A non-profit news blog, focused on providing independent journalism.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Obama to Send Reserve Troops to Fight Ebola: White House

National Guard troops

© Reuters/Scott Eisen

Obama has authorized the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security to use reserve and National Guard troops in response to the Ebola spread in West Africa

Washington - US President Barack Obama has authorized the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security to use reserve and National Guard troops in the United States' response to the Ebola spread in West Africa, the White House said.

"I hereby determine that it is necessary to augment the active Armed Forces of the United States for the effective conduct of Operation United Assistance, which is providing support to civilian-led humanitarian assistance and consequence management support related to the Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa," President Obama said in the Executive Order released late Thursday on the White House official website.

National Guard troops are comprised of the reserve military force from all US military units of every US state and territory. They are used as an additional military reserve to protect the country during times of national emergency.

The US already has hundreds of boots on the ground in West Africa, and have committed to send up to 4,000 troops to the region to build Ebola treatment centers and to provide logistics and training to local personnel.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday that 4,493 people have died from the current Ebola outbreak, and as of October 12, there have been 8,997 confirmed and probable cases of the disease in seven different countries. The WHO is also predicting that by the end of the week, there will be over 4,500 Ebola deaths and over 9,000 cases of the deadly disease.


'Shot in the heart': Israeli army kills 13yo Palestinian boy

Israeli soldiers

© Reuters / Abed Omar Qusini

A Palestinian boy was shot in the chest point-blank and later died amid a confrontation between Israeli forces and stone-throwing youths in a village of the occupied West Bank, according to local media and medical sources.

Bahaa Badr, 13, was fatally shot by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as the troops made their way to Beit Liqya village in the West Bank, located near the border with Israel, Reuters reported citing medical sources and local residents.

Badr was shot from a close range into the heart area and died shortly after the impact, Palestinian Ma'an news agency quoted another source as saying.

Upon entering the village, Israeli troops were met by Palestinian protesters who began throwing stones at them. It is still unclear whether the boy took part in the protest.

Israel has referred to the demonstration as an "illegal riot saying that demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails at soldiers as they were leaving the village.

In response, troops began shooting live ammunition rounds, according to an Israeli military spokesperson, who added that the incident will be investigated.

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been running extremely high since the start of Israel's seven-week war in Gaza in July, which took the lives of more than 2,000 Palestinians - mostly civilians - and over 70 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Bahaa Badr

© Issam Rimawi

Back in April, US-mediated peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down.

Meanwhile, British MPs made a historic step on Monday evening, as the British Parliament voted in favor of a symbolic move to recognize Palestine as an official state.

At the same time, the international community has condemned Israel's plans for further expansion into the occupied Palestinian territories. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed frustration at Israel's settlement program, which is planning 600 new homes in East Jerusalem. The new units are set to expand four existing settlements in the Palestinian city.

"I once again strongly condemn the continued settlement activity by Israel," the UN chief told journalists after a meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Ramallah on Monday.

The Israeli government also plans to seize one square kilometer of farmland near Bethlehem, which is "intended for the construction of settlement units, parks, a synagogue and agricultural roads," according to a report by the Palestinian news agency WAFA.

WikiLeaks: US pushes to extend drug monopolies in secret proposed trade deal

Reuters / Toru Hanai

On Thursday, transparency group WikiLeaks published a draft chapter from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement which 12 countries, including the US, have been negotiating in near total privacy for years.

According to the secret-spilling organization, the latest leaked chapter — an excerpt from May 2014 detailing proposed intellectual property, or IP, rules — indicates that American trade reps want to maintain a monopoly on life-saving drugs and stifle efforts from foreign nations to obtain such products affordably and with ease.

A portion of the chapter backed by the US, WikiLeaks wrote in a statement that accompanied Thursday’s unauthorized disclosure of the draft document, would “force Parties to enact an automatic monopoly period (marketing exclusivity) for life-saving drugs, with a choice for the groups to decide for definitive inclusion within the treaty of 0, 5, 8 or 12 years.”

“Experts state that the United States is pushing for the maximum 12 years, with the countries' Ministers to decide as the IP negotiators cannot agree on this controversial issue,” WikiLeaks reported. According to their analysis, achieving as much if and when the TPP is finally approved could have catastrophic results and run counter to exactly what the White House has said in the past.

“Administration will have gone back on its promise to make cancer drugs affordable, having previously pledged to reduce the monopoly period on biotech drugs from 12 to 7 years. This will mean patients needing these drugs will remain with hugely expensive medical bills for years to come. These costs are also generally unattainable for citizens in the developing countries in the TPP,” WikiLeaks said.

Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, said in a statement that: “The lack of movement within the TPP IP Chapter shows that this only stands to harm people, and no one is satisfied. This clearly demonstrates that such an all-encompassing and divisive trade agreement is too damaging to be brought into force. The TPP should stop now.”

Indeed, analysts at the Washington, DC-based Public Citizen consumer rights advocacy group raised concerns of their own about the draft this week.

“The text includes US-backed measures that would expand pharmaceutical monopoly power and compromise access to medicines in Pacific Rim countries,” the group said. “Deep resistance to these measures from many negotiating countries has endured for years. The US has dropped some harmful proposals, but continues to insist on many others.”

Providing longer-term monopolies for the companies that produce life-saving drugs, Public Citizen agreed, “contradicts the policies included in recent White House budgets and if adopted would undermine key cost savings touted by the administration.” Nevertheless, passage of the TPP in this form would allow little room for change, the group said, because “Congress would be unable to reduce monopoly periods without risking significant penalties and investor-state arbitration.”

“With billions at stake, Big Pharma wants the TPP to be a road map for rules that will govern Pacific Rim economies for the next several decades,” Public Citizen said.

“The leak shows our government demanding rules that would lead to preventable suffering and death in Pacific Rim countries, while eliminating opportunities to ease financial hardship on American families and our health programs at home,” Peter Maybarduk, the director of that group’s Global Access to Medicines Program, said in a statement.

Representatives from 12 nations in all — the US, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei — have been involved so far in TPP negotiations, and are scheduled to meet later this month in Canberra, then Sydney, to further discuss the proposal.

Much to the chagrin of WikiLeaks and other transparency advocates, the TPP has been negotiated almost entirely in secrecy since the start of discussions.

“No wonder they kept it secret,” online entrepreneur Kim Dotcom of New Zealand previously told RT’s Andrew Blake when WikiLeaks published a chapter of the TPP late last year. “What a malicious piece of US corporate lobbying. TPP is about world domination for US corporations. Nothing else. We will stop this madness in New Zealand.”

According to WikiLeaks, the group’s decision to publish a TPP excerpt last November may have forced some trade reps in the months since to reconsider certain aspects.

“Since that point, some controversial and damaging areas have had little change; issues surrounding digital rights have moved little. However, there are significant industry-favouring additions within the areas of pharmaceuticals and patents. These additions are likely to affect access to important medicines such as cancer drugs and will also weaken the requirements needed to patent genes in plants, which will impact small farmers and boost the dominance of large agricultural corporations like Monsanto,” WikiLeaks said. “Nevertheless, some areas that were highlighted after WikiLeaks' last IP Chapter release have seen alterations that reflect the controversy; surgical method patents have been removed from the text. Doctors' groups said this was vitally important for allowing doctors to engage in medical procedures without fear of a lawsuit for providing the best care for their patients. Opposition is increasing to remove the provision proposed by the US and Japan that would require granting of patents for new drugs that are slightly altered from a previous patented one (evergreening), a technique by the pharmaceutical industry to prolong market monopoly.”

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency: The 'transparent' spy organization you probably never heard of

© fas.org

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is a little-known organization under the Defense Department's purview that provides geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) to the spy community. Now it is moving from providing maps to focusing on analysis.

The NGA's mission is to provide "timely, relevant, and accurate geospatial intelligence in support of national security," its website says. "From the discovery of atrocities in Kosovo, to support for the cities hosting the Olympics, through the response to Hurricane Katrina, and our work in Haiti and Japan, NGA has provided critical GEOINT support when our nation needed it most."

Robert Cardillo

© National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

NGA Director Robert Cardillo

With the installation of Robert Cardillo, a 31-year intelligence community veteran, as its director at the beginning of October, the NGA is poised to take a bigger role in the intelligence community. Cardillo took over from Letitia Long, the first woman to head a major intelligence agency, when she officially retired after four years at the helm of NGA and more than 36 years total in the intelligence community.

"Together, we have transformed NGA from a static product producer" ‒ think basic maps and satellite images ‒ "into a provider of dynamic content, analysis, and services," Long said during the change-of-leadership ceremony, the reported.

In its current iteration, the NGA was formed in 2003, allowing the organization to integrate multiple sources of information, intelligence and tradecrafts to produce innovative and sophisticated GEOINT, with a focus on exploiting and analyzing imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess and visually depict physical features and human activity around the world. Its precursor, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), was created in 1996, consolidating several different agencies that specialized in imagery analysis and mapmaking.

Geospatial analysis began during World War I, with the advent of aerial photography, which was a major contributor to battlefield intelligence. The NGA highlights two historical uses of GEOINT on its site: the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Apollo 11 moon landing.

© National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Soviet troop presence near missile positions in the San Cristobal area of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

On October 19, 1962, the fifth day of the Cuban Missile Crisis, imagery provided by an NGA predecessor ‒ the National Photographic Interpretation Center ‒ helped American decision-makers understand the scope of the Soviet troop presence near missile positions. This helped develop a broader understanding of USSR reinforcements in Cuba, and how quickly the missiles could be readied for use.

When it came to NASA's Apollo program, NGA said its predecessor agencies played a key role in the United States' moon exploration efforts by creating detailed maps and charts of the lunar surface.

© National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Lunar Reference Mosaic

Now the agency is focusing on enabling its partners and customers ‒ the president is considered Customer #1 ‒ to access real-time information providing context about time and location in a variety of formats. The previous director, Long, is widely credited for leading a transformation of NGA's capabilities, putting more sophisticated GEOINT into the hands of more customers ‒ members of the military, diplomats, and decision-makers alike, according to the .

"Digital and Web technology evolution have enabled a new mode of business for NGA," MG Mark Quantock, the Springfield, Virginia-based agency's military deputy, told .

"As a 'static' product-driven organization we would do deep analysis with our best geospatial experts and put the results into a PDF or PowerPoint to send out to mission partners," he said. "Now we're able to share data feeds and access in real time in addition to our PDFs."

The goal is accurate, detailed GEOINT delivered virtually instantly. "Users can get the latest information in real time as we record it and quality-check it," Quantock said.

And the NGA is not hampered by intelligence scandals like some of its sister organizations, such as the CIA or the National Security Agency.

"GEOINT has a great advantage in our current environment because it's the most transparent of the collection disciplines," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, himself a former NGA director, said last spring at the GEOINT Symposium in Tampa, Florida.

But that doesn't mean that the NGA's accomplishments have gotten it recognition outside of intelligence circles. When it came to the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Navy's SEAL Team Six, which carried out the raid, got all the glory. But the GEOINT provided to them by the NGA was critical, intelligence officials told the .

The agency's intelligence allowed the team to practice in a perfect replica of the Abbottabad, Pakistan compound where bin Laden was hiding out, according to Clearance Jobs. Their data also enabled the SEALs to determine how many people lived there, their gender and even their heights.

Early October snowfall on the Big Island of Hawaii

Here is something you don't see every day, a satellite image showing a sizable amount of snow cover on the big island of Hawaii.

While snowfall on the big island is nothing new, commonly seen on the mountains on Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, (top and bottom arrows respectively in the photo) seeing snow this early in the season on the mounatins is somewhat rare.


McIDAS images of GOES-15 6.5 µm water vapor channel data showed an upper-level low that moved from east to west over the Hawaiian Islands during the 13 October - 14 October 2014 period. This low forced the development of widespread showers and thunderstorms, especially over the Big Island of Hawai'i - and even produced some snowfall in the highest elevations around the summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Some excerpts from Area Forecast Discussions issued by the National Weather Service at Honolulu on 13 October:

FXHW60 PHFO 131350




400 AM HST MON OCT 13 2014







FXHW60 PHFO 140152




330 PM HST MON OCT 13 2014




Source: the CIMSS Satellite Blog

Alexa's control of information hits Drudge, WUWT, mostly favors leftist news sites over conservative news sites

As many WUWT readers know, I have been using alexa.com for quite sometime to gauge the performance of WUWT. Reader "Pat" brought this recent strange disparity to my attention. When you see things like the Drudge report plummet and MSNBC soar, you know immediately that something isn't right:

Those who run watchdog news websites are scratching their heads and trying to make sense of the latest data released by a California company that measures website traffic.

According to data for July through September, almost every major website - from WND to the Drudge Report and Breitbart - saw its rankings drop on Alexa.com while pro-government sites mostly went up.

Source: WND

The claim seems to be true when you look at Alexa's publicly reported traffic graphs. Here's the Drudge Report according to Alexa:

(Lower numbers are better, for example, Google is #1)

© Wattsupwiththat.com

And here is MSNBC according to Alexa:

© Wattsupwiththat.com

I find that hard to believe. I find this even harder to believe, Fox News according to Alexa:

© Wattsupwiththat.com

And the Soros driven Center for American Progress, aka Thinkprogress.org according to Alexa

© Wattsupwiththat.com

The exception to that knee up for left leaning websites starting in September is CNN.com according to Alexa:

© Wattsupwiththat.com

So, this may be some sort of reporting or tracking goof. But, the oddity does not stop there.

Now, look at WUWT compared to the eco-news website "Grist", which we long ago surpassed.

First, here is WUWT according to Alexa. Note the same "knee" in the graph as seen on the Drudgereport earlier:

© Wattsupwiththat.com

And here is grist.org according to Alexa. Same "knee", opposite direction:

© Wattsupwiththat.com


My internal wordpress.com counter for WUWT shows that WUWT had its best month ever in total views, nearly 5 million:

© Wattsupwiththat.com

And, WUWT's best ever day in its seven year history was in September 2014:

© Wattsupwiththat.com

Something is broken at Alexa that seems to favor one sort of website over another. What's up with that?

It may have to do with this recent "upgrade" at Alexa that explains a new method of calculating its rankings based on what it says is a wider panel of viewers.

"We're excited to announce that after a lot of hard work, the size of Alexa's global traffic panel will be significantly increasing," writes Leigh Katcher in the blog. "Over the next month we'll be incorporating lots of new data points, which will help improve the accuracy of our metrics. As a reminder, our data panel is a sample of global Internet traffic used to calculate Alexa ranks and estimate non-Certified metrics."

The blog posting continued, "With better data, we'll be able to offer deeper insights into your site, your competitors' site and overall traffic strategy. One immediate result of the additional data is that you may see your traffic rank fluctuate, especially for sites ranked greater than 100,000."

One wonders how such an "upgrade" can affect one type of site more than others. In the WND article, they say the disparity even extends to things like Planned Parenthood versus Lifenews, two sites that offer politically opposing viewpoints.

We live in interesting times.

Is Meditation really worth it? Totally!

First of all, understand that "meditation" is a catchall term for a lot of different mental activities, many of which have nothing to do with sitting cross-legged on the floor and saying .

"There are thousands of different types of meditation," says Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and author of . But while meditative practices come in all shapes and styles, Newberg says nearly all of them have at least one thing in common: They involve focusing your attention, a habit that's been marginalized by our smartphone-tethered lifestyle of digital distraction.

"That focusing could be on a word or object or physical motion," Newberg explains. "But regardless, the type of focusing involved in meditation activates the brain's frontal lobe, which is involved in concentration, planning, speech and other executive functions like problem solving." Studies have shown meditation can bolster all of these mental tasks. But the greatest benefits may spring from the interplay between your brain's focus centers and its limbic system - a set of structures that manage your emotions and regulate the release of stress and relaxation hormones.

"Studies suggests your body's arousal system is calmed and the flow of stress-related hormones is reduced [by meditation]," Newberg explains. "There's also a softening effect when it comes to emotional responses." Just as weightlifting allows your muscles to lift a heavier load, working out your brain with meditation seems to fortify its ability to carry life's emotional cargo. That stress-dampening effect has tied meditation to improved mood and lower rates of heart disease, insomnia and depression.

Newberg says there's also some evidence that meditation quiets the area of your brain that manages your sense of self and your relationship to others. That may sound like a bad thing, but this quieting may help you feel more connected to others and less isolated within yourself, he says.

"Basically, meditation helps your brain get out of its own way," adds Dr. Judson Brewer, a Yale School of Medicine psychiatrist.

Once you're convinced meditation is worth a try, figuring out the right type for you is important, because the benefits tend to materialize only if you enjoy your practice enough to stick with it, Brewer says. Luckily, you have a lot of options - from Transcendental Meditation to Tai Chi. Even yoga counts, because it focuses your mind and blocks out distraction.

Mindfulness is one style of meditation that's exploding in popularity, largely because it can be done anywhere and anytime, Brewer says. "It's mostly about being aware of your thoughts and not running after them in your mind," he explains. Awareness is a wedge that, with practice, you can place between your thoughts and unhealthy emotional reactions, he says.

That kind of vague, semi-abstract language can make meditation seem thorny and inaccessible, but it's easier than you think. If you want a simple taste of meditation, Brewer suggests focusing your mind on your breath or a nearby object, refocusing it when it strays. "Your mind wanders, and you bring it back," Newberg says. "That's a mental push-up."

Do enough mental push-ups, and you may be amazed at how strong your mind muscle can get.

Video shows official without any protective gear loading Dallas Ebola patient onto plane


Images emerged Wednesday of officials loading the second Dallas nurse diagnosed with Ebola onto a plane headed for Atlanta to receive treatment at Emory Hospital - and Americans quickly noticed something very strange about the scene.

Among several workers wearing hazmat suits on the runway of Dallas Love Field was a man wearing plain clothes and no apparent protective gear.

Plain Clothes Man at #Ebola Scene Perplexes Viewers http://t.co/oWkDj6Pe0xhttp://ift.tt/1wKieEh

- NBC DFW (@NBCDFW) October 15, 2014

NBC DFW explained what occurred on the runway:

The unidentified man stood very near another hazmat-suited worker and then took what appeared to be a container from one of the suited workers. He placed it on the steps to the jet and walked out of view.

He then reappeared as one of the PPE-suited workers came off the plane with red hazmat bags. He took what appeared to be a not-yet-used red bag from the worker in protective gear, then handed it to the workers as they bagged up items from the ambulance ride.

Then he conversed with two workers wearing respirators while the red hazmat bags were loaded onto the plane. He then grabbed the container from the stairs and got on the plane which departed Love Field en route to Atlanta.

The news station had not determined why the man wasn't required to wear protective gear, though it was speculated that he may have been a member of the flight crew in charge of flying Vinson to Atlanta.

Watch raw video footage below:

[embedded content]

Comment: These are not the kinds of people you want handling a major outbreak of a lethal, organ liquefying virus:

Got Ebola-like symptoms? Just came here from an Ebola-ravaged African nation? They just shrugged and sent him home for two days with antibiotics..., TESTING HIM FOR EBOLA!

It appears that the CDC has been secretly changing their data on the risks of Ebola entering the US on their website.

"They (CDC and WHO) speak very loudly and say very strongly it isn't airborne but they don't offer a lot of support for that and I will tell you when I look for the data there is not a lot of data to support their contention that it isn't an aerosol transmissible disease," she said.

The lesson here? Stay as healthy as possible, work on boosting your immune system, get prepared and stop looking to the government to take care of you.

Obama 'hugged and kissed' Ebola nurses

© Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama holds a meeting with cabinet agencies coordinating the government's Ebola response, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington October 15, 2014.

President Barack Obama insisted Wednesday that the US response to the Ebola outbreak is effective and that the chances of the deadly virus taking hold in the United States are "extremely low."

Concerns about health protocols have grown since two nurses that looked after Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of the disease, contracted the virus. Duncan was infected with Ebola in Liberia, where he is from, and then took a flight to the US.

Obama told reporters after a hastily convened meeting with 20 senior White House officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Vice-President Joe Biden and Attorney-General Eric Holder, that he himself had close contact with health workers treating Ebola patients while visiting Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and felt safe doing so.

"I shook hands with, hugged and kissed not the doctors, but a couple of the nurses at Emory, because of the valiant work they did in treating one of the patients. They followed the protocols, they knew what they were doing, and I felt perfectly safe doing so," said the president.

Obama said it wasn't like the flu virus, which can be transmitted in the air through coughs and sneezes.

He said he was "absolutely confident" that there will not be a serious outbreak of Ebola in the US, but stressed that it will become increasingly difficult to control the epidemic if it is not dealt with at its source in West Africa.

The president held video conferences with the French, British, German and Italian leaders on Wednesday to discuss the international response to the outbreak.

[embedded content]

But clearly the protocols were not stringently adhered to in the nursing of Duncan and Obama admitted that officials would be looking at every step of the way Duncan was looked after.

It has already emerged that the second nurse infected with the disease violated protocol after the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced Wednesday that she had boarded a commercial flight from Cleveland to Dallas the day before she started getting symptoms.

They also suggested that one of the nurses looking after Duncan may not have been issued with the right protective clothing and that in future they would make sure that healthcare workers have the right training and equipment.

While on Tuesday the nurses union National Nurses United said in a press conference that the strict protocols were not in place at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas where Duncan was first treated.

Obama said that now "SWAT teams" from the CDC would be deployed within 24 hours to a hospital that reports a new case of Ebola, so that smaller, non-specialized establishments that don't have experience of dealing with the disease know what to do.

Meanwhile a growing number of lawmakers have been calling on the president to introduce a travel ban to and from the West African countries at the center of the Ebola crisis.

"A temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the virus is something that the president should absolutely consider along with any other appropriate actions as doubts about the security of our air travel systems grow," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Romanian politician calls for the army to help control bear population

© Mihai Barbu/Corbis

Bears’ normal diet of nuts and acorns has been scarce leading to more frequent cases of bears venturing into towns in search of food.

In the depths of Transylvania, Romania, a war against one of Europe's largest brown bear populations is looming.

Following a string of cases involving damage to private property from bears in recent months, Csaba Borboly, a senior politician from the Transylvanian region, has called for the army to be brought in. "The [bear] problem needs the involvement of specialised state institutions such as the police, the paramilitary and even the army."

© Alamy

Romania is home to up to the second-largest population of brown bears in Europe, after Russia.

Borboly's remarks follow on the heels of a decision made in late September by the Romanian government to raise the bear hunting quota by the largest margin in recent history. The new quota allows for 550 bears to be killed over the next 12 months, up two-thirds from the 2012 quota.

At present, hunting is the key method in "controlling" the bear population. It acts both as a lucrative business and, according to hunters, a means of removing specific bears who have been shown to be particularly dangerous to humans and their property.

However, this is no longer considered to be enough. With support from the hunting lobby and egged on by the increasingly bear-wary Romanian media, Borboly is calling on the Romanian government to amend a European treaty which limits the number of bears that can be culled each year.

"Bears need to be considered in line with other natural disasters, such as floods and forest fires," Borboly said. "They are out of hand and something needs to be done."

Attila Kelemen is a Romanian MP and eastern European representative of Brussels-based lobby group the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation (FACE). "We have very big problems with bears. Bears are everywhere now in Romania. The French have three bears and they are pushing in parliament to get rid of them as they cause problems for farmers. But they won't let Romania do anything about our bears, and we have 8,000."

© Alamy

Romania has raised its hunting quota for brown bears to 550 over the next 12 months, up two-thirds from 2012.

The numbers, however, are open to debate. Csaba Domokos is a bear specialist with Milvus Group, a Transylvanian wildlife protection organisation. "The reality is that no one knows how many bears there are in Romania. The official number is around 6,000, but to know that we need three numbers: How many bears are being born, how many are dying from all causes - not just hunting - and how many are currently alive. And we know none."

The counting system is fundamentally flawed, conservationists claim. Romania hosts hundreds of hunting associations, and each one is responsible for counting the bears in a particular area on the map, using the animals' footprints as gauges of their numbers.

"Of course bears don't respect these areas," explains Domokos. "They wander in and out of different hunting areas. Each one can certainly be counted more than once. This could put the total number up by thousands."

Another issue causing conservationists concern is that the bears most feted by hunters are the alpha males, for which foreign hunters often pay up to €10,000 (£8,000) to shoot a single specimen. It is these large males, however, who usually keep populations in check by committing infanticide - the killing of the offspring of other males - in order to be able to mate with their mothers, an evolutionary trick designed to ensure the continuation of individual bears' genetic codes.

With the alpha males dwindling in number, the young can proliferate rapidly.

© Alamy

A brown bear climbs over a wall to reach rubbish bins in Brasov, Romania. Young bears are more adventurous and more likely to enter towns for food.

"These young bears are more adventurous," explains Domokos. "They are the ones who are more prone to enter towns and so, even though the population could be falling as a whole, we are seeing more and more bears in human habitats. The last few months were particularly disastrous as there was almost none of the bears' normal food - beach nuts and acorns - available. As a result, in the run up to winter, they are getting desperate."

The danger is that, with the Romanian media becoming increasingly frenzied about the 'bear problem', people will take the issue into their own hands. In the last few weeks, Domokos has found four bears trapped in poachers' snares along just a 25-mile stretch, and believes there are many more which he doesn't see.

"Once the population turn against bears, we have a serious problem," says Domokos. "The hunting lobby can get away with raising the quota in the name of social protection. And once the quota goes up, it is very unlikely it will come down again."

Floods in North Jutland, Denmark after 100 mm of rain in just one day

© Nordjyllands Politi

Collapsed road after floods in North Jutland, Denmark.

Heavy rain over the last 24 hours has brought flooding to parts of North Jutland (Nordjylland) in Denmark.

North Jutland police are reporting a road near Sindal has been completely closed after parts of it collapsed as a result of the heavy rain and flooding.

Other roads, including the E39 motorway, as well as parts of the railway network have also been badly affected. Earlier today police advised motorists to avoid travel where possible. Some roads looked more like lakes after the prolonged rainfall. Extra water pumps have been brought in to help alleviate the flooding. Several houses in Lendum are said to have been completely flooded.

© Scanpix

The most affected area is in Lendum, where 15 houses have been flooded.

Rainfall Amounts

The DMI (Danmarks Meteorologiske Institut ) say that more rain has fallen in Lendum over the last 24 hours than is normal for the whole of October (83 mm):

104.4 mm - Lendum

73.9 mm - Uggerby

71.0 mm - Frederikshavn

The heavy rain is expected to continue for the next 12 hours.

Passenger train collides with freight train in northwest Arkansas injuring 44, including five critically


Emergency responders were at the scene in Washington County and transported 31 to local hospitals, 5NewsOnline.com reported.

A passenger train on a sight-seeing trip collided with a freight train Thursday in northwest Arkansas injuring 44, including five critically, THV11 reported. The incident occurred at about 10:30 a.m. and involved four passenger cars carrying 44 passengers and six crew members. Emergency responders were at the scene in Washington County and transported 31 to local hospitals, the report said.

Washington County Emergency Management Director John Luther said 37 people were able to walk away from the wreck. Hazmat teams were also inspecting the site. Luther told KNWA/KFTA that about 300 gallons of diesel fuel spilled near the White River.

Details of the crash remain unclear. An official from the county told the station that the passenger train, which left from Springdale and en route to Van Buren, a 134-mile trip, stalled and the other train was sent to assist. But somehow the assisting train collided with the stalled one, the source said.

It was a multi-agency emergency response that included two medevac helicopters. One of those taken by helicopter to a hospital was a train conductor who suffered back injuries, Ron Sparks of the Arkansas-Missouri Railroad Police told 5Newsonline.com.

The passenger train was carrying tourists on a sight-seeing trip, known as an "excursion train," operated by Arkansas & Missouri Railroad.

Highway 71 is closed in the area.

A National Transportation Safety Board Go Team is headed to the area.

Arkansas juvenile detainees locked in controversial device 'when verbal deescalation is not working'

WRAP restraint system

© Photos obtained via Freedom of Information Act

Scott Tanner, Juvenile Detention Ombudsman, experiences the WRAP restraint system in the Yell County Juvenile Detention Center in Danville, AR.

Juvenile detention facilities across the state are coming under fire for using a disturbing restraint device that some are calling "torture."

The device is known as the "WRAP" system. According to state officials, the device is used to restrain minor detainees "when verbal deescalation is not working" - sometimes for hours on end.

The system involves binding a child's arms and legs together using straps and handcuffs, and sometimes involves shrouding the child's face with a hood or a helmet. Photos from the Yell County Juvenile Detention Center in Danville, Arkansas, have raised eyebrows following their exposure through a FOIA request. Questions are being raised about whether the treatment is ethical or humane.

The Danville facility has been shown to strap detainees with a mask which appears to be covered with duct tape and decorated as a cartoonish, dehumanizing cross-eyed effigy.

WRAP restraint system_2

© Photos obtained via Freedom of Information Act

Scott Tanner, Juvenile Detention Ombudsman, experiences the WRAP restraint system in the Yell County Juvenile Detention Center in Danville, AR.

State Juvenile Ombudsman Scott Tanner was sent to investigate the device, and tested it himself. He reported that "the WRAP caused difficulty breathing and increased anxiety. He also says it presents a risk for head injury and violates state standards, which say any placement of juveniles must be therapeutic and not punitive."

Tanner said that the treatment was humiliating and traumatizing, as it was done in front of other detainees.

His report continued: "I believe the manner in which the WRAP restraint is being used in your center creates significant liability. This is magnified by deficiencies in both policy and documentation. Based on my own experience in this restraint and interviews of youth similarly restrained, it is my opinion that the use of the WRAP restraint on youth is inappropriate."

"It is torture. This should not happen to kids," the ombudsman said in an interview.

Following the official report on the device, the Arkansas Department of Human Services and the Division of Youth Services sent a cease and desist letter to Yell County.

The WRAP system is used across the state, including Washington, Yell, and Benton Counties. So far each of the counties is resisting the calls to abandon the controversial practice, defending the system as a necessary tool to deal with unruly children who might hurt themselves.

Propaganda 101 - How the Pentagon is trying to rewrite Vietnam war history

Vietnam War Montage

© Wikimedia Commons

In case you weren't aware, the Pentagon is set to roll out a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War. Personally, it's hard to get excited about commemorating an event that led to the death of over 58,000 American soldiers and more than a million Vietnamese, particularly since much of it was the direct result of well documented lies and deception, such as the Gulf of Tomkin incident.

What's worse, the Pentagon intends to rewrite history by whitewashing this period of civil unrest and government shame from American history. The propaganda is so blatant that it has resulted in many of the era's most well known protestors and activists to come together in order to stop it.

The reports that:

Washington - It has been nearly half a century since a young antiwar protester named Tom Hayden traveled to Hanoi to investigate President Lyndon B. Johnson's claims that the United States was not bombing civilians in Vietnam. Mr. Hayden saw destroyed villages and came away, he says, "pretty wounded by the pattern of deception."

Now the Pentagon - run by a Vietnam veteran, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel - is planning a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War. The effort, which is expected to cost taxpayers nearly $15 million by the end of this fiscal year, is intended to honor veterans and, its website says, "provide the American public with historically accurate materials" suitable for use in schools.

But the extensive website, which has been up for months, largely describes a war of valor and honor that would be unrecognizable to many of the Americans who fought in and against it.

Leading Vietnam historians complain that it focuses on dozens of medal-winning soldiers while giving scant mention to mistakes by generals and the years of violent protests and anguished debate at home.

In one early iteration, the website referred to the 1968 My Lai massacre, in which American troops killed hundreds of Vietnamese civilians, as the My Lai Incident.

The glossy view of history has now prompted more than 500 scholars, veterans and activists - including the civil rights leader Julian Bond; Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers; Lawrence J. Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan; and Peter Yarrow of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary - to join Mr. Hayden in demanding the ability to correct the Pentagon's version of history and a place for the old antiwar activists in the anniversary events.

Mr. Hayden, 74, and other 1960s-era activists who helped him gather signatures, say they do not quarrel with honoring the sacrifice of soldiers. But they object to having the military write the story.

"All of us remember that the Pentagon got us into this war in Vietnam with its version of the truth," Mr. Hayden said in a recent telephone interview from Berkeley, Calif., where he attended a rally to mark another 50th anniversary, that of the free-speech movement. "If you conduct a war, you shouldn't be in charge of narrating it."

He promised "educational materials, a Pentagon exhibit, traveling exhibits, symposiums, oral history projects and much more." The mission, he said, is to "help the nation take advantage of a rare opportunity to turn back to a page in history and to right a wrong, by expressing its honor and respect to Vietnam veterans and their families."

Many of the longtime activists also see the petition as deeply relevant today.

"You can't separate this effort to justify the terrible wars of 50 years ago from the terrible wars of today," said Phyllis Bennis, a Middle East expert who has known Mr. Hayden since the early 1970s. "When I saw this, I thought immediately, 'We've got to stop this.' "

This problem of people in power rewriting history to serve their own ends has been an issue throughout human history, something Julian Assange recently discussed and outlined here: Video of the Day - Hologram Julian Assange Talks George Orwell, Bitcoin and Preserving Human History.

In Liberty,

Michael Krieger

Former FSB chief: U.S. using old anti-Soviet policy to break up Russian Federation


© RIA Novosti/ Said Tcarnaev

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.

The current turmoil in Ukraine and the military conflicts in Georgia and the Caucasus are a direct result of the anti-Russian policy of the US administration, claims the former head of Russia's Federal Security Service.

Nikolai Patrushev who headed the FSB from 1999 until 2008 said in an interview with the Russian government daily that intelligence analysts established a current anti-Russian program being executed by American special services dates back to the 1970s, and is based on Zbigniew Brzezinski's "strategy of weak spots", the policy of turning the opponent's potential problems into full scale crises.

"The CIA decided that the most vulnerable spot in our country was its economy. After making a detailed model US specialists established that the Soviet economy suffered from excessive dependency from energy exports. Then, they developed a strategy to provoke the financial and economic insolvency of the Soviet state through both a sharp fall in budget income and significant hike in expenditures due to problems organized from outside," Patrushev told reporters.

The result was the fall in oil prices together with the arms race, the war in Afghanistan, and anti-government movements in Poland, all of which eventually led to the breakup of the Soviet Union, said the former Russian security chief. He stressed that each of these factors bore hallmarks of US influence.

The hostile policy exercised by the US against the Soviet Union continued into modern times, but this time the target was the Russian Federation as the only country in the world that possessed enough nuclear weapons to effectively oppose the United States.

"American strategists saw the solution of this situation in the final destruction of the state administration in our country with the subsequent breakup of its territory," Patrushev revealed.

The new plan was put into life through US support of Chechen separatism, but it was thwarted because of Vladimir Putin's policy, the official said.

However, the CIA has never fully abandoned this strategy and waited for the chance to use it.

The new stage of the Russia-US standoff happened during the 2008 war in Georgia. After the war, Washington became clearly concerned by Russia's intention to claim its place among leading nations in the 21st century, the former FSB boss noted.

Patrushev said that the current events in Ukraine, including the coup that brought to power the current Kiev administration, were also the result of US special services. "The coup d'état in Kiev was done with open support from the US, using a classic scheme tried and tested in Latin America, Africa and the Mideast. But never before has this scheme so seriously touched upon Russian interests," he stated.

"Our analysis shows that when Americans provoke Russia into making reciprocal steps they are pursuing the same objectives they had in the 1980s in regard of the Soviet Union. Like it was back then they are looking for our country's weak spots," the former FSB chief said.

When speaking about the ultimate objective of such a policy Patrushev suggested that the United States intended to capture Russian territory and mineral resources.

"Some US experts such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have suggested that Moscow has power over enormous territory that it cannot develop and it prevents these territories from serving humanity's needs. Statements are being made about the allegedly unjust distribution of natural resources and the necessity to provide free access to them for other nations," he claimed.

The psychopathy virus is spreading: Rape, sex offenses spike in England and Wales

© Reuters / Navesh Chitrakar

The number of recorded rapes and sexual offences has dramatically risen in the past 12 months, despite overall crime levels in the UK falling to their lowest since the 1980s.

Data recorded by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed a 29 percent increase in the number of recorded rape cases last year, while the number of overall crimes filed as sex offences rose by 21 percent to 22,116.

Additionally, the ONS data showed the number of rape attacks carried out at knifepoint had risen by 48 percent, from 199 to 294. Sex offences committed at knifepoint similarly rose by 22 percent, from 91 to 111.

The ONS said the rise may be due to a growing willingness among victims to report attacks to the authorities. They also said police forces may be increasingly open to investigate such cases fully.

"We have seen over the last few years a notable rise in victims coming forward to report historical offences," ONS head of crime statistics John Flatley told the BBC.

© Reuters / Cathal McNaughton

"So victims are coming forward now to report recent occurrences rather than historical ones and it's certainly the case the police are taking action to improve their recording and handling of rape investigations," he added.

However, campaigners were less impressed with the findings, claiming the figures were too inconclusive to draw any accurate conclusions on the effects of policing.

"Whether the figures reflect an increase in the numbers of sexual violence survivors coming forward to seek criminal justice, or an improvement in the consistency with which these serious crimes are recorded by police forces, or an increase in such crimes themselves, what is clear is that they are just the tip of the iceberg," said Rape Crisis England & Wales spokesperson Katie Russell.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper also said that the figures revealed a "shocking failure" to bring perpetrators of sex crime to justice.

A total of 7.1 million crimes in England and Wales were reported this year, a fall of around 16 percent. According to crime prevention minister Norman Baker, there were "2.3 million fewer crimes" since the coalition government came into power in 2010.

However, while official statistics suggest an overall fall in crime, a report published earlier this year by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) shows around 20 percent of crimes may not be recorded by police forces. One in five crimes may therefore not be accounted for.

The not so surprising benefits of smoking

© Wikipedia

Van Gogh’s Skull With A Burning Cigarette

So we all know and are well aware of the effects of smoking. In fact, governments are working hard to reduce the amount of places where you can smoke. That still doesn't mean there aren't advantages to lighting up everyone once in a while.

In fact, science is showing that short-term exposure to cigarette smoke can have surprising benefits. From mental stimulation to physical transformation, smokers themselves are aware of a lot of these lesser-known impacts of tobacco.

Millions try for years to quit smoking, and for many it is just not an option. With workplace stress or physical dependency, it's difficult for the majority of smokers to give it up. For those who have tried and failed to kick the habit, let these scientific words of encouragement ease your pain.

Here are just a few of these unknown benefits of smoking cigarettes based on recent scientific studies.

1. Weight loss

Perhaps more obvious to many, tobacco suppresses the body's appetite and overall desire to eat for brief periods of time. For those who are excessively overweight and for those who battle over-eatingdisorders, tobacco has proven to show that there are direct benefits to smoking cigarettes.

2. Relaxant

Again, like weight loss, one of the main reasons people take up or continue smoking cigarettes is because it relaxes them during stressful periods. Although people have suggested taking upalternative habits to coping with stress, smoking is undoubtedly the most common method to relieving anxiety and stress for a short term.

3. Mental stimulation

Related to Benefit of Smoking #3 is the mental advantages of smoking you get. Nicotine - contained in all cigarettes - has been proven to stimulate the release of dopamine, a chemical contained in the brain that releases euphoric bouts of pleasure. Smokers often combat stress with smoking and in turn increase levels of happiness and pleasure for a brief period of time before the chemical subsides.

4. Lower risk of death following a heart attack

A recent study showed that another benefit to smoking cigarettes is that cigarette smokers appear to have a lower likelihood of death following a heart attack. Evidence also shows that smokers who do have heart attacks seem to have less dangerous heart attacks than non-smokers. Some studies have also shown that smokers respond more positively to post-heart attack treatment than non-smokers.

Of course, these studies are likely flawed because heart disease may be linked to the very act of smoking itself, but it's a nice thought if you're a smoker, isn't it?

5. Lower risk or impacts of mental illness

Evidence also shows that a significant amount of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia use tobacco as a way to self-medicate. This reduces impacts of the disease and inhibits frequency of episodes. Smoking has also indirectly been shown to reduce the risk of mental illnesses such as Alzheimers and dementia.

6. Lowers risk of neurological disease

Prominent studies have shown smokers as less likely to suffer from neurological diseases such as Parkinson's. Longer-term smokers, as it seems, appear to be virtually immune from contracting the disease, as opposed to short-term or non-smokers.

7. Lowers risk of need for knee-replacement

In a more specific area of the body, smoking has shown in scientific studies to reduce the likelihood that smokers will require knee-replacement procedures. Of course, the most likely explanation for this finding is that the majority of those requiring knee-replacement surgeries were joggers or rigorous athletes; a description that doesn't exactly fit traditional smokers.


It's important to keep in mind the psychological and mental rewards that smokers get from cigarettes. After a rough day at work or bouts of mental illness, cigarettes have proven to alleviatenegative symptoms. And for those looking to lose weight, tobacco has been known to help suppress appetite at least short term. Understanding the psychological and physiological benefits of smoking cigarettes can provides valuable insight for those looking to quit or help others quit smoking.

As stated before, the majority of us know that smoking has its hazards. We are bombarded through advertisements, campaigns and our friends and family. So at the next gathering, whenever you are getting berated for enjoying a smoke, let them know these few health benefits of smoking cigarettes.

Please keep in mind; even if we accept that there are some benefits to smoking cigarettes, smoking in general is still detrimental to your health. It will undoubtedly increase your risk for various cancers and heart diseases. Some of the scientific studies noted above that link health benefits with smoking are flawed and are likely a result of a correlation finding rather than causation.

Keep in mind that every smoker is different, so make sure to make regular visits to your doctor. If you are having difficulty quitting and you would like to do so, bring it up with a professional. Note that the intention of this article is to inform, enlighten and provide persistent smokers with a glimmer of hope, not to encourage you to take up smoking. Light up at your own risk!

Psychopathic warmongers in Washington hunt Russia, ISIS, and Ebola at the same time

© Reuters/Ints Kalnins

The US Secretary of Defense Secretary categorized Russia as a global threat - much like Obama in his UN address last month - in the same breath as Ebola and Islamic State.

For anybody who took at face value the Obama administration's past commitment for a "reset" with Russia, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's speech on Wednesday should dispel those grand illusions once and for all.

But first, there's the deadly Ebola virus for the US military to contend with.

In commemorating the US military's "global presence and engagement," Hagel said the US Army "will soon deploy as a key part of America's contribution to the global effort to stop the spread of Ebola before it becomes an even more of a grave threat."

The activation of the US Army into the epicenter of a viral epidemic may strike some as an actual dereliction of military duty, not to mention a reckless risk to soldiers. Moreover, judging by the Obama administration's apparent lack of preparedness to handle a few Ebola cases in Dallas, Texas, how will the US Army fare in the midst of a full-blown epidemic in Africa?

Washington's apparent desire to find a military solution even for a medical problem should give the American people some pause. In the event of a full-blown outbreak of Ebola in the United States, would that be the signal for the US Army to introduce martial law on the streets of America? If the answer is no, why then does Hagel believe the US military should activate its forces in a foreign country that really needs armies of doctors, not soldiers?

But who are we mere mortals to believe that America's worldly ambitions should brake at the borders of the biological world? After all, we are talking about a nuclear-armed superpower, with over 900 franchises worldwide, intoxicated by a recreational drug known as hubris, a state of mind that leads otherwise normal men to believe they are invincible and exceptional no matter how tiny and toxic the enemy.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the US military's mighty footprint can also be found "in Poland and the Baltic States where soldiers from Fort Hood's cavalry division are reinforcing and reassuring our NATO allies in the face of 'Russian aggression.'"

But on this point, could Hagel be accused of exaggerating the threat of "Russian aggression," especially when it is considered that Russia has not, unlike the United States, violated the territorial integrity of a single sovereign state since before the collapse of the Soviet Union? For those who have been consuming too much Western media of late, that will certainly come as news.

The only exception to Russia's honorable track record occurred on the morning of August 8, 2008 when Georgia launched a full-blown military offensive against South Ossetia, killing a dozen or so Russian peacekeepers in the process. After pushing Georgia's military back to the suburbs of Tbilisi, Russia's military respectfully exited the country.

© Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel

Although the United States and its allies have made a desperate attempt to portray Russia as an "aggressor" in the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, no convincing evidence has ever been forwarded to support such claims. In this age of high-definition satellite surveillance regardless of weather conditions, this is a rather significant thing. Yet it was top-ranking US officials, like John McCain and Victoria 'Let-Them-Eat-Cake' Nuland who were very visible in the capital Kiev in the midst of the Ukrainian strife, agitating the masses - some of whom admitted neo-Nazis - against Russia.

Now, aside from fighting against the Ebola virus and "Russian aggression," Hagel was proud to announce that the super-stretchable US Army would also be deploying, yet again, to the sands of Iraq "to train, advise and assist Kurdish and Iraqi forces in the fight against Islamic State [IS]."

A bit later in the speech, Hagel said, amidst the tinkling of dinnerware, that "the demands on the Army will only grow more diverse and complicated going forward. Threats from terrorists and insurgents will remain with us for a long time."

Today, any allusion to terrorism or deadly viruses by US officials automatically produces the cue card for "Russian aggression" as well. Hagel did not fail on that count.

According to the Secretary of Defense, the US military "must also deal with a revisionist Russia with its modern and capable army on NATO's doorstep."

Yes, you heard that correct: "On NATO's doorstep."

Hagel is unquestionably following in goose-step fashion the tele-prompted words of his Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama, who ranked Russia between Ebola and Islamic State as international threats during his UN address.

"As we gather here, an outbreak of Ebola overwhelms public health systems in West Africa, and threatens to move rapidly across borders," Obama said at the beginning of his statement. "Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition..."

In response to the comment, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev questioned the US president's state of mind.

"I don't even want to comment on this, this is some sort of aberration in the brain," Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview with CNBC.

Meanwhile, getting back to Hagel's metaphorical allusion to "NATO's doorstep." This is quite amusing, since it is NATO that continually moves that doorstep eastwards toward Russia, thereby hyping fears of "Russian aggression." In reality, it has been America's aggressiveness, intransigence and double-dealing with Russia that is largely responsible for the breakdown in bilateral relations between the two former Cold War adversaries.

Not only has NATO gone back on its pledge not to move "a single inch" toward Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but more recently it has refused to cooperate on a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe with Russia. More than anything, this failure on the part of Washington betrayed its hand in the dangerous geopolitical game now being played in the region.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hagel and his military cronies are happily passing the hat around at luncheons, filling the coffers of America's military industrial complex, a Frankenstein's monster that former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower (himself a former General) warned of in his farewell address on January 17, 1961.

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military - industrial complex," Eisenhower warned. "The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."

The failure to heed such wise counsel has not only been disastrous for the people of the United States, whose ability to control local paramilitary police powers through the crumbling Second Amendment is now virtually nonexistent. It has severely warped America's foreign policy goals, which is fixated with achieving supreme global dominance come hell or high water.

Midnight in the American Empire

Spain imposes health emergency at Madrid airport after passenger shows symptoms of Ebola

© AP Photo/ Daniel Ochoa de Olza

The pilot of the plane alerted the airport administration to the chill, headache and malaise of one of the passengers after which a doctor examined the passenger and prescribed hospital tests for possible Ebola virus contraction.

The government of Spain imposed a health emergency situation on Thursday afternoon in Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport after a passenger flying from Paris to Madrid was suspected of having contracted the Ebola virus, reported.

The newspaper stated that the pilot of the plane alerted the airport administration to the chill, headache and malaise of one of the passengers after which a doctor examined the passenger and prescribed hospital tests for possible Ebola virus contraction.

The worst Ebola epidemic in history began in southern Guinea at the end of 2013 and soon spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

The death toll is estimated to be over 4,400. A vaccine against the disease will reportedly be available in the summer of 2015, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Recently, cases of the Ebola virus have been reported in the Unites States as well as in a number of European countries in addition to those reported in West Africa.

New legal precedent? Parents may be liable for children's defamatory social media posts

child at computer

© Reuters / Jorge Silva

The parents of two children who posted defamatory comments about a fellow student in a fake Facebook account are heading to court, which will determine whether parents should be liable for their children's internet activity.

The parents of seventh-grade students Dustin Athearn and Melissa Snodgrass learned this the hard way after their children created a fake Facebook page under the name of fellow student Alexandria (Alex) Boston. Dustin and Melissa, with the help of a "Fat Face" app, distorted Alex's features, while also making offensive comments about the girl.

According to the court document, "After Dustin created the account, both Dustin and Melissa added information to the unauthorized profile, which indicated inter alia, racist viewpoints and a homosexual orientation. Dustin and Melissa also caused the persona to issue invitations to become 'Friends' to many of Alex's classmates, teachers, and extended family members," wrote the Georgia Court of Appeals in its opinion.

The court described the content on the false Facebook page as "graphically sexual, racist or otherwise offensive."

Upon discovering the Facebook page set up in their daughter's name, Alex's parents, Amy and Christopher Boston, met with the school's principal to discuss the matter. Dustin and Melissa confessed to their actions and signed a statement to that effect, as well as receiving a two-day suspension from school.

Although the parents of the students were notified in writing as to their children's actions, the fake Facebook page, purporting to be Alex Boston, remained visible for another 11 months until Facebook finally deactivated the account. In that period of time, "the fake persona continued to extend or accept requests to become Facebook friends with additional users and that other users viewed and posted on the unauthorized page...," according to the court's opinion.

Presiding Judge John J. Ellington ruled that the parents may be found legally liable for not having their son remove the fake Facebook profile that made potentially libelous statements against the classmate.

"Given that the false and offensive statements remained on display, and continued to reach readers, for an additional 11 months, we conclude that a jury could find that the [parents'] negligence proximately caused some part of the injury [the girl] sustained from [the boy's] actions (and inactions)," wrote Judge Ellington in the opinion.

Natalie Woodward, the attorney who represented Alex Boston, said she believed the appellate court's decision could set a new precedent.

The ruling indicates that in "certain circumstances, when what is being said about a child is untrue and once the parents know about it, then liability is triggered," she told Law Blog.

The case now heads back to the lower court for trial.

children social media

© Reuters / Eric Thayer

Last year, two Florida girls were accused of cyberbullying Rebecca Sedwick, a 12-year-old classmate, who eventually committed suicide by jumping to her death from a concrete factory.

Sedwick's mother said that over a dozen girls had continued to harass her daughter over the internet, even after the girl had changed schools, the Daily News reported.

However, charges of aggravated stalking against Katelyn Roman, 13, and Guadalupe Shaw, 14, were eventually dropped.

Justice for sale

Justice for Sale

© A Little Reality Blogspot

At first glance, Lanell Williams-Yulee's legal fight against the Florida Bar has an appealingly underdogish aura about it. In 2009, Williams-Yulee declared her candidacy for county court judge in Hillsborough County, launching her campaign with a mass-mail fundraising letter that asked for "an early contribution" to help her "raise the initial funds." Plenty of campaigns start with this kind of gentle panhandling, of course. But Williams-Yulee was running to be a judge, and the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct explicitly states that judicial candidates "shall not personally solicit campaign funds." Williams-Yulee was charged with professional misconduct and fined $1,860.30. The judgeship went to another candidate.

Williams-Yulee was running a modest campaign for an obscure seat. But with that single letter, she waded into a controversy that pits democracy and free speech against judicial ethics and due process. That controversy will soon come to a head at the Supreme Court, as the justices recently agreed to review Williams-Yulee's case. And when the court hears the case later this term, it seems overwhelmingly likely that the justices who brought you Citizens United will take their First Amendment bushwhacker to judicial elections.

To see why Williams-Yulee's letter tripped this particular wire, you have to understand that judicial elections are one of the more idiosyncratic and hotly debated features of American democracy. In virtually every other country, judges are appointed, not elected, to prevent angry voters from punishing them for unpopular rulings. Even in the United States, the framers of the Constitution took care to insulate federal judges from the majoritarian will, granting them lifetime appointments and shuddering at the possibility that they might "consult popularity" and "the people" instead of "the Constitution and the laws." When it comes to picking judges, more democracy does not necessarily mean more justice.

But throughout most of the United States, judges have no choice but to consult "the people" from time to time - it's the people, after all, who gave them their jobs. Thirty-nine states put their judges up for election, forcing them to campaign on the contradictory promise that they will both respect the wishes of the people and maintain judicial independence. All that campaigning, of course, requires cash, often a great deal of it. Today, 30 states (including Florida) forbid judges from personally soliciting campaign funds, requiring them instead to set up committees to keep candidates a step removed from money matters. The premise behind these laws is that when judges beg for money, they diminish the impartiality of the judiciary.

The Roberts court excels in planting time bombs in minor cases that explode a few years later.That is the premise Williams-Yulee is challenging, under the theory that the First Amendment protects her right to ask supporters for money. Her argument hinges on a contentious 2002 case called Republican Party of Minnesota v. White. Five members of the Supreme Court held that a law forbidding judicial candidates from announcing their views on disputed legal issues, which was designed to maintain an impartial judiciary, violated the First Amendment.

Writing for the court, Justice Antonin Scalia held that any law restricting judicial candidates' speech is subject to "strict scrutiny," meaning it must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. Minnesota's law wasn't narrowly tailored because a candidate could speak out on legal issues, at least according to Scalia, without showing "bias" or "favoritism" toward the party that supported those issues. For instance, in this interpretation, a candidate could explicitly state his opposition to abortion rights without intimating that he would be biased against a plaintiff challenging a restriction on abortion. (The dissenters scorned this logic as willfully naive nonsense.) Besides, Scalia wrote, preserving impartiality (and the appearance of it) wasn't even a compelling state interest: Every judge has his own biases when he arrives on the court, and "pretending otherwise" is useless.

The obvious implication of the White decision is that judicial elections should be treated exactly like legislative elections for constitutional purposes. A congressional candidate can express her opinions on whatever topic she wants, why shouldn't a judicial candidate? The justices hedged on this point in White, but dozens of lower courts have since picked up on it, striking down a variety of laws that prevent judicial candidates from stating certain beliefs on the campaign trail. Intriguingly, federal judges - who never face election - are vastly more likely to strike down laws regulating judicial campaign speech. State judges - most of whom face election themselves - are overwhelmingly more likely to uphold them. Those judges with firsthand experience of the campaign trail, then, seem more attuned to the threat that judicial elections can pose to the impartiality of the bench.

Four members of the White majority had never stood for election. One had - Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Tellingly, O'Connor wrote a concurrence in White to distance herself from the flippancy of the majority opinion. "I am concerned," O'Connor wrote, that "the very practice of electing judges undermines [the] interest" of an "impartial judiciary." The practice of electing judges struck O'Connor as inherently contradictory to judicial impartiality because elected judges "cannot help being aware" that casting an unpopular (but legally sound) vote could "hurt their reelection prospects." Even worse, judges who accept campaign contributions may feel "indebted to certain parties or interest groups" - and even if they don't consciously rule as their donors would wish them to, the public might still think their judges have been bought off.

All of these concerns are present in legislative elections, too. But they're magnified in judicial elections because judges regularly decide cases that involve life and death, or at least liberty and incarceration. In White, Minnesota was concerned that a candidate might, for instance, announce his support of capital punishment, then feel bound to send more criminals to their deaths. In Williams-Yulee's case, the stakes are somewhat less dramatic, but still unnerving. Imagine a donor had responded to Williams-Yulee's letter with a $1,000 check, the maximum under Florida law. In a local race, that money could make the difference, and so Williams-Yulee would probably thank the donor personally and invite him to special events. Now imagine that the same donor found himself in her courtroom a year later, charged with embezzlement. Is it realistic to believe that Williams-Yulee could rule with total impartiality in a case involving her most generous contributor?

Five members of the Supreme Court would almost certainly say yes. In a 2009 case called Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Co., the four most conservative justices argued that a judge could surely rule impartially in a case involving a party who donated $3 million to his election. Justice Anthony Kennedy balked, joining the liberals to hold that the judge needed to recuse himself to ensure due process for both parties. But Kennedy's views on due process and free speech are miles apart, and there seems little question that he'd approve of judicial candidates personally soliciting, and receiving, vast sums of money for their campaigns. In fact, Kennedy has written that laws regulating judicial speech should be presumptively unconstitutional - even if they survive strict scrutiny.

Given O'Connor's absence and the Roberts court's deregulation fever, Williams-Yulee has good reason to believe she'll win her case. And, truth be told, letting a county court candidate personally solicit $1,000 or less won't singlehandedly undermine the judiciary's impartiality. What's more concerning is the precedent it sets. The Roberts court excels in planting time bombs in minor cases that explode a few years later. This term, the conservative justices may find a First Amendment right for judicial candidates to ask donors for money. Next term, they may find a First Amendment right for donors to give as much as they want. That's how the court worked its way to Citizens United, which has turned congressional elections into a money-grabbing free-for-all. And since five justices already seem to view elected judges as politicians in black robes, there's good reason to believe that the Citizens United of judicial elections lies just down the road.

Corporate craziness: Apple and Facebook will pay female employees to freeze their eggs

© Ben Birchall/PA Wire via AP File

Embryos placed onto a CryoLeaf ready for instant freezing

Two Silicon Valley giants now offer women a game-changing perk: Apple and Facebook will pay for employees to freeze their eggs.

Facebook recently began covering egg freezing, and Apple will start in January, spokespeople for the companies told NBC News. The firms appear to be the first major employers to offer this coverage for non-medical reasons.

"Having a high-powered career and children is still a very hard thing to do," said Brigitte Adams, an egg-freezing advocate and founder of the patient forum Eggsurance.com . By offering this benefit, companies are investing in women, she said, and supporting them in carving out the lives they want.

When successful, egg freezing allows women to put their fertility on ice, so to speak, until they're ready to become parents. But the procedure comes at a steep price: Costs typically add up to at least $10,000 for every round, plus $500 or more annually for storage.

With notoriously male-dominated Silicon Valley firms competing to attract top female talent, the coverage may give Apple and Facebook a leg up among the many women who devote key childbearing years to building careers. Covering egg freezing can be viewed as a type of "payback" for women's commitment, said Philip Chenette, a fertility specialist in San Francisco.

The companies offer egg-freezing coverage under slightly different terms: Apple covers costs under its fertility benefit, and Facebook under its surrogacy benefit, both up to $20,000. Women at Facebook began taking advantage of the coverage this year.

Why freeze?

While techniques and success rates are improving, there's no guarantee the procedure will lead to a baby down the road. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine doesn't keep comprehensive stats on babies born from frozen eggs - in fact, the group cautions against relying on egg freezing to extend fertility - though experts say the earlier a woman freezes her eggs, the greater her chances of success. Doctors often recommend women freeze at least 20 eggs, which can require two costly rounds.

But in the two years since the ASRM lifted the "experimental" label from egg freezing, experts say they've seen a surge in women seeking out the procedure. Fertility doctors in New York and San Francisco report that egg-freezing cases have nearly doubled over the past year.

For many women, taking the step to boost their chances of having kids in the future is worth the uncertainty. A majority of patients who froze their eggs reported feeling "empowered" in a 2013 survey published in the journal . Women who know they want kids someday "can go on with their lives and know that they've done everything that they can," said Chenette.

Egg freezing has even been described as a key to "leveling the playing field" between men and women: Without the crushing pressure of a ticking biological clock, women have more freedom in making life choices, say advocates. A magazine cover story earlier this year asked: Will freezing your eggs free your career? "Not since the birth control pill has a medical technology had such potential to change family and career planning," wrote author Emma Rosenblum.

News of the firms' egg-freezing coverage comes in the midst of what's been described as a Silicon Valley "perks arms race." It's only the latest in a generous list of family and wellness-oriented health benefits from Apple and Facebook (whose COO, of course, is feminist change agent and "" author Sheryl Sandberg). Both companies offer benefits for fertility treatment and adoption. Facebook famously gives new parents $4,000 in so-called "baby cash" to use however they'd like.

New ground

Silicon Valley firms are hardly alone in offering generous benefits to attract and keep talent, but they appear to be leading the way with egg freezing. Advocates say they've heard murmurs of large law, consulting, and finance firms helping to cover the costs, but no companies are broadcasting this support. "It's very forward-looking," said Eggsurance's Adams.

Companies may be concerned about the public relations implications of the benefit - in the most cynical light, egg-freezing coverage could be viewed as a ploy to entice women to sell their souls to their employer, sacrificing childbearing years for the promise of promotion.

"Would potential female associates welcome this option knowing that they can work hard early on and still reproduce, if they so desire, later on?" asked Glenn Cohen, co-director of Harvard Law School's Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics, in a blog post last year. "Or would they take this as a signal that the firm thinks that working there as an associate and pregnancy are incompatible?"

But the more likely explanation for lack of coverage is simply that egg freezing is still new, and conversation around the procedure has only recently gone mainstream. "I think we've reached a tipping point," said Adams. "When I used to say 'egg freezing,' people would stare at me with their mouths open." Now? Most people know someone who's done or considered it.

Many large companies adopt new benefits in response to employee demand - firms have recently started to offer benefits for transgender employees, for example. As women's awareness of egg freezing grows, more employers may jump on the band wagon.

"The attitude toward egg freezing is very different," and more positive, than just a few years ago, said Christy Jones, founder of Extend Fertility, a company that offers and promotes egg freezing across the country. Women are making the proactive decision to freeze their eggs at a younger age, and the choice is "more one of empowerment than 'this is my last chance.'"

EggBanxx, the first service to help women finance egg freezing, has recently begun to capitalize on this shift by hosting "egg-freezing parties," where experts educate guests. "Maybe you haven't found Mr. Right just yet or perhaps you would like more time to focus on your education or career," the company website says. "Whatever the reasons, freezing your eggs now will allow you to tackle conception later."

'Back to work the next day'

Women generally need about two weeks of flexibility for one cycle of egg freezing. After about ten days of fertility drug injections, patients undergo a relatively short outpatient procedure - and they're "back to work the next day," said Lynn Westphal, Associate Professor Obstetrics and Gynecology at Stanford University Medical Center. From there, eggs are frozen and stored until a woman is ready to use them, at which point she'll begin the process of in vitro fertilization.

Once a woman freezes her eggs, she may never return to use them, fertility doctors report. Some women get pregnant the old-fashioned way, others make different life plans. Westphal compares egg freezing to car insurance: You hope you don't have to use what you've put away, but if you find yourself in a situation where you need to, you're glad to have the protection.

Will the perk pay off for companies? The benefit will likely encourage women to stay with their employer longer, cutting down on recruiting and hiring costs. And practically speaking, when women freeze their eggs early, firms may save on pregnancy costs in the long run, said Westphal. A woman could avoid paying to use a donor egg down the road, for example, or undergoing more intensive fertility treatments when she's ready to have a baby.

But the emotional and cultural payoff may be more valuable, said Jones: Offering this benefit "can help women be more productive human beings."