The Raw Story Celebrating 10 Years of Independent Journalism Thu, 31 Jul 2014 15:23:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Canada blames Hamas for civilians killed by Israeli strikes on Gaza Thu, 31 Jul 2014 15:23:22 +0000 Agence France-Presse Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday blamed Hamas for the heavy loss of civilian life caused by Israel’s deadly strikes on the Gaza Strip.

At least 110 people were killed on Wednesday alone in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, as the Palestinian death toll from 23 days of unrelenting Israeli attacks soared to 1,360.

Israel says 56 of its soldiers have been killed.

“Obviously, no one likes to see the suffering and loss of life that has occurred,” Harper said in televised remarks.

“That said, we hold the terrorist organization Hamas responsible for this. They have initiated and continue this conflict, and continue to seek the destruction of the state of Israel.”

Canada’s conservative government has long supported the Jewish state and stressed its recognition of Israel’s right to defend itself.

Last week, hundreds of academics, lawyers, community activists and others criticized the government for its support of Israel in the conflict, a position they said in an open letter “discredits Canada.”

At least 17 people were killed earlier in an Israeli strike on a packed Gaza market, just hours after Israeli tank shells slammed into a UN school sheltering homeless Gazans, killing 16.

The strikes triggered a furious response from the United Nations, United States, France and other countries.

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Ugandan state lawyers seek to dismiss legal bid to overturn anti-gay law Thu, 31 Jul 2014 15:20:50 +0000 Agence France-Presse Ugandan state lawyers sought on Thursday to dismiss a petition by activists at the constitutional court seeking to overturn anti-gay legislation condemned by rights groups as draconian.

Signed by Uganda’s veteran President Yoweri Museveni in February, the law calls for homosexuals to be jailed for life, outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and obliges Ugandans to denounce gays to the authorities.

But the activists argue that the law was passed in parliament without the necessary quorum of lawmakers, and say they are confident in their case.

“We are saying there is no evidence about the quorum,” state attorney Patricia Mutesa told the court in the capital Kampala, the second day of the hearing.

The 10 petitioners — including two Ugandan rights organisations — also claim that the law violates the constitutional right to privacy and dignity, as well as the right to be free from discrimination, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Judges adjourned the hearings until Friday, when they are expected to rule on the quorum issue.

Prominent gay rights activist Frank Mugisha, one of the petitioners, told AFP he was optimistic that judges would rule in favour of scrapping the law.

“I think that we could have a very good judgement tomorrow, and if we get that judgement then it’s over — and we just have to celebrate,” said Mugisha, who heads the Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) group.

- ‘Judicial abortion’ -

Outspoken anti-gay preacher Pastor Martin Ssempa, who was also in court, has already warned he feared the “judicial abortion of our bill” due to international pressure.

“This case is moving at lightning speed,” he said Thursday, claiming the petition was being pushed to polish Uganda’s international reputation before Museveni travels to Washington next week to meet President Barack Obama at a landmark US-Africa summit.

“There are efforts… to drum up a legal precedent to try to show (Washington) that, ‘hey, we are not that bad on homosexuality,’” Ssempa claimed.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has likened the Ugandan law to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany.

Critics have said Museveni signed the law to win domestic support ahead of a presidential election scheduled for 2016, which will be his 30th year in power.

But Western nations made a raft of aid cuts to Uganda’s government in protest since the law was passed.

Washington last month froze some aid programmes, as well as cancelling military air exercises and barring entry to the US for specific Ugandan officials involved in “human rights abuses”, including against the gay community.

Rights groups say the law has triggered a sharp increase in arrests and assaults of members of the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Should the act be overturned, the law would return to previous legislation, when homosexuality was still illegal.

Mugisha claimed that judges were focusing on the technical issue of the quorum to avoid tackling the petitioners’ challenge on the grounds of human rights.

“I think the court and the attorney general are trying to avoid all that,” he said, arguing that to press ahead with arguments on rights would see activists raise challenges to older laws on sodomy.

Homophobia is widespread in Uganda, where American-style evangelical Christianity is on the rise.

Gay men and women face frequent harassment and threats of violence.

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Islamic State jihadists battle with Kurds and Sunni tribes in Syria Thu, 31 Jul 2014 15:19:16 +0000 Agence France-Presse The jihadist Islamic State (IS), which has taken over large swathes of war-torn Syria in just a few months, was on Thursday engaged in fighting Kurds and members of a Sunni tribe.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the well-equipped Kurds, who started fighting IS soon after it emerged in Syria in spring last year, had on Wednesday taken back several hills surrounding the city of Ain al-Arab (Kobane in Kurdish) in the north.

The IS has been trying to take over Ain al-Arab — Syria’s third Kurdish city — and incorporate it into the Islamic “caliphate” it proclaimed last month.

The fighting killed 14 members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (PYG) and 35 IS members. Dozens of other fighters were wounded, said the Observatory.

The fighting comes two weeks after some 800 Kurdish fighters entered Ain al-Arab from neighbouring Turkey to fight IS.

There are some 3.5 million Kurds in Syria, comprising some 15 percent of the population. With the country swamped in a war that broke out three years ago, the Kurds are seeking autonomy in the areas where they are a majority.

Eastwards, the IS pounded regime positions in Hassakeh, as they tried to surround the city of 200,000 Kurds, Arabs, Armenians and other Christians.

- IS fights Sunni tribe -

In the eastern, oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor, most of which is under IS control, members of the Shaitat Sunni tribe fought the jihadists, tweeting about an “uprising” against the radical group.

The fighting erupted after the IS detained three members of the tribe, “violating an agreement” between the two sides, it said.

According to the Observatory, the Shaitat tribe had promised IS it would not oppose it, in exchange for the jihadists not harassing or attacking its members.

The Sunni Shaitat tribe extends across three villages — Abu Hamam, Kashkiyeh and Ghranij.

On Thursday, a day after fighting broke out, IS members raided the three villages, searching houses and kidnapping or “detaining” an unknown number of people, said the Observatory, adding that fighting was raging in the Shaitat villages.

Meanwhile, IS set up new checkpoints in the Deir Ezzor countryside, but gunmen opened fire at one of the checkpoints.

At least five jihadists were killed in the fighting, including a Belgian.

Syria’s war began as a peaceful movement for democratic change, but erupted into conflict after President Bashar al-Assad’s regime unleashed a brutal crackdown against dissent.

Many months into the fighting, foreign jihadists began entering Syria.

Also on Thursday, the Observatory reported that IS had imposed a strict dress code for women in Deir Ezzor, forbidding them showing any part of their bodies.

“Women… are completely forbidden from showing their eyes,” said an IS statement that the Observatory said was distributed in areas under jihadist control in Deir Ezzor province.

Women are also forbidden from wearing “open abayas (traditional black gowns) that reveal colourful clothes worn underneath”, it said, adding that women “must not wear high heels”.

It threatened an unspecified punishment for women who violated the dress code, while also banning the sale of cigarettes and narguileh (water pipe) products, as well as smoking in public.

- Army shelling kills 17 -

On another front in Syria’s complex war, the number of people killed in army shelling on an opposition-held town northeast of Damascus on Wednesday rose to 17, according to the Observatory.

Among the fatalities were three children. Dozens of other people were injured.

An AFP photographer in Douma, which has been under suffocating army siege for more than a year, said the shelling had hit several parts of the town, including a busy market area.

“The shelling came suddenly. One minute, children were playing in the market, the next, there were body parts and wounded people everywhere,” Abd Doumany said.

The photographer also described graphic scenes at one of the town’s ill-equipped field hospitals.

“The wounded were being treated on the floor,” he said.

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Edward Snowden continues life as a recluse after one year of asylum in Russia Thu, 31 Jul 2014 15:17:46 +0000 Agence France-Presse Fugitive US intelligence agent Edward Snowden marked on Thursday one year of political asylum in Russia, where he continues to live a life shrouded in mystery amid a dearth of public appearances.

Little has been heard on the movements of the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor since he first obtained provisional leave to remain in Russia after spending — according to the official version — a month in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

It is not known where the reclusive Snowden lives, if he is working or if so, in which sector.

The last picture of Snowden published in Russian media dates from December 2013. In it, the former agent sports a red t-shirt and beige cap, apparently on a boat in the middle of the Moskva river.

The popular website LifeNews also published an image of Snowden pushing a supermarket trolley while out shopping, which his lawyer, Anatoli Kucherena, confirmed to be genuine.

In April, Snowden made a shock appearance on an annual question and answer session with President Vladimir Putin, probing the Kremlin strongman on the surveillance of Russia’s population.

“I would like to ask you: Does Russia intercept, store or analyse, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals?” he asked in a recorded message, appearing against a black background wearing a dark jacket and grey t-shirt.

- Fear for his life -

Accused by Washington of espionage and stealing state documents, Snowden travelled to Moscow via Hong Kong after revealing the true extent of global US electronic surveillance. He had intended to travel to South America.

The former NSA employee, who has had his passport withdrawn by US authorities, stayed in Russia after being granted asylum.

Snowden’s lawyer Kucherena said on Tuesday that the fugitive still feared for his life.

“If I had the chance to organise a meeting with him, I would. But for now the question of security is still relevant,” Kucherena said at a forum on education.

“I know his worries, his relationship to life, his relationships with people. I know his relationship with his parents. He is a very honourable man,” he said.

In January, Snowden received online death threats from some US officials, whose identity has not been revealed, according to Kucherena.

- ‘Symbolic importance’ -

As hopes dwindle that he may be able to return to the US or obtain asylum in Brazil — which he has sought — Snowden has asked for an extension of his residency permit in Russia, which expires on Thursday.

Kucherena indicated at the beginning of July that Snowden’s renewal documents had been submitted to immigration services but that the procedure had not been finalised.

Russian officials have yet to make any formal announcement on the status of Snowden’s application and Kucherena now refuses to comment on the subject.

However, immigration sources have told Russian media on condition of anonymity that the renewal will be accepted, adding it was up to Snowden whether or not to announce the decision.

An American lawyer who has advised Snowden said that he is likely to stay in Russia for the time being.

“I know ultimately he would love to be able to come home or seek refuge in a country of his choice,” Jesselyn Radack said in an interview on Australia’s ABC Radio on Wednesday, according to a transcript published on its website.

“But for now he is in the safest place that he can be and Russia has indicated that it intends to plan on having him, allowing him to continue to stay.”

Analysts believe Snowden is still useful to Russia, both practically and politically.

Independent defence analyst Pevel Felgenhauer said this week that while Snowden no longer has access to new information he can explain how US spy agencies operate.

“As a consultant on how the NSA works he is very useful,” he was quoted as saying in Novaya Gazeta.

“The very presence of Snowden is of symbolic importance to Russia,” said political scientist Alexei Makarkin.

“Snowden has become a symbol of the struggle for freedom, and that’s useful for Russia. Today, that’s one of the strongest arguments (Russia) could put to the international community” as relations with the West deteriorate, he said.

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UN rights chief slams Israel’s ‘defiance’ of international law Thu, 31 Jul 2014 15:15:29 +0000 Agence France-Presse UN human rights chief Navi Pillay on Thursday slammed what she said was Israel’s “deliberate defiance” of international law during the Gaza conflict.

Pillay lambasted the country’s attacks on homes, schools, hospitals and United Nations facilities which are sheltering 250,000 civilians in Gaza.

“There appears to be deliberate defiance of obligations that international law imposes on Israel,” the South African told reporters.

Pillay said that repeated calls to respect the laws of war had gone unheeded during the latest crisis and previous spikes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The same pattern of attacks is occurring now on homes, schools, hospitals, UN premises. None of this appears to me to be accidental,” she said.

She spoke a day after Israeli shells slammed into a UN school in Jabalia refugee camp which was sheltering some 3,300 homeless Gazans, killing 16 people.

Israel has accused Palestinian Islamists Hamas and other militants of hiding out among the civilian population and using UN facilities and other sites to store weapons and launch rocket attacks.

Pillay said that under international law, civilian facilities should not be attacked, but can lose their protected status if used for military purposes.

Even then, she said, due warning must be given before an attack, in order to allow civilians to be evacuated.

“It is completely unconscionable that the proportionality and precaution that international law requires is being ignored,” said Pillay.

She also criticised Israel’s strikes on Gaza’s power plant, as well as water and sewerage systems.

Last week, the UN Human Rights Council voted to open an inquiry into the Gaza offensive, despite fierce opposition from Israel and the United States.

“We cannot allow impunity. We cannot allow this lack of accountability to go on,” Pillay said on Thursday, calling into question domestic investigations by Israel into abuses.

“I join the world in condemning the aggression that is taking place in Gaza, and particularly the killing of civilians. This is wrong and it will always be wrong,” she added.

As of Wednesday, the 24th day of the Gaza conflict, 1,364 Palestinians had been killed — three-quarters of them civilians, Pillay said.

Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have also died, while cross-border rocket fire has killed two Israeli civilians and a Thai migrant worker.

The UN human rights chief has repeatedly condemned the actions not only of Israel but also the indiscriminate Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli communities.

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Voter ID law upheld by Wisconsin Supreme Court, but stilled blocked by federal ruling Thu, 31 Jul 2014 14:47:52 +0000 Reuters By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a state law requiring voters to have photo identification to cast a ballot, although the law remains blocked by an earlier ruling by a federal judge that it is unconstitutional.

The court wrote in its decision that providing a photo identification at the ballot box does not create a substantial burden to the voter, as claimed by the plaintiffs in the case.

“Photo identification is a condition of our times where more and more personal interactions are being modernized to require proof of identity,” the court wrote.

Similar voter identification laws have become a political and racial flashpoint across the United States with Democrats generally opposed and many Republicans backing them.

Republicans argue tighter rules are needed to prevent voter fraud. Democrats say voter fraud is rare and that the rules are instead intended to deter poor people, ethnic minorities and college students from voting – groups that are seen as less likely to have identification and more likely to vote Democrat.

“People need to have confidence in our electoral process and to know their vote has been properly counted,” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, said in a statement.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision came in two cases brought by the Milwaukee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network.

The 2012 law has not been in effect because a federal judge ruled the measure unconstitutional in April. Judge Lynn Adelman of the United States District Court for Wisconsin’s eastern district said the law clashed with the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is appealing Adelman’s ruling.

Wisconsin is one of several states that have been forced to defend changes to voting protocol. Judges in recent months have overturned photo identification laws in Pennsylvania and Arkansas.

(Editing by Jonathan Allen and Bill Trott)

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D.C. man stabs 15-year-old transgender girl after mocking her wig: ‘Oh, you’re a man!’ Thu, 31 Jul 2014 14:45:50 +0000 David Edwards Police said on Thursday that a man will be charged with a hate crime after he allegedly stabbed a transgender girl on a Metro train in Washington, D.C.

WRC reported that the 15-year-old girl was on the green line at Fort Totten station when the suspect, who was identified as 24-year-old Reginald Anthony Klaiber, began mocking her appearance.

“He came to my friend and said you have red hair,” Jae-la White, a friend of the victim who witnessed the attack, told the Washington Blade. “My friend said ok, and then he said, ‘Oh, you’re a man!’”

“Then he started bothering my friend,” White recalled. “My friend got up out of her seat to go by the door while the train was moving and told him to please leave her alone. He faced her and said I will stab you up and blow your brains out.”

The witness said that Klaiber “started to hug” the victim in a sexual way, and then began stabbing her.

According to White, a second friend sprayed pepper spray in the suspect’s eyes, but the attack did not end there. After the train arrived at Fort Totten Station, she said that Klaiber chased the group “with the knife upstairs and through the station.” White said that it took four officers to eventually subdue Klaiber.

The victim was reportedly in stable condition after being transported to a local hospital.

A Metro spokesperson told WRC that assault with a deadly weapon charges against Klaiber would include the enhanced hate crime penalty because witnesses heard him taunt the 15-year-old girl for being transgender.

Klaiber’s criminal history includes assault and resisting arrest. He was most recently arrested two weeks ago for carrying a concealed weapon.

Watch the video below from WRC, broadcast July 31, 2014.

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Data suggests wage growth imminent as labor market conditions continue to improve Thu, 31 Jul 2014 14:44:43 +0000 Reuters By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose last week, but the underlying trend pointed to a continuing strengthening of labor market conditions.

Other data on Thursday suggested a long-awaited acceleration in wage growth was imminent, with labor costs recording their largest increase in more than 5-1/2 years in the second quarter.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 302,000 for the week ended July 26, the Labor Department said. Claims for the prior week were the lowest since May 2000.

“Unemployment claims have come down a lot as of late and suggest that labor market conditions continue to improve,” said Yelena Shulyatyeva, an economist at BNP Paribas in New York.

The four-week average of claims, considered a better gauge of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 3,500 to 297,250, the lowest level since April 2006.

Summer automobile plant shutdowns for retooling cause volatility in claims around this time of the year as automakers sometimes keep assembly lines running. This throws off a model the government uses to adjust the data for seasonal variations.

In another report, the Labor Department said the Employment Cost Index, the broadest measure of labor costs, rose 0.7 percent. That was the largest gain since the third quarter of 2008 and followed a 0.3 percent increase in the first quarter.

It is one of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s favorite labor market gauges and is being closely watched for clues on the timing of the first interest rate increase from the U.S. central bank.

Growing anecdotal evidence of companies raising wages has left economists expecting the employment cost index to start rising significantly sometime in the second half of 2014.

Fed officials on Wednesday acknowledged the improvement in labor market conditions, but said “significant underutilization of labor resources” remained.

Economists had forecast the employment cost index increasing 0.5 percent in the second quarter. In the 12 months through June, labor costs rose 2.0 percent. They had advanced 1.8 percent in the 12 months through March.

Wages and salaries, which account for 70 percent of employment costs, increased 0.6 percent in the second quarter. That was the largest gain since the third quarter of 2008 and followed a 0.3 percent rise in the first quarter.

Wages and salaries were up 1.8 percent in the 12 months through June after rising 1.6 percent in the 12 months through March. Benefit costs jumped 1.0 percent in the April-June period, the largest increase since the second quarter of 2011, likely reflecting expanded health insurance coverage. Benefits had gained 0.4 percent in the first quarter. They increased 2.5 percent in the 12 months through June after rising 2.1 percent in the 12 months through March.

Despite the increase last week, claims remain at levels consistent with strong job growth. The data has no bearing on July’s nonfarm payrolls as it falls outside the survey window.

The government is expected to report on Friday that payrolls increased by 233,000 in July, according to a Reuters survey of economists.

While that would be a deceleration from June’s hefty gain of 288,000 jobs, it would mark the sixth straight month that employment has expanded by more than 200,000, a stretch last seen in 1997.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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Justice Department wants workers to do more to save people suffering from heroin overdoses Thu, 31 Jul 2014 14:42:28 +0000 Reuters WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. law enforcement agents who deal with heroin addicts may begin carrying the drug naloxone to reverse overdoses, the Justice Department said on Thursday, responding to a surge in heroin use in the United States.

Attorney General Eric Holder said he urged federal law enforcement agencies to identify those workers and determine whether they should be trained in how to administer the medication.

The move will “pave the way for certain federal agents – such as emergency medical personnel – to begin carrying the potentially life-saving drug,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

Naloxone is a drug that stops opioids such as heroin from reaching receptors in the brain, which may reverse an overdose.

Holder said in March his agency was stepping up efforts to stem sharp increases in deadly heroin overdoses, trafficking in the drug and abuse of prescription narcotics at the root of what he called an “urgent public health crisis.”

More than 16,000 people die each year from prescription opioid overdose in the United States, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

(Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott)

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Minnesota man LOLs in Facebook post about his totaled car — after accident that killed a teen Thu, 31 Jul 2014 14:39:38 +0000 Scott Kaufman An allegedly drunk Minnesota man involved in an accident that killed a 16-year-old teen posted an image of totaled car followed by a smiley face on Facebook, the Star Tribune reported.

According to police, Michael J. VanWagner was involved in two accidents on the afternoon of July 22, 2014. First, VanWagner sideswiped a vehicle, and while leaving that scene, struck the car of 16-year-old Jason F. McCarthy from behind.

Later that day, as McCarthy clung to life at North Memorial Medical Center, VanWagner posted an image of his wrecked vehicle on Facebook, along with the message “That’s her front end after I got done with her lol :)” He later posted that he was “all good slept a day in the hospital then came home and did yard work lol”

Those posts have since been deleted, and in an interview with the Star Tribune on Wednesday, VanWagner said “I didn’t even know I hit somebody. I just thought I hit something.”

The state trooper who questioned VanWagner after the collision with McCarthy detected the “odor of alcoholic beverage” and took him to the hospital to have a blood alcohol test performed.

The results of that test are still pending. However, a week after the accident, VanWagner was back on Facebook mocking attempts to pull over intoxicated drivers:

State records obtained by the Star Tribune show that VanWagner was driving with a revoked license, and had been cited on numerous previous occasions for careless driving. He is also currently on probation for a felony conviction for making “terroristic threats.”

One of the conditions of his probation was to abstain from consuming alcohol or illicit drugs.

[Image via Facebook]

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Wisconsin Supreme Court: Registry for same-sex couples doesn’t violate gay marriage ban Thu, 31 Jul 2014 14:35:05 +0000 Reuters MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a 2009 law that establishes a registry for same-sex couples, saying it does not violate an amendment to the state’s constitution banning gay marriage.

The registry gives registered same-sex couples the right to hospital visits, family medical leave to care for a stricken partner, health benefits under a partner’s insurance and the right to inherit assets when a partner dies.

The court said the ban on same-sex marriage did not include a ban on certain rights for same-sex couples. The gay marriage ban was approved by Wisconsin voters in 2006.

Three years later, the registry was created under Democratic Governor Jim Doyle to afford certain rights to same-sex couples. It now has more than 2,000 couples on it, according to Fair Wisconsin, a gay-rights organization based in Madison.

Wisconsin Family Action, an anti-gay rights group, argued in a 2010 lawsuit that the registry violated the amendment because it resembles marriage under state law.

Lambda Legal, an advocacy group pushing for same-sex marriage, hailed the Wisconsin court’s decision.

“Gay and lesbian couples in Wisconsin no longer have to fear that the protections they have will be taken away by unnecessary anti-gay legal action,” it said in a statement. The Wisconsin ban on same-sex marriage took a hit on a national level when a federal judge in June ruled that it was unconstitutional.

The ruling was later put on hold with Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen filing an appeal to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Bill Trott, Jim Loney and Eric Beech)

[Happy lesbian couple via Shutterstock]

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Fox host claims no one wants impeachment just moments after guest begs GOP to do it Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:20:02 +0000 David Edwards Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano on Thursday advised House Republicans to drop a lawsuit against President Barack Obama for abuse of power because he said that impeachment was the “only remedy” allowed by the Constitution.

For months, Andrew Napolitano has suggested that the president deserves to be impeached for everything from so-called sequestration spending cuts to the release of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. In a column for Reason on Thursday, the former judge gave Republicans a blueprint for drafting articles of impeachment by laying out seven ways that the president had done “damage to our fabric of liberty.”

Napolitano explained to the hosts of Fox & Friends that the Republicans in the House of Representatives were wasting time and money by suing the president instead of impeaching him.

“In my opinion, it’s a slam dunk, it’s a political case, and the court will dismiss it,” he insisted. “I believe that the president is either incompetent or lawless. I would cheerlead the arguments Republicans are making against him. I believe he’s the most lawless president in modern times.”

“The remedy is an unpleasant one, it’s not a lawsuit because it will be thrown out. [James] Madison provided the remedy in the Constitution, it’s removal from office,” he continued. “I’m suggesting that it would be far more constitutional and appropriate now than it was in the case of Bill Clinton. And I’m suggesting that it is the only remedy under the Constitution for a president who is either incompetent or lawless or both.”

Earlier this week, host Steve Doocy argued that talk of impeachment was a plot started by the White House to “gin up the base before November.” And with Napolitano sitting next to him on Thursday, the Fox News host claimed that was still “true.”

“I don’t know anybody — conservatives or Republicans — who are talking about impeachment,” he said. “And that’s true. The people in my everyday life.”

However, Doocy acknowledged that Napolitano, who appears on the show several times a week, and Fox News contributor Sarah Palin were exceptions.

Watch the video below from Fox News’ Fox & Friends, broadcast July 31, 2014.

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Trolls quickly drown ReaganBook social media site in sea of profanity, pornography Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:18:19 +0000 Travis Gettys A half-cooked attempt to set up a conservative social network quickly collapsed into a heap of phony accounts, crude swearing, and pornographic GIFs.

Ohio Republican Janet Porter pre-launched ReaganBook – “Facebook for Patriots” – in April, after employees from the more well-known social media site took part in a LGBT rights demonstration in San Francisco.

After several left-leaning sites, including Raw Story, publicized the launch the fledgling social network, its several dozen presumably conservative users were quickly drowned out by a flood of phony accounts (Vladimir Putin, Sarah Palin, and Manuel Noriega) and less-obviously phony accounts.

“I think they’d attract more people and less trolls if they didn’t put that brand on it of Reagan — if they called it something else,” conservative blogger Amy Jo Clark told The Daily Beast.

Many users posted profane criticisms of former President Ronald Reagan, while others posted pornographic images and GIFs.

The only discernibly sincere comments found on the site were the persistent complaints about slow load times and overall poor user experience.

Porter, who is president of the anti-abortion group Faith2Action, announced Wednesday morning that administrators had been tasked with removing offensive posts and culling troll accounts from the site.

“Glad I did the pre-launch because that gives us an opportunity to tighten our security for the real launch,” Porter posted just hours earlier on her ReaganBook page. “Also, the fact that so many leftists have invested so much time in the site, It provides confirmation that we’re on the right track.”

But weeding out the trolls must have proven too difficult, because the site was taken offline by Wednesday afternoon, about 24 hours after the site launched.

“Please be patient while we make the necessary changes to keep the site free from obscenity, pornography, and those intent on the destruction of life, liberty, and the family,” site management said in a statement. “We will be opening the doors again soon with additional protections in place. As Reagan taught us, trust, but verify.”

No timetable was given for when ReaganBook might go back online.

[Image: A painting of President Ronald Reagan via Flickr/edalisse]

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg: My male colleagues didn’t really understand the Hobby Lobby case Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:08:33 +0000 Scott Kaufman Speaking with Katie Couric on Yahoo Global News, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that five of her male counterparts on the court have “a blind spot” when it comes to women’s issues.

After noting that all three female justices were in the minority in the recent Hobby Lobby decision, Couric asked Ginsburg whether she “believed the five male justices truly understood the ramifications of their decision.”

Following a long pause, Ginsburg said, “I would have to say, ‘No.’”

“But,” she added, “justices continue to think, and can change. So I’m ever hopeful that if the Court has a blind spot today, its eyes can be opened tomorrow.”

“But you do, in fact, feel that these five justices had a bit of a ‘blind spot’?” Couric asked.

“In Hobby Lobby?” Ginsburg replied. “Yes.”

“Because they couldn’t understand what it is like to be a woman?” Couric asked.

“They all have wives. They have daughters. By the way, I think daughters can change the perception of their fathers.”

Ginsburg went on to note that her opinions on these matters are contained in her dissents, and that there is a tradition of dissents becoming “unquestionably, the law of the land.”

In her scathing dissent in the Hobby Lobby case, Ginsburg noted that the majority’s willful misreading of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act would have unintended consequences.

“Little doubt that RFRA claims will proliferate, for the Court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood – combined with its other errors in construing RFRA – invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith,” she wrote.

Earlier this week, in fact, the Satanic Temple declared that it would use the majority’s interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act just as Ginsburg predicted groups would.

Watch the entire interview with Ginsburg via Yahoo Global News below.

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Chicken pox halts immigrant processing at New Mexico center Thu, 31 Jul 2014 12:44:41 +0000 Reuters By Joseph Kolb

ALBUQUERQUE N.M. (Reuters) – U.S. border authorities have suspended the processing of undocumented immigrants at a center in New Mexico after one of the detainees was diagnosed with chicken pox, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said on Wednesday.

The case was discovered earlier this week at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, where more than 600 people are being held for processing after entering the United States illegally, said ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen.

“The individual is being treated by medical professionals and the necessary precautions are being taken to protect the other detainees at the center,” Christensen said.

The decision to suspend processing was taken immediately after the illness came to light, she added.

The center in Artesia began receiving immigrants earlier this month during a surge of arrivals across the southern U.S. border, many of them youths from Central America.

The inflow put pressure on border and customs authorities in Texas, leading the federal government to transport many of the immigrants to centers such as the one in Artesia for processing.

In some areas, plans to house the new arrivals have prompted street protests by critics who accuse the Obama administration of failing to secure the border.

Christensen said ICE was not releasing the age or gender of the chicken pox patient in Artesia, but added the individual had been separated from the other detainees at the facility, which is also home to the Border Patrol Academy.

On admission to such centers, the spokeswoman added, all detainees are evaluated by medical personnel for infectious diseases, uncontrolled mental disorders, or any other condition that could deteriorate if not immediately cared for.

No date has been set for processing to resume, she said.

New Mexico Republican Representative Steve Pearce said the outbreak of the illness could put a strain on Artesia’s limited resources, and that his office had communicated its fears to officials at the Department of Homeland Security.

“I am increasingly concerned for the health and safety of the women and children at FLETC (the center) and for the local community,” Pearce said in a statement.

(Reporting by Joseph Kolb; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)

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Liberia shuts schools as Ebola spreads, Peace Corps leaves three countries Thu, 31 Jul 2014 12:43:21 +0000 Reuters By David Lewis and Emma Farge

DAKAR (Reuters) – Liberia will close schools and consider quarantining some communities, it said on Wednesday, rolling out the toughest measures yet imposed by a West African government to halt the worst outbreak on record of the deadly Ebola virus.

“This is a major public health emergency. It’s fierce, deadly and many of our countrymen are dying and we need to act to stop the spread,” Lewis Brown, Liberia’s information minister, told Reuters. “We need the support of the international community now more than ever. We desperately need all the help we can get.”

Security forces in Liberia were ordered to enforce the action plan, which includes placing all non-essential government workers on 30-day compulsory leave.

Highly infectious Ebola has been blamed for 672 deaths in the West Africa nations of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization. Liberia accounted for just under one-fifth of those deaths. The first cases of this outbreak were confirmed in Guinea’s remote southeast early this year. It then spread to the capital, Conakry, and into neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The fatality rate of the current outbreak is around 60 percent although the disease can kill up to 90 percent of those who catch it. The illness, called viral hemorrhagic fever, has symptoms that include external bleeding, massive internal bleeding, vomiting, and diarrhea.

The U.S. Peace Corps said on Wednesday it was temporarily withdrawing 340 volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and that two of its volunteers had been isolated and were under observation after coming in contact with a person who later died of the Ebola virus.

The Peace Corp has 102 volunteers in Guinea, 108 in Liberia and 130 in Sierra Leone working in education, health and agriculture.

The State Department has confirmed that one U.S. citizen died from Ebola in Nigeria after being infected in Liberia. Two other American aid workers infected with Ebola, Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol, are in serious condition, but they have shown slight improvement. They were part of a team in Liberia from North Carolina-based Christian relief groups Samaritan’s Purse and SIM.


Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said in a speech posted on the presidency’s website that the government was considering quarantining several communities based on the recommendation of the health ministry.

An earlier draft of the measures sent to Reuters specified communities to be quarantined.

“When these measures are instituted, only healthcare workers will be permitted to move in and out of those areas. Food and other medical support will be provided to those communities and affected individuals,” she said, adding that all markets in border areas are to be closed.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters that President Barack Obama had been briefed on Tuesday by his homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, and that the White House was monitoring the deadly outbreak.

“The CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has said this is not a risk to the United States at this time,” Schultz told reporters traveling with the president back to Washington from Kansas City, Missouri. He said the U.S. government had increased assistance to countries battling Ebola.

Schultz said the White House would proceed with a planned U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington Aug. 4-6 that about 50 Africa leaders are expected to attend to discuss trade and investment between the United States and Africa.

Liberia’s President Surleaf said she would not be attending the summit but that Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai and a few cabinet ministers “whose presence are absolutely necessary” would attend.

“We have no plans to change any elements of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit as we believe all air travel continues to be safe,” Schultz said.

Last week, 40-year-old Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, a consultant for the Liberian finance ministry, died from Ebola in Nigeria after having traveled from Liberia. Authorities in Nigeria, as well as Ghana and Togo, through which he passed en route to Lagos, are trying to trace passengers who were on the same plane as he was.

On Wednesday, Britain held a top-level government meeting to discuss the spread of Ebola in West Africa, saying the outbreak was a threat it needed to respond to.


Mike Noyes, head of humanitarian response at Action Aid UK, said people affected by Ebola should be treated with compassion and not criminalized.

“Enforced isolation of a whole community is a medieval approach to controlling the spread of disease,” he said.

Some airlines in the region have cut routes to countries affected by Ebola, even as the WHO is saying it does not recommend travel restrictions as a step to control outbreaks.

On Wednesday, Liberian health officials said an isolation unit for Ebola victims in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, was overrun with cases and health workers were being forced to treat up to 20 new patients in their homes.

Protests by the local community against construction of an isolation unit at Elwa Hospital have ended, said Tolbert Nyenswah, an assistant minister of health, but patients with Ebola symptoms will have to wait at home until work is finished.

“The staff here are overwhelmed. This is a humanitarian crisis in Liberia,” Nyenswah told Reuters by telephone.

Nyenswah said the suspected patients were being treated by trained medical staff with full protective gear, but it would take at least 24 to 36 hours to build the new unit.

Initial resistance to building a new isolation unit highlighted the fear and mistrust health workers have faced across West Africa as they battle the outbreak, which has strained the region’s weak health systems.

Dozens of local health workers, including Sierra Leone and Liberia’s leading two Ebola doctors, have died treating patients.

Samaritans Purse said on Wednesday it would stop running case-management centers in Liberia after an attack on employees over the weekend and resistance from the local community to the expansion of their unit in Monrovia. The organization said it was withdrawing non-essential staff from the country.

(Reporting by David Lewis and Emma Farge; Additional reporting by Kwasi Kpodo in Ghana, Clair MacDougall in Monrovia, Misha Hussain for the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Dakar, Lesley Wroughton and Roberta Rampton in Washington, Colleen Jenkins in North Carolina; Writing by Toni Reinhold; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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US advances plan to reintroduce wild bison herds outside Yellowstone Thu, 31 Jul 2014 12:42:25 +0000 Reuters By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) – New herds of genetically pure wild bison may once again roam vast expanses of the American West where the iconic animal has been absent since the end of the 19th century, under a tentative plan federal officials advanced on Wednesday.

The proposal, for which Yellowstone National Park officials have begun seeking public comment, is almost sure to draw staunch opposition from ranchers concerned about disease, competition for grass and property destruction from straying bison.

Yellowstone is now home to more than 4,000 bison, or buffalo, constituting the bulk of the country’s last pure-bred population of the animals.

Dozens from the Yellowstone herd have been relocated to two Montana American Indian reservations in recent years. Park officials, wildlife advocates and Native American groups are now eager to restore wild bison to more of their native habitat.

A recent U.S. Interior Department report on bison concluded they could potentially be reintroduced to swaths of public lands it manages in states such as Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nebraska and South Dakota, without posing a risk to livestock.

The chief concern is brucellosis, an infection that causes stillbirths in cows and may have been transmitted to roughly half the bison in Yellowstone from exposure to cattle.

Park wildlife managers are eyeing a plan that would start by quarantining dozens of bison for several years to prevent them from contracting the disease. Those animals shown to be free of brucellosis could then be considered for relocation to establish controlled herds elsewhere, said David Hallac, chief of Yellowstone’s science and research branch.

The park is one year away from crafting a final proposal, which will be shaped by the public comment period that opened on Wednesday and closes in September, he said.

Quarantine facilities could be placed inside the park, which spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, just outside its borders, or on lands owned by Native American tribes.

Hallac said a program that would see new bands of bison with the prized genetics of the Yellowstone herd established across the West would mark a conservation milestone.

Millions of the powerful, hump-shouldered animals once roamed the plains west of the Mississippi until systematic hunting drove their numbers to the fewer than 50 that found refuge in Yellowstone in the early 20th century.

But livestock industry representatives said even disease-free bison could prove problematic to the landscape, since the outsized animals would likely venture beyond fences or property lines and might compete with cattle for forage.

“We have legitimate concerns about containment and damage to private property and we need to address the impact on ranchers that graze on federal lands,” said Jay Bodner, natural resource director for the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman from Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)

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Panasonic confirms will invest in $5 billion Tesla battery Gigafactory Thu, 31 Jul 2014 12:41:07 +0000 Reuters By Sophie Knight

TOKYO (Reuters) – Panasonic Corp confirmed on Thursday it would invest in U.S. electric carmaker Tesla Motors Inc’s planned $5 billion lithium-ion battery plant in the United States, but said it had yet to decide on the size of its investment.

The Japanese company, which already supplies batteries for Tesla, said it was gauging the demand for batteries before deciding on an amount. It had earlier said it would invest in stages and that any expenditure this year would be small.

“We have not yet decided exactly how much we will invest and when,” said Chief Financial Officer Hideaki Kawai.

“However, Tesla is a very important partner to us and discussions are continuing. We need to look very carefully at auto demand and respond appropriately so of course that means taking a step-by-step approach to investment,” he added.

A person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday that Panasonic would initially invest around 20 to 30 billion yen ($200-300 million) into the factory and would ultimately invest about $1 billion.

Demand for batteries from the U.S. premium eco-car maker has been a boon for Panasonic as it tries to expand its business as an industrial supplier, especially to the auto sector, and reduce its reliance on volatile consumer markets.

Under the agreement, Tesla will prepare, provide and manage the land while Panasonic will manufacture and supply cylindrical lithium-ion cells and invest in the equipment, machinery and other manufacturing tools, they said in a joint statement.

Tesla’s chief executive Elon Musk has said that he expected Panasonic to become the main partner in the Gigafactory, which the company says will be able, when fully operational in 2020, to make more lithium-ion batteries in a year than were produced worldwide in 2013. It is currently looking at three new sites to locate the plant.

Panasonic announced the deal with Telsa after beating analysts forecasts and reporting a 28.2 percent increase in operating profit for the first quarter on growing demand for its energy-saving household fittings as well as cost cuts.

(Reporting by Sophie Knight; Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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China slams Canada for ‘irresponsible’ hacking accusations Thu, 31 Jul 2014 12:40:15 +0000 Reuters BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s foreign ministry accused Canada on Thursday of making irresponsible accusations lacking any credible evidence after Canada singled out Chinese hackers for attacking a key computer network and lodged a protest with Beijing.

Officials said “a highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor” had recently broken into the National Research Council. The council, Canada’s leading research body, works with major companies such as aircraft and train maker Bombardier Inc..

Canada has reported hacking incidents before, but this was the first time it had singled out China.

China is often cited as a suspect in various hacking attacks on companies in the United States and other countries. China’s embassy in Ottawa has dismissed the allegation as groundless.

The Foreign Ministry repeated its standard line that China opposed any hacking activity, and expressed its anger at Canada for making the accusations.

“The Canadian side, while lacking credible evidence, offered criticism for no reason. This is irresponsible and China is resolutely opposed to this,” the ministry said in a statement on its website.

“We urge the Canadian side to correct its mistake, stop criticizing China for no reason, and dispel the negative effects that have come from this.”

The ministry did not elaborate.

Canada’s right-leaning Conservative government has had an uneven relationship with Beijing since taking power in 2006.

Citing human rights concerns, Prime Minister Stephen Harper initially kept his distance. Under pressure from business in Canada, he reached out to Beijing.

Harper visited three Chinese cities in 2012 and promised to help increase oil exports, citing the need to find new markets. The United States buys virtually all Canada’s crude.

The research council attack was not the first hacking attempt in Canada that has been linked to China.

In 2011, hackers broke into computer systems at the finance ministry and other government departments. The Conservatives denied to comment on allegations that China was responsible.

In 2012, Canada said it was aware hackers had breached security at a domestic manufacturer of software used by energy companies, but again declined to say whether it felt China lay behind the attacks.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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Stephen Colbert rips corporations that flee US taxes and Fox News pundits who defend them Thu, 31 Jul 2014 11:43:19 +0000 Scott Kaufman Last night on The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert went after corporations who “invert” their corporate structure in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

He began by playing a clip of Obama discussing large companies that buy smaller companies overseas, “technically renouncing their citizenship, declaring their base some place else even though there operations are here — some people are calling these companies ‘corporate deserters.’”

“‘Corporate deserters’?” Colbert asked. “So they like dessert. He’s not only attacking corporate profits, now he’s fat-shaming.”

“Folks, what this skinny bitch,” he said, pointing to the president, “is talking about is a hot new business innovation known as ‘inversion’…where a U.S. company purchases a foreign subsidiary and then claims that its U.S. operations are owned by its foreign subsidiary, not the other way around.”

“It’s like me adopting an African child,” Colbert added, “then declaring myself as his dependent.”

“‘Inversion’ is all the rage these days. For instance, the American Chiquita corporation has decided to be owned by Fyffes, a much smaller fruit distributor from well-known banana-producer Ireland. That’s why bananas start out green,” he said, “they are leprechaun penises.”

“Corporations have a clear duty to invert,” Colbert continued, before playing clips of Fox Business News personalities declaring that “the management of a company has a legal, fiduciary responsibility to make a profit” and “inversions are legal, simple as that.”

“Yes!” Colbert replied. “If something is legal, we should always do it. That’s why I’m going to Japan on my next vacation — to hunt dolphins!”

Watch the entire July 20, 2014 episode of The Colbert Report via Hulu below.

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Ohio woman slits sleeping husband’s throat, claims she was dreaming of filleting a fish Thu, 31 Jul 2014 11:15:02 +0000 Travis Gettys An eastern Ohio woman told police she was dreaming about filleting a fish when she awoke to find she had instead slashed her sleeping husband’s throat.

Judy Jones, of Dillonvale, was charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault after badly injuring her husband in the attack, reported WTOV-TV.

The couple’s 16-year-old daughter interrupted the attack early Saturday and called 911, and she later told police her mother had been threatening to kill 49-year-old Thomas Jones for about a year.

“He’s got stitches from almost (ear to ear) so we just have to wait for it to go through the court system,” said Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla.

The 44-year-old Jones eventually admitted she tried to kill her husband, police said.

She remains held on $500,000, and her husband is expected to recover.

Watch this video report posted online by WTOV-TV:

[Image: Closeup of male worker's hands cutting fish with knife at table via Shutterstock]

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Seattle police reassign cop who issued 80 percent of city’s weed tickets Thu, 31 Jul 2014 11:14:42 +0000 Reuters The Seattle Police Department has reassigned an officer who single-handedly issued about 80 percent of the marijuana tickets handed out in the city during the first half of this year, authorities said on Wednesday.

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said staff reviewing data to prepare the department’s first biannual report on marijuana enforcement found that 66 of 83 citations for public pot use were given out by just one officer.

“In some instances, the officer added notes to the tickets,” O’Toole said in a statement, adding that some of the notes requested the attention of City Attorney Peter Holmes and were addressed to “Petey Holmes.”

In one case, she said, “the officer indicated he flipped a coin when contemplating which subject to cite.”

In another, O’Toole added, he referred to Washington’s voter-approved changes to marijuana laws as “silly.”

KIRO-TV reported that sources confirmed the officer’s name as Randy Jokela, who one pot smoker ticketed by the officer said was well-known in the Pioneer Square neighborhood as “the joker.”

Washington state voted in 2012 to legalize the sale of cannabis to adults for recreational use but does not allow it to be used in public places.

She said the officer’s actions were reported to the police’s Office of Professional Accountability, and that he will not perform patrol duties while an investigation takes place.

The six-month report, which was released last week, found African-Americans in Seattle were ticketed disproportionately to their population for using pot in public.

The police department said 36 percent of the tickets were issued to African-Americans, who make up just eight percent of the city’s population.

A spokesman said the SPD recognized the numbers were disproportionate, and O’Toole reiterated on Wednesday that the study was designed to provide more oversight and to flag “anomalies or outliers” in Seattle’s marijuana enforcement.

Watch this video report posted online by KIRO-TV:

[Image: Angry cop via Shutterstock]

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Lawmakers threaten Canada and Japan over objections to Pacific trade deal Thu, 31 Jul 2014 10:34:58 +0000 Reuters A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday said Japan’s refusal to drop all barriers to farm imports under a Pacific trade deal was unacceptable and urged the U.S. administration to cut Japan and Canada out of the talks if they did not give ground.

In a letter to President Barack Obama, 140 House members, or nearly one-third of the chamber, expressed “deep concern” about the state of agriculture market negotiations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), involving 12 countries from the Americas and Asia.

Japan, which is keen to protect sensitive sectors such as beef, rice and pork, had made an “unprecedented and objectionable” offer exempting numerous products from tariff elimination, which could set a damaging precedent for other trade talks, they said.

“We urge you to hold Japan and Canada to the same high standards as other TPP partners. Otherwise, Congressional support for a final TPP agreement will be jeopardized,” the letter said.

“Indeed, we urge you to pursue the TPP negotiations without any country, including Japan, Canada, or others, that proves unwilling to open its market in accordance with these high standards.”

The letter was signed by senior members of the House committee with jurisdiction over trade, including Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp and trade sub-committee chair Devin Nunes, both Republicans, and the sub-committee’s top Democrat, Charles Rangel.

Farm lobby groups have already threatened to oppose the TPP, which is key to the Obama administration’s foreign policy in Asia, if they do not get better access to Japan and Canada’s markets.

Pork farmers said the congressional show of support was welcome, noting Japan was the fourth biggest market for U.S. farm exports, and Canada was No. 2.

Japan has said it will not agree to abolish all tariffs on wheat, rice, dairy, sugar, wheat, beef and pork. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said after the last ministerial TPP meeting that the United States was pressing for tariffs to be eliminated “to the maximum extent possible.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Amazon wants to build online marketplace for plumbers and mechanics Thu, 31 Jul 2014 10:31:24 +0000 Reuters Seattle audio and video technician Todd Mueller showed up last year for what might have been a routine job except for one thing: Inc was taking notes.

As he mounted a flat-screen TV on the wall, an Amazon employee studied how he covered his shoes and used a blanket to protect the hardwood floor.

After at least two years of study, Amazon is ramping up efforts to offer repair, installation, and other services online, tackling a fragmented but potentially rich U.S. market that may be worth an estimated $400 billion.

Amazon’s experiment with services goes back to at least mid-2012 in its hometown of Seattle. It’s now expanded the tests to New York and Los Angeles, six service providers who worked and talked with the company told Reuters.

More locations and services are coming soon. As soon as mid-August, Amazon will take as much as a 20-percent cut from services booked through its website, though timing and figures may change, according to providers and several hard-to-find pages on Amazon’s website devoted to local services.

Providing services would be a new frontier for Amazon, which hopes to enter one of the few remaining consumer sectors yet to succumb to Internet commerce. Its foray into the area comes as investors worry about Amazon’s growing spending on initiatives with uncertain pay back.

It’s unclear how Amazon can create an online exchange for services where others like Angie’s List have failed to gain traction for years. While services like Yelp and Craigslist show what’s available, getting a job done still often involves an old-fashioned telephone call.

The biggest challenge would be attracting enough small businesses to the site, Wunderlich Securities’ Blake Harper said. Angie’s List’s spending on marketing — almost half its total revenue — to attract customers and retain providers has kept it in the red, analysts said.

“While the company has impressive logistical capabilities, it is lacking the local business information, reviews, and sales force, among other attributes, to begin to compete in the market,” Harper said in a June 11 note, of Amazon. “We have a healthy respect for Amazon’s ruthless competitive nature, but expect the local market to be much more difficult for them to scale than the e-commerce business.”

Amazon has a team of people that deal with local merchants. If its plan works, it may encourage loyalty by helping customers book well-regarded plumbers, auto mechanics, and others, and develops a high-margin revenue stream.

In trials, Amazon has recommended services alongside relevant purchases online and providers are backed by its “A-to-Z” money-back guarantee.

“They’re taking it from A-to-Z,” said Alex Vyborg, owner of SpeakerGuy Inc, a 15-person home theater and installation company based in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, that has been working with Amazon for about four months. “Instead of selling you a product and some guy installs it and it doesn’t work, here you have a reputable seller and installer.”

An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.

Like a job interview

Eventually, Amazon plans to build an online marketplace for services from plumbing to babysitting.

For now, it’s focused on assembly, installation and repair in Seattle, New York, and Los Angeles, such as installing toilets or adding speakers to a car, according to its website.

Building a local services marketplace has been Chief Executive Jeff Bezos’ vision for over a decade, three people familiar with the matter said. The Amazon founder was an early admirer of the OpenTable model of dinner reservations, according to one of the sources.

Amazon’s efforts are aided by the ubiquity of the smartphone, which allows service providers to field calls and book appointments on the go.

Last year, Amazon invited Seattle-based providers to its downtown headquarters for demonstrations of how the pilot would work, including how appointments would be handled, said Mueller, owner of installation company More than Audio, and other providers.

Amazon also asked exhaustive questions, such as what plumbing services it could legally offer or what happens when faulty wiring or another complication prevents completion.

“They came in educated,” said Stephen Brandeis, operations manager for the Electric Company of Seattle, who likened the experience to a job interview. “They were doing problem-solving on very focused areas.”

Amazon has stipulated that participating businesses carry liability insurance of at least $1 million and in some cases $2 million, according to cached versions of Amazon webpages advertising those services.

They must reply to customer service requests within 24 hours, and be subject to annual background checks.

Right then, right there

Service providers said Amazon has won them new clients, despite the lack of promotion. Raman Singh, owner of Seattle-based Drain Pro Plumbing Inc, said he got close to 100 jobs, mostly from new clients, through Amazon.

But some worry they will have to raise prices once Amazon begins to take a cut. According to one internal website, Amazon intends to take a 20 percent cut of jobs under $1,000 by August 14 and 15 percent for services over $1,000. This compares to the 15 percent to 30 percent cut taken by Angie’s List, RBC analysts estimate.

The more than 20 jobs offered by Amazon found by Reuters all cost less than $400, far below the median $3,200 spent on a home repair projects between 2009 and 2011, according to U.S. government data.

Amazon has also required providers include parts in the cost of the service, say mounting brackets and cables for a TV installation. Supplies, fuel and labor required in an Amazon job add about $100 in expenses to a job that costs less than $300, said Vyborg.

In its pitch, Amazon emphasized its ability to help find new customers and cited data showing that its users spend more than $22 billion every month in offline purchases.

“Customers will see your services when they buy related products online,” according to a page intended for providers. “They’ll able to buy them right then, right there.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Woman killed when small plane crashes into Costco parking lot in San Diego Thu, 31 Jul 2014 10:25:05 +0000 Reuters A small plane crashed in the parking lot of a San Diego retail store on Wednesday, killing one person and injuring at least one other, according to officials and local media.

The single-engine aircraft bounced while attempting to land at the Montgomery Field Airport around 5:25 p.m. local time, became airborne again and then crashed in a nearby Costco parking lot, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor.

An NBC affiliate in San Diego reported that one of two women in the plane died when it crashed outside the busy warehouse retailer, while the other was transported to a nearby hospital. It was unclear who was piloting the aircraft.

Local news video footage showed the charred remains of the aircraft, with one of its wings and its nose crushed.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the accident, Gregor said. He could not confirm the death.

San Diego police and fire officials could not be immediately reached for additional comment.

Watch this video report posted online by KTLA-TV:

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Facebook mobile app to offer free, limited Internet access in Zambia Thu, 31 Jul 2014 10:18:39 +0000 Reuters Facebook Inc is launching a mobile app that gives users in Zambia free access to a handful of online services on mobile phones, broadening an effort to boost Internet usage in underdeveloped countries.

The app will offer, in partnership with wireless operator Airtel , more than a dozen services including online encyclopedia Wikipedia, websites devoted to weather, job listings and health information, as well as Facebook’s own social network and messaging service.

The app will be available in additional countries over the coming months and years, Guy Rosen, product management director for Facebook’s effort said on Wednesday.

Facebook will not pay Airtel for the bandwidth, Rosen said, but Airtel will benefit as users who are exposed to Internet services eventually decide to pay for broader, unrestricted access.

Access to the information on the app’s included services is free, but links that lead to information on other websites will require that users pay wireless data charges. The free version of Facebook in the app does not allow for the video playback.

Facebook has partnered with more than 150 wireless providers over the past four years to offer free or discounted access to its social network, but the new app in Zambia marks the first time the company has added Web services beyond its own social network to the menu of free services.

The move comes as Facebook steps up investments in its project, which seeks to connect the “next 5 billion” users to the Internet, many of whom lives in places like Africa and India. In March Facebook announced plans to use drones and satellites to deliver Internet connectivity to people in certain parts of the world.

The initiative has the potential to boost the size of Facebook’s audience, which currently totals 1.32 billion monthly users.

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TX Republican slammed for using ‘co*nass’ slur to describe young Katrina victims Thu, 31 Jul 2014 04:52:42 +0000 Arturo Garcia A Texas state lawmaker was blasted by criticism on Wednesday for his use of an anti-Cajun slur to refer to Louisiana children who had to attend school in his state in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.

The progressive group Progress Texas posted footage on Tuesday of state Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R) during a hearing concerning the cost of educating children who arrived in the U.S. as part of the recent influx of Central American immigrants to those displaced by the massive 2005 hurricane.

“I want to be clear — a Katrina child is far different,” Bonnen said in the video. “We can make jokes and pick on Louisiana and it’s fun and all that, but it’s a hell of a lot different bringing a kid over from Louisiana than a child who’s just made a treacherous journey.”

Later he adds, “There’s a significant difference. We had to have a teacher who could do co*nass in English, but here we have to do Spanish and English, maybe, and there’s a higher marker.”

Think Progress reported that the term “coonass” was formally condemned by the Louisiana state legislature in 1981.

Some of Bonnen’s counterparts from Louisiana bristled at the remark.

“When you make a deliberate comment like that, how can I not get offended as a Acadiana American?” state Rep. Stephen Ortego (D) told the Times-Picayune. “It’s insulting to our accent. It’s insulting to be called that by someone from out of state.”

Meanwhile, Ortego’s colleague, state Rep. Karen Gaudet St. Germain (R), told the Houston Chronicle that the term should only be used by people of Cajun descent.

“It’s OK if we call each other crazy but it’s not good for someone else to insinuate that word in a conversation about children. That’s pretty low,” St. Germain was quoted as saying. “I promise you I wouldn’t say that about kids from Texas.”

While Bonnen has not commented on the footage, a professor of Francophone Studies at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Barry Ancelet, demanded that Bonnen make amends for using the slur.

“Whoever said this ought to be derided as the racist that he is,” Ancelet said to the Times-Picayune. “If he had any sense of decency, he would apologize.”

Watch footage of Bonnen’s remarks, as posted online earlier this week, below.

[Image via YouTube]

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Geraldo Rivera derails Sean Hannity’s attempt to ‘educate’ Russell Brand Thu, 31 Jul 2014 03:58:15 +0000 Arturo Garcia Fox News host Sean Hannity couldn’t hide his surprise on Wednesday night when his response to comedian Russell Brand’s criticism met resistance from one of his own guests in Fox contributor Geraldo Rivera.

“He’s a dufus, which is unfortunate. And his attack on you, unwarranted,” Rivera told Hannity. “Still, I think that there are two sides to this story that are not necessarily being told.”

“Geraldo, 3,000 rockets, three kidnapped kids slaughtered,” Hannity responded before Rivera cut him off.

“Thirteen-hundred dead civilians, 30, 40 percent of them children, Sean,” Rivera shot back. “This is undermining Israel. This is the worst thing for Israel’s stature and standing in the world. It’s fueling anti-Semitism, and it’s going to do very, very little but prolong this crisis.”

“Geraldo, if 3,000 rockets were fired into America, wouldn’t you obliterate the infrastructure of the group responsible?” a visibly annoyed Hannity asked.

“Michael Bloomberg came home from Israel saying, ‘Open the airport, these rockets are ineffective, the Iron Dome’s got them solid,’” Rivera answered, citing the former New York City mayor’s recent trip. “How many civilians have been killed by those rockets? One Israeli Arab in the field. You have seen what happened in that hospital. You have seen what happened at the UN school today, Sean. We can no longer ignore what has happened.”

Hannity was in a more jovial mood earlier in the segment, when he played footage of Brand’s online commentary, in which the comedian said the Fox host “looks like the Ken Doll from the Toy Story 3 film” and bullied his way through interviews.

“I feel so bad that Russell doesn’t like my style of interviewing,” Hannity said. “Unfortunately, this out-of-work actor didn’t stop at stylistic critiques.”

Hannity dismissed Brand’s criticism in part by reading the charter of the Palestinian group Hamas, in which it pledges to “obliterate” Israel.

“Three-thousand rockets, Russell, fired into Israel,” Hannity said. “Two-thirds of the Israeli population in bunkers in just the last month. Now, Russell, if you’re watching — and I’m sure you will — take a close look at your TV because I need to educate you, ’cause you’re kind of dumb and ignorant.”

Watch the discussion, as posted online on Wednesday, below.

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Missing NC teen’s adoptive parents accused of taking federal benefits after she disappeared Thu, 31 Jul 2014 01:43:41 +0000 Arturo Garcia A North Carolina teenage girl’s adoptive parents were indicted on Wednesday on charges of collecting federal benefits following her disappearance, which went unreported for nearly two years, the Charlotte Observer reported.

Federal prosecutors accused Casey and Sandy Parsons of taking Medicaid, Social Security, food benefits and adoption assistance for their adopted daughter, Erica Parsons, despite her going missing in November 2011. They are also accused of listing the girl as a dependent in documents filed with the Social Security Administration in August 2012 and June 2013, as well as collecting $12,680 from the Cabarrus County Department of Social Services for adoption assistance between January 2012 and August 2013.

WSOC-TV reported that the suspects shoved reporters away as they exited the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem following their appearance. Sandy Parsons can be seen swatting at one reporter’s microphone after getting into a car. The suspects were released on a $25,000 bond and have been placed on house arrest. They are also required to wear electronic monitoring bracelets.

According to the indictment (PDF) against the Parsons, they gained custody of Erica Parsons in March 1999, after her biological parents, Carolyn Parsons and Billy Dean Goodman, gave up their parental rights. The adoption was approved by Cabarrus County officials 11 months later.

Social services workers in nearby Rowan County, however, investigated the suspects in June 2004 after receiving reports that they were abusing the girl. Within a month, Casey Parsons reported that Erica Parsons was living with her sister. The case was closed that November, and Erica Parsons moved back in with her adoptive parents in March 2005.

But Erica Parsons’ disappearance did not come to light until July 30, 2013, when one of her adoptive brothers, identified by federal officials as “J.W.P,” told sheriff’s officials in Rowan County that he last saw her on “an unknown date in or about November or December 2011,” nearly a year since the last time she saw her biological mother.

The suspects have blamed Erica’s disappearance on a woman they identified as Irene “Nan” Goodman, her biological grandmother. They have argued that the girl went to live with Goodman and never returned. But investigators have rejected that explanation, saying Goodman never existed.

A month after the girl’s disappearance, Casey and Sandy Parsons appeared on the syndicated Dr. Phil Show. During the episode, a polygraph test called Sandy Parsons’ statements regarding her “deceptive.” But polygraph exams are not admissible in North Carolina courts.

The reward for information on Erica Parsons’ whereabouts is currently at $50,000. She would now be 16 years old. Meanwhile, her biological mother told the Observer she went outside and screamed in happiness after being told about the suspects’ arrest.

“Hopefully, this teaches them that they’re not untouchable,” Carolyn Parsons was quoted as saying.

Watch WSOC’s story on Casey and Sandy Parsons’ arrest, as aired on Wednesday, below.

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Drone crashes while attempting to smuggle contraband into South Carolina prison Thu, 31 Jul 2014 00:48:13 +0000 Reuters By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON Fla. (Reuters) – A drone being flown in a novel attempt to smuggle phones, marijuana and tobacco into a South Carolina maximum security prison crashed outside its walls, authorities said on Wednesday.

The contraband smuggling attempt has been under investigation since the wreckage was discovered in April outside the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, said state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Stephanie Givens.

Officials believe it was the first time an unmanned aircraft had been used in an effort to breach prison walls in the state, Givens said. Most cell phones are thrown over walls.

“The technology is getting better, and we have to figure out different ways to fight back,” she said.

Illegal cell phones, an issue in prisons nationwide, have drawn particular alarm in South Carolina. In 2010, a cell phone smuggled into the same prison was used to order a hit on a prison officer, who was shot six times at his home but survived.

Authorities have arrested one man in the drone incident and are seeking another suspect. Brenton Lee Doyle, 28, appeared in court on Wednesday for a hearing. He faces charges of attempting to introduce contraband into a prison and possession of the drug flunitrazopam, a muscle relaxant known as “roofies.”

His case was continued until September.

Doyle has said he has never seen a drone and that police said nothing about a drone at the time of his arrest, his attorney Wayne Floyd said. 

Authorities said the search for the second suspect continues.

(Editing by Letitia Stein and Eric Walsh)

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Dept. of Interior advances plan to reintroduce wild bison herds outside Yellowstone Thu, 31 Jul 2014 00:44:43 +0000 Reuters By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) – New herds of genetically pure wild bison may once again roam vast expanses of the American West where the iconic animal has been absent since the end of the 19th century, under a tentative plan federal officials advanced on Wednesday.

The proposal, for which Yellowstone National Park officials have begun seeking public comment, is almost sure to draw staunch opposition from ranchers concerned about disease, competition for grass and property destruction from straying bison.

Yellowstone is now home to more than 4,000 bison, or buffalo, constituting the bulk of the country’s last pure-bred population of the animals.

Dozens from the Yellowstone herd have been relocated to two Montana American Indian reservations in recent years. Park officials, wildlife advocates and Native American groups are now eager to restore wild bison to more of their native habitat.
A recent U.S. Interior Department report on bison concluded they could potentially be reintroduced to swaths of public lands it manages in states such as Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nebraska and South Dakota, without posing a risk to livestock.

The chief concern is brucellosis, an infection that causes stillbirths in cows and may have been transmitted to roughly half the bison in Yellowstone from exposure to cattle.

Park wildlife managers are eyeing a plan that would start by quarantining dozens of bison for several years to prevent them from contracting the disease. Those animals shown to be free of brucellosis could then be considered for relocation to establish controlled herds elsewhere, said David Hallac, chief of Yellowstone’s science and research branch.
The park is one year away from crafting a final proposal, which will be shaped by the public comment period that opened on Wednesday and closes in September, he said.
Quarantine facilities could be placed inside the park, which spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, just outside its borders, or on lands owned by Native American tribes.
Hallac said a program that would see new bands of bison with the prized genetics of the Yellowstone herd established across the West would mark a conservation milestone.

Millions of the powerful, hump-shouldered animals once roamed the plains west of the Mississippi until systematic hunting drove their numbers to the fewer than 50 that found refuge in Yellowstone in the early 20th century.
But livestock industry representatives said even disease-free bison could prove problematic to the landscape, since the outsized animals would likely venture beyond fences or property lines and might compete with cattle for forage.
“We have legitimate concerns about containment and damage to private property and we need to address the impact on ranchers that graze on federal lands,” said Jay Bodner, natural resource director for the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman from Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)

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‘There are no wild cows’: Neil deGrasse Tyson slams ‘fear factor’ over GMOs Thu, 31 Jul 2014 00:35:27 +0000 Arturo Garcia Astrophysicist and Cosmos host Neil deGrasse Tyson blasted critics of genetically modified foods — often referred to as GMOs — in a video recently posted online, saying they are part of a longstanding process of humans altering the planet’s biology to serve our needs, Mother Jones reported.

“I’m amazed how much rejection genetically modified foods are receiving from the public,” deGrasse Tyson tells a French interviewer. “It smacks of the fear factor that exists at every new emergent science, where people don’t fully understand it or don’t fully know or embrace its consequences, and so therefore reject it.”

What most people do not know, Tyson argued, was that almost any food bought in stores today has been modified before making it to the shelves.

“There are no wild, seedless watermelons. There’s no wild cows,” he said. “There’s no long-stemmed roses growing in the wild (although we don’t eat roses). You list all the fruit, and all the vegetables, and ask yourself, is there a wild counterpart to this? If there is, it’s not as large, it’s not as sweet, it’s not as juicy, and it has way more seeds in it.”

Instead, he said, humans have employed artificial selection to modify their foods ever since they began cultivating them.

“We are creating and modifying the biology of the world to serve our needs,” deGrasse Tyson said. “I don’t have a problem with that, because we’ve been doing that for tens of thousands of years. So chill out.”

As Mother Jones notes, however, critics of GMOs often cite their opposition to techniques like genetic manipulation being used in foods.

This past May, legislators in California rejected a bill that would have required labels for foods made using GMOs, for the second year in a row. Only Vermont has approved such requirements.

Watch deGrasse Tyson’s remarks, as posted online, below.

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Utah man fired after boss complains blog post about homophones made school sound gay Wed, 30 Jul 2014 23:48:11 +0000 Arturo Garcia A “social media strategist” for a Utah school serving foreign students said he was fired after his school’s owner reprimanded him for the allegedly gay connotations of a blog post concerning homophones, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported.

“People at this level of English may see the ‘homo’ side and think it has something to do with gay sex.” the owner, Clarke Woodger, allegedly told Tim Torkildson while firing him last week.

Torkildson reportedly was hired as a teacher at Nomen Global Language Center in Provo this past April 1 before being re-assigned to handle the school’s social media. Torkildson gave his account of the meeting with Woodger on his personal blog.

“I’m letting you go because I can’t trust you,” Woodger allegedly said. “This blog about homophones was the last straw. Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality.”

Woodger also allegedly complained that he didn’t know what homophones — words that sound identical while having different meanings and spellings — were, and that it was the kind of “advanced stuff” Nomen did not teach its students. He also accused Torkildson of not being reliable enough to continue working for the school.

“I never have any idea what you’re going to do next. I can’t run my business that way,” Woodger said, according to Torkildson. “You’d probably make a great college professor, but since you don’t have a degree you’ll never get that kind of work. I would advise you to try something clerical, where you’ll be closely supervised and have immediate goals at all times. That’s the only kind of job you’ll ever succeed at.”

Woodger denied to the Tribune that his concern over Torkildson’s work centered on homosexuality, but that Torkildson would go off on confusing and sometimes offensive “tangents” in his posts for the school. The post on homophones was removed from the school’s website.

Nomen did not return a call seeking confirmation of Torkildson’s account of his final meeting with Woodger.

[Image: "Angry teacher in a class room," via Shutterstock]

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House Republicans vote to sue Obama over changes to Affordable Care Act Wed, 30 Jul 2014 22:44:27 +0000 Reuters WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday cleared the way for the launch of a lawsuit accusing President Barack Obama of overstepping his authority in carrying out his signature healthcare law.

The 225-201 vote, along party lines, to authorize the suit will allow House lawyers to draft legal documents over a five-week summer recess starting on Friday.

The planned lawsuit is expected to generate months of bitter campaign rhetoric from both Republicans and Democrats ahead of November elections that will determine the political control of Congress next year.

The suit is expected to claim that Obama, a Democrat, exceeded his executive authority in making unilateral changes to the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Republicans argue that by delaying some healthcare coverage mandates and granting various waivers, he bypassed Congress in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Republicans have complained about other unilateral actions that Obama has taken to advance his agenda, from executive orders on immigration policy to same-sex partner benefits.

But they have narrowly focused the suit on the healthcare law because “it is the option most likely to clear the legal hurdles necessary to succeed,” said Republican Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, who chairs the House Rules Committee.

“This administration has effectively rewritten the law without following the constitutional process,” Sessions added.

Democrats have slammed the lawsuit effort as a politically motivated waste of taxpayer resources while Congress has failed to act on other pressing issues including emergency funding to deal with a flood of migrant children.

“This is a veiled attempt at impeaching the president,” said Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas.

(Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Caren Bohan and Sandra Maler)

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Michele Bachmann accuses Obama of wanting to experiment on immigrant children Wed, 30 Jul 2014 21:20:03 +0000 Arturo Garcia Outgoing Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) accused President Barack Obama’s administration during a radio interview of encouraging more Central American immigrant minors to come to the U.S. for the purposes of procuring subjects for medical experiments, Right Wing Watch reported on Wednesday.

“We can’t imagine doing this,” she said. “But if you have a hospital, and they are gonna get millions of dollars in government grants so that they can conduct medical research on somebody — and a ward of the state can’t say no, a little kid can’t say no, if they’re a ward of the state — so here you could have an institution getting millions of dollars from our government to do medical experimentation, and a kid can’t even say no. It’s sick.”

According to Right Wing Watch, Bachmann’s claim is an offshoot of her introduction of “Justina’s Law,” named after Justina Pelletier, the Massachusetts teenager who was the focal point of a court battle between her parents and the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) dating back to February 2013.

Pelletier’s family and the agency’s dispute began when Boston Children’s Hospital diagnosed the girl with “a persistent and severe somatic symptom disorder,” countering an earlier diagnosis by Tufts Medical Center saying her inability to walk or eat was caused by mitochondrial disease. DCF was granted emergency custody over Pelletier until she turned 18 this past March, but the ruling was reversed three months later when juvenile court judge Joseph Johnston ruled that her parents had demonstrated they could provide adequate care for her.

Right Wing Watch reported that, according to Bachmann and other religious conservatives, the hospital diagnosed Pelletier with somatoform disorder because it wanted a federal grant to study the disease

Bachmann’s resolution, co-sponsored by Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), and Tom Marino (R-PA) subsequently accused Children’s Hospital and similar facilities of having “an internal policy that allows for children who are deemed ‘wards of the State,’ including foster children, to receive treatment or be involved in research that presents great risk even if there is no prospect of any benefit to the child.”

But in reality, the hospital’s policy only sanctions research involving “greater
than minimal risk with no prospect of direct benefit” if it is related to a child’s status as a ward. The policy also calls for any child included in this kind of study to have an advocate appointed to serve on their behalf in addition to any guardian or “in loco” family the child may have.

“We have 400,000 foster children in this country, and now President Barack Obama is trying to bring all of those foreign nationals, the illegal aliens, to the country and he has said that he will put them in the foster care system,” Bachmann said during her radio interview. “I will tell you from personal experience, we don’t have enough foster parents now in the country for the kids in America. We certainly don’t have enough foster parents for all of the illegal aliens that the president is trying to bring in right now.”

The remarks signify a slight change in tack from Bachmann, who earlier this month referred to the thousands of children who have emigrated from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua as “invaders” and linked them to an unidentified rape case and a fatal 2008 auto accident.

Listen to Bachmann’s remarks, as posted online on Wednesday, below.

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U.S. Peace Corps withdrawing volunteers due to Ebola virus Wed, 30 Jul 2014 20:51:06 +0000 Reuters The U.S. Peace Corps said on Wednesday it was pulling 340 volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea because of the spreading Ebola virus that has killed 672 people in the three countries since February.

It is the worst outbreak on record of the deadly virus, according to the World Health Organization.

“The Peace Corps today announced that it is temporarily removing its volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea due to the increasing spread of the Ebola virus,” the group said in a statement.

The Peace Corps currently has 102 volunteers in Guinea, 108 in Liberia and 130 in Sierra Leone working in the areas of education, health and agriculture.

The State Department has confirmed that one U.S. citizen died from Ebola in Nigeria after being infected in Liberia. Two other American aid workers infected with Ebola – Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol – are in serious condition, but have shown slight improvement.

They were part of a team in Liberia from North Carolina-based Christian relief groups Samaritan’s Purse and SIM.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney)

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US diplomat: Israeli attacks on John Kerry ‘offensive and absurd’ Wed, 30 Jul 2014 19:35:15 +0000 Agence France-Presse Israeli attacks against US Secretary of State John Kerry accusing him being of a supporter of Islamic militants are “offensive and absurd,” a senior US diplomat said Wednesday.

In a sharp exchange with reporters, deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf hit out against a torrent of abuse from “respected voices in Israel talking about the secretary of state, claiming that he supports Hamas, which is offensive and absurd.”

The United States had been giving Israel “a level of support which has been quite frankly unprecedented in our history, even when we stood alone,” she added.

After last week’s failed bid to mediate a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, Kerry has been pilloried in the Israeli press for submitting a plan on Friday to the Israeli government, which the security cabinet unanimously rejected.

“He’s a friend of Israel, but with friends like these, sometimes it’s better to negotiate with your enemies,” said Nahum Barnea, writing in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot.

The secretary of state has also been described in the press as a “bull in a china shop,” and an “amateur who thinks he can solve the world’s problems with his presence alone.”

Harf hit back that saying “that kind of criticism coming from any ally, certainly Israel, just really has no place in this discussion.”

“The hours all of us have spent with the secretary in Jerusalem, trying to get Middle East peace, trying to protect Israel’s security, I think that’s why it’s so disappointing,” Harf added.

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Bolivia declares Israel a terrorist state over attack on Gaza Wed, 30 Jul 2014 19:33:53 +0000 Agence France-Presse Bolivia on Wednesday renounced a visa exemption agreement with Israel in protest over its offensive in Gaza, and declared it a terrorist state.

President Evo Morales announced the move during a talk with a group of educators in the city of Cochabamba.

It “means, in other words, we are declaring (Israel) a terrorist state,” he said.

The treaty has allowed Israelis to travel freely to Bolivia without a visa since 1972.

Morales said the Gaza offensive shows “that Israel is not a guarantor of the principles of respect for life and the elementary precepts of rights that govern the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of our international community.”

More than two weeks of fighting in Gaza have left 1,300 dead and 6,000 wounded amid an intense Israeli air and ground campaign in response to missile attacks by the Islamist militant group Hamas.

In the latest development, 16 people were killed after two Israeli shells slammed into a United Nations school, drawing international protests.

Bolivia broke off diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009 over a previous military operation in Gaza.

In mid-July, Morales filed a request with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prosecute Israel for “crimes against humanity.”

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Oregon hunting guide pleads guilty to injuring wild cats to make them easier to kill Wed, 30 Jul 2014 19:21:07 +0000 Reuters By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) – An Oregon hunting guide accused of injuring or caging mountain lions and bobcats to make it easier for his clients to shoot and kill pleaded guilty on Wednesday in a U.S. Court in Denver to violating a federal wildlife law, prosecutors said.

Nicholaus Rodgers of Shady Cove, Oregon, could face up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 for the felony count of conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, which bans the transportation or sale across state lines of illegally gained wildlife, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Under a plea agreement, Rodgers admitted he was part of a ring of hunting guides employed by a Colorado outfitter who shot, trapped or caged the wild cats to provide clients with faux fair chase hunts in Colorado and Utah from 2007 to 2009, prosecutors said in a statement.

Rodgers, 31, is the fourth guide who worked for the Colorado outfitter, Christopher Loncarich, to plead guilty to Lacey Act violations in a case investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Loncarich was indicted by a federal grand jury in Colorado in January over numerous illegal big-game hunts in his home state and in Utah in guided hunting packages that ranged in price from $700 to $7,500, prosecutors said.

Rodgers could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday. He is to be sentenced in November in U.S. District Court in Denver.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler)

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Unlike Barack, Michelle Obama doesn’t shy away from her heritage in speech to Africans Wed, 30 Jul 2014 19:17:20 +0000 Reuters By Annika McGinnis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – First lady Michelle Obama embraced her family’s African roots in a speech on Wednesday, telling a group of young Africans that the “blood of Africa” runs through her veins as she urged changing traditional beliefs on the worth of educating women.

Her husband had shied away from discussing his African heritage in his own remarks to the 500 Africans finishing a six-week Washington leadership fellowship on Monday, referencing his Kenyan father only once and in the question-and-answer session. But Michelle Obama said as an African American woman, her discussion with the African youth was “deeply personal.”

“The roots of my family tree are in Africa,” the first lady told the cheering crowd. “My husband’s father was born and raised in Kenya. Members of our extended family still live there. I have had the pleasure of traveling to Africa many times over the years, including four trips as first lady, and I have brought my mother and my daughters along whenever I can.”

“The blood of Africa runs through my veins, and I care deeply,” Obama said, addressing her listeners as her “brothers” and “sisters.”

Three months before congressional elections that could determine the fate of much of President Obama’s platform, Michelle Obama’s popularity remains high while her husband’s has sunk.

The White House is making women’s empowerment a theme in a Washington African leaders summit next week. Michelle Obama said problems with girls’ education often stemmed from traditional “attitudes and beliefs” that exist even in the United States and lead to issues such as the gender pay gap and an underrepresentation of women in leadership.

She said men worldwide needed to “look into their hearts and souls and ask if they truly view women as their equals.”

“I am who I am today because of the people in my family, particularly the men in my family, who valued me and invested in me from the day I was born,” Obama said.

“And as I grew up, the men who raised me set a high bar for the type of men I’d allow into my life – which is why I went on to marry a man who had the good sense to fall in love with a woman who was his equal, to treat me as such – a man who supports and reveres me, and who supports and reveres our daughters as well,” Obama said.

(Reporting by Annika McGinnis; editing by Andrew Hay)

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Not the biggest Texas bust ever, but close: Cops seize more than 100,000 marijuana plants Wed, 30 Jul 2014 19:13:21 +0000 Reuters By Amanda Orr

HOUSTON (Reuters) – One person has been arrested and more than 100,000 marijuana plants were being eradicated from a sprawling operation in one of the largest pot farming cases in Texas history, police said on Wednesday.

The farm, which covered 29 fields, was discovered by a deer hunter in Goodrich, about 65 miles northeast of Houston, during the weekend. The marijuana plants have an estimated value of about $175 million, police said.

Prison inmates on work duty have been loading the extracted plants into trailers under the supervision of officers.

“There were some tents and homemade irrigation,” Captain Rickie Childers of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office said of the operation. “It wasn’t like irrigation you see in crop fields. These were handheld pumps taking water from the creek.”

The operation found in Goodrich is slightly smaller than all of the 147,227 marijuana plants Texas authorities confiscated last year, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

(Reporting by Amanda Orr; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Trott)

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Alabama doctors: Circumcision lawsuit is bogus, we didn’t chop off anyone’s penis Wed, 30 Jul 2014 19:11:45 +0000 Reuters (Reuters) – An Alabama man’s claim that his penis was amputated recently in a circumcision gone wrong is entirely without merit, an attorney representing the doctors being sued said on Wednesday.

Attorney Michael Florie said the plaintiff, 56-year-old Johnny Lee Banks Jr., has had both legs amputated due to severe diabetes, suffers from end-stage kidney failure and the hospital named in the lawsuit has labored to keep him alive.

“Every allegation in the lawsuit is false,” Florie said. “The doctors that I represent did not even do a circumcision on this patient. It’s an outrage.”

Florie, along with attorneys for Princeton Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, where the operation allegedly took place, has moved to dismiss the case and sanction the plaintiff’s lawyer for suing before seeing the medical records.

Banks said in a lawsuit filed in state court last week that he awoke from surgery to find that his penis had been amputated instead of circumcised.

The lawsuit said that Banks, who is married, did not recall the precise date of the incident but believed it occurred in June.

Banks’ attorney, John Graves, said in an interview last week that he had requested the medical records but filed the lawsuit before receiving them because they were too slow in coming. He did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Wednesday.

The lawsuit does not specify a monetary value of the damages.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the hospital, the Simon-Williamson Clinic, Urology Centers of Alabama, Dr. Vincent Michael Bivins and Dr. Alan C. Aikens.

(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Editing by Eric Beech)

[Surgeon with scalpel via Shutterstock]

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Rick Santorum: Same-sex marriage is to blame for single moms — and polygamy is next Wed, 30 Jul 2014 19:09:19 +0000 David Edwards Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum warned over the weekend that support for same-sex marriage was to blame for the increase in single mothers, and could lead to polygamy.

“What we need to do is reclaim what marriage is,” Santorum told Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly during a radio interview. “If marriage is simply a romantic relationship between two people — and by the way, that’s what it’s devolved to in the minds of a lot of Americans — if that’s all that marriage is then it’s hard to make the argument that any two people, any three or four people shouldn’t be able to get married.”

However, the former Pennsylvania senator said that marriage should be an environment where children are raised by “their natural mother, and their natural father.”

Schlafly lamented that marriage had become “socially optional, particularly in the celebration of single mothers.”

“I simple say to the folks who have tried to change the marriage law to allow same-sex couples, they have taken it to the next logical step that you just talked about earlier,” Santorum agreed. “We’ve divorced marriage from childbearing, we’ve divorced marriage from any meaning beyond a romantic relationship.”

“We’ve sort of devalued marriage as a result of that,” he added. “And so it’s logical to say, if that’s all that marriage is then anybody should be able to get married. We need to reclaim it.”

Listen to the audio below from the Eagle Forum, obtained by Right Wing Watch on July 30, 2014.

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New report paints bleak future for nuclear power due to high operating costs Wed, 30 Jul 2014 18:52:15 +0000 Climate Central Originally published at Climate Central

The globe’s nuclear power industry is aging, plagued with high costs and construction delays, and generally on the decline.

That’s the conclusion of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report released Tuesday, an annual assessment of the trends in nuclear power production and the state of nuclear reactors worldwide.

Isar nuclear power plant in Germany. Credit: Bjoern Schwarz/flickr

While nuclear power is seen by some of the most prominent climate scientists in the U.S. as a necessary means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation to combat climate change, most growth in low-carbon electricity generation is in wind and solar.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report, written by independent consultants in London and Paris with support from the German Green Party and the anti-nuclear Rocky Mountain Institute based in Colorado, shows that nuclear power’s share in global energy production declined to 10.8 percent in 2013, down from 17.6 percent at its peak in 1996.

“The industry has been in decline for a long time. It’s nothing new,” report lead author Mycle Schneider told Climate Central on Wednesday. “For the production of nuclear electricity, peak was reached in 2006. For the number of nuclear reactors, peak was reached in 2002. For the share of nuclear power in global electricity generation, (peak) was reached in the middle of the 1990s. We’re talking about a 20-year decline of the role of nuclear power.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration doesn’t see nuclear power generation either growing or declining much in the next 25 years.

The EIA’s latest projections show nuclear power production remaining relatively flat through 2040, growing by 0.2 percent each year. Nuclear reactors provide about 20 percent of total U.S electricity generation.

But the new report paints a grim picture of the nuclear industry globally.

The industry, whose reactors average 28.5 years old, is trying to expand, but construction is fraught with delays, the report says. Of the 69 reactors being built worldwide, at least 49 of them, mostly in China, have encountered construction delays, some longer than a year.

Nuclear power plant operating costs are also increasing, with nuclear power generating costs jumping 16 percent over the last three years in France. Five U.S. nuclear reactors in VermontCaliforniaWisconsin and Florida have been or are scheduled to be shut down in part because of high operating costs, the report says, with 38 other U.S. nuclear reactors in danger of closure for economic reasons.

Nuclear plant operating costs have increased worldwide to shore up reactors considered at risk following the Fukushima Daiichi disaster after the 2011 tsunami in Japan, according to the report.

Meanwhile, solar and wind power, meanwhile, continue to gain on fossil fuels and traditional power sources.

China had more solar power capacity installed — 18 gigawatts — than nuclear power capacity in 2013, while Spain generated more power from wind than any other source, marking the first time in history that wind has become the largest source of electricity over the course of a year for any country, the report says.

The nuclear power industry is assailing the report as biased against it and overly pessimistic about nuclear’s future in a changing climate.

Indian Point Energy Center nuclear power plant along the Hudson River north of New York City. Credit: Bobby Magill

David Hess, an analyst with the London-based World Nuclear Association, a lobbying group, told Climate Central that he expects nuclear power to grow in Asia in the coming years, primarily in China, India, Russia and South Korea.

Nuclear power is essential if the world wants to get serious about addressing climate change and reducing carbon dioxide emissions, Hess said.

Thomas Kauffman, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group, in Washington, D.C., said more nuclear reactors are under construction today than at any point since 1989, including five in the U.S., while U.S. nuclear power production has increased this year.

“Does that sound like an industry in decline?” Kauffman told Climate Central. “Of the 30 countries that already use nuclear power, all but a handful are either building new reactors or planning to build new ones. We encourage Mr. Schneider to continue his tally in the years to come, so he can document the world’s increased use of energy to generate reliable, affordable, carbon-free electricity.”

Schneider said one of the best ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation isn’t to build new nuclear reactors, but to make buildings more energy efficient.

“It’s the lowest-hanging fruit there is,” he said.

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Satellite images suggest North Korea may be closer to full ICBM test than thought Wed, 30 Jul 2014 18:24:46 +0000 Agence France-Presse Fresh satellite images suggest North Korea might be wrapping up engine trials on an intercontinental ballistic missile, fuelling speculation of a full-scale flight test to come, a US think-tank said Wednesday.

Development of a working ICBM would be a game-changing step, bringing the continental United States into range and adding a whole new threat level to the North’s regular nuclear-strike warnings.

“The rocket engine test program may wind down by the end of this year,” The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said on its closely followed 38 North website.

“If the engine tests are concluded, the next stage in development of the KN-08 road-mobile ICBM may be full-scale flight tests of the missile,” it added.

It stressed, however, that it was unclear just how successful the tests had been.

Regular satellite analysis has shown a major construction programme underway at North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station since mid-2013, focused on upgrading facilities to handle larger, longer-range rockets with heavier payloads.

Although there is no doubt that North Korea has an extremely active ballistic missile development program, expert opinion is split on just how much progress it has made.

Images taken this month showed the gantry height on the main launch pad had increased to more than 50 metres, while a wider access road and rail spur capable of transporting larger rockets to the pad were either finished or nearing completion.

“These modifications could be completed by 2015,” the 38 North website said.

The images also showed evidence of new engine tests, including the presence of first stage rocket motors and distressed vegetation along the edges of the flame path.

The KN08 was first unveiled at a military parade in April 2012, but many analysts dismissed the models on show as mock-ups.

In December the same year, Pyongyang demonstrated its rocket capabilities by sending a satellite in orbit on a multi-stage launch vehicle.

But it has yet to conduct a test that would show it had mastered the re-entry technology required for an effective ICBM.

Over the past month or so, North Korea has conducted a series of short and medium range missile tests, which were largely seen as a muscle-flexing exercise in response to South Korea-US joint military drills.

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Scientists: Companies could monitor your brain waves to test TV advertisements Wed, 30 Jul 2014 18:15:05 +0000 Agence France-Presse Companies in the near future will be able to test public reaction to advertisements, music and films before they are released by monitoring the brain signals of a select group as they watch a trial.

So say psychologists who on Tuesday unveiled the results of an unusual set of experiments into so-called neural signals.

Their idea is that by scanning brain activity in just a few individuals who watch a test commercial or TV programme, this will predict how a wider audience will also react to it.

The same method could also be applied to test political ideas on focus groups.

Reporting in the journal Nature Communications, a team led by Jacek Dmochowski at Stanford University in California asked 16 volunteers aged 19-32 to watch TV as their brain signals were recorded.

They watched the 2010 premiere episode of the popular TV series “The Walking Dead” and a set of commercials which first aired in American football’s Super Bowl in 2012 and 2013.

The volunteers wore electroencephalography (EEG) sensors to monitor electrical activity in the various parts of the brain.

They were also scanned by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which maps brain activity by pinpointing cerebral blood flow.

What emerged was a strong correlation in the pattern of signals, showing that the individuals were all focused — “engaged” — in what they saw.

Their level of interest matched the response of the wider public to the show and to the commercials as measured by Twitter and the Nielsen TV audience rating.

Of course, to be focused on something does not necessarily reveal whether you liked it or disliked it.

But the experiments with the Super Bowl ads provided a useful clue.

- Brain patterns -

Hugely expensive commercials for the Super Bowl are usually followed up with lots of research to see whether the ads were a hit with the public or not.

“In the Super Bowl study, we observed a strong relationship between the amount of neural agreement in our sample and the popularity rating of a given ad,” Dmochowski said in an email exchange with AFP.

“This tells us that, in general, stimuli which we prefer are experienced similarly in our brain as that of others.”

“So at least in this experiment, a high level of neural similarity translates to ‘liking’ the content. However, further research is needed to fully understand what happens in our brain when we are positively versus negatively engaged.”

After being fine-tuned, neural signalling could be a useful tool for predicting audience response, said Dmochowski.

A common marketing technique today is to try out a prototype product or new idea — including political — on a panel chosen to represent the audience which is being targeted.

The flaw, though, is that individual responses can be muddied by self-reporting, poor verbal skills or group pressure — so data that comes direct from the brain could be invaluable.

“Marketing firms will likely be the first to adopt this technology, as in this domain even a small predictive edge can translate into large value,” Dmochowski said.

“It is possible that focus groups that preview new advertisements will soon include measurements of brain signals in addition to subjective self-reports.”

He added: “Yet another possibility is music production, where multiple versions of a particular song can be evaluated by measuring the neural responses of a group of listeners.

“In general, any application in which one seeks to forecast the population response to some content could benefit from the method.”

[Boy watching television via Shutterstock]

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Obama to Republicans: Stop being mad all the time, stop just hatin’ all the time Wed, 30 Jul 2014 18:11:27 +0000 Reuters By Roberta Rampton

KANSAS CITY Mo (Reuters) – President Barack Obama took his criticism of congressional Republicans for confounding his agenda to a higher pitch on Wednesday, appealing to them to “stop just hatin’ all the time.”

Republicans in the House of Representatives are expected to vote on Wednesday to sue Obama on grounds that he overstepped his authority while implementing the Affordable Care Act, his signature health care law commonly called Obamacare.

“Stop being mad all the time. Stop. Stop. Stop just hatin’ all the time,” he said of Republicans, drawing loud cheers from a raucous crowd of about 1,500 in an ornate theater in Kansas City.

“They’re not happy that I’m president, but that’s OK. Come on!” he said, gesturing as if to welcome lawmakers to a table.

“I’ve only got a couple of years left, come on, let’s get some work done. Then you can be mad at the next president,” he said, chuckling.

Obama has been delivering variations of the fiery stump speech all summer as he tours the country trying to motivate Democrats – and wealthy donors – to get involved in November’s congressional elections.

His aim is to energize Democratic voters ahead of the elections in hopes of stopping Republicans from gaining control of the Senate, which would, when joined with a Republican hold on the House, could make it extremely difficult for him to pursue his agenda in his last two years in office.

Republicans have criticized Obama for his roadtrips, saying his time would be better spent addressing a series of domestic and foreign crises.

“President Obama should be focused on important issues facing America – not more campaigning,” Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt said on Wednesday on Twitter.

Polls show Democrats will have a hard time holding control of the Senate in the midterm elections, while Republicans are expected to keep control of the House.

As it is, Obama has been stymied by gridlock, left to take executive actions to make changes where he has the power to do so.

Republicans argue he has overstepped his bounds, but Obama told the Kansas City audience that he was just doing his job.

“By the way, you know who’s paying for this suit they’re going to file? You!” Obama said.

“It’s estimated that by the time it gets resolved, I will have left office.”

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Mark Felsenthal in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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Go with the flow and you’ll find evolution belongs to physics Wed, 30 Jul 2014 18:09:22 +0000 The Conversation By Adrian Bejan, Duke University

People like to say that we cannot witness evolution because it occurs over timescales immensely greater than our lifetime. That’s incorrect. We can witness evolution all we want, in our lifetime, by watching other things that change and morph freely – for example the evolution of sports, or the evolution of technology.

Evolution in technology is the same as the evolution of a biological species. The ‘organism’ in this case is the human-and-machine species. Machines do not happen by themselves; they are created by humans, because of human needs, and it is humans that add the abilities of their creations to their own in order to improve them – to make their bodies move more easily, or more economically, more safely, or further over the earth. More technology tends towards more and better life.

Evolution is about facilitating flow, the movement of one thing over or past another. Flow systems, the designs created by this evolutionary process, change freely over time. As such, evolution is a physical phenomenon, not just a biological one. The changing organisational structures that facilitate greater and better flow are physical objects, whether animate or inanimate.

In an article just published in the Journal of Applied Physics, we documented the evolution of a single technology – aircraft. We predicted this evolutionary path based on the laws of physics and their application to how designs evolve in the natural world. This is the constructal law: for a flow system to persist in time (in effect, to live) its configuration must evolve to allow greater and easier access to its currents.

We showed that aircraft must have predictable (theoretical) design features that unite them with the birds and other flying animals. For example, larger aircraft must be faster, more efficient as vehicles and must cover greater distances. The engine weight must be proportional to the total body weight; this scaling is the same throughout animal design, where the size of the body parts driving the movement (muscle, heart, lung) is proportional to the body size.

Large or small, an aircraft must have a wing span that is proportional to the fuselage length. The fuel load must be proportional to the body size. The animal design counterparts of these human-designed, technological features are evident. Looking at how these evolutionary laws govern the current trend followed by aircraft until now, we can predict the same laws will govern how aircraft will change into the future.

We’ve used the constructal law to predict the design features of many other seemingly unrelated natural phenomena. For example, the shape of river basins (four tributaries feeding into one larger channel), vegetation (roots, trunks, branches, forests), animal design (body insulation, respiration, blood circulation, skeleton, and ability to swim, run, or fly) and the wheel as a natural rather than human design.

It has also explained human phenomena such as the evolution of sports (speed vs body size for sprint running or swimming, throwing sports such as baseball, golf and boxing), social organisation (rankings of universities and sports teams, urban design, city traffic), and the evolution of many types of technology such as electronic cooling, steam and gas turbines, power plants, refrigeration plants.

The view that emerges is that the phenomenon of evolution is much broader and more visible than simply biological evolution. The constructal law unites the evolutionary designs of the realm of animate creatures with those of the inanimate, social and engineered.

What works is kept. Architectures that offer greater and improved access to flow persist over time, and are joined by even better ones. Together, the vascular tapestry of old and new designs carries the global human flow – from the microscopic to the macroscopic level – easier and farther than the old alone. To return to the example, new and old designs for mass transport by air provide a more effective mechanism to aid mixing and flow of people around the globe more effectively than in the absence of new models.

Flow leads to better flow. Flow architectures are evolving right now, throughout nature and throughout our technologies, in accord with the constructal law. Evolution is one phenomenon of nature, and it belongs under physics, the biggest tent of science.

The Conversation

Adrian Bejan receives funding from the US National Science Foundation.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

[Evolution image via Shutterstock]

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Get tested! Are you a PEP? (Progressive Except on Palestine?) Wed, 30 Jul 2014 18:07:49 +0000 Katie Halper Yesterday, I wrote about the phenomenon of PEP (Progressive Except on Palestine) a condition, in which victims are liberal on every issue except the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some PEPs diagnose themselves with the syndrome, openly embrace it and identify as PEP-Positive. These PEPs will declare with pride that they line up ideologically with liberals except for  when it comes to supporting the government of Israel. Some of them will claim that supporting Israeli policy is a liberal position and that their stance is consistent with liberal values. So, they are aware that they disagree with liberals but see their fellow liberals as not understanding that unquestioning support for Israeli policy is a liberal value.  They would accuse others of being PEI, Progressive Except on Israel. The other population of self-diagnosing PEPs are those who say they are liberal almost always but that their Zionism is the one thing that trumps their liberalism.

But what about the countless people suffering from PEP without knowing it? Well, here is a handy PEP Diagnostic Test (PTD). You can take it yourself or administer it to someone else.

1. Are you a registered Republican?

2. Are you a registered Democrat who votes for Republicans because of Israel?

3. Are you a registered Democrat who is tempted to vote for Republicans because of Israel?

4. Do you do the following two things?

a. Vote for Democrats, The Working Families Party, The Green Party or any left of center party but never, ever for Republicans?

b. Support the Israeli government whether Likud or Labor is in power?

5. Are you critical of the actions of the U.S. government but never critical of the actions of the Israeli government?

6. Do you think the following statements are both true?

a. Calling a U.S. citizen anti-American or un-American for being critical of the U.S. government is ridiculous, knee-jerk, unintelligent and actually incorrect.

b. People who are critical of the Israeli government are either anti-Semitic or anti-Israel of both.

7. Do you think the following two statements are true?

a. Dissent in the United States is patriotic.

b. Being pro-Israel means never questioning the Israeli government.

8. Do you do the following two things?

a. Ask people who are critical of Israeli policy,  ”What would the United States do if this were happening to us?”

b. Attend anti-war rallies against U.S. military actions you see as disproportionate, unjust, and counter-productive.

9. Do you prefer diplomatic over military solutions to all conflicts except for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

10. Do you think Israel does all it can to protect civilians?

11. Do you consider Jews critical of Israeli policy to be self-loathing?

12. Do you agree with two of the three following statements?

a. Stereotypes and generalizations are dangerous, wrong, and distort the truth.

b. Most Israelis and Jews in general are peace-loving, reflective, evolved, nuanced, rational, analytical, sensitive and empathetic people who are just as saddened by the deaths of Palestinian children as they are by the deaths of Jewish children.

c. Most Palestinians are unevolved, primitive, irrational, religious fundamentalists who take pleasure in seeing the dead bodies of Jewishchildren.

13. Do you believe in national liberation for all people except Palestinians?

14. Are you opposed to imperialism and colonialism but think that has nothing to do with Israel?

15. Do you own and/ or wear a dashiki but find keffiyehs offensive?

16. Before or after you explain your unwavering support for the Israeli government, do you offer the following disclaimers:

a. “I helped register Black people to vote in the South during the 1960s.”

b. “I was in Nicaragua supporting the Sandinistas.”

17. Did you become pro-Israel after a Birth Right trip?

18. Do you respond to criticism of Israel by asking critics,  ”What about other countries like Syria or North Korea?”

19. Do you find yourself agreeing with Christian Zionists?

RESULTS: If you answered Yes to questions 1 or 2, you are not a PEP because you are not a progressive. If you answered yes to questions 3-19 you are a PEP.

But do not despair, treatment is available, as I’ll explain in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!


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North Carolina hospital isolates wing for patient who had visited ‘high-risk’ country Wed, 30 Jul 2014 17:52:01 +0000 Travis Gettys Portions of a North Carolina hospital were shut down while doctors tested a patient for communicable disease.

One corridor was closed Wednesday morning at Charlotte’s Carolinas Medical Center, with a security guard posted outside to prevent entry, reported WSOC-TV.

Hospital officials initially offered little information about the situation, but they issued a statement shortly after noon to explain that a patient had arrived at the emergency room late Tuesday evening after “visiting a country known for high risk of infectious diseases.”

The hospital did not specify which country or disease specifically triggered the unusual level of caution but said “all appropriate infection control measures” were taken to protect the public.

“After consulting with the Centers for Disease Control and NC Department of Health and Human Services, it appears the risk for communicable disease is low,” the hospital said in a statement. “No further testing is needed and the patient will be sent home.”

The emergency department reopened Tuesday afternoon, but social media speculation centered on fears about the Ebola virus.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) is calling for a travel ban on Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, where more than 700 people have died since early this year from the Ebola virus.

Two Americans, including a missionary from North Carolina, are among more than 1,200 people infected by the virus.

Grayson asked the Obama administration to impose a ban on citizens from those countries entering the U.S. and travelers who have visited those countries in the past 90 days.

Grayson also asked for the ban to be expanded to countries that report originating cases of the disease.

The virus typically has a mortality rate of 90 percent, although the recent outbreak has killed just 60 percent of infected patients.

Experts say the virus could potentially spread to the U.S., but the chances of an outbreak are remote.

“It’s not like West Nile virus, where there’s a successful animal reservoir that keeps the disease endemic, and medical practice in the U.S. is certainly different,” said Dr. Preston Church, an infectious disease specialist at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Watch this video report posted online by WSOC-TV:

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Canada accuses China of hacking science agency computers Wed, 30 Jul 2014 17:36:08 +0000 Agence France-Presse Canada accused China on Tuesday of hacking into the computers of its research and development arm, which Beijing strongly denied.

China partners each year with thousands of Canadians firms to roll out new technologies, and took advantage of this arrangement to engage in a cyber attack, Ottawa said.

“Recently, the government of Canada, through the work of the Communications Security Establishment, detected and confirmed a cyber intrusion on the IT infrastructure of the National Research Council of Canada by a highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor,” said a government statement.

The government did not provide details as to the nature of China’s alleged cyber intrusions.

The NRC’s computers, Ottawa went on to say, have been isolated from the broader Canadian government network “as a precautionary measure.”

New security infrastructure is also being built to try to prevent similar breaches, but that could take up to a year to complete, it added.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird meanwhile expressed Canada’s outrage to his Chinese counterpart during a trip to Beijing.

The pair had a “full and frank exchange of views,” Baird’s spokesman Adam Hodge told AFP.

For its part, China’s embassy in Ottawa rejected the allegations.

“We do not accept the groundless allegation of Chinese government’s involvement in any cyber intrusion or attack,” the embassy statement said.

“The Chinese government has always firmly opposed to and combated cyber attacks in accordance with the law. In fact, China is a major victim of cyber attacks,” the statement said.

“It is neither professional nor responsible to make groundless speculations and accusations on cyber attacks for various purposes,” it added, urging the two nations to work together “to create a peaceful, secure, open and cooperative cyber space.”

Areas of NRC scientific expertise include aerospace, astrophysics, energy and mining, health and medicine, ocean vessel engineering, and security and disruptive technologies.

China’s cyber-espionage has become a growing concern for many governments and companies, following several reports of breaches in recent years.

Hackers using servers traced to China previously penetrated computer systems at Canada’s Finance Department and Treasury Board.

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Uganda activists launch legal battle to overturn notorious anti-gay law Wed, 30 Jul 2014 17:33:44 +0000 Agence France-Presse Ugandan activists launched a petition Wednesday at the constitutional court seeking to overturn tough anti-gay laws that have been condemned by rights groups as draconian.

Signed by Uganda’s veteran President Yoweri Museveni in February, the law calls for homosexuals to be jailed for life, outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and obliges Ugandans to denounce gays to the authorities.

But the activists argue that the law was passed in parliament without the necessary quorum of lawmakers.

The 10 petitioners — including two Ugandan rights organisations — also claim that the law violates the constitutional right to privacy and dignity, as well as the right to be free from discrimination, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

“I have a very good feeling about it,” the group’s lawyer Nicholas Opio said after the hearing in a crowded courtroom.

He said that if the judges decide the law was not correctly passed by parliament, “the entire act will collapse”.

Rights groups say the law has triggered a sharp increase in arrests and assaults of members of the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

- ‘Civilised’ against ‘barbarians’ -

Western nations have also made a raft of aid cuts to Uganda in protest since the law was passed.

But outspoken anti-gay preacher Pastor Martin Ssempa, who was in court, defended the law and warned against the “judicial abortion of our bill” due to international pressure.

“Our teachings find sodomy as being repugnant, and our members of parliament were right in passing this law,” Ssempa said.

“It is really a question between the civilised and the barbarians.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry has likened the Ugandan law to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany.

Washington last month froze some aid programmes, as well as cancelling military air exercises and barring entry to the US for specific Ugandan officials involved in “human rights abuses”, including against the gay community.

The White House said the legislation “runs counter to universal human rights and complicates our bilateral relationship”.

Opposition leader Kizza Besigye has accused the government of using the issue of homosexuality to divert attention from domestic problems such as corruption scandals or Kampala’s military backing of South Sudan’s government against rebel forces.

But homophobia is widespread in Uganda, where American-style evangelical Christianity is on the rise.

Gay men and women face frequent harassment and threats of violence.

With tabloid newspapers printing pictures of dozens of people alleged to be gay, scores have fled the country.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said in a joint report in May that Uganda’s LGBT community had faced a “surge in human rights violations”, with people being arrested, evicted or losing their jobs.

The report claimed at least one transgender person had been murdered since the law was passed.

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NSA patents car seat for kids to overcome a ‘well known measure of inconvenience’ Wed, 30 Jul 2014 17:31:56 +0000 Agence France-Presse Electronic eavesdropping is the National Security Agency’s forte, but it seems it also has a special interest in children’s car seats, Foreign Policy magazine reported Wednesday.

The “integrated child seat for vehicle” is among more than 270 patents issued since 1979 to the super-secretive spy agency at the center of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations.

Patented in 1993, the device looks something like a precursor to built-in, fold-out rear child seats available today in some Chrysler and Volvo automobiles.

“The national security benefits of this device are neither obvious nor spelled out in the patent,” wrote Foreign Policy on its Complex blog (

“But the car seat’s inventors promise to finally overcome a ‘well known measure of inconvenience’ plaguing parents across America, who are forced to install new, bigger car seats as their children grow up, the patent states.”

Other NSA patents come across as more obvious, including data encryption methods, voice-recording analysis and ways to strip distortion out of intercepted communications.

There’s also a patent for a device that would let spies know if a SIM card in a mobile phone has been removed or replaced.

In an email to AFP, the agency’s public affairs office acknowledged: “It is NSA’s practice to seek patents for inventions.”

It added that, once a patent is issued, the NSA can license it to others — so long as doing so is deemed to be “in the agency’s best interest.”

[Baby in car seat via Shutterstock]

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Libya Islamists seize army special forces headquarters in Benghazi Wed, 30 Jul 2014 17:27:03 +0000 Agence France-Presse Islamist groups have seized the army special forces headquarters in Libya’s Benghazi after days of fighting left at least 35 soldiers dead and plunged the country deeper into lawlessness.

An Islamist and jihadist alliance announced the capture of the main military base in the eastern city in a statement early Wednesday, which was confirmed by an army official.

Ansar al-Sharia, blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Washington, published photos on Facebook of dozens of weapons and crates of ammunition it claimed its jihadists had seized from the base.

Libya’s Red Crescent said it had recovered the bodies of 35 soldiers from the base.

“Up to now we have managed to recover 35 bodies. But there are more” to be found, Red Crescent spokesman Mohamed al-Misrati told AFP.

Fighting in Benghazi has claimed about another 60 lives since Saturday, medical officials in the city said.

“Special forces under the command of (Colonel) Wanis Abu Khamada withdrew after several attacks,” said the army official after the biggest loss yet for the armed forces in their fight against the country’s powerful militias.

The special forces are one of the units of Libya’s regular armed forces that support rogue Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, but they have not placed themselves under his command.

Haftar began his offensive against radical Islamist groups in Benghazi, dubbed “Operation Dignity”, in mid-May.

Former deputy premier and MP Mustapha Abu Shagur was meanwhile freed by his kidnappers, hours after they snatched him from his Tripoli home on Tuesday, his family said.

The kidnapping highlighted the failure of authorities to rein in militias that sprang up during the 2011 uprising which overthrew long-time dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

“Doctor Abu Shagur has been freed. He is tired but in good health,” his nephew Isam al-Naass told AFP.

Libya’s recently elected parliament had been due to meet in Benghazi on August 4 but will instead hold an emergency meeting Saturday in the eastern city of Tobruk, a lawmaker said.

“In light of the dangerous situation in the country we decided to hold an emergency meeting in Tobruk,” east of Benghazi, said Abu Bakr Biira, the MP who was due to preside over the inaugural session.

- Less intensity -

Amid rising lawlessness, several countries, including Portugal, the Netherlands, Canada and Bulgaria, evacuated citizens or closed their embassies in Tripoli earlier this week.

View gallerychecking passports at the naval base in Tripoli during …
A picture taken and released on July 30, 2014 by ECPAD shows members of France’s crisis centre check …
France said on Wednesday it had temporarily closed its embassy while a French diplomatic source said 40 French nationals, including the ambassador, had been evacuated along with seven British citizens by sea.

The naval ship carrying them is bound for the southern French port of Toulon, the foreign ministry said.

A Filipina nurse was also briefly kidnapped by an unknown group and raped in the capital Tripoli, medics and security officials said. The health ministry said the incident could push Manila to hasten the evacuation of its citizens.

Tripoli airport has been closed because of fighting between rival militias seeking to control the facility, and a rocket on Sunday sparked a blaze at a fuel depot which was still burning on Wednesday, but with less intensity.

The blaze began in a tank containing more than six million litres (1.6 million gallons) of fuel and then spread to another fuel storage site.

An oil ministry official said on Wednesday efforts to contain the inferno “are continuing as necessary”.

Libya has appealed for international help, but former colonial power Italy and Greece have said their involvement would be contingent on a halt to the fighting.

On Tuesday, the government again called for a ceasefire in the airport battle that has killed around 100 people and wounded 400 since July 13.

The clashes, the most violent since the 2011 revolt, started with an assault on the airport by armed groups, mainly Islamists.

The attackers are battling to flush out fellow former rebels from the hill town of Zintan, southwest of Tripoli, who have controlled the airport for the past three years.

World leaders on Monday called on the UN to play a greater role in “facilitating the political process” to restore stability to Libya.

Neighbouring Tunisia, where hundreds of thousands of people fled during the 2011 revolt, said Wednesday it would be unable to cope with another massive influx.

Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi told a news conference in Tunis some “5,000 to 6,000″ people a day “in recent days” were crossing the frontier.

“We will close the border if the national interest requires it,” he said.

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Meet Ronda Rousey: The woman who shattered the UFC’s glass ceiling with an armbar Wed, 30 Jul 2014 17:19:32 +0000 Eric W. Dolan ESPN’s Nine for IX recently published a mini-documentary exploring the meteoric rise of “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey — the undefeated mixed martial artist who paved the way for female fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

UFC President Dana White said women would never fight in the octagon. Now he says that Rousey is the UFC’s top star.

“She’s the hugest superstar,” White said in February, according to Yahoo News. “I’m going to go out and say she’s the biggest star we’ve ever had.”

Eddie Bravo, a master of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, recently said Rousey had the best armbar in the world of mixed martial arts.

But Rousey isn’t only a star in the UFC. She is also taking on Hollywood. Rousey will appear in three upcoming films: The Expendables 3, Fast & Furious 7, and Entourage.

“When I was a little kid, I wasn’t into Snow White or Sleeping Beauty or the little pretty princesses that are waiting for someone to come save them,” Rousey says in the video. “I was always taught to not be that dependent chick.”

“I don’t want little girls to have the same ambitions as me,” she continues. “But I want them to know that it is OK to be ambitious, and I don’t want them to say the same things that I do, but I want them to know it’s OK to say whatever it is that is on their mind.”

Rousey’s mother, AnnMaria De Mars, became the first American to win a gold medal at the World Judo Championship in 1984. Rousey herself started training in judo, a martial art that emphasizes takedowns and joint locks, when she was just 11-years-old.

“At home, De Mars sometimes woke Rousey up in the morning by trying to catch her in an arm bar — the lesson was to always be prepared,” The New Yorker noted in a recent profile of Rousey.

Following her mother’s footsteps, Rousey eventually became the first U.S. woman to earn an Olympic medal in judo in 2008 at the age of 21.

But she became disillusioned with her judo career, and decided — like many of her male judo counterparts — to start a career as a mixed martial artist.

“Everyone discouraged me from doing MMA,” she explains in the video. “Everybody did. None of the guys I trained with — even the guys who said I would do really well said not to do it.”

Her mother also thought it was a stupid idea — comparing it to seeking a career as a competitive knitter. There was simply no money to be made as a female fighter.

However, Rousey convinced White to allow her to fight against Liz Carmouche in the UFC in February of 2013.

“I’m notorious for saying that women would never fight in the UFC,” White admitted. “Then I met Ronda Rousey. Literally the day I met her, I was convinced that I was going to let women fight in the UFC.”

“I was blown away by the backlash,” he added. “You know, ‘women can’t fight, this is ridiculous, this is a slap in the face to the sport.’”

She ended up winning that fight with an armbar, and has been undefeated ever since. In her last fight, Rousey knocked out her opponent in 16 seconds.

“Ronda has made it easier for other women to go into MMA and I hope that in some way it will be part of that bigger push where you see more and more women — whether it is in mixed martial arts or technology or whatever field it is — refusing to wait their turn, refusing to stay in their place.”

Watch the video below.

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Congress struggles to pass border security bill Wed, 30 Jul 2014 17:02:27 +0000 Reuters WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Legislation to pay for handling a flood of Central American migrant children hung by a thread in the Congress on Wednesday amid deep divisions over President Barack Obama’s emergency funding request, even as the Senate agreed to bring up a Democratic measure.

The Democrat-controlled Senate voted 63-33 to consider the bill. The legislation would provide $2.7 billion in emergency funds to secure borders further and to feed and house temporarily some of the 57,000 unaccompanied minors who have arrived in the U.S. Southwest illegally since October.

Obama had requested $3.7 billion.

Republicans complain that the Senate legislation will do nothing to fix the immigration problem in the long term. They want to change a 2008 anti-human trafficking law so that illegal immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala can be deported quickly, discouraging more children from making the dangerous journey to the United States.

Democrats have argued that such a change must be more carefully weighed, with hearings and possibly separate legislation.

As a result, the emergency funding bill is likely to get bogged down in the Senate and fail to be approved before a five-week summer recess starts this week.

The Republican-dominated House of Representatives on Thursday is expected to try to pass a much more scaled-down version of Obama’s funding request with a $659 million bill. It contains the controversial change in the 2008 anti-trafficking law.

If the Republican bill passes the House, the Senate is not expected to take it up.

(Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Rep. Paul Ryan attacks ‘crony capitalism’: GOP should be pro-market, not pro-business Wed, 30 Jul 2014 17:01:21 +0000 Reuters By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican congressman Paul Ryan on Wednesday slammed the U.S. Export-Import Bank as a purveyor of “crony capitalism” that mainly helps a few large companies, and said Congress should focus instead on market reforms that speed growth for all firms.

Ryan, speaking to a Christian Science Monitor media breakfast, declined to say directly whether he would vote against renewing the bank’s charter when it expires on Sept. 30.

But Ryan, who heads the House of Representatives Budget Committee and is seen as a possible 2016 presidential candidate, said aircraft maker Boeing Co and some other large exporters “can do extremely well on their own” without the support of Ex-Im Bank financing.

“I do believe that the Ex-Im bank is representative of some of the crony capitalism we have in Washington. Big government and big business joining in a common cause to hand out preferences,” Ryan said. “I believe that we as Republicans should be pro-market, not necessarily pro-business.”

A core of conservative Republicans have been pressing to kill off the bank, despite its reliance mainly on fees, interest and other non-tax revenues.

Ryan echoed their argument that the bank puts government in the way of free-market decisions and that the United States should not subsidize key industries such as aircraft production even if other countries do so.

He said he would prefer to spend his energies on tax reform, regulatory reform and other efforts to make the U.S. economy more competitive, boosting growth and exports for more companies.

“Could the thing be reformed? Of course,” Ryan said of the Ex-Im Bank. “Would that be better than the status quo? Yes, but at the end of the day, I really do believe that there are so many more things that we should be dedicating taxpayer resources to than handing it out to some select companies.”

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Paul Simao)

[Image via Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons-licensed]

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Retired federal employees busted for $4 million ‘sovereign citizen’ tax fraud scheme Wed, 30 Jul 2014 16:59:44 +0000 Travis Gettys A married pair of former Federal Aviation Administration employees from Washington was sentenced this week for their role in a tax fraud scheme.

Debra and Samuel Aaron, of Whidbey Island, were convicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the government and making false or fraudulent claims.

The couple promoted the 1099 OID tax fraud scheme often used by so-called sovereign citizens.

Debra Aaron claimed more than $14 million in tax refunds on behalf of 30 people and was paid $4 million before the IRS caught on.

The couple used a shell company to launder the money from their scheme and claimed some of the funds were used to help impoverished women in third-world countries.

In fact, federal authorities said, the couple used the money to remodel their home and take “lavish” vacations to Las Vegas; Sedona, Arizona; and the Caribbean.

The 60-year-old Debra Aaron, who retired as a management consultant for the FAA, was sentenced to five years in prison.

Her husband, 71-year-old Samuel Aaron, who served with distinction and retired after 25 years with the FAA, was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Both were also sentenced to three years of supervised release and $723,275 in restitution.

[Image: Prisoner in handcuffs via Shutterstock]

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Internet privacy service Tor warns users it was attacked Wed, 30 Jul 2014 16:54:58 +0000 Reuters By Jim Finkle

BOSTON Reuters – Tor, the Internet privacy protecting service, said on Wednesday it discovered a compromise on its network that indicated somebody was trying to monitor the activity of its users.

“While we don’t know when they started doing the attack, users who operated or accessed hidden services from early February through July 4 should assume they were affected,” Tor said in a blog entry.

Tor is an anonymity tool designed to protect the identity of Internet users by routing traffic through multiple nodes around the globe. It is used by human rights activists, criminals and others looking to evade surveillance.

The blog post said that it was not sure how much information the attackers were able to obtain in their efforts to monitor traffic on Tor.

It advised users to upgrade to the latest version of its software, which addresses the vulnerability that the attackers had exploited in this particular case, but said that may not guarantee the anonymity of users.

“Remember that preventing traffic confirmation in general remains an open research problem,” the blog said.

Tor revealed details of the attack after researchers at Carnegie Mellon University said they had developed a method of identifying hundreds of thousands of Tor users.

Those researchers had planned to detail their technique at next week’s Black Hat hacking conference in Las Vegas. The university canceled the talk after Tor developers complained to Carnegie Mellon.

Leaked National Security Agency documents show that the NSA has logged the IP addresses of many Tor users and may have scanned emails for users living outside of the United States and its four closest intelligence allies, German media reported earlier this month.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

[Laptop with human eye with digital binary on Shutterstock]

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‘Palin of the South’ House candidate flees from interview over Obama birth question Wed, 30 Jul 2014 16:54:29 +0000 David Edwards A Republican congressional candidate from Louisiana reportedly fled from an interview recently when she was asked about President Barack Obama’s birthplace.

After meeting with 55-year-old Louisiana state Rep. Lenar Whitney last week, The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman came to the conclusion that she was “the most frightening candidate I’ve met in seven years interviewing congressional hopefuls.”

Whitney, who is running for Louisiana’s open 6th District, gained some national attention last month after releasing a video claiming that climate change was “the greatest deception in the history of mankind.”

Wasserman noted that he had never “met any candidate quite as frightening or fact-averse” as Whitney. She models herself after Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and enjoys being called “Palin of the South.”

When Wasserman confronted her about the claim that the Earth was getting colder, “she froze and was unable to cite a single scientist, journal or news source to back up her beliefs.”

So, he changed the subject, asking her if President Barack Obama was a natural born U.S. citizen.

“When she replied that it was a matter of some controversy, her two campaign consultants quickly whisked her out of the room, accusing me of conducting a ‘Palin-style interview,’” Wasserman wrote.

While Whitney has not raised the most cash in her district, Wasserman pointed out that it was possible for her to win the seat because of Louisiana’s unusual election rules.

“It’s tough to decide which party’s worst nightmare she would be,” he observed.

Watch Whitney’s campaign video below.

(h/t: Business Insider)

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GOP candidate Jody Hice: Christians must ‘rise up’ against hypothetical atheists in Congress Wed, 30 Jul 2014 15:51:27 +0000 Travis Gettys A Georgia Republican candidate for Congress warned of disastrous consequences if atheists were elected as lawmakers.

Jody Hice, who has suggested that Muslims aren’t protected by the First Amendment and that Americans have a Second Amendment right to own bazookas, made the comments on atheist lawmakers during a 2003 interview with the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

“Are we going to be a nation that is led by people who acknowledge God? Who acknowledge God’s law and acknowledge the role of God’s law in our society and the founding of our country? Or are we going to be led by people who totally reject God,” Hice said during the interview. “It’s a frightening thing if we don’t rise up.”

Right Wing Watch uncovered the comments during a review of past statements by Hice, a pastor and former talk radio host who won a runoff election last week in the Republican Party primary.

He will face Democrat Ken Dious in November.

Hice told TBN host Ben Kinchlow that campaign to display the Ten Commandments in government buildings did not violate the First Amendment because they predated Christianity by more than 1,000 years.

“If we are going to remove from our society God’s basic laws — the laws from which our laws have been established and founded, our moral code has been established from – God’s law here,” Hice said. “If we remove that, then the next question is, OK, then whose law are we going to follow? Is it going to be this person over here, is it going to be that party? If we’re going to shove God’s law out of the way, then somewhere, a new set of laws will be introduced.”

There are currently no openly atheist lawmakers serving in Congress.

Watch video from the interview posted online by RWW Blog:

[Image via Facebook]

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Sleeping 8-year-old Detroit boy shot dead in suspected domestic violence incident Wed, 30 Jul 2014 15:32:05 +0000 Scott Kaufman Police in Detroit are saying that an 8-year-old boy who was shot to death while sleeping may have been the unintended victim of domestic violence, WWJ reports.

At approximately 1:15 a.m. on Wednesday, an unidentified person walked up to the townhouse in which Jakari Pearson was sleeping and began shooting. At least three shots were fired through the boy’s bedroom wall and window.

The bullets traveled into the upstairs bedroom where Pearson was sleeping, and one of them struck him in the chest. He was rushed to the hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival.

His mother was also struck by at least one bullet, but her current condition is not known at this time.

According to neighbors, Pearson’s mother had been involved in domestic disputes with a man who was not the boy’s father.

Sgt. Michael Woody told WWJ that police “have a pretty good idea of who it is that we are looking for. Unfortunately, we can’t talk too much about that just yet as we are in the very early stages of this investigation. We hope the community continues to talk to us and feeds us information so we can track this individual down and get him into custody very quickly.”

Watch video on the shooting via Click on Detroit below.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

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Church deacon who blamed Satan for sex abuse may have jail time cut from 20 years to one Wed, 30 Jul 2014 15:22:34 +0000 David Edwards An Idaho church deacon who blamed Satan after he molested a 12-year-old girl in a storage closet has been sentenced to 20 years in prison, but could spend less than a year behind bars.

Alexander Gonzalez Garcia, 57, was arrested last December on charges of lewd conduct with a minor.

According to authorities, the girl said that Garcia had touched her inappropriately while they were in a storage closet at Nampa Seventh-Day Adventist Church, where he was a deacon.

Garcia reportedly told investigators that “Satan was in the storage room with him and the girl.” But he insisted that he had only kissed her and hugged her.

He pleaded guilty in March to sexual abuse of a minor, and was ordered not to have any contact with the girl, and to register as a sex offender.

KTVB reported that Garcia was sentenced to 20 years in prison, with the possibility of parole after five years. However, Judge Bradly S. Ford decided to retain jurisdiction in the case — also known as a “rider” — which means that Garcia could be released by 2015 if he responds well to treatment.

Prosecutors had recommended that the judge retain jurisdiction when Garcia entered his guilty plea.

“Mr. Garcia used his position of trust in the church to take advantage of the victim, and he deserves to be behind bars where he can no longer be a danger to the community,” Prosecutor Bryan Taylor said. “This case should serve as a reminder to every parent that you need to be very careful of who your kids are hanging around with.”

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NRA lobbyist: Anti-gun Jews support policies that could create another Holocaust Wed, 30 Jul 2014 14:50:45 +0000 Travis Gettys A lobbyist for the National Rifle Association compared a Washington state campaign to require criminal background checks for gun show sales to Nazi Germany.

Brian Judy, the NRA’s chief state lobbyist, launched a personal attack last week on Seattle businessman Nick Hanauer, whose family has pledged $500,000 to campaign to close the gun show loophole.

“He has put half-a-million dollars toward this policy, the same policy that led his family getting run out of Germany by the Nazis,” Judy said during a July 23 anti-Initiative 594 meeting.

“It’s like, how stupid can they (be) — you know?” he continued, as the crowd laughed. “Now, he’s funding — he’s put half-a-million dollars toward this policy, the same policy that led to his people getting run out of Germany by the Nazis.”

Hanauer wrote in a recent article advocating a higher minimum wage that his family had been pillow-makers in Germany before fleeing to the United States from the Nazis.

“You know, it’s staggering to me, it’s just, you can’t make this stuff up,” Judy said. “That these people — it’s, like, any Jewish people that I meet who are anti-gun, I think: Are you serious? Do you not remember what happened?”

“And why did that happen?” Judy continued. “Because they registered guns and then they took them. And now you’re supporting gun control — you come to this country and you support gun control. Why did you have to flee to this country in the first place? Hello? Is anybody home there?”

The NRA lobbyist’s comments, which were caught on audio tape and first publicized Monday by the liberal Horse’s Ass blog, sparked calls by Jewish groups and Democratic lawmakers for Judy’s resignation.

“Eight years ago, the Jewish Federation was the target of a violent attack by an individual harboring dangerous falsehoods about Jews — falsehoods that continue to exist on the fringes of our society,” said the Jewish Federation of Seattle in a statement.

“It is deeply offensive for anyone to suggest that Jewish supporters of gun violence prevention have ‘forgotten’ the history of our people,” the statement continued.

The Jewish group described Judy’s comparisons of gun restrictions to Nazi Germany as “ignorant” and “exceedingly dangerous.”

Update: Media Matters has compiled a list of previous instances where NRA representatives compared gun laws to Nazi policies.

Listen to Judy’s comments in this video posted online by David Goldstein:

[Image: Serious Man In A Suit Holding A Rifle Isolated On A White via Shutterstock]

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Family finds ‘sacred’ 300-year-old sunken treasure off Florida’s east coast Wed, 30 Jul 2014 14:47:12 +0000 Reuters By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) – A Florida family scavenging for sunken treasure on a shipwreck has found the missing piece of a 300-year-old gold filigree necklace sacred to Spanish priests, officials said on Tuesday.

Eric Schmitt, a professional salvager, was scavenging with his parents when he found the crumpled, square-shaped ornament on a leisure trip to hunt for artifacts in the wreckage of a convoy of 11 ships that sank in 1715 during a hurricane off central Florida’s east coast.

After the discovery last month, a team of Spanish historians realized the piece fit together with another artifact recovered 25 years ago. It formed an accessory called a pyx, worn on a chain around a high priest’s neck to carry the communion host. The dollar value is uncertain.

“It’s priceless, unique, one of a kind,” said Brent Brisben, operations manager for 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels, which owns rights to the wreckage, located in 15-foot (4.5-meter) deep Atlantic Ocean waters.

Schmitt, who lives near Orlando, last year discovered about $300,000 worth of gold coins and chains from the same wreckage, Brisben said. Schmitt’s parents have hunted for sunken treasure as a hobby for a decade.

By law, the treasure will be placed into the custody of the U.S. District Court in South Florida, Brisben said. The state of Florida may take possession of up to 20 percent of the find. The rest will be split evenly between Brisben’s company and the Schmitt family.

(This story was refiled to add dropped words to the company name in 4th paragraph)

(Editing by Letitia Stein and Sandra Maler)

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In Florida governor’s race, Democrat Charlie Crist woos crucial black vote Wed, 30 Jul 2014 14:44:56 +0000 Reuters By Letitia Stein

TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) – As the leading Democratic candidate for Florida governor, Charlie Crist would be expected to draw overwhelming support from the state’s more than 1.6 million registered black voters.

But rallying them is proving a challenge for the 58-year-old former Republican, who is facing a tight race against incumbent Governor Rick Scott and needs a heavy turnout by minority and liberal voters to deliver a major political prize to the Democrats.

“Charlie Crist has some real work to do to regain trust in the black community,” said Daniel Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “He’s got a mixed track record.”

A lawyer and campaign veteran who became a Democrat nearly two years ago, Crist served as the Republican governor from 2007 to 2011 after beginning his political career as a state senator, where he was dubbed “Chain Gang Charlie” for proposing prisoner roadside work crews.

“I believe in justice, and I think most Floridians do,” Crist told Reuters when asked about the inflammatory nickname. He added, “I also believe in forgiveness.”

The moniker has resurfaced lately in racially charged radio ads and flyers, while some early polls show his support among black voters, who make up more than a quarter of Florida’s Democrats, falling short of what is likely needed to wrestle the state from Republican hands after almost 16 years.

Since switching parties, Crist has changed several political positions: he now supports gay marriage and gun control. He has made high-profile public appearances with party heavyweights such as President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton.

Still, he has struggled to convince some voters, who view him as a political opportunist, that he has their interests at heart. Many black voters, in particular, were turned off in 2010 when Crist jumped into a U.S. Senate race as an independent, after a challenge from the right in a Republican primary, drawing support away from the black Democratic candidate.

“Charlie Crist is a smooth operator, a used car salesman, but he doesn’t mean the African American community any good,” said Leslie Wimes, a black Democratic blogger who founded a women’s business group in south Florida.

A recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University put his support among black voters at 72 percent against Scott, well below the more than 90 percent analysts believe he needs to win.

At about the same time, a poll by SurveyUSA for a Tampa-area TV station showed he may be gaining ground. It put his support among black voters at 92 percent, an abrupt jump of 20 to 30 points from earlier surveys by the group, although pollsters warned it was too early in the race to draw conclusions.

Crist said he will get the votes. His campaign, which appears to be making inroads by reaching out to black church leaders and canvassing neighborhoods, points to several policies he pushed through as a Republican that won praise from black leaders.

In 2008, for instance, when voters were standing in long lines at the polls, Crist extended early voting hours. He also helped restore voting rights for many felons.

Earlier this month, Crist was warmly greeted at a predominantly black church in Tampa during a candidate forum.

In the audience was Iris Metcalf, a 51-year-old secretary who voted for Crist for governor when he ran as a Republican. “Parties evolve and people evolve,” said Metcalf, who still supports Crist.

Crist’s biggest hurdle in securing the key black turnout may be a series of provocative ads by Progressive Choice, a group based in Maryland that says it formed some months ago to advocate for liberal issues such as reproductive choice, equal rights and education.

While the group has criticized Crist’s positions as a Republican on a range of issues, its most vociferous attacks have centered on race.

One of the ads, set against a pulsing hip hop beat, urges black voters to break the chains, a reference to his past support of chain gangs. Another ad blames him for a “lost generation of African Americans.”

As a federally registered, social welfare organization, Progressive Choice does not disclose donors. Crist strategists call it a shadow operation for conservatives, which the group denies.

“The challenge in front of him is owning up,” said Dwight Bullard, a Democratic state senator from a prominent black political family who is supporting Crist’s underdog opponent in an August primary. “To let those ads linger out there unanswered, I think, is really harming the turnout.”

The challenge for Crist is to lure black voters to the polls by addressing issues they care about, such as school discipline and the justice system, political analysts said.

“Democrats are not going to be voting for Rick Scott. The question is whether or not they will turn out to vote,” Smith said.

(Additional reporting by David Adams and Zachary Fagenson in Miami, Susan Cooper Eastman in Jacksonville; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Pope Francis sounds too much like Obama to be honored by Congress, Republican says Wed, 30 Jul 2014 13:59:34 +0000 Scott Kaufman A bipartisan congressional resolution that would honor Pope Francis before his potential appearance in Philadelphia next year may not be acted upon because of Republican worries that the pontiff is perceived as being “too liberal,” The Hill reports.

House Resolution 440 aims to “congratulate Pope Francis on his election and recognize his inspirational statements and actions,” but according to one Republican backer of the legislation, the resolution is dead because Pope Francis is “sounding like Obama. [The pope] talks about equality — he actually used the term ‘trickle-down economics,’ which is politically charged.”

Republicans are upset because of comments the Pope made concerning the free market. Last November, for example, Francis published his Evangelii Gandium, in which he noted that “[a]s long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”

He also specifically attacked President Ronald Reagan’s signature economic policy, “trickle-down theory,” writing that “[s]ome people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

The resolution states that Pope Francis should be honored for, among other things, being the first pontiff from the Americas, as well as “his commitment to economic justice and improving the lives of the poor, and his outreach to individuals from all walks of life have been universally praised and are living examples of Jesus Christ’s message.”

Of the 221 co-sponsors of the legislation, only 19 are Republicans. Democratic Representative John Larson (CT) sent House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) a letter last Friday requesting a vote on the resolution.

“To my knowledge this would be an historic first. I ask that you take a look at a bipartisan resolution introduced by Representative Peter King and myself, acknowledging the first Pope from the Americas … it is my sincere hope that you will consider this resolution for the suspension calendar for a vote,” Larson wrote in the letter obtained by The Hill.

[Image via AFP]

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Bob Beckel spews the word “slut”, accidentally makes the subtext text at Fox News Wed, 30 Jul 2014 13:56:44 +0000 Amanda Marcotte I think Bob Beckel is supposed to be the “liberal” on The Five on Fox News, though their idea of “liberal” on that channel seems to be “someone who thinks perhaps, in some cases, bosses shouldn’t be allowed to hold your children hostage in order to compel you to work late without pay”. Not that it matters much one way or another, but just a little context for this moment that Media Matters captured:

They’re talking about a recent episode of The Bachelorette where one of the male contestants, angry over being rejected for another contestant, complains to her: “If you weren’t in love with me…. I’m just not sure why, why you made love with me.” It’s a really uncomfortable moment, because while we can all relate to feeling low because someone we thought had feelings for us did not, it’s framed to be maximally shaming. I mean, we all know why someone would have sex with someone they don’t love, but there’s still a strong stigma against women ever admitting that they experience lust or a desire for sexual adventures. Those are still, in 2014, supposed to be desires that only men are allowed to admit in public. To drive this home, they even have the guy saying, “That night, that was like fiancee-type of stuff.” Because, in 2014, you can still hurt a woman by implying she got a little wild in bed, or at least did it without getting a ring first.

Anyway, we all know the purpose of Fox News dwelling on this—to get their audience to gripe about girls these days and disingenuously pretend that they never had adventures of their own—but most of the hosts, even Greg Gutfeld, knew well enough that they don’t have to actually come out and say that. (Demonizing female sexuality while maintaining plausible deniability about it is a delicate art, y’all.) But Beckel was apparently afraid that the audience wouldn’t get their point and so made the subtext text.

“She’s a slut!” He added lots of finger pointing to all this for emphasis. “She sleeps with someone else and doesn’t, doesn’t tell,” he sputtered, unsure of how to phrase what he was saying now that he’d opened that door.

Andrea Tantaros actually pushed back. “Excuse me, Bob, you probably sleep with a different woman every night!”

“Yeah, but I’m not some kind of bachelorette,” he continued to sputter, adding, “….bachelor” and continue to sputter around because he clearly wanted to say he’s not a woman, but was beginning to realize that this perhaps was not the road best taken. “This is where is America’s gone to!” he added, finally getting a cogent sentence out. That’s the ticket, Bob! Keep it vague. You don’t need to tell the audience that men get to do whatever they want but women are dirty if they have sex for pleasure instead of just as a bid to get a ring. Your audience is well ahead of you, sir!

Anyway, an interesting moment on Fox News. I wonder if they’re going to have to have a training at the network now on the art of implying that someone is a slut without coming right out and saying it. Keep your eyes on the prize, people, and remember that the official line is you’re against abortion because “life” and against contraception access because “religion” and make sure that judging women for being sexual is all in the eyebrows, because they can’t quote that in the New York Times.

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‘Liberal’ Fox News host slut-shames ‘Bachelorette’ star for not marrying man after sex Wed, 30 Jul 2014 13:54:55 +0000 David Edwards Even the hosts of Fox News were shocked and embarrassed on Tuesday after co-host Bob Beckel labeled a reality TV star a “slut” because she had not agreed to marry a man after having sex with him.

On Tuesday’s episode of The Five, host Andrea Tantaros noted that Bachelorette star Andi Dorfman had slept with one of the men on the show, but had later agreed to marry another contestant.

“She’s a slut!” Beckel exclaimed to moans from the four other co-hosts.

“Are you kidding me right now?” Tantaros asked.

“I’m not kidding you,” Beckel insisted. “When she sleeps with somebody else, and doesn’t tell the guy about it.”

“You probably sleep with a different woman every night,” Tantaros shot back.

“I’m not on some Bachelorette,” Beckel grumbled. “I have never tried to hide any of my own peccadillos.”

The Fox News host was caught up in his own sex scandal in 2002, when he allegedly paid a woman $300 an hour to perform sex act on him, and she later tried to extort him for $50,000.

Watch the video below from Fox News’ The Five, broadcast July 30, 2014.

(h/t: Media Matters, Huffington Post)

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Black Georgia man claims white UPS driver handed him makeshift noose during dispute Wed, 30 Jul 2014 13:30:20 +0000 Travis Gettys A Georgia man claims he was handed a makeshift noose by a UPS driver making a delivery at his workplace.

David Mitchell, who is black, said the driver acted strangely when they first encountered one another about a month ago in a loading dock area.

“He refused to give me the package to deliver, and I said, ‘I work here,’” Mitchell told WSB-TV.

The tension escalated over the past several weeks until the driver, who is white, tied a noose using packing material and handed it to him, Mitchell said.

“I go pick up and this is what he made in front of me and handed to me, signifying a noose — a makeshift noose,” Mitchell said.

UPS declined to release the driver’s name, but the company said in a statement that Mitchell’s claims were under investigation.

“We are taking this very seriously,” UPS said in a statement. “We have met with the customer, and there is nothing more to share since it’s still being investigated.”

The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office assigned a detective to investigate the matter as a possible hate crime.

Mitchell said UPS had reassigned the driver to another route, but he’s not sure they’re taking his claims seriously.

“They said it’s a ‘he-said-she-said,’” Mitchell said. “I don’t go to work with makeshift nooses in my back pocket.”

Watch this video report posted online by WSB-TV:

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Russell Brand rips Fox blowhard Sean Hannity over inflammatory Israel-Gaza coverage Wed, 30 Jul 2014 13:12:57 +0000 Scott Kaufman In Russell Brand’s latest episode of The Trews, the British comedian attacks Sean Hannity for his hypocrisy when it comes to the subject of Israel.

Brand begins, however, on a lighter note, playing a clip from Hannity’s show and saying that the Fox News and syndicated radio host “looks like the Ken Doll from the Toy Story 3 film.” Moreover, “he has his name on a police badge in the corner of the screen, screaming ‘HANNITY!’”

He then continued his running commentary on the clip, in which Hannity asks why “is America’s largest Muslim so-called civil rights group [the Council on American–Islamic Relations or CAIR] showing sympathy to terrorists? Let’s have a debate.”

Brand then noted that Hannity was “already being unreasonable” in how he framed the debate. While most people “want peace,” Hannity “wants conflict — wants to know what things I should say to exacerbate the conflict.”

One of Hannity’s guests, Yousef Munayyer of the Jerusalem Fund & Palestine Center, then suggested to Hannity that peace might be achieved if Israel addressed the occupation of Palestinian territory, at which point the Fox News host insisted the debate be brought back to the 1948 petition plan and the 1973 war.

“Yes, let’s do that Sean,” Brand responded. “Because that’s the broader context. But he’s not going to actually talk about any of those things, because Sean’s not interested in truth — Hannity is only interested pushing a particular perspective.”

He then cuts back to the Hannity clip, in which Hannity does not, in fact, address the broader context, but repeatedly asks what Munayyer would do if people were firing missiles into his neighborhood. Munayyer responds that he’s going to try to answer Hannity’s question if Hannity would stop “asking it at him,” to which Hannity replies, “Good luck.”

Brand laughs at Hannity’s answer, then repeats it, “‘Good luck’! That’s right, good luck, mate answering Sean’s question, because Sean doesn’t want an answer. Sean wants to say more stuff while jabbing his finger aggressively!”

After playing another clip of Hannity shouting his guest down, Brand notes that “another thing Sean does is just use incendiary words. ‘Rockets!’ ‘Kidnapper!’ ‘Murder!’ ‘A little baby duckling kicked in the face!’ These are just things that are bad.”

As the conversation on Hannity’s program continues to deteriorate, Brand remarks that Hannity’s not interested in learning about what would constitute progress in the Middle East, because he took a job at Fox News. Imitating Hannity, Brand yells, “I’m interested in shouting, and pointing, and simplifying things!”

When Hannity tires of yelling the same question his guest has already answered, he switches to his other guest, who like himself is pro-Israel. The guest immediately begins discussing the Palestinians using children as human shields, a fact whose veracity Brand disputes.

“Reports from Gaza say that they’re not using children as human shields,” he say, “those children are dying because there are missiles going off all over the place and Gaza’s only a little tiny area.”

“But even if they were,” Brand continued, “even if everyone was carrying around children literally strapped to wooden boards, using them as shields — they still wouldn’t die if it weren’t for the missiles. The key ingredient in the death of those children is the missile.”

He then returns to the clip at a point in which Munayyer attempts to get a word in. Hannity summarily dismisses him with an angry “Goodbye!” to which Brand responds, “one definition of terrorism is using intimidation to achieve your goals. Who in that situation was behaving like a terrorist?” he asks.

“Sean Hannity — that’s where the terrorism’s coming from.”

Watch the entire episode of Russell Brand’s The Trews below.

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Man rapes 17-year-old at Keith Urban concert as country music fans record on video: MA police Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:48:54 +0000 David Edwards A Boston man was accused of raping a 17-year-old girl he met at a Keith Urban concert over the weekend.

Country music singer Keith Urban’s Boston concert made news earlier this week after at least 46 fans were treated for alcohol-related illnesses, and 50 people were taken in to custody by police.

But on Monday, authorities disclosed that the booze-soaked fun turned violent in at least one case.

According to The Sun Chronicle, Mansfield police determined that 18-year-old Sean Murphy began kissing the 17-year-old girl after meeting her at the concert on Sunday, and then took her away from her friends to another part of the outdoor amphitheater. She said that she went with him because “she was afraid of what would happen” if she didn’t agree.

After removing the girl’s shorts and underwear, Murphy reportedly began having sex with her.

Police said that 15 or more concert-goers gathered around to watch, and even recorded the incident on their cell phones. Some of those photographs and videos had been recovered as evidence.

“My friend told me to look over there and there was a couple on the ground having intercourse. So we looked at it, and we took pictures and we thought it was consensual,” one witness told WFXT.

The attack only allegedly came to an end when a woman asked the victim if the act was consensual.

“Do you want this?” the woman was heard saying.

According to a police report, the girl said, “no,” and then a witness “saw the female break free and run.”

The girl’s friends later brought her to police, and gates to the venue were closed until the suspect was found.

The police report said that Murphy admitted that he had been intoxicated from drinking Jack Daniels, but “stressed that he did not force himself on her.” The report also said that he was overheard telling his parents on the phone that he “messed up.”

Murphy pleaded not guilty to charges of forcible rape at a court hearing on Monday.

In a statement on Tuesday, defense attorney Neil P. Crowley, who is representing Murphy, insisted that his client did not rape the girl.

“This was a consensual act, not a sexual assault. There are no allegations of force or violence put against him,” Crowley said. “This was a private act that regrettably occurred in a public place. Mr. Murphy deeply regrets this incident and I’m sure the young woman does as well.”

Watch the video below from WFXT, broadcast July 30, 2014.

Boston News, Weather, Sports | FOX 25 | MyFoxBoston

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23andMe lands $1.4 million grant from NIH to detect genetic roots for disease Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:33:10 +0000 Reuters WASHINGTON D.C. (Reuters) – Home genetics startup 23andMe has secured a $1.4 million two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to build survey tools and expand its gene database.

With these funds from NIH, an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the company intends to use its stores of genetic data for various research projects. External researchers will be able to access information on thousands of diseases and traits for more than 400,000 people.

The grant “enables researchers from around the world to make genetic discoveries,” Anne Wojcicki, chief executive officer of 23andMe, said in a statement.

23andMe, which is backed by Google Inc , has not always played well with the federal government. Late last year, it hit a major regulatory snag when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expressed concerns about the “public health consequences of inaccurate results” from 23andMe’s $99 DNA test.

The agency took issue with 23andMe’s claim that its service could deliver insights about people’s genetic predispositions toward “254 diseases and conditions.”

23andMe agreed to stop marketing and selling its test. But it has continued to grow its genetic database by offering raw health and ancestral information, such as a person’s ethnic heritage, in exchange for a DNA sample. The company said it has grown to 700,000 customers since 2006.

This grant does not mark a new direction for 23andMe since the FDA’s crackdown, the startup’s spokeswoman Catherine Afarian said, as the company has used its data for research in the past.

However, as it awaits FDA approval, the company appears increasingly focused on how it can use its existing data-set to contribute to medical research, while maintaining patient privacy.

Earlier this week, 23andMe disclosed plans to contribute data to a study on new genetic risks for Parkinson’s disease spearheaded by researchers at the National Institute on Aging. 23andMe was listed among more than 50 worldwide institutions in contributing to the research.

With its fresh funding, 23andMe said it plans to develop web-based surveys to explore new genetic associations, enhance its survey tools to collect a broader data-set, utilize whole-genome sequencing data, and provide researchers with de-identified data from its existing genetic database.

(Reporting by Christina Farr; Editing by Diane Craft)

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Former GOP Virginia governor’s marriage in spotlight at corruption trial Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:31:15 +0000 Reuters By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) – Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife were barely on speaking terms when they accepted $165,000 in gifts and loans from a vitamin company executive, defense attorneys said on Tuesday at the start of the pair’s corruption trial.

Federal prosecutors described Robert and Maureen McDonnell as conspiring to take gifts from Jonnie Williams, the chief executive of Star Scientific Inc, in exchange for promoting his products.

But her defense attorney said Maureen McDonnell simply had a “crush” on Williams.

“At the time of this supposed conspiracy, the McDonnells’ marriage had broken down and they were barely on speaking terms,” defense attorney William Burck said. “(Williams) and Maureen McDonnell had a relationship some would see as inappropriate for people who are not married to each other.”

Robert McDonnell, 60, is a Republican who had been mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate before this scandal flared. He left office in January at the end of his four-year term.

Williams, who no longer works at Star Scientific, showered Maureen McDonnell with gifts, designer clothes, cash and attention, said Burck, who added that Williams frequently met Maureen McDonnell in private at the governor’s mansion.

The McDonnells are on trial in U.S. District Court in Richmond on 14 criminal counts including conspiracy, bribery and fraud for accepting things ranging from a $50,000 loan to a $6,500 Rolex watch in exchange for using their influence to promote the products of Star Scientific, which has since changed its name to Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals.

“Williams wanted the governor to take official action to sell his products and Mr. McDonnell did exactly that,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber in her opening statement.

She charged that the McDonnells actively sought money from Williams as their finances worsened and the value of the beach rental properties the couple had invested in declined in value.

The couple has pleaded not guilty, saying that there is no proof that they agreed to use their power to help Williams. If convicted, they could spend decades in prison and face fines totaling more than $1 million.

Williams, who is scheduled to appear as a witness for the government during the five- to six-week trial, could not be reached for comment.

Prosecutors called their first witnesses on Tuesday, including the couple’s eldest daughter Cailin McDonnell Young.

Young broke into tears during her testimony as prosecutors probed the particulars of who paid for her 2011 wedding at the governor’s mansion, focusing on $15,000 Williams contributed for catering services.

The trial resumes Wednesday with Jerri Fulkerson, Williams’ assistant at Star Scientific, on the witness stand.

(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Eric Beech and Eric Walsh)

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Appeals court ruling saves Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:29:58 +0000 Reuters By Emily Le Coz

JACKSON Miss. (Reuters) – A Mississippi law that would shut down the state’s only abortion clinic, forcing women to go outside the state for the procedure, is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

Upholding a lower court’s preliminary injunction against the law, a three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision that the law would place an undue burden on a woman’s right to seek an abortion.

The law, passed in 2012, required doctors at the state’s sole abortion clinic to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, a standard the clinic could not meet.

Backers of the law argued that it would not stop women from seeking an abortion in a neighboring state, but the judges ruled that Mississippi couldn’t rely on other states to uphold its constitutional duties.

“Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state,” the judges wrote.

The ruling is narrow. If another abortion clinic opened in Mississippi, it would have to attempt to comply with the state law, legal experts said.

Mississippi is among several states to have passed laws mandating that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

Such measures are in place in Kansas, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Texas, whose law was upheld in March by a panel from the same appeals court that issued Tuesday’s ruling.

Similar laws have been blocked and are pending the outcome of court challenges in Alabama and Wisconsin, while the governors of Louisiana and Oklahoma have signed laws of their own set to take effect later this year.

Abortion rights campaigners say the laws impose arbitrary and medically unnecessary requirements targeting providers of the procedure.

Anti-abortion advocates have countered that they are intended to protect women’s health, though some, including Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, have also said they would likely shutter clinics.

The owner of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which as the state’s sole abortion provider since 2002 serves roughly 2,000 women annually, hailed the ruling as a victory, if a provisional one.

“There will be more hoops to jump through,” said clinic owner Diane Derzis. “Right now, we’re just thankful we’re still open.”

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant said in a statement that he was disappointed with the ruling and would seek to have the case heard by the full 5th Circuit.

(Editing by Jonathan Kaminsky, Eric Walsh and Andrew Hay)

[Image via American Life League, Creative Commons-licensed]

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Former POW Bowe Bergdahl to be questioned by Army general Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:25:31 +0000 Reuters By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) – Freed U.S. prisoner-of-war Bowe Bergdahl is expected to submit to questioning next week by the U.S. Army general probing the circumstances that led to the his 2009 capture by the Taliban, Bergdahl’s attorney said on Tuesday.

Bergdahl, an Army sergeant, was introduced to the investigating officer, Major General Kenneth R. Dahl, and is expected to be questioned by him next week in Texas in an informal setting, said the soldier’s lawyer, Eugene Fidell.

“They’ve said hello to one another. It was literally a meeting to introduce themselves to one another,” said Fidell, a military law expert who lectures at Yale University.

Bergdahl was released in May in exchange for five Taliban prisoners who were transferred to Qatar from the Guantanamo Bay U.S. prison in Cuba.

Critics have questioned whether the Obama administration paid too high a price and whether Bergdahl had deserted his combat outpost in Afghanistan before his capture.

Bergdahl, 28, has completed counseling and a reintegration program and been assigned a desk job at a Texas military base as the Army investigates events that led to five years of imprisonment by captors whom Fidell has described as ruthless killers.

Fidell is to advise Bergdahl during the session with the Army general probing the case, and Dahl is expected to have his own legal counsel present as well, he said.

The investigation was to be completed 60 days from the time of Dahl’s appointment on June 16 but an extended deadline may be needed, Fidell said.

“There may be an extension in this case. It’s a complicated matter with a lot of witnesses,” he said.

A senior Army officer has said the purpose of the probe was to determine facts and circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance up to the point of capture.

Dahl’s finding and recommendations will be presented to the director of Army staff, who is not bound by the conclusions and who could issue his own determinations and recommendations.

Fidell said Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, is to remain under the Army’s authority pending the outcome of the inquiry.

“He’s on hold until matters are resolved,” he said.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho, Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Sandra Maler)

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Feds sue Pennsylvania state troopers over alleged sex discrimination Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:23:52 +0000 Reuters (Reuters) – The federal government sued Pennsylvania and its state police force on Tuesday, alleging that physical fitness tests required of prospective state troopers discriminated against women, court documents showed.

The suit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in federal court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said the tests evaluated skills state troopers did not need to perform their jobs and kept dozens of otherwise qualified women from being hired.

The Pennsylvania State Police began mandating the tests for prospective entry-level state troopers in 2003, measuring how well applicants could complete various physical tasks like a 300-metre (330-yard) run and pushups.

Well over 90 percent of men were able to complete the test in the following years, whereas only some 70 percent of women passed, the complaint said. That disparity kept roughly 45 women from being hired as troopers, according to the complaint.

The department is seeking a court order to have the test stopped, and to provide back pay, hiring offers and retroactive seniority for women whom the test discriminated against, the department said in a statement.

“The Department of Justice is deeply committed to eliminating artificial barriers that keep qualified women out of public safety work,” said the acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, Jocelyn Samuels, in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office said state lawyers were reviewing the suit.

The Pennsylvania State Police force is made up of over 4,600 sworn members, with a civilian support staff of over 1,600, according to its website.

In 2012, the Justice Department sued the city of Corpus Christi, Texas, alleging similar sexual discrimination claims against its police force. The city agreed last May to pay $700,000 in back pay to female applicants and to replace its fitness test, the department said.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)

[Image via Penn State, Creative Commons-licensed]

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Most Americans see unaccompanied immigrant kids as refugees Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:19:01 +0000 Reuters (Reuters) – Some 70 percent of Americans think the United States should provide temporary support and housing for unaccompanied Central American minors who illegally cross into the country while their cases undergo review, according to a poll released on Tuesday.

Across political leanings and religious backgrounds, most Americans believe the recent influx of immigrant children should be treated like refugees if authorities think they cannot be returned home safely rather than face immediate deportation, according to the poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The findings come as the United States struggles to cope with a mounting influx of newcomers, mostly from crime-plagued Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The rush of people is overwhelming immigration resources and leading to scattered protests from people angry at the government for housing border crossers in their communities.

Democrats and youth were most compassionate toward the immigrant children, with roughly 80 percent of both groups saying the government should support them until their cases are fully reviewed. Seniors, white Protestants and Republicans were the least welcoming, though all groups showed majority support.

Roughly 80 percent of those polled considered the spiking numbers of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border in recent months a serious problem or crisis, compared to just one in five who thought it was only a minor problem.

Despite broad agreement on the issues surrounding unaccompanied minors, there was a growing view that immigrants hurt the country by taking jobs, housing and healthcare services meant for U.S. citizens.

In the most recent round of polling, 42 percent of respondents considered immigrants a burden, up from 35 percent earlier in the month. And only 49 percent believed that immigrants strengthened the country, down from 55 percent at the start of the month.

“There is evidence that recent events are impacting what Americans think about immigrants generally,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director.

There was still majority support however for legislation that would open a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, with 58 percent of those polled backing such a policy.

The poll surveyed 1,026 adults in the month of July, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in New York; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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ACLU and police union oppose Baltimore’s proposed strict new youth curfew Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:17:43 +0000 Reuters By Ian Simpson

BALTIMORE (Reuters) – City officials in crime-ridden Baltimore on Tuesday defended plans for one of the toughest U.S. youth curfews against criticism from residents who were skeptical about police enforcement of the new law.

In a forum with residents, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the measure, set to take effect on Aug. 8, was aimed at getting children off the streets before they were put in danger.

“This is not about criminalizing young black children but to reach them before the only option for them is law enforcement,” the mayor told the crowd of about 100 people.

Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said he had sometimes come across children riding bicycles across the city at 3 a.m. When the parents were contacted, they had no idea where their children were, he said.

“They should not be out there, and you should be honest about that,” Batts said.

The new curfew in Baltimore, the setting for such gritty television police dramas as “The Wire”, will make it a violation for a youth under 14 to be outside their homes after 9 p.m. year-round. Those aged 14 to 16 would be banned from being outside on school nights after 10 p.m. and on other nights after 11 p.m.

Police could take violators to a curfew center, where they and the parents will have access to social services. Parents would have to take city-approved counseling classes and could face a $500 fine for repeat violations, up from the previous $300.

Children younger than 17 can now stay out until 11 on weeknights and until midnight on weekends.


Many residents at the forum said they opposed the law because police officers were often overly aggressive and failed to investigate crimes.

One man told the mayor: “Youth are a ticking time bomb”. He said parents would put their low-wage jobs at risk if they had to leave to pick up their children at a curfew center.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake replied: “Once you decide to be a parent you are a parent 24 hours a day, and when you have difficulties you cannot cast off your responsibility.”

The forum at the University of Baltimore Law School was sometimes interrupted by shouts from the crowd. When the session ended, members of a leftist group, Fight Imperialism Stand Together, shouted obscenities and chanted: “No new curfew”.

FBI statistics for 2012 show Baltimore, which has about 625,000 people, almost two-thirds of them black, had one of the highest rates of violent crime of any U.S. city, with 218 murders. But there are signs that crime is starting to fall. The mayor’s office said homicides for the year so far totaled 116, down 14 percent from the same period last year.

The American Civil Liberties Union, as well as the Fraternal Order of Police, have argued that the tougher curfew will be ineffective and burdens police officers who are given few guidelines about how to enforce it.

The ACLU of Maryland said in a statement that the curfew was more likely to entangle young people in the criminal justice system.

Baltimore is among many U.S. cities with curfews. The U.S. Conference of Mayors reported in 1997 that 80 percent of 347 cities surveyed had nighttime youth curfews.

A 2011 University of California-Berkeley analysis of FBI data showed arrests of youths affected by curfew restrictions fell 15 percent in the first year and about 10 percent in following years.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney and Miral Fahmy)

[Girl getting arrested via Shutterstock]

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UCLA campus flooded after water main breaks and creates 20-foot-tall geyser Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:13:28 +0000 Reuters By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A major water main ruptured underneath a street near the University of California, Los Angeles on Tuesday, unleashing a 20-foot-tall geyser and millions of gallons of water that flooded part of campus and stranded motorists on nearby streets.

The water gushed across the north end of the campus for several hours, submerging athletic fields and pouring into an underground parking structure, where motorists were caught in water up to their wheel wells, Los Angles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said.

The deluge happened as California suffers through a record drought that has prompted state and local authorities to impose water-use restrictions on residents, such as fines for wasting even a few gallons on excessive lawn-watering.

Humphrey said there were no injuries reported in the flooding but that fire department swift water rescue teams were on scene as a precaution and that crews helped drivers caught in the mud and flowing water.

He said the athletic fields and possibly some classrooms would likely suffer water damage, although it was too early to estimate.

Television images showed students wading through knee-deep water as the geyser continued to pour water onto nearby Sunset Boulevard. Firefighters placed sandbags outside classrooms and helped drivers stuck in water and mud.

Workers were removing inches of standing water from the floor of the UCLA basketball team’s Pauley Pavilion, which in 2012 underwent a multi million-dollar renovation, university spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said.

The pipe was shut off some four hours after the rupture and about eight million to 10 million gallons of water had been lost, the city’s Department of Water and Power (DWP) said.

The break happened around 3:30 p.m. local time. By 6 p.m. the geyser had subsided substantially but water was still pouring from a gaping hole in the asphalt.

No customers were without water and water quality was not compromised, the DWP said.

Sunset, a major thoroughfare through the city’s west side, was shut down in both directions, jamming traffic during the afternoon rush-hour commute.

The more than 90-year-old riveted steel pipe carries an estimated 75,000 gallons per minute, the DWP said.

It said workers had to shut down multiple valves that would stop the water from flowing from the 30-inch main without breaking any nearby pipes. Repairs would continue through Wednesday.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Sandra Maler, Eric Walsh and Paul Tait)

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Contraception-denying Hobby Lobby fired Miss. woman for taking time off to have a baby Wed, 30 Jul 2014 11:56:14 +0000 Travis Gettys A Mississippi woman said she was fired three years ago from her job at Hobby Lobby after applying for medical leave to deliver her baby.

Felicia Allen began working in 2010 as a part-time cashier at the Flowood arts-and-crafts store, which is owned by an evangelical family that recently won a U.S. Supreme Court case allowing them a religious exemption to mandatory birth control coverage for employees under the Affordable Care Act.

Shortly after starting her job, Allen learned she was four months pregnant with her third child.

Because she had not been working for very long, Allen did not qualify for leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, but she said a supervisor initially indicated she could take unpaid time off to have her baby.

But Allen, now 32, said her supervisor told her shortly before her baby was born that she would be terminated for taking time off but could reapply for her job later on.

“I was like, I can’t get fired,” Allen told RH Reality Check. “She can’t terminate me because I have to go have my child. I started asking everybody on the job, ‘Can they do this?’ And even the assistant manager who had just got hired [said,] ‘No, that’s not right.’”

Allen said she tried to come back to work three weeks after her baby was born, but she was turned down.

“They didn’t even want me to come back after having my baby, to provide for it,” she said.

Allen said Hobby Lobby’s corporate office gave a false version of events when she applied for unemployment benefits, claiming she had chosen not to take a personal leave to deliver her child.

She eventually won her claim for unemployment benefits, but she sued Hobby Lobby in 2012 for discrimination.

But her suit was quickly dropped because Allen – like most Hobby Lobby employees – had signed an agreement requiring her to resolve any legal disputes through arbitration, rather than the courts.

A legal expert told RH Reality Check that arbitration is much cheaper and more swiftly resolved than litigation, but the process greatly favors corporations over workers and is less public than a court case.

“I think it’s an interesting confluence here with Hobby Lobby being in the news with that big case, but if that were an employment case where an employee wanted to make a claim, we would never see that case at the Supreme Court because it would be stayed in arbitration,” said Alex Colvin, a professor of conflict resolution at Cornell University.

“So, ironically, Hobby Lobby gets to go to the Supreme Court because they want to challenge this, but their own employees don’t get to go to court,” Colvin said.

Hobby Lobby declined comment on Allen’s claims, and RH Reality Check found no pattern of employee discrimination in existing federal court records on the company.

But Hobby Lobby is unusual in its allowance for Christian-influenced arbitration overseen by either the American Arbitration Association (AAA) or the Institute for Christian Conciliation (ICC).

While the secular AAA is the largest dispute-resolution provider in the U.S., ICC is operated by Peacemaker Ministries – which teaches that Christians may not sue other Christians but must instead resolve disputes within the church.

Allen, who now has four children and works for Xerox, said she was never made aware that any type of arbitration was available to her.

“How can you be Christian and lie about something to hinder your employee or don’t want them to come back after they’ve had their baby?” Allen said. “Or you’re taking up for your manager knowing that they had done the wrong thing. I feel like that’s not being Christian at all. That’s why I don’t even shop there anymore. I used to shop at that store all the time.”

[Image via RH Reality Check]

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Delaware grad student secretly recorded hundreds of women on restroom cameras, cops say Wed, 30 Jul 2014 11:47:14 +0000 Scott Kaufman A graduate student at the University of Delaware was arrested last week after campus police discovered cameras he had hidden in multiple bathrooms on the campus, Fox 5 reported.

Police say 38-year-old Javier Mendiola-Soto hid video cameras the size of cigarette packs in the Hugh Morris Library, Memorial Hall, Willard Hall, the ISE Laboratory, and the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. There were over 1,500 recorded videos of at hundreds of victims on computers confiscated by police, but investigators said there is no evidence that the videos were shared online.

Dates on the videos indicate that Mendiola-Soto had been amassing his collection for at least two years. Investigators do not know how he was able to plant the cameras in the women’s facilities, as none of them are accessible 24 hours a day.

“We don’t know the answer to that,” the executive director of campus and public safety, Skip Homiak, told The News Journal. “The cameras had to physically be removed and downloaded each time he placed them in the bathroom.”

As one student, Steve Cronin, told Fox 5, “it’s kind of sick that someone was just stockpiling all these images and stuff over such a long period of time, but it’s good they finally got him.”

Police have searched all the campus restrooms — men’s and women’s — and have found no other cameras.

Mendiola-Soto has been charged with 21 counts of felony violation of privacy and is being held on $42,000. Even if he beats the charges, Mendiola-Soto will face deportation, as he was summarily expelled by the university after the arrest and is currently in the United States on a student visa.

["Camera lens" on Shutterstock]

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UFC’s Joe Riggs to miss upcoming fight after gun cleaning mishap Wed, 30 Jul 2014 11:07:11 +0000 Travis Gettys UFC welterweight Joe Riggs will miss an upcoming fight after accidentally shooting himself.

Joe Riggs was reportedly cleaning a pistol Monday when the weapon accidentally fired, wounding his hand and upper thigh.

The injuries were not life-threatening, but UFC officials said the 31-year-old Riggs would miss his Sept. 13 UFC Fight Night event against Paolo Thiago in Brazil as a result.

UFC officials said Sean Spencer has “verbally agreed” to replace Riggs, who had recently re-signed with the mixed martial arts association and is on a six-fight win streak.

He has not fought in the UFC since 2006, but has fought for multiple mixed martial arts organizations since then.

Watch an interview with Riggs posted online by Chris T:

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Jon Stewart slams U.S. ‘Oprah’ doctrine in Middle East: ‘Everybody gets some bombs!’ Wed, 30 Jul 2014 10:19:48 +0000 Arturo Garcia Daily Show host Jon Stewart delved into the complications on Tuesday of the United States trying to spread peace through the Middle East in part by selling weapons across the region.

“We’re like the Oprah of Middle East weapons systems,” he said. “You get some bombs! You get some bombs! Everybody gets some bombs!”

Stewart argued that the U.S. has “peaced” countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and several others around the area “to the hilt” with billions of dollars worth of weaponry including missiles and attack helicopters.

“You may be thinking to yourself, ‘Jeez, all this buildup of peace on Earth might set off alarms on Venus,’” Stewart said. “It’s okay, we’ll send them missiles, too, f*ck it, I don’t care. Just not to Mars. Because as we know, they don’t need missiles — they need moms.

But the problem with the U.S. playing “Johnny Missileseed,” Stewart said, was the risk of the weapons falling into unintended hands, as was the case in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s a good thing we flooded our allies with sophisticated weapons, because they’re gonna need them to fend off all our other sophisticated weapons,” he said.

Even more worryingly, he found, Qatar — another one of those beneficiaries — was selling $400 million in arms to Hamas.

“What the f*ck, Qatar?” Stewart said. “We just sold you $11 billion in arms. You better not be re-gifting. Are you re-gifting?”

Watch the entire episode posted online by Hulu:

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ studio apologizes for 9/11 PR gaffe Wed, 30 Jul 2014 08:03:31 +0000 Ben Child, The Guardian Paramount Australia says sorry for mistakenly combining a picture of a burning skyscraper with ‘September 11′, the release date of their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot

The studio behind the latest revival of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has apologised for a publicity poster which combined a picture of the heroes in a half shell hurtling from a burning building with the legend “September 11″.

The gaff was made by Paramount’s Australian office, which had combined a publicity shot for the movie with its local release date. Criticism began to emerge on Twitter after the studio tweeted the image, with executives later delivering a sincere apology.

“We are deeply sorry to have used that artwork for the marketing materials promoting the September 11 opening in Australia,” said Paramount Australia in a statement. “Combining that image and date was a mistake. We intended no offense and have taken immediate action to discontinue its use.”

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ story is traditionally based in New York City, site of the 11 September terror attacks which destroyed the World Trade Center and killed nearly 3,000 people in 2001.

“Wow Paramount you sure messed up with the TMNT poster”, tweeted one Twitter user, while another wrote: “WHO thought that poster would be a good idea considering date?? Or did they just think no one would notice?”

The Twitter storm was first noted by Buzzfeed. Paramount has since deleted the tweet and removed all reference to the offending poster from its Facebook page.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stars Megan Fox as reporter and turtle confidante April O’Neil, with The Dark Knight’s William Fichtner as villain Shredder. The film is due on US cinemas on 8 August and UK multiplexes on 17 October. © Guardian News and Media 2014

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US plans largest ever sale of Hellfire missiles to Iraq Wed, 30 Jul 2014 07:51:51 +0000 Agence France-Presse The United States plans to sell 5,000 Hellfire missiles to Iraq in a $700 million deal, officials said Tuesday, as Washington tries to help Baghdad retake ground captured by Sunni militants.

The US government, which has been reluctant so far to take military action in support of Baghdad, has rushed hundreds of the missiles to Iraq to help the Shiite-led government counter jihadists, who have seized areas north and west of the capital.

The proposed sale is the largest yet of the lethal missiles, which the Iraqis fire from AC-208 Cessna Caravan planes and other aircraft.

The deal calls for 5,000 AGM-114K/N/R Hellfire missiles and related equipment, parts, training and logistical support worth a total of $700 million, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement Tuesday.

“Iraq will use the Hellfire missiles to help improve the Iraq Security Forces’ capability to support current on-going ground operations,” the agency said.

The State Department has approved the deal and US law requires the government to inform members of Congress of a possible weapons sale. Lawmakers are not expected to try to block the sale.

Washington in July alone has delivered 466 Hellfire missiles to Iraq, and has shipped 780 since January, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters.

Another 366 missiles will be delivered in August, he said.

The missiles, manufactured by US defense giant Lockheed Martin Corporation, have been used on American Predator and Reaper drone aircraft to take out suspected Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

President Barack Obama has sent more than 200 US military advisers to Iraq to “assess” the state of the Iraqi army, while leaving open the possibility of US air strikes in the future.

The advisers delivered their initial evaluation earlier this month and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel and top officers are still reviewing their findings, Kirby said.

The Obama administration has signaled reluctance to be drawn into major military action, and has argued that the jihadists exploited a failure by the Shiite-led government to forge cooperation with Sunni and Kurdish leaders.

“There’s not going to be a US military solution here. It’s just not going to happen,” Kirby said.

He also rejected the idea that the administration was “dithering” in its review of the assessment by military advisers.

Kirby said there was a sense of urgency but “whatever recommendations flow from these assessments have got to be the right ones, have got to be sound, and have to be based on logic, and not done in a rush.”

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3,000 acre fire raging in California’s Yosemite National Park Wed, 30 Jul 2014 07:48:32 +0000 Agence France-Presse A wildfire raged in sections of California’s famous Yosemite National Park on Tuesday but the popular tourist destination remained open, officials said.

Park spokeswoman Ashley Mayer said the blaze which started on Saturday had scorched more than 3,000 acres (12 square kilometers) and remained only 19 percent contained.

The fire forced the evacuation of dozens of homes in the towns of Foresta and Old El Portal, and had so far destroyed one property, Mayer said.

One section of woodland within the park was closed due to the fire, while all entrances to Yosemite remained open. Air quality remained good, Mayer added.

Last year a gigantic blaze — the third largest in Californian history — ripped through a swathe of Yosemite, burning 257,314 acres of parkland.

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Theodore Van Kirk, last surviving member of Enola Gay crew, dies at 93 in Georgia Wed, 30 Jul 2014 07:44:43 +0000 Agence France-Presse The lone remaining crewman of the Enola Gay — which dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan near the end of WWII — has died in Georgia, US media reported.

Theodore Van Kirk, also known as “Dutch,” died Monday of natural causes at the Park Springs Retirement Community in Stone Mountain, Georgia, NBC television reported. Van Kirk was 93.

Twenty-four years old at the time, Van Kirk was the navigator on the Enola Gay, a B-29 Superfortress. The plane dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. August 6, 1945, killing 140,000 people.

It was the first time in history that an atomic bomb was used in combat. The second was three days later at Nagasaki, where some 80,000 were killed.

On August 15, Japan surrendered, bringing the war to a close.

A funeral was scheduled for Van Kirk August 5 in his hometown of Northumberland, Pennsylvania. His burial will be private, CBS reported.

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Deadly shelling hits UN school, killing 16, as Hamas mulls truce Wed, 30 Jul 2014 07:40:43 +0000 Agence France-Presse Israeli shells struck a UN school in Gaza early Wednesday, killing 16, as ground troops made a significant push into the territory despite Palestinian efforts to broker a 24-hour truce.

It was the second time in a week that a UN school sheltering hundreds of homeless Palestinians had been hit, with the latest violence pushing the Gaza death toll over 1,260.

The bloodshed came as a top-level Palestinian delegation including Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders was preparing to head to Cairo to discuss a new proposal for a temporary humanitarian ceasefire, a top PLO official said.

But there was no word on whether Israel would respond to the initiative, with the military striking 75 targets in Gaza overnight as ground troops made a “significant advance” inside the narrow coastal enclave, army radio reported.

Violence in Gaza claimed at least 28 lives early Tuesday, with the worst strike taking place at the school in Jabaliya refugee camp in the north where hundreds had been seeking shelter after the army warned them to flee their homes.

So far, UN figures show more than 215,000 people have fled their homes in a territory which is home to 1.7 million Palestinians, leaving one in eight people homeless

Many have taken shelter at schools run by UNRWA, a number of which have been hit by shells in the past week and at least two of which have been used by militants to store rockets.

Emergency services workers at the school were carrying out the grim task of picking body parts off the blood-soaked floor of a bombed-out classroom, an AFP correspondent said.

The outer wall of the complex had also been damaged and a number of dead animals including donkeys could be seen lying on the ground.

A UN official told AFP that Israeli shells had hit the building at around 5:30 am (0230 GMT).

Those sheltering there quickly gathered their belongings and fled.

The army had been pounding the area with tank fire for an hour prior to the incident, the correspondent said.

The UN official gave a death toll of 16, while Gaza’s emergency services spokesman put it at “dozens” after giving an initial count of 20.

The fresh violence came as the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza entered its 23rd day, with a truce proving elusive despite flurries of international efforts to secure an end to hostilities.

- Netanyahu seeks US help -

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had asked for fresh help from Washington in trying to broker a ceasefire.

“Last night we talked, and the prime minister talked to me about an idea and a possibility of a ceasefire,” Kerry said on Tuesday.

Netanyahu had said he “would embrace a ceasefire that permits Israel to protect itself against the tunnels and obviously not be disadvantaged for the great sacrifice they have made thus far.”

At the same time, Palestinian factions were reportedly heading to Cairo on Wednesday to discuss a temporary humanitarian ceasefire.

However there was no immediate comment from Hamas as to whether that trip would go ahead.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) said it had garnered the Islamist movement’s support for a 24-hour truce, but did not say when it was expected to start.

An Israeli 155mm canon fires towards targets in the Gaza Strip from a position along the border betw …

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas had been in touch with exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal on Monday and Tuesday and had “proposed the 24 hour truce,” senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath told AFP on Tuesday.

“Meshaal and Hamas agreed.”

But Hamas said it had not so far agreed to any new truce and was waiting for Israel to show its hand first.

“When we have an Israeli commitment… on a humanitarian truce, we will look into it but we will never declare a truce from our side while the occupation keeps killing our children,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

- Children paying the price -

Among those killed in the early Wednesday shelling and air strikes was a disabled 11-year-old girl in northern Gaza and a 16-year-old girl in Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, medics said.

A strike shortly afterwards in the southern city of Khan Yunis killed nine members of a single family, including one child.

UN figures indicate at least three quarters of the dead were civilians.

Hamas fire, including thousands of rockets launched at Israel, has killed 53 soldiers and three civilians inside the Jewish state.

Rights groups have expressed alarm at the number of children victims.

The more than 240 children who have died represent at least 29 percent of civilian casualties, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said in a statement, adding that another six children in Israel had been wounded from Gaza rocket fire.

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Ireland preparing to lift austerity measures Wed, 30 Jul 2014 07:29:40 +0000 Agence France-Presse Ireland is moving closer to a switch away from deep austerity measures as it prepares for a key budget — the first since the eurozone nation emerged from a massive international bailout.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan is predicting the Irish economy to do better than expected this year, meaning fewer cutbacks to state spending and a reduction in tax rises.

The government had forecast in April that a two-billion-euro ($2.69 billion) adjustment was required in October’s budget, to reach a deficit target of 3.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015.

But Ireland’s strong growth recovery means a smaller package may now be enough.

“We’ll get under 3.0 percent now by making less cutbacks and less tax increases,” Noonan said last week.

“It won’t be two-billion-(euros). It’ll be something less.”

Debt-plagued Ireland became the first of the bailed-out eurozone nations to exit an EU-IMF rescue programme last December — three years after seeking help to keep its economy from collapsing completely.

As part of the rescue deal, Ireland agreed to painful austerity measures including spending cutbacks, state asset sales and tax hikes.

Since 2008, there have been tax increases and spending cuts in seven consecutive budgets amounting to almost 30 billion euros as the government sought to bring outgoings in line with income.

Speculation is growing that Dublin will ease the tax burden for low- and middle-income families, who have borne the brunt of the tax hikes including controversial new property and water taxes.

- Growth recovery -

With tax receipts ahead of target, the number of workers claiming benefits falling and strong economic expansion in the first three months of the year at 2.7 percent, analysts expect the government to revise its growth forecasts.

“Really the big question we’re asking ourselves given the strength of short-term indicators — which are probably the best in Europe at the minute — is whether the economy can grow even quicker than 3.0 percent,” Conall Mac Coille, chief economist at stockbroker Davy, told AFP.

Irish GDP came in at 2.7 percent in the first quarter, while the government has forecast expansion of 2.1 percent for the whole of 2014.

“From our point of view, this budget is a chance for the government to give something back to consumers and put some disposable income back in their pockets,” said Gerard Brady, an economist at business lobby group Ibec.

“It’s not just about the size of the adjustment but how they do it as well. If they do it right it could give a boost to the consumer economy, which we badly need,” he added.

Outside of Ireland however, there are calls for Dublin to stick by its two-billion-euro fiscal adjustment.

Both the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission — which provided the bulk of Ireland’s 85-billion-euro bailout — have called on Dublin to maintain the status-quo.

But with Dublin adamant that a smaller adjustment is needed to meet the deficit target, budget day on October 14 could finally mark an important turning point in a six-year battle to repair the embattled economy.

- Political shake-up -

In the midst of the crisis in 2011, Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s centre-right Fine Gael party swept to power as the senior partner in a coalition with the centre-left Labour.

Despite Ireland exiting the bailout and signs of recovery, both parties suffered heavy losses in May’s local elections — causing the Labour leader and deputy prime minister, Eamon Gilmore, to resign.

That in turn has led Kenny and the new Labour leader, Joan Burton, to reshuffle the cabinet with 18 months until Ireland must hold its next general election.

“Apart from austerity-fatigue, there’s a lot of talk about the economy improving but people aren?t feeling it in their pockets,” concluded Mary Regan, political editor of the Irish Examiner newspaper.

Ahead of elections, “it is recognised that there is a political imperative not to impose as much austerity”, she told AFP.

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‘Slaves’ in the Gulf: Malagasy women lured to Middle East Wed, 30 Jul 2014 07:27:35 +0000 Agence France-Presse Malagasy mother Solange left the island in 2013 eager to work as a domestic servant in Saudi Arabia and earn a better living for her family. Less than a year later she was dead, her body flown home to a husband asking questions about her slave-like work conditions in the Middle East.

“During our last phone call she said ‘I don’t know where I am, nor the address. Soon I won’t be with you anymore, take care of our two children,’ ” Herinirina told AFP while waiting for his wife’s remains to arrive at the Antananarivo airport.

Her death was attributed to a heart attack and “the will of God”, according to Saudi authorities, said Herinirina, who did not want his family name published.

His 34-year-old wife was one of many women from Madagascar who face horrific working conditions while earning a pittance, having travelled to the Middle East through recruitment agencies.

“They treated me like a slave, like a dog. My boss told me: ‘You domestic workers are rubbish to us,’” said 20-year-old Annick, who escaped Kuwait to return home.

“My boss threw Clorox (a household product) and acid in my eyes,” said Zitale Nirina, 39.

“I told his wife that I needed to go to hospital, but she wouldn’t let me and told me to work whether I liked it or not, sick or not,” Nirina told AFP.

“I started work at 6:00 am, had lunch at 3:00 pm and went to bed only at 2:00 am.”

- ‘Human trafficking’ -

The abuse is not limited to women from the Indian Ocean island.

“Madagascar is one example among others in Africa,” said International Labour Organisation (ILO) spokesman Hans von Rohland from Geneva.

“A recent ILO report on Ethiopia showed a lot of trafficking of Ethiopians to the Middle East and Sudan.”

Rights groups also regularly denounce abuse and even torture of impoverished women from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Nepal who work as maids in Gulf countries.

Typically, recruitment agencies enlist women from poorer countries and take a cut of their pay.

The system has been operating for about 15 years in Madagascar, but the government decided last year to block sending its women to “risk countries”.

Out of 52 recruitment agencies AFP contacted, 21 have closed down, but eight still offer work opportunities in blacklisted countries.

One agent who proposes work trips to Lebanon told AFP “the bosses are kind”.

The country’s labour ministry says international trafficking networks are keeping up the practise.

“An agency here in Madagascar is in contact with another one, say, in Saudi Arabia. Then the two divide the profits,” said the ministry’s director-general Samuelson Ramanitriniony.

“It’s human trafficking pure and simple.”

But the problem reaches up to the corridors of power, and people within his own ministry are implicated or even own such recruitment agencies, Ramanitriniony acknowledged.

With nine out of 10 Malagasies living under the poverty line, the trade finds many willing applicants.

Every week, up to 30 maids return to Madagascar, some without any luggage. Many arrive after spending time in prison, because they are arrested after fleeing the homes where they work, according to social workers’ union SPDTS.

The group estimates that at least 35 women have died, though no official figure exists.

A family in the Gulf pays out about $3,400 to hire a maid, though some of these employees receive as little as $200 a month, said SPDTS’s Norotiana Jeannoda.

The ILO believes families save around $8 billion a year by cheating their maids out of their salaries.

“We estimate that the domestic workers who do forced labour get on average 40 percent of the salary owed to them,” said the ILO’s Rohland.

Saudi Arabia last year passed new rules that grant maids one day rest a week and guarantee the payment of their salaries.

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McDonald’s Japan unveils ‘tofu nuggets’ after China meat scandal Wed, 30 Jul 2014 07:23:25 +0000 Agence France-Presse McDonald’s restaurants in Japan are turning to time-honoured Asian soul food — tofu — as the chain scrambles to minimise the damage from an embarrassing tainted meat scandal in China.

The fast-food giant’s more than 3,000 restaurants in Japan on Wednesday started selling “Tofu Shinjo” nuggets modelled on a traditional side dish that meshes tofu, vegetables and fish.

For 249 yen ($2.40), customers can sink their teeth into four pieces of the chicken-free creation.

The rollout comes days after the firm said that its Japanese restaurants had stopped sourcing poultry products from a nugget supplier in Shanghai, in response to a scandal that saw expired meat sold to fast food giants.

On Tuesday, McDonald’s Japan President Sarah Casanova made a televised apology, as she warned the “appalling” incident — and subsequent switch to chicken suppliers in Thailand to plug the gap — would depress company profits.

The disgraced factory and other Chinese distributors had supplied nearly 40 percent of the chicken used for McDonald’s Japanese restaurants.

A company spokeswoman said Wednesday that, despite its fortuitous timing, the tofu offering had been in the works before China’s latest food safety scandal.

“It is a part of wider, limited-time-only offering for the summer featuring a Japanese-style menu,” she said.

At the chain’s restaurants in mainland China, notices posted at every cash register told customers in Chinese and English: “We regret to let you know that currently we will only be able to provide a limited menu at our restaurant.

“At McDonald’s we strictly comply with the applicable laws, regulations and the related standards. Thank you for your understanding.”

In Shanghai, where the factory at the heart of the scandal has been shut down by authorities, the chain?s trademark Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets were unavailable.

“It’s the same situation, only fries and drinks — that sort of food — are available,” an operator from the McDonald’s delivery hotline said, adding: “It’s the same nationwide.”

In Hong Kong, the chain said it has disposed of 43 tonnes of food products produced by the closed factory since Monday.

“The food products were first sealed before they were sent to the city’s landfills under the inspection of the authorities,” said a company spokeswoman.

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Dismantling Germany’s 275,000-tonne nuclear industry, piece by piece Wed, 30 Jul 2014 07:20:31 +0000 Agence France-Presse Eyes fixed on a screen, joystick in hand, the operator of a remote-controlled saw painstakingly dismantles metal rods at one of Germany’s mothballed nuclear reactors.

Time-consuming and costly, the operation to methodically carve up the core of EnBW’s Obrigheim reactor in the country’s southwest is now more than half way through.

In total, 275,000 tonnes of machinery, pipes and other equipment that enabled the power station to operate for 37 years must be stripped down. Of that, almost one percent, or about 2,000 tonnes, is radioactive material.

Even as EnBW sees its days as a nuclear operator come to an end, it now envisions a future as an expert in nuclear scrapping.

Nuclear dismantling can prove to be a “new field of activity,” said company spokesman Ulrich Schroeder, at a time when countries including Switzerland and Italy have also decided to end their reliance on atomic energy.

“We now have a real competence in dismantling, managing and recycling waste,” said Schroeder.

Under Germany’s “Energiewende” or energy transition, a phased exit from nuclear power and embrace of green energy, the entire site is expected to be disassembled by 2025, two decades after it stopped producing nuclear energy.

“Every step is carried out manually, remotely,” site engineer Michael Hillmann told AFP at the control room of the power station nestled in the undulating Neckar valley.

What remains of the reactor is submerged under water in a room that hardly anyone enters, at least not without protective gear and not for more than 10 minutes at a time.

The pieces are mechanically removed to a separate “packaging” room where they are stored in yellow casks designed to safely hold radioactive waste.

- New inhabitants? -

Ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s centre-left government decided early last decade to phase out atomic power. The push was initially reversed by his conservative successor Chancellor Angela Merkel, who then revived it after Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Dismantling the Obrigheim reactor began in 2008 following a long preparatory stage which involved various authorities painstakingly planning and okaying every step of the process down to the last detail.

Each piece that is cut away is carefully recorded while the work is carried out in a stipulated order, with the aim of leaving behind an entirely safe site.

One day the now empty offices, warehouses and even the huge dome that housed the reactor could even interest new inhabitants, said Manfred Moeller, the site’s operative manager.

EnBW, Germany’s third-biggest power supplier, is cutting its teeth with Obrigheim.

Like its competitors, the operator has to gradually shutter all its nuclear power stations and dismantle them following the government’s decision to turn its back on the energy source.

Two of the company’s four other reactors were halted soon after the Japanese accident, while the other two still have several years to run.

Of the total nine still operating in Germany, EnBW’s Neckarwestheim II reactor is set to be the very last to close by 2022.

Germany’s nuclear power operators finance the dismantling through provisions set aside over years.

EnBW has put on the side more than seven billion euros ($9.5 billion), its part in a total 30-billion-euro pot from Germany’s four operators.

The company predicts it will have dismantled all its reactors by the 2040s, but questions remains over where the radioactive waste will be permanently stored.

The issue of where to put the waste has split Germany since the 1980s, which saw large protests near temporary storage sites. The hunt for a permanent waste depot has been relaunched under Merkel. In the meanwhile, the waste is held at temporary sites.

“We must have the possibility to get rid of waste,” said Moeller. “That’s part and parcel of the energy transition.”

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Rats on the rampage at Louvre museum gardens Wed, 30 Jul 2014 07:16:17 +0000 Agence France-Presse Experts estimate that there are two rats for every person in Paris and most of them, it seems, have taken up residence in one of the city’s favourite tourist spots – the Tuileries gardens outside the Louvre museum.

The gardens have become infested by the furry vermin which can often be seen scampering across the grass or along hedgerows in full daylight, just yards from picnicking or sunbathing tourists and locals.

Traore Massamba, who works in maintenance in the Tuileries gardens, says he sees around ten or fifteen rats every day.

“There are a lot of people who come here to have a picnic and they leave their leftovers, so I think it attracts them.”

Rubbish problem

For visitors to the gardens, who come to enjoy the open spaces and picturesque surroundings in one of the few oases of tranquility in the bustling French capital, the sight of the increasingly bold rodents can be a shock.

“Now that we’ve seen one, it disgusts us,” declared 19-year-old student Alexandre, as she enjoyed the gardens with her friend Ken.

Ken, 22, is more sanguine. “We’re not far from the banks of the river. It’s warm. They come for food,” he said, a bowl of rice in one hand.

“As long as they don’t come up to me, it doesn’t bother me,” he added.

Despite efforts by city and Louvre museum officials to keep the gardens clean, mounting rubbish left behind by its many visitors is a serious problem, particularly in the summer months.

“There’s so much rubbish, it’s quite dirty. There are cigarette stubs everywhere and leftover food,” said Ariane Dalle, an artistic director who works nearby and regularly has her lunch in the gardens.

“The problem is that people don’t have respect for the environment,” she said, pointing to the rubbish littering the grass despite numerous nearby bins.

Reynald Baudet, a local pest control specialist, agrees that rubbish, particularly leftover food, is behind the gardens’ rodent problem.

“Rats are not stupid,” he says. “They come to eat what’s left on the lawns or in hidden corners, which is often where the rats are hiding.”

Paris’s resurgent rat population

The Museum tries to combat the rodent problem with regular pest control operations, which are stepped up in the summer months.

“Every two months, the gardens undergo a pest control process and in summer that happens each month,” Louvre spokeswoman Elise Guillou said.

“When the proliferation is at its worst, as it is at the moment, the (pest control) firm is immediately alerted by the museum in order to react as quickly as possible.”

The city authorities carried out their own annual pest control exercise between April 14 and June 13.

But despite their efforts, the rats remain a common sight.

According to Frédéric Devanlay, of pest control firm Avipur, Paris has seen a resurgence in the rat population over the past eight years.

“They are used to people and are coming ever more into contact with humans,” Devanlay said.

In addition to the nuisance they cause, rats also pose a serious threat to human health.

Weil’s disease, which can be fatal, is transmitted through skin contact with rat urine.

And Devanlay warned that they were increasingly developing resistance to the chemicals used in pest control.

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How silk bulletproof vests and Bibles could have rewritten human history Wed, 30 Jul 2014 07:02:52 +0000 Jonathan Jones, The Guardian The silk vest that might have saved Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand is one of many objects – from Holbein miniatures to the Kennedy limousine – that have played key historical roles

It is a tiny bright circle of colour imprisoned under glass. Hans Holbein’s miniature of Anne of Cleves is a miraculous little portrait that, supposedly, changed the course of history.

Another small thing that might have changed the world – if Franz Ferdinand, the archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had remembered to wear it – has just come to light. Britain’s Royal Armouries are conducting experiments on silk bulletproof vests to see if this 19th-century security device might have stopped the bullet that killed him in the summer of 1914. It is said that he owned one, but forgot to wear it on that crucial day.

Hans Holbein’s portrait of Anne of Cleves is a small thing that did change history. It is based on a drawing that Holbein made from the life of this European princess. Henry VIII decided to marry her after seeing the picture, even though they had never met. The rest, as they say, is history. Henry found his new wife repulsive when they did meet, and themarriage was rapidly annulled.

No one seems to have thought of punishing Holbein for “misleading” Henry VIII, so perhaps the influence of his portrait has been exaggerated. For it is a favourite piece of folklore that small things change history. Franz Ferdinand’s silk vest is reminiscent of the Bible that saved uncle Jack when a bullet struck him on D-day, and other such tall tales.

The oldest such stories tell of wars that began for trivial reasons. Just as a portrait of Anne of Cleves deceived Henry VIII, the ancient Greeks believed that one woman’s beauty caused the Trojan war. It was all because the Trojan prince Paris abducted the beautiful Helen that Greek ships sailed in anger and a city burned. Hers was “the face that launched a thousand ships”. In medieval legend, a snake caused a devastating battle by biting a man on the ankle during a truce – the massacre that erupted wiped out the knights of Camelot and killed King Arthur.

These stories often explain how wars start – they make sense of the horror of conflict by reducing it to legend. Yet there may be a wisdom in them. A war that starts over a snake bite is fundamentally absurd. Tales of small things that start big wars imply that war is nonsense.

In the modern world, we fixate on things that embody history; objects associated with momentous events carry a dark fascination. In the Henry Ford Motor Museum, Detroit, you can see the Lincoln limousine in which John F Kennedy was killed. Had the president not got into the car that day, would he still be alive? Or would the bullet have come from somewhere else, on another day? It might have done, if you believe in conspiracy theories.

Bullet holes preserved in the wall of a church in Delft mark the assassination of William of Orange, a fatal moment in Dutch memory. Those bullet holes have, rightly, been left untouched as traces of history. For bullets are the ultimate small things that change the world. The silk vest that might or might not have saved Franz Ferdinand will remain one of history’s hypotheticals. The bullets that killed him and Sophie, duchess of Hohenberg on 28 June 1914 are fact.

The real question is, why did that one event have such immense consequences? The first world war was not “caused” by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife, any more than the face of Helen of Troy is likely to have caused the Trojan war (if it ever happened). It was the complex chain of decisions and foreign-policy stances made by European powers dating back to about 1880 and their reactions in July and August 1914 that led to war. At another moment, the killing of an archduke might have been a random tragedy without global repurcussions.

History is made by big forces, not small things. We like to fixate on the small because it is more consoling. It would be nice to believe that if one rat never got on a ship, the black death would never have happened. But plagues and wars are bigger than the tales we tell to make sense of them. © Guardian News and Media 2014

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10 sexist scenarios that women face at work – and men don’t Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:52:11 +0000 Laura Bates, The Guardian These common scenarios reported to the Everyday Sexism project are painfully familiar to working women

Each of these situations has been reported again and again to the Everyday Sexism Project. For most men, they will be difficult to imagine. For many women, they are painfully familiar.

1 Being mistaken for the secretary

“Although I’ve been a senior figure in client meetings, when all other attendees are men it’s regularly expected that I’m the one to take notes and distribute drinks.”

“I am head of the fundraising department in the charity I work for. Every time I go to a meeting with the man in my department, he is greeted first, his hand is shaken first, and the conversation is directed towards him. Once, I was asked if I was there to take notes even after I had been introduced as the manager.”

2 Being mistaken for the tea lady

“International visitors from company’s head office came for a meeting at which I, the only female in management, had to report. I walked in with my report and they asked for coffee, white with two sugars.”

3 Being called a “good girl”

“Being told I’m a ‘good girl’ when offering ideas to senior management. Have to resist the urge to bark. A raised eyebrow and ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that’ worked with one. The other just repeated it … I did call one of them a good boy once, but not in a meeting. He seemed to get my point but said that they ‘didn’t mean anything by it’.”

4 Being accused of menstruation when voicing a firm opinion

“My colleague had to chase up someone in another department for not meeting a deadline for paperwork to be submitted. When she went to speak with him about it his response was: ‘Is it your time of the month?’ This is in a huge listed company. She’s a lawyer.”

5 Being asked if ‘a man is available instead’

“Working in a law office, I’ve had plenty of people on the phone demand to speak to a man instead of me.”

“People asking if another vicar is available for wedding/funeral: ‘Nothing personal but we’d prefer a man.’”

6 Having an idea ignored only to be repeated by a male colleague five minutes later to interest and applause

“A female friend of mine in an office meeting proposed a logical, simple solution to a recurring issue. Blank stares from the group and a ‘We’ve never done it that way’ from the senior (female) manager. A male colleague then makes the exact same suggestion and the room nods enthusiastically and congratulates him on the idea.”

“I attended a meeting last week where a question was posed. I knew the answer and told everybody: ‘The answer is yes, there is going to be a group assigned to do this.’ The chair of the meeting (a man) ignored my comment completely and said to everyone: ‘I think the answer is probably yes, the board promised to work on this topic so I guess they will assign a committee.’ I shared a look with the only woman in the room, sighed and repeated: ‘Actually yes, I KNOW there is a committee assigned to this task.’ I wished this was the first time that this happened … it is not.”

7 Being asked about childcare plans

“During my interview for my current position I was asked if I planned on having any more children and what my childcare arrangements are. Each time the question was preceded with: ‘I’m probably not supposed to ask this but …’ Too blinking right you’re not supposed to ask it! Would you have asked it if I were a male candidate?”

8 Being considered a ‘maternity risk’

“I had an interview for an office job for a small company when I was in my early 20s. The senior partner who owned the company told me they wouldn’t hire me because I would probably get pregnant and go on maternity leave, and that if I repeated what he’d said he’d deny it.”

9 Being accused of ‘baby brain’

“I was told on my first day back [from maternity leave]: ‘You’ll never be the same for us now you have baby brain.’”

“I recently came back from maternity leave to my overseas posting, to meet the new boss for the first time. In our first meeting, he explained that I would no longer be in charge of the unit I had been setting up for a year due to my ‘special circumstances’… He also stated that while I was nursing it will be difficult for me to focus on my job, so he was being generous by giving me less responsibility, and downgrading my position.”

10 Avoiding wandering hands

“I was 22, just graduated from university and working a three-month trial period at a very small company – just me and the boss (married, with kids my age). One day I was busy with filing, and the boss came up behind me, wrapped his arms around me and stuck his tongue on my ear. I shoved him away and told him not to do that again. Ended up being fired a week later because I wouldn’t have an affair with him.”

If these scenarios sound shocking to the male reader, try running them by some of the women you know – you might be surprised to find how common they are. For many women, this piece will read less like an article and more like a bingo card – how many did you cross off? © Guardian News and Media 2014

[Image credit: business black woman on the top of the building via]

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Oops! Stephen Colbert trolls Sarah Palin, bags Wed, 30 Jul 2014 05:21:49 +0000 Roxanne Cooper Jumping on the bandwagon of those mocking failed vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s widely-reported new TV channel, Stephen Colbert joined the pile-on during Tuesday night’s episode of The Colbert Report.

Following the expected hilarious mockery, Colbert announced that he had secured, which is very close to Palin’s url If you go to Colbert’s new site, there’s just a photo of Sarah with this tag line: “The only Sarah Palin Channel on the internet with a definite article in the address!”

As Crooks & Liars noted earlier, “Looks like someone forgot to secure all of the domain names that could be mistaken for their new site.”

Watch video of Colbert’s announcement below, courtesy of Crooks & Liars:

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Conservatives create Reaganbook Internet playground to occupy bored snarky liberals Wed, 30 Jul 2014 04:49:53 +0000 TBogg UPDATED: Damn librulz done broked teh Internet:

“Thank you to all those who participated in the pre-release of Your participation is helping us build a more secure
site. Thank you! Please be patient while we make the necessary changes
to keep the site free from obscenity, pornography, and those intent on
the destruction of life, liberty, and the family. We will be opening
the doors again soon with additional protections in place. As Reagan
taught us, trust, but verify.


Well done, you guys.


While conservatives have their hands full setting up the 2016 Tea Party/GOP Hunger Games Primary which will anoint the latest in a line of candidates saddled with all the bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, racist baggage they can carry, Democrats and liberals are just chilling this summer, making bank on impeachment chit-chat and secure  in the knowledge that they have Hillary tan, rested, and ready.

How bad is the Republican field? Well, it has progressed from one of those contrarian Slate pitches to the word made flesh, meaning they couldn’t be any more doomed if Bill Kristol predicted a fifty-state electoral vote sweep.

Also, this:

Four potential GOP candidates receive double-digit backing among self-identified Republicans: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. Perry each garner 12 percent, while Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul comes in at 11 percent and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie follows at 10 percent.


The poll finds Clinton would top Christie by 10 points, Paul by 11 points and Bush by 13 points, if the 2016 presidential election were held today. Clinton bests Kasich by 19 points.

…and that is a Fox poll.

So one would think conservatives, faced with herculean task in front of them, wouldn’t have time to extend a hand across the aisle and provide hours of entertainment to liberals by creating a communal space where absolutely anyone can go to share the latest in conservative news  such as places to go if you want to scream at immigrant children, open carry demonstrations, or how to get the gubmint to pay for your Hoveround.

Yes, welcome to the world of ReaganBook, a “Facebook for Patriots,” because the real Facebook is racist against the 1st amendment and unpopular opinions like pictures of the White House lawn strewn with watermelons, pictures of Obama with a bone through his nose, or Michelle Obama as a wookie.

You know: the issues of the day.

Faith2Action President Janet Porter told attendees at the Ohio Liberty Coalition’s “Reload 4 Liberty” event that Facebook has been censoring people like anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera.

Porter lamented that “while tomorrow Facebook employees are gathering to go march at the gay pride parade in San Francisco,” they are censoring people with “unpopular opinions.”

She then described ReaganBook as a social network that tears down walls like President Reagan.

“We’re tearing down walls of tyranny and censorship,” she said.

And anyone can join! Just go to the website and sign up.  All you need is a screen-name – use your real name or maybe your gang name, porn name, or butched-up Latinate conservative blogger name like Tacitus Non Est Disputandum or some-such… have fun with it! — and next thing you know, you’ll be sharing bon mots and tidbits with like-minded people, including  the latest in Obama conspiracy rumors, like Friends of Hamas or how chemtrails are to blame for the increase in homosexuality because, back when Reagan was president, nobody was gay.

Be forewarned though, there is a trick question to get you through the door:

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 7.34.48 AM

If you can answer “what color is the ocean,”  you are not a bot.

Or Reagan in his second term

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SD Comic-Con cosplaying teen hospitalized in bloody attack, man arrested Wed, 30 Jul 2014 02:26:57 +0000 Arturo Garcia Members of the cosplay community from this past weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con scrambled to try to help authorities on Tuesday after reports that a teenage girl was assaulted during the convention.

San Diego Harbor Police confirmed to The Raw Story via email that a 29-year-old man was arrested early Sunday morning in connection with the attack. The unidentified suspect was charged with sexual contact with a minor and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

The victim was identified by her mother online, and various pop culture sites like and others republished her post. The victim, who was reportedly dressed as Roger Rabbit, was last seen with a group of friends on Saturday before allegedly leaving them over a “disagreement.”

“My daughter [Name Redacted] was found on the side of the road covered in blood with no ID unconscious,” the post read. “They are unsure what happened to her.”

Authorities did not comment on the victim’s condition, or where she was found, other than to say she was being treated at a local hospital.

The address corresponding to the suspect’s arrest belongs to the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, a hotel frequented by Comic-Con attendees because of its proximity to the San Diego Convention Center, where the event is held. Hotel officials refused to comment at the time of publication.

[Image by Ben Templesmith via Flickr Creative Commons]

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Pan-African airline suspends flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone amid Ebola concerns Wed, 30 Jul 2014 01:09:42 +0000 Agence France-Presse Monrovia (AFP) – Pan-African airline ASKY suspended all flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone over the worsening Ebola health crisis, as the Liberian football association said it halted all activities in the country.

The LFA decided “to cease operations of football activities considering that football matches are contact sports and Ebola is spread through body contacts with an infected person”, LFA chief Musa Bility said in a statement Tuesday.

Meanwhile the finance ministry in Liberia, where 127 people have died of the disease, said it had placed several senior officials under observation for three weeks after a top ministry official died from the virus.

Patrick Sawyer was on official business in Nigeria last week when he contracted the disease.

“All senior officials coming in direct or indirect contact with Mr Sawyer have been placed on the prescribed 21 days observatory surveillance,” the ministry said in a statement.

In Sierra Leone, a doctor in charge of an Ebola treatment centre became another victim of the virus.

“Dr Omar Khan died at 2:00 pm,” announced the head of the country’s health services, Brima Kargbo.

Khan was admitted last week into an anti-Ebola treatment facility run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) after testing positive for the virus.

Since March, there have been 1,201 cases of Ebola and 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ebola can fell victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in some cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding.

The LFA’s announcement came within hours of a statement by pan-African airline ASKY that it halted all flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The move by the Togo-based carrier follows the death of one of its passengers from the virus after they had travelled from Liberia to Nigeria via the Togolese capital Lome.

The 40-year-old man died in Lagos on Friday in Nigeria’s first confirmed death from Ebola.

“The suspension of flights to Freetown and Monrovia by ASKY is related to the fight against the spread of the Ebola virus,” Afoussath Traore, a spokesman for the company, told AFP.

“ASKY took this precautionary measure to ensure the safety of all: its passengers, staff and people of all countries covered by our network,” said Traore.

ASKY, which works in partnership with Ethiopian Airlines, serves 20 destinations in central and west Africa.

The virus hitchhiking across borders for the first time aboard the pan-African airline could spell new flight restrictions aimed at containing outbreaks, the world aviation agency said.

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Secretary General Raymond Benjamin said, “Until now (the virus) had not impacted commercial aviation, but now we’re affected.”

“We will have to act quickly,” Benjamin said. “We will consult with the WHO (World Health Organization) to see what types of measures should be put in place” to guard against spreading the disease.

No date, however, has been set for an emergency meeting of both WHO and ICAO officials to discuss possible new protocols.

On its website, ASKY also announced that it would stop transporting food from Conakry in Guinea and would screen all passengers travelling from the Guinean capital.

Nigerian carrier Arik also said on Sunday it was halting direct flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The highly contagious and often fatal disease spreads among humans via bodily fluids, including sweat, meaning one can get sick from touching an infected person.

With no vaccine, patients believed to have caught the virus must be isolated to prevent further contagion.

In Canada, local media reported Tuesday that a Canadian doctor had put himself in quarantine as a precaution after spending weeks in West Africa treating patients with the virus alongside an American doctor who is now infected.

Azaria Marthyman of Victoria, British Columbia had worked in Liberia with the Christian relief organisation Samaritan’s Purse.

He has not tested positive, nor shown any symptoms since returning to Canada on Saturday, but one of his American colleagues, doctor Kent Brantly, is being treated for the disease.

“Azaria is symptom-free right now and there is no chance of being contagious with Ebola if you are not exhibiting symptoms,” Melissa Strickland, a spokesperson for Samaritan’s Purse, told broadcaster CTV.

Brantly, 33, became infected with Ebola while working with patients in the Liberian capital as he helped treat victims.

He “is not doing well. He is still in the early stages of the Ebola infection but having some daily struggles”, David McRay, a friend and family medicine doctor in Fort Worth, Texas, told AFP by phone.

“He has requested that I not talk in detail about his symptoms and what he is experiencing, but he is weak and quite ill.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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