Pam Rotella's Vegetarian FUN page -- News on health, nutrition, the environment, politics, and more!
NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2013
News from the Week of 1st to 7th of December 2013
Want to Cut Food Stamp Spending? Raise the Minimum Wage (7 December 2013)
Wednesday President Obama gave a speech on his plan to grow the economy and the middle class. Thursday fast-food workers went on strike in 100 cities and staged protests in 100 others to demand $15 an hour and the right to form a union without interference from employers. Here's something to consider: raising the minimum wage cuts government spending on Food Stamps and other programs.
The Minimum Wage
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 1.57 million people in the United States make the minimum wage, and another 1.98 million make even less. These 3.6 million workers make up 4.7 percent of all hourly-wage workers. People who are supposedly paid tips and people under 20 can be paid less than this minimum. Some states allow businesses that are not engaged in interstate commerce (and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the federal government) to pay less. Some territories -- notably American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands -- also are allowed to pay less.
Of those who make minimum wage or less 44% are in food preparation and serving related occupations, 15% are in sales and related occupations, 9.7% in personal care and service occupations, 6.5% in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations, 6.8% in transportation and material moving occupations and 6.4% in office and administrative support occupations. (Note that the largest sector that is below minimum wage is in food preparation and serving related occupations, with 16.5% of all workers who make minimum or less.)
The average age of fast-food workers is 29 and more than a fourth are raising children. 64% of those making the minimum wage are women.
Walmart Is Not the Bargain You Might Think (7 December 2013)
Next time someone tells you they shop at Walmart because it's cheap or convenient, share this.
Despite 1,500 protests nationwide against Walmart, the world's biggest retailer claimed its most lucrative Black Friday ever in 2013. Our friends and neighbors flock there.
They do - even those who have seen mom-and-pop stores shut down when Walmart moved into town, who miss being able to pick up one or two items and be out of a store in 10 minutes, who personally know Walmart employees relying on food stamps and who have heard how much money the Walton family continues to accumulate.
Walmart is the poster child for how huge corporations have undermined people's ability to make a living. It does this by sending manufacturing abroad to countries where labor is cheap, at the same time paying its own employees less than a living wage, using other unfair labor practices in numerous locations in the United States, and undercutting locally owned enterprises right out of business. It harms Main Streets and local commerce centers across the country and further drives people to malls.
Bankruptcy or Bunko? The Right's War on Detroit's Public Pensioners (7 December 2013)
Give credit where it's due: The political right has, for the moment, successfully laid the blame for Detroit's looming bankruptcy at the feet of local officials. A close look at the situation does indeed reveal ineptitude and even corruption on the part of some officials in the halls of Detroit's government. Yet much of that behavior was simply an ill-fated and feeble response to problems caused by the larger national subprime debacle. A factor more important than this macro-economic component is the purposeful, ideologically driven assault on government and its agents orchestrated by forces in Michigan's Statehouse. They effectively have starved an already-ailing city of revenues through tax policies that redistributed funds from state and city coffers to corporate pockets with little or nothing in return. Gov. Rick Snyder and the political and economic forces that sustain him are exploiting the situation as an opportunity to deliver a deathblow to the public sector, public pensioners in particular.
Although it appears the sky is falling over Detroit, it actually is being pulled down by the influence of groups like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and the Michigan-based, Koch/de Voss-funded Mackinac Center. The real story is not the bankruptcy. Orchestrating the performance are the think tanks whose real goal is to force local governance to bow to their agenda and to neutralize the traditional check on their power posed by public-sector unions by defunding public-sector pensions and health care. Once Chicken Little is taken out of the scenario, it becomes obvious that it is merely another skirmish in a war on the public sector begun in Scott Walker's Wisconsin and Chris Christie's New Jersey. In this case, however, instead of failing in a full frontal attack on labor as they partially did in those other two states, the tactic is to harvest the low-hanging fruit of cash-strapped municipalities and cannibalize public assets for private interests.
Although the mainstream media has accepted the narrative that the city's funding of its negotiated pension obligations is the cause of Detroit's financial problems, a more honest, constructive and long-term perspective is to see the contracts themselves as victims of a revenue shortfall caused by a whole host of reasons. Depopulation, disinvestment, massive defaults at the heels of the subprime lending crisis and decades of overly generous tax breaks offered to businesses - not pension and health care obligations that were honestly negotiated in more prosperous times - all played a role in the systemic dysfunction created over generations.
"Michigan is the national leader of the pack in giving away free money to companies that have done little to create a single job in the state, and where they are created, they cost enormous sums in off-setting tax bonuses," writes Amy Hardin (Democracy Tree, June, 2013). Hardin quotes a study by the group "Good Jobs First" that tracked "mega-deals" (deals over $75 million) brokered by states nationally in the past 35 years. Michigan had the most, with 29 such deals. "Michigan forfeited a whopping $7,101,236,000 (yes, billion)," Hardin continues, "to mostly large Fortune 500 type companies in return for little if anything at all."
As We Memorialize Mandela, Remember Those Who Stood With Him (7 December 2013)
By the time he died this week, Nelson Mandela was considered one of the few -- perhaps the only -- giants on the world stage.
But the man who was prisoner 466/64 on Robben Island was a giant among heroes who offered their lives for freedom as valiantly as he did. In a way, the acclaim the world now heaps so justly on Nelson Mandela commemorates them, too.
There was Walter Sisulu, who first recruited Nelson Mandela to the African National Congress, and formed the ANC Youth League with him in 1944. He was arrested many times, and spent years living underground before they were arrested and stood trial in 1964. When a prosecutor told the court the defendants did not represent the real South Africa, Mr. Sisulu replied, "Why doesn't the government put the matter to the test by having elections in which everyone could vote?"
They had no answer.
Nelson Mandela: How US conservatives viewed him then -- and now (+video) (7 December 2013)
The world press is filled with encomiums for South African leader Nelson Mandela, laudatory statements by President Obama and other world leaders, editorials praising his courage in fighting against and then leading his country out of racial oppression.
"My first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics was a protest against apartheid," Mr. Obama said when Mr. Mandela died this week. "Like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set."
But it wasn't that long ago that many elected officials and political leaders in the United States --conservatives, mainly -- were outspoken in their opposition to what Mandela represented, which to them was socialism (or worse yet, communism) and borderline terrorism since Mandela had advocated armed resistance to South Africa's white minority regime.
With Soviet influence spreading to parts of Africa, the stability of South Africa had become a Cold War issue related to US national security. In 1981, President Reagan described it as "a country that has stood by us in every war we've ever fought, a country that, strategically, is essential to the free world in its production of minerals."
Vermont Approves Single-Payer Health Care: "Everybody In, Nobody Out" (7 December 2013)
Vermont--Home of Ben and Jerry's, Maple Syrup, Bernie Sanders and the first state to pass marriage equality. Now, Vermont will be known for something that will impact every resident in the state.
The ACA provided states with federal funds to institute a Medicaid expansion. The states chose to expand the program also were able to set up their own state exchanges, which were relatively free from the problems the federal site had. Vermont decided to take it a step further by setting up their very own single payer system.
The slogan of the program: Everybody in, nobody out.
The program will be fully operational by 2017, and will be funded through Medicare, Medicaid, federal money for the ACA given to Vermont, and a slight increase in taxes. In exchange, there will be no more premiums, deductibles, copay's, hospital bills or anything else aimed at making insurance companies a profit. Further, all hospitals and healthcare providers will now be nonprofit.
This system will provide an instant boost the state economy. On the one side, you have workers that no longer have to worry about paying medical costs or a monthly premium and are able to use that money for other things. On the other side, you have the burden of paying insurance taken off of the employers side, who will be able to use the saved money to provide a better wage and/or reinvest in their company through updated infrastructure and added jobs. It is a win-win solution.
California health exchange shares patient data without consent (7 December 2013)
The California health insurance exchange has been giving the names and contact information of tens of thousands of consumers to insurance agents without their permission or knowledge in an effort to make deadlines for coverage, raising concerns about privacy, a news report said.
The consumers in question had gone online to research insurance options but did not ask to be contacted, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
Officials with Covered California, the exchange set up in response to the Afforable Care Act federal health law, said they began providing names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses this week in a pilot program. They said they thought it would help people meet a Dec. 23 deadline to have health insurance in place by Jan. 1.
The state does not know exactly how many people are affected by the information sharing. Social Security numbers, income and other information were not provided to the agents, exchange officials said.
Today's USDA Meat Safety Chief Is Tomorrow's Agribiz Consultant (7 December 2013)
Deloitte Touche is one of the globe's "big four" auditing and consulting firms. It's a player in the Big Food/Ag space--Deloitte's clients include "75% of the Fortune 500 food production companies." The firm's US subsidiary, Deloitte & Touche LLP, has a shiny new asset to dangle before its agribusiness clients: It has hired the US Department of Agriculture's Undersecretary for Food Safety, Elisabeth Hagen. She will "join Deloitte's consumer products practice as a food safety senior advisor," the firm stated in a press release. The firm also trumpeted her USDA affiliation:
"Elisabeth will bring to Deloitte an impressive blend of regulatory level oversight and hands-on experience, stemming from her role as the highest ranking food safety official in the U.S.," said Pat Conroy, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP, and Deloitte's U.S. consumer products practice leader.
Last month, Hagen announced her imminent resignation from her USDA post, declaring she would be "embarking in mid-December on a new challenge in the private sector." Now we know what that "challenge" is. It's impressive that Deloitte managed to bag a sitting USDA undersecretary--especially the one holding the food safety portfolio, charged with overseeing the nation's slaughterhouses. Awkwardly, Hagen is still "currently serving" her USDA role, the Deloitte press release states. I'm sure the challenge of watchdogging the meat industry while preparing to offer it consulting services won't last long. The USDA has not announced a time frame for replacing Hagen.
Hagen won't be the only member of Deloitte's US food-safety team with ties to the federal agencies charged with overseeing the food industry. You know those new poultry-slaughter rules that Hagen's erstwhile fiefdom, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, keeps touting, the ones that would save Big Poultry a quarter-billion dollars a year but likely endanger consumers and workers alike, as I laid out most recently here? Craig Henry, a director within Deloitte's food & product safety practice, served on the USDA-appointed National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection, which advised the FSIS on precisely those rules, as this 2012 Federal Register notice shows.
Then there's Faye Feldstein, who serves Deloitte as a senior adviser for food safety issues, the latest post in what her Deloitte bio calls a "33-year career in senior positions in the food industry and in federal and state regulatory agencies." Before setting up shop as a consultant, Feldstein served a ten-year stint at the Food and Drug Administration in various food-safety roles. Before that, she worked for 12 years at W.R. Grace, a chemical conglomerate with interests in food additives and packaging.
Obama, former Presidents to attend Mandela services (7 December 2013)
South Africa is readying itself for the arrival of a flood of world leaders for the memorial service and funeral for Nelson Mandela as thousands of mourners continued to flock to sites around the country today to pay homage to the freedom struggle icon.
At Mandela's house in the Johannesburg neighborhood of Houghton, more than 100 people, black and white, gathered in the morning where they sang liberation songs and homages to Mandela. Children danced to the singing from the swaying crowd as hawkers nearby sold Mandela regalia.
Among those who have already indicated that they will be travelling to South Africa to honor Mandela, who died at his Johannesburg home at the age of 95 on Thursday night, are United States President Barack Obama and his two predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff will also be among the guests.
A week of mourning, with several events planned, has been declared by the government. Sunday has been declared a national day of prayer and reflection, while a national memorial service is scheduled Tuesday to be held at a Johannesburg stadium where Mandela made his last public appearance for the closing ceremony of the 2010 soccer World Cup.
An effective eye drug is available for $50. But many doctors choose a $2,000 alternative. (7 December 2013)
The two drugs have been declared equivalently miraculous. Tested side by side in six major trials, both prevent blindness in a common old-age affliction. Biologically, they are cousins. They're even made by the same company.
But one holds a clear price advantage.
Avastin costs about $50 per injection.
Lucentis costs about $2,000 per injection.
Doctors choose the more expensive drug more than half a million times every year, a choice that costs the Medicare program, the largest single customer, an extra $1 billion or more annually.
Sugar protections prove easy to swallow for lawmakers across political spectrum (7 December 2013)
Washington politicians facing a year-end deadline to cut billions in agriculture spending are feuding over the future of food aid for the poor and crop subsidies for farmers.
There is, however, one area of agreement in the contentious negotiations: sugar.
Lawmakers decided to preserve the decades-old government safety net that boosts profits for a relatively small group of growers and has cost consumers billions through artificially high prices.
The special protection is a testament to the enduring Washington clout of one of the country's wealthiest farming interests, including the politically connected Florida family that controls a substantial share of the world's sugar market.
Endangered Species Act could be in danger (7 December 2013)
It seems pretty unremarkable, except for one thing -- it was the little fish that in the 1970s stopped construction of the Tellico Dam in Tennessee, the first real test of the nation's new Endangered Species Act.
Hylton, who was then just starting her career as a freshwater biologist, worked with the snail darter. Decades after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the fish, she still works with endangered species as supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field office in southwest Virginia.
The Endangered Species Act turns 40 years old this month. The law faces threats to its survival from a partisan Congress, even while being hailed for bringing back from the brink of extinction many familiar animals: the bald eagle, the gray wolf, the brown pelican and the California condor, to name just a few. Many others -- about 1,400 species of plants and animals are protected under the law -- still need help.
In Virginia, the protected species include fishes, insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, plants and some brown mollusks that live in the bottom of freshwater streams that flow from the commonwealth into the Tennessee River.
They all might be extinct now, if it wasn't for the Endangered Species Act.
Why Can't Karzai Be More Blase About US Killing Kids--Like US Press Is? (7 December 2013)
Over last weekend, reports emerged about a US coalition airstrike in Afghanistan that killed a two-year-old boy. I read about it in the Washington Post (11/29/13), but couldn't help but find some of the language in the report puzzling.
Right in the lead, the boy's death was called "the latest crisis to confront American officials" who are trying to finalize a security deal with the Afghan government. The Post's Tim Craig went on to say that the "civilian casualties could not have come at a worse time for US diplomats," and that the "death of the child further complicates the already strained relationship" between the US and Afghan governments.
Yes, poorly timed kid-killing really complicates things.
Much of the journalism about Afghanistan right now is about the "strain" between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the United States, expressing bafflement and irritation at Karzai's criticism of US military attacks that kill civilians. The New York Times got into the act on December 1, when reporter Rod Nordland wrote a piece on this topic.
2016 Olympics: Sailors say Guanabara Bay rife with pollution (7 December 2013)
RIO DE JANEIRO--Olympic sailors gathered at Guanabara Bay to compete in a local event on Saturday, but primarily they came to check out the venue for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Many didn't like what they saw.
"I've been sailing all over the world for 20 years now, and this is the most polluted place I've ever been," said Allan Norregaard, a Danish bronze medallist in the 2012 London Olympics. "It's really a shame because it's a beautiful area and city, but the water is so polluted, so dirty and full of garbage."
Rio's local Olympic organizing committee has promised the pollution will be cleaned up when the Olympics open in 2 ½ years, and government officials have pledged to reduce 80 per cent of the pollution flowing into the bay.
But sailors say they're doubtful the problem can be fixed after being ignored for decades, and many worry about their health.
New report sheds light on damage from BP oil spill (7 December 2013)
A new federal proposal on remedies to damage stemming from the 2010 BP oil spill shed light on the environmental impact of the spill, and caused controversy among environmentalists when it was presented Friday.
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell presented the plan of 44 restoration projects at a national park outside New Orleans.
The report also included briefs of several studies that provided clues as to the extent of the damage caused by the spill. The studies showed myriad environmental issues that could be traced back to the incident, including trouble with growing oysters, concerns about the health of bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, waterfowl and coral reefs, according to analysis by the Times-Picayune.
Money for the projects is coming from a $1 billion fund for early restoration work created in response to the damage caused to 1,110 miles of beaches and marsh along Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida by BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig disaster in 2010. BP will also have to pay potentially billions more once a lawsuit is settled in the coming months.
Flying deer hits runner in Loudoun (7 December 2013)
Rivera, 27, was jogging on a path adjoining Claiborne Parkway in Ashburn near the Dulles Greenway about 6 p.m. A 71-year-old woman from South Riding was driving a Toyota SUV on the road. And the deer -- a buck -- came from somewhere.
The SUV struck the deer, which sent the animal flying into Rivera, who remembers running one minute and then coming to in an ambulance as a paramedic told her he needed to cut away one of her favorite running shirts "because it had deer blood all over it.''
"That's when I knew a deer was part of this," Rivera said Saturday.
The buck died at the scene. The driver was treated at Inova Loudoun Hospital and released, according to the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office.
Chile's Pinochet-era dictatorship: Were soldiers victims, too? (7 December 2013)
In a modest hilltop home off of a long, winding road that leads out of Santiago into the Andean mountains, Anastasio Palma and Carlos Ortega talk boisterously about life in the Armed Forces.
But this isn't your typical soldier reunion, filled with tales of camaraderie or youthful shenanigans. Mr. Palma and Mr. Ortega were conscripted soldiers during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, and are part of a growing movement of former conscripts demanding reparations from the Chilean government for alleged human rights violations.
"Me and my brothers, we get together and we suffer. We don't remember good times, but the bad times," says Palma, who was conscripted in 1978 at the age of 17, and posted near Chile's border with Argentina and Bolivia.
Palma describes a climate of terror within the ranks: being beaten by his superiors in ways that would later become hallmarks of the brutal military dictatorship -- though more frequently associated with the treatment of "enemies of the state."
Admitted child abuser keeps his Navy career (7 December 2013)
When a Navy officer was accused of sexually molesting two of his children, city social workers investigated and concluded that the allegations were credible. They placed his name on the State Child Abuse and Neglect Registry.
He was forbidden under court order from going within 2 miles of the home, school or workplace of any of his four children until they turn 18.
But when the Navy examined the same allegations, the result was the opposite. The officer was cleared. He has faced no criminal prosecution. To the contrary, he has been promoted and allowed to stay in his $96,000-a-year job unhindered.
Meanwhile, the Navy lieutenant is divorcing his wife, who has been left destitute. The family home in Virginia Beach has been lost to foreclosure. The wife and four children have moved five times in four years, ending up in a cockroach-infested motel room at the Oceanfront, where they live among the homeless and drug addicts.
Pennsylvania newlyweds "just wanted to murder someone together:" police (7 December 2013)
(Reuters) - A newlywed couple in Pennsylvania killed a man whom the wife had lured to a rendezvous though an online dating advertisement, strangling him and stabbing him repeatedly, police said on Friday.
The pair, named as Elytte and Miranda Barbour, "just wanted to murder someone together," Sunbury Police Corporal Brad Hare told Reuters.
Elytte Barbour, 22, hid under a blanket in the back of their car as his 18-year-old wife Miranda drove to pick up a man she met through Craigslist at a mall north of Harrisburg on November 11, the Sunbury Police Department said in a report.
On Miranda's signal, Elytte strangled the man, 42-year-old Troy LaFerrara, with a cord while she stabbed him about 20 times, it said.
Not guilty verdicts for 9 who protested Whittier field house demolition (7 December 2013)
Nine activists arrested during an August protest at a Near West Side school building have been found not guilty of trespassing.
The nine, who range in age from 23 to 58, were acquitted Friday of trespassing charges stemming from a protest against demolition of the Whittier Elementary School field house at 1900 W. 23rd Street in the Pilsen neighborhood.
Opponents of the demolition had hoped a series of protests would bring community residents a greater say in the decision-making process. Chicago Public Schools officials said the building was no longer structurally safe and that the demolition would be followed by construction of a playground, artificial turf field and two basketball courts.
The field house, which community residents knew as La Casita, was demolished as planned following the arrests.
Canada: It really is our home and native land (7 December 2013)
Canadians are more attached to their country than the people of any other advanced democracy on Earth, says Ottawa's EKOS Research Associates, which for decades has gauged the glue that holds the nation together.
We beat out the Americans, who rank second, and are strides ahead of the Mexicans, according to a North America-wide survey compiled by EKOS last month.
We're hooked on the place we call home and so, very quickly, are new arrivals. First comes belonging to family and then comes Canada. Indeed, research by EKOS, which has worked side by side with a year-long Atkinson Foundation project examining the state of social cohesion in Canada, finds that foreign-born Canadians have a marginally stronger attachment to the country than do native born -- 77 per cent versus 75 per cent.
In any event, the bond has been high across all demographic cohorts for at least the past 15 years except for a modest decline among the young, says EKOS president Frank Graves.
30 vintage ads for brands you still eat (PHOTO GALLERY) (7 December 2013)
Don't be surprised if some of these well-known brands gracing your grocery list were staples for your grandparents or great-grandparents, too.
California Raisins (1880)
Before California Raisins had Claymation characters singing "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," it had this Grecian woman with her birds.
Randall Robinson on Nelson Mandela, U.S. Backing of Apartheid Regime & Success of Sanctions Movement (6 December 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, and the critical importance of that divestment movement? Because now we're hearing all of the accolades and the lionizing of Mandela, but really, our government really played a key role in prolonging the apartheid system and resisting the efforts by young people across the country and in colleges and universities building a movement for divestment from South Africa. How critical do you think that was in finally convincing the apartheid government that they would have to negotiate a transition to democracy?
RANDALL ROBINSON: It made every difference. There was no inclination in government to change policy. There was in place a policy that the Republican government called "constructive engagement," meaning that, in effect, that we were on South Africa's side and that sanctions would be the wrong thing, even though the ANC was asking us to do all that we could to put in place sanctions, because they knew, and we knew, that unless the government of South Africa felt the steel of some penalty for what they were doing, nothing would ever change. But once the loans began to disappear and the corporate investors began to disappear and the income and the size of the South African economy began to shrink, because of these efforts and because of these civil disobedience efforts across the United States, it made all the difference in the world.
And so, then we saw passed in 1986 in October the Comprehensive Act, with a Republican Senate overriding the veto of Ronald Reagan. It was the only time in the 20th century that an American president had suffered an override for a foreign policy measure, an override of a veto. So, it was historic. And it happened because of the leadership in the Congress working with us, the leadership of Senator Ted Kennedy, the leadership of Bill Gray in the House, the Congressional Black Caucus and many others--Richard Lugar, a Republican leader. Lowell Weicker, a Republican from Connecticut, became the first American member of the United States Senate to be arrested in an act of civil disobedience. Sentor Weicker called me and said--I didn't know his at the time. He called me and said, "I want to be arrested." And he came and did that. And so, the movement was broad and deep and national, and it made a significant difference. And it turned our country around and, for once, put us on the right side of an issue.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Randall Robinson. He's in Saint Kitts in the Caribbean. Sorry for the poor phone line. But, Randall, we wanted to get you to respond to President Mandela speaking at Riverside Church. This was September 1998, a year before President Mandela retired from office. He visited the United States--actually, this was the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York, paying tribute to Americans who supported the anti-apartheid movement.
PRESIDENT NELSON MANDELA: Ladies and gentlemen, it was important that during what is probably our last official visit to your country before retiring from office next year, we should spend time with those Americans who have been so closely linked with the struggle for freedom in South Africa. Our victory in defeating apartheid was your victory, too. To you and to all of the American people who supported the anti-apartheid struggle, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your solidarity.
November's Jobs Report Is Good, But Many Americans Are Still Struggling (6 December 2013)
As my colleague Kevin Drum notes, 90,000 of the 203,000 new jobs created last month were needed to keep pace with population growth. That means net job growth last month was more like 113,000.
And although about 2.1 million unemployed workers found jobs last month, 2.4 million stopped looking. November is the 43rd month in a row in which more job seekers left the labor force than found employment. A total of only 63 percent of American adults are either working or looking for work. That's the second-lowest monthly labor force participation rate in 35 years. (The lowest-ever labor force participation rate was recorded in October, but the data for that month was skewed because of the government shutdown.)
The number of long-term unemployed--those without a job for 27 weeks or more--edged up slightly to 4.1 million. Unemployment amongst African-Americans and Latinos remains much higher than average--at 12.5 percent, and 8.5 percent, respectively. For those without a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is 10.8 percent. It's 14 percent for people under 25.
About a third of employment gains in the private sector last month came in the form of low-wage service jobs in retail, hotels, restaurants, bars and temp agencies. Retail employment added 22,000 jobs last month, and bars and restaurants added 18,000. Low-paying service sector jobs have been the hallmark of the recovery. The growth of these low-wage jobs has given rise to a string of strikes over the past year by workers at Wal-mart, and fast-food joints like Wendy's, McDonald's and Burger King, who are demanding a living wage.
In WTO Deal 'Corporate Rights Trump the Right of People to Food' (6 December 2013)
A World Trade Organization (WTO) deal appears imminent on Friday after the 159-member body held its Ninth Ministerial Meeting in Bali.
While some are cheering the deal as "historic" after India held firm on a food security program, skeptics say the deal is a continuation of global trade policies in which "corporate 'rights' trump the right of people to food."
Deborah James, Director of International Programs at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, gives this background:
"It is a little-known but outrageous asymmetry in the current WTO rules, that while developed countries are allowed to massively subsidize their agriculture (to the tens or hundreds of billions annually), only 17 developing countries are allowed to subsidize over a minimal amount. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food criticized the current WTO agricultural rules in advance of the last WTO Ministerial through a stinging report, The World Trade Organization and the Post-Global Food Crisis Agenda: Putting Food Security First in the International Food System, which ruffled quite a few feathers at the WTO.
"Now India, the country with the largest number of poor farmers, is embarking on the most far-reaching food security program in the world, attempting to not only provide subsidized food to the poor, but to ensure that the food is purchased at fair prices from extremely poor farmers. Unfortunately, this program -- in contrast to the food stamp program of the United States -- would run afoul of WTO limits on developing country agricultural subsidies.Now India, the country with the largest number of poor farmers, is embarking on the most far-reaching food security program in the world, attempting to not only provide subsidized food to the poor, but to ensure that the food is purchased at fair prices from extremely poor farmers. Unfortunately, this program -- in contrast to the food stamp program of the United States -- would run afoul of WTO limits on developing country agricultural subsidies."
The spying game: Companies monitor activists because they can (6 December 2013)
Back in the '40s, my grandmother lost her scholarship to college after the school found out she had attended a meeting run by a communist organization. Whoever made the call that my grandmother was a communist rabblerouser no longer deserving educational subsidy was clearly acting on bad intel. It would be hard to think of a more terrible communist than my grandmother: She loved playing the stock market.
As someone who enjoys hanging out with both spooks and radicals, I leave a greater trail of troublemaking by proximity than the people who snooped on my nana could have ever dreamed of. Selfishly, I wonder, thehow does this affect me? The epic growth of Homeland Security in the last decade has also led to a commensurate growth in people trained by federal intelligence agencies working for private intelligence firms. Wal-Mart's internal security department, for example, is filled with former agents from the C.I.A., the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other government agencies.
There's a good deal of spying that you can do on a person before you move into the realm of illegality. It's still perfectly legal to use a false identity -- including fake ID cards and other documentation -- to gather information, as long as your lie doesn't net you certain kinds of information that have been established (usually via a court ruling) as protected under privacy law. Searching through trash for information is perfectly legal, as long as the trash is on a curb or other public property.
Still, information shows up -- mostly in lawsuits between corporations, or corporations and their employees -- that suggests private security firms routinely use surveillance in ways that break the law, like tracking cellphone calls and using keystroke loggers to obtain access to private email accounts. Wal-Mart's former director of marketing sued the company for wrongful dismissal, after Wal-Mart somehow obtained access to the Gmail account of another employee that she was having an affair with, and fired both of them for violating company policy. The case was settled out of court.
8 Scary Facts About Antibiotic Resistance (6 December 2013)
"For 85 years," McKenna explains on the show, antibiotics "have been solving the problem of infectious disease in a way that's really unique in human history. And people assume those antibiotics are always going to be there. And unfortunately, they're wrong."
Here are some disturbing facts about the growing problem of antibiotic resistance:
1. In the United States alone, 2 million people each year contract serious antibiotic-resistant infections, and 23,000 die from them.
These figures come from a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on antibiotic resistance that, for the first time, uses a blunt classification scheme to identify "urgent," "serious," and "concerning" threats from drug-resistant bacteria. The CDC currently lists three "urgent threats": drug-resistant gonorrhea, drug-resistant "enterobacteriaceae" such as E. coli, and Clostridium difficile, which causes life-threatening diarrhea and is often acquired in hospitals. Clostridium difficile kills at least 14,000 people each year.
CDC: Water at Camp Lejeune linked to birth defects (6 December 2013)
A long-awaited study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a link between tainted tap water at a U.S. Marine Corps base in North Carolina and increased risk of serious birth defects and childhood cancers.
The study released late Thursday by the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry is based on a small sample size and cannot prove exposure to the chemicals caused individual illnesses. It surveyed the parents of 12,598 children born at Camp Lejeune between 1968 and 1985, the year most contaminated drinking water wells were closed.
The study looked back in time and was designed to see if there was a link between exposure to certain chemicals and certain health problems that developed later. This type of study is often used to investigate disease outbreaks, when health officials are trying to identify possible reasons for the illnesses.
The study concludes that babies born to mothers who drank the tap water while pregnant were four times more likely than women in similar circumstances who did not consume the water to have such serious birth defects as spina bifida. Babies whose mothers were exposed also had a slightly elevated risk of such childhood cancers as leukemia, according to the results.
Tylenol can kill you; new warning admits popular painkiller causes liver damage, death (6 December 2013)
(NaturalNews) It has been a common household name in over-the-counter pain relief for more than 50 years. But the popular painkiller drug Tylenol is getting a major labeling makeover following a string of personal injury lawsuits. According to the Associated Press (AP), so many Tylenol users these days are suffering major liver damage or dying that the drug's manufacturer, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, has decided to put a large, red warning label on the cap that informs users about the drug's risks.
Even when taken at recommended doses, acetaminophen, the primary active ingredient in Tylenol, can cause major damage to the liver, potentially leading to liver failure and even death. In fact, acetaminophen is currently the leading cause of sudden liver failure in the U.S., as its toxic metabolites have been shown to kill liver cells. The drug is so toxic that as many as 80,000 people are rushed to the emergency room annually due to acetaminophen poisoning, and another 500-or-so end up dead from liver failure.
These are disturbing figures that might come as a surprise to most people, especially considering that millions of Americans pop Tylenol and acetaminophen-containing drugs on a regular basis. But with more than 85 personal injury lawsuits and counting filed against the company in federal court, McNeil is feeling the heat from a drug that has long been claimed as one of the safest painkiller drugs on the market, which it clearly is not.
"The warning will make it explicitly clear that the over-the-counter drug contains acetaminophen, a pain-relieving ingredient that's the nation's leading cause of sudden liver failure," writes Matthew Perrone for the AP. "The new cap is designed to grab the attention of people who don't read warnings that already appear in the fine print on the product's label, according to company executives."
What kind of crazy anti-environment bills is ALEC pushing now? (6 December 2013)
Gutting renewable energy standards
One of ALEC's chief targets over the last year has been state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which require electric utilities to obtain a certain share of their power from renewable sources. Roughly 15 states have weighed ALEC-crafted measures to freeze, repeal, or weaken RPS laws, but not one of them has passed. Recently, ALEC has unveiled two new model bills attacking RPS laws less directly. One of these measures, the Market-Power Renewables Act, would replace renewable standards with voluntary markets for renewable energy credits (sold by utilities and independent producers), allowing individual rate payers "with the income and desire to invest in renewable energy to do so without requiring others to bear the burden of costs they cannot afford." This clever approach lets ALEC members appear as if they're supporting renewable energy (or at least not actively opposing it), while freeing utilities from the obligation to shift to cleaner energy sources.
Another draft model bill, which ALEC has yet to adopt, would broaden the types of energy that count toward renewable energy credits and allow a state to meet its entire RPS quota through credits rather than power generation. Renewable energy advocates fear this approach would cause states to become swamped with credits from existing large hydropower plants -- which would count as renewable energy under the ALEC bill -- crushing the incentive to develop new, in-state renewable capacity.
Handing public lands over to oil and gas companies
ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force is flogging a new model bill called the Transfer of Public Lands Act, which would shift control of some federal public lands to states. A version of the measure is already being considered by the Utah state legislature. Proponents say it would bolster states' rights. But the Sierra Club has branded it "a thinly veiled attempt to sell federal public lands to the highest bidder for the purposes of fossil fuel extraction and development while providing a permanent roadblock to all future wilderness designation, lands preservation and habitat restoration."
Safeguarding Monsanto's market share
Another draft model bill would bar state and local governments from passing or enforcing laws governing seeds, flowers, or crops. The measure would allow agrochemical companies -- think Monsanto -- to block restrictions on genetically modified seeds as well as controversial seed patents. ALEC has been pushing resolutions opposing state crop and seed laws since 2004, but this is its first bid to prevent a state from taking any action on this front.
PAM COMMENTARY: This article seems to be a rewrite (or copy) of the Mother Jones version.
12 Mandela Quotes That Won't Be In the Corporate Media Obituaries (6 December 2013)
Nelson Mandela was a powerful and inspirational leader who eloquently and forcefully spoke truth to power. As tributes are published over the coming days, the corporate media will paint a sanitized portrait of Mandela that leaves out much of who he was. We expect to see 'safe' Mandela quotes such as "education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world" or "after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."
We wanted to share some Nelson Mandela quotes which we don't expect to read in the corporate media's obituaries:
1. "A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens."
2. "If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don't care for human beings."
3. "The current world financial crisis also starkly reminds us that many of the concepts that guided our sense of how the world and its affairs are best ordered, have suddenly been shown to be wanting."
4. "Gandhi rejects the Adam Smith notion of human nature as motivated by self-interest and brute needs and returns us to our spiritual dimension with its impulses for nonviolence, justice and equality. He exposes the fallacy of the claim that everyone can be rich and successful provided they work hard. He points to the millions who work themselves to the bone and still remain hungry."
South Africa mourns Mandela, will bury him on December 15 (6 December 2013)
(Reuters) - South Africans united in mourning for Nelson Mandela on Friday, but while some celebrated his remarkable life with dance and song, others fretted that the anti-apartheid hero's death would leave the nation vulnerable again to racial and social tensions.
President Jacob Zuma said Mandela would be buried on December 15 at his ancestral home in the Eastern Cape.
South Africans heard from Zuma late on Thursday that their first black president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, had died peacefully at his Johannesburg home in the company of his family after a long illness.
On Friday, the country's 52 million people absorbed the news that the statesman, a global symbol of reconciliation and peaceful co-existence, had departed forever.
Zuma also announced Mandela would be honored at a December 10 memorial service at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium, the site of the 2010 World Cup final.
The Worst Reactions to Nelson Mandela's Death (6 December 2013)
Yes, some of the reactions to Nelson Mandela's death have been less than ideal. As a few have pointed out, the comments on, say, this National Review blog post or Sen. Ted Cruz's Facebook page regarding Mandela (the guy was a commie, racist murderer, yada yada) are fairly disgusting. To be fair, some commenters on the internet are always nasty and dumb, whatever the topic. But how about people who (maybe?) should know better? Here are the worst reactions to Mandela's passing, courtesy of...
1. Rick Santorum: With a straight face, the former Republican senator and failed presidential candidate, who is now making pro-Christian movies, compared Mandela's long struggle against the apartheid regime to Republicans' battle against...Obamacare: "He was fighting against some...great injustice," Santorum said on Fox News yesterday, "and I would make the argument that we have a great injustice going on right now in this country with an ever-increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people's lives, and Obamacare is front and center in that."
There are a few key difference between the Affordable Care Act and a racist tyranny, but whatever.
2. Bill O'Reilly: During the same Fox News segment, host Bill O'Reilly emphasized that "great man" Nelson Mandela was a "communist." This is not true, but it is true that South Africa has a partially socialized health care system.
South Africa: Mandela Hometown Burial Set for December 15 (6 December 2013)
South Africa says Nelson Mandela will be buried Sunday, December 15, in his hometown of Qunu, following a state funeral.
President Jacob Zuma gave details on the official services and memorials for Mandela on Friday as South Africans mourned the loss of their former president.
Zuma declared this Sunday to be a day of prayer and reflection in South Africa, and urged the country's people to gather in "churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and their homes" to pray and reflect on Mandela's life.
He said an official memorial service will be held Tuesday at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium, site of the final for the 2010 World Cup.
Forget Google street view -- make your own 360-degree videos with this gizmo (6 December 2013)
Yeah, yeah, Google street view's pretty cool -- you can see the world and catch people making out, all from the comfort of your couch. But who needs Google now that you can buy the Bublcam?
Bubl is a Toronto-based company that just raised $300,000 on Kickstarter to market its 360-degree camera. (Its technology is the same used in Google street view; this is the consumer version.) For a mere $468 -- ha! pocket change! -- you can be one of the first to take 360-degree, high-def photos and stream panoramic videos live with something the size of a baseball...
FBI's search for 'Mo,' suspect in bomb threats, highlights use of malware for surveillance (6 December 2013)
The man who called himself "Mo" had dark hair, a foreign accent and -- if the pictures he e-mailed to federal investigators could be believed -- an Iranian military uniform. When he made a series of threats to detonate bombs at universities and airports across a wide swath of the United States last year, police had to scramble every time.
Mo remained elusive for months, communicating via -e-mail, video chat and an -Internet-based phone service without revealing his true identity or location, court documents show. So with no house to search or telephone to tap, investigators turned to a new kind of surveillance tool delivered over the Internet.
The FBI's elite hacker team designed a piece of malicious software that was to be delivered secretly when Mo signed on to his Yahoo e-mail account, from any computer anywhere in the world, according to the documents. The goal of the software was to gather a range of information -- Web sites he had visited and indicators of the location of the computer -- that would allow investigators to find Mo and tie him to the bomb threats.
Such high-tech search tools, which the FBI calls "network investigative techniques," have been used when authorities struggle to track suspects who are adept at covering their tracks online. The most powerful FBI surveillance software can covertly download files, photographs and stored e-mails, or even gather real-time images by activating cameras connected to computers, say court documents and people familiar with this technology.
85-year-old American released by North Korea arrives home (6 December 2013)
DMZ, South Korea -- An elderly U.S. veteran of the Korean War arrived home Saturday after being released by North Korea, where he had traveled as a tourist and was held for six weeks as a prisoner.
"I'm delighted to be home," Merrill Newman said at the San Francisco airport, where he was reunited with his wife and son, the Associated Press reported. "It's been a great homecoming. I'm tired, but ready to be with my family."
He also thanked the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing for helping to secure his release, the AP said. He had earlier told reporters in Beijing, his stopover point, that he felt "good" and wanted to see his wife.
Newman, 85, traveled to Pyongyang in October on a 10-day private tour but was removed from a plane by North Korean authorities just before returning home. The North last week accused Newman of a long list of "indelible crimes" committed during the war six decades ago and released a videotaped confession in which Newman read an awkwardly written four-page apology.
North Korea deports US veteran Merrill Newman (6 December 2013)
North Korea has deported an elderly US tourist who was detained for more than a month, ending the saga of Merrill Newman's return to the North six decades after he advised South Korean guerrillas who are still loathed by Pyongyang.
"I am very glad to be on my way home," a smiling Newman told reporters after arriving at the airport in Beijing from Pyongyang. "And I appreciate the tolerance the [North Korean] government has given to me to be on my way."
"I feel good," Newman said, adding with a laugh that the first thing he planned to do was "go home and see my wife".
The US vice-president, Joe Biden, who is in Seoul, welcomed the release and said he talked by phone to Newman in Beijing, offering him a ride home on Air Force Two. Biden said Newman declined because there was a direct flight to his home state of California later on Saturday.
BP investors can't sue as group over losses, judge says (6 December 2013)
BP 's U.S. investors can't pursue as a group claims that the company inflated its shares with misleading statements before and after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a judge ruled, citing a recent Supreme Court decision.
Shareholders sought permission to sue in two groups, the larger including all buyers of BP's American depositary receipts from Nov. 8, 2007, to May 28, 2010. The second subgroup would cover about 900,000 individual investors, who purchased BP ADRs from March 4, 2009, to April 20, 2010, the date BP's Macondo well blew out, triggering the biggest U.S. offshore oil spill.
U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison in Houston denied the investors' request for group, or class, status Friday. Ellison had earlier set a trial date for August 2014.
Ellison ruled that the investors failed to show that their damages could be calculated on a class-wide basis in a way that was consistent with their legal theory on BP's culpability. If they could've done so, he said, he'd have been "inclined" to give the investors permission to sue as a class.
Worst-Case Scenario for Oil Sands Industry Has Come to Life, Leaked Document Shows (6 December 2013)
As environmentalists began ratcheting up pressure against Canada's tar sands three years ago, one of the world's biggest strategic consulting firms was tapped to help the North American oil industry figure out how to handle the mounting activism. The resulting document, published online by WikiLeaks, offers another window into how oil and gas companies have been scrambling to deal with unrelenting opposition to their growth plans.
The document identifies nearly two-dozen environmental organizations leading the anti-oil sands movement and puts them into four categories: radicals, idealists, realists and opportunists--with how-to's for managing each. It also reveals that the worst-case scenario presented to industry about the movement's growing influence seems to have come to life.
The December 2010 presentation by Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, a global intelligence firm based in Texas, mostly advised oil sands companies to ignore or limit reaction to the then-burgeoning tar sands opposition movement because "activists lack influence in politics." But there was a buried warning for industry under one scenario: Letting the movement grow unopposed may bring about "the most significant environmental campaign of the decade."
"This worst-case scenario is exactly what has happened," partly because opposition to tar sands development has expanded beyond nonprofit groups to include individual activists concerned about climate change, said Mark Floegel, a senior investigator for Greenpeace. "The more people in America see Superstorm Sandys or tornadoes in Chicago, the more they are waking up and joining the fight."
Roughly 1 in 10 Obamacare enrollments still flawed, officials say (6 December 2013)
WASHINGTON - Roughly 10% of the enrollment forms the federal health insurance website submits to insurance companies include errors, an administration official said Friday, claiming progress on fixing a critical piece of the troubled online marketplace.
The error rate for the so-called 834 forms, which relay consumers' personal information to the insurance company they have selected, may have been as high as a quarter of all transactions in October and November, before a flurry of repairs to the HealthCare.gov website, said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The problems with transmitting information from the website to insurers raise the prospect that some consumers who believe they are enrolled in coverage will discover that insurers have no record of their application. Insurers have seen various types of errors in the 834 transmissions, including garbled or incorrect information, duplicate forms and, in some cases, missing forms.
While the error rate has gotten better since fixes to the website were made in late November, the number of people enrolling also has increased, meaning that insurance companies are still receiving a large number of potentially problematic enrollment forms. The Obama administration has not yet released official enrollment totals for the days since the website improvement took effect, but one official said more than 50,000 people have enrolled over the last week.
How sewage is bridging the Israeli-Palestinian divide in Jerusalem (6 December 2013)
When 1 in 3 residents of Jerusalem flush their toilets, the sewage flows untreated through the ancient Kidron Valley and cascades down once pristine canyon waterfalls to the Dead Sea, a popular bathing spot.
It has been thus for more than 40 years, despite the health and environmental risks and the historical sanctity of the valley, which skirts Jerusalem's iconic Old City and runs past one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the world. Where the patriarch Abraham is said to have made his way from the desert up to Mt. Moriah, today an estimated 15 million cubic meters of raw sewage -- roughly equivalent to 6,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools -- flows in the opposite direction.
The stench is unbearable.
That much Israeli and Palestinian politicians can agree on. But over the years their attempts to address the issue have failed, because the Kidron traverses some of the most complex political territory in the conflict.
Now, however, a grass-roots team of Israeli and Palestinian engineers, architects, environmental activists, and local officials have developed a comprehensive plan to rehabilitate the valley, from wastewater treatment to environmental education to new green tourism opportunities. They're hoping to piggyback on the momentum of restarted peace talks and finally break the political impasse.
California Ships Prisoners Out of State to "Reduce" Its Prison Population (6 December 2013)
Danielle Rigney's son was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison when he was 19. He spent two years imprisoned in California. Each weekend, family members or friends drove four hours to visit him. "He got to see his sisters growing up; he got to keep up with their lives," she told Truthout. "We constantly talked about the future." In addition to weekly visits, Rigney's son also had a job in the prison and was on the waiting list for college classes and a technical training course.
In July, however, Rigney arrived at the prison only to be told that her son had been transferred to La Palma Correctional Facility, one of two Arizona private prisons owned by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Now each visit requires round-trip plane tickets and costs Rigney's family nearly $1,000. Neither his father nor his elderly grandfather, who were able to visit him regularly in California, can make the 15-hour trip. His friends, who also visited him regularly, also cannot afford to visit him.
Rigney is not the only Californian with an incarcerated loved one out of state, but she is one of the handful of family members able to afford to visit. "I've visited three times so far," she said. "There have been, at most, ten other visitors when I've been there." In comparison, she noted that the visiting rooms at the California prisons were full.
As of November 20, 2013, California housed 8,302 of its state prisoners in private prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma. It sends more prisoners out of state than Hawaii, Idaho and Vermont combined.
Norfolk may require microchipping for many pets (6 December 2013)
Rockstar's spotted ear and wagging tail revealed her playful Dalmatian influence. But it was her brute pit-bull strength that kicked in as Garrett Boyd tried to hold her still for the microchipping needle.
When Rockstar calmed, veterinarian assistant Kateri Ippolito made her move. She grabbed a handful of skin between the dog's shoulder blades and injected the needle. Rockstar squirmed for a few seconds. The procedure was over.
Now if the energetic pup springs loose one day from her future home, this identifying microchip, which is no bigger than a grain of rice, will increase the chances of her being found quickly.
The procedure is now optional, but microchipping could one day be mandatory for most cats and dogs in Norfolk. The Norfolk Animal Advisory Board is currently discussing a plan.
Chesapeake is the only city in South Hampton Roads that has adopted a microchipping law. It requires that all animals adopted from its shelter have them. However, the Norfolk proposal would require most dogs and cats to have a microchip.
PAM COMMENTARY: See also Hang On: Microchips Causing Cancer.
What you should know before moving to Canada (6 December 2013)
Crane and Ure says a school with 2,000 pupils wouldn't work in a mainstream Canadian community where children have a greater sense of entitlement.
Parents and their children come to Thorncliffe Park with a deep respect for schools and teachers. "They're not in here questioning or demanding," says Crane. Discipline is not an issue.
Parental involvement has not been high. The two school officials says parents trust that if they bring their children to the school, the school will educate them.
But since 2010, a group of mothers -- calling their organization by the wonderful name of Don Valley Women of Nations -- have set out to involve parents in the school, take community public health and environmental initiatives and improve access to community and public information resources.
They were asked, for this Atkinson Foundation project, to write imaginary letters home to a friend telling them what to expect if they're thinking about emigrating to Canada. In the end, six women and two men participated.
'Story of a Death Foretold: The Coup Against Salvador Allende' by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera (6 December 2013)
'I left the woman I really loved -- the Great Society," Lyndon Johnson once rued, "in order to get involved with that bitch of a war on the other side of the world." He meant the Cold War and its all-consuming obsession with the Soviet Union. More emphatically, he meant the military quagmire in Vietnam. But repercussions of the obsession were being felt elsewhere.
LBJ didn't live long enough to see what Latin Americans consider the most nefarious detonation of the U.S. war against communism, when on Sept. 11, 1973, bombs from British-made Hawker Hunter jets pounded the presidential palace, La Moneda, in Santiago, Chile, as the CIA's Operation Fubelt unleashed a fierce coup, ousted a democratically elected government and left President Salvador Allende sprawled on a red couch with part of his skull gone.
By then, the war on communism, which had swiftly replaced the war on fascism, was well into its 25th year. Washington's efforts to curb left-wing initiatives in Latin America had already led to a flurry of U.S.-backed military operations. In 1954, Operation PBSuccess, overseen by CIA Director Allen Dulles, had toppled the democratically elected but inconvenient government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. In 1961, Dulles's deputy for plans, Richard Bissell, mounted the catastrophic Bay of Pigs invasion, an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro. When Cuban soldiers foiled the CIA-backed brigade, shaming the United States and embarrassing President John F. Kennedy in the process, Attorney General Robert Kennedy secretly initiated Operation Mongoose, a calculated campaign of terror to assassinate Castro and bring Cuban communism to its knees. Four years later, in Operation Power Pack, LBJ ordered 42,000 U.S. troops into the Dominican Republic to rid the Caribbean of the pesky "revolutionary" regime of President Juan Bosch.
All these preliminaries to what Latin Americans call "that other September 11" -- whose 40th anniversary was quietly, even inconspicuously, marked two months ago -- are recounted in Oscar Guardiola-Rivera's fascinating, if haphazardly organized, "Story of a Death Foretold."
We know, after a belated autopsy of Allende's remains, that the president opted to end his own life rather than die at the hands of his assailants. As mortars and missiles slammed into La Moneda's walls, Gen. Augusto Pinochet -- a former student at the U.S. Army School of the Americas -- screamed to his soldiers that there would be no negotiations. The raid, he said, had to end in unconditional surrender. If the army managed to capture Allende, the general added, they'd fly him out of the country, "but the plane falls in mid-flight."
Sentencing for middleman in $18M Navy scheme (6 December 2013)
A former Navy subcontractor who was a middleman in a kickback scheme that cost the U.S. Navy $18 million is set to be sentenced.
Russell Spencer is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday morning in U.S. District Court in Providence.
Spencer is one of six people to plead guilty. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bribery and lying to the FBI. In a letter to the judge, Spencer says he is "truly remorseful."
The 59-year-old has acknowledged he funneled kickbacks from a Georgia-based Navy contractor to civilian Navy employee Ralph Mariano and others.
What's that Jupiter-like thing doing so far afield from nearest star? (6 December 2013)
Astronomers have discovered a super Jupiter in a record-smashing orbit for a sun-like star, far outside the disk of dust and debris that rings the star and that typically gives rise to planets.
The team reporting the discovery has ruled out the typical explanation that could account for the planet's remarkable orbit -- which is some 650 astronomical units (AU), or 650 times the distance between Earth and the sun.
Giant planets generally are found in orbits a few tens of AU from their stars, other researchers have noted, and form from the primordial disk of dust around their stars.
Instead, the researchers posit that this new-found gas giant, with 11 times Jupiter's mass, may have formed where it is from a much smaller clump of gas than the clump that gave rise to the star, HD 106906. As a result, its effort to become a star would have been hauled up short well before it could grow massive enough to ignite fusion reactions at its core and shine.
15 secrets restaurants won't tell you (6 December 2013)
1. The second-cheapest bottle of wine has the highest mark-up
Most people won't order the cheapest bottle of wine on the menu because they dont want to look like a tightwad. So they'll go for the second-cheapest bottle, which prompts restaurants to mark it up the most, says Urbanspoon.
2. Also from another table: The bread basket
If you didn't touch the bread basket - or it looks like you didn't touch it - there's a good chance it will go to another table, wrote Debra Ginsberg, author of the memoir, "Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress." See more of her "confessions" here.
3. Wait times are made up
Urbanspoon says wait times are often arbitrary, and that best guesses are based on average customer dining time. The site also says many restaurants put their least-experienced employee at the door.
4. Sliced lemons in your drink are gross
Says Urbanspoon: "Sliced lemons for water and iced tea are often kept, usually unwashed, in a container by the kitchen's exit. Waiters and busers will grab the lemon slices with their bare hands; studies have shown that up to two-thirds of restaurant lemons are contaminated with bacteria."
Obama credits Nelson Mandela with his own political transformation (5 December 2013)
WASHINGTON -- A somber President Obama paid tribute Thursday to the man he credits with his political awakening, saying Nelson Mandela's dignity and sacrifice "transformed South Africa and moved all of us."
"He achieved more than could be expected of any man. Today he has gone home," Obama said in brief remarks at the White House shortly after South African officials announced Mandela's death. "We have lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth. He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages."
The first black president of South Africa played a significant role in the coming-of-age story of the first African American U.S. president. Obama credits Mandela's fight against apartheid for sparking his political consciousness.
Speaking before reporters Thursday, Obama recounted that "the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or policy or politics" was a college protest against apartheid.
PAM COMMENTARY: I've noticed that most media reports fail to mention the "how" of apartheid ending and Nelson Mandela becoming the President of South Africa. For some reason, the press does mention apartheid, then it jumps to Mandela becoming president, as though something magical happened to let him out of prison and put him in office that they've magically forgotten. No mention of Steve Biko or other people beaten to death or gunned down by South African police, very little airing of old footage from the 80s.
Yet it was partly their own magic that did it -- the American press' nightly coverage of violence in South Africa, and the awareness and outrage that brought, especially among college students. The shootings, the beatings, the body counts from South Africa were beamed into Americans' living rooms nightly, thanks to the evening news.
Obama was a product of his time, and also a part of the larger solution. You couldn't walk through a college campus in the late 1980s without seeing a protest, or at least a student paper headline or information booth, about apartheid in South Africa. A few times I manned that booth or wrote that headline myself. Even if students weren't behind the issue, they were aware of the system of racial inequality and knew the facts, whether they bothered to protest or not.
Sanctions passed because Congressmen were afraid of being ousted from office by the few percentage points that the issue could sway at election time. College students can be good swing voters that way, and apartheid was the big issue of the day. It was easier to understand than Iran-Contra, too.
And Congress didn't want to look like bigots if they didn't go along with sanctions. They could lose minority votes that way, or at least motivate minorities who didn't like them to go to the polls. Congress even overrode Reagan's veto, and sanctions against South Africa became law.
Before sanctions passed, there were boycotts of companies doing business in South Africa -- big corporations like IBM, Shell oil, and Coca Cola lost sales and were picketed. I remember a fellow UW-Milwaukee student who researched ownership of Shell stations in the area, to be sure that he was targeting a station owned by the oil company with his pickets, and not a local businessman with a Shell service station franchise. US corporations don't like to lose money, but of course they'd prefer to keep BOTH South African and American markets. Their brands were being damaged, and the best solution for them was the end of apartheid, resulting in the end of boycotts against them.
Sanctions were the most important tool, though -- they brought real economic pressure to the South African government as the country appeared to be heading into a prolonged and bloody civil war. The apartheid minority government was running out of options, and Nelson Mandela was the best opportunity for the white government to negotiate with someone who had political credibility with the native black majority. It was very fortunate for de Klerk and others that Mandela hadn't died in prison, and could lead the transition to black voting rights without harming the country further.
I think the press is neglecting this part of the story because it shows how powerful the American people can be. Nelson Mandela becoming president -- that was us. Just regular people who saw the violence on the news, especially college students, who'd learned to boycott companies, raise awareness, and apply political pressure without the larger scale protests of the 1960s and 70s.
Maybe they're being polite, honoring Mandela without taking credit for their part of it, or bringing up the fact that he couldn't have done it without us, at least not as quickly. Still, I think the historical lesson is important here. We can, and do, improve peoples' lives when we try to do the right thing.
Harvard Students Rally Against Apartheid (FLASHBACK) (28 April 1986)
Over 300 people gathered in the Harvard Yard Saturday, April 19, to rally against Harvard University's investment in companies doing business in South Africa.
The rally was sponsored by the Southern African Solidarity Committee (SASC) of Harvard. SASC has built an "open university," consisting of a shanty-town and an "ivory tower" made of cardboard, scrapwood, and plastic in the middle of the yard.
One of the group's demands of the Harvard administration is rectification of damages from a letter sent to alumni, urging them to vote against candidates advocating divestment in Harvard's Board of Overseers election. The Board must approve or disapprove all actions taken by the Harvard Corporation. The letter was issued by Joan Bok, President of the Board of Overseers, and included in the packet of materials received by alumni when voting for members of the Board of Overseers. (A copy of the letter is on page 5)
According to Ljena Horwitz, a sophomore involved in the "Open University," the Harvard administration has stated that the Open University is a form of freedom of speech, and that they would not take it down. However, there is concern that this may change when commencement, traditionally held in the Harvard Yard, draws near.
The group received a bomb threat Friday, April 18, at 3:30 a.m., according to Horwitz; students slept outside their shanties while the Harvard Police force parked in the yard for the students' protection. Also, SASC has heard rumors that conservative groups are planning to tear the "Open University" down.
South Africa: Desmond Tutu Pays Tribute to Nelson Mandela (5 December 2013)
GUEST COLUMN BY DESMOND TUTU
Cape Town -- Nelson Mandela is mourned by South Africans, Africans and the international community today as the leader of our generation who stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries -- a colossus of unimpeachable moral character and integrity, the world's most admired and revered public figure.
Not since Kenyatta, Nkrumah, Nyerere and Senghor has Africa seen his like. Looking for comparisons beyond Africa, he will go down in history as South Africa's George Washington, a person who within a single five-year presidency became the principal icon of both liberation and reconciliation, loved by those of all political persuasions as the founder of modern, democratic South Africa.
He was of course not always regarded as such. When he was born in 1918 in the rural village of Mvezo, he was named Rolihlahla, or "troublemaker." (Nelson was the name given to him by a teacher when he started school.) After running away to Johannesburg to escape an arranged marriage, he lived up to his name. Introduced to politics by his mentor, Walter Sisulu, he joined a group of young militants who challenged the cautious elders of the African National Congress, founded by black leaders in 1912 to oppose the racist policies of the newly-formed union of white-ruled British colonies and Afrikaner republics.
After the Afrikaner Nationalists came to power in 1948, intent on entrenching and expanding the dispossession of blacks, confrontation became inevitable. As the new government relentlessly implemented one racist, repressive law after another, the ANC intensified its resistance until its banning in 1960, when it decided that, having exhausted all peaceful means of achieving democracy, it had no option but to resort to the use of force.
Madiba, the clan name by which South Africans refer to Nelson Mandela, went underground, then left the country to look for support for the struggle. He received it in many parts of Africa -- undergoing military training in Ethiopia -- but he failed to get meaningful support in the West.
Nelson Mandela dies; former president of South Africa was 95 (5 December 2013)
Nelson Mandela, the former political prisoner who became the first president of a post-apartheid South Africa and whose heroic life and towering moral stature made him one of history's most influential statesmen, died Thursday, the government announced. He was 95.
The death was announced in a televised address by South African President Jacob Zuma, who noted, "We've lost our greatest son." No cause was provided.
To a country torn apart by racial divisions, Mr. Mandela became its most potent symbol of national unity, using the power of forgiveness and reconciliation to heal deep-rooted wounds and usher in an era of peace after decades of conflict between blacks and whites. To a continent rife with leaders who cling to power for life, Mr. Mandela became a role model for democracy, stepping down from the presidency after one term and holding out the promise of a new Africa.
And to a world roiled by war, poverty and oppression, Mr. Mandela became its conscience, fighting to overcome some of its most vexing problems. He was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who spent 27 years in prison as part of his lifelong struggle against racial oppression.
Timeline of Nelson Mandela's life (5 December 2013)
The Soweto uprising begins on June 16, as police fire on thousands of young black South Africans protesting a law that would make Afrikaans the main teaching language in schools. Although the government says 95 people are killed, more than 500 likely die. The event helps propel the anti-apartheid struggle to the world stage.
Mandela rejects, through his daughter Zindzi, South African President P.W. Botha's offer to release him if he renounces violence.
The Free Nelson Mandela Concert at Wembley Stadium in London is attended by 72,000 people. That same year, he is diagnosed with tuberculosis.
South African President F.W. de Klerk announces sweeping reforms at the opening session of parliament on Feb. 2. Changes include lifting the ban on the ANC and the unconditional release of Mandela.
Nelson Mandela: What South Africans couldn't tell their kids about him (+video) (5 December 2013)
As parents, we transmit the qualities -- and myths -- of our leaders through the stories we tell our children. Think George Washington and his cherry tree, Abraham Lincoln and his Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King and his "I Have A Dream" speech, delivered at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.
But what if we not only did not pass on those tales to the next generation, but actively worked to suppress them? Surprisingly, that is what happened in the case of Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid revolutionary and former president of South Africa, who died Dec. 5. That he was nonetheless able to seize the imagination of hundreds of thousands of young South Africans and inspire them to rise up against apartheid's unspeakable oppression is yet another tribute to what was his last-of-a-kind leadership.
The details of Mr. Mandela's imprisonment are well known. In July 1963, South African police raided the secret headquarters of the armed wing of the African National Congress at a farm outside of Johannesburg, arresting most of its leaders. Eight of them, including Nelson Mandela, were sentenced to life in prison on Robben Island, a desolate stretch of rock off the coast of Cape Town. The raid effectively stilled black opposition for a decade. What remained of the ANC was forced to regroup outside the country, far from South Africa's borders. An entire generation of black activists was imprisoned, banned, or exiled. To deter resurgence of political movements, the police assumed unbridled powers of arrest and detention and recruited an army of black informers; the government imposed harsh restrictions on the press.
The measures left blacks utterly intimidated. People shunned political discussions; to speak of such matters was to invite repression. The ANC's protest campaigns of the 1950s, the creation of its Freedom Charter, the stories of its leaders -- all slipped into obscurity, suppressed by parents too frightened to tell their children. Newspapers could not even print Mr. Mandela's photograph.
Are YOUR details at risk? Two million Facebook, Gmail and Twitter passwords are stolen in massive hack (5 December 2013)
If you're a regular Facebook, Twitter or Google user it might be a good idea to change your password.
Security experts investigating cybercriminals in Netherlands have discovered two million account details on a server that were stolen from popular sites and email providers.
It is thought the server was used to control a network of compromised computers, known as 'zombies', that were attached to the malicious Pony botnet.
The account information found includes 318,000 Facebook accounts, a total of 70,500 Gmail, Google and YouTube accounts, 59,500 Yahoo credentials and 21,700 Twitter login details.
According to security firm Trustwave, which found the files, the breach affects users across the world in the UK, U.S., Russia, Germany, Singapore, Thailand, and more.
Why Is a Senate Democrat Agreeing to Another $8 Billion in Food Stamp Cuts? (5 December 2013)
On the same day that President Obama eloquently described his vision of an economy defined by economic mobility and opportunity for all, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow was busy cutting a deal with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas to slice another $8 to $9 billion from food stamps (SNAP), according to a source close to the negotiations.
"One study shows that more than half of Americans will experience poverty at some point during their adult lives," said President Obama. "Think about that. This is not an isolated situation.... That's why we have nutrition assistance or the program known as SNAP, because it makes a difference for a mother who's working, but is just having a hard time putting food on the table for her kids."
Indeed it does, but the chairwoman consistently fails to get the memo.
There are currently 47 million Americans who turn to food stamps to help make ends meet. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nearly 72 percent are in families with children; and one-quarter of SNAP participants are in households with seniors or people with disabilities. Further, 91 percent of SNAP benefits go to households with incomes below the poverty line, and 55 percent to households below half of the poverty line (about $9,500 annually for a family of three).
Despite the fact that the Institute of Medicine demonstrated the inadequacy of the SNAP benefit allotment, and that a child's access to food stamps has a positive impact on adult outcomes, the program was just cut by $5 billion on November 1. The average benefit dropped from $1.50 to $1.40 per meal. The Senate Agriculture Committee's previous proposal to cut yet another $4 billion from SNAP would have led to 500,000 losing $90 per month in benefits, the equivalent of one week's worth of meals.
"That was the first time in history that a Democratic-controlled Senate had even proposed cutting the SNAP program," said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. "The willingness of some Senate Democrats to double new cuts to the program...is unthinkable."
As Workers Strike Against Low Wages, Fast-Food CEOs Fatten Pockets with Taxpayer-Subsidized Pay (5 December 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we're joined by Sarah Anderson. She wrote the report, "Fast Food CEOs Rake In Taxpayer-Subsidized Pay." She's with the Institute for Policy Studies. Sarah, how does it work?
SARAH ANDERSON: Well, this is a perverse loophole in our tax code that essentially means that the more corporations pay their CEO, the less they pay in taxes. And that's because there is this loophole that allows companies to deduct unlimited amounts from their corporate income taxes for the expense of executive pay, as long as it's so-called performance pay--so, stock options and other bonuses that are configured in a way to qualify for this tax loophole. And what it means essentially is that ordinary taxpayers are subsidizing excessive CEO pay.
And we looked in this report at how much the top six fast-food corporations are benefiting from this tax loophole, and it was really astounding. The most extreme example was the CEO of Yum! Brands. That's the company that runs the KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut chains. And their CEO, just in the past couple of years, has raked in $94 million of this so-called performance pay, and that translates into a tax benefit for Yum! Brands of $33 million.
AMY GOODMAN: That's Y-U-M.
SARAH ANDERSON: Yes, again, the chain that runs KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. And I think that the point that we're trying to raise here is to follow on to what Camille was talking about very beautifully, which is how much ordinary people have a stake in this fight around fast-food wages. As it is now, wages in that sector are so low that more than half of workers in that industry have to rely on public assistance. And I think they've done a beautiful job of helping people understand that point, that this low-wage model is a burden on taxpayers. And what we're trying to add here is an understanding of how taxpayers are also subsidizing pay at the top of the corporate ladder.
Low wages and cheap food: Separated at birth (5 December 2013)
As fast food workers go on a one-day strike for higher wages across the U.S., it's a good moment to reflect on what we are buying when we pay for cheap food.
The strength of the fast-food business model is that it is accessible to all: It's so cheap that even the poorest people in America eat at McDonald's. And in some cases it's not just cheap, it's the cheapest. If you don't have time to cook dinner, or the means to buy unprocessed food in bulk, it makes perfect economic sense to dine out at the closest greasy spork. And so there's an argument to be made that the poor actually need more fast food, or at least Wal-Mart-style cheap food.
But that argument fails to consider the trade-offs these companies are making to deliver those low prices. One of the biggies: Cheap food depends on low wages. This is a circular argument: You need cheap food to feed the underpaid. And you need low pay to keep prices down. As Michael Pollan put it, it is:
"an upside-down version of the social compact sometimes referred to as 'Fordism': instead of paying workers well enough to allow them to buy things like cars, as Henry Ford proposed to do, companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald's pay their workers so poorly that they can afford only the cheap, low-quality food these companies sell, creating a kind of nonvirtuous circle driving down both wages and the quality of food."
The Obama Administration's Meaty Gift to Big Chicken (5 December 2013)
Remember the proposal that Obama's US Department of Agriculture has been pushing since spring 2012, the one that would speed up kill lines in poultry slaughterhouses while simultaneously slashing the number of federal inspectors who oversee them? As I've reported before, the plan involves a unleashing a barrage of anti-microbial sprays onto chicken carcasses as they zip down the line.
The Washington Post's Kimberly Kindy has shown that these sprays, whose use is already on the upswing, harm workers and may even mask, not decrease, salmonella contamination. As for the traces of them that remain on supermarket chicken, "government agencies have not conducted independent research into the possible side effects on consumers of using the chemicals," Kindy reported.
Back in April, as I reported at the time, USDA chief Tom Vilsack declared that the department would roll out the plan "very soon." The USDA claims that it would save taxpayers $30 million per year by laying off inspectors, and save the poultry industry "at least" $256 million annually. The chicken industry--dominated by Tyson, Pilgrim's Pride (now mostly owned by JBS), Purdue, and Sanderson--strongly supports the proposal.
But it caused an uproar among food safety and labor advocates--who argued that the combination of more speed and fewer inspectors would lead to dangerous conditions for both consumers and line workers, sparking hopes the USDA might back away from it. A scathing Government Accountability Office assessment (my analysis here) bolstered those hopes.
But over the past week, the administration has sent two signals indicating that it plans to move ahead with the rules. Just before Thanksgiving, the administration released its Fall 2013 Regulatory Agenda, including for the USDA, which states that in 2014, the department's meat inspection service "plans to finalize regulations to establish new systems for poultry slaughter inspection, which would improve food safety and save money for establishments and taxpayers."
Psychiatric insanity: Over 20% of young boys labeled 'ADHD' (5 December 2013)
But it gets worse; according to the CDC's study, the percentage of U.S. children between the ages of 4 and 17 years who have been labeled with the diagnosis rose to a mind-boggling 42 percent between 2003 and 2011.
In addition, the study found that kids in public health programs like Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) were 53 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than children with private health insurance. So not only are too many kids being diagnosed with this "disorder," but you're paying for it.
"The parent-reported prevalence of a history of an attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis by a health care provider among U.S. school-aged children increased from 7.8 percent in 2003 to 11 percent in 2011, an increase of 42 percent in less than a decade," said the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
"This study is really based on the parent-reported survey data and it extends what we know about the increasing prevalence of health-care-provider diagnosed ADHD," Susanna Visser, of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in a CDC podcast.
USDA finds reduction in runoff near Chesapeake Bay (5 December 2013)
Farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are using conservation methods more than ever to reduce water pollutants, according to a study released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The study found that runoff of eroding soil, phosphorus and nitrogen fell significantly between 2006 and 2011.
"It's a big, important deal," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a conference call with reporters. "What we found is conservation is working."
The department spent $650 million in the past five years to encourage conservation practices such as planting forest buffers and cover crops and taking land out of farm use. The report came out as Congress debates a new farm bill, the source of money for the USDA's farm conservation programs.
Workers Trying to Save 41 Whales Trapped in Everglades (5 December 2013)
A group of pilot whales has wandered deep into a remote part of Everglades National Park in South Florida, into an area of shallow water where they are at risk of stranding themselves and dying, according to new reports.
A total of 10 of the whales have already died after getting too close to shore, while 41 are still alive, the Associated Press reported. Six of the whales were found dead while four had to be euthanized, the AP noted. Rescuers attempted to herd the rest into deeper water yesterday (Dec. 4) but failed, park spokeswoman Linda Friar told the AP. "They are not cooperating," she said.
Today wildlife workers have returned to the area to try again. The animals are in about 3 feet (1 meter) of water, which is too shallow for them -- they are typically found in much deeper waters, according to news reports. Pilot whales become stranded more than most other cetaceans. That's partially because they stick together in pods, and sometimes an entire group will follow a sick whale to shore and become stranded, researchers say.
BP pushes technical limits to tap extreme fields (5 December 2013)
HOUSTON (AP) -- BP's strategy after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy: Go deeper.
BP is leading an industry-wide push to develop technology that can retrieve oil from formations that are so deep under the sea floor, and under such high pressure and temperature, that conventional equipment would melt or be crushed by the conditions.
One BP field in the Gulf of Mexico, called Tiber, makes the Macondo field that the Deepwater Horizon rig was probing look like simple puddle of oil. It is thought to hold 20 times the amount of oil as Macondo. At 35,000 feet below the sea floor -- 6.6 miles into the earth's crust -- it is about twice as deep.
There's an extraordinary amount of oil in similar discoveries around the world, several of which are controlled by BP. But BP first must figure out how to get it. New equipment, including blowout preventers far stronger than the one that failed on the Deepwater Horizon, must be developed. Then BP must convince regulators it can tap this oil safely.
Another disaster could threaten BP's existence, but success could restore the company's fortunes -- and perhaps its reputation. "There's 10 to 20 billion barrels of oil just for BP in this," says Kevin Kennelly, who runs BP's global technology operations. At today's prices, that's worth up to $2 trillion.
Proposed NJ law to ban eating, snacking while driving (5 December 2013)
The proposed New Jersey driving law is nicknamed Nikki's law. A teenager named Nikki was killed as a passenger in an auto accident when the person driving was distracted by using his cell phone, so it's claimed. And that's entirely possible. But New Jersey as well as many other states already has laws restricting hand-held cell phone use while driving.
Nevertheless, Nikki's dad went on a campaign to have his state representatives introduce legislation to make driver distraction laws even more open-ended.
The proposed law allows any bored cop to look for people who are snacking, drinking sodas or water, or peeking at a map, those who could be considered overly concerned with dashboard controls for ventilation or radio, or paying too much attention to GPS directions, or reaching over to handle a toddler, and who knows whatever else. You see, the cop will decide whether a driver is distracted by his or her own activity.
As one protesting New Jersey resident commented, there is already a reckless driving law. If someone is driving carelessly, let the driver be ticketed for that and realize why he or she was driving recklessly.
Arts, culture add $504b to nation's GDP, report says (6 December 2013)
WASHINGTON -- Creative industries led by Hollywood account for about $504 billion, or at least 3.2 percent of US goods and services, the government said in its first official measure of how the arts and culture affect the economy.
On Thursday, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts released the first-ever estimates of the creative sector's contributions to the US gross domestic product based on 2011 data, the most recent figures available. GDP measures the nation's production of goods and services.
Sunil Iyengar, the endowment's research director, said the yardstick devised in partnership with the Bureau of Economic Analysis used figures from Hollywood, the ad industry, cable TV production, broadcasting, publishing, and performing arts. Now the nation's creative sector will be measured annually.
''One of the challenges that's always been there for economists . . . is to understand what is the arts' value,'' Ilyengar said. ''Here's a measurable, legitimate, rigorous way of tracking the contributions of the creative economy in the country.''
Rob Ford documents: 8 revelations from wiretap evidence (5 December 2013)
Information released Wednesday from police wiretaps has Toronto Mayor Rob Ford facing a host of new accusations and revelations.
The allegations, from a police investigation called Project Brazen 2, are unproven and have not been tested in court.
Here are some of the allegations in the documents:
When Ford admitted after months of denials to having smoked crack cocaine once likely during one of his "drunken stupors," he said he "has nothing left to hide."
But wiretap interceptions from the Toronto police investigation suggest crack cocaine may not have been the only drug the mayor has used.
During an April 20 phone conversation between Liban Siyad and Abdullahi Harun, Harun claims he has multiple photographs of Ford "doing the hezza," or heroin.
Rob Ford fiasco getting worse and we haven't hit bottom yet: DiManno (5 December 2013)
He was up to his thick neck, just below his even thicker skull, in thugs and drugs and lurking shakedowns.
Everything you thought you knew about Rob Ford, everything you may have believed -- or disbelieved -- has been eclipsed by stunning new revelations, as alleged in the fresh batch of police documents released Wednesday. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Hard to imagine that it could get worse, this endless contorting helix of scandal. But it has. We've not yet touched bottom.
Your mayor, Toronto: Crack-smoker, habitué of drug dens, consorter of gang-bangers, and sitting duck for potential blackmail.
Bratton to become NYC police chief again (5 December 2013)
William Bratton, whose tenure as New York City police commissioner in the 1990s was marked by a steep decline in crime and clashes with then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, has been chosen to lead the nation's largest police force again.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio announced the appointment Thursday, saying Bratton is a "proven crime-fighter" who knows how to keep the city safe. Bratton is being named to lead the NYPD as it tries to maintain a historic drop in crime and an extensive counterterrorism program, even as its tactics, like the controversial stop-and-frisk policy, have come under increased scrutiny.
Bratton said his first duty will be "to bring police and community together. ... It must be done fairly, compassionately and consistently."
De Blasio made reforming, but not eliminating, stop-and-frisk one of the centerpieces of this mayoral campaign.
"Bill Bratton knows when it comes to stop and frisk it has to be used with respect, it has to be used properly," de Blasio said in a statement. "Together, we are going to preserve and deepen the historic gains we've made in public safety -- gains Bill Bratton helped make possible. ... We will do it by rejecting the false choice between keeping New Yorkers safe and protecting their civil rights. This is an administration that will do both."
2 million Facebook, Gmail and Twitter passwords stolen in massive hack (4 December 2013)
Hackers have stolen usernames and passwords for nearly two million accounts at Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo and others, according to a report released this week.
The massive data breach was a result of keylogging software maliciously installed on an untold number of computers around the world, researchers at cybersecurity firm Trustwave said. The virus was capturing log-in credentials for key websites over the past month and sending those usernames and passwords to a server controlled by the hackers.
On Nov. 24, Trustwave researchers tracked that server, located in the Netherlands. They discovered compromised credentials for more than 93,000 websites, including:
• 318,000 Facebook (FB, Fortune 500) accounts
• 70,000 Gmail, Google+ and YouTube accounts
• 60,000 Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) accounts
• 22,000 Twitter (TWTR) accounts
• 9,000 Odnoklassniki accounts (a Russian social network)
• 8,000 ADP (ADP, Fortune 500) accounts (ADP says it counted 2,400)
• 8,000 LinkedIn (LNKD)accounts
NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show (4 December 2013)
The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals -- and map their relationships -- in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.
The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, according to the officials and the documents, which were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool.
The NSA does not target Americans' location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones "incidentally," a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.
One senior collection manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA, said "we are getting vast volumes" of location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones. Additionally, data are often collected from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year.
PAM COMMENTARY: Also see How the NSA is tracking people right now.
Watching the Watch List: Landmark Case Goes to Trial over Massive U.S. Terrorism "No-Fly" Database (2 December 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about when these lists started?
ANYA BERNSTEIN: Sure. These lists started, in some sense, in the '90s, without really that much thought about terrorism. So, for instance, one of the lists that feeds into this master list is a list called the Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File run by the FBI. And that list was created as a violent gang file, so Crips and Bloods and that sort of thing. And at the last minute, the FBI thought, "Wouldn't it be nice to have terrorist suspects on here, too?" and included them under the same criteria as used for the violent gangs. And many of the lists developed in this kind of haphazard way. After 9/11, they became used a lot more, obviously, and people were paying a lot more attention to them. And the process by which they were consolidated was also somewhat haphazard. I think people in the government noticed that they were tracking a lot of different lists, that there were contradictions, the criteria are different, and they decided to have a consolidated watch list in the early 2000s to kind of act as an umbrella over all of these.
AMY GOODMAN: What are the hidden costs of these--the title of your piece?
ANYA BERNSTEIN: Well, I call it "The Hidden Costs" because some of the obvious costs are obvious. That's what Rahinah Ibrahim is suing about. That's what you've been talking about. People are harmed by being on these watch lists. They're harmed by being not allowed to fly. They're also harmed by being subject to a lot more scrutiny from law enforcement officers every time they run into them. So if you're on a watch list like this and you are stopped for speeding, the officer runs your license through a computer system, and he's informed that you're on the watch list. And then, naturally, he's going to be paying a lot more attention to you; you're much more likely to be arrested and to receive a certain kind of treatment. So, those are--those are more due process rights that may be infringed, and those are kind of the obvious costs of the terrorist watch lists.
ALEC calls for penalties on 'freerider' homeowners in assault on clean energy (4 December 2013)
An alliance of corporations and conservative activists is mobilising to penalise homeowners who install their own solar panels -- casting them as "freeriders" -- in a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy, the Guardian has learned.
Over the coming year, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalising individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama's main channel for climate action.
Details of Alec's strategy to block clean energy development at every stage -- from the individual rooftop to the White House -- are revealed as the group gathers for its policy summit in Washington this week.
About 800 state legislators and business leaders are due to attend the three-day event, which begins on Wednesday with appearances by the Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson and the Republican budget guru and fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan.
USDA outlines plan to fight salmonella (4 December 2013)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has outlined a broad plan to combat salmonella. But some food safety advocates say it doesn't do enough to combat a pathogen responsible for 1.3 million illnesses in the U.S. each year.
The push has taken on new urgency this year after a salmonella outbreak tied to Foster Farms poultry from plants in central California sickened at least 389 people nationwide. The outbreak exhibited an especially virulent strain of salmonella that showed signs of resistance to antibiotics.
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service on Wednesday released a priority list of actions. They include developing more stringent sampling and testing and creating first-ever national standards for salmonella contamination rates in cut chicken parts. The agency also wants to expand a controversial test program to overhaul inspection procedures at slaughter facilities, a process that could lead to fewer government inspectors in the nation's poultry plants.
In an interview Wednesday, Elisabeth Hagen, under secretary for food safety, said the plan took a year to develop and was the most comprehensive effort the agency has taken to reduce salmonella.
Amputees help advance thought-controlled prosthetic technology (4 December 2013)
One minute, Anne Mekalian's brain is telling her prosthetic arm to unstack a set of multicolored plastic cones, and the shiny black metal limb is listening. Every now and then, the plastic clatters to the table, but quickly the cones are separated and restored to a neat pile.
The next moment, though, the bionic hand doesn't know what to make of slight muscle movements in Mekalian's forearm, interpreted through a set of electrodes touching the skin on the rounded remnant limb that extends just below her elbow. Instead of pinching a red clothespin, the robotic hand spins like Linda Blair's head in "The Exorcist."
"This is why it's experimental, right?" Mekalian, of Joppatowne, joked to a group of scientists who had gathered in an office at Johns Hopkins Hospital to watch her as part of clinical trials of advanced prosthetics.
Despite occasional setbacks -- and, perhaps, because of them -- the technology is advancing quickly. Over the past several months, Mekalian and two other amputees working with a Johns Hopkins Hospital surgeon and local company have been among the first in the nation to take home thought-controlled robotic arms designed for wounded veterans.
PAM COMMENTARY: NOTE: This article's video and commercial starts playing, with sound, without the reader taking any action.
Arizona agency fined $559,000 in Yarnell Hill firefighter deaths (4 December 2013)
TUCSON -- The 19 firefighters who perished when 40-foot flames overtook them in a rocky canyon near Prescott in June were the victims of poor planning and bad communication, forced into a losing battle to protect structures and pasturelands that were "indefensible," a state safety commission concluded Wednesday.
The Arizona State Forestry Division, responsible for managing the Yarnell Hill fire, now faces a $559,000 fine, one of the largest such fines ever levied in the state.
A report prepared by independent consultants to the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health found that members of the Granite Mountain hotshot team were called on to fight the fast-moving blaze outside the town of Yarnell with inadequate briefing, no good maps and radios that left them without good communication with incident commanders.
"We found no evidence that a risk assessment for the strategies and tactics were examined," said the report, prepared for the state by Wildland Fire Associates. Fire overseers "reported flame lengths of 40 feet with rates of speed up to 16 miles per hour occurred, yet no one seemed to recognize these signs as trigger points that should have led to a change in tactics and relocation of [the crew]," it found.
Wednesday afternoon, the Arizona Industrial Commission voted unanimously to accept the findings of the report, which also called for payments of $25,000 to dependents of each of the 19 firefighters.
AP Exclusive: Judge Says He Broke Ethics Code (3 December 2013)
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- A Montana judge under fire for commenting that a 14-year-old rape victim appeared "older than her chronological age" said Tuesday that he deserves to be censured but not removed from the bench for the remarks.
District Judge G. Todd Baugh told The Associated Press the comments violated judicial ethics rules by failing to promote public confidence in the courts.
"I shouldn't have said that ... I don't contest that appearance of impropriety," he said during an interview in his chambers at the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings.
"I don't think it's appropriate to be removed," he added.
The 72-year-old judge repeated his assertion that his comments did not factor into the 30-day sentence handed down in the case, and said he has no plans to resign in the face of formal complaints filed by advocates for rape victims.
Baugh sentenced former teacher Stacey Rambold in August for the 2007 rape of high school freshman Cherice Moralez, who killed herself before the case went to trial. Rambold, a former business teacher, was 47 at the time of the attack.
The office of Montana Attorney General Tim Fox has appealed Rambold's sentence as illegal and too lenient. He remains free while the appeal is pending before the Montana Supreme Court.
Pardoning Turkeys, Not People? Obama Urged to Reverse Lowest Clemency Rate of Modern Presidency (2 December 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Tony. It's great to have you back. First, talk about your own story very briefly, if you would.
ANTHONY PAPA: Well, I was a first-time nonviolent drug offender, that basically in 1985 I made the biggest mistake of my life. I brought an envelope up from the Bronx to Mount Vernon for $500. It was an envelope containing four ounces of cocaine. I walked into a police sting operation. I did everything I could do wrong, and eventually I was sentenced to 15 years to life under the Rockefeller drug laws of New York state, went to prison, was lost, didn't know what to do, discovered my talent as an artist as I transcended the negativity of imprisonment, and basically painted a self-portrait in 1988. One night I was sitting in my cell, picked up a mirror; I looked in the mirror, I saw an individual who's going to spend the most productive years of his life in a cage; painted the self-portrait, and it appeared at the Whitney Museum of American Art about seven years later. And I was granted--I got a lot of publicity on my case and was granted executive clemency by Governor George Pataki. I came out, wanted to do something about those that I left behind, so I started a group, co-founded a group, Mothers of the New York Disappeared, became a leading activist in New York state to fight the draconian Rockefeller drug laws. Basically, the laws had a couple of revisions, and then in, recently, 2009, Governor Paterson stepped up to the plate and reformed the Rockefeller drug laws in a historic way.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain the whole concept of mandatory minimums, which the Rockefeller drug laws were based on.
ANTHONY PAPA: Right, mandatory minimums is, you take away the discretion of the judges to look at the totality of facts. So, basically, the judge in my case didn't want to sentence me to 15 years to life, but he had to because of mandatory minimum sentencing, which dictates that he had to do it.
Special Report: Thailand secretly supplies Myanmar refugees to trafficking rings (4 December 2013)
(Reuters) - One afternoon in October, in the watery no-man's land between Thailand and Myanmar, Muhammad Ismail vanished.
Thai immigration officials said he was being deported to Myanmar. In fact, they sold Ismail, 23, and hundreds of other Rohingya Muslims to human traffickers, who then spirited them into brutal jungle camps.
As thousands of Rohingya flee Myanmar to escape religious persecution, a Reuters investigation in three countries has uncovered a clandestine policy to remove Rohingya refugees from Thailand's immigration detention centers and deliver them to human traffickers waiting at sea.
The Rohingya are then transported across southern Thailand and held hostage in a series of camps hidden near the border with Malaysia until relatives pay thousands of dollars to release them. Reporters located three such camps - two based on the testimony of Rohingya held there, and a third by trekking to the site, heavily guarded, near a village called Baan Klong Tor.
NASA's growing a turnip garden on the moon (4 December 2013)
On the moon, there's little gravity, little air, little water, and a whole lot of radiation and extreme temperature fluctuations. These are not ideal conditions for gardening. But NASA is going to try. It's designed a tiny habitat -- about as large as a coffee canister, according to NPR -- that researchers think will allow plants to, if not thrive, at least exist on the moon:
"The plant habitat that [plant scientist Bob] Bowman and his colleagues have designed contains seeds, as well as a nutrient-rich paper and enough air and water for the seeds to germinate and grow. The canister also has features that regulate light and temperature, and cameras that the researchers will use to track the plants' progress over five to 10 days."
The idea, of course, is that one day people will be living off-Earth for long enough periods that living off freeze-dried food will be unsustainable (and possibly cause space madness). These little moon gardens could help astronauts eat local.
For starters, NASA is growing cress, turnips, and basil, which are no one's favorite foods (well, maybe basil), and can't really go together to make a decent salad. But replace the turnip with kohlrabi and the basil with mint, and you're maybe getting somewhere.
Detroit Bankruptcy: Wall Street, Lost Revenues Forced Decline, But City Pensioners to Pay the Costs (4 December 2013)
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, a new study says Detroit's emergency manager may be exaggerating claims of an $18 billion debt while misplacing blame for the city's fiscal woes. The progressive think tank Demos says Detroit's problems stem not from its liabilities, from a decline, in fact, in public revenues and involvement in harmful Wall Street schemes.
To talk more about the crisis, we're joined by the Demos report author, Wallace Turbeville, senior fellow at Demos and author of the report, "The Detroit Bankruptcy." He's formerly a vice president at Goldman Sachs in the municipal finance department.
And in Detroit we're joined by Edward McNeil, who worked for the city of Detroit for 25 years as an arborist. He retired in '98 and now works for AFSCME Council 25 in Michigan, one of the union representatives currently bargaining for the rights of Detroit's employees and retirees.
We welcome you both, Wallace Turbeville and Edward McNeil, to Democracy Now! Wallace Turbeville, can you explain to us what is it--who is responsible, who is responsible for Detroit's woes?
WALLACE TURBEVILLE: Detroit has several kinds of woes. Detroit has had some deep structural problems for many years: a declining population, a job market that's been particularly susceptible to downturns in the economy, and a real decline in housing. Those structural issues have been going on for a long time. The other thing that's happened--they're related, but they're different--is that it ran out of cash, ran out of cash this year. And when you talk about insolvencies of municipalities, bankruptcies of municipalities, it's all about running out of cash. So they need to fix very important structural problems. They also need to get their checkbook balanced so that they're actually--have money coming in that's--that it covers the money that has to go out on an annual basis. So, that part is--what we find in the report is that part of it, the cash part of it, is overwhelmingly a function of a tremendous downturn in the revenues of the city, in the tax base of the city, and, importantly, money that the state collects in taxes and turns back to the city in terms of revenue sharing. That was a critical part of the problem.
Snowden documents show NSA gathering 5bn cell phone records daily (4 December 2013)
The National Security Agency is reportedly collecting almost 5 billion cell phone records a day under a program that monitors and analyses highly personal data about the precise whereabouts of individuals, wherever they travel in the world.
Details of the giant database of location-tracking information, and the sophisticated ways in which the NSA uses the data to establish relationships between people, have been revealed by the Washington Post, which cited documents supplied by whistleblower Edward Snowden and intelligence officials.
The spy agency is said to be tracking the movements of "at least hundreds of millions of devices" in what amounts to a staggeringly powerful surveillance tool. It means the NSA can, through mobile phones, track individuals anywhere they travel -- including into private homes -- or retrace previously traveled journeys.
The data can also be used to study patterns of behaviour to reveal personal information and relationships between different users.
The NSA provided some input into the report, with one senior collection manager, granted permission to speak to the newspaper, admitting the agency is "getting vast volumes" of location data from around the planet by tapping into cables that connect mobile networks globally.
NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show (4 December 2013)
The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals -- and map their relationships -- in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.
The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, according to the officials and the documents, which were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool.
The NSA does not target Americans' location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones "incidentally," a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.
One senior collection manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA, said "we are getting vast volumes" of location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones. Additionally, data are often collected from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year.
NASA forms partnership with manufacturing center (4 December 2013)
NASA and the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing are forming a partnership to advance technology and innovation.
NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton says it will be the first government member of the applied research center. That center is based in Prince George County and provides advanced manufacturing solutions to member companies, which guide research while collaborating with Virginia universities.
NASA says its scientists will conduct research and development at the center. NASA will also provide liaisons to the center's industrial operations board and technical advisory council.
Timeline: A Short and Sweet History of Fake Meat (4 December 2013)
John Harvey Kellogg, a member of the mostly vegetarian Seventh-day Adventists, creates a peanut-based "meatless meat," Nuttose, which becomes popular at sanitariums. He goes on to popularize cereal as an alternative to egg- and meat-heavy breakfasts.
In his essay "Fifty Years Hence," Winston Churchill writes, "We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium."
Seventh-day Adventists found Loma Linda Foods, which makes some of the first commercially available soy- and wheat-based fake meats.
British scientists discover Fusarium venenatum, a high-protein fungus.
Oregon restaurateur Paul Wenner shapes leftover vegetables and rice pilaf into patties and sells them as Gardenburgers.
UK-based Quorn introduces fake meat made of Fusarium venenatum.
Dandelion has unsuspected health benefits such as inhibiting cancer cell growth (4 December 2013)
(NaturalNews) So many people can't wait to get rid of them once they start growing on their lawn, since dandelions are often seen as unwelcome weeds. Some of you may also recall the Rolling Stones song named "Dandelion" that came out during the summer of 1967. It was possibly the last time that dandelion was truly put into the spotlight, but new hope has now emerged that could very well make it the most wanted weed around.
The dandelion greens are closely related to the sunflower plant family, which includes over 22 000 other plant species, such as thistles and daisies. This herb had a much better reputation in the old days, regarded by most as a formidable healer. The dandelion leaves are recognized for their ability to purify the blood, help with digestion and hamper the formation of hardened crystals known as gall stones. Ongoing research is most importantly starting to show that dandelion may possibly turn out to be an exceptional alternative for chemoresistant forms of cancer.
The dandelion greens contain extremely important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B6, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin C, iron, calcium, potassium, folate, magnesium and manganese. They may contribute up to 535% of the suggested daily intake of vitamin K, not to mention over 110% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. It is believed that some of its flavonoids such as zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin have specific healing properties. Zeaxanthin seems to provide protection for the retina when confronted by the sun's UV rays, while cryptoxanthin can potentially defend the body against the development of mouth and lung cancer cells.
Dandelion has been shown to induce apoptosis in melanoma cells
It's now on record that chemoresistant melanoma is the most common form of cancer for a portion of North American young adults, those aged between 25 and 29. Knowing that the immediate physical removal of melanoma cells remains to this day a standard practice for such patients, it is vital to know some researched alternatives. The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Ontario's University of Windsor demonstrated that dandelion root extracts can efficiently induce apoptosis in human melanoma cells without causing any forms of toxicity in the process.
New Ontario law would protect 'precarious' workers (4 December 2013)
Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi is expected to announce new labour legislation Wednesday to protect so-called "precarious" workers in Ontario, who are often victims of wage theft and other workplace abuses , the Star has learned
Under the proposed legislation, companies that hire temporary agencies would be liable for unpaid wages, severance pay and other Employment Standards Act violations suffered by temporary agency workers.
If passed, Ontario would be the first province in Canada to enact so-called "joint and several liability" for temporary help agencies and their client companies.
The labour law reforms are also expected to expand workers' ability to claim unpaid wages, ban recruitment fees for all migrant workers and extend workplace health and safety protection for unpaid interns, sources familiar with the legislation told the Star.
Mammoth mining tool takes overnight ride through Texas (4 December 2013)
HOUSTON -- Workers in Conroe hauled a colossal, 63.4-metric ton dragline excavator -- essentially, a giant shovel -- overnight Tuesday to a coal mine near Austin.
The 130-mile trip to Elgin was the maiden voyage in the U.S. for South African equipment maker VR Steel, which four months ago outsourced the fabrication of its first U.S. excavator to Conroe-based manufacturers C&C Metals and Mackanan.
The midnight ride took seven hours: Crew members on escort trucks lifted power lines and moved traffic lights to clear the way for the excavator, which sat 18 feet high on the back of a semi-trailer. After a "bit of a slow trip," slowing but never fully stopping traffic, the excavator arrived at its new home at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, said Johan van Jaarsveld, a vice president of sales and manufacturing for VR Steel.
Two of the South African company's engineers are expected to sign off on the device next week, enabling it to start chomping earth as early as the evening of Dec. 11.
US Health Reform Keeps Insurance Companies in the Mix, No Matter the Cost (3 December 2013)
In a recent online post for the Roosevelt Institute, the economics commentator Mike Konczal said most of what needs to be said about the underlying sources of the Affordable Care Act's complexity, which in turn set the stage for the current tech problems. Basically, Obamacare is not complicated because government social insurance programs have to be complicated: Neither Social Security nor Medicare is complex in structure. As Mr. Konczal wrote, it's complicated because political constraints made a straightforward single-payer system unachievable.
It's been clear all along that the Affordable Care Act sets up a sort of Rube Goldberg device: a complicated system that in the end is supposed to more or less simulate the results of single-payer, but keeping private insurance companies in the mix and holding down the headline amount of government outlays through means-testing. This doesn't make it unworkable: State exchanges are working, and healthcare.gov will probably get fixed before the whole thing kicks in. But it did make a botched rollout much more likely.
So Mr. Konczal is right to say that the implementation problems aren't revealing problems with the idea of social insurance; they're revealing the price we pay for insisting on keeping insurance companies in the mix, when they serve little useful purpose.
Does this mean that liberals should have insisted on single-payer or nothing? No. Single-payer wasn't going to happen -- partly because of the insurance lobby's power, partly because voters wouldn't have gone for a system that took away their existing coverage and replaced it with the unknown. Yes, Obamacare is a somewhat awkward kludge, but if that's what it took to cover the uninsured, so be it.
Guardian will not be intimidated over NSA leaks, Alan Rusbridger tells MPs (3 December 2013)
The Guardian has come under concerted pressure and intimidation designed to stop it from publishing stories of huge public interest that have revealed the "staggering" scale of Britain's and America's secret surveillance programmes, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper has said.
Giving evidence to a parliamentary committee about stories based on the National Security Agency leaks from the whistleblower Edward Snowden, Alan Rusbridger said the Guardian "would not be put off by intimidation, but nor are we going to behave recklessly".
He told MPs that disclosures from the files had generated a global debate about the powers of state agencies, and the weaknesses of the laws and oversight regimes they worked within.
"In terms of the broader debate, I can't think of a story in recent times that has ricocheted around the world like this has and which has been more broadly debated in parliaments, in courts and amongst NGOs," he said.
Noam Chomsky on Education & How "Manufacturing Consent" Brought Attention to East Timor Massacres (3 December 2013)
AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky at the premiere of the film Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? He was also asked to talk about his role in the making of another feature-length film, Manufacturing Consent, released in 1992. Noam began by talking about one of the filmmakers, Peter Wintonick, who died last month on November 18th.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Actually, I can't really claim to have worked with--I spent a lot of time with him and enjoyed talking to him--very imaginative, thoughtful, dedicated person, who spent--really spent his life, not only then, but for many years afterwards, doing very admirable work of all kinds, often turned out in documentary films, but on serious issues which were hard to investigate. He was--did a lot of courageous, imaginative work. As far as that film is concerned, I had about as much to do with it as the moon has if people take photographs of the moon. You know, I was giving talks and giving interviews. And Peter and Mark Achbar was--I don't know what you call him technically--producer or something?
ANTHONY ARNOVE: Mm-hmm.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Was--they'd come around and film, and we'd have some interviews, and they put it together. And I have to admit, I never saw it. I can't stand watching myself, so I never saw the film. But I'm told it was a pretty impressive film, they did a very good job.
I know one thing that they did that I was very pleased about, was to take one issue that I'd been spending a lot of time working on, and it was a very difficult case. There were a small number of people working on it. None of us ever thought it would get anywhere. It was the case of East Timor, which maybe you know about, which was invaded in 1975 by Indonesia, with strong U.S. support. It led almost quickly to virtual genocide. I don't like the term "genocide" much, but this one came pretty close, maybe 200,000 people killed out of a population of 600,000 or 700,000, all with full U.S. support. U.S. could have cut it off in two minutes. England, France, others also joined in to try to pick up a bit of the spoils. Indonesia is a rich country, lots of resources and a lot of incentive to support them. And there was very a small number of people who were trying to work on it, trying to bring some attention to it to see if something could be saved from the wreckage. Went on for a long time. Amy Goodman here was one of the people in 1991 who--she and Allan Nairn went and were practically beaten to death in a demonstration. They got--did some very good work and got some--a lot of important publicity. And now, finally, in 1999, President Clinton, under a lot of pressure, international and domestic, essentially called it off, with a phrase. He essentially told the Indonesian generals, "Game's over." They left. That's what it means to be a powerful state. Now, there's a lot to learn from that. But one thing I was pleased about in Peter's film is that they emphasized this and did very evocative and imaginative work about it, which I think probably informed plenty of people about it. So it maybe saved a lot of lives.
Detroit Bankruptcy Bankrupts Democracy (3 December 2013)
Detroit elected a new mayor November 5 and he will take office in less than a month. But the future of this great American city and its citizens isn't being defined by decisions made by voters on Election Day. It is being defined in federal bankruptcy court--and by an "emergency manager" who has no democratic legitimacy.
With a ruling Tuesday by US Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, Detroit officially becomes the largest US city ever to enter Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Despite a determination that negotiations with creditors outside of bankruptcy court had not satisfied good-faith requirements, the judge cleared the way for the emergency manager and his law firm to advance a "plan of adjustment" that is likely to include deep cuts in pension guarantees for retired city employees and a "fire sale" of city assets that could result in public utilities and the Detroit Institute of Arts collection being bartered off to private bidders.
What Judge Rhodes has done is not the end of the bankruptcy process. It is merely the beginning. But the process has been framed in a manner that runs the risk of undermining the city's long-term recovery by taking money away from the most vulnerable residents of Detroit. As Jordan Marks, executive director of the National Public Pension Coalition notes, "In the bankruptcy, the modest pensions of Detroit's firefighters, police officers, and other city employees could be all but wiped out, even as Wall Street banks continue to extract hundreds millions of dollars from the city's economy. This is a dark day for people of Detroit who worked hard, played by the rules, and are now at risk of losing everything."
By Tuesday afternoon, according to Reuters, the emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, had "called on unions to help bridge gaps with the city on planned pension cuts." And he has commissioned the auction house Christie's to assess the value of the art institute's collection -- which traces its roots to the 1880s and includes works by Bruegel, Cézanne, van Gogh and murals by Diego Rivera -- for possible sale.
Top 10 Ways the US is the Most Corrupt Country in the World (3 December 2013)
While it is true that you don't typically have to bribe your postman to deliver the mail in the US, in many key ways America's political and financial practices make it in absolute terms far more corrupt than the usual global South suspects. After all, the US economy is worth over $16 trillion a year, so in our corruption a lot more money changes hands.
1. Instead of having short, publicly-funded political campaigns with limited and/or free advertising (as a number of Western European countries do), the US has long political campaigns in which candidates are dunned big bucks for advertising. They are therefore forced to spend much of their time fundraising, which is to say, seeking bribes. All American politicians are basically on the take, though many are honorable people. They are forced into it by the system. House Majority leader John Boehner has actually just handed out cash on the floor of the House from the tobacco industry to other representatives.
When French President Nicolas Sarkozy was defeated in 2012, soon thereafter French police actually went into his private residence searching for an alleged $50,000 in illicit campaign contributions from the L'Oreale heiress. I thought to myself, seriously? $50,000 in a presidential campaign? Our presidential campaigns cost a billion dollars each! $50,000 is a rounding error, not a basis for police action. Why, George W. Bush took millions from arms manufacturers and then ginned up a war for them, and the police haven't been anywhere near his house.
American politicians don't represent "the people." With a few honorable exceptions, they represent the the 1%. American democracy is being corrupted out of existence.
The Real Fix for Obamacare's Flaws: Medicare for All (3 December 2013)
Lost amidst the well-chronicled travails of the Affordable Care Act rollout are the long term effects of people struggling to get the health coverage they need without going bankrupt.
If that sounds familiar, it's because that's been the main story line of the US healthcare system for several decades. Sadly, little has changed.
Still, with all the ACA's highly publicized snafus, and less discussed systemic flaws, there's no reason to welcome the cynical efforts to repeal or defund the law by politicians whose only alternative is more of the same callous, existing market-based healthcare system.
US nurses oppose the rollback and appreciate that several million Americans who are now uninsured may finally get coverage, principally through the expansion of Medicaid, or access to private insurance they've been denied because of their prior health status.
Native American groups increasingly at the center of fights over oil and gas (3 December 2013)
In the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, European settlers stole a lot of land from Native Americans. They killed them, they cheated them, and they robbed them of most of the continent. But they made one mistake. Back then good land was fertile land for growing crops. The Great Plains and interior West -- dry, dusty, freezing cold in winter and broiling hot in summer -- had little to offer.
Now, however, the Europeans and their descendants lust for oil and gas to provide electricity, heat, and fuel for internal combustion engines. And guess where a lot of it is to be found? On tribal lands, or near them, requiring pipes, tracks, or roads to be laid through them.
You can see where this is going. Corporations and pliant local officials -- today's equivalent of conquistadors and European crowns -- are trying to gain control of what's left of indigenous peoples' land.
"There are more than 600 major resource projects worth $650-billion planned in Western Canada over the next decade but relations with First Nations may be a major hurdle for those developments," reports the Toronto Globe and Mail.
An eagle stole a video camera and made this cinematic masterpiece (3 December 2013)
This is the work of an Australian filmmaker still trying to make a name for himself. Specifically, it's a young thieving eagle that takes the audience on a journey spanning 62 miles and the human heart. (The filmmaker stole motion-activated equipment that rangers were using to study crocodiles, but times are tough for artists.)
In the all-too-short film -- with its stark soundtrack, minimalist visual effects, and cast of virtual unknowns -- we get a glimpse of life in the Kimberley, a region of western Australia. The isolation is palpable. As the filmmaker exposes his soul in an unprecedented blend of cinematic autobiography and documentary, we see his wings. His favorite rock. Some water or whatever. When the dust settles 23 seconds in, the upside-down camera angle clearly symbolizes how off-kilter he feels inside, without a compass.
Just when the suspense is devouring you, the filmmaker's head appears to give the camera a single, sudden peck. And then another. (Stupid camera, how do you turn it off?!) Just as the entertainment industry can simultaneously nourish us and take voracious chomps out of our souls, so too was the eagle hungry for a snack.
Detroit eligible for nation's largest municipal bankruptcy filing, federal judge rules (3 December 2013)
A federal bankruptcy judge granted Detroit unprecedented powers Tuesday to shed billions of dollars in debt, including the ability to slash city employee pensions despite a state constitutional provision protecting them.
In approving the nation's -largest-ever municipal filing, Judge Steven Rhodes cleared the way for Detroit's emergency manager to develop a plan to reorganize the city's estimated $18 billion in debt. Beyond cutting worker pensions and retiree health benefits, the city could stiff bondholders and sell city assets such as its water and sewer authority and its priceless art collection.
Municipal bankruptcy experts called particular attention to Rhodes's decision to allow pensions to be put on the chopping block. Some said the move would set a precedent for future municipal bankruptcies. And unions vowed to appeal the decision.
"This is the first opinion of its kind where a bankruptcy court has directly expressed the view that the supremacy of U.S. bankruptcy laws trumps state constitutional protections of public pension holders," said Mark S. Kaufman, senior partner at McKenna, Long & Aldridge, an Atlanta law firm. "The implications of that decision are significant not only to Detroit but also potentially to other cities gauging their level of fiscal distress and how to deal with it."
US vet detained in NKorea oversaw guerrilla group (3 December 2013)
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- An 85-year-old U.S. veteran being held in North Korea spent his war years there in one of the Army's first special forces units, helping a clandestine group of Korean partisans who were fighting and spying well behind enemy lines.
Now South Koreans who served with Merrill Newman, who is beginning his sixth week in detention, say their unit was perhaps the most hated and feared by the North and his association with them may be the reason he's being held.
"Why did he go to North Korea?" asked Park Boo Seo, a former member of unit known in Korea as Kuwol, which is still loathed in Pyongyang and glorified in Seoul for the damage it inflicted on the North during the war. "The North Koreans still gnash their teeth at the Kuwol unit."
Some of those guerrillas, interviewed this week by The Associated Press, remember Newman as a handsome, thin American lieutenant who got them rice, clothes and weapons during the later stages of the 1950-53 war but largely left the fighting to them.
Newman was scheduled to visit South Korea to meet former Kuwol fighters following his North Korea trip. Park said about 30 elderly former guerrillas, some carrying bouquets of flowers, waited in vain for several hours for him at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Oct. 27 before news of his detention was released.
E. Shore arson suspect faces dozens of charges (3 December 2013)
A grand jury indicted Tonya S. Bundick on 62 counts of arson Monday, a month after her co-defendant admitted taking part in the Eastern Shore arson spree.
The charges were handed down Monday afternoon, said Samuel Cooper, Accomack County clerk of court.
Bundick, 40, was already facing one count of arson and one count of conspiring with Charles R. Smith, 38, a former volunteer firefighter.
On Oct. 31, Smith pleaded guilty to starting 67 fires on the Eastern Shore between November 2012 and this April and implicated Bundick, his fiancee. He faces a maximum of more than 500 years in prison. No one was hurt in the fires.
Sandy Hook 911 calls being released, ending legal battle to shield families (+video) (3 December 2013)
For almost a year, Connecticut State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky and the Newtown Police Department refused to release recordings of seven 911 calls made on the morning of Dec. 14, 2012 -- each from within Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
On Monday, however, Mr. Sedensky finally relented, announcing he would no longer seek to block their public airing. He had appealed a September ruling by the state's Freedom of Information Commission, which unanimously held there were no legal justifications to keep these from the public. Last week, a state court upheld the commission's ruling and ordered the release of these recordings -- set for Wednesday at 2 pm.
Though 911 recordings are by law a matter of public record, in certain cases they may be withheld from the public. And for months, Sedensky tried to expand legal definitions to their breaking points, arguing the Sandy Hook 911 calls were exempt from freedom of information laws.
For one, he claimed the recordings contained "information relative to child abuse," which would make them confidential under the law. He also argued that their release would reveal the names of witnesses, thus endangering their safety and making them subject to threats and intimidation -- as well as creating a "chilling effect" on future 911 callers, who would be wary of their names becoming public.
Vatican, Oxford put ancient manuscripts online (3 December 2013)
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Access to the Gutenberg Bible and other ancient manuscripts has just gotten easier.
The Vatican Library and Oxford University's Bodleian Library put the first of 1.5 million pages of their precious manuscripts online Tuesday, bringing their collections to a global audience for the first time.
The two libraries in 2012 announced a four-year project to digitize some of the most important works in their collections of Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts and early printed books.
The 2 million pound ($3.3 million) project is being funded by the Polonsky Foundation, which aims to democratize access to information.
"We want everyone who can to see these manuscripts, these great works of humanity," Monsignor Cesare Pasini, the prefect of the Vatican Library, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday inside the frescoed library. "And we want to conserve them."
Among the first works up on the site Tuesday, at http:/bav.bodleian.ox.ac.uk, are the two-volume Gutenberg Bibles from each of the libraries, an illustrated 11th century Greek bible and a beautiful 15th-century German bible, hand-colored and illustrated by woodcuts.
Egypt arrests prominent secular political activist (3 December 2013)
CAIRO -- A prominent Egyptian political activist reported Tuesday he had been picked up by police, the latest in a string of arrests of secular Egyptians who helped spearhead the country's 2011 uprising against ousted former President Hosni Mubarak.
Ahmed Douma sent a tweet alerting followers of his arrest, saying he was not aware of the accusation against him.
In the five months that the military-backed government has been in power, most of the authorities' wrath has been aimed at the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement that propelled Islamist President Mohamed Morsi to power. He was deposed in a coup in July.
The move against the secularists picked up steam a little over a week ago. On Nov. 24, the interim government banned any protests not authorized in advance by police, a measure that was quickly tested. Police last Tuesday broke up an unauthorized demonstration by a group protesting the use of military trials, arresting about two dozen people.
A group of women protesters, several of them closely associated with the 2011 uprising, reported being beaten in custody and dumped hours later in the desert outside Cairo.
Bob Dylan charged with 'inciting hate' (3 December 2013)
His songs were a soundtrack to the anti-war movement, his voice one of the most prominent of the struggle for civil rights, but now Bob Dylan stands accused in France of inciting hate after comments he made to -- ironically -- Rolling Stone magazine.
The 72-year-old music icon, whose most famous songs include "Like a Rolling Stone," is facing preliminary charges of "public insult and inciting hate," a spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutors' office said.
The legal action stems from remarks Dylan made in a 2012 interview with the influential music publication, and followed complaints by a Franco-Croatian community organization.
The legal complaint was made by CRICCF, which alleged Dylan's comments, as carried in the French version of the magazine, violated the country's racial hatred laws.
In France, racism complaints automatically trigger formal investigations, irrespective of the merits of the case. The BBC's Paris correspondent reported the investigation is a sign the authorities are taking the case seriously, but that it may not lead to a prosecution. The Independent newspaper said if Dylan were to be prosecuted and found guilty, he could face a fine.
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Edward Snowden revelations prompt UN investigation into surveillance (2 December 2013)
The UN's senior counter-terrorism official is to launch an investigation into the surveillance powers of American and British intelligence agencies following Edward Snowden's revelations that they are using secret programmes to store and analyse billions of emails, phone calls and text messages.
The UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson QC said his inquiry would also seek to establish whether the British parliament had been misled about the capabilities of Britain's eavesdropping headquarters, GCHQ, and whether the current system of oversight and scrutiny was strong enough to meet United Nations standards.
The inquiry will make a series of recommendations to the UN general assembly next year.
In an article for the Guardian, Emmerson said Snowden had disclosed "issues at the very apex of public interest concerns". He said the media had a duty and right to publish stories about the activities of GCHQ and its American counterpart the National Security Agency.
"The astonishing suggestion that this sort of responsible journalism can somehow be equated with aiding and abetting terrorism needs to be scotched decisively," said Emmerson, who has been the UN's leading voice on counter-terrorism and human rights since 2011.
Obama OKs pipeline that will help Canada's tar-sands industry (2 December 2013)
The week before Thanksgiving, the Obama administration quietly approved a pipeline project that will cross the U.S.-Canada border and benefit the tar-sands industry. But not that pipeline.
This 1,900-mile pipeline will carry gas condensate or ultra-light oil from an Illinois terminal northwest to Alberta, where it will be used to thin tar-sands oil so it can travel through pipelines. Without this kind of diluent, tar-sands oil is too thick and sludgy to transport. "Increased demand for diluent among Alberta's tar sands producers has created a growing market for U.S. producers of natural gas liquids, particularly for fracked gas producers," reports DeSmogBlog.
Houston-based Kinder Morgan is the company behind the $260 million Cochin Reversal Project, which will reverse and expand an existing pipeline. The pipeline will be fed by fracking operations in the Eagle Ford Shale area in Texas.
Yes, fracking and tar sands, together at last.
Here's a map of the pipeline project...
NTSB: New York train was going 82 mph in 30 mph zone before crash (2 December 2013)
NEW YORK -- The Metro-North commuter train that derailed in the Bronx -- killing four people and injuring dozens -- was traveling at a "harrowing" 82 mph as it hit a curve where the limit was 30 mph, officials said Monday.
The throttle was engaged until six seconds before the locomotive came to a stop on its side, and the brakes were fully applied only five seconds before, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said.
That is "very late in the game," Weener said.
He said it was unclear if the engineer, a 20-year veteran, hit the brakes and they failed, or he simply tried to slow down or stop too late.
Power struggle: Green energy versus a grid that's not ready (2 December 2013)
WASHINGTON -- In a sprawling complex of laboratories and futuristic gadgets in Golden, Colo., a supercomputer named Peregrine does a quadrillion calculations per second to help scientists figure out how to keep the lights on.
Peregrine was turned on this year by the U.S. Energy Department. It has the world's largest "petascale" computing capability. It is the size of a Mack truck.
Its job is to figure out how to cope with a risk from something the public generally thinks of as benign -- renewable energy.
Energy officials worry a lot these days about the stability of the massive patchwork of wires, substations and algorithms that keeps electricity flowing. They rattle off several scenarios that could lead to a collapse of the power grid -- a well-executed cyberattack, a freak storm, sabotage.
But as states, led by California, race to bring more wind, solar and geothermal power online, those and other forms of alternative energy have become a new source of anxiety. The problem is that renewable energy adds unprecedented levels of stress to a grid designed for the previous century.
Surprising mess found as Brazoria County Humane Society close (2 December 2013)
When volunteers arrived to help close the Brazoria County Humane Society after its founder became ill, they found a big mess.
Then it got worse.
A facility designed for about 50 dogs was packed with more than 200.
Things were starting to look up as volunteers worked like mad to place the canines elsewhere, then the pooches started dying of distemper.
Now the transfer of dogs from the private shelter is on hold for a month-long quarantine, volunteers said.
Ontario to bring in ethical sourcing policy for clothing (2 December 2013)
The Ontario government is introducing an ethical sourcing policy for companies that bid on clothing contracts, the Star has learned, an effort that will help to ensure that sweatshop labour is not used to make apparel for civil servants.
The provincial government had been criticized in recent weeks because it has spent $66 million over the past five years on apparel but has had no idea where that apparel was made.
Activists and even some of the province's biggest clothing suppliers have said Ontario should demand more transparency of its apparel vendors.
While a government spokeswoman said it's too early to say what kind of policy will be introduced, it's possible that one measure would demand that companies bidding for contracts detail the names and locations of factories where they plan to have clothing made.
It's also possible that Ontario could follow the U.S. state of Maine's lead and insist companies that win bids contribute to a fund that's used to investigate workers' rights complaints against apparel makers who do work for the government.
Amazon plans drone delivery. Will Feds approve? (+video) (2 December 2013)
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Sunday said his firm is working on ways to deliver small packages via drones. That's right: Amazon "Prime Air" may eventually have thousands of robot flying machines buzzing through neighborhoods across America, dropping off everything from shoes to consumer electronics.
At least, that's the vision Mr. Bezos outlined on "60 Minutes."
"It will work, and it will happen, and it's gonna be a lot of fun," he told correspondent Charlie Rose.
Well, we would not wager against Amazon, given its relentless march toward US retail dominance. And it's easy to see how the concept would work, in a technical sort of way: Small "octocopter" unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of carrying five pounds or so already exist.
Los Angeles Sheriff's Department hired officers with histories of misconduct (2 December 2013)
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department hired dozens of officers even though background investigators found they had committed serious misconduct on or off duty, sheriff's files show.
The department made the hires in 2010 after taking over patrols of parks and government buildings from a little-known L.A. County police force. Officers from that agency were given first shot at new jobs with the Sheriff's Department. Investigators gave them lie detector tests and delved into their employment records and personal lives.
The Times reviewed the officers' internal hiring files, which also contained recorded interviews of the applicants by sheriff's investigators.
Ultimately, about 280 county officers were given jobs, including applicants who had accidentally fired their weapons, had sex at work and solicited prostitutes, the records show.
Here's the most depressing coffee table book of all time (2 December 2013)
There's nothing like a thick book of gorgeous nature photography to show the Avon lady you're a savvy art connoisseur. But if you'd rather passive-aggressively shoo her and those door-to-door evangelists away as quickly as possible, just show 'em Your Beautiful, Fragile World: The Nature and Environmental Photographs of Peter Essick. (We would've named it A Huge Bummer: Look At the Shit We've Done to the Planet, but apparently that's less marketable.)
Peter Essick's stunning, if mood-killing, photos are from his tenure at National Geographic, which took him from smoggy L.A. to the Antarctic, where increased snow makes it hard for penguins to nest. The book showcases a Suncor oil sands mine, Oregon's Kalmiopsis Wilderness, an Ohio coal plant, Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island, and more. One particularly striking photo depicts slash-and-burn tactics in the Amazon rainforest...
Health-care enrollment on Web plagued by bugs (2 December 2013)
The enrollment records for a significant portion of the Americans who have chosen health plans through the online federal insurance marketplace contain errors -- generated by the computer system -- that mean they might not get the coverage they're expecting next month.
The errors cumulatively have affected roughly one-third of the people who have signed up for health plans since Oct. 1, according to two government and health-care industry officials. The White House disputed the figure but declined to provide its own.
The mistakes include failure to notify insurers about new customers, duplicate enrollments or cancellation notices for the same person, incorrect information about family members, and mistakes involving federal subsidies. The errors have been accumulating since HealthCare.gov opened two months ago, even as the Obama administration has been working to make it easier for consumers to sign up for coverage, the government and industry officials said.
Figuring out how to clean up the backlog of errors and prevent similar ones in the future is emerging as the new imperative if the federal insurance exchange is to work as intended. The problems were the subject of a meeting Monday between administration officials and a new "Payer Exchange Performance Team" made up of insurance industry leaders.
Ukrainian protesters block main government building (2 December 2013)
(Reuters) - About 1,000 protesters blocked off the Ukrainian government's main headquarters on Monday and surrounding streets, preventing employees getting to work, in further protests at Kiev's policy U-turn away from integration with Europe.
In response to an opposition call for a nationwide strike over President Viktor Yanukovich's policy switch back towards Russia, protesters blocked the main approach road to the government building with trash bins, metal containers and even flower pots.
"Employees can not get into the building. Negotiations are going on with protesters to allow employees in," a spokesman for Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said. He added that Azarov had not yet arrived for work.
Protesters focused their attention on the government building after an opposition-led rally of about 350,000 people in the capital on Sunday, marred by violent clashes between police and protesters.
Train derailment in New York City leaves four dead, dozens injured; NTSB investigating (1 December 2013)
Federal investigators are in New York to determine why a Manhattan-bound Metro-North passenger train spun out of control early Sunday in the Bronx, killing four people and propelling dozens of passengers out of their seats as Thanksgiving crowds headed home on one of the busiest travel days of the year, authorities said.
A "full team" of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived from Washington on the scene at 12:30 p.m. to find seven cars and the locomotive derailed, NTSB representative Earl Weener said in an evening news conference near the crash site -- along the Harlem River and just north of the Spuyten Duyvil station -- while helicopters circled above.
At least 63 people were injured, 11 of them listed in critical condition. The crash is thought to be the deadliest train wreck in New York City since 1991, when five people were killed and more than 150 were injured in a subway train derailment in Lower Manhattan, authorities said.
Weener, speaking next to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), said several federal teams -- including experts on tracks, signaling and breaking -- would be investigating for a week to 10 days.
4 dead, 63 injured after NYC-bound Metro-North passenger train derails in Bronx (1 December 2013)
Four people died Sunday morning when several Metro North cars derailed in the Bronx, creating a terrifying tangle of steel that sent passengers flying.
Two of the passengers were killed when they were ejected from the Metro-North train around 7:20 a.m. near the Spuyten Duyvil Station, sources told The News.
As Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the FBI surveyed the scene, survivor Dianna Jackson, 40, of Poughkeepsie, sported spidery streams of dried blood on her face after the accident. She was in the third car, which overturned.
"We're banged up," she told the Daily News. "We left the Tarrytown stop, the next stop was 125 St. The driver was going around the curve really fast. Next thing you know (we're) in middle of a wreckage."
Nobel Prize economist warns of U.S. stock market bubble (1 December 2013)
(Reuters) - An American who won this year's Nobel Prize for economics believes sharp rises in equity and property prices could lead to a dangerous financial bubble and may end badly, he told a German magazine.
Robert Shiller, who won the esteemed award with two other Americans for research into market prices and asset bubbles, pinpointed the U.S. stock market and Brazilian property market as areas of concern.
"I am not yet sounding the alarm. But in many countries stock exchanges are at a high level and prices have risen sharply in some property markets," Shiller told Sunday's Der Spiegel magazine. "That could end badly," he said.
"I am most worried about the boom in the U.S. stock market. Also because our economy is still weak and vulnerable," he said, describing the financial and technology sectors as overvalued.
He had also looked at "drastically" higher house prices in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil in the last five years.
Thanksgiving weekend shoppers top 141 million, spend $57 billion (+video) (1 December 2013)
Between the feasting and the football this Thanksgiving weekend, millions of Americans packed into stores and checked their electronic devices -- sometimes at the same time -- for good deals.
By the end of the day Sunday, more than 141 million adults will have taken part in this annual celebration -- critics say frenzy -- of consumerism, spending on average $407.02 on clothes, video games, sporting goods, jewelry and other gifts as well as items for themselves.
Total retail spending for the four-day period is estimated to reach $57.4 billion, according to a National Retail Federation (NRF) survey released Sunday.
The per-person spending amount is slightly less than last year's figure ($423.55) and the overall figure could end up a bit lower than 2012 as well.
Why Canada banned pot (science had nothing to do with it) (1 December 2013)
Searching for the scientific origins of Canada's marijuana prohibition is a quick exercise. There was no science used to justify the laws instituted 90 years ago, just a mess of panic, racism and accident that has metastasized over time.
Today we are in an unlikely position. American jurisdictions have begun to craft new pot policies. But Canada lumbers on, even strengthening the legislation it inherited from an era of confusion.
Yet there was one moment midway between then and now when it seemed like everything might change. In 1969, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's government struck a royal commission and tasked it with an evidence-based examination of drug use and policy. The Le Dain Commission -- named after its chairman, future Supreme Court justice Gerald Le Dain -- signaled to observers that the country was on the cusp of regulatory revolution.
It certainly did to John Lennon.
Fast and Furious star Paul Walker killed in car crash (1 December 2013)
Paul Walker, the much-loved star who for 12 years headlined the Fast and Furious franchise, has died in a car crash aged 40.
The actor was travelling as a passenger in a new Porsche when his friend who was driving - who has been described as an "experienced driver" - lost control of the vehicle and collided with a street light, and then a tree.
The LA County Sheriff's department has confirmed that two people died in a collision in Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles, at 3:30pm on Saturday, but Walker's death was confirmed by his representatives on his official Facebook page, and then by his publicist, Ame Van Iden.
"It is with a truly heavy heart that we must confirm that Paul Walker passed away today in a tragic car accident while attending a charity event for his organisation Reach Out Worldwide," reads the Facebook update.
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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