend agreements granting the United States access to European data, rejecting calls for a tougher stance over alleged U.S. spying.
The move marks an abrupt about-turn for the European Commission, the EU executive, after warnings it issued in July to U.S. officials following revelations that Washington had spied on European citizens and EU institutions.
Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU's commissioner for home affairs, said she had found no proof of U.S. wrongdoing, either in the sharing of flight passenger records or in the tracking of international payments.
"I have received written assurances from the U.S. authorities," Malmstrom said, referring to the SWIFT payments system in Belgium, which exchanges millions of messages on transactions globally and which the United States has access to in order to intercept terrorism plots.
Canada knew U.S. spying on G20: CBC report (27 November 2013)
The federal government let an American spy agency conduct surveillance in Canada during the G8 and G20 summits in 2010, the CBC reports.
Citing secret documents released by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, CBC reported Wednesday evening that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government allowed the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct a six-day operation, turning the American embassy in Ottawa into a security command post to spy as dozens of delegates flocked to Canada during the global summits in June 2010.
The documents said the U.S. plans for the G20 in Toronto were "closely co-ordinated with the Canadian partner" -- Communications Security Establishment Canada, or CSEC -- but do not reveal the targets of the surveillance, according to CBC's report.
A spokesperson for the prime minister declined to comment on the report.
NSA 'collected details of online sexual activity' of Islamist radicals (27 November 2013)
The NSA has been collecting details about the online sexual activity of prominent Islamist radicals in order to undermine them, according to a new Snowden document published by the Huffington Post.
The American surveillance agency targeted six unnamed "radicalisers", none of whom is alleged to have been involved in terror plots.
One document argues that if the vulnerabilities they are accused of were to be exposed, this could lead to their devotion to the jihadist cause being brought into question, with a corresponding loss of authority.
As an example of vulnerabilities, it lists: "Viewing sexually explicit material online or using sexually persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls."
Blue light found to improve brain function and focus better than coffee (27 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) Swedish researchers have made a fascinating discovery with regard to short wavelength blue light that suggests that it could be used as a natural therapy to help improve cognitive function and boost energy levels. In a test comparing the effects of blue light to caffeine and several other modalities, a team of scientists from Mid Sweden University in Ostersund found that simple exposure to blue light actually outperforms caffeine in helping people to think more clearly, focus on the task at hand and have enough energy to get through the day.
While previous research has shown that exposure to blue light, especially right before bed, can obstruct the natural sleep cycle by interfering with hormone production, this latest study found quite the opposite in terms of how it affects brain and motor function. Not only does exposure to blue light help promote better focus, according to the latest data, even in the presence of distractions, but it also enhances overall psychomotor function and alertness.
To arrive at this conclusion, a group of 21 healthy individuals was instructed to perform a computer-based psychomotor vigilance test both before and after undergoing one of four randomly assigned trial conditions. These conditions included exposure to the following: white light and a placebo, white light and 240 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, blue light and a placebo, or blue light and 240 mg of caffeine. Following the exposures and the test, the research team analyzed the results using the Karolinska Sleepiness Scale.
What they found was that both the caffeine only and the blue light only groups experienced enhanced accuracy when taking a visual reaction test that required making a decision. Not only were the participants in these two groups better equipped to make the decision, but they were also able to make it faster than those in the other two groups. Additionally, the blue light and caffeine groups were found to have improved overall psychomotor function compared to the other groups.
Big Retail Is Watching You: Exposing Walmart's Massive Data Collection Schemes (27 November 2013)
Outside of its growing reputation for poverty wages, worker intimidation and an overall culture of employee repression, a new report released Wednesday reveals that retail giant Walmart is also throwing its weight behind a massive consumer tracking effort with particular implications for people of color.
Authored by a coalition of consumer rights and social justice groups, the report, Consumers, Big Data and Online Tracking in the Retail Industry: A Case Study of Walmart (pdf), examines many of the ways in which large retailers--with a particular focus on Walmart--collect consumer data through mobile devices and online activity and use that information to "tease out meaningful patterns," as noted by a November 2011 Walmart blog post.
The report notes that people of color and other marginalized and low-income communities are being disproportionately affected by such data collection since studies have shown they are less likely than wealthier consumers to protect their data or avoid the marketing ploys which target them.
"Walmart is collecting information on millions of Americans who are disproportionately low-income Black folks and other communities of color," said Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of ColorOfChange who, along with Sum of Us and the Center for Media Justice, authored the report.
Why Are Big Retailers Trying to Kill Thanksgiving? (27 November 2013)
In case you haven't noticed, Black Friday isn't just on Friday anymore. The retail industry's high-density mass of starry lights, Santa dioramas, and door-buster shopping deals really ought to be renamed the Black Hole--it just keeps sucking up everything around it. That holiday known as Thanksgiving? Pretty much gone. Especially if you work for one of the nation's largest retailers.
In 2006, Bart Reed, Best Buy Co.'s consumer marketing director, told the Charleston Gazette that the company had decided not to open its stores any earlier than 5 a.m. on Black Friday because it wanted to give its employees a "work-life balance." Then, five years later, Best Buy moved its Black Friday opening back to Thursday at midnight. This year, for the first time, it will open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
Best Buy is far from alone in its cold-hearted greed. The chart above shows how America's biggest retailers have competed in recent years to appeal to crazed shoppers at the expense of their employees--not to mention the one holiday where we're supposed to contemplate being grateful for what we've got, rather than just coveting more stuff.
The undisputed leader in the assault on Thanksgiving is cleary Kmart, which has opened its doors on Turkey Day for the past 22 years. Yet this sad legacy hasn't stopped Kmart from finding ways to make its workers even more miserable. For Thanksgiving 2010, Kmart closed at the arguably reasonable hour of 9 p.m. In 2011, it closed at 4 p.m. and then reopened four hours later, before closing at 3 a.m. on Black Friday. That must not have been crazy enough, since this year Kmart will open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day and stay open for 40 hours straight, not closing until 11 p.m. on Black Friday.
Another Obamacare delay: How big a blow? (27 November 2013)
Small businesses hoping to shop for health-insurance coverage at HealthCare.gov will now have to wait until November 2014.
The delay, announced Wednesday afternoon by the Obama administration, is the second for the rollout of the SHOP Marketplace -- or Small Business Health Options Program -- since late September. As delays go in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it's not the biggest one the administration could have made. But it still matters.
Originally, the SHOP Marketplace -- which is for businesses with 50 or fewer employees in states that use the federal health-insurance marketplace -- was scheduled to open on Oct. 1, along with the rest of HealthCare.gov. But the Obama administration announced Sept. 26 that SHOP launch wouldn't happen until November.
Since then, the shopping feature for individuals on HealthCare.gov has been so problematic that the government's tech team has focused on that rather than getting SHOP up to speed.
Fed-up Chicago residents sue over petcoke ashheaps (27 November 2013)
Residents of Chicago's southeast side aren't going to sit idly by as their city, state and federal governments try to protect them from byproducts of tar-sands oil refining -- the black dust that's been blowing over their homes from nearby petcoke piles. The residents have called in a team of lawyers, and they are going after the companies that produce and store the uncovered piles of carbon powder.
The petcoke is left over after the refining of tar-sands oil, most of which is coming into the Midwest from Canada. Petcoke can't be legally burned as fuel in the U.S., but subsidiaries of Koch Industries have been buying up the waste across the country anyway, presumably for sale into countries with less strict air pollution laws. And two of the defendants named in the lawsuit are subsidiaries of Koch Industries, including KCBX Terminals, which is storing some of the piles of petcoke along the Calamut River.
Koch isn't the only familiar name listed as a bad guy in the new lawsuit. BP is also named as a defendant. That's because much of the problem petcoke is coming from the company's nearby Whiting refinery, where billions of dollars have been spent to help it process Canadian crude. From a Nov. 15 Bloomberg story:
"The 420,000-barrel-a-day Whiting plant brought online a new delayed coker, according to a person familiar with operations at the plant. Combined with a crude unit that started in June, the equipment will allow Whiting to process as much as 85 percent Canadian heavy crude, up from about 20 percent, the company's website shows. The refinery is scheduled to ramp up heavy oil consumption over a three-month period, the company said in an Oct. 29 presentation."
For Canada's remote towns, living with polar bears is growing more risky (27 November 2013)
The ice season in Hudson Bay has fallen by about one day each year over the past three decades, interrupting the polar bears' prime feeding season in the spring and keeping them off the ice longer into the autumn and winter.
Scientists say the starving bears are resorting to risky and atypical behaviours, such as cannibalism, and are wandering far inland, where they come into closer proximity with people in the small communities across the north.
For Windsor, who has a bandolier of shotgun shells slung around the seat of his truck, meeting a bear is all in a day's work. The officer, equipped with scare pistol armed with blanks, an array of firecrackers, an air horn and a paintball gun, spends his nights and days herding polar bears out of town and back on to the tundra.
"The bears that we deal with in our programme, we are teaching them to be scared of people," Windsor says. "Every bear that we chase, maybe we are helping out somebody down the line that encounters a bear, because it recognises that that's a person -- and that is something to be scared of."
Juneau grizzly killed by SUV had crayons in stomach (27 November 2013)
JUNEAU, ALASKA -- A Department of Fish and Game biologist says a young grizzly killed by a sport utility vehicle in a Juneau neighborhood had been feeding on garbage.
Stephanie Sell tells the Juneau Empire (http://bit.ly/Ij4BZc) the contents of the brown bear's stomach included broccoli and crayons.
The bear was struck just before 7 a.m. Tuesday on Glacier Highway in Lemon Creek between downtown Juneau and the Mendenhall Valley.
The woman driver was not injured.
Egypt: Female Protesters Released, Found in Desert (27 November 2013)
The Egyptian authorities have released 26 women who were detained on Tuesday during the dispersal of a protest against military trials for civilians.
The released detainees were later found on a desert road in the outskirts of Cairo, according to a tweet by activist Salma Said.
At least 24 other protesters are still detained for four days pending investigations, according to an interior ministry statement.
Tuesday counts as the first application of the widely-criticized new protest law on Sunday.
Holidays bring family together ... for tech support (27 November 2013)
The trip to Mom and Dad's to celebrate Thanksgiving comes with turkey, pumpkin pie and a chance to watch football on that fancy new flat-screen TV -- after you program the universal remote control, that is.
Across Minnesota, college kids and young adults will likely spend part of the holidays installing updates on laptops and explaining how to download apps onto tablets. Plenty of parents and grandparents have mastered iPads and Androids; however, as digital devices become more plentiful and sophisticated, young adults are increasingly being forced into playing tech support.
"It can be anything," said Marcus Wilson, 24, of Woodbury, who works in IT and fields questions from his parents at home. "They'll just be like, 'My computer isn't running perfectly lately. Can you figure this out?' "
While it may seem natural to keep tech questions all in the family, doing so can create stress along existing generational fault lines. Tech-savvy children often are baffled by parents who need guidance through every click, plus it can be awkward to teach someone who has spent their lives teaching you.
A Thanksgiving tradition: A great feast -- and pipes clogged with used cooking grease (27 November 2013)
The blob lives.
It's big, it oozes, it's disgusting, and this Thanksgiving, it could be lurking in your house. It's created in the kitchen, with too much used cooking grease poured down too many drains. And this time of year, the blob grows bigger and more fearsome than ever.
During the holiday, kitchen pipes are stuffed with more grease, food and fats than any time of the year. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is a yearly bonanza for retailers -- and plumbers.
"When you work for Roto-Rooter, everybody knows you don't get the day off," said Paul Abrams, spokesman for the Roto-Rooter plumbing company. "It's the one day you don't ask off. Black Friday, it's all hands on deck."
In every state, Abrams said, Roto-Rooter's army of 7,000 employees gears up for a 50 percent increase in service calls from people with clogged sinks, overflowing toilets and drains that don't work because warm grease cooled in pipes overnight and turned into a blob.
Three More NYC Contractors Found Guilty in Massive CityTime Scandal to Modernize Payroll System (27 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Before we go on to our first story, the story you exposed, the CityTime scandal in New York, the largest in New York history, more people have just been convicted.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, on Friday afternoon, a jury took -- a federal jury in Manhattan federal court took 10 hours to convict three of the masterminds of the CityTime fraud, a massive fraud. Mark Mazer, Gerard Denault and Dimitri Aronshtein. They are now the sixth, seventh, and eighth people who have been found guilty in this massive conspiracy that went on for almost a decade with contractors for New York City who were creating a payroll system, stealing tens of millions of dollars. In fact, the main contractor, SAIC, the defense contractor, ended up paying the city of New York back $500 million and then federal authorities seized -- they say now they have seized about $40 million more in assets from the criminal conspiracy. So, altogether, the taxpayers have recouped $540 million. I started the articles in late 2009 and early 2010. By the end of 2010, the New York City Department of Investigations and then the federal prosecutor, Preet Bharara, then began arresting people. Altogether, 11 people were arrested in the conspiracy. Eight have now been convicted, 2 of them fled to India with about $35 million that they took with them when they fled to India. One subsequently died before the trial. So, it has been a really amazing saga, of one after another.
AMY GOODMAN: And CityTime was providing?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Interestingly, it was supposed to be a payroll and timekeeping system to make sure that the 300,000 city workers did not cheat on her hours. And it was the people who are developing the system to assure that the city workers weren't cheating who are robbing the taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Bitcoin price zooms through $1,000 as enthusiasm grows (27 November 2013)
(Reuters) - The price of the digital currency bitcoin soared above $1,000 for the first time on Wednesday, extending a 400 percent surge in less than a month that some see as a growing bubble in an asset that is still a mystery to many.
Bitcoin hit a high of $1,073 on Tokyo-based exchange Mt. Gox, the best-known operator of a bitcoin digital marketplace, compared with just below $900 the previous day.
At the beginning of the month, bitcoin, a prominent digital currency that is not backed by a government or central bank, traded at around $215. The spike in its price has some believing that it has become overvalued in a short period of time, owing to its limited supply and increasing demand.
"A narrow asset class and lots of liquidity is the perfect environment for a rapid burst up in value, and then corrections," said Sebastien Galy, a currency strategist at Societe Generale in New York.
Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day, every day. The supply of the currency, which is "mined" by solving math problems, is limited, and recently stood at 12 million bitcoins, worth about $12.9 billion at recent prices.
Ancient Chinese postpartum care is alive in Toronto (27 November 2013)
Part nurse, Chinese medicine practitioner, nanny and caregiver, Sharon Keung has job skills much in demand by new parents in the Chinese-Canadian community.
Chinese-language classified and online ads are forever seeking yue-sao or postpartum doulas who tend to a new mother and her baby's emotional and physical needs for the first month after birth.
The demand is so high that recruitment services for experienced yue-sao have sprung up and social agencies are starting to offer short-term training programs in Greater Toronto and Vancouver.
A three-day course at Toronto's Chinese Canadian Community Service Centre is so popular that there's a waiting list.
China monitored US B52 bombers' flight through disputed air defence zone (27 November 2013)
The open challenge by the US to China's new air defence zone over the East China Sea was met with a muted response in Beijing, as China faced growing resistance to its attempt to extend its authority in the region.
China's defence ministry said it had monitored two unarmed B-52 bombers that flew though the zone on Tuesday, and reasserted its ability to control the airspace. But its statement did not mention a previous warning that it would take "defensive emergency measures" if aircraft did not respond to instructions.
The zone covers islands at the heart of a long-running territorial dispute with Japan and overlaps with those already established by Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Analysts say China is testing Japan's administrative control of the islands, while Beijing says it is exercising its right to self-defence.
Washington and Tokyo are refusing to acknowledge the zone and US officials said the B-52s had entered it without identifying themselves, with no attempted contact from the Chinese military. The two main Japanese commercial carriers, Japan Airlines and ANA -- which initially offered China flight plans -- stopped doing so on Wednesday under government pressure.
Thailand's Suthep: dissent crusher turns protest leader (27 November 2013)
(Reuters) - In 2010, the last time Thailand was gripped by large-scale anti-government protests, Suthep Thaugsuban, then deputy prime minister, was the man wielding the sword.
The Democrat Party politician authorized a crackdown by security forces that left downtown Bangkok burning and killed scores of red-shirt supporters of his arch-rival, Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist former prime minister who was overthrown in a 2006 coup.
Now, just three-and-a-half-years later, Thai politics has flipped. Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is the prime minister. This time, Suthep is on the outside, leading protests aimed at bringing down Yingluck's government.
And this time, he thinks, Yingluck could not use force to stop him, even if she tried.
"I believe Yingluck doesn't have the authority to order the police or military to do anything," Suthep told Reuters at Bangkok's Finance Ministry, which has been occupied by protesters since Monday. "They've realized she's a prime minister that doesn't obey the rule of law."
Food Stamp Costs Are Decreasing Without The GOP's Cuts (26 November 2013)
As Congress debates renewing the farm bill, Republicans have been pressing for big cuts to the food stamp budget as part of the negotiations. House GOP leaders want to slash as much as $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over the next decade, a cut that would affect nearly four million low-income people. Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), a former funeral director and current House pointman in the negotiations, has called the "explosion of food stamps in this country" the "defining moral issue of our time," and he's set out to "reform" the program by imposing work requirements on recipients.
Southerland would specifically push states to end SNAP benefits for poor families in areas of high unemployment. The premise behind his reform proposals is that the food stamp program is "growing into oblivion." But a new study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that in fact, enrollment in the food program, which hit a record during the recession, has already started to plateau and is projected to decline about five percent next year even if Congress does absolutely nothing.
Part of that decline is the result of a seven-percent, across-the-board cut that went into effect November 1 with the expiration of about $5 billion in funding increases from the 2009 stimulus bill. But even without that cut, caseloads have been stabilizing since 2011 and remained flat this year. Now, the Congressional Budget Office projects that, barring any major fiscal disasters, the food stamp budget is on track to return to 1995 levels in about five years, falling about two to five percent a year as the economy recovers. All this even if Congress doesn't do anything to "reform" a program that kept nearly five million people (2.2 million of them children) out of poverty last year and is responsible for broad economic and public health gains.
If Southerland gets his way, though, instead of letting a recovering economy pare down food stamp spending, Congress will throw 1.7 million of the nation's poorest people out of the program--people whose annual income is less than $2,500 a year--and incentivize the states to drop even more so they can use the savings on other things, like tax cuts for the wealthy. It's times like these when doing nothing seems like a good idea.
Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds, who was stabbed by son, vows to fix mental-health care (26 November 2013)
Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds is vowing to help to fix the mental health system that failed his son, a week after 24-year-old Gus Deeds stabbed his father and then shot himself dead.
The tragic attack occurred 13 hours after Gus Deeds was released from emergency custody. He had undergone a mental health evaluation and it was recommended that he receive treatment in a psychiatric facility. But the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board (CSB) -- the health authority that oversees the state's mental health system -- couldn't find a center that could accommodate Deeds and provide treatment for him.
"I am alive for a reason, and I will work for change," Creigh Deeds told The Recorder, a Virginia newspaper, on Monday about the need for reform in the state's mental health system.
"I owe that to my precious son ... I have very strong opinions about the CSB, and feel like they are responsible," Deeds added about working to change the system.
"My life's work now is to make sure other families don't have to go through what we are living."
Deeds blames agency in son's suicide, vows change (26 November 2013)
Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds, who is recuperating at home after his son attacked him with a knife before taking his own life last week, blamed a local mental health agency for the tragedy in an interview with a Bath County newspaper Monday.
Deeds told The Recorder newspaper that the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board, a local agency that administers mental health and substance-abuse services, is "responsible" for Austin Deeds' death.
The elder Deeds, who was the 2009 Democratic nominee for Virginia governor, said it was too soon to talk in great detail about his son's death, but he vowed to help other families in crisis receive the help they need, The Recorder reported.
"I cry a lot. I can't focus now and talk to anyone," Deeds said in an exchange of emails with the newspaper's publisher and a reporter who has covered him for many years. "I have very strong opinions about the CSB, and feel like they are responsible. My life's work now is to make sure other families don't have to go through what we are living."
Deeds, 55, was stabbed in the face and chest by his son after an argument last Tuesday outside their home in western Virginia, according to police. Austin Deeds, 24, was later found inside dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said.
Without Reagan's Treason, Iran Would Not Be a Problem (26 November 2013)
Republican attempts to sabotage a Democratic president's deal with Iran are nothing new, however.
Just ask Jimmy Carter.
In 1980 Carter thought he had reached a deal with newly-elected Iranian President Abdolhassan Bani-Sadr over the release of the fifty-two hostages held by radical students at the American Embassy in Tehran.
Bani-Sadr was a moderate and, as he explained in an editorial for The Christian Science Monitor earlier this year, had successfully run for President on the popular position of releasing the hostages:
"I openly opposed the hostage-taking throughout the election campaign.... I won the election with over 76 percent of the vote.... Other candidates also were openly against hostage-taking, and overall, 96 percent of votes in that election were given to candidates who were against it [hostage-taking]."
Carter was confident that with Bani-Sadr's help, he could end the embarrassing hostage crisis that had been a thorn in his political side ever since it began in November of 1979.
But Carter underestimated the lengths his opponent in the 1980 Presidential election, California Governor Ronald Reagan, would go to screw him over.
Leakers, privacy activists find new home in Berlin (26 November 2013)
BERLIN -- During the Cold War, Berlin was one of the most spy-ridden cities in the world. Now it's the place where people go to escape government surveillance.
An international cadre of privacy advocates is settling in Germany's once-divided capital, saying they feel safer here than they do in the United States or Britain, where authorities have vowed to prosecute leakers of official secrets.
Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, who was one of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden's main conduits of leaked data, lives here now. So does Jacob Appelbaum, a former spokesman for WikiLeaks. They were joined this month by Sarah Harrison, a top WikiLeaks activist who stayed at Snowden's side for months in Moscow and now says she fears being harassed by the government if she returns to her native Britain.
In Berlin, they have settled in a counterculture paradise, home to hackers' clubs, cheap rent and a fiercely supportive local population that in 2011 gave more than 10 percent of the seats in its regional parliament to the Pirate Party, a political organization that seeks to preserve Internet and information freedoms.
Microsoft, suspecting NSA spying, to ramp up efforts to encrypt its Internet traffic (26 November 2013)
Microsoft is moving toward a major new effort to encrypt its Internet traffic amid fears that the National Security Agency may have broken into its global communications links, said people familiar with the emerging plans.
Suspicions at Microsoft, while building for several months, sharpened in October when it was reported that the NSA was intercepting traffic inside the private networks of Google and Yahoo, two industry rivals with similar global infrastructures, said people with direct knowledge of the company's deliberations. They said top Microsoft executives are meeting this week to decide what encryption initiatives to deploy and how quickly.
Documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden suggest -- but do not prove -- that the company is right to be concerned. Two previously unreleased slides that describe operations against Google and Yahoo include references to Microsoft's Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger services. A separate NSA e-mail mentions Microsoft Passport, a Web-based service formerly offered by Microsoft, as a possible target of that same surveillance project, called MUSCULAR, which was first disclosed by The Washington Post last month.
Though Microsoft officials said they had no independent verification of the NSA targeting the company in this way, general counsel Brad Smith said Tuesday that it would be "very disturbing" and a possible constitutional breach if true.
As Wal-Mart Workers Plan Record Black Friday Protests, Study Says Retail Giant Can Afford Higher Pay (26 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Catherine Ruetschlin, talk about what OUR Wal-Mart, the organizing that's going on all over the country, has now put out in its ad. This appeal by Wal-Mart to its employees, to help other employees who maybe don't have enough money for food on Thanksgiving. Talk about the significance.
CATHERINE RUETSCHLIN: Sure. The revelation of that food drive in Canton, Ohio is a really important moment for people outside of the retail sector looking in, to really see what it means for these workers to stand up to one of the most powerful companies in the world and ask to be treated with dignity and respect. It is not just at the holidays that workers are struggling. When you are in a poverty level wage, putting food on the table is always a tough task. We found talking to Wal-Mart workers over and over again that their wages give them just enough to meet their basic needs and at the end of every month, they're making critical trade-off decisions. Determining whether they're going to get medicine or pay their school fees or put food on the table or keep their electricity on. So, what workers like Barbara who are out there really had a chance to show the average American who interacts with retail all the time and maybe has seen that these protests have been increasing in their intensity but hasn't really been able to sort of relate to what that actually means.
NERMEEN SHAIKH You have also pointed out that Wal-Mart is aware they pay about 825,000 workers more or less poverty wages. So, how is this justified? Have you spoken people at Wal-Mart and gotten a sense of how they can justify this?
CATHERINE RUETSCHLIN: It's true. Wal-Mart's CEO -- Wal-Mart CEO Bill Simon, back in September, in a presentation to Goldman Sachs was actually responding to the workers demands and calling out, as they called out Wal-Mart for fair wage, and saying, hey look, we have 425,000 workers who earn the wage that you're asking for. But, Wal-Mart is the largest employer -- the largest private employer in the U.S. That leaves 825,000 low-wage employees. Now, that is a workforce of temporary workers, part-time workers, workers who wish they could get a full-time hours but can't get them out Wal-Mart. And the business model that Wal-Mart chooses to operate is really this low road kind of devaluation of their labor force, where they see their workers as equally replaceable and disposable as opposed to an alternative, high-road model where they can invest in that labor force and see greater productivity, sales and a really committed staff.
UN advances surveillance resolution reaffirming 'human right to privacy' (26 November 2013)
The United Nations moved a step closer to calling for an end to excessive surveillance on Tuesday in a resolution that reaffirms the "human right to privacy" and calls for the UN's human rights commissioner to conduct an inquiry into the impact of mass digital snooping.
A UN committee that deals with human rights issues adopted the German- and Brazilian-drafted resolution that has become an increasingly sensitive issue among UN members.
The resolution, titled "The right to privacy in the digital age", does not name specific countries but states the UN is: "Deeply concerned at the negative impact that surveillance and/or interception of communications ... may have on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights."
The resolution says "unlawful or arbitrary" surveillance may "contradict the tenets of a democratic society". It says states "must ensure full compliance with their obligations under international human rights law".
PAM COMMENTARY: It's pretty sad when the UN has to demand that the U.S. live up to the standards it created.
Shocking animal abuse routine in Hollywood; secret photos, emails surface (26 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) It is often displayed at the end of movies and television shows that feature animals -- that succinct but prominent disclaimer notifying the viewing audience that no animals were harmed during production. But a recent investigation by The Hollywood Reporter (THR) suggests that this well-respected seal of approval is not necessarily trustworthy, as the organization responsible for monitoring animal safety is increasingly accused of maintaining an "improper coziness" with the very industry it is supposed to be overseeing.
This in-depth look at what really takes place behind the scenes during the creation of some of the most critically acclaimed feature films and television series is not for the faint of heart. Detailed accounts of horses suffering fatal injuries, dogs being abused and other sobering specifics about animals sustaining the brunt of the entertainment industry -- not to mention photo evidence of these and other atrocities -- are presented as evidence to show how apparently fictitious situations, at least as they appear on screen, are not always fictitious when animals are involved.
Popular films like Life of Pi, War Horse and The Hobbit, all of which feature large, beautiful animals, are included as offenders in the report, as are seemingly wholesome made-for-television movies like the Hallmark Channel's Everlasting Love and Love's Resounding Courage. All sorts of television shows and feature films are said to have involved animals being injured or dying, yet most of these have received an official seal of approval from the American Humane Association (AHA).
"Alarmingly, it turns out that audiences reassured by the organization's famous disclaimer should not necessarily assume it is true," writes Gary Baum for THR. "In fact, the AHA has awarded its 'No Animals Were Harmed' credit to films and TV shows on which animals were injured during production. It justifies this on the grounds that the animals weren't intentionally harmed or the incidents occurred while cameras weren't rolling."
The IRS Moves to Limit Dark Money -- But Enforcement Still a Question (26 November 2013)
The IRS and Treasury Department announced proposed guidelines clarifying the definition of political activities for social welfare nonprofits Tuesday afternoon, a move that could restrict the spending of the dark money groups that dumped more than $254 million of anonymous money into the 2012 elections. Read the guidelines here.
However, the guidelines, which finally define what constitutes "candidate-related political activity," aren't a done deal. They will take some time for public comment and debate, and more time to finalize. (The IRS asks that all comments and requests for a public hearing be submitted by Feb. 27.) Experts also cautioned that the real test of oversight on the political spending by nonprofits will be how these regulations are enforced, something that the IRS has been so far reticent to do.
The proposed regulations "are only as good as the extent of compliance with them, which history would indicate requires a realistic threat of enforcement and significant sanctions on the groups involved and probably the individuals running those groups," said Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a law professor and associate dean at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in nonprofits and campaign finance.
Social welfare nonprofits are allowed to spend money on election ads without reporting their donors, as long as they can prove that social welfare -- and not politics -- is their primary purpose. But the IRS guidelines for political spending have been vague. They state that the agency will apply a "facts and circumstances" test to each ad, meaning that if an ad walks and talks like a political ad, it's a political ad.
Canada approves export of genetically modified salmon eggs (26 November 2013)
Canada will allow genetically modified salmon eggs to be produced and exported -- but no way in hell will the eggs be allowed to hatch on Canadian soil.
The GM salmon was developed by AquaBounty, which blended genetic material from Chinook salmon and from another type of fish called ocean pout into the DNA of Atlantic salmon. That helps accelerate growth rates. The eggs will be produced at a hatchery on Canada's Prince Edward Island and exported to be hatched at a site in Panama. There, the fish will be fattened up before being exported to the U.S. for sale.
Worries abound that the genetically modified fish will escape and spread their altered genes to wild populations of salmon and trout. And those concerns are weighing on the minds of Canadian officials. From The Guardian:
"The decision marked the first time any government had given the go-ahead to commercial scale production involving a GM food animal."
Man: No fear trying to catch woman at stadium (26 November 2013)
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- When he saw a woman jumping from the upper deck at the Oakland Raiders' stadium on Sunday, Donnie Navidad said his military instincts immediately kicked in as he lunged forward trying to catch her.
But though he was injured in the process and authorities say he saved the woman's life, he maintains that he's no hero and that he would do it again.
"I just wished I would've grabbed her and held on to her," Navidad said. "I couldn't live with myself if I didn't do anything."
Both Navidad and the woman hit the concrete hard from the impact about 15 minutes after the Raiders' 23-19 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Navidad said he was among several people pleading with the woman not to jump as he positioned himself to try catching her. When she plunged about 45 feet from the upper deck at the O.co Coliseum, Navidad, with his arms open, ended up breaking her fall.
Reverend Billy Faces Year in Prison for Protesting JPMorgan Chase's Financing of Fossil Fuels (26 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
So down to business. Lesson number one: safety is a top priority of Ingram Micro. "We are constantly having people get hurt because they are working too fast," Brian says. "You don't get paid enough to get hurt." (Someone behind me mutters, "You got that right.") Brian walks us through the proper way to pick up boxes, and holds up a poster that illustrates safe stretching techniques.
But it's a complicated message Brian is preaching. Why, after all, are people working too fast? Why did the employee in Brian's lead anecdote try to slide under the conveyor belt--busting his head open in the process--instead of simply walking around?
Well, there's this: the output for each employee, tracked at every moment via our scanning guns, will be posted daily. "All supervisors see are numbers, numbers, numbers," he tells us. "So are we going to push you to work faster and be more productive?" The man to my left dutifully nods. "Yes, we are. Does the company expect you to pick up and carry fifty-pound boxes? Yes, it does." Pause. "But we don't expect you to carry them half a mile."
Before we're dismissed, the temp agency staffer returns with some final words of advice. Anyone who misses a shift on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday or Christmas Eve is out. Anyone who isn't performing at 100 percent efficiency by the third week will be given one week to improve, and then is out. On the bright side, a few "top performers"--perhaps 150 of the 800 temps they'll hire by Thanksgiving--may get to stick around after the holiday season and avoid the mass layoffs. "Some people even get hired permanently by Ingram Micro," she says. Such a promotion, she tells us, would include raises and benefits. The emphasis is hers. She makes the words sound like exotic treats.
Fracking bonanza eludes wastewater recycling investors (26 November 2013)
After two years searching for a blockbuster investment in oil field water management, fund manager Judson Hill is still holding on to his money.
Hill's NGP Energy Capital Management saw potential in what looked like a hot growth area in energy: treating and recycling the 21 billion barrels of wastewater flowing annually from U.S. oil and natural gas wells -- particularly from shale.
Instead, it found the market "too fragmented and too frothy," said Hill, a managing director at the private equity firm in Texas whose latest fund has invested $3.6 billion. "It's not as though we look back and say, 'Wow, half the ones we passed on were just home runs.' They weren't."
Cleaning up water in the oil patch is a tougher slog than many expected. Geology and water chemistry vary so much by location that no one has devised a cheap, one-size-fits-all technology to convince most producers to recycle. While NGP and its peers have successfully invested in U.S. shale producers, picking a winner in water treatment eludes even Schlumberger Ltd., the world's largest oil field services provider.
Schlumberger jumped into water recycling years ago envisioning a fast-growing, vibrant new specialty.
"We've spent millions and millions of dollars evaluating virtually every available and reasonable-looking technology out there, always hoping we'd find the silver bullet," said Mark Kidder, who runs Schlumberger's oil field water management unit. "At this point, we found nothing."
UCLA to probe African American judge's excessive force claims (26 November 2013)
According to Cunningham's account, he was pulled over in his Mercedes about 10 a.m. Saturday as he was buckling his seat belt after paying a parking attendant near L.A. Fitness. He was dressed in a black gym shirt and shorts.
Officer Kevin Dodd asked to see his driver's license. Cunningham handed them his wallet. Then the officers requested registration and insurance forms. When Cunningham reached for his glove box, an officer "yelled at me not to move," he said in the complaint. "I became irritated and told him that I need to look for the paper."
A prescription pill bottle rolled out of the glove compartment, prompting the officer to ask if he was carrying drugs. The medicine was for high blood pressure, Douglas said.
Cunningham couldn't find the paperwork in the glove compartment and told officers he thought it might be in the trunk.
"When I got out of the car to search my trunk, Officer Dodd shoved me against my car, told me I was under arrest for resisting and locked me in the backseat," Cunningham wrote in the complaint.
Thanksgiving is skid row's version of the Oscars (26 November 2013)
Want to volunteer to serve Thanksgiving dinner on skid row? Take a number -- for next year.
Volunteer sign-ups at several downtown shelters closed in late September or October. During the final days before the holiday, coordinators were turning away up to 50 callers a day -- some of whom insisted they would show up Thanksgiving Day, with or without an invitation.
"It's like getting a concert ticket," Midnight Mission spokeswoman Mai Lee said. "You have to sign up as soon as it's posted."
For some of the 1,000 or more volunteers who will help with the Thanksgiving meals, serving on skid row is a family tradition going back generations. Corporate sponsors take some of the slots for their employees; schools with a longtime volunteer commitment get others.
When shelters hit their holiday volunteer limit, they encourage those they turn away to consider helping at other times of the year.
The rare Joshua tree gets its star turn in this gorgeous time-lapse video (26 November 2013)
Unless you make a special trek, chances are you'll never see a Joshua tree -- they only grow in the Mojave desert, and even the ones there may be under threat from climate change. Luckily, photographer Sungjin Ahn has put together this lovely time-lapse video so you can appreciate the weird prickly trees in all manner of conditions (mostly sunrise, sunset, and various configurations of clouds, but it's all gorgeous).
PAM COMMENTARY: Actually, back in the 90s there were a lot of Joshua trees right off of the freeway in Hesperia, California. And the Mojave desert is such a large area that I think most people who have been to Southern California have seen them. Cute pictures, though!
Utah teenager taken off of life support after spending month in a coma following first flu vaccination (25 November 2013)
(http://www.sltrib.com) 19-year-old Chandler Webb of Utah passed away on November 19, 2013, after being hospitalized for nearly a month while in a coma. His mother, Lori Webb, claims that her son's death was caused by the influenza vaccine.
On October 15, Chandler received his first flu shot ever as part of a routine physical prior to going on a mission trip for his church. The next day, Chandler began suffering from headaches and severe vomiting. The teenager, who had only just recently graduated from Brighton High school, was then hospitalized in Salt Lake City, where he subsequently fell into a coma.
After being in a coma for about a month, Chandler was taken off of life support, and he died on November 19, 2013, after spending 28 days in the hospital. Though doctors have yet to discuss the case, his mother says that the direct cause of death was swelling of the brain. Public health officials continue to emphasize the safety of the vaccine, despite serious side effects having been reported.
Lori has declined an autopsy for her son, considering that a pending brain biopsy will likely be sufficient to determine the cause of death. She said that neurologists at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray performed numerous tests on her son, but they were unable to find any cause or cure for his condition.
I fought the law and, actually, I won: How one lawyer helps protesters (25 November 2013)
Lauren Regan became a lawyer for idealistic reasons: There were trees; she wanted to save them.
Then, in October 2001, the Patriot Act was signed into existence, and the landscape of environmental protest changed. Police, now equipped with military surplus gear and Homeland Security funding, began to treat protesters differently. So did the legal system.
In 2003, Regan founded the Civil Liberties Defense Center specifically to help environmental activists navigate this new legal landscape. Regan spoke with me recently about how location and legal precedent mean a lot when you're interested in saving a landscape.
Q. What made you decide to become an environmental lawyer?
A. I saw a potential way to be even more effective as an activist. Before that, I was involved in forest activism.
New Tax Return Shows Karl Rove's Group Spent Even More On Politics Than It Said (25 November 2013)
On its 2012 tax return, GOP strategist Karl Rove's dark money behemoth Crossroads GPS justified its status as a tax-exempt social welfare group in part by citing its grants of $35 million to other similarly aligned nonprofits. (Here's the tax return itself, which we detailed last week.)
The return, signed under penalty of perjury, specified that the grants would be used for social welfare purposes, "and not for political expenditures, consistent with the organization's tax-exempt mission."
But that's not what happened.
New tax documents, made public last Tuesday, indicate that at least $11.2 million of the grant money given to the group Americans for Tax Reform was spent on political activities expressly advocating for or against candidates. This means Crossroads spent at least $85.7 million on political activities in 2012, not the $74.5 million reported to the Internal Revenue Service. That's about 45 percent of its total expenditures.
The transaction also provides a window into one way social welfare nonprofits work around the tax code's dictate that their primary purpose cannot be influencing elections. Grants sent from one nonprofit to another may be earmarked for social welfare purposes, but sometimes end up being used to slam or praise candidates running for office.
"They have a bad grantee here," said Marcus Owens, the former head of the IRS' Exempt Organizations division, who looked at the documents at ProPublica's request. "My question would be, 'What has Crossroads done to recover that money?' That's what the IRS would expect."
Wind energy company fined $1 million over bird deaths (25 November 2013)
The wildlife-killing honeymoon is over for the fast-growing wind energy industry.
Wind turbines are working wonders for America's renewable energy blitz. But a nasty environmental side effect is the heavy toll they can take on birds and bats, hundreds of thousands of which are killed every year after colliding with turbines' spinning blades. The Obama administration has been criticized for turning a blind eye to such environmental crimes, but the recent settling of a federal case suggests that the eye is blind no more.
Duke Energy has agreed to pay $1 million for killing 163 eagles, hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens, sparrows, and other protected bird species at two wind farms it operates in Wyoming -- violations of the 95-year old Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Of those birds, 14 were golden eagles.
"This case represents the first criminal conviction under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unlawful avian takings at wind projects," said Robert Dreher of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. ("Avian takings" is legalese for "bird killings.")
The settlement agreement doesn't just punish the energy company for misdeeds. It requires Duke to reduce the impact of its turbines on wildlife -- just as others in the wind energy sector are trying to do. From a Justice Department statement:
"Duke Energy Renewables Inc. failed to make all reasonable efforts to build the projects in a way that would avoid the risk of avian deaths by collision with turbine blades, despite prior warnings about this issue from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. ..."
Spooky Business: U.S. Corporations Enlist Ex-Intelligence Agents to Spy on Nonprofit Groups (25 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: As we turn to a new report detailing how corporations are increasingly spying on nonprofit groups that they regard as potential threats. The report's called, "Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations." It was released by the corporate watch group Essential Information. The report found a diverse group of nonprofits have been targeted with espionage, including environmental, antiwar, public interest, consumer safety, pesticide reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights, and arms control groups. The corporations carrying out the spying include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Burger King, McDonald's, Shell, BP, and others. According to the report, these corporations employ former CIA, NSA and FBI agents to engage in private surveillance work which is often illegal in nature but rarely, if ever, prosecuted. For more we go to California where we're joined by the report's author, Gary Ruskin. He is the director of the Center for Corporate Policy, a project of Essential Information. Gary, Welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain what you found.
GARY RUSKIN: Thanks for having me on the show again, Amy. Yeah, we found a tremendous diversity of corporate espionage being conducted against a wide variety of civic groups across the country and the U.K., the case in Ecuador and in France as well. So what we found was a tremendous variety of use of different types of espionage tactics from dumpster diving to hiring investigators to pose as journalists or volunteers, to electronic espionage, information warfare, information operations hacking, electronic surveillance. And so this appears to be a growing phenomenon both here in the United States and maybe in other parts of the world as well. But our report is an effort to document something that's very hard to know very much about. We aggregated 30 different cases of corporate espionage to try to talk about them, but really, each of the cases we have very fragmentary information. And so it's hard to say -- we have a, we have a part of an iceberg whether it's the tip of the iceberg or the tippy tip of the iceberg, we don't really know.
AMY GOODMAN: Gary, let's got to -- I want to go to 2010; Greenpeace files a federal lawsuit against Dow Chemical and Sasol North America for engaging in corporate espionage. The lawsuit alleged corporate spies stole thousands of confidential documents from Greenpeace, including campaign plans, employee records; phone records, donor and media lists. Democracy Now! spoke to Charlie Cray, the senior researcher with Greenpeace USA at the time. He explained what happened.
CHARLIE CRAY: BBI, the defunct private investigation firm hired subcontractors including off-duty police officers who went through Greenpeace's trash to find useful documents on a regular basis. Over two years they did this almost twice a week on average. They also used subcontractors who had colleagues who attempted to infiltrate Greenpeace as volunteers. They cased the Greenpeace office looking for we don't know what, but probably doing advanced scouting for people who would then intrude upon the property. We found a list of door codes, we found a folder that said "wiretap info," which was empty. We know this company has sub-contracted with a company called Net Safe, which is a company that was made of former NSA officials skilled in computer hacking and things like that. So we really don't know the full extent of this, but what we've seen is incredibly shocking. And our goal is to bring this out into the light of day and to stop it if it's still going on."
Obama tells heckler he can't halt deportations unilaterally. Is that true? (+video) (25 November 2013)
President Obama was winding up a speech on immigration reform Monday, when a heckler interrupted him.
"Our families are separated. I need your help!" shouted a young man standing behind the president at the event at a recreation center in San Francisco. "You have a power to stop deportation for all undocumented immigrants in this country."
"Actually, I don't," Mr. Obama replied. "And that's why we're here."
"Stop deportations!" the crowd chanted. "Yes we can! Stop deportations!"
Historic Deal Curbs Iran's Nuclear Program While Easing U.S.-Led Devastating Economic Sanctions (25 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the agreement indicates the world has recognized Iran's nuclear rights. [For more on] the deal, we're joined by Reza Marashi, the Research Director at the National Iranian American Council. He returned Sunday from Geneva after attending the talks on Iran's nuclear program. Welcome to _Democracy Now! Can you talk about the significance of this agreement, Reza?
REZA MARASHI: What we witnessed over the past few days in Geneva is really nothing short of historic. You only really have to juxtapose what we've seen over the past few days with three or four months ago, what a difference an Iranian president can make and what a difference diplomacy can make when political leaders are willing to take risks for peace and invest in the process. As a result of that willingness, we have seen not only roll backs on Iran's nuclear program, but we've also seen a willingness on the part of Western countries to limit the amount of sanctions that they're putting on Iran, adding no new sanctions. Provide sanctions relief. And I would argue most importantly, finesse the language surrounding this issue of Iran's right to enrich uranium. The language that was used in the agreement allows both sides to walk away with a win/win scenario where the West can say, we are not acknowledging Iran's right to enrich, Iran can say they have acknowledge to our right to enrich, and that is what diplomacy is about at the end of the day, creating win/win outcomes. So this is nothing short of positive.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the six countries, world powers, involved and why they in particular were involved in this agreement with Iran?
REZA MARASHI: That is a great question, let's unpack that. When the P5+1, as it's called, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, put this process together, it dates back to the Bush administration. The Bush administration refused to engage Iran seriously in diplomacy, so they used our allies in Europe as a political cover of sorts. To create a process that could engage Iran diplomatically without the U.S. leading the process or being seen as driving it. The Obama administration inherited this and has used it in different ways. In an attempt to maintain unity within the international community, vis-à-vis Iran. But, actually, what we saw in Geneva was more negotiations between the P5+1 themselves than their diplomacy directly with Iran because they themselves had to get on the same page in terms of what they're going to offer Iran in terms of compromises. So, the more cooks you have in the kitchen, the harder it becomes to find a spoon. Fortunately, everybody was able to get on the same page and a historic first up deal was reached.
Sandy Hook report answers some questions, but many still a mystery (+video) (25 November 2013)
A Connecticut state attorney's report drew pointed conclusions about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that shook the nation a year ago, saying Adam Lanza acted alone in killing 26 students and staff, that the attack was premeditated, and that police and school staff "acted heroically" in responding to the tragedy.
The report also pulled together details of Mr. Lanza's reclusive lifestyle and his troubled interactions with others.
But in summing up a months-long investigation, Stephen Sedensky of the state's Danbury district also left big questions unanswered.
The report said Lanza's motive remains unclear. Lanza faced mental-health challenges, and had "a fascination with mass shootings and firearms, [but] displayed no aggressive or threatening tendencies," it said.
FDA warns maker of genetic-testing kit (25 November 2013)
The Food and Drug Administration has ordered the maker of a popular genetic-testing kit to halt sales of its heavily marketed product, saying the mail-order tests haven't been proven effective and could dangerously mislead people about their health.
The move came in a sharply worded letter to 23andMe, a California start-up backed by Google. The company says that its Personal Genome Service can detect more than 240 genetic conditions and traits, flagging a person's vulnerability to heart disease, breast cancer and other illnesses. The privately held company, founded in 2006, is headed by biologist and businesswoman Anne Wojcicki, who is separated from Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
The FDA said the company repeatedly has failed to provide the scientific data necessary to prove that its test works as advertised.
Perhaps more significantly, the agency's action underscores its unease about the potential consequences of direct-to-consumer genetic tests, which can provide people with detailed information but not necessarily the context necessary to interpret what it means or how they should proceed.
Should Gynecologists Be Allowed to Treat Men (25 November 2013)
The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology recently issued a new directive to U.S. OB-GYNs: Treat men, and risk losing the board's certification. The board now prohibits the treatment of male patients, with a few exceptions: Doctors can care for men if they're engaged in "active government service" or if the treatment is the course of the "evaluation of fertility," the "expedited partner treatment of sexually transmitted diseases," or a "newborn circumcision," for example. The exceptions allow OB-GYNs to provide preventative and emergency care but bar men from returning to the gynecologist for further care when those routine checkups reveal a deeper problem.
As the New York Times reported this weekend, a group of gynecologists are specifically concerned that the board's rule will prevent them from treating HPV-related anal cancers in men. Boston Medical Center gynecologist Dr. Elizabeth Stier, for example, treated 110 men for the disease last year and is participating in a multimillion-dollar clinical trial aimed at improving that treatment. As the Times puts it, some of the "best qualified, most highly skilled doctors" working on HPV-related cancers are gynecologists, who have extensive expertise treating HPV-related diseases in women.
The board reasons that gynecologists are specially trained "in the medical and surgical care of the female reproductive system and associated disorders." But gynecologists are well-positioned to treat both men and women because they're more likely to have experience with the "associated disorder" at work here. When it comes to HPV-related anal cancers, men and women are operating with similar equipment. The anoscopy procedure doctors use to identify anal cancers is identical regardless of gender. And the people most invested in treating it (and courting the funding to do so) are largely gynecologists.
Gynecologists have also proven essential in the treatment of marginalized communities for a range of sexually related diseases, regardless of the patient's gender. While the board makes an exception for men in the "management of transgender conditions," it doesn't make clear if it's OK to treat trans patients for more general medical problems (and it doesn't specify what "male" means in the context of a trans person). Clinics like Planned Parenthood, which often bills on a sliding scale, have made historic gains in making sexual health care more accessible to low-income women and men. As Stier explained to the Times, the procedures she performs "are embarrassing and uncomfortable for patients, and it takes time for a doctor to gain their trust. Many of her patients are poor, from minority groups and infected with H.I.V. Some live in shelters, some have histories of drug use. And anal disorders add more stigma." The board's directive puts up an additional barrier for men like them to follow up on necessary treatments after they're diagnosed through routine "partner" evaluations.
A Crowd-Sourced Escape From Poverty? (25 November 2013)
Last month Linda Tirado, a 31-year-old from Cedar City, Utah, was reading Gawker comment threads when she came across some of her online friends grousing about poor people's self-defeating behavior. "They didn't understand why poor people just kept doing these things that were counterproductive over and over instead of tightening the belt," she says. And so Tirado, a mother of two with two low-paying jobs and a full college course load, tried to explain, writing under her commenter handle, KillerMartinis.
"You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired," she wrote in an essay titled "Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts." "We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation. Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn't give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don't apply for jobs because we know we can't afford to look nice enough to hold them.... I have missing teeth and skin that looks like it will when you live on b12 and coffee and nicotine and no sleep. Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that's how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn't much point trying."
Tirado was trying to put flesh on the sort of ideas that Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan and Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir popularized in their much-discussed new book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. Among other things, that book flipped the conventional wisdom about bad decisions leading to poverty, arguing instead that poverty impedes good decision-making. This was something Tirado understood intimately, and she wanted to communicate what it feels like to live that way.
Initially, her piece, like most Internet comments, floated echoless in the ether. But a week and a half ago, it started going viral. After a few thousand people had read it, Tirado e-mailed Jessica Coen, the editor of Gawker's sister site Jezebel, and suggested that she highlight it on that site's front page, which she did. Then the piece appeared on the front page of The Huffington Post. The Atlantic blogged about it. A literary agent got in touch, and after a few readers emailed offers to contribute to a book project, Tirado started a GoFundMe page. Her initial goal was $10,500. As of this writing, she's raised more than $60,000, well over twice what she typically earns in a year.
John McAfee accused of stalking (25 November 2013)
The anti-virus software entrepreneur John McAfee has been evicted from his Oregon apartment and hit with a civil stalking complaint.
McAfee, 68, last year fled the Central American nation of Belize, where authorities sought to question him in the fatal shooting of a US expatriate who lived near McAfee's home. He has denied any involvement.
McAfee moved into a high-end apartment building in south-east Portland. The stalking complaint was filed by Connor Hyde, a property manager with the Riverstone Residential Group.
Hyde no longer worked at the location, said Crystal Pierce, senior property manager at The 20 on Hawthorne, adding that the company did not comment on legal matters.
Hyde's court filing, obtained by the Oregonian, says McAfee sent threatening emails and had access to weapons and armed associates from a motorcycle club.
McAfee said in a phone interview on Monday that he moved to Montreal two months ago and had just learned of his eviction. He said he had issues with building management over "wilful lapses of security" but was not forced to leave.
L.A. County Sheriff's Department dismisses plot allegations (25 November 2013)
For the last 18 months, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has been investigating allegations that two deputies were involved in a murder-for-hire plot on behalf of a Mexican cartel.
A sheriff's spokesman said the probe is wrapping up, and investigators believe the allegations are untrue.
"We investigated it and found out it was completely unfounded," spokesman Steve Whitmore said. "People make allegations all the time that are just completely ridiculous."
A sheriff's lieutenant, however, contends that the allegations are being covered up by the department and has gone to the FBI to get the matter investigated thoroughly, her attorney said.
An FBI spokeswoman declined comment. The attorney, Bradley Gage, said federal agents interviewed Lt. Katherine Voyer and were recently given investigative documents.
Voyer is in the midst of a lawsuit against the Sheriff's Department in which she alleges she was retaliated against for being a whistle-blower. In a recent sworn deposition, Voyer said the allegations originated from a reliable inmate informant, according to Gage.
PAM COMMENTARY: California has had law enforcement corruption problems for a long time.
Why African Farmers Do Not Want GMOs (24 November 2013)
Corporate voices and their allies are calling for the promotion of genetically modified seeds - and changes to African laws to enable their spread - as a solution to low food production and hunger in Africa. In October, the World Food Prize was awarded to three scientists, including two from agribusiness giants Monsanto and Syngenta, for their breakthroughs in developing GMOs. The editors of The Washington Post recently appealed to "give genetically modified crops a chance" in Africa and called for an open debate. The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, a network of small holder farmers, pastoralists, hunter-gatherers, indigenous peoples, citizens and environmentalists from Africa, is pleased to include the voices of African farmers in that debate.
The promotion of GMOs as solution is too often disrespectful to African culture and intelligence and based on a shallow understanding of African agriculture. It is based on the image that is held by many Westerners who see Africa as poor, destitute, starving, disease-ridden, hopeless, helpless that needs to be saved by a white angel from the West. That image allowed colonialists to rationalize their scramble for Africa, and that image is being used by neo-colonialists to rationalize their scramble for African land and natural resources.
Those promoting the false solution of GMOs are recommending that African farmers develop a long-term, perhaps irreversible, cycle of dependence on the interests of a small handful of corporate decision-makers to determine what seeds, with what genetic characteristics, and requiring what chemical inputs, will be produced and made available to Africa's people. This is a pathway toward profound vulnerability and centralized decision-making that flies in the face of the best agricultural evidence-based practices and sound policy making. The evidence and our experience with farmers clearly points to a more rational and appropriate path: investing in a transition toward more sustainable and agro-ecological farming systems that trust in the wisdom and capacity of tens of millions of African farmers to control, adapt and make decisions about their genetic resources, as the pathway toward greater well-being and resilience for Africa.
What is the story after 20 years of GMO cultivation in the United States? Farmers who took on herbicide-tolerant GMO crops are now struggling with the cost of combating herbicide-resistant super weeds. Some 49 percent of US farms suffer from Roundup-resistant super weeds, a 50 percent increase from the year before. As a result, since 1996 there has been a disproportionate increase in the use of weed killers - more than 225 million kilograms in the United States. Meanwhile, farmers who took on pest-resistant GMO crops are struggling with the cost of secondary pests unaffected by the built-in toxins. In China and India, initial savings from reduced insecticide use with Bt cotton have been eroded as secondary pests emerged.
Will the NSA be reformed? (24 November 2013)
Remember Edward Snowden? For a while, the National Security Agency's renegade contractor seemed like the most influential man in American intelligence, even though he's been hiding out in Moscow. Snowden's disclosures touched off a wave of enthusiasm in Congress for reforming the NSA's surveillance practices -- and anger overseas when he revealed that American spies were listening to foreign leaders' cellphone calls.
But now, as Congress counts only a few working days remaining in its year, the momentum toward intelligence reform has slowed. "It's often not a good idea to legislate when you're angry," Michael Allen, a former chief aide to the House Intelligence Committee, told me last week. "The [congressional] leadership may want this issue to cool down a bit."
And that suits the intelligence agencies just fine. "The best outcome from our standpoint is that nothing changes," a former top official told me.
The central issue Congress has been wrestling with is whether to place new restrictions on the NSA's ability to collect records of Americans' communications. Under current law, the agency can collect almost unlimited "metadata" on telephone calls inside the United States, meaning the phone numbers and times of calls but not the content of conversations. Overseas, the agency can collect the content of calls and email, but it isn't supposed to look at information about U.S. citizens unless it's pursuing "foreign intelligence information."
HP may have yet another problem: China (24 November 2013)
(Reuters) - Signs of rapidly worsening Chinese demand for IT giants IBM and Cisco Systems Inc are starting to spook Hewlett-Packard investors.
HP's year-long stock rally sputtered last week amid fears a faster-than-anticipated slowdown in emerging markets, above all China, may dash the computing giant's hopes for a return to growth in 2014 or beyond.
Cisco has warned about crumbling Chinese demand. IBM last month reported a sales drop of over 20 percent in the world's No. 2 economy.
Both also reported weakness in other emerging markets as well, but it was China and concerns about sales declines in that market that has grabbed headlines.
HP is already grappling with expectations of slowing U.S. federal spending, a fundamental erosion of PC demand and unrelenting competition from Lenovo and Dell. So it can ill afford a steeper-than-expected dropoff in China, which is estimated to account for a fifth of HP's revenue and is one of its most crucial growth markets.
Hamid Karzai refuses to sign US-Afghan security pact (24 November 2013)
A security pact with the US, which is critical to Afghanistan's ability to pay its soldiers and hold off the Taliban, is in limbo, after President Hamid Karzai shrugged off the recommendations of a national council that has approved the deal and said he would continue talks with Washington.
After a year of negotiations, the Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, of 2,500 delegates approved the agreement to keep US troops in the country after the current combat mission ends in 2014.
But Karzai stunned US diplomats and many of his own security officials when he told the opening session of the jirga that the bilateral security agreement should not be signed until after presidential elections in April.
Washington quickly announced that a deal had to be agreed by the end of the year, but on Sunday Karzai said that the US had to prove its good intentions by keeping its soldiers out of Afghan homes, ensuring the vote was transparent and promoting peace talks with the Taliban.
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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