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Saturday, 6 December 2014

Deadline approaches for US State Department to answer to Indian PM Narendra Modi's human rights violation charges


© Wikimedia Commons

In 2002, the Indian province of Gujarat experienced one of the bloodiest instances of religious violence in the country's history. Following a train fire that killed 59 Hindus, riots erupted across the province that targeted the local Muslim minority. More than 300 mosques and other religious sites were destroyed. Muslim women were chased through the street, raped and burned alive. After three days of unrest, at least 1,000 people died and more than 16,000 Muslims were driven from their homes and became refugees.

A 2005 report by Amnesty International revealed that police stood by or even joined in the violence. And some suggest that police may have even been ordered by their superiors not to intervene.

Some of the blame has been directed at Gujarat's then-Chief Minister, Narendra Modi. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and India's National Human Rights Commission have accused Modi of not acting to stop the riots.

The accusations against Modi were enough for the United States to deny him a visa in 2005.

That put the United States government in an awkward position when Modi, a Hindu nationalist, was elected Prime Minister in May. Following his election, the U.S. State Department reinstated Modi's visa, arguing that his position as a head of state granted him diplomatic immunity.

However, a small U.S.-based human rights group refuses to let Modi walk free.

In September, just ahead of Modi's first visit to the United States as the newly elected Indian Prime Minister, the American Justice Center filed a civil lawsuit in a New York Federal Court seeking punitive damages on behalf of two survivors of the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The American Justice Center also offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who would serve Modi with a court summons when he visited New York City.

In November, a federal judge overseeing the case ordered the U.S. State Department to respond by December 10 (next week) to the American Justice Center's memorandum challenging Modi's diplomatic immunity.

The American Justice Center argues that the lawsuit applies to acts Modi committed as Chief Minister, not as a head of state, which would exempt him from diplomatic immunity.

"We are confident of the sound legal basis for the Tort case against Mr. Modi, and expect the court to allow the lawsuit to move forward," American Justice Center President Joseph Whittington said in a press release. "Survivors of the horrific Gujarat massacres expect the US to uphold its own laws as well as international norms of justice."

The American Justice Center has pursued Modi across the globe. Last month, the organization filed a criminal complaint against Modi in Australia a few days before the Indian Prime Minister visited that country. The complaint charged Modi with committing crimes against humanity and genocide for his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

"Our relentless pursuit of justice has now taken us to the Australian shores, where Mr. Modi will have to account for his criminal misdeeds in Gujarat," said Whittington in press release related to the charges in Australia.

GOP plans to rig U.S. Congress to embrace trickle-down 'voodoo economics'

Paul Ryan

© AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) laughs as he walks to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Oct. 11, 2013.

Republicans are signaling that when they take control of the Senate in January, they'll try to change the way a key government watchdog does math. If they get their way, it will effectively put a thumb on the scale of all future legislation.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) informs virtually all of our political debates. Made up of non-partisan career technocrats, the CBO's most important function is to "score" proposed legislation, projecting how a bill would impact future budgets if it were passed. When the CBO concludes that a piece of legislation will increase future deficits, it provides a powerful argument against the measure. When they project that a proposal will shrink the government's debt, it allows proponents to claim that it's the "fiscally responsible" thing to do. Key findings from the CBO's reports are eagerly consumed and broadly disseminated by politicians, pundits and political reporters.

A number of Republicans have called for the CBO to incorporate what US News & World Report calls a "gimmick" that would result in tax cuts magically paying for themselves in future CBO scores. In fact, it would likely result in the CBO claiming that even deep tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy would result in more revenues coming into the government's coffers. We could have our cake and eat it, too!

The gimmick is called "dynamic scoring," and is based on economic models that purport to show that tax cuts unleash so much new economic activity that ultimately, they result in more taxes being collected.

Budget guru Stan Collender, executive vice president of Qorvis Communications, tells Moyers & Company that to a degree both the CBO and Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation already use dynamic scoring. Economists agree that changes in taxation influence how much money individuals and corporations spend. "They just don't use it to the extent that tax cut proponents want," says Collender. "And there's very little substantive evidence to justify the kind of dynamic scoring that they want."

"Make no mistake," Collender adds. "This is not an attempt to fix the substance, this is an attempt to fix the politics to make it easier to cut taxes."

In an interview with , Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) claimed, falsely, that "Our rules in Congress require that we don't take into consideration behavioral changes or economic effects as a result of tax reform." He told a business group, "What we want to do is change our measurement so that we can use - people say it's dynamic scoring. I really prefer to call it reality-based scoring."

Asked about that characterization, Stan Collender says, "Almost all reputable economists - and past CBO directors from both parties - have rejected the kind of dynamic scoring that Paul Ryan wants out-of-hand. They've looked at it, they've written about it and they've found nothing to support it. What you've got to understand is that proponents of this kind of dynamic scoring simply take it on faith."

Fortunately, we have a recent real world experiment with which to evaluate Ryan's claim to "reality" - the effect of two rounds of deep tax cuts passed by the Bush administration in 2001 and 2003 (and renewed in 2010).

magazine's Justin Fox went back and reviewed what Republicans had said in the past about these (and other) cuts. He concluded, "If there's one thing that Republican politicians agree on, it's that slashing taxes brings the government more money."

"You cut taxes, and the tax revenues increase," President Bush said in a [2006] speech. Keeping taxes low, Vice President Dick Cheney explained in a [2007] interview, "does produce more revenue for the Federal Government." [During the 2008 campaign] John McCain declared... that "tax cuts . . . as we all know, increase revenues." His rival Rudy Giuliani couldn't agree more. "I know that reducing taxes produces more revenues," he... [said in a] TV ad.

All of these statements - and there are many, many more like them on the record - were based on the kind of dynamic scoring models that Republicans are likely to push the CBO to adopt.

So how did reality "score" these claims?

Tax collections fell off a cliff after the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts. By 2009, the cuts, combined with the effects of the economic downturn, left federal tax revenues as a share of our overall economic output at their lowest point since 1950. They remained that way through 2012. This graphic from the CBO tells the tale:


© Unknown

And what about the "fiscal responsibility" of those cuts - or lack thereof? In 2001, George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus from the Clinton administration; by the time he left office, he'd turned it into a massive deficit. This graphic, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, shows that while Bush's unpaid wars and the recession played a roll in pushing the federal budget into the red, the tax cuts were far and away the leading cause of the turnaround.


© Unknown

Keep these figures in mind the next time you hear Paul Ryan or one of his allies talking about "reality-based scoring." It's voodoo economics at its finest.

Border, airport screening exempt from new U.S. profiling rules: Washington Post

TSA checkpoint


New federal restrictions on racial profiling will still allow some officials to use the controversial practice along the southwestern U.S. border and in screening of airline passengers, the said.

The rules will ban racial profiling from national security cases for the first time and will bar the FBI from considering religion and national origin when opening a case, the newspaper said.

The guidelines have been the subject of sharp debate within President Barack Obama's administration concerning which agencies would be covered, the said. The FBI was concerned that they would hamper investigations while Department of Homeland Security officials argued that airport screeners and immigration and customs officials needed to consider many factors for the sake of security.

Sources told the the new policy will exempt the Transportation Security Administration, which handles airport screening. The Customs and Border Protection agency also will be allowed to use racial profiling in inspections at ports of entry and interdictions along the border, officials said.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that new rules on profiling would be released soon. Civil rights activists have long opposed the practice, which has become especially sensitive recently after grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City declined to indict white police officers who had killed two unarmed black men, setting off protests around the country.

The Justice Department's guidelines will apply only to federal law enforcement agencies, not state or local authorities.

The George W. Bush administration outlawed racial profiling by federal law enforcement in 2003 but it applied only to national security cases and did not limit officers from discriminating based on factors apart from race, such as national origin, religion or sexual orientation

USGS: Earthquake magnitude 6.8 - 116km WSW of Panguna, Papua New Guinea

Panguna Quake_071214


Event Time

2014-12-07 01:22:00 UTC

2014-12-07 11:22:00 UTC+10:00 at epicenter


6.537°S 154.455°E depth=10.0km (6.2mi)

Nearby Cities

116km (72mi) WSW of Panguna, Papua New Guinea

124km (77mi) WSW of Arawa, Papua New Guinea

342km (213mi) SE of Kokopo, Papua New Guinea

489km (304mi) ESE of Kimbe, Papua New Guinea

685km (426mi) WNW of Honiara, Solomon Islands

Scientific Data

6.0-magnitude earthquake strikes off Indonesian coast

Saumlaki Quake_061214


Moscow - A 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck off Indonesian coast of Yamdena Island, the US Geological Survey reports.

The quakes took place at around 10 p.m. GMT, with the epicenter 222 km (138 miles) to the northwest of Saumlaki town, located on Yamdena island. The quake happened at a depth of 117.3 km (72.9 miles).

No damage or injuries have been reported in the area. Indonesia, which comprises thousands of islands, is vulnerable to earthquakes due to its geographical location.

In 2004, a 9.2-magnitude earthquake hit Indonesia off the coast of Sumatra Island, triggering powerful tsunami waves which killed at least 220,000 people.

Video shows cop sarcastically waving to cameraman after choking Eric Garner

waving cop_eric garner

© YouTube

Nearly everyone knows about the infamous video of a New York City police officer choking Eric Garner. But there is a second video, in the aftermath of the more well-known Eric Garner video.

The second video shows the choking while one officer grabbed Garner around his neck, and threw him to the ground. It also, however, shows the seven minute long aftermath, where a disgusted bystander films the lifeless body of Eric Garner left on the sidewalk with police officers shuffling around him and seeming relatively undisturbed by the fact that they had just killed an unarmed man for not paying a few pennies of tax on cigarettes.

Watch video below of NYPD officers and EMT standing around, and failing to give aid to Eric Garner, who was lifeless on the ground, but technically did not die until he was on the way to the hospital.

[embedded content]

Could Garner have been saved if they had administered proper aid? Perhaps. But that is speculative. What is not speculative is the attitude and demeanor of the officer who had just choked him until he was lifeless, thus leading to his death. Pay close attention at 6:55 in the video, when you can see the officer who choked Garner to death, NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, actually wave jokingly at the camera, with no apparent concern for the fact that he had just killed a man.

The video was originally posted on Facebook over the summer but has received renewed attention after a grand jury decided not to indict an officer involved in the altercation. As Harry Siegel at the points out, this video is almost more disturbing - or disturbing in a way that says something slightly different about Garner and the officers in question. About Garner: If he appears in the first video as the subject of police aggression, here he barely seems to warrant their attention at all. About the officers: They betray no sense of urgency or concern as they wait for first responders. It's as if the event were almost banal.

The moment is much shorter than the four-and-a-half hours Michael Brown's body lay in the street after his death. But it says something similar, that the way we treat a body reflects how we value the life.

Help SPREAD THE WORD and get this "waving" excerpt on the radar of the Johnny-come-lately mainstream, corporate media.

12-year old California boy commits suicide after being bullied for being a cheerleader

© ABC News10/KXYV

A 12-year-old boy took his own life. And tonight, that boy's family and friends, including the staff and students at Folsom Middle School, are searching for answers.

Those close to Ronin Shimizu say he could not take the bullying anymore.

The district confirms they did get a number of complaints from the parents of the boy. They say they followed protocol, but friends say it just wouldn't stop. Shimizu had a bright smile, but apparently there was a lot of pain.

"He was a really great friend," said a friend.

It was an unimaginable loss, as friends and family gathered around the Shimizu home Thursday night for a quiet candle light vigil.

Shimizu had previously attended Folsom Middle School, but was only recently being home schooled. He killed himself yesterday.

"I didn't see why people would tease him because he was so nice," said a fellow cheerleader.

Those who knew Shimizu say he was the only male cheerleader with the Vista Junior Eagles Cheer Team.

"I heard that people called him gay because he was a cheerleader," said.

"It's a shocking and saddening incident," said.

Daniel Thigpen with the Folsom Cordova School District confirms Shimizu's family did report he was being bullied on more than one occasion, and the incidents were handled.

"Any allegations bullying related to this specific incident, we're certainly reviewing how we responded to those and we'll use that as an opportunity to always take a look at how we respond to future allegations," said Thigpen.

In the meantime, grief counselors were on hand today to help students and staff - no doubt a wake-up call for many.

"Hopefully if anything, in a positive way, it will educate people. Bullying...it can't happen, especially with social media nowadays," said Josh Meixner, a family friend.

In fact, according to the federal government, 28 percent of kids grades six through 12 have been bullied, while nearly a third of young people say they have bullied others.

Shimizu's Friend: "You shouldn't do that. If it was you, you wouldn't like it."

Derek Shore: "Did he really like to cheerlead?"

Friend: "Yeah"

Folsom Cordova School District officials say they have a comprehensive anti-bullying campaign. In fact, a student I talked to said they went through the program in the last few weeks.

Video Shows Cop Sarcastically Waving To Cameraman After Choking Eric Garner

waving cop_eric garner

© YouTube

Nearly everyone knows about the infamous video of a New York City police officer choking Eric Garner. But there is a second video, in the aftermath of the more well-known Eric Garner video.

The second video shows the choking while one officer grabbed Garner around his neck, and threw him to the ground. It also, however, shows the seven minute long aftermath, where a disgusted bystander films the lifeless body of Eric Garner left on the sidewalk with police officers shuffling around him and seeming relatively undisturbed by the fact that they had just killed an unarmed man for not paying a few pennies of tax on cigarettes.

Watch video below of NYPD officers and EMT standing around, and failing to give aid to Eric Garner, who was lifeless on the ground, but technically did not die until he was on the way to the hospital.

[embedded content]

Could Garner have been saved if they had administered proper aid? Perhaps. But that is speculative. What is not speculative is the attitude and demeanor of the officer who had just choked him until he was lifeless, thus leading to his death. Pay close attention at 6:55 in the video, when you can see the officer who choked Garner to death, NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, actually wave jokingly at the camera, with no apparent concern for the fact that he had just killed a man.

The video was originally posted on Facebook over the summer but has received renewed attention after a grand jury decided not to indict an officer involved in the altercation. As Harry Siegel at the points out, this video is almost more disturbing - or disturbing in a way that says something slightly different about Garner and the officers in question. About Garner: If he appears in the first video as the subject of police aggression, here he barely seems to warrant their attention at all. About the officers: They betray no sense of urgency or concern as they wait for first responders. It's as if the event were almost banal.

The moment is much shorter than the four-and-a-half hours Michael Brown's body lay in the street after his death. But it says something similar, that the way we treat a body reflects how we value the life.

Help SPREAD THE WORD and get this "waving" excerpt on the radar of the Johnny-come-lately mainstream, corporate media.

Turkish-Russian deal taking effect? Turkey blocks 7000 ISIS supporters from entering Syria and Iraq

© AFP Photo/Adem Altan

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu

Turkey has banned the entry of over 7,000 suspected foreign jihadists en route to Iraq and Syria, the country's Foreign Minister has announced.

At a two-day Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) conference in Basel, Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu told his counterparts that Turkey's "no enter" list now includes some 7,200 names, reports the Andalou Agency. Turkish authorities have deported more than a thousand suspected foreign terrorists since 2011, the Minister said on Friday.

Cavusoglu noted that despite Turkey's efforts at keeping Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) militants out, they continue to breach the country's borders. IS leaders claim to have created an Islamic caliphate across large swaths of Iraq and Syria over the past year.

"We still observe the flow of terrorist fighters ... and in some cases, those we deport end up at our border gates again," he said.

Cavusoglu also stressed that terrorism is a global threat that should not be associated with any religion or ethnic group.

"Today, the threat we face in Syria or Iraq cannot be isolated from the past and we should make use of the lessons learnt," he added.

Calling for a multipronged approach to fighting terrorism, Cavusoglu said, "Only addressing the foreign fighters would not solve the problem - we need a comprehensive strategy that includes rehabilitation, de-radicalization ... nation- and state-building, in addition to the military and law-enforcement measures."

Militants from over 80 countries have joined IS as a result of the Islamist group's effective propaganda campaign through social media, Cavusoglu noted.

While most IS fighters hail from the Middle East, large numbers of supporters have been flocking to join the jihadist caliphate from across the globe. Over 930 French citizens are thought to have joined the ranks of IS, according to French Interior Ministry figures cited by Radio Free Europe. Meanwhile, 450 German fighters have teamed up with jihadists, and some British intelligence agencies estimate that up to 2000 Brits may have gone to Iraq and Syria and to fight for the radical Shiite group. Australian authorities believe that around 150 citizens are fighting alongside IS.

In light of such startling figures, the minister warned that the international community "cannot prevent this threat by diverting the smoke coming out of the big fire in Iraq and Syria" but must "extinguish this fire."

Syria takes a stand: Moscow meetings with opposition planned, coalition with Russia forming

© AFP Photo/Raveendran

Bouthaina Shaaban, a cabinet-level adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Syria's government and opposition will hold talks in Moscow on the resolution of the Syrian crisis, advisor to the Syrian president Bouthaina Shaaban told RT Arabic.

Syria and Russia agreed that the "intra-Syrian dialogue will begin in Moscow," Shaaban told RT Arabic during an interview in Damascus on Thursday.

She elaborated that Damascus has been in consultations with Moscow regarding "the starting point of this dialogue, its objectives, and mechanisms for its implementation, as well as the composition of its participants".

Prospects for using Moscow as a venue for contacts between the two sides of the Syrian conflict were in focus of talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and UN Secretary General's special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura on Thursday, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry. During the meeting which took place in Switzerland's Basel the two parties agreed the top priority in the intra-Syrian talks anti-terrorism efforts.

Last month Russia's President Vladimir Putin met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem for the first top level talks between the two countries since the start of Syrian civil war in 2011. The two discussed "bilateral relations" behind closed doors in the Black city resort of Sochi on November 26, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

"The timing of the visit plays an important role. It was the first meeting with President Putin since the beginning of the crisis in Syria. This visit was symbolic and at the same time very productive," stressed Shaaban.

The president's political and media advisor explained that during the consultations, Moscow and Damascus agreed on the "principle approaches of stopping this war waged against us."

"Both parties understand that for the revival of Syria it must put an end to terrorism," she elaborated.

The social and humanitarian situation in the Arab Republic is "complex", the Syrian top official noted. She expressed regret that some Arab and regional forces as well as those of "international terrorism" have joined against Syria in the war she believes is "inequitable."

'US want twenty years of war to eliminate ISIS?'

Shaaban criticized the US for its move to create a coalition "outside the UN Security Council and outside the boundaries of international law". She reiterated Syria's stance on the US-led airstrike targeting IS militant positions in the Arab nation - that they are an illegal intervention and do not respect the sovereignty of Syria.

She cited President Bashar Assad's statement that these air strikes fail to provide any tangible result, while the main fight against the terrorists is carried out on the ground.

IS militants - formerly ISIS, also known by the Arabic acronym Daʿish - have "covert international support that enables to transfer weapons and give financial aid to terrorists," Shaaban admitted.

High-level experts work for these terrorists she stated, questioning from where they came.

"Therefore, in dealing with IS militants we will rely on our own capabilities, a new coalition that is being created between Russia, Syria, and countries" that stick to their statements and promises.

"At the same time, the West, in my personal opinion, pursues other objectives, participating in the [US-led] coalition. The West, above all, is trying to save the US military industry, attracting finances of the Gulf Arab countries in order to save relevant US companies," she said.

The top official explained that this is the reason "they say that it will take ten or even twenty years to destroy IS militants."

"...to destroy 30,000 IS militants the US needs twenty years of war?" she questioned.

Syria which has a history amounting to 10,000 years has seen many conflicts and wars, but it will stand, while IS militants and other terrorist groups are bound to fall, Shaaban said.

Comment: Here we go! Syria is finally standing on its own two feet and unequivocally denouncing the U.S. airstrikes as illegal. In any sane world, such a blatant violation of another country's sovereignty would be considered a declaration of war. And yet the United States has the utter shamelessness and temerity to declare Russia a threat to world peace? It's enough to drive a thinking person mad.

This latest statement from Syria comes on he heels of Assad's recent interview to French media where he took a similar stance, which itself came after the top-level meeting with al-Moualem. It looks like Ziad Fadel's analysis in that last link may be very close to the mark!

it looks like Russia has once again taken the lead as the world's conscience, acting for truth and justice. It's just a matter of how far the psychopathic U.S. is willing to drag the world down as it continues its mad rush to chaos, war, murder and rapacity. The U.S. is a complete disgrace, it's days are numbered, and its end cannot possibly come soon enough. The fate of the world depends on it.

No surprise! Extra 1,000 US troops to stay in Afghanistan next year

© AFP Photo / Mark Wilson / Pool

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) speaks during a joint news conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on December 6, 2014.

The US defense secretary Chuck Hagel on a visit to the Afghan capital Kabul has said that up to 1,000 US troops will not be withdrawn from Afghanistan as planned.

The extra troops will cover a temporary shortfall in NATO forces as the vast majority of them leave Afghanistan for good at the end of 2014.

President Obama has provided US military commanders the flexibility to manage any temporary force shortfall that we might experience for a few months as we allow for coalition troops to arrive in theatre Hagel told reporters.

Hagel's visit, which was unannounced, came just weeks before the official end to the NATO-led combat mission in the country, which began in 2001.The call comes during the worst spike in violence since 2001 and a number of bloody attacks on the capital.

I have confidence that the Afghan security forces have the capacity to defend Kabul Hagel told reporters before landing in Kabul.

As of the beginning of November 4,600 members of the Afghan security forces have been killed this year, six percent more than over the same period last year.

Such a high number of Afghan deaths is seen as unsustainable and also raises questions about what will happen to the 10,800 US forces that will now remain behind to oversee security next year.

According to earlier plan, US troop numbers are expected drop to 5,500 by the end of 2015 and to 1,000 by the beginning of 2017, and Hagel insisted that the drawdown would be stuck to.

I don't see any strategic or major shift in policy, he said, although he conceded that there would also have to be wide flexibility to adjust troop numbers and locations within the withdrawal timetable.

© AFP Photo / Wakil Kohsar

The withdrawal of the bulk of US forces from Afghanistan has drawn criticism, especially from Republican's, who argue that the gains made against the Taliban will be lost and the country will fall into sectarian violence in the same way that Iraq did when US forces left the country.

But Hagel has said that comparisons between Iraq and Afghanistan are not valid and that the Afghans want US forces to stay there.

Despite the 13 year security operation in Afghanistan, the Taliban have become increasingly bold in their tactics and still control several districts across the country.

Some senior US military and intelligence officials have expressed their doubts of the ability of Afghan forces which are plagued by corruption and are completely reliant on US air and intelligence support, to beat the Taliban.

Hagel will meet Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, as well as General John Campbell the top commander of US and collation forces in Afghanistan.

More than 2,300 Americans have died and 20,000 wounded in the Afghan war.

U.S. plane from Tel Aviv makes emergency stop in Italy - crew and passengers suffer vomiting, red eyes

© AFP /Faisal al-Tamimi

A US Airways plane makes an emergency landing in Rome after two passengers and 11 members of the crew are taken ill, Italian media report.

A US Airways plane made an emergency landing in Rome on Saturday after two passengers and 11 members of the crew were taken ill, Italian media reported.

The plane, which set off from Tel Aviv in Israel for Philadelphia in the United States, landed at the Fiumicino airport in the Italian capital and requested medical assistance for 13 people suffering from red eyes and vomiting.

The passengers and crew affected were checked by airport emergency doctors before being taken to the G.B Grassi di Ostia hospital near Rome.

A malfunction in the Airbus A330's ventilation system could be to blame, the reports said.

French authorities backtrack on scheme forcing homeless to wear yellow triangles revealing their illnesses

Homeless french man

© Flickr/ Alex Proimos

French authorities in Marseille have abandoned requiring homeless people to wear yellow triangle ID cards that identify their suspected illnesses, The Local reported on Friday.

The original intention of the initiative, a procedural streamlining for health workers in emergency situations, was slammed by human rights groups and government ministers, equating it to the Nazi-era Star of David, which the Jewish people had to wear.

"It's finished. There won't be any more cards," Rene Giancarli, head of local medical emergency services said to the Local, adding that the cards had been stopped. "We just wanted good to come out of this, but I made a mistake. I admit that and I can accept when I'm wrong."

Authorities and human rights groups alike were outraged, with Social Affairs Minister Marisol Touraine saying to Le Parisien "Forcing homeless people to carry a yellow triangle indicating illnesses they might have is outrageous. You don't point the finger at the poorest."

On Wednesday, about 100 activists gathered outside the Town Hall to protest the use of the cards.

Marseille Town Hall was forced to give up on the idea after previously defending it, stating that it was "the card that saves lives." Over 100 cards had been distributed.

Cape Cod turtle deaths confound researchers

Sea turtle

© New England Aquarium

Juvenile Kemp's ridley sea turtle, with lacerated front flipper and fractured shell, being evaluated at the New England Aquarium's sea turtle hospital in Quincy, Massachusetts.

A mystery is unfolding on the beaches of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Hundreds of endangered sea turtles have been washing up on the shore, sick and stunned by the cold ocean water. Biologists and volunteers are mounting an unprecedented rescue response to save as many turtles as possible before it's too late.

Most of the turtles are juvenile Kemp's ridleys () measuring less than a foot long. They are being trapped on their southbound fall migration to warmer climes by the arm of the cape, which protrudes into the Atlantic Ocean. Many wash up not only incapacitated by the cold, but also with life-threatening conditions like dehydration, pneumonia, infections, or off-kilter blood chemistry. Their skin is often discolored, and early on many were overgrown with algae.

"They're terrible looking" when they first wash up, says Bob Prescott, director of the conservation group Mass Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in South Wellfleet, Massachusetts, who is coordinating the recovery of stranded turtles from the beaches. Fortunately, they respond well to treatment. His crews of volunteers and staff members have picked up more than 1070 turtles so far, about 20% of them already dead. That's far above the average of 200 turtles that have washed up each fall for the past decade. The number of arrivals has declined, Prescott says, but it is still higher than normal and won't likely reach zero until the end of the year, when the annual cold-stun season comes to a close. With water temperatures dropping, more of the turtles are showing up dead, and bigger species that can withstand the cold longer, like loggerheads (), are starting to wash up.

Prescott's team sends the living turtles, often packed in banana boxes, to a sea turtle hospital in Quincy, Massachusetts, run by the New England Aquarium. Six hundred and fifty turtles have been admitted so far - approaching triple the hospital's previous record of 240, set in 2012. Workers at the hospital have been putting in 12- to 14-hour days, with extra volunteers and staff from out-of-state aquariums pitching in, says Charles Innis, the aquarium's director of animal health, who oversees the sea turtles' care.

Innis's team has been stabilizing the turtles and then shipping as many as possible to other animal hospitals for further treatment and eventual release. This morning, a private plane flew 50 of the turtles to Houston. Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard airlifted 193 to Florida. Innis says the Cape Cod turtles have filled just about every facility along the U.S. East Coast, and aquarium staff members are now trying to place them in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. "We just simply don't have tank space available to handle 600 turtles here. And nobody does, really," Innis says. "It's really a national effort at this point."

The healthiest turtles typically require a month or two of care before they can be released, but the sicker ones may have to stay for up to 8 months, Innis says, adding that he expects at least 70% of his patients to survive.

Many juvenile Kemp's ridleys never foray north of Cape Cod, but the ones that do and make it out before the water turns deadly cold don't seem to return, Prescott says. Instead, they join other East Coast turtles in warmer waters farther south, where they spend a decade or so maturing before returning to nest on their home beaches in Texas and Mexico.

The reasons for this year's remarkable stranding remain unknown. Some observers have suggested that there may be more juvenile Kemp's ridleys thanks to recent hatching success resulting from conservation efforts. But Donna Shaver, chief of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore in Corpus Christi, Texas, where most U.S.-born Kemp's ridleys hatch, says it may be more complicated than that. The number of hatchlings in the Gulf of Mexico has increased substantially since the mid-1980s, but it has varied quite a bit in recent years, suggesting that oceanographic conditions may also be behind this year's large crop of stranded turtles.

Another hypothesis is that rapidly warming water in the Gulf of Maine, which includes Cape Cod Bay and waters north to Nova Scotia, could be luring turtles farther north than they once ventured, causing more to become trapped on their southbound journey when the water cools in the fall. But biologists are putting serious investigation into the causes of the record strandings on hold until January, after the rush to save turtles ends.

From Shaver's vantage point, the Cape Cod rescue work - which she is not directly involved in - is very important. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists Kemp's ridley sea turtles as "Critically Endangered," and the species is thought to have been harmed by the BP oil spill in 2010, which killed hundreds of turtles and may have contributed to subsequent declines in nests. Only about 5500 females nest each year, the best available proxy for their total population. "We're really hoping for great success for those folks that are working so hard to try to find these turtles and bring them back around to health," Shaver says.

New study finds California drought worst in 1,200 years

© 2014, Daniel Griffin

Kevin Anchukaitis collects an tree-ring sample from a 300-year old blue oak in California.

The last three years of drought were the most severe that California has experienced in at least 1,200 years, according to a new scientific study published Thursday.

The study provides the state with breathtaking new historical context for its low reservoirs and sinking water tables, even as California celebrated its first good soaking of the season.

Analyzing tree rings that date back to 800 A.D. -- a time when Vikings were marauding Europe and the Chinese were inventing gunpowder -- there is no three-year period when California's rainfall has been as low and its temperatures as hot as they have been from 2012 to 2014, the researchers found.

Kevin Anchukaitis collects an tree-ring sample from a 300-year old blue oak in California. 2014 image by Daniel Griffin.

"We were really surprised. We didn't expect this," said one of the study's authors, Daniel Griffin, an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota's department of geography, environment and society.

The report, published in the journal of the , was written by researchers at Massachusetts' Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Minnesota.

The scientists measured tree rings from 278 blue oaks in central and southern California. Tree rings show the age of trees, and their width shows how wet each year was because trees grow more during wet years.

The researchers compared the information to a database of other tree ring records from longer-living trees like giant sequoias and bristlecone pines, dating back 1,200 years.

Meanwhile, the rain that California received this week provided a promising start to a winter that water managers say needs to be relentless and drenching to break the drought cycle.

'Good Beginning'

"It's a good beginning," said Art Hinojosa, chief of hydrology at the state Department of Water Resources. "But we need storm after storm after storm if we have any hope of getting out of the drought this year."

By April, he said, California needs at least eight more major storm systems like the one this week -- as well as many smaller storms -- to fill its dangerously low reservoirs and break the drought. Rain and snow this winter needs to be at least 150 percent of average for the reservoirs to fill, Hinojosa said.

Above Normal

This week's storm was the biggest to hit California in roughly two years. Many parts of the state received between 2 and 4 inches of rain, doubling or tripling their totals since July. Through Thursday night, San Jose received 3.79 inches, San Francisco 4.43 inches and Oakland 3.01 inches, bringing each city's rainfall to above-normal levels for the first time this year.

More important, several of the state's large reservoirs began to receive moderate amounts of runoff, as the parched ground became saturated. Lake Shasta gained about 6,000 acre-feet through midnight Wednesday, and Oroville Reservoir in Butte County added 17,000 acre-feet. But that new water boosted Shasta's storage by less than 1 percent, leaving it at only 23 percent full. It added 3 percent at Oroville, which is now 26 percent full, the lowest level in its history for this time of year.

The Sierra snowpack told a similar story. A week ago, it was at 24 percent of the average for this time of year. Thursday, after a week of snow, it was at 39 percent -- still far below normal.

Next Storm

But more rain and snow is on the way.

In the Bay Area, another cold front will be moving in on Friday and will hang around a couple of days, according to the National Weather Service.

"There will be rain Friday night and into Saturday and then partly clearing on Sunday," said forecaster Diana Henderson. "Then there will be a few more showers on Monday, and the next system on the horizon will come in at the end of next week."

The Weather Service issued a report late Thursday saying that because of storms brewing as far away as Hawaii, projections out to Dec. 18 show that "wetter than normal conditions are favored."

Experts emphasize that a three-year drought cannot be erased in a few days. Not only are reservoirs low, but there are huge "rainfall deficits" built up from the past three years.

San Jose normally receives 42.9 inches of rain in an average three-year period, for example. Between June 2011 and June 2014, it received just 22.8 inches, leaving the city 20 inches short. Similarly, San Francisco is 19 inches behind, Oakland 24 inches.

Overall, 94 percent of California remains in "severe drought," according to Thursday's edition of the Federal Drought Monitor, a weekly report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies.

It was the tree-ring study showing California suffering its worst drought in 1,200 years, however, that received the most attention Thursday.

The researchers took core samples, which don't harm the living trees, of oaks as old as 500 years and oak logs dating back more than 700 years, the University of Minnesota's Griffin said. And they sanded down the wood with extremely fine-grain sandpaper, magnifying the rings 40 times under a microscope and measuring them to within one one-thousandth of a millimeter.

They then compared the findings to the North American Drought Atlas, a detailed collection of other tree-ring data that goes back 1,200 years and includes measurements from ancient trees such as giant sequoias and bristlecone pines. The atlas calculates temperature and rainfall for those years by comparing the ancient tree rings with tree rings from the past 100 years, when modern records were kept.

Although there are 37 times over the past 1,200 years when there were three-year dry periods in California, no period had as little rainfall and as hot of temperatures as 2012-14, the scientists concluded.

With climate change already warming the earth, the last three years in California could become a more recurring event, they said.

"This kind of drought is what we expect to see more of in the future," said Griffin. "Maybe the future is now."

Read the study here.

Military grade weapons now being used on civilians: NY police use sonic device on Garner protesters

sonic weapon used protesters

Long range acoustic devices (LRADs) have been previously implemented by police at protests throughout the world.

Thursday night at about 1am, at the intersection of 57 East and Madison Avenue in Manhattan - a populated area about four blocks from Columbus Circle - the NYPD used a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) to disperse about 100 protesters who were on the streets.

Footage captured by YouTube user James C shows the weapon in use beginning at the 1:58 mark. Protesters scattered in response to the sound, and either a live officer over a PA system or an automated voice intermittently told protesters between sound blasts that they could not interfere with "vehicular traffic" without risking arrest. The LRAD is deployed multiple times throughout the 5:00 minute video clip.

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Shay Horse, an independent photojournalist who was on the scene, posted on the internet that "The NYPD began using it after glass bottles were thrown at them when they made several violent arrests when a march tried to cross Madison Ave."

One person who was present at the scene, Moth Dust, a photographer, said people became aggravated after the LRAD was used and began throwing trash and rocks in the direction of police. She said she was affected by the sound waves.

"I thought I was fine until I realized I was getting dizzy and migraine was spreading to all over my face," she said.

LRADs were used in the first days of unrest in Ferguson Missouri, and have been used by police at protests throughout the world. They were developed by the US military after an insurgent attack on the US.S. Cole in Yemen in 2000, and were used by the NYPD against Occupy Wall Street protesters.

According to Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, "The LRAD can reach decibel levels as high as 162. For comparison, a normal conversation is usually 60 decibels, while a lawn mower can reach to 90 decibels. A level of 130 decibels is typically considered the average pain threshold for most humans."

Furthermore, Informed Health Online notes that a jet engine registers at about 140 decibels. Anything at or above this range, IHO explains, "is called acoustic trauma. Depending on how long the ears are exposed to the sound and how intense it is, it may damage the eardrum, the middle ear and/or the inner ear. Damage like this is usually temporary, but some hearing loss may remain."

The head investor and media relations for the LRAD Corporation in San Diego, California, told Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty that the weapon is so precise that those "standing behind or next to" the device can hardly hear it. However, the YouTube footage shows dozens of people scurrying away from the sound blasts, which can be heard clearly on film.

No coverage of the LRAD use was reported in the mainstream media. Earlier in the night, around 11 PM, CNN correspondent Brooke Baldwin praised the behavior of protesters and the NYPD's response to the protests, remarking on live television, "This is exactly how it's supposed to be."

Noel Leader, a former 20 year sergeant of the NYPD and co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, was incredulous about the possibility that an LRAD had been used.

"I haven't heard anything about that," he told AlterNet. "I'd be surprised if that was the case, because most of the protesters have been nonviolent and peaceful, even though they have been disruptive.

In total, police arrested 219 people at the protests last night, according to Capital New York.

Strong 6.0-magnitude earthquake shakes Costa Rica and Panama

Panama Quake_061214


A map of the quake.

A strong 6.0-magnitude earthquake shook Costa Rica and Panama on Saturday morning, according to the United States Geological Survey.

The quake, which occurred at a depth of 36 kilometres, struck around 18 kilometres east of Punta de Burica in Panama, about 258 kilometres southeast of San Jose, Costa Rica.

The quake caused reports of shaking across both countries, with reports of "strong" shaking toward the border region between the two Central American neighbours. The shaking extended to both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of the countries.

The quake came a week after a 5.1-magnitude quake shook the border region between Panama and Colombia.

The extent of any damage or injuries was not yet clear.

Sierra Leone: 80 to 100 new Ebola cases reported daily

Ebola virus in Sierra Leone, August 2014.

© AFP Photo / Carl de Souza

Sierra Leone said Friday that between 80 and 100 new cases of Ebola are being reported every day and the country now hardest-hit by the deadly virus desperately needs over 1,000 beds to treat victims.

Sierra Leone's Finance Minister Kaifalah Marah painted a grim picture to the U.N. Economic and Social Council Friday of the challenges facing his West African nation which failed to meet a World Health Organization interim goal of isolating 70 percent of Ebola patients and safely burying 70 percent of victims by Dec. 1.

The two other hard-hit countries, Liberia and Guinea, did meet the deadline, and the U.N.'s Ebola chief Dr. David Nabarro said the number of new cases in Liberia has dropped from 60 per day in September to 10 per day now.

But Nabarro and WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan stressed that Ebola that a much greater effort is needed to reach the elusive goal of zero new cases.

"The Ebola outbreak is the largest, longest, most severe and most complex Ebola epidemic in the nearly 40-year history of this disease," Chan said. "What began as a health crisis has become a crisis with humanitarian, social, economic and security implications."

She said by video-conference from Geneva that "the fear for Ebola is moving faster than the virus."

Marah said as of Thursday there were 6,201 confirmed Ebola cases in Sierra Leone and 1,900 deaths, and the virus is now concentrated in some northern districts and the western area including the capital, Freetown.

Sierra Leone has four functioning treatment centers but it needs 12, and while the number of beds for Ebola sufferers has increased from 212 to 406 it needs 1,500 ? which means 1,094 additional beds, he said.

Marah said Sierra Leone also needs 6,000 people to scale-up the tracing of contacts of Ebola victims.

Chan said clinical trials for an Ebola vaccine "look promising," and experimental therapies including some potential cures are also undergoing clinical trials.

"Most experts are convinced that this will not be Africa's last Ebola outbreak," Chan said. "At least 22 African countries ... have the ecological conditions, the wildlife species, and the hunting practices that favor a return of Ebola at some time in the future."

Electric eels can remotely control the bodily movements of their prey

© Kenneth Catania

Electric eel (Electrophorus electricus)

Electric eels are badass. Not only can they produce an incapacitating 600-volt zap -- five times that of a U.S. wall socket -- they can also remotely control their prey through water. The predatory eels create a variety of electric discharges that range from lower-voltage ones sent out as environmental sensors to high-voltage strikes that allow them to hijack the nerves of their prey -- immobilizing the muscles and preventing escape. They can even send out short pulses that force the prey to give up their location. The findings were published in this week.

To understand the mechanism of the eel's shocking strike, Vanderbilt University's Kenneth Catania conducted a series of experiments in large aquariums equipped with various detectors. When placed in tanks with delectable fish and worms, the scale-less Amazonian Electrophorus electricus releases pulses of electricity that appear to stun the prey and freeze them in place. Using a high-speed video system, he observed that an eel begins an attack with a high-frequency volley of high-voltage pulses up to 15 milliseconds before striking. In just three milliseconds, the fish are completely paralyzed. They regain mobility after a short period, and they could swim away if the eel doesn't get to them first.

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"I have some friends in law enforcement, so I was familiar with how a Taser works," Catania says in a news release. "And I was struck by the similarity between the eel's volley and a Taser discharge. A Taser delivers 19 high-voltage pulses per second while the electric eel produces 400 pulses per second." To the right is an eel in mid-attack on an immobilized fish.

The electric discharge induces an immobilizing whole-body muscle contraction by activating the motor neurons that control the prey fish's muscles -- and not by controlling the muscles directly. Catania placed two fish behind a barrier: One was injected with saline solution, the other was injected with a paralytic agent that targets the nervous system. The muscles of the fish with the saline solution contracted involuntarily in response to the eel's electrical discharges, but the fish given the paralytic drug showed no contractions.

Furthermore, if the prey is nearby but hiding in rocks or plants, the eel can emit periodic, millisecond pulses of two or three discharges (doublets or triplets) that cause massive muscle twitches. Once the rapid contractions reveal the prey's location, the eel throws down a full, tetanus-inducing volley.

"Normally, you or I or any other animal can't cause all of the muscles in our body to contract at the same time," Catania says. "However, that is just what the eel can cause with this signal."

These high-voltage discharges allow the eels to remotely control the prey's neural pathways by mimicking the normal electrical pulses that the fish's own neurons send to stimulate its muscle movement.

Study shows environmental contamination from BigPharma drugs significantly impacts plant growth

© University of Exeter

Lettuce roots are affected by Ibuprofen

The drugs we release into the environment are likely to have a significant impact on plant growth, a new study has revealed.

By assessing the impacts of a range of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School and Plymouth University have shown that the growth of edible crops can be affected by these chemicals - even at the very low concentrations found in the environment.

Published in the , the research focused its analysis on lettuce and radish plants and tested the effects of several commonly prescribed drugs, including diclofenac and ibuprofen. These drugs are among the most common and widely used group of pharmaceuticals, with more than 30 million prescribed across the world every day.

The potential for these chemicals to influence plants is becoming increasingly relevant, particularly as waste management systems are unable to remove many compounds from our sewage. Drugs for human use make their way into soil through a number of routes, including the use of sewage sludge as fertiliser and waste water for irrigation.

This study looked for a number of changes in edible plants, assessing factors such as water content, root and shoot length, overall size and how effectively the plants photosynthesised.

Each drug was shown to affect the plants in very specific ways, with marked differences between drugs that are closely related. For example, drugs from the fenamic acid class affected the growth of radish roots, whilst ibuprofen had a significant influence on the early root development of lettuce plants.

Dr Clare Redshaw, one of the scientists leading the project at the Medical School's European Centre for Environment & Human Health, said:

"The huge amounts of pharmaceuticals we use ultimately end up in the environment, yet we know very little about their effects on flora and fauna. As populations age and generic medicines become readily available, pharmaceutical use will rise dramatically and it's essential we take steps towards limiting environmental contamination. We haven't considered the impact on human health in this study, but we need to improve our understanding quickly so that appropriate testing and controls can be put in place."

There have been growing concerns about the presence of pharmaceuticals in the environment, particularly as evidence emerges of the effects they can have on the development of animals and antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Yet their ability to affect plant growth is poorly understood.

This study marks an important step in an emerging research field attempting to assess how very low concentrations of drugs can affect the growth of crucial crop plants . It specifically considered the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs tolfenamic acid, meclofenamic acid, mefenamic acid, diclofenac, naproxen and ibuprofen.

Bhopal: Industrial, chemical violence

© weebly.com

Following the disaster, Bhopal was in a state of death-laden chaos.

The pattern of double standards, of privatising profits and socialising disaster runs through the pattern of corporate rule being institutionalised since the Bhopal tragedy.

December 3, 2014, marks the 30th anniversary of the terrible Bhopal gas tragedy, which killed more than 3,000 people almost immediately, another 8,000 in the following days, and more than 20,000 in the last three decades.

Despite the tragedy of humongous proportions, the people of Bhopal are still fighting for justice despite the apathy they continue to face.

Bhopal was a watershed moment. The tragedy woke up the world to industrial, chemical violence. The chemicals being manufactured at the Bhopal plant had their roots in warfare.

Bhopal gas tragedy was a political, economic, legal watershed for India and the planet. It was a toxic tragedy at two levels the leakage of a toxic gas from a plant producing toxic pesticides, the continued presence of 350 metric tonnes of hazardous toxic waste from the now-defunct Union Carbide India Ltd's plant in Bhopal, combined with a toxic influence of corporations on courts and successive governments. Legally, Union Carbide and the US courts escaped liability and responsibility for the damage, setting a precedent of governments shrugging their duty to protect their citizens, taking away citizens' rights and sovereignty in order to make settlements with corporations, letting them off lightly.

The cases brought by the victims to US courts were dismissed on the grounds that the appropriate platform was the Indian legal system, though other cases involving US corporations and foreign victims were being heard in US courts. In 1999, when the victims again approached the US federal court seeking compensation for the 1984 incident as well as for the alleged ongoing environmental contamination at and around the Bhopal plant site, the case was dismissed again.

In 1989, the Indian Supreme Court approved a settlement of the civil claims against Union Carbide for $470 million. The state forcefully took over the representation of the victims on the principle of (Latin for "parents of the nation") - "a doctrine that grants the inherent power and authority of the state to protect persons who are legally unable to act on their own behalf".

A criminal lawsuit against Union Carbide and Warren Anderson, its former CEO, continues since 1989. In June 2010, a court in India handed down a verdict in the case. It found Union Carbide India Ltd. and seven executives of the company guilty of criminal negligence (this came after the September 1996 order that had reduced their charges). The company was required to pay a fine of Rs 500,000 ($10,870) and the individuals were each sentenced to two years in prison and fined Rs 100,000. On August 2, 2010, the Central Bureau of Investigation filed a petition with the Supreme Court seeking to reinstate the charges of culpable homicide against the accused. In May 2011, the Supreme Court rejected this petition and declined to re-open the case to reinstate harsher charges. However, after the protests of the Bhopal survivors in November 2014, the government promised to strengthen the "curative petition" that Dow Chemical was already facing in the Supreme Court. The petition is designed to address inadequacies in the 1989 settlement on the basis that the correct figures for dead and injured were not used. The Indian government is seeking an additional amount of up to $1.24 billion, but Bhopal survivor groups, quoting the Government of India's published figures (Indian Council of Medical Research, epidemiological report, 2004), say the required settlement amounts to $8.1 billion.

On February 6, 2001, Union Carbide Corpo-ration became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company following an $11.6 billion transaction approved by the boards of directors of Union Carbide and the Dow Chemical Company. Owning means owning both, assets and liabilities. However, Dow would like to disown the Bhopal gas disaster. While Dow wants immunity from liability in the case of deaths and diseases caused by Union Carbide in Bhopal, it has accepted liability for harm caused to workers of Union Carbide in the US.

In January 2002, Dow settled a case brought against its subsidiary UCC by workers exposed to asbestos in the workplace and set aside $2.2 billion to address future liabilities.

The case was filed before the acquisition of Union Carbide by Dow. Dow refuses to address the death and damage caused by Union Carbide in India.

This pattern of double standards, of privatising profits and socialising disaster runs through the pattern of corporate rule being institutionalised since the Bhopal tragedy. Dow, along with Monsanto, is involved in pushing hazardous, untested GMOs on society, along with the same war-based chemicals such GMOs rely on.

On October 15, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency, in spite of protests from citizens and scientists, gave final approval to Dow's Enlist Duo genetically engineered corn and soya resistant to round-up and 2,4-D, or 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, which was one of the ingredients in Agent Orange, the Vietnam War defoliant that was blamed for numerous health problems suffered during and after the war.

As this chemical arms race unfolds, more and more communities and countries are making the democratic choice to become GMO free. In the mid-term elections of November 2014, Maui County of Hawaii voted to become GMO free. Dow and Monsanto immediately sued Maui to stop the law banning GMO cultivation.

The 30th anniversary of Bhopal gas tragedy should catalyse actions worldwide for justice for Bhopal and for all victims of an economy based on toxics. It should strengthen our resolve to create toxic-free food and agriculture systems, and to defend our freedom to be free of poisons.

Ghost ship lost for over 60 years discovered in Hawaiian ocean


The U.S.S. Kailua, a sunken cable repair ship that was torpedoed in 1946, was recently rediscovered off the shores of Oahu, Hawaii. The ship's wheel, shown here, was still in its original location.

A "ghost ship" that has been lost beneath the waves for more than 60 years has been discovered nearly a half-mile below the ocean surface off the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

A small submersible vehicle came upon the shipwreck last year, researchers at the University of Hawaii announced today (Dec. 5). Despite being torpedoed after World War II, many parts of the ship, including the ship's wheel, are still in their original locations.

"The upper deck structures from the bow to the stern were well-preserved and showed no sign of torpedo damage," Terry Kerby, a submersible pilot with the university's Hawai'i Undersea Research Laboratory, said in a statement.

Vast submarine network

The ship, then called the Dickenson, first set sail in early 1923 as part of a fleet of ships that maintained the growing submarine telecommunications network at the time. The ship set out from Chester, Pennsylvania, as part of the Commercial Pacific Cable Company fleet, and arrived in Hawaii in July of that year.

The Dickenson ferried supplies and patched up cables at the remote Midway and Fanning Islands from 1923 to 1941. Then, soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Dickenson evacuated British employees of the telecommunications company Cable and Wireless Ltd., from Midway Island, ferrying them back to Oahu. Some of the evacuees even spotted a submarine tailing their ship, before American ships chased it away.

During the war, the Midway Island telecommunications hub stopped functioning, and the Dickenson was renamed the U.S.S. Kailua and was sent to maintain cables in other locales in the South Pacific.

After the war, the ship returned to Pearl Harbor, but neither the Navy nor its original owners wanted it. On Feb. 7, 1946, the ship was torpedoed and sunk into the deep waters off Oahu, but no one recorded its final resting place.

"From her interisland service to her role in Pacific communications and then World War II, Dickenson today is like a museum exhibit resting in the darkness, reminding us of these specific elements of Pacific history," said Hans Van Tilburg, a researcher with the maritime heritage program in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Marine Sanctuaries.

Easy ID

The team came across the WWII ship by accident last year. The shipwreck was about 2,000 feet (609 meters) below the water's surface and was still sitting upright, with its lone mast still pointing upward and the wheel still intact.

"It is always a thrill when you are closing in on a large sonar target with the Pisces submersible, and you don't know what big piece of history is going to come looming out of the dark," Kerby said.

Almost everything on the ship was still in place, and the identification was easy - the navy ship number, IX-71, was still visible on the ship's bow.

Uruguay's Mujica repeats offer to take in 'kidnapped' Gitmo prisoners

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica

© AFP Photo / Rodrigo Buendia

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica

The Uruguayan president has restated his offer to assume responsibility for six detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention center, while urging the White House to end the decades-long embargo on Cuba.

In an open letter published on his presidential website, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica called on President Barack Obama release the prisoners at Guantanamo, many who are being held without any charges, saying it would be a humanitarian gesture for "human beings who were suffering an atrocious kidnapping at Guantanamo

Mujica initially made the offer in March that the South American country would receive the detainees, thus helping Obama fulfill his long-delayed pledge to shutter the facility, which Amnesty International once dubbed, "the Gulag of our times."

© AFP Photo / Mladen Antonov / Files

He also pushed for an end to the 62-year economic embargo on Cuba, the communist island that has given Washington a headache since at least 1961 when former Cuban president Fidel Castro announced communist rule.

In his "open letter to the Uruguayan people and President Barack Obama the popular leftist leader called on Washington to end its "unjust and unjustifiable embargo on our sister republic of Cuba

He also called upon Washington to release the three members of the so-called "Cuban Five," a group convicted of espionage in 1998, as well as Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera.

Mujica, a former guerrilla himself, has said he sympathizes with the ordeal of the 142 prisoners languishing at Guantanamo Bay because of the 13 years he spent as a political prisoner.

'New war in Europe? Not in our name!' Germans fed-up with anti-Russian stance file petition

Merkel and Putin

© AFP Photo / Yuri Kadobnov

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin

A group of prominent Germans are urging their country and the West to open dialogue with Russia. They believe this is essential to ensure peace in Europe, rather than further isolate Moscow, which they say would be "dangerous for the world."

The petition named 'New war in Europe? Not in our name!' was signed by 60 people from Germany's politics, economy, culture and media sectors - among them former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and film director Wim Wenders.

The group, led by former Chancellor advisor Horst Teltschik, former Defense Secretary Walter Stutzle and the former Vice President of the Bunderstag, Antje Vollmer, said that just because Russia and the West are experiencing differences at the moment, it "does not mean that the progress that we have achieved over the last 25 years with Russia should be terminated," Telschik said.

They want to see a new policy of détente implemented in Europe and urge the German government and the West to move away from a confrontational policy towards Moscow, in favor of one of diplomacy.

The group adds that the Europe and Russia both have a joint responsibility to ensure peace and security on the continent, however this can only be achieved through, "equal security for all and that all partners are respected."

While the security concerns of certain Eastern European nations are being heeded by the West, the group says that Russia's grievances should also be heard.

Putin at International Forum

© RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolskyi

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) at a meeting with heads of energy companies at the 16th St Petersburg International Economic Forum, 21 June 2012. At right is former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

"The Russians' security requirements are as legitimate and just as important as those of the Germans, the Poles, the Baltic States and Ukraine. We should not look to push Russia out of Europe," a letter from the group said.

They also added that the media should try to be more objective in their reporting and should stop trying to demonize Russia at every given opportunity. "Every journalist who knows foreign policy well understands Russia's fears that appeared when NATO members invited Georgia and Ukraine in 2008 to become members of their alliance."

They believe that the West should not be so focused on Vladimir Putin as leaders come and go, but should make sure the West does not ruin relations with Russia for generations to come.

Historically, the group says, Russia has been a respected European power since the Congress of Vienna in 1814, while trying to confront Moscow has not been advisable. All attempts to forcefully change this status have failed "bloodily".

"The last time it was the megalomaniac Hitler's Germany that set about a murderous campaign to conquer Russia in 1941."

Venezuela 'seizing' diamonds, precious metals to boost reserves


© Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The Central Bank of Venezuela is adding diamonds, gold and other precious stones and metals to its foreign reserves which have fallen to an 11-year low.

The bank said in a statement issued Thursday it intends to use a broader range of assets to increase international reserves, it will also include freely convertible foreign currencies.

Venezuela may also use Chinese loans in yuan to bolster its international reserves. Finance Minister Rodolfo Marco traveled this week to China to discuss potential deals.

The country's reserves are now at about $21.7 billion, after falling 28 percent in the last three years, that's despite a previous $4 billion loan from China.

The decision is more of an accounting ploy taken to reallocate billions of dollars in off-budget funds into central bank reserves, Hernan Yellati, analyst at Banctrust & Co told Bloomberg.

"The government wants to seize those off-budget assets and count them as part of the international reserves," he said. "The impact of the measure will be limited as this is just an accounting measure, not fresh money."

Venezuela is going through economic turmoil with the world's highest inflation, and this is an attempt by President Nicolas Maduro to stem the tide.

Venezuela's economy is expected to contract by 3 percent this year. Consumer prices in the country rose 63.4 percent in August, the fastest in the world, and it is facing deficits and shortages of imported food and consumer goods.

With the world's largest crude reserves, Venezuela's export earnings are 95 percent dependent on oil. A fall in oil prices has exacerbated the country's economic problems.

The price for Brent crude Friday was around $69 a barrel at 3PM MSK

After the OPEC decision was made last week Venezuelan bonds fell to a five-year low as traders forecast a higher chance of default.

"Every $1 drop in oil is around $770 million of lost revenue, so their ability to pay has taken a big hit," Kevin Daly, money manager at Aberdeen Asset Management, told Bloomberg. "The market is already pricing in a high probability of default next year."

Pregnant woman's well-said rant silences anti-abortion protestors

An argument between anti-abortion protesters and a man asking the group to leave the London sidewalk where they were stationed was quickly ended with an impromptu argument by a pregnant woman who happened to be walking by. The exchange of words was captured by journalist Sunny Hundal, who uploaded the footage to YouTube.

The YouTube clip begins with the anti-abortion protesters claiming that they were not filming women walking into the abortion clinic adjacent to where they set up their protest, which featured a large, grotesque image of an aborted 10-week-old fetus. Hundal accuses the protesters of wanting to expose the women arriving at the clinic for treatment. A protester responds that they're actually recording to document when "people make false accusations that we're harassing people." The protesters are part of the group Abort67.

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A pregnant passerby who happened to overhear the argument can be seen shaking her head before launching into a well-said rant about how the anti-abortion protesters are spreading an unnecessary, negative argument without understanding the things women go through. "It's wrong what you're doing," the woman starts, before listing the many reasons why women should not be harassed for the decision to undergo an abortion procedure. The protesters are essentially silenced, failing to respond to her points with anything besides a look of annoyance and frustration. The woman even calls out one of the protesters after overhearing that she had undergone an abortion procedure herself. "You're a big hypocrite, but because you're not happy with what you're doing, you're standing out here making other people feel guilty," the woman says.

The woman also blames the protesters for displaying grotesque images across from the charity with which she works, Kids Company, which provides support to inner-city children in London and Bristol. The organization also works with women who have been molested or abused, which she cites as valid reasons for abortion. As a result of the video going viral, Kids Company has received more than £52,000 pounds on a CrowdFunder campaign to "give a vulnerable child the gift of Christmas." The woman from the video even left a personal thank you to everyone who has listened to her argument and responded by supporting Kids Company.

Rampaging water buffalo attacks and injures 14 pedestrians, China

A water buffalo tore through a small southwestern Chinese town in a mad rampage

A water buffalo tore through a small southwestern Chinese town in a mad rampage, chasing down pedestrians and injuring at least 14 bystanders.

In surveillance video footage released by state media, the water buffalo is seen wandering in the center of town in Jingyan County located in China's Sichuan province.

In one shot, the buffalo is shown setting its sights on resident Liang Cuirong who was riding past on her bicycle. The animal chased Liang, knocked her off the bike and trampled her repeatedly.

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The buffalo also reportedly chased to another resident before damaging cars and chasing down more passerby's.

It finally took four police officers and 10 rounds to take down the buffalo and end the 40 minute long bovine panic.

"We took aim at its head," Huang Tao, one of the police officers who brought down the buffalo, told state media. "Shot it until it fell down."

Water buffalos are used in the region to till soil and act as general beast of burden in the rural farming communities on the outskirts of town.

It remains unknown how this particular beast ended up in the middle of Jingyan but authorities are investigating.

Two Sierra Leone doctors die on same day from Ebola

© AP Photo/ Markus Schreiber

Two doctors from the West African former British colony of Sierra Leone have succumbed to Ebola on the same day, according to local officials; the overall number of doctors claimed by the virus in the country has reached ten.

"The worst Ebola outbreak on record has torn through some of West Africa's weakest health systems, killing nearly 350 medical personnel, including 106 in Sierra Leone, which is still rebuilding from years of war in the 1990s," Reuters pointed out.

Sierra Leone authorities have announced they would pay $5,000 in compensation to the families of health workers who have died while fighting the Ebola virus outbreak. Questions remain as to how the two deceased doctors, Dr. Dauda Koroma and Dr, Thomas Rogers, contracted the deadly disease, since they were not working "on the frontline" in the Ebola treatment center.

"We are devastated at this hemorrhaging of our healthcare workers," said an unnamed health official, as quoted by Reuters.

Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma praised the country's health workers for combating the spread of Ebola, calling them its "greatest patriots" during his speech in the Parliament on Friday, December 5.

The number of people who have contracted the Ebola virus has exceeded 17,000. They are mostly located in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone; 6,200 have died, the World Health Organization estimates. The Associated Press reported earlier that the African Union has pledged to send 1,000 medical professionals to these three countries by the end of 2014.

In order to contain the spread of the disastrous virus, more than 175 Nigerian health workers arrived in Sierra Leone and Liberia on Friday, December 5. The Nigerian government has promised to send another group of 425 medics in the nearest future to prevent further containment and "boost weak local health care systems," Reuters notes.

"This is the African spirit you are showing, this is the Nigerian spirit," Nigeria's ambassador to Liberia, Chigozie Obi-Nnadozie, said, as cited by the media source.

It is worth mentioning that Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has banned rallies and public gatherings ahead of a forthcoming December Senate election, elaborating that the decision was aimed at fighting the Ebola virus.

Wild boar attacks woman in her backyard, India

A 55-year-old woman of Adhivarahapuram near Tiruttani was admitted to government hospital on Friday after she was attacked by a wild boar.

"Around 4.30 in the morning, Pattammal went out to the backyard of her house, where the animal attacked her, injuring her right hand. The victim raised an alarm but the animal disappeared," Forest officials said.

A team of officials led by Tiruvallur District Forest Officer P. Muhammed Shabab visited the victim in the hospital. Financial assistance was handed over to Pattammal by Mr. Shabab at the hospital. A team has been sent to the village where the woman was attacked to check the movement of any animal. Further investigation is on, he added.

Illegal pro-GMO observers accused of disrupting Oregon labeling law vote recount


© Reuters/Jason Redmond

Amid a recount of Oregon's ballot initiative over labeling of genetically-modified foods, the pro-agribusiness contingent, known as the "" tried to illegally place out-of-state election observers in at least four counties, opponents say.

The statewide vote on - which, if passed, would demand genetically-engineered ingredients to be labeled as such - is subject to a hand recount given the original, computerized tally showed that the initiative failed by just 812 votes, within the mandatory-recount margin. The recount began on Tuesday and will continue through Dec. 9.

The campaign over was the most expensive in the state's history, as powerful biotechnology firms like Monsanto and DuPont pumped about $21 million against the initiative, while supporters culled about $9 million.

According to Oregon law, each campaign can select observers to watch firsthand the recount in each county, but those observers must be registered Oregon voters.

Yet, as the reported, the pro-labeling supporters of the measure, including Dave Murphy of Food Democracy Now, said the Coalition sent out-of-state observers to register and appear at recounts in Benton, Linn, Marion and Multnomah Counties.

"The issue was brought to our attention by the campaign on Friday, Nov. 21," Tony Green, spokesman for the Oregon Secretary of State's office, told the S.

Green said the state's Election Division director affirmed that all authorized observers must be registered Oregon voters.

"The No campaign learned of this within a day or two. They had the week prior to the recount with knowledge of it," he said. "We then put it in writing to the county clerks on Monday in case there was any uncertainty over the issue."

Anti GMO protests

© AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm

In Marion County, Clerk Bill Burgess allowed one out-of-state observer for each campaign to sit off to the side of the room where the recount took place. The request came from Salem lawyer Kevin Mannix, according to reports.

"When I looked into it with our legal counsel we found it was fine to allow them in the room," Burgess said.

Though one of the observers that opponents put forth in Marion County was a man named John Hewitt from Virginia, Burgess said. The director of state affairs for the Grocery Manufacturer's Association, a powerful trade group that protects the interests of GMO-labeling opponents, is also named John Hewitt. The lobby group could not be reached for comment, the Statesman Journal reported.

Meanwhile, in Benton County, Clerk James Morales worked with a Eugene lawyer to allow out-of-state observers to stay involved.

"We are allowing them to sit in the foyer area where we have a monitor set up that shows the recount room," Morales said. "We're not letting them into the actual counting room."

In Multnomah County, eight members of the California political consulting firm GOGO Consulting signed up for recount training.

Multnomah County Elections spokesman Eric Sample said they were not sanctioned by the campaign, but were allowed to watch from an observation area.

One out-of-state resident tried on Wednesday to be an official observer, Sample added.

An observer for the campaign also complained of verbal abuse directed at election workers from her counterpart for the campaign.

"If that occurs we deal with it," Sample said. "Both observer sides have been very well behaved."

The narrow failure last month of Measure 92 in Oregon marked one of two GMO-labeling voter initiatives that fell short on Election Day.

In Colorado, 66 percent of voters were against a measure that would have mandated labeling of food that contains genetically modified crops, as 34 percent voted in favor. Prior to the election, a poll found 59 percent of voters were opposed to GMO labeling in the state. Proposition 105 would have required food companies to label packaged foods with text reading, "produced with genetic engineering."

One labeling effort succeeded last month, in Hawaii's Maui County, though Monsanto and Dow Chemical quickly sued the county despite voters' wishes.

"We believe this referendum is invalid and contrary to long established state and federal laws that support both the safety and lawful testing and planting of GMO plants," Monsanto wrote. "If effective, the referendum will have significant negative consequences for the local economy, Hawaii agriculture and our business on the island. We are committed to ongoing dialogue as we take steps to ask the court to declare that this initiative is legally flawed and cannot be enforced."

Similar labeling measures have failed in other states as well. Voters in California and Washington State rejected them in 2012 and 2013, respectively. However, amid a wave of concern over GMO foods sweeping through the US and around the world, agricultural giants lobbying against the measures have spent over $100 million fighting the measures nationwide.