The Raw Story Celebrating 10 Years of Independent Journalism Wed, 23 Jul 2014 02:31:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Fusion’s Jorge Ramos: ‘No government should be in the business of deporting children’ Wed, 23 Jul 2014 02:31:13 +0000 Arturo Garcia Fusion anchor Jorge Ramos once again called for the U.S. to reform its immigration law while advocating that the country take in the thousands of young people making their way into the country from Central America in a commentary released by his network on Tuesday.

“Here we are, with thousands and thousands of Central American children arriving alone,” Ramos said. “What do we do? First, we treat children like children, as if they were our own. We protect them and put politics aside. No government should be in the business of deporting children. This is America.”

Ramos’ commentary was filmed near the Rio Grande separating Texas and Mexico. As part of his program on Tuesday, Ramos also swam across the river accompanied by a camera crew and Border Patrol agents to experience the conditions immigrants face when they make the same trek.

“There are very strong undercurrents, a lot of rocks and plants and a muddy bottom,” he told the Daily Beast. “If you try to stand up you might be stuck because it’s so muddy you can’t actually move your legs. It is very, very contaminated. And it’s dark. It’s impossible to look through the water. It took me about 15 minutes.”

On his show, Ramos said that while he was not encouraging further emigration from the “unaccompanied minors,” as the immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have been called, the U.S. could not rely on “mass deportations” to solve every immigration problem.

“First of all, they are not a security problem,” he explained. “And if you send them back, many of them will, no doubt, be separated from their parents, who are already in the United States, and might face death and violence on their return. No, I am not exaggerating. Deporting kids won’t solve anything.”

What would help, he said, would be immigration reform, at which point he once again criticized House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and the Republican Party for “blocking immigration reform in the House.”

Ramos confronted Boehner this past May with the same accusation during the congressman’s weekly press conference, which Boehner denied by saying there was “nobody more interested” in addressing the issue than him.

Watch Ramos’ commentary, as posted on Tuesday, below.

]]> 0
Border Patrol agents hold Iowa Boy Scouts at gunpoint for taking a picture of them Wed, 23 Jul 2014 01:23:36 +0000 Arturo Garcia A Border Patrol agent allegedly held a member of an Iowa Boy Scout troop at gunpoint while another threatened another boy with arrest and a 10-year prison term for taking a picture of him, KCCI-TV reported.

The incident reportedly took place while members of Mid-Iowa Boy Scout Troop 111 and volunteers traveling with them were attempting to drive through the border between Canada into Alaska. Troop leader Jim Fox told KCCI that the group was detained and searched after the scout took the picture. The agent allegedly told Fox that the scout had committed a federal offense.

“The agent immediately confiscated his camera, informed him he would be arrested, fined possibly $10,000 and 10 years in prison,” Fox was quoted as saying.

Fox and his troop complied with the agent’s order, but as another scout was unloading luggage from one of the group’s vans, “He hears a snap of a holster, turns around, and here’s this agent, both hands on a loaded pistol, pointing at the young man’s head.”

The troop was released after being detained for four hours, and made it back to Iowa this past Sunday. reported that federal regulations (PDF) allow for non-commercial photographs of federal facilities “only with written permission of an authorized official of the occupying agency concerned.” But according to the American Civil Liberties Union, federal buildings and police in plain view fall under the definition of “public spaces,” and can therefore be photographed when someone is “lawfully present.”

“There is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs from public places, and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply,” the ACLU wrote in a guide about public photography rights updated earlier this month.

[Image: "Young Boy In A Field Looking Through Binoculars," via Shutterstock]

]]> 0
Obama’s VA nominee promises corporate-style discipline under his watch Wed, 23 Jul 2014 00:13:39 +0000 Reuters By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama’s nominee to fix the Department of Veterans Affairs pledged on Tuesday to bring corporate-style discipline and accountability to the troubled agency plagued by healthcare delays and accusations of mismanagement and fraud.

Bob McDonald, the former chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble Co, the world’s largest manufacturer of household products, told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that he would work to reorganize the VA to deliver care more efficiently to veterans.

In a confirmation hearing brimming with corporate management buzzwords, McDonald said he would immerse himself in the VA’s operations and devise ways to focus each of the department’s 341,000 employees on its core mission of serving veterans.

“In order to retain the trust of the American people, and most importantly, veterans, we must ensure every employee has an action plan in their annual performance review that rolls up to the strategic plan and the mission of the department,” he said.

He also told senators he would give them his cellphone number and encouraged them to use it, adding that as P&G’s CEO, his phone was turned on “24 hours a day.”

McDonald, 61, was nominated to replace Eric Shinseki, who resigned as VA secretary in late May amid a scandal over the coverup of delays in scheduling medical appointments at dozens of VA hospitals and clinics across the country.

In Phoenix, doctors have said that some 40 veterans died as their names languished on secret waiting lists while officials misrepresented wait-time data to meet targets for bonus compensation.

Shinseki, a retired four-star Army general, had said that he had not been made aware of the wait-time problems until the scandal boiled over in the media this year, amid dozens of investigations by the VA inspector general.

Asked how he would avoid the same situation, McDonald said he would get out of the executive suite and visit many of the department’s 1,700 facilities to help improve their communication with the Washington head office.

“You don’t want people in your community lying. You don’t tolerate them lying,” he said.

There was no animosity from senators at the hearing, after which Senator Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, predicted that McDonald would win confirmation in the full Senate by next week. Several senators implored him to use his business experience to change the VA’s culture.

“You are about to take over a bankrupt corporation,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut. “The threat is financial, but the real insolvency is in morality of management.”

McDonald, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1975 and served five years as an Army officer, joined Procter & Gamble in 1980, working his way up the corporate ladder to become CEO in 2009. He retired last year.

He said the VA needed better forecasting of the demand for its services and promised to improve the department’s information technology, including its archaic scheduling system.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Jan Paschal)

[Image: Former Procter & Gamble Chief Executive Bob McDonald, an Army veteran, listens as U.S. President Barack Obama announces McDonald as his nominee to be the next secretary of veterans affairs at the VA in Washington June 30, 2014 file photo. By Kevin Lamarque for Reuters]

]]> 0
Congress is officially less popular than the worst ‘Star Wars’ character ever Tue, 22 Jul 2014 23:52:31 +0000 Arturo Garcia Congress’ approval ratings are low enough that they trail even the least popular character in the Star Wars franchise, the Huffington Post reported.

A survey by online pollster Nate Silver’s site determined that Jar Jar Binks, who appeared in Episode I: The Phantom Menace, was disliked by 37 percent of respondent, compared to 29 percent who said they had a “favorable” view of the character, resulting in a net rating of -8.

But by comparison, a Post analysis of 578 different surveys found that Congress had a -57 net rating, thanks to a 69 percent disapproval rate, with only 12 percent of respondents saying they approved of legislators’ performance.

The character of Binks, who was included in the Star Wars prequel trilogy by creator George Lucas to appeal to the films’ younger viewers, was criticized for allegedly being based around racist stereotypes. FiveThirtyEight noted that he was less popular than not only well-regarded villains like Darth Vader and Boba Fett, but the original film series’ ultimate antagonist, Emperor Palpatine (Ian Holm).

The FiveThirtyEight poll also found that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) edged Han Solo (Harrison Ford) as the most well-received character by the slimmest of margins. Skywalker garnered a 93 percent “favorable” rating, compared to 92 percent for Solo.

[Image via Wikipedia Commons]

]]> 0
Maine Gov. LePage complains: Housing eight immigrant kids is a ‘huge burden’ Tue, 22 Jul 2014 22:43:34 +0000 Reuters BOSTON (Reuters) – Maine Governor Paul LePage blasted the White House on Tuesday for placing in his state eight children who tried to cross the border illegally.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has been struggling to find shelter for the wave of unaccompanied child immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras that have been arriving at the Mexican border, which is expected to reach 90,000 people by September.

“It is wrong for the federal government to force a higher burden on the people of Maine to pay for those who come to our country illegally,” the Republican governor said in a statement. “We cannot become a state that encourages illegal immigration. We simply cannot afford it.”

LePage, known for his combative tone and strained relations with state Democrats, said he had not been informed of the plan to house the children ahead of time. He joins a wave of Republican governors pushing back against the Democratic president on immigration. On Monday, Texas Governor Rick Perry said he would send 1,000 National Guard troops to the border to boost security.

Some Democratic governors, notably Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, have offered to host children at facilities in their states.

(Reporting by Scott Malone)

]]> 0
Chrysler to recall up to 792,300 SUVs for ignition problem that plagued GM Tue, 22 Jul 2014 22:36:19 +0000 Agence France-Presse Washington (AFP) – Chrysler on Tuesday said it would recall up to 792,300 sport utility vehicles to fix an ignition-switch problem, the same part involved in the massive General Motors recall.

The automaker, a subsidiary of Italy-based Fiat Chrysler, said it was issuing the recall “out of an abundance of caution.”

Chrysler took the move because ignition keys can be moved unintentionally from the “on” position, causing engine stall, reducing braking power and potentially disabling frontal airbags.

Chrysler said the switch may be shifted by an “outside” force, often the driver’s knee.

Chrysler said it “is unaware of any related injuries” and knew of a single reported accident and a relatively small number of complaints covering 0.015 percent of the vehicles subject to the recall.

The recall affects certain models of the 2006-2007 Jeep Commander and 2005-2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs.

Chrylser urged owners of these vehicles to “assure that there is clearance between their knees and the keys.” The company also suggested drivers remove all items from their key rings, leaving only their ignition key.

The recall follows a June disclosure by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it was investigating the air bag systems on these models following complaints of stalling.

“The investigations involve issues of inadvertent ignition key rotation from the run position to the accessory position,” the NHTSA said on June 18.

The NHTSA said it was not aware of any incidents involving airbag non-deployment.

GM has publicly acknowledged 13 deaths in 54 accidents linked to its ignition-switch defect in several models no longer being manufactured. The company has recalled 2.6 million cars since February for the faulty switch.

The problem means the ignition switch can be jolted into “accessory” or “off” position while the car is running, cutting off engine power and disabling the airbag in a collision.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

]]> 0
Minutemen militia plans ‘Operation Normandy’ with 3,500 volunteers on the border next year Tue, 22 Jul 2014 22:18:20 +0000 Arturo Garcia Jim Gilchrist, one of the founders of the Minutemen Project militia group announced plans to recruit at least 3,500 “non-member volunteers” to take part in a May 1, 2015 anti-immigration effort along the U.S.-Mexico border, the Southern Poverty Legal Center (SPLC) reported.

Gilchrist said on the group’s website that “Operation Normandy,” as he called it, needed that many volunteers to successfully cover the “porous areas” between San Diego, California and Brownsville, Texas.

“If you are familiar with the Normandy invasion of France in 1944, then you have an idea how large and logistically complicated this event will be,” Gilchrist said. “However, there is one difference. We are not going to the border to invade anyone. We are going there to stop an invasion.”

The use of the word “invasion” echoes a recent conservative talking point depicting the thousands of immigrants, most of them children, coming to the U.S. from Central American countries. Gilchrist’s post also said that the only rule for participating is, “Whatever you do, stay within the rule of law.”

“You do not put a hand on anyone, you do not talk to anyone, you do not confront anyone,” he told KPHO-TV earlier this month. “You report to Border Patrol.”

Gilchrist also said the volunteers will not be recognized as Minutemen members, but rather as “individual citizens.”

The SPLC noted that, though the group gained momentum in conservative circles after launching in 2005, it came undone due to leadership squabbles and criminal charges against two of Gilchrist’s associates, co-founder Chris Simcox and one of the group’s top figures, Shawna Forde.

Forde was convicted of first-degree murder in 2011 and sentenced to death for killing Raul Flores and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia, at their Arizona home. Prosecutors said Forde orchestrated the invasion of Flores’ home to rob him of drug-related money she believed he had in order to fund her group, Minutemen American Defense. The state Supreme Court rejected her appeal of the sentence this past January.

For his part, Simcox is scheduled to go to trial in September on charges of molesting three girls under the age of 10.

Watch a report on “Operation Normandy,” as posted by the SPLC on Monday, below.

[Image via Minuteman Project News Facebook page]

]]> 0
Oregon initiative legalizing recreational pot use qualifies for November ballot Tue, 22 Jul 2014 21:34:27 +0000 Reuters By Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) – An initiative seeking to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana in Oregon has qualified for the November ballot, the state said on its website on Tuesday.

Only two U.S. states, Washington and Colorado, currently allow recreational marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law. Oregon’s proposal will come before voters just two years after they rejected a similar measure.

“This is a moment we’ve been waiting for, that we’ve worked months to get to,” said Peter Zuckerman, spokesman for the campaign in favor of the Oregon initiative. Since 2012, when voters turned down a similar measure, public support has grown for legalized marijuana in the Pacific Northwest state, he said.

If passed in November, Oregon would be the latest in a string of U.S. states to liberalize marijuana laws, either for recreational or medical use. On Sunday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill allowing children and adults with epilepsy to use marijuana to treat their seizures. Twenty-two U.S. states have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana.

Voters in Alaska also will decide on a recreational marijuana initiative in November, and a similar measure is being vetted by election officials in Washington, D.C.

Proponents of the Oregon initiative submitted 88,584 valid signatures from voters in favor of placing it on the ballot, the elections division of the Oregon secretary of state’s office said in an update on Tuesday, more than the 87,213 required to qualify.

“Every signature represents an Oregonian who believes it’s time for a new approach to marijuana,” Zuckerman said. “We’ve been trying the black market approach for 40 years and it’s not working.”

Kevin Sabet, co-founder of the national anti-marijuana group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said recent sales of now-legal marijuana products, including baked goods, has led to “disastrous” public health problems in Colorado, where there have been a number of reports of children ingesting cannabis-laced sweets.

If the measure passes, money-fueled big marijuana businesses would bring the same problems to Oregon, he said.

“Despite already having the most lax marijuana laws next to Colorado and Washington, big money, special interests from D.C. are now descending onto Oregon in order to create the next Big Tobacco of our time,” Sabet said.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif.; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Peter Cooney and Eric Beech)

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

]]> 0
Protesters converge on Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s fundraiser with private prison CEO Tue, 22 Jul 2014 21:17:19 +0000 Arturo Garcia Members of several civil rights groups held a last-minute demonstration against Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) outside the $10,000-a-plate fundraiser that was mocked by comedian John Oliver earlier this week, New Times Broward Palm Beach reported.

Scott’s appearance at the Boca Raton home of GEO Group CEO George Zoley was reportedly protested met by members of Florida For All, immigration rights group Dreamers Moms and the Dream Defenders.

“I think that Zoley is the CEO of a prison that is seemingly getting away with egregious practices speaks to people’s sense of right and wrong,” Florida For All spokesperson Ana Tinsly told New Times. “I think people are very upset to find that Rick Scott has such a cordial relationship with this CEO.”

According to WPLG-TV, the dinner at Zoley’s home was arranged after a Mother Jones report revealing that the original host, real estate mogul James Batmasian, was convicted of tax evasion in 2008. Batmasian, who spent eight months in federal prison and completed a two-year supervised release program, also had his legal license suspended in Florida.

The fundraiser was also thrust into the national spotlight this past Sunday, when Oliver specifically mentioned the GEO Group’s practices during a commentary on Last Week Tonight.

For example, he said, the staffing was so low at one facility in Mississippi that there were moments when only two guards were on duty to supervise as many as 256 prisoners, prompting a federal judge to observe that “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts” had been allowed to take place there.

“I know that GEO will say that presents an unbalanced picture of their company,” Oliver observed at the time. “So in the interest of balance, I would point out that they got an award from the state of Florida citing their bold and innovative cost-saving practices. Although I think we all know, when the state of Florida gives you an award, that award is basically sarcastic.

New Times reported that Scott evaded a question about Zoley’s business practices in a public appearance earlier in the day on Tuesday.

“He supports me because he believes in what we’re doing,” Scott told a member of the progressive super PAC American Bridge to the 21st Century. “He likes jobs creation; he likes the fact that I believe in the American dream. The fact that people like me can live the American dream, get a great education and a great job, build companies, and become governor of a great state.”

Watch Scott’s remarks, as posted online on Tuesday, below.

]]> 0
Ted Cruz bares fangs at ‘misogynist’ True Blood episode mocking him Tue, 22 Jul 2014 20:07:19 +0000 Eric W. Dolan Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Tuesday attacked the HBO vampire series True Blood — calling it “misogynist and profanity-ridden” — after the show featured him on Sunday’s episode.

“Of all the places I never thought to be mentioned, HBO’s True Blood vampire show would have to be near the top of the list. Sunday night, they aired a misogynist and profanity-ridden episode where Texas Republicans are murdered attending a ‘Ted Cruz fundraiser,’” he wrote on his Facebook page.

“Well, I’m sorry to have lost the vampire vote, but am astonished (and amused) that HBO is suggesting that hard-core leftists are blood-sucking fiends,” the Texas Republican said.

In the episode, characters Eric Northman and Pam De Beaufort dress up in stereotypical Texan Republican trappings to infiltrate a Cruz fundraising event in Dallas. “Oh my God. I’m a Republic*nt,” Pam remarks after seeing herself in the mirror.

Once she arrives at the gala, Pam adds: “Of all the horrible things I’ve seen over the last 100 years, this could be the most disturbing.”

On Twitter, Cruz used the slight to joke about Democrats committing voter fraud.

“Then again, I guess I never had a chance w/ the vampire vote since the dead tend to vote overwhelmingly for Dems,” he tweeted.

Watch video, via Crooks and Liars, below.

]]> 0
U.S. to release intelligence data on downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:56:24 +0000 Agence France-Presse US intelligence officials were expected to present data Tuesday backing up the theory that pro-Russian rebels were responsible for the downing of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was blown out of the sky Thursday by what is believed to have been a surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board.

“There has been a lot of evidence that’s already been presented that paints a pretty compelling picture,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

“I do expect that you’ll hear from intel officials later today who will have some more data to present and some more evidence to indicate — I guess some more evidence to educate you about what we know so far about that situation.”

Earnest did not go into more detail about what was to be released.

The United States has alleged that the plane was shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile system from an area in eastern Ukraine controlled by the Moscow-backed separatists.

“The Ukrainian military was not operating anti-aircraft weapons in that area at that time,” Earnest reiterated.

On Monday, Obama voiced outrage that the probe into the downing of the airliner was being hampered by Ukrainian rebels and demanded that Russian leader Vladimir Putin force them to cooperate, saying Moscow had “direct influence over these separatists.”

Putin, who has borne the brunt of international fury, pledged Tuesday to “do everything” to influence the separatists and ensure a full probe into the crash.

Moscow had earlier slapped down accusations that it had supplied the alleged missile system, with a senior defense official intimating that Kiev may have been responsible for its downing.

]]> 0
Palestinians plead for UN action to stop Gaza violence Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:54:56 +0000 Agence France-Presse The Palestinian envoy to the United Nations held up photographs of slain children and read out the names of the dead on Tuesday as he pleaded for action from the Security Council.

“On behalf of the Palestinian people, we ask: What is the international community doing to stop this bloodletting, to stop Israel’s atrocities?” Riyad Mansour said at a debate on the Gaza crisis.

Wearing a black ribbon, he held up photographs of families overcome with grief and of children’s corpses, and read out the names of young victims who lost their lives. “Umama Al-Hayyeh, age 9; Dima Isleem, age 2; Mohamad Ayyad, age 2; Rahaf Abu Jumaa, age 4…”.

The Security Council opened debate on the Gaza crisis as Israel kept up its barrage of shells and air strikes and Hamas militants hit back with rockets, pushing the Palestinian death toll to more than 600 in a conflict now in its third week.

Israel’s deputy envoy asserted that his country was acting in self-defence against Hamas, which it accused of using Palestinian casualties as “fuel for a propaganda machine.”

“This is not a war we chose. It was our last resort,” said David Roet, who added that Israel had accepted ceasefire offers, unlike Hamas which has rejected a truce.

In Ramallah for talks with Palestinian leaders, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Council by videolink that his efforts to secure a ceasefire had reached a “highly sensitive moment” and voiced hope for results “in the very near future.”

During an emergency session on Sunday, the UN Security Council called for an immediate ceasefire in a statement that also demanded that civilians be protected.

But the 15-member Council has not taken the stronger step of adopting a formal resolution, despite efforts by Jordan and other Arab countries to win support for such a measure.

World leaders have expressed alarm over the rising death toll, with US Secretary of State John Kerry holding talks in Cairo to shore up Egypt’s efforts to broker a truce.

More than 100,000 Palestinians have fled their homes and are sheltering in schools run by the UN relief agency UNRWA.

]]> 0
China insists it loves peace as army shows off robots that dance to Shakira Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:54:18 +0000 Agence France-Presse To the sound of Shakira’s Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) robots demonstrated their dance steps, screaming recruits drilled with bayonets and tanks rolled as China’s military offered a rare moment of openness Tuesday.

The exposition, held at the Armoured Forces Engineering Academy in Beijing, was touted by senior People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officials as an opportunity to burnish civilian-military and international ties ahead of Army Day, the August 1 commemoration of the Communist-led army’s founding.

“The most important thing is that we have mutual understanding,” Liu Degang, the academy’s vice president, told AFP. “We undergo training just like every other country in the world. We also love peace.”

A promotional guide for the event, described as the first of its kind at the academy that foreign media had been allowed to attend, noted that “cadets, instructors and commanders would like to be interviewed”.

Young soldiers chatted with reporters while showing off technological projects including drones and small Transformer-like robots in bright primary colours.

The dancing machines’ military purpose was not explained, but the opening lyrics of the Colombian singer’s 2010 World Cup anthem used as their backing track run: “You’re a good soldier/Choosing your battles/Pick yourself up and dust yourself off/And back in the saddle.

“You’re on the front line/Everyone’s watching/You know it’s serious, we’re getting closer/This isn’t over.”

Hanging over the event’s convivial atmosphere were questions about China’s ballooning military spending, its tense relations with rival Japan and a much-publicised anti-graft campaign that has swept up one of the Chinese army’s most powerful officials.

A fearsome procession of 10 rolling tanks — intended to showcase the PLA’s military prowess — also held echoes of the most memorable image from the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, a subject about which any public discussion has long been banned by the ruling Communist Party.

- No ‘enemy’ in mind -

China, home to the world’s largest military, far outnumbers its Asian neighbours in manpower, ships, aircraft and defence spending.

Its official military budget — which in recent years has seen regular double-digit rises — last year came to $119.5 billion, far short of the US’s $495.5 billion but nonetheless sparking concern in the region.

China and Japan have long been at odds over what Beijing sees as Tokyo’s failure to atone for its military atrocities before and during World War II.

In recent weeks, China has been releasing daily “confessions” by Japanese war criminals convicted in the 1950s, while state-run media have intensified criticism of Tokyo.

At the same time, tensions are mounting between the two over disputed islands in the East China Sea, as well as between Beijing and Hanoi, Manila and others over territorial claims in the South China Sea, raising fears of clashes.

Much of the recent military focus has been on the navy, with China’s first aircraft carrier going into service in 2012 but the academy’s commandant Major-General Xu Han denied that tanks and other ground vehicles are becoming obsolete as combat increasingly moves to the skies and seas.

“In mechanised warfare or informationised warfare, the army and ground operations are an important and decisive component,” he said.

He described last month’s ouster for graft of powerful retired general Xu Caihou, the former vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission as “an individual case about corruption which does not represent the overall image of the PLA”.

“This is a problem which has existed since ancient times in all countries,” he said.

The anti-graft campaign under Chinese President Xi Jinping has been heavily publicised, but critics say no systemic reforms have been introduced to increase transparency to help battle endemic corruption.

The academy is close to the Marco Polo Bridge on the outskirts of Beijing, where a skirmish between Chinese and Japanese troops on July 7, 1937 served as a pretext for Tokyo’s forces to seize Beijing and launch a full-scale invasion of China.

At an opening briefing for Chinese and foreign reporters, Xu was asked to explain the rationale behind China’s military buildup and whether Beijing had a particular “enemy” in mind.

“It is not necessary to pick an enemy or an opponent in combat while developing one’s military,” he replied. “I think for the PLA’s development, it is in coordination and consistent with the overall development of China.”

A video highlighted the work and education of the academy’s cadets, to a soundtrack of invigorating music.

Their work, it declared, is aimed at “ensuring the happiness of the Chinese people and maintaining the peace of the world”.

]]> 0
Christian host: Bible says no trans people in church so they shouldn’t use bathrooms either Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:45:32 +0000 David Edwards A Christian talk show host argued this week that transgender people should not be allowed to use public restrooms because he said that the Bible barred anyone who had a sex change operation from entering a church.

On the Monday edition of his Pray In Jesus Name Internet broadcast, disgraced former Navy chaplain Dr. “Chaps” Gordon Klingenschmitt expressed outrage that a transgender woman had sued Hobby Lobby after she had not been allowed to use the women’s restroom.

Klingenschmitt asserted that it was “untrue” that a person could change their gender through surgery.

“Even after the man is castrated, he’s still a man,” the host opined. “And that not only should ban him from access to the ladies bathroom — whether or not he has the surgery, he still has XY chromosomes, he’s still a man, he’s just lying about it on his birth certificate.”

“So, should you let men who lie violate the privacy of women?” Klingenschmitt asked. “I don’t think so. And not only that, it prohibits him from worship.”

As evidence, the former Navy Chaplain pointed to Deuteronomy 23: “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord.”

“And if they can’t enter the congregation of the Lord, they certainly shouldn’t be allowed to enter the ladies bathroom,” he insisted.

Watch the video below from Pray In Jesus Name, broadcast July 21, 2014.

(h/t: Right Wing Watch)

]]> 0
Worldwide female genital mutilation ban sought at UN-backed ‘Girl Summit’ Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:35:03 +0000 Agence France-Presse British Prime Minister David Cameron called on Tuesday for a worldwide ban on female genital mutilation and child marriage as he launched the first UN-backed “Girl Summit” on issues that affect millions around the globe.

Cameron announced that parents in Britain would face prosecution for failing to prevent their daughters from being subjected to FGM, while setting out steps to tackle both practices in developing nations.

“Our aim is to outlaw FGM and child marriage everywhere for everyone,” Cameron told the summit in London, to applause from an audience of experts and campaigners from around the world.

FGM, which affects tens of millions of women, particularly in the Horn of Africa, ranges from removal of the clitoris to the mutilation and removal of other female genitalia.

It can leave girls at risk of prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death.

Cameron acknowledged that ending FGM and child marriage was no easy task, saying they ranked alongside the global health threats of polio and tuberculosis in terms of the commitment needed to tackle them.

But he argued: “All girls have the right to live free from violence and coercion, without being forced into marriage or the lifelong physical and psychological effects of female genital mutilation.

“Abhorrent practices like these, no matter how deeply rooted in societies, violate the rights of girls and women across the world, including here in the UK.

“I want to build a better future for all our girls and I am hosting the Girl Summit today so that we say with one voice — let’s end these practices once and for all.”

The summit, which is co-hosted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), will produce an “international charter” calling for the eradication of FGM and child marriage within a generation.

The summit will also launch new programmes to prevent child and forced marriage in 12 developing nations.

Speakers at the event included Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who recovered from being shot in the head by the Taliban and is now a campaigner for girls’ education.

“We should have the right to change traditions and we should make the changes. We ask that there be no more FGM or child marriage,” Malala told the summit.

“We should not be followers of traditions that go against human rights… we are human beings and we make traditions.”

- ‘Accelerate our efforts’ -

UNICEF warned in a new report that while the rate of FGM and child marriage has fallen over the past three decades, population increase in developing nations alone could reverse this trend if “intensive action” is not introduced.

More than 130 million girls and women have experienced some form of FGM in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is most common, it said.

More than 700 million women worldwide were married as children, UNICEF added.

“The numbers tell us we must accelerate our efforts,” said UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake.

“FGM and child marriage profoundly and permanently harm girls, denying them their right to make their own decisions and to reach their full potential.”

British International Development Secretary Justine Greening announced that the government would contribute £25 million ($42 million, 31 million euros) towards a UN joint programme to end child marriage, which will reach six million girls.

At home, Cameron confirmed that Britain would introduce legislation under which doctors and teachers would be required by law to report FGM, while parents who allow their daughters to be cut will be prosecuted.

British lawmakers earlier this month said the prevalence of FGM in the country was a “national scandal”, warning that up to 170,000 women may have had the procedure and another 65,000 young girls were at risk.

A damning report from the House of Commons home affairs committee condemned the failure of the government, police, health and education authorities over many years to address what it said was an “extreme form of child abuse”.

]]> 0
Two of Europe’s largest banks cost the U.S. billions with tax avoidance scheme Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:33:16 +0000 Agence France-Presse Two of Europe’s largest banks, Barclays and Deutsche Bank, have sold complex financial products that allowed hedge funds to avoid US taxes, a Senate report said Tuesday.

The scheme has cost the federal government billions of dollars in tax revenues, according to the report by the Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The committee said an investigation revealed how British bank Barclays and Germany’s Deutsche Bank developed two types of so-called “basket options” — instruments indexed on market values, such as stocks and commodities — to help the hedge funds skirt US taxes.

From 1998 to 2013, Barclays and Deutsche Bank sold 199 basket options to more than a dozen hedge funds, which used them to conduct more than $100 billion in trades.

The banks and the hedge funds used the basket options to open proprietary trading accounts in the names of the banks, making it look like the banks owned the account assets.

However, the hedge funds exercised total control over the assets, executed all the trades, and reaped all the trading profits, the report said.

“The ‘option’ functioned as little more than a fictional derivative, permitting the hedge fund to cast short-term capital gains as long-term gains and authorizing financing at levels otherwise legally barred for a customer’s US brokerage account.”

The banks offering the “options” benefited from the financing, trading, and other fees charged to the hedge funds initiating the trades.

The Democratic chairman of the subcommittee, Carl Levin, said the investigation focused on two important issues: “tax avoidance by profitable companies and wealthy individuals, and reckless behavior that threatens the stability of the financial system.”

The Internal Revenue Service publicly identified in 2010 that type of option product was “abusive” yet the IRS has not collected taxes on many of the basket option transactions, the report said.

“These banks and hedge funds used dubious structured financial products in a giant game of ‘let’s pretend,’ costing the Treasury billions and bypassing safeguards that protect the economy from excessive bank lending for stock speculation,” Levin said.

“Americans are tired of large financial institutions playing by a different set of rules when it comes to paying taxes,” said John McCain, the ranking Republican member of the committee.

]]> 0
US missionary accused of sex abuse in Kenya blames ‘pseudo-tribal psychological voodoo’ Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:24:40 +0000 Travis Gettys A 19-year-old Oklahoma man accused of sexually abusing children while volunteering in Kenya is blaming his actions on “pseudo-tribal psychological voodoo.”

Matthew Durham was charged Friday in federal court with four counts of traveling to engage in illicit sexual conduct, reported The Oklahoman.

The Edmond man was accused of sexually abusing up to 10 children of both sexes, between the ages of 4 and 9 years old, while volunteering this spring at Upendo Children’s Home in Nairobi.

At least one of the victims is HIV-positive, authorities said.

Durham had previously volunteered three times at the children’s home, which was founded by a couple from Edmonds and provides neglected kids with housing, clothing, education and religious instruction.

He was accused of committing the sex acts on his fourth trip, from April 30 to June 17, when he asked to stay overnight at the children’s home.

A live-in caretaker became concerned about Durham when she found him lying in bed beside them late at night or holding them in lingering embraces, authorities said.

The caretaker asked the children about Durham, reported The Edmonds Sun, and they said he had touched them in a sexual manner or told them to touch themselves while he watched.

The founder confronted Durham on June 12, and she said he denied the accusations at first but then admitted to “struggling with homosexuality and child pornography,” according to court records.

She videotaped Durham’s confessions to the sex acts on her cell phone, court records show, but the founder asked him to write down his recollections after they became unbearable to her.

“Any time I try to read the Bible or pray, this image comes to my head,” investigators said Durham told her as he described a sex act with one victim.

Durham’s attorney claims the charging documents are riddled with inaccuracies.

“The events that occurred in Kenya the last maybe five six days that Matt was there frankly reveal some sort of pseudo-tribal psychological voodoo practiced on him, including confiscating his passport, false imprisonment, keeping food from him one day, delay in allowing him to depart from the country, misleading his parents,” said attorney Steven Jones. “I don’t think Hollywood could make up what happened at this so-called orphanage.”

Jones claimed he had investigators gathering information about the case in Kenya.

“We’re finding out a lot about these people,” he said. “This place is right on the outskirts of Nairobi. It’s like some cult over there.”

Court documents indicate Durham initially denied the allegations, but investigators said he later admitted he was “struggling with homosexuality and child pornography.”

Authorities said Durham wrote graphic statements describing the alleged incidents, which were then turned over to the U.S. Embassy.

The embassy asked American law enforcement officials June 30 to pursue charges.

Durham, who is being held without bond, faces a possible life sentence if convicted.

Watch this video report posted online by KTLA-TV:

]]> 0
Leaving babies and dogs in hot cars is the new missing white women shark attack Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:20:01 +0000 TBogg Just like every county fair hangs their hat on a theme, (Farming! It’s Farmtastic!) every summer finds the cable media latching onto an apparent trend which they proceed to hump mercilessly  until Labor Day comes along and then everybody goes back to school and starts watching regular TV again because re-run season is over.

We all remember the Summer of ’05, when CNN obsessively covered the disappearance of Natalee Holloway with 24/7 wall-to-wall coverage. This fell in line with their previous coverage of other missing white women, including Chandra Levy in 2001, Laci Peterson in 2002, and Elizabeth Smart, also in 2002. The obsession with missing young white women, particularly pretty ones to the exclusion of women of color who go missing everyday, led journalist Gwen Ifill to dub the obsession: “Missing White Women Syndrome.”

Everyone loves a damsel in distress, particularly if she young, pretty, and photogenic. They are ratings gold.

It seems like almost every summer is the Summer of the Shark and, while CNN admits that shark attacks are up, shark coverage is down. This is perhaps the result of sharks getting a whole week devoted to them for binge watching, to say nothing about possibly the greatest film series since The Godfather.

This summer seems to be about Drivers Acting Badly, and not just the road-ragey ones.

This is the Summer of Baking Our Kids in Hot Cars because we have other things to do that are more important with our self-obsessed lives.

The season kicked off early with the tragic tale of Shanesha Taylor, a mother desperately in need of a job who was arrested after leaving her kids in the car while she interviewed for a job. Taylor’s plight , to say nothing of her heartrending mugshot,  touched people across the country and resulted in her story having a relatively satisfying ending.

Then there are the others.

There was the Oregon nanny who left her charges — a 3-year-old boy and a 2-month-old girl — inside a  closed-up minivan on a 90-degree day while she was in a tanning booth working on her incipient skin cancer.

Then there is the horrific story of Justin Ross Harris of Atlanta who, in a fit of buyer’s remorse over being married and having kids, apparently decided to kill his 22-month-old son by leaving him in the car all day while he spent his time sexting women because he apparently thinks there is a huge demand out there for emotionally-stunted sociopathic pudgy goofballs.

The Florida  father who left his daughter in the car while he went in the house to get his phone charger … and then decided to take a nap.

There is the strange, still-unexplained death of 15-month-old Benjamin Seitz in Connecticut.

Most recently, Juan Munford  was arrested after leaving his twin 1-year-old daughters in the car on a hot and humid Virginia day so he could have some sexy-time with a woman against a wall behind a duplex. So. Hawt.

Several of the children’s deaths this summer can be attributed to kids somehow accessing cars and locking themselves in, only to be found later.  But there are far far too many stories of parents ‘forgetting’ and leaving their kid in the car on hot days  and, to be quite frank, I can’t understand this. It is one thing to forget and leave you coffee cup on top of the car or, in the case of a drunken woman in Arizona, her baby in a car seat on top of the car because she might be a big fan of Raising Arizona.  But it is another thing to leave little Dakota or Bella Katniss in the back of the minivan because you want to rush into the house before Ellen starts.

It’s a stupid and selfish thing to do.

To put in perspective, there is this:


If the American Nazi Party — people who either think the Holocaust didn’t happen or are blasé. about shoving 6 million Jews into ovens — think that leaving your kids or dogs in a hot car is a bad thing , it’s must be a really really bad thing…

[Bored dog in car on Shutterstock]

]]> 0
Showdown at the Supreme Court expected as courts deliver conflicting rulings on Obamacare Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:04:24 +0000 Reuters By David Morgan and Aruna Viswanatha

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two federal judicial panels on Tuesday delivered conflicting rulings on how the government subsidizes premiums through President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, creating more uncertainty over signature legislation that has been dogged by challenges from Republicans and other conservatives.

The rulings, handed down by appeals court judges in the District of Columbia and Virginia, could lead to a new showdown over Obamacare before the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June 2012 narrowly upheld the Democratic president’s healthcare insurance overhaul.

The cases deal with the federal government’s ability to offer premium tax credits to people who purchase insurance through the federal insurance marketplace that serves the majority of the 8 million consumers who have signed up for private coverage for 2014.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in a 2-1 decision that the Affordable Care Act allows subsidies that help pay for insurance premiums to be offered only to consumers who purchase private health plans through exchanges run by states.

The judges suspended their ruling pending an appeal by the administration. The Obama administration said it would appeal to the full circuit court, a process that could take up to six months, and stressed the ruling would have no impact on consumers receiving monthly subsidies now.

Hours later, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia ruled unanimously to uphold the provision, saying the wording of the law was too ambiguous to restrict the availability of the funds.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law commonly called Obamacare on constitutional grounds in 2012 but allowed states to opt out of a major provision involving Medicaid coverage. Last month, the high court’s conservative majority said closely held for-profit corporations could object to Obamacare’s contraception provision on religious grounds.

Tuesday’s ruling fell in line with partisan disagreements over the healthcare law, with two Republican-appointed judges ruling against the administration in the District of Columbia court and three Democratic appointed judges ruling in favor in Virginia.

Obamacare’s foes in Congress welcomed the D.C. ruling as a decision that would help efforts to dismantle the law that Obama signed in 2010.

“Today’s ruling is also further proof that President Obama’s health care law is completely unworkable. It cannot be fixed,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.

Stock market reaction was muted, with health insurance representatives predicting that a final decision would take “months or longer” to sort out.


Analysts estimate that as many as five million people could be affected if subsidies disappear from the federal marketplace, which serves 36 states through the website The subsidies are available to people with annual incomes of up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $94,200 for a family of four.

“Obviously, this has got probably more rounds of appeals and so forth, so nothing is going to really happen right now,” said John Holahan of the nonpartisan Urban Institute.

“Some states may jump into action to set up their own exchanges to qualify as state-based exchanges,” Holahan added. “Others won’t, in which case there will be a large number of uninsured that will remain and possibly grow.”

Plaintiffs in the case, known as Halbig vs. Burwell, claimed that Congress did not intend to provide subsidies through federally operated marketplaces because the Affordable Care Act specifies only state-run exchanges as recipients. The plaintiffs were identified as a group of individuals and employers from states that did not establish their own marketplaces.

Most states including Florida and Texas, which have some of the largest uninsured populations, opted to leave the task of operating a marketplace to the federal government.

“The fact is that the legislative record provides little indication one way or the other of congressional intent, but the statutory text does. (It) plainly makes subsidies available only on exchanges established by states. And in the absence of any contrary indications, that text is conclusive evidence of Congress’s intent,” wrote the two D.C. circuit judges in the majority, Thomas Griffith and Arthur Randolph, both appointed by Republican presidents.

“To hold otherwise would be to say that enacted legislation, on its own, does not command our respect — an utterly untenable proposition,” their opinion said.

The D.C. panel’s dissenting judge Harry Edwards, appointed by Democratic president Jimmy Carter, said the majority’s judgment “defies the will of Congress and the permissible interpretations of the agencies to whom Congress has delegated the authority to interpret and enforce the terms of the ACA.”

(Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Susan Cornwell and Susan Heavey in Washington and Caroline Humer and David Ingram in New York; Editing by Howard Goller and Grant McCool)

]]> 0
Judge: Google must face U.S. privacy lawsuit over commingled user data Tue, 22 Jul 2014 17:58:47 +0000 Reuters By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – A federal judge rejected Google Inc’s bid to dismiss a privacy lawsuit claiming it commingled user data across different products and disclosed that data to advertisers without permission.

Saying his decision was a close call, U.S. District Judge Paul Grewal in San Jose, California, ruled on Monday night that Google must face breach of contract and fraud claims by users of Android-powered devices who had downloaded at least one Android application through Google Play.

Other parts of the lawsuit were dismissed, including claims brought on behalf of account users who switched to non-Android devices from Android devices after Google had changed its privacy policy in 2012 to allow the commingling.

“Like Rocky rising from Apollo’s uppercut in the 14th round, plaintiffs’ complaint has sustained much damage but just manages to stand,” Grewal wrote in a 28-page decision, referring to the film series starring Sylvester Stallone as the boxer Rocky Balboa. Grewal had dismissed two earlier versions of the lawsuit.

Google is based in Mountain View, California, and operates its namesake Internet search engine. It did not immediately respond on Tuesday to a request for comment.

Mark Gardy and Joseph Sabella, lawyers for the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to similar requests.

The lawsuit arose after Google on March 1, 2012 scrapped a variety of privacy policies for different products, and created a single, unified policy letting it merge user data generated through platforms such as Gmail, Google Maps and YouTube.

Users complained that Google made this change without their consent and with no way to opt out, in a bid to better compete for ad revenue against Facebook Inc and other social media companies “where all of a consumer’s personal information is available in one site.”

They said this jeopardized their privacy by exposing names, email addresses and geographic locations, increasing the threat of harassment or identity theft by third parties.

Google reported $15.42 billion of revenue in the first quarter, of which 90 percent came from advertising.

The case is In re: Google Inc Privacy Policy Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 12-01382.

]]> 0
Florida father posts photo of sexually abused son online in donation plea Tue, 22 Jul 2014 17:54:59 +0000 Reuters (Reuters) – A Florida father who severely beat an 18-year-old man he said he caught sexually assaulting his son posted the child’s photo on a fundraising website to solicit donations for the boy’s recovery, police said on Tuesday.

The father originally asked for $1 million on, then reduced his request to $100,000 before the page was taken down and a link to it on his Facebook page was removed by Monday night, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.

“Our son was sexually assaulted and we are now faced with the challenge of picking up the pieces, the emotional and financial burden is about more than we can endure,” the father wrote, according to the newspaper.

Daytona Beach Police Chief Michael Chitwood, who last week said he did not take issue with the father’s initial response to the alleged assault, on Tuesday said police were “bewildered” when they saw the picture of the 11-year-old boy, shown sleeping, online.

“Why are you exposing your son?” Chitwood said in a phone interview with Reuters. “Once you put that out there, he just lost what little cloak of anonymity he already has.”

Raymond Frolander was arrested on Friday after the father called 911 to report he had interrupted a sexual assault on his son. The father told the dispatcher he left the attacker “nice and knocked out” and “in a bloody puddle” on the floor.

Frolander was charged with sexual battery on a victim under age 12, according to a police affidavit.

The father was not charged in the beating, which left Frolander bloodied and bruised but did not result in serious injury, Chitwood said.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in North Carolina; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bill Trott)

]]> 0
TN Republican admits he can’t prove his anti-Muslim smears against Democratic rival Tue, 22 Jul 2014 17:37:34 +0000 David Ferguson A Tennessee Republican county commissioner is reportedly waging a misinformation campaign against his Muslim-American Democratic challenger.

The Tullahoma News reported Monday that Coffee County Commission candidate Zak Mohyuddin accused his rival — incumbent Commissioner Mark Kelly — of spreading “vile, offensive” falsehoods about him based on his Islamic faith.

In a fund-raising letter dated July 16, Kelly wrote to voters, “My opponent has expressed his beliefs publicly that the United States is not a Christian nation; that the American flag should be removed from public buildings because it is a symbol of tyranny and oppression; that public prayer should be banned because it insults non-Christians; and that the Bible should be removed from public places.”

Mohyuddin countered that these accusations were made up out of whole cloth.

“To me, flags and Bibles are objects of respect, regardless of what country or religion they belong to, and I’ve always treated them with respect,” he told the News. “This man is saying things about me that don’t reflect my values in any way.”

The Tennesseean newspaper challenged Kelly to list specific incidents where Mohyuddin has disrespected the U.S. flag or Christian Bible and he was “was unable to cite any specific instance when Mohyuddin made such statements.” Rather, he claimed, he “heard it during private conversations” with his Democratic rival.

Mohyuddin told the News that the only private conversation he has ever had with Kelly took place 25 years ago when his family bought a house through Kelly’s real estate agent wife.

“He helped me move 25 years ago, right after I had bought my house through his wife, but we weren’t talking about politics way back then,” he said.

Kelly said that Mohyuddin must be misremembering.

“It’s just my recollection against his.” Kelly said.

“This has nothing to do with his religion,” Kelly insisted. “I support all religions, and I’m glad we can all follow our own in this country, but still, I have my values and he has his, and there is a difference.”

Watch video about this story, embedded below:

WSMV Channel 4

]]> 0
Texas border sheriffs slam Perry’s ‘political’ plan to deploy 1,000 troops as a waste of money Tue, 22 Jul 2014 17:27:18 +0000 David Edwards Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) announced this week that he would send 1,000 troops to the Mexico border to help with the refugee crisis, but sheriffs in border counties are already dismissing the plan as a “political” stunt.

At a press conference on Monday, Perry said that he was activating 1,000 National Guard troops because he would “not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault and little children from Central America are detained in squalor. We are too good of a country.”

Border sheriffs, who were apparently not consulted about Perry’s plan, said that they would have rather he spent the money on additional personnel with the power to actively participate in border operations. In previous deployments to the border, National Guard troops have assisted in administrative duties, and intelligence gathering.

“At this time, a lot of people do things for political reasons,” Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio told the Dallas Morning News. “I don’t know that it helps.”

“I don’t know what good they can do,” he explained. “You just can’t come out here and be a police officer.”

Lucio said that border counties needed the state to fund more police, who would be able to directly work with the U.S. Border Patrol.

Texas National Guard Adj. Gen. John Nichols insisted that the troops could be of assistance with their mission of “referring and deterring.”

Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor in Texas, has called for “deploying additional deputy sheriffs to the border like local law enforcement is calling for, rather than Texas National Guard units who aren’t even authorized to make arrests.”

Watch video of Gov. Perry’s press conference below.

(h/t: The Wire)

]]> 0
Ohio limits probe of charter school where teacher allowed boys to grope female classmates Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:58:12 +0000 Travis Gettys Ohio won’t investigate all of the charter schools operated in the state by a company accused of hiring unqualified teachers, cheating on standardized tests, and allowing boys to grope female classmates.

The Ohio Department of Education will limit its investigation of Horizon Science Academies to the Dayton area, where the alleged wrongdoing was reported.

The state Board of Education declined to open investigations into all 17 Horizon schools in Ohio, which are operated by Concept Schools, although the company’s other schools could be probed if specific complaints were filed.

Four former teachers at Horizon schools in Dayton testified last week that school officials failed to tell parents their children had been suspended for having oral sex outside a building where they were supposed to be attending a school-sponsored cultural festival.

“I don’t think parents had any idea what was going on at the school,” said Kellie Kockensparger (above), who taught at the publicly funded charter school for three years before taking another Dayton-area teaching job in March.

Another teacher said students took part in a sex game during a middle school math class, claiming male students would place their hands on a girl’s knee and ask if she was nervous.

If the girl said no, the teacher said, the boy would move his hand up her thigh.

“The game was not a one-time occurrence, yet the teacher did nothing, insisting he didn’t know about the game,” said former math teacher Richard Storrick. “The school’s director was told about the incident, did nothing and rehired the teacher the following year.”

Other former employees said school administrators “clearly lied” about attendance and tampered with standardized test results.

“I never had a full class and they’d say the school had a 97 percent attendance rate,” said ex-employee Tim Neary. “There was no oversight at all.”

Concept Schools, which is affiliated with the Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, operates 19 Ohio schools under Concept Schools management.

The FBI served a search warrant June 4 at Concept Schools’ headquarters in Des Plaines, Illinois, and 19 other locations in the Midwest as part of an “ongoing white-collar crime matter.”

Court records show investigators were seeking documents related to Concept president Sedat Duman, founder Taner Ertekin, and other current and former executives of the charter schools network.

Investigators also were looking for documents related to the federal “E-Rate” program that pays schools to expand telecommunications access.

Watch this video report posted online by WHIO-TV:

]]> 0
Feds: Newark police repeatedly violated civil rights by targeting black people Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:29:02 +0000 Reuters By David Jones

NEWARK N.J. (Reuters) – Federal investigators found police repeatedly violated civil rights in New Jersey’s largest city, Newark, and recommended an independent monitor to oversee changes, the U.S. Justice Department announced on Tuesday.

The city has agreed to accept the findings of the DOJ probe, which has been under way since 2011 and suggested ways to stop the “pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing by the Newark Police Department,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a statement.

Specifically, the report said, police violated rights through stop-and-arrest practices that disproportionately targeted blacks, use of force, stealing property and cracking down on people who lawfully objected to police behavior.

“Today the city of Newark has taken a bold step toward ensuring constitutional policing that better serves all of Newark’s residents,” Jocelyn Samuels, the DOJ’s acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said in the statement.

“The agreement in principle provides a roadmap for reform and underscores the shared determination of the city of Newark and the Department of Justice to making this reform real and sustainable,” she said.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has said he would accept the rare but not unprecedented move of appointing a monitor, which had been opposed by his predecessor, Cory Booker, who is now a U.S. senator.

Most recently, a monitor was appointed in Oakland, California, in 2012.

Just eight miles from Manhattan, Newark – once a thriving manufacturing center for leather, celluloid and light bulbs – has worked to overcome its image of urban blight and high crime.

The DOJ investigation uncovered a practice of stopping suspects without sufficient justification in nearly 75 percent of pedestrian cases. It also found police disproportionately targeted blacks, who accounted for 85 percent of pedestrian stops and 79 percent of arrests yet are roughly 54 percent of Newark’s population.

Police also violated citizens’ First Amendment rights by detaining and arresting people who lawfully objected to police actions or behaved in a way that officers perceived as disrepectful.

Excessive force also was cited in the report. More than 20 percent of Newark police officers reported use of force that appeared unreasonable, authorities said.

Finally, the report found theft of citizens’ property by officers was rampant, particularly by officers from narcotics and gang units as well as in the prisoner processing unit.

Under the monitor’s watch, the Newark Police Department will “develop and implement improvements to its stop, arrest and force policies and procedures, and train its officers on how to conduct effective and constitutional policing,” the U.S. Attorney’s office said in the statement.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jim Loney)

[Police officer searching suspect on Shutterstock]

]]> 0
Delta and U.S. Airways halt flights to Israel due to Gaza conflict Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:24:59 +0000 Reuters (Reuters) – U.S. air carriers Delta Air Lines and US Airways, a unit of American Airlines Group, on Tuesday said they have halted flights to Israel to ensure passenger safety.

Delta said in a statement that it has suspended operations “until further notice” to and from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv and its hub at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. The Atlanta-based carrier said it was doing so in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration “to ensure the safety of our customers and employees.”

Esther Castiel, who heads US Airways’ operations in Tel Aviv, said the FAA had “issued a request not to travel to Israel. All U.S. carriers are stopping.”

She added that it was not clear whether the travel halt was for one day or more.

The decision came after Hamas, the militant group that dominates in the Gaza Strip, and its allies fired more rockets into Israel, triggering sirens in Tel Aviv. One hit a town on the fringes of Ben-Gurion International Airport, lightly injuring two people, officials said.

United Airlines did not immediately return a request for comment.

(Reporting by Karen Jacobs in Atlanta and Steven Scheer in Tel Aviv, editing by G Crosse)

]]> 0
Sen. Ron Wyden: Corporations ‘effectively renouncing their citizenship’ with tax inversions Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:23:43 +0000 Reuters By Kevin Drawbaugh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Immediate government action is needed to plug a loophole that allows U.S. corporations to avoid federal taxes by shifting their tax domiciles overseas through deals known as inversions, the head of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee said on Tuesday.

Nine inversion deals have been agreed to this year by companies ranging from banana distributor Chiquita Brands International Inc to drugmaker AbbVie Inc and more are being considered. The transactions are setting a record pace since the first inversion was done 32 years ago.

Washington is increasingly concerned about the trend. “Let’s work together to immediately cool down the inversion fever … The inversion loophole needs to be plugged now,” said Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, finance committee chairman, at a hearing.

Several Democrats have offered bills to curb the inversion deals, which can put foreign earnings out of the reach of the Internal Revenue Service and make other tax savings possible to boost a multinational company’s bottom line. But no new law is likely as long as Republicans contend that inversion rules need to be part of a broader overhaul of the tax code, policy analysts said.

Wyden said his panel asked the chief executives of several inverted companies to testify at the hearing on international tax law problems. “None accepted our invitations,” he said.

A senior official from the U.S. Treasury Department, speaking to the committee, reiterated the Obama administration’s call for urgent action by Congress to implement a White House proposal to make inversions more difficult to do.

“Congress should pass legislation immediately with an effective date of May 2014 to prevent companies from effectively renouncing their citizenship to get out of paying taxes,” said Robert Stack, deputy assistant secretary at the Treasury.

“We are aware of many more inversions in the works right now,” he added.

But the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives will not act on inversions “unless there’s comprehensive tax reform, and that’s dead for this year,” said Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Potomac Research Group.

Inversions are still rare, but they are becoming more common. Of the roughly 60 deals done since 1982, more than half have come in just the last six years, a Reuters review showed.

An inversion involves a U.S. corporation buying or setting up a smaller company abroad, then shifting its tax home base to that company’s country, which typically has lower tax rates than in the United States.

Such deals seldom mean a U.S. corporation physically leaves home. Usually an inversion means that a company will open a small office abroad, perhaps in England or Ireland, as a new address for tax purposes, leaving major operations intact.

President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget proposed making inversions harder to do by raising the foreign ownership required. Congressional Democrats have made similar proposals.

(Editing by Tom Brown)

]]> 0
Al-Jazeera offices in Gaza evacuated after direct hit by Israeli fire Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:20:51 +0000 Ian Black, The Guardian Israel’s army has denied targeting the Gaza offices of al-Jazeera TV after the network’s correspondents reported that the building had come under fire on Tuesday.

Staff in Gaza said their 11th floor bureau was hit by two Israeli bullets as a crew was preparing to broadcast live from the balcony. “Two very precise shots were fired straight into our building,” said Stefanie Dekker. “We are high up in the building so we had a very strong vantage point over the area. But we have evacuated.” Al-Jazeera aired footage of their staff standing outside the building.

A spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said no warning shots had been fired but could not confirm or deny whether there had been indirect damage to the building from firing at nearby military targets, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The incident came a day after Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called for al-Jazeera to be banned.

Lieberman accused the Qatar-based channel of being a mouthpiece for Hamas, and said the foreign ministry was taking steps to prevent it from broadcasting from Gaza, according to Israel’s Channel 2 TV. Al-Jazeera: “has abandoned even the perception of being a reliable news organisation and broadcasts from Gaza and to the world anti-Israel incitement, lies, and encouragement to the terrorists,” Lieberman said.

“All the big networks operate in Israel, some of them are not exactly pro-Zionist, and yet as a democratic state we allow them to operate here.

“In the case of al-Jazeera it is not an issue of freedom of the media but of a terrorist wing that currently fights against Israel.”

A statement posted on the al-Jazeera website said: “Al-Jazeera network considers statements made against it by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman a direct incitement. (It) considers (his) comments as a very serious matter. Israel is accountable for the safety of al-Jazeera teams working in Israel and the Palestinian territories.”

Al-Jazeera also reported that Israel’s communications minister, Gilad Erdan, has asked Israeli cable and satellite providers to stop airing al-Jazeera, calling it an “enemy” broadcaster. The request is not mandatory.

Al-Jazeera said: “Our journalists have been doing an outstanding job in reporting to our mass audience in the region what is happening on the ground. A threat to one is a threat to all, and this is a dark sign for all journalists operating in the territory. Journalists must be protected while doing their job of giving the public information they have the right to know, helping them understand what is going on. Journalism is not a crime!”

Al-Jazeera has often come under fire in war zones and been banned, at different times, from almost every country in the Middle East. Its most recent troubles have been in Egypt, where three journalists working for al-Jazeera English were sentenced to between seven and 10 years in jail on charges of aiding terrorists and endangering national security. © Guardian News and Media 2014

]]> 0
Israel: We will not agree to ceasefire until all Hamas tunnels are destroyed Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:13:12 +0000 Agence France-Presse Israel will not halt its fire in Gaza until it finishes an operation aimed at destroying tunnels used by militants for cross-border attacks, a senior minister said on Tuesday.

As world efforts to broker a ceasefire in war-torn Gaza gathered speed, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also ruled out any acceptance of the “unacceptable” demands laid out by Hamas as a condition for halting its fire.

She said the question of an immediate ceasefire with Hamas was not going to happen at this stage.

“First of all, it won’t happen before we really finish the tunnels project which was laid out as a strategic objective,” she told Ynet news website, referring to a major operation that started on the evening of July 17.

“Second, it won’t happen in a way in which Hamas’s completely unacceptable conditions are met, because it just wont,” she said.

“Until now, Hamas is presenting demands that have no chance of being accepted by anyone – not by us, not by Abu Mazen, not by the Egyptians and not by the Americans,” she said, referring to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

“In a situation where Hamas says ‘Give us everything or the fighting will continue,’ well then the fighting will continue,” she said.

Last week, an Egyptian ceasefire proposal was accepted by Israel but rejected by Hamas, which continued firing rockets across the border. After five hours of holding its fire, Israel resumed its punishing operation in Gaza.

Hamas officials have laid out a list of demands that must be met before agreeing to a truce – some involving Israel and others aimed at Egypt.

Central to its demands is that Israel lift its eight-year blockade on Gaza and release of scores of veteran Palestinian prisoners who had been released in a 2011 swap agreement but who were recently re-arrested.

It also wants the Rafah border crossing with Egypt to be opened, in a demand aimed at Cairo which has kept it largely closed since the overthrow in July 2013 of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, a key Hamas ally.

]]> 0
Right-wing professor: Raping Arab women is ‘the only thing that deters suicide bombers’ Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:05:54 +0000 David Edwards A professor and researcher for a right-wing Israeli think tank suggested in an interview earlier this month that raping Arab women was the only way to deter suicide bombers.

After Palestinians allegedly abducted and killed three Israeli teens in late June, Bar-Ilan University professor Dr. Mordechai Kedar spoke with a Hebrew-language radio show about what could be done to stop Hamas.

“You have to understand the culture in which we live,” Kedar explained in the June 1 interview, according to a transcript published by Haaretz. “Terrorists like those who kidnapped the children and killed them — the only thing that deters them is if they know that their sister or their mother will be raped in the event that they are caught. What can you do, that’s the culture in which we live.”

Host Yossi Hadar pointed out Israel could not “take such steps.”

“I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do,” Kedar insisted. “I’m talking about the facts. The only thing that deters a suicide bomber is the knowledge that if he pulls the trigger or blows himself up, his sister will be raped.”

“That’s all. That’s the only thing that will bring him back home, in order to preserve his sister’s honor.”

In addition to working for the right-wing Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies of Bar Ilan University, Kedar also founded the Israel Academia Monitor website, which is dedicated to fighting left-leaning “extremist Israeli academics who exploit academic freedom in order to take steps to deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”

In a statement provided to Haaretz, Bar-Ilan University said that Kedar was not advocating using rape to fight terrorism.

The professor “wanted to illustrate that there is no means of deterring suicide bombers, and using hyperbole, he gave the rape of women as an example,” the statement said. “In order to remove all doubt: Dr. Kedar’s words do not, God forbid, contain a recommendation to commit such despicable acts. The intention was to describe the culture of death of the terror organizations. Dr. Kedar was describing the bitter reality of the Middle East and the inability of a modern and liberal law-abiding country to fight against the terror of suicide bombers.”

A letter to Bar-Ilan University president Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz from feminist activists in Israel warned that Kedar could be inciting “Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Israeli civilians to commit rape, and endanger both Israeli and Palestinian women.”

“Kedar’s words echo expressions that treat rape as a remedial practice, although it is a war crime,” the letter noted.

In the video below, Dr. Mordechai Kedar explains why he often appears on Arab TV.

]]> 0
Georgia voters to pick Republican Senate nominee after long fight Tue, 22 Jul 2014 15:22:07 +0000 Reuters By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) – A drawn-out fight between an 11-term congressman and a former Fortune 500 chief executive in a key U.S. Senate race is due to be decided by Georgia’s Republican voters on Tuesday.

U.S. Representative Jack Kingston and David Perdue, former CEO of Reebok, Dollar General and Pillowtex, have traded jabs and tried to coalesce Republican support since emerging from a crowded primary field in May.

Republicans consider it crucial to hold on to the seat, currently held by retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss, as they push to retake control of the Senate.

Polls show a close run-off. Kingston, 59, of Savannah, has worked to convince voters that his 21-year tenure in Congress is a strength despite low approval ratings for its members.

He portrays Perdue, who lives on Georgia’s exclusive Sea Island, as a wealthy elitist.

“Do you really know what you get with David Perdue?” Kingston asked at a recent debate.

Perdue, 64, criticized Kingston as a Washington insider who voted to add trillions to the national debt and to raise his own pay seven times.

When Kingston questioned the propriety of Perdue’s 2010 appointment to the Georgia Ports Authority by his cousin, then-Governor Sonny Perdue, his opponent fired back that Kingston had not been able in 17 years to get the Port of Savannah deepened.

“In the real world, you would have been fired for that kind of performance and now here you are wanting a promotion,” Perdue said.

Voters on Monday were split about whether a political veteran or newcomer would best serve them.

“Experience matters,” said Kingston supporter Taton Thompson, 24, of Savannah. “When you go to Washington, you need to know what to do, you need to know how to pass legislation.”

Don Cole, 60, a self-employed businessman from Cordele, said he wants a senator who has not been influenced for years by lobbyists.

“Perdue comes in with a fresh perspective and he’s not tied down by all that,” Cole said.

Perdue and Kingston beat more conservative Tea Party candidates in the May 20 primary, drawing nearly 31 percent and 26 percent of the vote, respectively.

Analysts say either man will be a strong challenger to Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn, former chief executive officer of President George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light organization and daughter of onetime U.S. Senator Sam Nunn.

Georgia has not elected a Democratic senator in 14 years.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Bill Trott)

["A Man Who Voted Holds Up His Voting Badge Lapel Pin" on Shutterstock]

]]> 0
Closing arguments set for Jesse Ventura’s defamation suit against ‘American Sniper’ Tue, 22 Jul 2014 15:17:54 +0000 Reuters By Art Hughes

ST PAUL Minn. (Reuters) – Closing arguments are planned on Tuesday in a defamation lawsuit from Jesse Ventura alleging that the Minnesota ex-governor’s reputation was sullied by a former Navy SEAL’s claims in a book that he was in a bar fight with the former politician.

Ventura, who first rose to prominence as a professional wrestler, said he lost out on income from media appearances because of the passage about the bar fight, which the former governor said never took place.

Lawyers for the estate of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle told the U.S. District Court in St. Paul that Ventura’s income was on the decline before the book due to waning popularity, and the passage about the bar fight had little impact on the dwindling demand for him as a media personality..

In his book, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” Kyle said he punched a celebrity he identified as “Scruff Face,” who made disparaging remarks about SEALs in a 2006 incident.

Kyle, who was later killed in 2013 at a Texas shooting range by a troubled Iraq war veteran, identified “Scruff Face” as Ventura during interviews supporting the book’s release in 2012.

In a videotaped deposition played for jurors, Kyle said he punched Ventura, describing him as loud and belligerent.

The jury is being asked to determine whether Ventura was defamed, whether the statements were false and, because Ventura is a public figure, if Kyle made them with actual malice, a higher standard than for ordinary citizens.

Ventura served as Minnesota’s politically independent governor from 1999 until 2003.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Susan Heavey)

]]> 0
The next time a ‘pro-lifer’ says something bad about immigrants, show them this Tue, 22 Jul 2014 15:08:44 +0000 Katie Halper So, maybe the conservative “pro-life” movement isn’t exactly at the forefront of the immigration reform movement… yet. But they could be! And, if they’re not totally full of it, should be.

The truth is anti-immigrant and anti-choice (pro-life) legislation and sentiment often go hand in hand. If that feels a little inconsistent and hypocritical, that’s probably because it is.

All you need to do is show a self-identifying pro-lifer this pretty clever meme created by Political Loudmouth.


If the “pro-lifer” agrees, you’ve won an ally. If the pro-lifer disagrees, he or she is forced to admit that he or she is not motivated by the sanctity of life, but rather by the desire to control and punish women. They are forced, in other words, to admit that they are, indeed, not pro-life, but anti-choice.

Of course, either way, I’ll continue to call pro-lifers anti-choicers because I don’t agree that a zygote is a life. But framing it this way makes it harder for them to pretend that they actually care about life. Maybe they can call themselves pro-pre-birth-life.

]]> 0
MD parents locked adult autistic sons in basement ‘dungeon’ every night for years: cops Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:58:36 +0000 David Ferguson A Rockville, Maryland couple is charged with locking their 22-year-old twin sons, who are autistic, in a dungeon-like enclosure in their house’s basement.

According to WJLA Channel 7, John Land, 57, and Janice Land, 59, were both arraigned in Montgomery County Court on Friday on two counts each of vulnerable adult abuse and attempted false imprisonment.

Police raided the Land’s house at 5:00 a.m. last Thursday and found the young men locked in the urine-reeking enclosure, which featured only a single blanket on the hard floor and no other furniture. The only source of light was a narrow slit window high on the wall. In the event of a fire or other emergency, the twins would have no means of escape.

John Land told police that his sons are completely unable to speak, only communicating by pointing to or grabbing objects they want. He and his wife, he said, were only trying to keep the boys from running away in the night. Left to their own devices, he explained, the twins had run away before or caused other problems.

Janice Land claimed no knowledge of her husband’s practice of locking the boys in their pen each night at 10:00 p.m., then releasing them in the morning.

“If someone locked them in the room, I didn’t know about it,” she reportedly told detectives.

Arrest documents said that Janice Long told police that the family had only recently thrown out the basement room’s furnishings because they smelled of urine, but had been unable, so far, to save up for new items.

Neighbor Natalie Larson told Channel 7, “We obviously didn’t know anything about that, and we certainly would have done something if we had. I work with kids with disabilities, and the kids I work with are certainly not in basements, so that’s really upsetting.”

“It’s shameful really,” said another neighbor, Sam French. “That’s not parenting. I mean that’s just locking someone up for God’s sakes. That’s like being a jailer. Who would do that to their children?”

The Lands’ home has been condemned by the county and the couple are currently living in a hotel. They are due back in court on Sep. 2.

Watch video about this story, embedded below:

[Photo: Pistol on black leather Bible via]

]]> 0
Portland parents fight Christian ‘extremist’ club trying to ‘harvest’ kids at public parks Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:36:59 +0000 Travis Gettys An evangelical group has launched a campaign to convert children to Christianity at public spaces and schools in Oregon.

Parents concerned about the group’s intentions have launched their own campaign to warn about the Child Evangelism Fellowship’s Good News Club and its tactics, reported the Associated Press.

“They pretend to be a mainstream Christian Bible study when in fact they’re a very old school fundamentalist sect,” said Kaye Schmitt, an organizer with Protect Portland Children, which has taken out a full-page ad about the campaign in a local alternative weekly.

The group’s website claims most people become Christians between ages 4 and 14 years old, so they target children with the message that all people are sinful and that only Christian faith will save them from hell.

“The most spiritually productive harvest field anywhere is among the children,” the group says on its website.

But a spokesman for the religious group said it hoped only to reach young people at parks, apartment pools, and other gathering spots to educate them about Christianity.

“Children are easy to manipulate, we all know that,” said Moises Esteves, the group’s vice president. “We don’t use any of the schemes and high-pressure tactics that we’re accused of. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Gallup polls in 2008 and 2012 consistently indicated Oregon was one of the least religious states in the nation, and other polls show Americans born after the early 1980s are the least religious generation in U.S. history.

The Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) won a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case that decided they could hold chapter meetings on school grounds, and a critical book argues the group uses public spaces to lead children to believe their fundamentalist views are endorsed by authority figures.

The fundamentalist group is associated with creationist Ken Ham, head of the Answers in Genesis ministry, who claims their mission is part of a spiritual battle dating back to the temptation in the biblical Garden of Eden.

“If all life arose by natural processes, and there was no God, why would people even care what others were taught?” Ham said. “After all, for the secularists, when they die they will cease to exist—and in their belief system, they won’t know they even existed—so why should they care what is taught to children?”

Journalist Katherine Stewart first heard of the group when it came to her children’s public school in Santa Barbara, California.

“I started to hear about how kids attending the clubs were targeting their peers for what I can only describe as faith-based bullying and bigotry,” said Stewart, the author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.

“The kids attending the clubs would say they knew the religion of the Good News Club ‘must be true’ because they learned it in school,” she added. “As one little 6-year-old girl said to her classmate, ‘They don’t teach things in school that aren’t true.’”

Stewart said the CEF, like many Christian fundamentalists, ultimately hopes to eliminate public education and replace those schools with church-run schools.

The group obtains permission slips to speak with children in schools, but members would not be required to do so in public spaces.

“We do teach that children are sinners, but we’re not nasty about it,” Esteves said. “If we were nasty about it, the kids wouldn’t come back.”

The CEF laid out a tarp Monday at a Portland park, where two volunteers led about a dozen children through Bible verses and Christian songs.

“My heart was dark with sin,” the children sang, “until the savior came in.”

However, one parent who described herself as a Christian said a few hours with the group turned her away from their message.

Mia Marceau, of Vancouver, Washington, said the volunteers told her 8-year-old son and his friends that they were headed to hell and must convert their friends to Christianity and raise money for the CEF.

“I raised a free thinker,” Marceau said. “He didn’t buy in. All of a sudden, he’s having arguments with his friends over salvation.”

[Image: Young boy praying against a white background via Shutterstock]

]]> 0
Tokyo artist transforms bonsai trees into ‘exobiotanica’ by launching them into space Tue, 22 Jul 2014 13:52:33 +0000 Jonathan Jones, The Guardian Azuma Makoto has created a completely unprecedented set of landscape images that show organic life on the edge of space.

Working with JP Aerospace, the Tokyo artist has sent a bonsai tree, orchids, lilies and other plants into the stratosphere, suspended in a balloon.

The resulting images beautifully state the mystery of life on Earth. Makoto claims that by putting them on the borders of space, beyond their earthly home, he has transformed them into “exobiotanica”, extraterrestrial plant life. But to me, these images dramatise the startling nature of planet Earth itself.

Until liveable atmospheres and chemical indicators of organic life are detected on planets beyond the solar system – which may happen soon as astronomy becomes ever more refined – we don’t know of any other planet that is alive. The richness of Earth’s living forms is gorgeously apparent in Makoto’s arrangements of brightly-coloured flowers taken up from the ground that is their home to be seen against the darkness of space.

Ever since William Anders of Apollo 8 took a photograph of the blue planet rising over the moon in 1968, that iconic shot known as Earthrise, the image of Earth from space has deepened humanity’s sense of our planet as a quasi-living thing. It is surely no coincidence that James Lovelock announced the Gaia hypothesis, which understands Earth that way, in 1973, in the wake of the Apollo missions and their new view of Earth.

Yet long before anyone actually saw the Earth from space, artists in China, Japan and Europe intuited that all life here is mysteriously intertwined: that the planet resembles a spaceship nurturing its passengers. Great landscape pictures, from Fan Kuan’s Travellers Among Mountains and Streams (painted in around 1000AD) to Rubens’ The Rainbow Landscape (painted about 1636) and Hokusai’s 35 Views of Mount Fuji (created as coloured woodblock prints from about 1830 to 1835), again and again imagine life as an abundant interlinked system between sky and Earth.

Makoto’s pictures take such visions of landscape to a new extreme, for plants are seen here high above their home, with Earth as a glistening backdrop and the infinity of space surrounding fragile bursts of colour and beauty. If plants were taken further, would they evolve into extraterrestrials? And what makes this one planet, orbiting an average star among billions of other stars, in a universe of mind-boggling vastness and – as far as we know – lifelessness, so special?

Flowers in the upper stratosphere are images of our unique, fortunate yet gravely responsible place in the history of space and time. © Guardian News and Media 2014

[Image via Kristof Vrancken / Z33, Creative Commons licensed]

]]> 0
World pushes for truce as Israel’s attack on Gaza displaces 100,000 Palestinians Tue, 22 Jul 2014 13:41:07 +0000 Agence France-Presse The UN chief and Washington’s top diplomat were holding a flurry of meetings in Cairo on Tuesday to push for an end to two weeks of violence in Gaza that has killed 585 Palestinians.

As the conflict entered its third week, neither side showed any sign of willingness to pull back, with Israel pursuing a relentless campaign of shelling and air strikes, and militants hitting back with rocket fire and fierce attacks on troops operating on the ground.

Gaza medics say the Palestinian dead include many women and children, while on the Israeli side, 27 of the 29 victims were soldiers killed since a ground assault began late on July 17.

On Tuesday morning, civil defence crews with a crane parked outside the Salam building in Gaza City, which was hit in an Israeli air strike.

The tower block’s top five floors had collapsed onto its bottom four floors. The leg of a person was visible from the street, lying on a piece of rubble caked with streams of dried blood.

World powers have urged Hamas to accept an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire and stop raining rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, demands it has so far resisted.

Kerry opened talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and was later to meet the president, former military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The top US diplomat, who arrived late Monday in the wake of growing casualties from the growing conflict, held talks in Cairo on Monday with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who has also come to the Egyptian capital to push for a truce.

Ban, who has demanded a complete halt to the bloodshed, was to hold separate talks with Sisi on Tuesday.

On Monday, Kerry demanded that Hamas agree to end the fighting to spare further bloodshed, in a call echoed by the Arab League.

“Only Hamas now needs to make the decision to spare innocent civilians from this violence,” he said, pledging $47 million in humanitarian aid for the battered Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas held talks in Doha on Monday, pledging to work together for a ceasefire and to lift the blockade on Gaza.

“Hamas and Abbas agreed that all Palestinian factions should work as a team towards a ceasefire,” Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior official in Abbas’s Fatah party, told AFP.

“It was decided that there should be a ceasefire first, and we will continue discussions with Egypt and all regional and international sides until we crystalise the content of a final peace agreement.”

Last week, an Egyptian truce proposal collapsed after it was accepted by Israel but rejected by Hamas.

- 100,000 displaced -

Meanwhile there was no halt to the bloodshed, with 25 people killed in fresh Israeli strikes on Tuesday, raising the death toll since Israel launched its operation on July 8 to 585, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

Five of those killed on Tuesday were members of the same family who died in a strike on Deir al-Balah in central Gaza. Four of the victims were women, he said.

Another 3,640 people have been wounded.

Israel has said Operation Protective Edge is to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza, and on July 17 it sent in ground troops to destroy cross-border tunnels used by Hamas militants to infiltrate southern Israel.

Since the offensive, more than 100,000 Gazans have fled their homes, seeking shelter in 69 schools run by the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA.

- Another 2 soldiers killed -

Early Tuesday, the Israeli army said another two of its troops had been killed in clashes in Gaza a day earlier, raising Monday’s toll to nine soldiers.

The army also said the remains of one of 13 soldiers killed in Gaza on Sunday had not been identified, indicating that all or part of the body was missing.

The announcement came two days after Hamas’s armed wing said they had snatched an Israeli soldier — a claim that the army has refused to confirm or deny.

Overall, 27 soldiers have died in the past four days, with 13 killed on Sunday alone in what was the bloodiest single day for the Israeli military since the Lebanon war of 2006.

Two Israeli civilians have also been killed by rocket fire.

Hamas’s main condition for halting its fire is a lifting of Israel’s eight-year blockade on the enclave, but it also wants “the release of those recently detained” in the West Bank, Ismail Haniya, the movement’s top Gaza-based official, said late on Monday.

Cross-border rocket fire has continued despite the operation, with 116 rockets hitting Israel on Monday, one striking the greater Tel Aviv area, and another 17 shot down.

]]> 0
MI utility worker strangles pregnant teen he held at house of horrors, beheads her boyfriend Tue, 22 Jul 2014 13:09:09 +0000 Travis Gettys Police said a Michigan utility worker held a pregnant teenager he met online hostage for days after beheading her boyfriend and then strangling her.

Investigators said emails indicated 31-year-old Brady Oestrike arranged to meet 18-year-old Brooke Slocum for sex after the two connected on Craigslist, reported The Grand Rapids Press.

Slocum’s boyfriend, 25-year-old Charles Oppenneer, was supposed to be present at the meeting in a Wyoming park, police said.

Oppeneer’s body was found July 16 near his abandoned vehicle in Gezon Park, police said, but his head has not been located.

Slocum was likely killed July 17, authorities said, and her body was found in the trunk of Oestrike’s car after he fled from police during an attempted traffic stop and then shot himself to death after crashing the vehicle.

A search of Oestrike’s home turned up restraints that suggested Slocum, who was eight months pregnant, was held captive there before her death.

Her unborn daughter also died, police said.

Police described Oestrike’s home as a “hellish environment.”

“In this case, I’m sure there are moments and pictures that our staff will never forget,” said Police Capt. Kim Koster.

A former FBI agent and private investigator who is assisting in the investigation said murders involving mutilation are typically motivated by anger, such as someone who suspects their spouse was unfaithful.

“Frankly, I’ve never heard of something like this,” said investigator Gene Debbaudt. “In recent memory, I can’t think of anything more horrific.”

Investigators collected more than 400 items from the home, including firearms, ammunition, and knives.

His Facebook page indicates a fascination with guns and violence, following such groups AR-15 Gun Owners of America, Oath Keepers, NRA’s American Rifleman, and Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and American Militia.

Nearly all of the posts on his timeline were pro-gun and anti-Obama viral images, as well as posts about his occupation as a journeyman lineman.

Police said a former girlfriend who previously lived with Oestrike filed a domestic assault report when she moved out in June.

The woman made a similar report in May but did not pursue charges.

Police are investigating electronic devices found at Oestrike’s home to determine whether there are additional suspects or victims involved.

Slocum’s family said the teen met Oppenneer last year, as a 17-year-old, at the Ionia Free Fair and did not complete her senior year of high school.

Her parents said Michigan’s age of adulthood is 17, and they were unable to keep her from making the decisions that led her away from home and eventually contributed to her death.

“God gave each of us free will, and that is something that no one can control,” said Rod Knepper, her great-uncle and family spokesman. “The secret part of Brooke’s life that none of us knew about is a testament to that.”

Watch this video report posted online by The Grand Rapids Press:

[Image via Facebook]

]]> 0
Rocker Tom Petty: ‘No one’s got Christ more wrong than the Christians’ Tue, 22 Jul 2014 13:00:14 +0000 David Ferguson Veteran rocker Tom Petty isn’t pulling any punches with his new song “Playing Dumb.”

In an interview with Billboard magazine, Petty said that he wrote the song about the decades of child sex abuse in the Catholic church and the elaborate lengths that priests and their leaders have gone to cover up the crimes.

“I’m fine with whatever religion you want to have,” Petty said, “but it can’t tell anybody it’s OK to kill people, and it can’t abuse children systematically for God knows how many years.”

Petty went on to say that he doesn’t understand why people continue to donate to the church, which has paid out millions of dollars in legal settlements to the victims of child-molesting priests.

“If I was in a club, and I found out that there had been generations of people abusing children, and then that club was covering that up, I would quit the club. And I wouldn’t give them any more money,” he said.

“Religion seems to me to be at the base of all wars,” said the Florida-born singer and guitarist. “I’ve nothing against defending yourself, but I don’t think, spiritually speaking, that there’s any conception of God that should be telling you to be violent. It seems to me that no one’s got Christ more wrong than the Christians.”

Petty’s career has spanned more than 30 years, spawning multiple gold and platinum records, including the hit singles “Refugee,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and “Won’t Back Down.” He has performed as a solo artist, with his band the Heartbreakers and as a member of the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys alongside rock legend Roy Orbison, ELO founder Jeff Lynne and George Harrison of the Beatles.

[image of Tom Petty steve white photos /]

]]> 0
Baltimore man fatally shoots friend of 15 years during botched bulletproof vest ‘prank’ Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:54:01 +0000 David Edwards A Baltimore man who allegedly shot his longtime friend will be held without bail, a judge ruled on Monday.

Christopher Flohr, the attorney for 30-year-old Mark Ramiro, told a court that his client had intended to shoot a friend who was wearing a bulletproof vest as a “Jackass“-style prank, according to the Baltimore Sun.

In a video of the incident, 28-year-old Darnell Mitchell brags about taking a “deuce deuce in the chest” before Ramiro fires, hitting his friend of 15 years just above the protective vest.

Ramiro was charged with first- and second-degree murder, and handgun violations.

Flohr insisted to the court on Monday that Ramiro did not have any “ill will” toward Mitchell.

“It was a tragic, tragic accident between friends fueled by alcohol and drug abuse,” Flohr explained. “There’s no way to explain people messed up on drugs and alcohol.”

“This in no way was my client … trying to do anything but a stupid, ridiculous prank,” the attorney added. “He did the best he could to save his friend’s life.”

Assistant State’s Attorney David Chiu, however, argued that Ramiro’s lack of judgment made him a threat to the public.

“[The] motivation wasn’t anger … That motivation was fame and glory on the Web,” Chiu observed. “That’s almost more disconcerting to the state. … It was a deliberate videotaped shooting of someone [at] point-blank range.”

In the end, District Judge L. Robert Cooper agreed that pointing a loaded gun at someone and pulling the trigger was “incredibly dangerous behavior.”

Ramiro was ordered held without bond. His next court appearance was scheduled for August.

Watch the video below from WBAL-TV, broadcast July 19, 2014.

[Pistol and bullets on white background via]

]]> 0
Wave of migrant children threatens to ‘implode’ U.S. immigration courts, judge warns Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:39:37 +0000 Reuters By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A deluge of Central American children pouring into the United States threatens to burst the seams of already overstuffed immigration courts, and President Barack Obama’s steps to ease the crisis are likely to make matters worse rather than better for some, U.S. officials and immigration lawyers said.

“We are reaching a point of implosion, if we have not already reached it,” said Judge Dana Leigh Marks of San Francisco, who has been deciding immigration cases since 1987 and is president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.

The problem, according to judges, lawyers and immigration groups, is the sheer number of cases clogging the courts, due in part to beefed-up law enforcement at the southwestern U.S. border with Mexico.

U.S. immigration courts have a backlog of 375,373 cases, almost 50,000 more than they faced two years ago, according to Justice Department figures.

Marks, one of the 243 judges presiding over 59 immigration courts in the United States, is setting hearing dates as far off as 2018. It now typically takes three to five years for cases to clear the system, judges and lawyers said.

On a recent Wednesday at a crowded immigration court in Arlington, Virginia, a judge was setting February 2017 asylum hearings for juveniles.

Some of the children who appear in court suffer from debilitating illnesses or are scarred from traumas experienced during the journey north, from rape and other injuries to hunger and forced labor by human smugglers.

“It’s like conducting death-penalty cases in a traffic court,” said Marks, referring to the high volume of cases and often weighty decisions judges face over whether to return children to crime-infested homelands.

The court overload is rising in part because of a flood of unaccompanied minors from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Fleeing poverty and violence, many risk the trip alone, often trying to reunite with families in the United States.

Unless the flow of migrants from Central America subsides, the U.S. government estimates about 90,000 children will arrive this year, growing to 150,000 next year.

Obama has asked Congress to fund the hiring of 75 more immigration judges and instructed the immigration courts to prioritize children’s cases.

But his two-pronged plan is unlikely to transform a court system that some experts say has been saddled with increasingly complicated immigration laws from Congress since the late 1990s, spates of spiking border apprehensions and insufficient funding.


Budget pressures have contributed to the courts’ struggles.

With Central American illegal migration accelerating in fiscal 2012, Congress allocated $302 million for the courts. The following year, funding actually fell to $289 million, although this year it has risen slightly to $312 million.

To fulfill Obama’s request of 75 more judges, the Justice Department aims to lure 15 judges out of retirement and find another 60 permanent hires from the ranks of immigration lawyers.

But about 100 judges, more than one-third of the stable, are eligible to retire this year, Juan Osuna, director of the department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review that administers the courts, told Congress. Even if only half leave, Osuna said it would hamper Obama’s efforts to expand the court.

“As the stress gets worse, it becomes a far more difficult job and people are increasingly likely to retire at their earliest opportunity rather than well into retirement (age),” Marks said.

Immigration judges have been instructed to upend their regular case dockets to concentrate mainly on unaccompanied children and women with children who are in detention.

That could be bad news for the thousands of immigrants whose cases already have languished for years.

Matt Adams, legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle, represents a client whose case illustrates both the cumbersome bureaucracy of the understaffed courts and the unintended consequences of Obama’s “children first” directive.

In 2005, Adams’ client fled Eritrea and legally entered the United States. The woman’s immigration troubles began when she applied for U.S. citizenship, hoping to help bring her husband to the United States after years of separation.

U.S. immigration officials discovered a paperwork problem with her original entry and began deportation proceedings. On her scheduled court date, the judge was out sick and a new date was set for more than a year later.

Adams said if cases of unaccompanied minors were given priority, it would likely further delay his client’s case.


Juvenile cases are heard on Monday mornings in Baltimore, Maryland and Wednesday afternoons in Arlington, Virginia. At those times, the immigration courthouses fill with bottle-fed babies, antsy toddlers and nervous teenagers.

Judge Lisa Dornell in Baltimore encourages families to bring blankets or teddy bears to help comfort young children during the proceedings. Around 30 cases can move through Dornell’s courtroom during a Monday morning session.

Another judge told Reuters she uses humor to get kids’ attention, like flying a paper airplane to amuse a 10-year-old during a particularly tense hearing.

Arlington’s Judge John Bryant observed during one hearing that he sees illegal migrants “as young as 90 days old.”

After appearing in Bryant’s court, lawyer Cecil Harrigan told Reuters his teenaged client fled El Salvador after his brother was murdered by a gang. “A lot of these young people are running for their lives, and they’re scared,” he said.

Judge Bryant set a February 2017 asylum hearing for the boy. Until then, the teenager can attend school and have a job.

With no right to a government-appointed lawyer, some children show up for hearings aided only by a friend or relative and a court-appointed interpreter.

In those cases, Bryant gives them a list of non-governmental agencies offering free or low-cost legal services.

“Find a lawyer,” he advises.

Even with the contact list, obtaining a lawyer can be difficult and it can take up to a year to get representation, according to Simon Sandoval-Moshenburg of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Falls Church, Virginia.

A new study by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse shows that in cases where children had lawyers, about half were not deported.

In cases where juveniles were unrepresented, records show only one out of 10 were allowed to stay in the United States.

On a summer afternoon in the Arlington court, at least one case was removed from the huge backlog. The government, using “prosecutorial discretion” aimed at focusing efforts on higher-priority cases, dismissed its case against a Peruvian teenager who entered illegally in 2010 to join his parents.

“I wish you an absolutely wonderful life,” Bryant told the teen.

(Additional reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by Marilyn Thompson and Ross Colvin)

]]> 0
Race for North Dakota’s agriculture commissioner is all about oil Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:36:13 +0000 Reuters By Ernest Scheyder

TOWNER North Dakota (Reuters) – North Dakota’s biggest oil producers have picked a side and put money into an obscure election for the state’s agriculture commissioner, hoping to ward off a rising Democratic challenger who could limit development of new wells and pipelines.

With a legislature that meets only every two years, North Dakota has given an unusual amount of power to the agriculture commissioner and two other members of the state’s Industrial Commission, charging the triumvirate with oversight of permitting and other issues critical to the oil industry, which hopes to drill 35,000 new wells within 15 years.

North Dakota produces 1 million barrels of oil each day – more than any state except Texas and even some OPEC members – affording Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, a Republican, outsized influence over energy development thanks to his seat on the commission alongside the governor and attorney general.

Now, Goehring, armed with donations from executives and political action committees at Continental Resources Inc, Whiting Petroleum Corp, Marathon Oil Corp and other companies active in the state’s Bakken shale oil formation, is in the fight of his political life.

His opponent in the November election, Ryan Taylor, is a rancher and former Democratic state senator who threatens to impose stiffer regulations on an industry used to operating with little intervention in what is typically a conservative state.

“We want the oil, but we also want productive land when it’s all done,” Taylor said in an interview on his 2,900-acre ranch, dotted with scores of quietly grazing cows. He went on to say that if elected, “I’ll probably be looking at things in a more critical eye.”

At veterans halls and church suppers around the state, anecdotes abound of cattle escaping when energy workers forget to lock gates, of crops damaged by the saltwater waste byproduct from hydraulic fracturing, and of contractors not repairing land after laying pipeline. Such stories are shared by residents who are proud North Dakota is helping the United States achieve greater energy independence, but wary of what comes next.

Taylor, whose cattle are sold as beef to Whole Foods Markets Inc and other organic grocers, has made those concerns his rallying cry.

Goehring, by contrast, says it is not a zero-sum game.

“I think agriculture and energy can coexist in North Dakota,” he said in an interview at the state’s skyscraper capitol in Bismarck. “It can be a win-win scenario.”

The state’s Democratic party recently touted a study that found Goehring and Taylor in a tie, with nearly a third of voters undecided.

Political scientists at the two largest universities in the state of 700,000 have labeled the race too close to call.

“There’s a little bit of wariness about the oil boom that wasn’t there even two years ago,” said Kjersten Nelson, a political science professor at North Dakota State University. “I think that wariness is getting an outlet in this race.”

Nelson estimates about 40 percent of North Dakotans are Republicans, 20 percent are Democrats, and the rest are independent.


Goehring has raised about $87,000 more in campaign contributions than Taylor, according to state records. Continental, the state’s largest oil producer, called Goehring “a staunch advocate for agriculture and oil and gas.”

Marathon declined to comment. Other producers did not return calls seeking comment.

Goehring has received contributions from at least ten oil companies or their executives. Taylor has received none; his prominent supporters include U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp and Sarah Vogel, the state’s agriculture commissioner from 1989 to 1997, according to state records.

None of the oil industry donations to Goehring exceeded $5,000, though some executives have donated to his campaign more than once.

“Goehring has done a good job of balancing the concerns of the agriculture and oil industries, and I’m proud to support him for another term,” said a board member of a large North Dakota

oil producer who asked not to be identified in case Taylor wins.

If reelected, Goehring said the energy industry should expect a “balanced approach to the all issues, including regulation.” He lost the agriculture commissioner’s race in 2004 and 2006 to a Democrat before winning with 68 percent of the vote in 2010.

Taylor, meanwhile, has laid out a campaign manifesto filled with specific proposals for tightening regulation over the energy industry, most of which oil companies oppose.

For instance, he says flaring, or the wasteful burning of natural gas from wells not linked to pipelines, should be banned within 1,320 feet of homes. The current rule is 500 feet.

Taylor also wants pipeline companies to use flow meters to better monitor leaks, an increasingly popular proposal after an underground pipeline leaked 1 million gallons of saltwater over the July Fourth holiday weekend.

Goehring, who grows wheat, corn and other crops on his 2,600-acre farm, opposes Taylor’s flow-meter proposal, saying the new technology is not ready to be used widely. He supports annual pressure testing, claiming it would better detect leaks.

“We’re making these companies clean up these saltwater spills,” Goehring said.

Taylor, should he win and propose tighter regulations, could be outvoted on the commission by the governor and attorney general, both Republicans. But having the seat, supporters say, would give Taylor a bully pulpit for their concerns.


Goehring faces another obstacle to reelection: putting behind him an investigation last year that found he had asked a female staff member to step on his sore back to crack it and labeled women in his office his “harem.”

Goehring apologized, took a sexual harassment course and was cleared of misconduct by the state’s Department of Risk Management.

The “harem” comment was in poor taste and didn’t reflect his true feelings, Goehring said. “I want my record to stand for itself.”

After the incidents were made public, the powerful North Dakota Farm Bureau threw its support behind a primary challenger to Goehring at the state Republican convention. While the primary challenge failed, the bureau has since decided not to endorse any candidate in the election, a rebuke to Goehring, who used to work at the trade group.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, whose term ends in 2016, and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told Reuters they support Goehring.

Amidst the investigation and unease about the oil boom, political scientists believe the race for the $95,000-per-year job could very well be won by Taylor.

“Taylor’s got this charisma thing that I think will work in his favor,” said Robert Wood, a professor and pollster at the University of North Dakota. “He’s the only Democrat I would give a chance to this fall.”

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Terry Wade and Alden Bentley)

[Oil rig on Shutterstock]

]]> 0
Judge dismisses Republican lawsuit over Obamacare subsidy for Congress Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:34:26 +0000 Reuters By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – A federal judge has thrown out a U.S. Senator’s legal challenge to a part of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law that grants health insurance subsidies for members of Congress and their staffs.

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin had challenged the right of the federal government to continue making employer contributions to Congressional health insurance plans even when lawmakers and their staff purchase coverage through new Obamacare online exchanges.

U.S. District Judge William Griesbach, in Green Bay, dismissed the lawsuit on Monday, saying Johnson had failed to show he had been harmed by the regulation.

“There is nothing in the Constitution stipulating that all wrongs must have remedies, much less that the remedy must lie in federal court,” Griesbach, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, said in his decision.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, has been the subject of years of political and legal attacks by Republicans, including unsuccessful bids to repeal it.

Monday’s ruling comes less than four months before elections in which Republicans seek to expand their House majority and win control of the Senate from Obama’s fellow Democrats.

After the ruling, Johnson said he still believed the Obama administration was exceeding its legal authority.

“(It) violated its own signature healthcare law by giving special treatment to members of Congress and their staffs,” he said in a statement.

“I believe that this executive action by the Obama administration is unlawful and unfair, and that it is only one of many examples of this president’s abuse of his constitutional duty.”

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 2012 ruling, upheld the law’s “individual mandate”, a core provision requiring most Americans obtain health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty.

The law also created new online marketplaces where Americans can shop for and buy insurance, with the goal of expanding coverage for uninsured and underinsured people.

]]> 0
Is the Pope being Catholic or communist when he attacks capitalism for ignoring the poor? Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:29:53 +0000 The Conversation By Bruce Duncan, University of Divinity

A blog in The Economist recently accused Pope Francis of following the founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, in adopting an “ultra-radical line” on capitalism. The blog, “Francis, capitalism and war: the Pope’s divisions”, was reacting to the Pope’s interview on June 9 in Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, in which he linked an earlier form of capitalism with imperialism as the main causes of World War One.

In response, in an interview with the Italian daily Il Messaggero, the Pope said:

The communists have stolen the flag. The flag of the poor is Christian … The poor are at the centre of the Gospel.

Francis pointed to the Beatitudes, and Matthew’s Last Judgment scene when God will judge us on how we treated the hungry, naked, the prisoners.

“The communists say that all this is communist,“ Francis said, yet Christians said this 20 centuries earlier. Pope Francis said one could reply to the communists: “you are Christians” in your concern for the poor.

Reasserting Catholic social thinking

Pope Francis’s views are arousing controversy, since many people seem unaware how strongly Catholic social thinking is opposed to the neoliberal policies of the free-marketeers. In the La Vanguardia interview, Francis was distressed that in some countries unemployment levels exceed 50% of workers. He had been told that 75 million young Europeans under 25 years of age were unemployed.

“That is an atrocity, discarding an entire generation to maintain an economic system” that was collapsing, and that depends on the armaments industry to survive. Francis supported the possibilities of globalisation, but deplored the discarding of the young and the elderly.

It was “incomprehensible” that so many people in the world are still hungry. Francis said “the world economic system is not good”, and “we have put money at the centre, the god of money”.

Others disputed the Pope’s critique of inequality. In the UK Telegraph, Allister Heath contested the views of Francis for his attack on economic inequalities and the “new tyranny” of the “absolute autonomy of markets”:

Francis’ wholesale condemnation of inequality is thus tantamount to a complete rejection of contemporary economic systems. It is not a call for reform … but a radical denunciation.

Heath rejected Francis’s criticism of “trickle-down economics” as a caricature of free-market arguments. Instead, Heath regarded capitalism as “the greatest alleviator of poverty and liberator of people ever discovered”.

Paul B. Farrell’s suggestion in the Wall Street Journal is for Francis to support Bill Gates’ “Giving Pledge” for the super rich to give away half their fortunes in their lifetimes. So far 122 of the super rich have agreed to do so. Alas, this would do nothing to challenge the causes of the perverse distribution of wealth in most capitalist economies.

As Archbishop of Buenos Aires before he became Pope, Bergoglio experienced the trauma of Argentina going into the biggest financial default in history in 2002, owing nearly US$100 billion, much of it lost by mismanagement and war under earlier military regimes.

The percentage of Argentina’s population plunged into poverty rose to 50%, compared with 7% in the 1970s. Millions lost their savings, a quarter of workers lost their jobs and a quarter of the population was left destitute and hungry.

While most of the debt was restructured, so-called “vulture funds” bought up some of the debt for a pittance and demanded that Argentina pay US$1.33 billion, making a return of 1000% to these 1.6% of original bondholders. Despite a German court striking out similar “vulture fund” claims in 2013, astonishingly the US Supreme Court in June 2014 ordered the full debt be paid.

Francis is speaking against the background of such predatory forms of capitalism.

Francis condemns gross inequality

On April 28, the Pope tweeted:

Francis was quoting from his exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, #202.

The message quickly drew thousands of retweets, some critical. Joe Carter, the director of the Acton Institute, an American free market think-tank that is underpinned by religious thought, tweeted:

Thomas Piketty’s massive tome Capital in the Twenty-first Century had recently been published in English, arguing that the capitalist economy was inherently geared to greatly increasing inequality. Francis considers extreme “unbridled consumerism combined with inequality” outrageous. He fears that resentment by impoverished populations will fuel revolutions, as it has in the past.

Francis is not arguing for absolute equality, as some of his critics have claimed. The Catholic Church has never called for absolute equality. It has argued for a just distribution of goods and services that ensures everyone the possibility of a reasonable life and standard of living. Perhaps “social equity” is a better translation for what the Pope has in mind, but this implies more than the notion of equality of opportunity, since outcomes matter as well.

While sharply critical of the neoliberal views that exacerbated the global financial crisis, Francis strongly supports economic policies that promote material and social uplift more equitably. Speaking in Rome last month, Francis said:

It is increasingly intolerable that financial markets are shaping the destiny of peoples rather than serving their needs, or that the few derive immense wealth from financial speculation while the many are deeply burdened by the consequences.

These issues are likely to figure prominently in the forthcoming document on the environment that Francis’s team of advisers have been preparing.

The Conversation

Bruce Duncan is a Catholic priest of the Redemptorist Congregation and a member of the social advocacy organisation Social Policy Connections.

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

]]> 0
Falling behind: U.S. among the least energy efficient of the world’s largest economies Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:16:56 +0000 Climate Central Originally published at Climate Central

Germany is the global leader in energy efficiency, and the U.S., with its ingrained car culture, is among the least energy efficient of the world’s largest economies.

That’s the conclusion of a new report released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, which ranks the world’s 16 largest economies based on 31 different measurements of efficiency, including national energy savings targets, fuel economy standards for vehicles, efficiency standards for appliances, average vehicle mpg, and energy consumed per square foot of floor space in residential buildings, among other metrics.

Credit: ACEEE

The ACEEE report ranked the U.S. 13th overall, with Germany, Italy, smaller European Union nations, France and China making up the top five most energy efficient economies in the world.

Using energy more efficiently is a critical step countries can take to reduce their fossil fuels consumption and its related climate change-driving carbon dioxide and methane emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency used state energy efficiency standards to help set CO2 emissions reductions goals for each state in the agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, announced in June.

The U.S. was the 9th most energy-efficient economy in the ACEEE’s 2012 ranking, which criticized the country for focusing more on road construction than expanding public transportation.

Since then, the U.S. has made very little progress toward using energy more efficiently, the 2014 report says.

This year, the U.S. took a major hit for its lack of a national energy savings plan or national greenhouse gas reduction plan, and its ongoing resistance to public transit.

Americans drive more than 9,300 miles per year, more than citizens in any other major world economy, according to the report. Australians, ranking second-to-last for annual per-capita vehicle miles traveled, drive 6,368 miles per year. India tops the list, driving 85 miles per year per capita, followed by China with 513 miles per year.

Americans also ranked last for the percentage of their travel accomplished using public transit — 10 percent, tying with Canada. Residents of China use transit 72 percent of the time, followed by Indians, who use transit 65 percent of the time.

The U.S. scored well for its energy efficiency tax credit and loan programs. And, it scored well for efficient ovens and refrigerators.

“We’re a leader in appliance and equipment standards,” said the report’s lead author, ACEEE national policy research analyst Rachel Young.

The U.S. took a hit in the ACEEE global energy efficiency survey because of Americans’ resistance to using public transportation. This is a New York City subway train, the busiest subway system in the U.S.
Credit: Tim Adams/flickr


The report called EnergyGuide appliance labels and Energy Star labels “best practices” for voluntary appliance and equipment standards.

The ACEEE gave the U.S. credit for energy efficiency standards included in residential and commercial building codes in many states, but criticized the country for not having adequate national building standards in place.

Young said the U.S. may improve in the energy efficiency rankings if the Clean Power Plan is finalized because a state may be able to increase the efficiency of its power plants and buildings as ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.

“The rule could spur greater investment in energy efficiency throughout the country,” she said.

By contrast, Germany scored well in nearly every category in the survey, including spending on energy efficiency measures, aggressive building codes, and the country’s tax credit and loan programs.

Germany has set a national target of a 20 percent reduction in primary energy consumption below 2008 levels by 2020 and 50 percent by 2050.

The U.S. is one of only two countries in the survey with no national energy savings plan or greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan.

]]> 0
Ladies who don’t use contraception have had it with you 99% that do, you dirty girls. Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:00:55 +0000 Amanda Marcotte What if I told you some women actually wanted to have sex for non-baby reasons?

As a reminder during our fancy new era of Christian fundamentalists trying to make contraception controversial: “More than 99% of women aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method.” Because the people-standing-with-handwritten-signs thing will never die, Buzzfeed decided to put a face to a behavior that’s more popular than watching TV by having women explain why they use contraception. (I am making gentle fun, because this entire situation is so ludicrous, but I appreciate the effort. The louder the “SLUT” accusations get when aimed at 99% of women, the more pushback is sadly required.)

But the judgy church ladies of the world would not let this stand! Wonkette linked a website called Catholic Sistas (yes, that’s their name)  who decided to respond with “Why we DON’T use Birth Control“. Considering how few women don’t use contraception, they appear to have managed to get a quote from each and every one of them.*

I will say that one huge difference that’s immediately apparent between the Buzzfeed piece and the Catholic finger-waving piece is the  implication of each sign. Buzzfeed ladies all had signs that were very personal to them, with no implications about people who choose otherwise. However, each and every sign that the Catholic ladies are holding can be summed up as, “Because I’m better than you stupid sluts.” It’s actually a nice distillation of the difference between reactionary politics and liberatory politics, especially since the belief that you should never have sex unless you’re open to having kids is so arbitrary, much like arguing you shouldn’t watch Game of Thrones unless you’re training to sword fight. It’s being hostile to fun for no other reason than it’s fun.

But enough of the preliminaries. I know you guys just want to see the pictures!

And 99% of women apparently don’t! Seriously, this notion that women can only love men through utter submission—including ceding all control over your body not just to him but to any sperm he sends in your direction—is really what’s behind all this. Never mind that most men actually share in the general belief that being able to have sex without getting pregnant is a good thing to be able to do. That’s why, no matter how much these folks wax on and on about how this is supposedly all about loving people and humanity, it’s a deeply dehumanizing ideology. It’s about being so infatuated with this abstract notion of male dominance and female submission that you can’t even see the human beings right in front of you who have actual, real life uses for sex outside of just acting out some kind of ritual domination of the female body.

Not that all pregnancy is about submission, of course. In fact, for most people, pregnancy is just how you make a baby, not some demonstration of submission and fealty to her man’s overpowering of her body. Which is why we should get to control when it happens.

contraception 1


If you’re having sex without trying to get pregnant, then you are a gross, terrible, debased person who is worthless is a common theme here. “Toxic waste dump” is just one expression of it, but there are others:

contraception 2











contraception 3









Another woman, too lazy to do the selfie thing, wrote, “Because it perpetuates the objectification of women as worthless sexual objects, constantly at the disposal of men in our commodity driven culture.” The theme is clear. Women who have sex for pleasure are “sick”, “broken”, “toxic”, “worthless”, and don’t “respect” their bodies. The possibility that having sex for your own sake and instead just to reproduce could be a healthy choice made out of self-respect is denied implicitly.

There was also a lot of confusion about biology, including statements like “Because nothing in the world smells better than a baby’s head” or “Because a baby in mommy’s tummy makes my older kids so excited” suggest that some contributors are unaware that there are forms of contraception that are impermanent. In fact, most women both have children and use contraception over the course of a lifetime.

Or this: “Because I really don’t think it’s healthy for my body to think it is perpetually pregnant.”” But actually being perpetually pregnant is apparently okay.


There were also a number of women who are unaware that hormone levels fluctuate by natural means, and seemed to think that the only “hormones” that could ever be in your body would be introduced from outside sources:

contraception 4

“Because I love the first little flutters of a baby growing within me.”








This one is hard to read, but mostly it’s a bunch of scare-mongering about blood clots and hormones. But, if you’re sincerely worried about those things, I have bad news for you: Pregnancy causes a much bigger surge of the hormones that scare you than the pill ever could. If you’re concerned about blood clots or blood pressure problems, pregnancy is much more serious. About 5% of pregnant women experience preeclampsia, a condition of elevated blood pressure that can raise your chance of having a stroke. Pregnancy and childbirth are known to raise the chances of blood clots. Blood clots on the pill are relatively rare, with 3 to 9 women out of 10,000 developing them, over a baseline of 1 to 5 out of 10,000 in women of reproductive age who aren’t on the pill.

There was also misinformation claiming the pill is bad for the environment (it’s not, though having children certainly is). But outliers aside, taking the comments together you begin to see what the actual argument is: That in order to be a good woman, you should abhor sex and embrace an irrational sentimentality about children that precludes concerns like having more than you can feed.

Good Women Don’t Like Sex

“Because I want my husband to actually be involved in our decision to have sex and know that I’m not carrying the weight alone and that he is not just using me for sex.”

“Because immediate gratification without consequence is not the highest good.”

“Because if I didn’t want to have a baby, I just wouldn’t have sex.”

“Because I am responsible and make mindful decisions, accepting the consequences to every action I make.”

“Because I don’t need anything to control me, I can control myself.”

Good Women Have No Other Desires But MORE BABIES

“Because I love babies!”

“Because I love the first little flutters of a baby growing within me.”

“Because siblings are a gift.”

Because I love the spontaneity, thrill and joy my family brings to me each day….. something I never had without them.”

“Because I love the way my husband puts his hand on my pregnant belly.”

“Because life is a beautiful thing. Always.”

In all seriousness, while it sounds like these women are saying they’re too stupid to know that, over a lifetime, you can both have babies and use contraception, I don’t think that’s what is going on. What we’re looking at is the damage that gender essentialism does to people’s ability to think clearly. These are people who believe “good women” show how “good” they are by how much they love babies, and therefore the more babies you have, the better a woman you are!

The ones that are saddest to me are the ones who’ve decided to use this messed up way of thinking as a way to test their husbands, convincing themselves the way he “proves” he loves you is by valiantly going without sex. There’s not much room in this ideology for the possibility that sex could be a way to express love or, gasp! that women might actually be the ones to want sex.

*That or a whole bunch of them are lying. My money is on “lying”. There’s so much pressure to preen about how you’re a virtuous objector to contraception and no way people are going to find out what you’re actually doing…..

]]> 0
AL man accidentally kills girlfriend while playing with gun on trampoline with infant Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:46:54 +0000 Travis Gettys An Alabama man has been charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of his girlfriend earlier this month.

Raphiel Quinnie, of Mobile, was playing on a trampoline July 14 with Selena Edwards and the couple’s infant daughter when the gun accidentally fired, the man’s mother told The Press-Register.

“I believe this really was a misunderstanding and a bad accident,” said Jackie Quinnie. “I know they were playing over the gun … and he did not know the bullet was still in the chamber.”

The 19-year-old Edwards was found dead from a single gunshot wound, police said, and Quinnie’s mother described her death as a “freak accident.”

“He wouldn’t hurt her like that; they were in love,” Jackie Quinnie said. “It’s killing him.”

Police said the gun involved in the shooting was stolen, and Raphiel Quinnie has also been charged with second-degree receiving stolen property.

Watch this video report posted online by WKRG-TV:

]]> 0
TX man shoots self hitching up shorts in store: ‘It’s dangerous to stick a gun in your pants’ Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:13:00 +0000 Travis Gettys A Texas man was wounded Friday afternoon after accidentally shooting himself during a trip to a convenience store.

Police said Jason Bryant, who held a concealed carry permit, went into the store in Orange, where the gun discharged as he pulled up his shorts, reported the Longview News-Journal.

“He walked maybe six feet in the door when he pulled his shorts up, something caught the trigger and the gun discharged into his leg,” said Chief Jim Vanover, of Orange police. “People immediately rushed over to help.”

Another customer fashioned a tourniquet from a belt by the time emergency crews arrived, and Bryant was taken to an area hospital for treatment.

Vanover said the shooting could have been prevented by proper gun safety.

“If you’re going to carry a gun it needs to be in a safe holster,” Vanover said. “It’s dangerous to stick a gun in your pants.”

No one else was injured during the incident, which remains under investigation.

Bryant has not been charged in the negligent discharge.

[Image: Gun in jeans waistband via Shutterstock]

]]> 0
Idaho tribe cancels Ted Nugent casino concert over rocker’s racist comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 10:48:12 +0000 Travis Gettys A Native American tribe called off a scheduled performance by Ted Nugent over concerns about the rocker’s history of racist and hateful statements.

Nugent had been slated to perform Aug. 4 at the Couer D’Alene Casino in Worley, Idaho, until the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch called Monday to ask about the concert.

The Hatewatch blog reported that tribal officials “sounded completely caught off-guard” by the request for comment, but the tribe abruptly cancelled the performance later that day.

“The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has always been about human rights – for decades, we have worked individually and as a Tribe to make sure that each and every person is treated equally and with respect and dignity,” the tribe said in a statement.

The blog reported that Laura Stensgar, the executive marketing director for the casino, apparently made the decision or approved of it.

But she said after the cancellation that the tribe did not want the casino to be used as a platform for the “racist attitudes and views that Ted Nugent espouses.”

Nugent, whose hits include “Stranglehold” and “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,” has made numerous offensive comments – many during performances, when he sometimes wears an Indian headdress.

“Unfortunately, when we booked him, we were looking at him from an entertainment perspective, as an 80s rock ‘n roller, who we thought folks might enjoy,” Stensgar said.

She and the tribe’s chairman, Chief Allan, expressed regret for booking Nugent to perform.

“We know what it’s like to be the target of hateful messages and we would never want perpetuate hate in any way,” Allen said in a statement.

A Texas town paid Nugent $16,000 not to play at its Fourth of July event this year after complaints arose over his scheduled performance.

[Image: Ted Nugent Live via Flickr/David Defoe]

]]> 0
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 debris supports missile theory Tue, 22 Jul 2014 09:02:29 +0000 International Business Times MH17 Debris Supports Missile Theory

]]> 0
Gravity plays a key role in shaping the U.S. West’s sandstone arches Tue, 22 Jul 2014 08:58:33 +0000 RedOrbit Gravity Plays A Key Role In Shaping Sandstone Arches

]]> 0
After 13 years, Americans are tired of the ‘war on terror’: 9/11 Commission Tue, 22 Jul 2014 08:50:16 +0000 Reuters After 13 years of struggle, Americans are showing a growing public fatigue and waning sense of urgency over terrorism, an attitude that threatens U.S. security, members of the panel that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks said in a report on Tuesday.

A decade after issuing the official account of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, the former members of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission issued a new report warning that, while the world has changed dramatically, the threat from terrorism remains and has “entered a new and dangerous phase.”

“Many Americans think that the terrorist threat is waning – that, as a country, we can begin turning back to other concerns. They are wrong,” the report said. “The threat remains grave and the trend lines in many parts of the world are pointing in the wrong direction.”

“Al Qaeda-affiliated groups are gaining strength throughout the greater Middle East,” it added. “While the various al Qaeda spinoffs are primarily focused on regional conflicts, they hate the United States and will not forego opportunities to strike at the U.S. homeland.”

The panel, headed by former Republican New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean and former Democratic Representative Lee Hamilton, said foreign fighters returning to Europe from Syria and Iraq pose a “grave threat” to the United States and Western Europe.

Of the 10,000 foreign fighters that have traveled to Syria, more than 1,000 hold European passports, which in most cases would enable them to enter the United States without a visa, the panel said. More than 100 U.S. citizens also fought in Syria.

“When these battle-hardened, radicalized fighters return to their home countries, they will pose a serious terrorist threat to both the United States and Europe,” it said.

The group also noted that “The 9/11 Commission Report” issued a decade ago called for reducing the fragmented oversight that resulted in the Department of Homeland Security reporting to 88 committees and subcommittees of Congress.

“Incredibly, it has increased to 92,” the report said, noting that “Congress has proved resistant to needed reforms.”

The report said U.S. counterterrorism capabilities have improved significantly since the Sept. 11 attacks and people in government are tracking the evolving threat, “thinking one step ahead in order to prevent the next attack.”

“Our serious concern now is that public fatigue and waning urgency will undermine these accomplishments. We cannot afford that,” the report said.

It issued a series of recommendations, including calling on U.S. leaders to give the public detailed information about evolving threats, and asking Congress to update its 2001 authorization for the use of military force to improve the administration’s response to threats from Islamist militants.

(Reporting by David Alexander. Editing by Andre Grenon)

]]> 0
Detroit workers, retirees vote in favor of city’s debt plan Tue, 22 Jul 2014 08:46:54 +0000 Reuters Detroit’s city workers and retirees overwhelmingly agreed to accept the city’s debt adjustment plan, according to results filed late Monday, potentially clearing the way for the struggling city to exit bankruptcy in the next few months.

Documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court show the city’s current and retired police and fire employees, along with other active and retired city workers, will accept pension reductions to help adjust $18 billion in debt in the largest-ever U.S. municipal bankruptcy case. Most bondholders rejected the plan, along with insurers backing some of the debt.

The city declared that the “overwhelming” vote by members of its two retirement systems to accept changes to their pensions puts it on track for a coming trial to determine whether the plan is fair and feasible. That phase is scheduled to begin on Aug. 14, overseen by Judge Steven Rhodes.

“The voting shows strong support for the city’s plan to adjust its debts and for the investment necessary to provide essential services and put Detroit on secure financial footing,” said Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr in a statement.

Detroit filed for bankruptcy in July 2013 after decades of dwindling population and a declining manufacturing base left the city of approximately 688,000 unable to pay its bills.

About 82 percent of the Police & Fire Retirement System and 73 percent of the General Retirement System retirees and active employees voted in favor of the plan, which calls for pension reductions, the statement added.

Under the so-called grand bargain, Detroit will tap $466 million pledged by philanthropic foundations and the Detroit Institute of Arts and $195 million from the state of Michigan to ease pension cuts and save art work from being sold to pay city creditors.

A rejection of the plan would have dissolved the grand bargain, leaving retirees with bigger pension cuts.

Four classes of Detroit creditors, including limited-tax general obligation bonds and pension debt, voted to reject the plan, while six accepted it, the court filings showed.

Voting results for $5.27 billion of water and sewer revenue bonds were unclear. Two of the three bond insurers whose votes were to be counted in lieu of bondholders, voted against the plan, according to court documents.

Parties to the city’s first creditor settlement – Bank of America unit Merrill Lynch Capital Services and UBS AG – also accepted the plan, which would give them $85 million to terminate costly interest-rate swap deals. But 100 percent of the creditors for $1.47 billion of defaulted pension debt associated with the swaps rejected the plan, which offers them a recovery of just pennies on the dollar.

Syncora Guarantee Inc and Financial Guaranty Insurance Co, which guarantee payment of the pension debt, are two of the last remaining major creditors battling the city in court.

Syncora late on Friday asked the court to delay the confirmation hearing until Sept. 29, citing a lack of full documentation of settlements Detroit has entered into with some creditors. The bond insurance company said its ability to prepare for the hearing is “significantly prejudiced” without the documents. Lawyers for the city objected to the delay, saying it was unnecessary and potentially costly. Syncora is one of the city’s few remaining hold-out creditors.

Nearly 96 percent of holders of unsecured limited-tax GO bonds turned down the plan, while 87 percent of unsecured unlimited-tax GO bond creditors voted for it.

A July 18 report by Martha Kopacz, a senior managing director at Phoenix Management Services in Boston, who was chosen by Rhodes in April as an expert witness, concluded that the plan was feasible and that its revenue, expense and payment assumptions were reasonable.

(Reporting By Karen Pierog and Lisa Lambert, Editing by David Gaffen and Jacqueline Wong)

]]> 0
Scientists hope radar technology will help them find 100 year-old Aboriginal burial ground Tue, 22 Jul 2014 08:37:38 +0000 Agence France-Presse Scientists said Tuesday they hope that radar technology will help them find a century-old Aboriginal burial ground on an Australian island, bringing some closure to the local indigenous population.

Peter Davies, from Queensland’s University of the Sunshine Coast, is researching the ancient shoreline of World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, popular with tourists for its sandy beaches and dingo, or wild dog, population.

He said he was approached by a Fraser Island group earlier this year to help find the graves, believed to be of more than 100 indigenous people, including many children.

“It’s completely sand, and the ground penetrating radar works really well in sand,” the soil scientist explained of the island.

The graves are of those who died at the Bogimbah Creek mission, which was established on the west coast of Fraser Island in 1897.

More than 100 Aboriginal people are thought to have died at the site, where living conditions were appalling and many succumbed to diseases such as dysentry and syphilis, as well as malnutrition, before it was abandoned in 1904.

“It seems like it was purely a way to get the Aboriginal mission out of the white settlers’ hair,” Davies said of the establishment of the mission on the island at the time.

“It was obviously quite a nasty period of Fraser’s history.”

Davies said while elders from the Aboriginal community had found the remains of the mission, it was hoped the scientists could locate the exact burial sites, which had never been marked.

The radar technology would allow the researchers to develop 3-D images of what is below the surface, he said.

“The ground-penetrating radar is the ideal instrument to locate disturbed ground, human remains and artefacts and has been previously used in locating indigenous burial sites up to 20,000 years old,” he added.

Aborigines, who have occupied Australia for 50,000 years but who number less than 500,000 of a total population of 23 million, are the most disadvantaged Australians.

They are believed to have numbered around one million at the time of British settlement two centuries ago.

]]> 0
Failed sale of 1869 Karl Marx letter disappoints Chinese capitalists who set the price too high Tue, 22 Jul 2014 08:28:38 +0000 Agence France-Presse A letter by the late Karl Marx, the German philosopher who offered an alternative to capitalism, has failed to sell in Communist-ruled China because the auctioneer set too high a price.

The Shanghai-based Hosane auction house set a starting price of 8.0 million yuan ($1.3 million) but failed to find a single bidder on Monday, the Global Times newspaper reported.

The 1869 letter, owned by a Chinese collector, was written by Marx while he was in the British city of Manchester.

The same letter was reportedly sold by the Christie’s auction house in 2008 for 6,000 pounds ($10,246), far higher than its original estimate of 1,000 to 1,500 pounds.

The auction house had expected a buyer to pay a premium to own a piece of Marxist history, amid a collecting boom in China as incomes rise.

But Shanghai collector Liu Debao, who specialises in “revolutionary” items, told the newspaper the price was too high.

“The price is unreasonable and frightens away interested buyers,” he was quoted as saying.

Although ruled by the Communist Party, China’s economic reforms since 1978 have loosened the state’s grip on some sectors of the economy and created thousands of multi-millionaires.

]]> 0
How America’s ‘wild west’ gun policies are fueling Central America’s refugee problem Tue, 22 Jul 2014 08:19:05 +0000 Moyers & Company It’s been widely reported that loosely regulated gun sales in the US have fueled Mexico’s drug wars. A 2013 study by scholars at the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute and the Igarape Institute — a Brazilian research center — found that 253,000 guns are smuggled into Mexico from the US each year, about 2.2 percent of total American gun sales.

Over the weekend, Alec McGillis reported for The New Republic that a similar dynamic is throwing fuel on the fire in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — the three countries that account for a spike in unaccompanied refugee children showing up at our Southern border.

Richard Slotkin on Guns and Violence from on Vimeo.

MacGillis writes:

The surge of migrants coming to the U.S. from Central America is being fueled in part by the movement of guns heading in the other direction, from U.S. dealerships doing brisk business with the help of porous guns laws and a powerful gun lobby.

The role of gun trafficking has been oddly absent in the debate over the gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala that, coupled with economic despair, is driving the migrant wave from those three nations, the so-called Northern Triangle. It’s not as if we’re unwilling to consider any U.S. responsibility for the surge—there’s plenty of talk about the fact that several of the gangs terrorizing the Northern Triangle got their start in Los Angeles, and about the role that U.S. drug policy has played in fueling violence south of the border.

Getting less attention, though, has been the U.S. link to the actual weaponry being used in the killings and other crimes that make the three Central American nations among the most dangerous in the world. (Honduras has by far the highest homicide rate in the world; El Salvador and Guatemala are fourth and fifth.) According to data collected by the ATF, nearly half of the guns seized from criminals in El Salvador and submitted for tracing in the ATF’s online system last year originated in the U.S., versus 38 and 24 percent in Honduras and Guatemala, respectively. Many of those guns were imported through legal channels, either to government or law enforcement agencies in the three countries or to firearms dealers there. But a not-insignificant number of the U.S.-sourced guns—more than 20 percent in both Guatemala and Honduras—were traced to retail sales in the U.S. That is, they were sold by U.S. gun dealers and then transported south, typically hidden in vehicles headed across Mexico, though sometimes also stowed in checked airline luggage, air cargo, or even boat shipments. (Similar ratios were found in traces the ATF conducted in 2009 of 6,000 seized guns stored in a Guatemalan military bunker—40 percent of the guns came from the United States, and slightly less than half of those were found to have been legally imported, leaving hundreds that were apparently trafficked.) “It is a problem,” says Jose Miguel Cruz, an expert in Central American gang violence at Florida International University. “The problem is we don’t have any idea how many [of the trafficked guns] there are. It’s a big, dark area.”

Read the whole thing at The New Republic.

]]> 0
‘Fake’ Twitter users attacking Tibet and Dalai Lama are Chinese propagandists: rights group Tue, 22 Jul 2014 08:09:26 +0000 Agence France-Presse Beijing has created at least 100 fake Twitter accounts to spread propaganda about Tibet and other Chinese concerns, a campaign group said.

The social networking site is blocked within China, but Free Tibet said it had identified around 100 accounts — many of them bearing Western names, usually a combination of two forenames — as “undoubtedly fake”, adding there could be “hundreds more”.

They are dedicated to circulating China’s message on Tibet and other issues such as the restive region of Xinjiang, home to largely Muslim Uighurs, the London-based group said in a statement.

Profile pictures included photographs of US schoolgirls taken from professional photographers’ websites, models, commercial stock images and images of celebrities including the late Pink Floyd singer Syd Barrett, it added.

The roughly 20 accounts it highlighted were suspended on Tuesday, but the US-based China Digital Times, which tracks Chinese Internet and media activity, posted images of tweets by one of them, tomhugo148.

They included: “Tibetans hail bumper harvest of highland barley”, and “How People of China Perceive Dalai Lama”.

Free Tibet did not give evidence of who had set up the accounts, but described them as “China?s latest attempt to persuade the world that Tibet is a safe, protected and happy Chinese province”.

The content disseminated includes attacks on the Dalai Lama ?- one tweet attacking the Tibetan spiritual leader has been retweeted 6,555 times, it said.

They tweeted identical or very similar content, sometimes simultaneously, and the postings had “minimal ‘personal’ content” and instead provided links to Chinese Tibet-related sites.

“The extensive nature of these abuses and apparently large number of suspicious accounts makes the provision of a definitive and comprehensive list impossible,” it added.

China has governed Tibet since 1951, a year after invading, and the Dalai Lama fled across the Himalayas to India after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.

Impersonation is a violation of Twitter’s rules, but a spokesman declined to comment on the suspensions, saying the company does not comment on individual accounts or cases for privacy and security reasons.

]]> 0
Middle East’s MERS-CoV virus found in air of camel barn Tue, 22 Jul 2014 08:05:19 +0000 Agence France-Presse Researchers in Saudi Arabia said Tuesday they have found genetic traces of the dangerous Middle East respiratory virus, MERS-CoV, in the air of a barn that housed a sick camel.

The study in mBio, the journal of the American Society for Microbiology, calls for further research to determine if the potentially fatal virus can be transmitted through the air.

MERS emerged in 2012 and has already killed 209 of the 699 people infected, according to the World Health Organization latest update on June 11.

For this study led by Esam Azhar, associate professor of medical virology at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, researchers sampled the air inside a camel barn owned by a man who died of MERS.

Four of the man’s camels had shown symptoms of MERS, including nasal discharge, and the owner directly applied a topical medicine to the nose of one of the sick animals a week before he fell ill.

The first air sample, taken on November 7, the same day that one of the camels in the barn tested positive for MERS, showed that genetic fragments of MERS were present in the air.

However, samples taken on subsequent days did not detect the virus in the air.

Azhar said that might mean that the virus’s shedding pattern is either short or intermittent.

Lab studies showed that the MERS genetic sequences found in the air were identical matches to the fragments in the sick camel and in the man who owned them.

The discovery “warrants further investigations and measures to prevent possible airborne transmission of this deadly virus,” Azhar said.

People who come in close contact with camels should wear face masks, gloves and protective clothing, and should wash their hands regularly, researchers say.

Experts also advise those who consume camel products to cook the meat thoroughly and pasteurize the milk.

Previous research has suggested that virus may be jumping directly from camels to people.

Symptoms may range from flu-like to pneumonia and kidney failure.

MERS first emerged in Saudi Arabia and has since been detected in more than 20 countries.

]]> 0
Encephalitis kills 60 in eastern India in fortnight Tue, 22 Jul 2014 08:01:41 +0000 Agence France-Presse An outbreak of encephalitis has killed 60 people in two weeks in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, a top health official has said, calling the situation “alarming’.

Hundreds of mainly children die across India each year from the mosquito-borne virus, but West Bengal is not normally one of the worst-hit states.

Only five people died last year in West Bengal from Japanese encephalitis, one form of the virus which normally hits during the monsoon season when mosquitos breed.

West Bengal health services director Biswaranjan Satpathy said late on Monday there had been a sudden spike in cases and deaths between July 7 and 20.

Satpathy chaired a meeting of state medical officers on Monday to assess the situation that he said had reached “alarming proportions”.

He said there was no specific reason for the jump, and instead cited “seasonal variance”.

“It wasn’t like this in June, it suddenly shot up,” Satpathy also told reporters on Tuesday, while visiting a hospital in Siliguri, some 460 kilometres (285 miles) north of state capital Kolkata.

“We are dedicated to this. The cases are happening and that’s why people are here. We are trying to help everyone,” he said.

India’s most populous states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar further north are ravaged by encephalitis every year as mainly malnourished children succumb to the disease.

Encephalitis causes brain inflammation and can result in brain damage. Symptoms include headaches, seizures and fever.

Health experts say 70 million children nationwide are at risk.

National health minister Harsh Vardhan last month ordered “extraordinary steps” to end encephalitis, including an immunisation drive and dedicated hospital beds for encephalitis patients in affected districts.

Although there is a vaccine for Japanese encephalitis, mainly children die from other forms of the disease, including acute encephalitis syndrome, the exact causes of which are not known.

]]> 0
President Daniel Ortega calls attack on supporters in Nicaragua a ‘massacre’ Tue, 22 Jul 2014 07:59:23 +0000 Agence France-Presse President Daniel Ortega on Monday slammed as a “massacre” an attack on his political supporters that killed five people and left 28 more hurt.

“This was a genuine massacre, one that has been condemned by the nation,” the leftist president said at a memorial for the dead at a convention center, carried on state and pro-government media.

Unidentified assailants opened fire late Saturday, in Matagalpa department, on buses bringing supporters back from a party in Managua to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the 1979 revolution.

The civilian Sandinista party supporters “were ambushed on a highway with rifles (by men) who fired on buses bringing some of the families that had come (to the capital area) for the event,” Ortega added.

“These are expressions of rancor, of hatred. … They are a minority, but they are there, latent and suddenly crop up in abominable deeds like these,” the president said.

On Saturday, thousands of supporters gathered at the Plaza La Fe, north of Managua, to celebrate the Sandinista rebel victory in 1979 over the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, whose family had run Nicaragua like their own estate since 1936.

The most prominent guest was Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose oil-rich nation provides millions of dollars in aid to impoverished Nicaragua.

Ortega, now 68, was one of the rebel Sandinista leaders that toppled Somoza. He was Nicaragua’s leader from 1979-1990, and returned to power in 2007.

]]> 0
Australian senator Jacqui Lambie’s ideal man: rich and ‘well-hung’ (AUDIO) Tue, 22 Jul 2014 07:56:32 +0000 Agence France-Presse An Australian senator who told breakfast radio she would only date men who were rich and “well-hung” apologised Tuesday, saying she had tried to hide her embarrassment with a joke.

Jacqui Lambie, who took her seat in the national parliament’s upper house earlier this month, told Tasmania’s Heart 107.3 that she had not been in a relationship for more than a decade.

When the breakfast hosts suggested they help her find love, she replied: “Now they must have heaps of cash and they’ve got to have a package between their legs, let’s be honest.

“And I don’t need them to speak, they don’t even need to speak.”

The 43-year-old’s comments prompted a young male listener to ring in to say he was confident he met her criteria, in part because he had inherited some money and had experience with older women.

“I’m just a bit concerned because you’re so young, I’m not sure you’d be able to handle Jacqui Lambie,” the outspoken politician, who served a decade in Australia’s armed forces, said.

The senator then asked: “Are you well-hung?”

“Like a donkey,” he replied, as the hosts tried to get the pair together on a date before the man rang off.

“I have that effect on men,” joked mother-of-two Lambie, a member of the Palmer United Party founded by mining magnate Clive Palmer.

Lambie later apologised for her comments which followed a string of unrelated questions by the breakfast hosts, including how she took care of hairy legs, bikini line and underarms.

“When Kim and Dave on Hobart’s Heart FM 107.3 this morning asked me about my love life in a light hearted segment — I tried to cover up my embarrassment by making a joke,” Lambie said.

“A lot of people laughed, some people may have got offended.”

Lambie is not the first politician caught out on radio, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott generating a storm of protest in May when he winked at a presenter during a testy radio chat with a pensioner who worked on a sex phone line.

]]> 0
Schizophrenia has direct genetic ties, as scientists find more than 100 DNA pointers Tue, 22 Jul 2014 05:22:42 +0000 Agence France-Presse A massive gene trawl has linked over 100 DNA coding mutations to schizophrenia, yielding critical clues about what causes the illness and possibly how to treat it, scientists said Tuesday.

Using more than 80,000 genetic samples from schizophrenia patients and healthy volunteers, an international team of researchers found 128 variants — 83 of them new — associated with a higher risk for people who carry them.

The number of mutations, discovered in 108 regions of the genome, is large enough that scientists are starting to see patterns, according to research published in the journal Nature.

“We can group them into identifiable pathways — which genes are known to work together to perform specific functions in the brain,” said study co-author Stephan Ripke of the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Broad Institute.

“This is helping us to understand the biology of schizophrenia.”

The disorder affects about 24 million people in the world, and is characterised by hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and a breakdown of thought processes.

Symptoms typically start between the ages of 15 and 35.

Treatment is available but for many has limited effect — as it addresses only the psychotic symptoms of the disorder and not its debilitating cognitive effects, according to a Broad Institute statement.

There has been little innovation in drug development in more than 60 years, in part “because the biological mechanisms underlying schizophrenia have not been understood,” it said.

Now, the biggest-ever molecular genetic study of any neuropsychiatric disorder has implicated genes involved in the functioning of the neurons and synapses of the brain, including in the learning and memory regions.

Most of the mutations uncovered are common, and all are inherited from one’s parents.

The team found that a smaller number of genes linked to higher schizophrenia risk were also active in the immune system — backing theories that immune dysfunction may be involved in the disease.

“The wealth of new findings have the potential to kick-start the development of new treatments in schizophrenia, a process which has stalled for the last 60 years,” said senior author Michael O’Donovan of Cardiff University MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics.

But he cautioned that “reaping the full benefits of this research for treatment will be a medium to long game.”

- Debate settled -

Gerome Breen of Kings College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, said the study had pinpointed several well-studied pathways, which can turn genes on and off, for which drugs already existed in other disorders.

“This is perhaps the most important study in psychiatric genetics to date,” he said in comments provided by the Science Media Centre.

For experts Jonathan Flint and Marcus Munafo, the study settles a long-standing debate.

“Dispute over schizophrenia’s genetic basis has been ferocious,” they wrote in a comment carried by Nature.

“Its biological roots have often been denied and, in the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1970s, there was even outright rejection of its existence.”

The latest work, they said, will “(lay) to rest forever the idea that genetics is not an important cause of the illness.”

The study involved more than 300 scientists from 35 countries.

]]> 0
Spike Lee video mash-up draws link between ‘Do The Right Thing’ and NYPD choking death Tue, 22 Jul 2014 04:33:40 +0000 Arturo Garcia Director Spike Lee published a video online on Monday highlighting the link between the death of 43-year-old Eric Garner and the police violence that fueled a climactic scene in his film Do The Right Thing 25 years ago.

Salon reported that the video, posted to Lee’s YouTube account, shows footage of Garner being put in a chokehold — a violation of NYPD policy — while being stopped for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes mixed in with the movie’s scene where Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) is choked from behind and killed by officers.

The death of the Raheem character was inspired by the death of Michael Stewart, a New York City grafitti artist who also died in a similar fashion during an incident involving police in 1983.

Reuters reported on Sunday that four medical emergency workers present at the time of Garner’s death were suspended in connection with the incident. The officer who put Garner in the chokehold, identified as Daniel Pantaleo, has been put on “modified assignment” pending an internal investigation. The cause of Garner’s death has not been confirmed.

Watch Lee’s video mash-up, as posted online on Monday, below.

]]> 0
FL midwife sues clinic that won’t hire her because she won’t prescribe birth control pills Tue, 22 Jul 2014 03:29:53 +0000 Arturo Garcia A Tampa, Florida woman is suing a local reproductive health clinic for not hiring her even though she refuses to prescribe birth control pills to patients per the job description, Slate reported.

Sara Hellwege’s lawsuit argued that the Tampa Family Health Centers violated her religious freedom by not hiring her. Hellwege, a nurse-midwife, told the clinic’s human resources director, Chad Lindsey, via email that she would only prescribe sterilization and barrier methods like condoms and cervical shields.

Hellwege is a member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a conservative medical group that opposes prescribing the pills because of the organization’s belief that some birth control methods are comparable to abortions.

According to Jezebel, emails between Hellwege and Lindsey show that he informs her that because the clinic follows the Title X Family Planning Program, her application could not proceed because there were no available positions that would exclude her from prescribing birth control.

“Unfortunately, we do not have any positions for antepartum & laborist only,” Lindsey wrote.

“I would still desire to apply for a position that includes postpartum & well-woman/preventative care as well as antepartum & laboral care, under the religious and moral parameters I stated previously,” Hellwege replied. “With that clarification, is it still possible to move forward in your application process?”

Hellwege is being represented in her lawsuit by another conservative group, the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“No one deserves to suffer discrimination just because they’re pro-life,” ADF senior legal counsel Matt Bowman said in a statement. “Federal and state law make it clear that being pro-abortion cannot be a prerequisite for employment, nor can federally funded facilities force nurses to assist with practices that could lead to an abortion.”

[h/t Styleite]

]]> 0
World marks hottest June since 1880: NOAA Tue, 22 Jul 2014 02:53:13 +0000 Agence France-Presse Last month was the hottest June since record-keeping began in 1880, according to a monthly report by US government climate scientists.

The combined average temperature over land and ocean surfaces was a “record high for the month at 61.20 Fahrenheit (16.22 Celsius),” said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That meant June was a total of 1.30°F (0.72°C) warmer than the 20th century average for the month, surpassing the last record high temperature for June set in 2010, said NOAA.

Taken alone, the ocean’s global surface temperature in June was the highest for any month on record, breaking the past record set in 1998, NOAA added.

“Most of the world experienced warmer-than-average monthly temperatures, with record warmth across part of southeastern Greenland, parts of northern South America, areas in eastern and central Africa, and sections of southern and southeastern Asia,” NOAA said in a statement.

“Similar to May, scattered sections across every major ocean basin were also record warm.”

Sea ice in the Arctic declined faster than normal for June, and was nearly five percent below the 1981-2010 average, NOAA said.

The findings are part of an ongoing trend of rising global temperatures.

June has been warmer than the 20th century average for 38 years in a row, the agency said.

Its report last month also found that May was a record-setter, also topping the previous high set in 2010.

The last time June broke records for being cooler than normal was in 1976.

]]> 0
700 million women were married as children, with one-in-three before their 15th birthday Tue, 22 Jul 2014 02:49:04 +0000 Alexandra Topping, The Guardian Girl Summit tackles female genital mutilation and child marriage, as UNICEF warns 280 million girls could be brides before 18

More than 700 million women worldwide were married as children, with one in three of them married before their 15th birthday, according to a global prevalence study.

As activists, politicians and campaigners gather for the first Girl Summit on child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM), a report by Unicef, the UN’s children’s agency, reveal the devastating situation of millions of women.

The study, the first of its kind, also reveals that more than 130 million girls and women have experienced some form of FGM, and states that urgent efforts are needed to tackle gender inequality or the number will not reduce. If the current decline in FGM continues at the same rate, more than 63 million more girls could be cut by 2050.

About a third of child brides live in India, according to Unicef. If nothing more is done to end the practice, the number of married girls could increase to more than 1 billion by 2050. Population estimates suggest the number could leap from 700 million to 950 million by 2030 and 1.2 billion by 2050. At least 280 million girls are at risk of becoming brides by the time they turn 18.

The Girl Summit, hosted by the UK government and Unicef, will attempt to mobilise international efforts to end FGM and child marriage within a generation. David Cameron, the prime minister, will warn parents that they will be prosecuted if they fail to prevent their daughter being cut, and that all victims of female genital mutilation will be given lifelong anonymity.

“All girls have the right to live free from violence and coercion, without being forced into marriage or the lifelong physical and psychological effects of female genital mutilation,” Cameron will say. “Abhorrent practices like these, no matter how deeply rooted in societies, violate the rights of girls and women across the world, including here in the UK.”

The prevalence of child marriage has fallen slightly over the past 30 years, but a global population boom in countries where the practices are common means just as many girls are being pushed into harmful situations.

World leaders and campaigners must step up efforts to break the cycle of oppression, said Unicef’s executive director, Anthony Lake. “Let’s not forget that these numbers represent real lives. While these are problems of a global scale, the solutions must be local, driven by communities, families and girls themselves to change mindsets and break the cycles that perpetuate FGM/C and child marriage,” he said. “We can’t let the staggering numbers numb us – they must compel us to act.”

Jaha Dukureh, a 24-year-old mother of three who leads the Guardian’s campaign against FGM in the US, was subjected to the most severe form of FGM as a child in the Gambia before being forced into an arranged marriage at 15.

“When I met my husband I wasn’t ready to get married; it wasn’t something that I wanted. I was very, very scared, I was angry, I was sad,” she said. After flying alone to the US the teenager had to have surgery so that her husband could have sex with her. She was told she had to have sexual intercourse that same day.

“When I had to be reopened, and this happened in America, it was like I went through FGM all over again,” she said. “When I talk about FGM, it’s not about me, it’s about the little girls out there. I have a daughter. And I know what this has done to me, and I don’t want it to happen to her.”

Despite fears that millions more women will have FGM for cultural reasons, there has been significant progress around the issue, with a shift in attitudes beginning to take hold, according to the report.

Overall, the chance that a girl will be cut today is about a third lower than it was over the past 30 or so years. Rates in Kenya and Tanzania have dropped to a third of their levels three decades ago, mainly because of a combination of community activism and legislation. In the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria, prevalence has dropped by up to half.

FGM, which is carried out on girls in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, involves the removal of external genitalia. Some victims have the clitoris and labia removed before they are sewn up, leaving only a small hole for menstruation and urine. The cultural practice, designed to ensure girls’ virginity, can lead to excessive bleeding, infection, infertility and death.

Girls who marry under 18 are less likely to remain in school, and more likely to suffer domestic violence and die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. © Guardian News and Media 2014

]]> 0
Decriminalize sex work to help control AIDS pandemic, scientists demand at international conference Tue, 22 Jul 2014 02:41:58 +0000 Sarah Boseley, The Guardian Prostitutes are subject to repression, violence and abuse – even at the hands of law enforcement, research shows

Sex work must be decriminalised if the world is to stand a chance of controlling the Aids pandemic, say scientists contributing to a series of research papers in the Lancet medical journal.

Sex workers, whether female, male or transgender, are subject to repression, violence and abuse even at the hands of those who are supposed to uphold the law, according to the series of seven research papers presented at the International Aids Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Fear of the police and other authorities, as well as the abuse itself, prevents sex workers protecting themselves from HIV infection.

Studies in Canada, India and Kenya contain testimony from sex workers who report having condoms confiscated by police – who regard them as evidence of crimes – and being subjected to physical or sexual violence. Both the sex workers and their clients are put at risk of infection by this.

In Vancouver, one sex worker said the police “pick you up and make you do something for them just so you can stay there to work. And that’s more or less their turf”. Another said: “We still have to hide any condoms we have on site in case the police find them.”

In Kenya, one sex worker said the police “found me on the street, took all my condoms and destroyed them”, while another told of how the police “told me I was dirtying the town with condoms, and took all my condoms”.

There is testimony in the papers of violence and sexual abuse carried out by police officers in other countries, too.

Governments and the police should uphold the human rights of all people, including sex workers, say the series authors.

Reducing sexual violence by clients and abusers could reduce HIV infection rates by around a fifth in both high- and low-income settings, they say, and getting more sex workers on antiretroviral treatment for HIV would reduce the amount of active virus in their bodies and cut the rate of new infections by a third.

But decriminalisation of sex work would be the preventative measure with the biggest impact, they say. Across all settings, it would reduce HIV infections by 33% to 46% over the next decade.

The Aids pandemic is becoming increasingly concentrated in marginalised communities which are harder to reach. They are often people who live on the fringes of their own societies, including drug users and men who have sex with men, as well as sex workers.

“Efforts to improve HIV prevention and treatment by and for people who sell sex can no longer be seen as peripheral to the achievement of universal access to HIV services and to eventual control of the pandemic,” said Prof Chris Beyrer, director of the Johns Hopkins Centre for Public Health and Human Rights in the US, who coordinated the series.

“We must do better, and we can,” Beyrer added.

Together, the series of papers is a call to governments to decriminalise sex work, say Lancet editor Richard Horton and senior executive editor Pamela Das in a commentary. “There is no alternative if we wish to reduce the environment of risk faced by women, men and transgender people worldwide.

“We might prefer to think that sex and money were unrelated, that sex was somehow immune from the transactions so common elsewhere in our lives. But why should this exception be so? And why should we condemn and criminalise the exchange of money for sex, especially if the severely adverse conditions we create for such exchange hurt women and men, and often fatally so?

“Sex work is part of the human story. Accepting and embracing sex work – supporting those engaged in sex work to protect their health and bodily integrity and autonomy – should be our humane, as well as our pragmatic, approach to the reality of our human lives. And to our common efforts to defeat Aids.” © Guardian News and Media 2014

]]> 0
South Korean police confirm death of downed ferry’s fugitive owner Tue, 22 Jul 2014 02:11:31 +0000 Agence France-Presse South Korean police said Tuesday they had found the body of the fugitive business tycoon who headed the family operating the Sewol ferry which sank in April with the loss of around 300 lives.

Yoo Byung-Eun had been the target of an unprecedented, months-long manhunt involving tens of thousands of police officers and army troops who set up checkpoints on roads and at ports, and raided a number of properties linked to the reclusive billionaire.

The body later identified as Yoo’s was actually found nearly six weeks ago on June 12, lying in a field just outside the city of in Suncheon, 300 kilometres (186 miles) south of Seoul.

Discovered by a local resident, the body was so badly decomposed as to be unrecognisable, and it was only after a DNA test that the match with Yoo was made.

After weeks of technical treatment on the body, forensic experts eventually managed to lift a print from one of the index fingers which confirmed Yoo’s identity.

Suncheon police chief Woo Hyung-Ho told reporters that the body was too decomposed to ascertain the cause of death, although several empty bottles of alcohol were found at the scene.

- Cause of death unclear -

We do not know yet whether it was a homicide or a suicide,” Woo said.

“We are hoping that more detailed forensic analysis will shed light on this and on the exact time of death,” he said, adding that a toxicology test was being carried out.

The body was found lying face up and clothed in a winter jacket.

Yoo was the patriarch of the family behind Chonghaejin Marine Co., which owned and operated the Sewol ferry that sank on April 16 with 476 people on board, including 325 high school children.

The number of confirmed dead currently stands at 294, with 10 victims still unaccounted for.

The disaster stunned South Korea, knocking the entire country off its stride and triggering public outrage as it emerged that incompetence, corruption and greed had all contributed to the scale of the disaster.

A summons was issued for Yoo shortly after the sinking, but he refused to surrender to police and eventually went on the run.

- Family on the run -

A reward of 500 million won ($490,000) was offered for information leading to his capture, and 100 million won for that of his eldest son, Yoo Dae-Kyun who is still absconding.

Yoo has no direct stake in Chonghaejin, but his children and close aides control it through a complex web of holding companies.

He was wanted for questioning on possible charges of embezzlement and criminal negligence, related to lax safety standards and regulatory violations.

The failure to capture Yoo had fuelled complaints of police inefficiency and intensified pressure on President Park Geun-Hye whose administration was deeply criticised for its response to the Sewol tragedy.

Many of Yoo’s family members have been arrested, including his wife and his brother. A daughter is fighting an extradition bid from Paris.

Earlier this month, South Korean prosecutors filed embezzlement charges against his 71-year-old wife, Kwon Yun-Ja.

The charges were unrelated to the ferry sinking, and involved the alleged embezzlement of money from a splinter religious group, the Evangelical Baptist Church, established by Kwon’s father.

In June, thousands of police officers conducted a raid on the church’s main complex but came away empty-handed.

In 1992, Yoo was sentenced to four years in prison on fraud charges related to the misuse of church funds.

While in prison, he wrote an autobiography — a copy of which was found in a bag near Yoo’s body, police said.

The captain and 14 surviving crew members of the Sewol are currently on trial, some of them on charges of wilful homicide which carry the death penalty.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

]]> 0
Senate panel set to debate wave of corporate inversion deals Tue, 22 Jul 2014 01:00:25 +0000 Reuters By Kevin Drawbaugh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As more U.S. corporations do deals to cut taxes by shifting their tax domiciles overseas, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday focused on these transactions known as inversions.

Nine such deals have been agreed to this year by companies ranging from banana distributor Chiquita Brands International, Inc to drugmaker AbbVie Inc and more are being considered. The transactions are setting a record pace since the first inversion was done 32 years ago.

Witnesses at the Senate Finance Committee’s hearing will include government officials and academics. Chairman Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, is expected to call for stand-alone legislation to respond to the flurry of inversions that has Washington on edge.

Democrats, searching for campaign issues before November’s congressional elections, have jumped on inversions, and several of them have offered bills that would curb the deals.

But no new law is likely to result as long as Republicans contend that inversion rules need to be part of a broader overhaul of the tax code, policy analysts said.

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives will not act on inversions “unless there’s comprehensive tax reform, and that’s dead for this year,” said Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Potomac Research Group in a client note on Monday.

Inversions are still rare, but they are becoming more common. Of the roughly 60 deals done since 1982, more than half have come in just the last six years, a Reuters review showed.

An inversion involves a U.S. corporation buying or setting up a smaller company abroad, then shifting its tax home base to that company’s country, which typically has lower tax rates than in the United States.

Such deals seldom mean a U.S. corporation physically leaves home. Usually an inversion means that a company will open a small office abroad, perhaps in England or Ireland, as a new address for tax purposes, leaving major operations intact.

But the move can put foreign earnings out of the reach of the Internal Revenue Service and make other tax savings possible that can boost a multinational company’s bottom line.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew urged Congress last week to take steps quickly to discourage inversions.

In a letter to members of Congress, he said corporations that do inversions want to keep U.S. advantages – such as intellectual property protection, research support, financial security and reliable infrastructure – without paying for them.

President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget proposed making inversions harder to do by raising the foreign ownership required. Congressional Democrats have made similar proposals.

Drugstore chain Walgreen Co is weighing a possible inversion. Drugmaker Pfizer Inc’s bid in April to buy UK rival AstraZeneca Plc was structured as an inversion. That deal collapsed, but it drew attention to the issue.

(Editing by Jan Paschal)

[Image: "Greedy Hand Grabs Money," via Shutterstock]

]]> 0
Pharmaceutical firms will share neglected compounds with British researchers Tue, 22 Jul 2014 00:43:47 +0000 Reuters LONDON (Reuters) – A group of seven leading drugmakers has agreed to share an array of neglected experimental medicines with British academic researchers in the latest example of the deepening ties between industry and external scientists.

British business minister Vince Cable announced the new partnership on Tuesday between the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the companies, under which the researchers will gain access to “deprioritized” pharmaceutical compounds.

Often these compounds have been dropped from development because they are not sufficiently effective against a particular condition, but they may still be useful against other diseases with shared biological pathways.

AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Takeda and UCB have all signed up to the scheme, which builds on the success of an earlier two-way program between AstraZeneca and the MRC.

One project under that original 2011 program involves a drug designed originally to treat acid reflux disease that has now been utilized as a treatment for chronic cough and is being tested in clinical trials.

While drugmakers have traditionally been reluctant to share their compounds, there is a growing recognition that outside experts may be able to unlock value by taking a different approach, resulting in shared profits between companies and academic institutions.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by David Goodman)

[Image: "Scientist Holds And Examine Samples," via Shutterstock]

]]> 0
Federal prosecutors unseal indictments against members of smartphone ‘piracy groups’ Tue, 22 Jul 2014 00:35:04 +0000 Agence France-Presse San Francisco (AFP) – US prosecutors on Monday unsealed indictments against six people suspected of collectively pirating millions of applications tailored for Android-powered mobile devices.

Criminal charges were leveled at leading members of “piracy groups” SnappzMarket, Appbucket, and Applanet, according to the US Department of Justice.

“Copyright infringement discourages smart people from doing innovative things,” US attorney Sally Quillian Yates of the Northern District of Georgia said in a release.

“This problem is especially acute when it comes to rapidly developing technologies, like apps for smart phones, and these defendants are now being held accountable for the intellectual property they stole.”

The groups rented computer servers to host websites such as,, and that stored and distributed pirated copies of copyrighted Android applications, according to the indictments.

Online domains for those websites were seized by authorities in August of 2012 in the first crackdown of its kind on mobile device app marketplaces, prosecutors said.

During the years prior to the Web addresses being seized, millions of dollars’ worth of pirated mini-programs for Android-powered mobile devices were distributed by the websites, in what was portrayed as criminal copyright infringement.

“Today’s federal indictments are the direct result of an extensive and thorough federal investigation into three groups of individuals aggressively engaged in and profiting from the theft of intellectual property,” special agent in charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI Atlanta field office.

“The FBI will continue to provide significant investigative resources toward such groups engaged in such wholesale pirating or copyright violations as seen here.”

Each of those named in the indictments lives in the United States.

[Image: "Angry Woman Shouting At Phone," via Shutterstock]

]]> 0
Ukrainian rebels hand over MH17 black boxes and call for cease-fire near crash site Tue, 22 Jul 2014 00:24:45 +0000 Agence France-Presse Donetsk (Ukraine) (AFP) – Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday handed over two black boxes recovered from the crash site of the MH17 jet to Malaysian officials at a press conference.

They also announced a ceasefire within a 10 kilometre (six mile) radius around the crash site to allow international investigators to safely access the vast area where the Malaysia Airlines flight was downed Thursday.

“We have decided to hand the black boxes over to Malaysian experts,” the prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Borodai, told journalists.

The Malaysian team of experts and representatives of the separatist group then signed a protocol before the bright orange boxes were handed over.

“On behalf of the Malaysian government I thank the government of the Donetsk Republic for handing us the two black boxes which are the property of Malaysia,” said a member of the Malaysian team.

“We have not found the black boxes from flight MH370 (disappeared over the Indian Ocean in March), so are happy to be able to recover these.

“I see that the black boxes are intact with only minor damage.”

One of the boxes will contain all conversation in the cockpit and another all flight data.

However, it is unclear how useful this will be in determining what happened to the flight, which is believed by Kiev and world leaders to have been shot down by a surface-to-air-missile.

The Russia-backed separatist rebels who control the area where the plane went down are suspected of having fired the missile, however they blame the Ukrainian military.

There has been an outpouring of global outrage over lack of access to the site, and fears the rebels have tampered with evidence.

Borodai gave in to demands for a ceasefire to allow investigators full access to the site.

“We will order a ceasefire in a area of 10 kilometres around” the site of the disaster, which left 298 people dead, he said.

Malaysian officials were accompanying a refrigerated train transporting the remains of the passengers to the town of Kharkiv, controlled by the government in Kiev.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

]]> 0
TN man arrested for asking local official to speak up amid dispute over wastewater plant Tue, 22 Jul 2014 00:12:12 +0000 Arturo Garcia A 76-year-old man in Greeneville, Tennessee was arrested for asking a local official to speak louder during a public meeting amid a dispute over a proposed wastewater plant affecting their community, WATE-TV reported.

Eddie Overholt was charged with interfering with a public meeting and resisting arrest after being taken out in handcuffs from a meeting of the Greene County Industrial Development Board on Friday, His removal came on the order of County Mayor Alan Broyles.

Overholt was one of several people at the meeting who had planned to speak in opposition to a proposed wastewater disposal plant by U.S. Nitrogen that would involve installing a pipeline into the nearby Nolichucky River. The board was deliberating whether the company should be allowed to file a second application to the state Department of Transportation. U.S. Nitrogen’s first application was rejected earlier this year.

“Eventually whatever they put in the river, we’re going to get in our wells,” Overholt told WATE. “Knowing it’s a chemical company and a fertilizer company, we know what they put in the river.”

But the Greeneville Sun reported on Monday that board members did not use microphones during the meeting, and some of them sat with their backs to the audience. The board also sat behind a rope barrier, with Greeneville Police Chief Terry Cannon standing between it and the audience.

Broyles reportedly warned the audience to remain quiet during the board’s discussion or risk being thrown out. At one point, his request for the crowd not to applaud was interrupted by laughter, prompting him to repeat his warning.

“Would you all speak up until the whole audience can hear what you say?” Overholt then reportedly asked Broyles. The mayor responded by ordering officers to take Overholt out of the building.

“It’s a public hearing,” said Overholt, a member of Save the Nolichucky, an advocacy group formed to protest the proposed pipeline.

“[Mayor Broyles] is running the show,” Cannon reportedly replied.

Overholt was released on bail on Friday and arraigned on Monday. He is due back in court on Sept. 22. He said in a statement on Save the Nolichucky’s Facebook page that the officer who led him out of the meeting became “agitated” when Overholt asked for his name.

“He told me his name was Dixon or Hixon, and very abruptly increased the pressure and lift on my right arm, pulling my shoulder up into a very painful position, causing me to walk very awkwardly,” Overholt said.

City officials refused to comment on the case.

Watch WATE’s report on the dispute, as aired on Friday, below.

[Image via Save The Nolichucky Facebook page]

]]> 0
Mass. Governor compares immigrant kids to Jews turned away in 1939, offers to shelter them Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:58:20 +0000 Arturo Garcia Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) announced a proposal on Friday for two military facilities to serve as host sites for some of the thousands of undocumented Central American immigrants who have come into the U.S. in recent months, saying the move falls in line with the country’s tradition of helping children in need.

“We have rescued Irish children from famine, Russian and Ukrainian children from religious persecution, Cambodian children from genocide, Haitian children from earthquakes, Sudanese children from civil war, and New Orleans children from Hurricane Katrina,” Patrick said. “Once, in 1939, we turned our backs on Jewish children fleeing the Nazis, and it remains a blight on our national reputation. The point is that this good Nation is great when we open our doors and our hearts to needy children, and diminished when we don’t.”

Patrick’s remark alluded to the refusal on the part of U.S. in 1939 to allow a ship carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees escaping the emerging Nazi regime in Germany to land on American shores. Belgium, France, Britain and the Netherlands subsequently took the refugees in.

CBS News reported in May that the U.S. also denied London stockbroker Sir Nicholas Winston’s request that same year to provide asylum for 669 Czechoslovakian children — many of them Jewish — who were also fleeing from the Nazis. A memo from the State Department to the American embassy in London instructed embassy staff to tell him that the U.S. “unable, in the absence of specific legislation, to permit immigration in excess of that provided for by existing immigration laws.” Those children were also taken in by Britain.

In his speech on Friday, Patrick said that the current wave of “unaccompanied minors,” who hail primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, presented a humanitarian crisis for federal officials searching for adequate facilities in which to put them. He proposed using Joint Base Cape Cod in Bourne and Westover Air Base in Chicopee, with the operation supervised and funded by the Department of Health and Human Services and children staying there an average of 35 days while they are processed to determine whether they will join family members in this country or be deported.

Patrick, who worked as a civil rights lawyer before being appointed to the Justice Department’s civil rights division by then-President Bill Clinton in 1994, was joined by several religious leaders during his remarks, and cited his faith as one factor in his proposal.

“Every major faith tradition on earth charges its followers to treat others as we ourselves wish to be treated,” Patrick said. “I don’t know what good there is in faith if we can’t and won’t turn to it in moments of human need.”

Watch Patrick’s remarks, as posted online on Friday, below.

[h/t Mother Jones]

]]> 0
Beef’s environmental costs far outweigh poultry and pork Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:45:32 +0000 Agence France-Presse Beef is by far the most costly protein when it comes to the environmental damage wreaked by feeding and raising cattle, according to a study out Monday.

Beef requires 28 times more land than the average total needed to produce either dairy, eggs, poultry or pork, said the research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Raising beef also requires 11 times more irrigation water than other proteins, according to researchers at Bard College in New York, Yale University in Connecticut and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

Beef spews far more pollution into the environment, producing five times as many greenhouse gas emissions and six times the reactive nitrogen from fertilizer compared to the other proteins, the study found.

“Beef is consistently the least resource-efficient of the five animal categories,” said the study, which said on average beef was about 10 times as costly as other proteins.

Beef also makes up about seven percent of all consumed calories in the US diet, it said.

To “most effectively” cut back on these environmental costs, the authors recommended “minimizing beef consumption.”

Raising livestock for food is a practice that contributes to one fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, and also pollutes water and interferes with biodiversity, according to the study authors.

- Decade of US data -

The study was based on a decade’s worth of data on land, irrigation water, and fertilizer from the US Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Energy.

Researchers used the 2000-2010 data to calculate the amount of resources needed to produce animal feed for each edible livestock.

About every 10 calories fed to poultry or pork accounted for one calorie consumed by humans. This ratio was nearly four times higher for beef.

Poultry, pork, eggs and dairy all added up to similar costs across the board, while beef was consistently the outlier.

They did not include fish in their study due to lack of data on feed use and the relatively small portion of calories (0.5 percent) it makes up in the average American diet.

Representatives of the US beef industry questioned the methodology of the study, and said environmental improvements have been made in recent years.

“The PNAS study represents a gross over-simplification of the complex systems that make up the beef value chain,” said Kim Stackhouse, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association director of sustainability research.

“The fact is the US beef industry produces beef with lower greenhouse gas emissions than any other country.”

According to Amy Dickie, who led a study in April on agricultural strategies for cutting back on global warming, the findings are in line with recent research that has shown the high greehhouse gases involved in beef production.

“I am glad to see that the authors also considered water, nutrient, and land use which are all important resources and are intensively used by beef and dairy cattle,” said Dickie, who works for the consulting firm California Environmental Associates.

“This information needs to get into the public domain so that people understand the consequences of their diet choices.”

]]> 0
American anti-abortion activist tactics threaten to infiltrate Europe Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:39:04 +0000 Zoe Williams, The Guardian US clinics now provide escorts for patients attending women’s centres to protect them from militant protesters, whose tactics now threaten to infiltrate the UK

It’s not yet 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning in New York and I’m confronted by a group of people standing in front of a nondescript doorway, waving four-foot high placards and shouting: “They murder babies here!” There are already a dozen anti-abortion protesters outside the clinic and the day has barely started.

Here to act as an “escort” – ensuring patients, whether they are having abortions or not, enter the clinic safely – I already feel intimidated. So, imagine that you’re a woman who has miscarried and someone shouts at you: “Carrying babies in your uterus is a gift from God”; or imagine simply going to the doctor and being told you’re “going to hell”. Imagine being an African-American woman on your way to a women’s health clinic and being surrounded by people screaming: “They want to kill black babies.”Can you imagine how upsetting and emotionally traumatising that is for patients?

To help these women, volunteer organisations have sprung up in the US to offer support. Once I’m inside the Choices Women’s Medical Center in Queens, Mary Lou Greenberg, the volunteer clinic escort director, gives me guidelines about privacy (for safety, nobody refers to anyone else by name); instructions on how to escort (approach patients, gently inform them you’re with the clinic and that you’re there to guide them inside); and warnings about proximity (never stand in front of, or block, a patient’s path; never have contact with a protester; protect the patient by acting as a buffer). I’m then handed a white medical coat (so as to be clearly visible to patients) and a big badge with “Choices Clinic Escort” on it. I feel like a walking target – I’m in the US, they have guns here. What if an anti-abortionist decided to let off a few rounds?

Eliza, another escort, reinforces my worry. “I am aware that there has been bad violence outside other clinics, that people have come in with guns, that people have died … They say: ‘The people in the white coats – they are butchers,’ so if some guy is walking by and gets really angry, we’re the ones who are going to get it.”

I’m conscious that my fear is nothing compared to the women who have, in many cases, travelled great distances to attend the clinic and whose security and safety we have a duty to protect. When we go outside, we escorts – a mixture of women and men between 20 and 60 years old, from a variety of backgrounds and professions – are outnumbered by protesters. The clinic regularly faces over 40 protesters a day.

Until now, my only experience with anti-abortionists had been with the (relatively) quiet protesters outside the Marie Stopes clinic in London’s Bloomsbury, who mostly pray and hand out objectionable leaflets; here, it is very different. “You’re murdering children!” shout the (mostly male) protesters as we wait, silently. But it is when a woman walks towards the clinic that all hell breaks loose: she is immediately surrounded and screamed at.

Many times I saw patients crying as they were shouted at. I could only attempt to get close and offer soothing words, but that doesn’t protect them from the abuse and aggression.

Eliza tells me: “Someone was coming in for a follow-up, as she had had an abortion the week before, and she told a protester, ‘My baby didn’t have a heartbeat, so we had to abort,’ and the protester responded by saying: ‘Oh, they lied to you. Your baby did have a heartbeat. It was alive and you killed your baby.’ The level of hatred that is directed at these women – a lot of whom aren’t even getting abortions – is unconscionable. If you’ve not escorted, you don’t know how bad the intimidation can be.”

Another clinic escort, Cathy, adds, “It’s very stressful. I’ve been bumped around by them a lot because I’m trying to protect patients. You always know there’s a bit of a physical risk – the chance that they are going to break the rules first – and that is scary.”

Everyone I spoke with was shocked at how bad anti-abortion harassment has become and often didn’t realise it was happening in a major city like New York, as opposed to the Bible belt in the deep south. Could the sort of harassment experienced in liberal cities such as New York spread to the UK?

“We haven’t reached a point in the UK where clinic escorts are needed yet, although that doesn’t mean protesters don’t cause some women considerable distress,” says Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. “The number of protesters involved is relatively small, and within the anti-choice movement itself there are many who do not believe standing outside clinics targeting pregnant women is a moral or productive way to proceed. But many people are shocked this is happening here at all – we are a pro-choice country and the fact a single woman should have a poster waved in her face and a leaflet thrust in her hand as she makes her own choice to access a legal healthcare service causes concern.”

Furedi concedes that the UK might be heading towards more aggressive anti-abortion protesting. “The anti-choice movement is increasingly borrowing tactics from the US, whether it’s in the form of abortion clinic protests, demands for new regulations on how clinics work, or calls for the prosecution of doctors – not for failing to care for women properly, but for failing to fill in paperwork correctly. So far they have been largely unsuccessful, but we need to be ever vigilant.”

While there aren’t yet plans in place to have escorts at British abortion clinics, further protection of patients is possible. Kate Smurthwaite, comedian, activist and vice chair of Abortion Rights UKtells me that the campaign’s “policy on all pro-choice activity is guided by the wishes of clinic staff. If clinics do want assistance – counter-protests, clinic escorts – they can get in touch. We have a nationwide network of supporters and local pro-choice groups that can be mobilised even at short notice to support staff and service users in whatever way is appropriate.”

Is being reactive, rather than proactive, the way forward? Greenberg at Choices suggests that women’s rights have been undermined because “people in the women’s movement who consider themselves pro-choice have not taken it on … Overall, the climate is such that it encourages these protesters to come out. This is part of a larger political battle … a war on women.” © Guardian News and Media 2014

]]> 0
More than 20 members of one family killed in Gaza strike Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:35:07 +0000 Ian Black, The Guardian ‘We don’t want to see any more civilians killed’ says Barack Obama as IDF attacks intensive care unit in day of bloodshed

A hospital was shelled, killing and injuring staff and patients, and up to 28 members of one family died in an air strike as Gaza endured another day of relentless bloodshed on Monday .

As heavy shelling and fighting on the ground continued, the US president, Barack Obama, restated his call for an immediate ceasefire, saying: “We don’t want to see any more civilians killed.”

He said he had authorised his secretary of state, John Kerry, to do “everything he can to help facilitate a cessation of hostilities” in a sign that international diplomacy had been galvanised by the weekend carnage in Shujai’iya.

Kerry was en route to Cairo for urgent talks with key players in the region, including the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon. The UN security council called for an immediate ceasefire on Sunday.

In Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, al-Aqsa hospital became the third to be struck in the 14-day conflict when three shells slammed into the intensive care unit, surgical and administrative areas.

Five people were killed and 70 wounded, including about 30 medics, according to Gaza health officials. Ambulances tried to evacuate patients but were forced to turn back by continued shelling. Israel has claimed that Hamas hides weapons in hospitals.

Further south, in Khan Younis, an extended family was wiped out in an air strike on a house. The number of dead was put at between 24 and 28. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said another 10 people were killed in a single air strike in Rafah, including four young children and a baby.

Save the Children said that, on average, seven had been killed every day during the conflict. “For many children, this is the third war in six years that they are going through,” said the charity’s David Hassell.

Israeli troops said they killed 10 Hamas militants as they attempted a cross-border attack using two tunnels. The Israel Defence Forces said seven soldiers had been killed in the 24 hours up to early evening.

Intense rocket fire from Gaza continued, with sirens warning people in Tel Aviv and other towns in central and southern Israel to seek shelter. The IDF continued to say it was investigating Hamas claims that it captured an Israeli soldier on Sunday. Hamas displayed a photo ID, saying the soldier’s name was Shaul Aron. Street celebrations erupted in Gaza at the news, with people chanting “Allahu Akbar” and lighting fireworks. If the capture of an Israeli is confirmed, it will complicate efforts to broker a ceasefire.

“We advise [Israel] to take their soldiers and leave before we kidnap more soldiers in addition to the scores we have already killed and wounded,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

The number of Palestinians killed in the conflict reached 530 by early evening, 72% of whom were civilians according to the UN. Twenty-seven Israelis – 25 soldiers and two civilians – have died. The UN said more than 100,000 people have fled their homes, including 85,000 people who sought shelter in schools.

Ten Israeli human rights organisations have written to the attorney-general to raise concerns about grave violations of international law in the conflict. They questioned the legality of Sunday’s operation in Shujai’iya, “in particular, the potential violation of the fundamental principles of the laws of war, specifically the principle of distinguishing between combatants and civilians”.

Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, the defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon, and chief of staff, Benny Gantz – the men directing the military operation in Gaza – said in a statement it would expand and continue “as long as necessary until the completion of the task”. Israel has said the goal of the ground invasion is to locate and destroy dozens of tunnels under the border, used by militants to launch attacks.

In Cairo, Ban held talks with Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and the head of the Arab League. The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was due to meet Hamas’s leader-in-exile Khaled Mishal in Doha.

Egypt’s proximity to Gaza, its peace treaty with Israel and good relations with the western-backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank have made it the focus of attempts to defuse the crisis, though its relations with Hamas – which it sees as an offshoot of the banned Muslim Brotherhood – are hostile.

Hamas rejected Cairo’s original ceasefire proposal last week, though a senior official said Egypt might be willing to amend its initiative. “Egypt does not mind adding some of Hamas’s conditions provided that all involved parties approve,” the official told Reuters. Hamas is demanding an end to the blockade of Gaza, an end to hostilities, opening the border to Egypt, the release of prisoners held by Israel and other conditions – in exchange for a truce.

Ismail Haniyeh, the former Hamas prime minister, claimed that Israeli forces were being beaten in Gaza. “The Palestinian resistance will meet the demands and expectations of the Palestinian people,” he said, adding that the Hamas conditions were “the minimum demands” for any truce.

“Our people’s sacrifices are heading for triumph,” he said in a pre-recorded TV broadcast. “We see the al-Qassam Brigades and the Jerusalem Brigades and all resistance factions beating the enemy and attack him again and again, under the earth and sea. The ground operation is a declaration of failure on the part of the enemy aerial war against Gaza.”

Mishal was due to speak later, fuelling speculation about a possible “victory” speech that could pave the way for acceptance of a ceasefire. © Guardian News and Media 2014

]]> 0
Conservative think tanker tells tea partiers: Being drawn and quartered ‘too good’ for Obama Mon, 21 Jul 2014 21:49:50 +0000 Arturo Garcia A senior analyst for the conservative Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) expressed support for the idea of not only impeaching President Barack Obama during a speech to a Florida Tea Party group, but also for his public execution, Right Wing Watch reported.

“We all know, if there ever was a president that deserved to be impeached, it’s this guy, alright?” Stephen Steinlight told members of the Highlands Tea Party. “And I wouldn’t stop. I would think being hung, drawn, and quartered is probably too good for him.”

Imagine 2050, a blog belonging to the progressive Center for New Community, reported that Steinlight’s 91-minute speech on July 17 was posted online three days later by John Nelson, who chairs the Highlands group. Nelson’s organization also calls Steinlight “one of the nation’s most insightful voices on immigration” in the video description.

During his speech, Steinlight alluded to a Gallup poll last month saying that 65 percent of respondents did not approve of Obama’s handling of the nation’s immigration policy. But he did not mention Gallup’s analysis saying that, if the GOP does not “make a serious effort to create reform legislation, they could find themselves punished by Latino voters, who tilt Democratic, in 2016,” regardless of the outcome of this year’s midterm elections.

Instead, Steinlight criticized House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), telling the audience he is “not a man to be trusted” and calling his threat to sue Obama — which is actually connected to the Affordable Care Act and not immigration — “a political loser.”

Throughout the course of this year, CIS officials have seemingly supported the idea of deporting immigrants by pushing them out of cargo planes, and accused Obama of releasing “68,000 aliens with criminal convictions.” Steinlight, specifically, has accused Latino immigrants of lacking “strong family values” and threatening to instigate the “unmaking of America.”

Watch Steinlight’s remarks, as posted by Right Wing Watch, below.

]]> 0
Florida stay on marriage equality upheld after judge’s ruling Mon, 21 Jul 2014 20:53:49 +0000 Reuters By David Adams

MIAMI (Reuters) – A judge in the Florida Keys rejected an emergency motion filed by a gay couple hoping to wed, effectively allowing Florida’s state’s same-sex marriage ban to remain in effect while it is appealed, likely all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The couple had filed the motion on Monday morning seeking to reinstate the judge’s ruling last week which struck down the state’s gay marriage ban.

On Thursday Circuit Judge Luis Garcia, whose jurisdiction includes the Florida Keys, ordered the Monroe County Clerk of Court to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting on Tuesday.

Garcia found that Florida’s gay marriage ban approved by voters in 2008 violated the right to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling was automatically put on hold after Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican, announced she planned to appeal it, stating that the final decision on the issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Garcia upheld the stay on Monday afternoon until appeals are concluded, noting that other courts had decided “to stay proceedings in similar challenges.” Gay marriage is on hold in both Utah and Oklahoma while appeals there are being resolved.

Garcia’s ruling last week in favor of two male bartenders in Key West, Aaron Huntsman, 44 and William Lee Jones, 43, was the latest in a string of court rulings across the United States voiding state laws that restrict the right of same-sex couples to marry.

“We’re a little disappointed but it was expected,” said Jones. “I think it’s all part of a strategy to get this going faster into the upper courts. We’ve been waiting 11 years to do this, a bit longer is not going to kill us,” he added.

While the ruling applied to only one Florida county, it was the first decision in several court cases across the state challenging a same-sex marriage ban approved by Florida voters in 2008.

In Monday’s motion Huntsman and Jones said they faced “irreparable harm” such as healthcare benefits and inheritance issues if Garcia’s ruling does not go into effect immediately.

Florida is the 18th U.S. state where courts have ruled against prohibitions on same-sex marriage since last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which had defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

(Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson and Letitia Stein; Writing by David Adams; Editing by Jim Loney and Eric Walsh)

[Image: William Lee Jones (L) and Aaron Huntsman kiss during a celebration in Key West, Forida in this handout photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau July 17, 2014. REUTERS/Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/Handout via Reuters]

]]> 0
George Zimmerman’s brother stands with Israel, guess we can all go home Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:56:21 +0000 Katie Halper The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, indeed, complicated, complex, charged, overwhelming, tragic, confusing and other things that, to quote C&C Music factory, make you go hmmm.

Some people see the issue with an enviable clarity and simplicity, with views ranging from (a) Ayrabs won’t rest until they’ve killed all Jews to (b) all Jews/zionists/israelis won’t rest until they have killed all Palestinians.

But I, personally, like my world-view like my men: nuanced. So I look to the opinions and writing of people like the scholars Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappé, Rashid, Khalidi, and the brother of George Zimmerman, Robert Zimmerman. Because, when it comes to restraint, non-violent conflict resolution, justice, trust-worthiness, and general decency, the Zimmerman’s are beyond reproach.


Brother George, of course, gets credit for murdering Trayvon Martin, but Robert Zimmerman’s racism and general disregard for human life deserves recognition. He once, for example, made an astute comparison  between De’Marquise Elkins and Trayvon Martin because, both had Elkins fatally shot a white baby during a robbery attempt and… Trayvon was fatally shot… and… whatever… the point is they were both Black and had been photographed giving the finger, which is a pretty “#uncanny” and remarkable similarity.

He also brilliantly justified his brother’s killing of a teenager who was, indeed armed (with a hoody AND skittles AND iced tea), by implying that Elkins and his accomplice, were ex-post facto responsible for making white people racist.

zimmerman27n-4-webGiven how restrained and proportionate George’s response to Trayvon Martin was, it comes as no surprise that Robert took to twitter to endorse the restrained and proportionate response of the Israel Defense Forces, last week. Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 3.49.30 PM

As Robert himself says, “A picture speaks a thousand words. Any questions?”

]]> 0
Warden’s offer of Christian rehab suggests Black Panther’s 35 years in solitary was political Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:28:03 +0000 David Edwards The warden of America’s largest prison said that he was considering letting a Louisiana inmate out of solitary confinement for the first time in decades so that he could participate in religion-based rehabilitation programs.

Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore has spent 35 years in what officials call closed cell restriction since being sentenced to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for second-degree murder in 1977. Whitmore, who has been in solitary for the last 28 consecutive years, reportedly attributes his vision damage, hypertension and other problems to the confinement.

Angola Warden Burl Cain, who has been running the prison for the past two decades, told students at The Medill Justice Project that he was thinking about allowing Whitmore to return to the general population.

But Cain argued that Whitmore’s relationship with the Black Panther Party could continue to make him a threat to prison security.

“The Black Panther Party advocates violence and racism—I’m not going to let anybody walk around advocating violence and racism,” he said.

“We will get him out,” Cain predicted. “We’d rather him out. I need his cell. I’ve got some young people, predators, that need to be in that cell. When I can conclude he’s not going to cause me the blues, then he can come out of the cell.”

In 2005, Cain explained to the Shreveport Times that his faith-based rehabilitation program worked because it gave the prisoners a sense of morality.

“The only way to make a prison safer is the Lord Almighty,” Cain insisted.

A Bible verse on a tablet outside the prison quotes Philippians 3:13, and a wall inside Camp D reads, “Jesus is Lord.”

“In what other prison would you see that?” the Warden asked.

“If I can get the population to become moral, then we’re all safer, and then we then have an environment of rehabilitation,” he told The Medill Justice Project. “It’s real simple that moral people don’t rape, pilfer and steal. It’s the immoral people who commit the crime.”

For his part, Whitmore has maintained that he was being held in solitary confinement as a “political prisoner” because of his ties to the Black Panther Party.

And Whitmore’s attorney, Emily Posner, pointed out that the Warden’s statement to The Medill Justice Project confirmed that her client was being punished for his beliefs.

“It is not surprising that Warden Cain has now affirmed that the torture that Zulu has endured for the last 28 years is a direct result of the BPP’s legacy,” she noted.

Watch the video below from the The Medill Justice Project, broadcast July 20, 2014.

BURL CAIN VIDEO PACKAGE DRAFT from Medill Justice Project on Vimeo.

]]> 0
FBI pressured Muslims into committing terrorist acts, then arrested them: report Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:27:39 +0000 Agence France-Presse The FBI encouraged and sometimes even paid Muslims to commit terrorist acts during numerous sting operations after the 9/11 attacks, a human rights group said in a report published Monday.

“Far from protecting Americans, including American Muslims, from the threat of terrorism, the policies documented in this report have diverted law enforcement from pursuing real threats,” said the report by Human Rights Watch.

Aided by Columbia University Law School’s Human Rights Institute, Human Rights Watch examined 27 cases from investigation through trial, interviewing 215 people, including those charged or convicted in terrorism cases, their relatives, defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges.

“In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act,” the report said.

In the cases reviewed, half the convictions resulted from a sting operation, and in 30 percent of those cases the undercover agent played an active role in the plot.

“Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,” said Andrea Prasow, the rights group’s deputy Washington director.

“But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”

US Attorney General Eric Holder has strongly defended the FBI undercover operations as “essential in fighting terrorism.”

“These operations are conducted with extraordinary care and precision, ensuring that law enforcement officials are accountable for the steps they take -– and that suspects are neither entrapped nor denied legal protections,” Holder said July 8 during a visit to Norway.

The HRW report, however, cites the case of four Muslim converts from Newburgh, New York who were accused of planning to blow up synagogues and attack a US military base.

A judge in that case “said the government ‘came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles,’ and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man ‘whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope,’” the report said.

The rights group charged that the FBI often targets vulnerable people, with mental problems or low intelligence.

It pointed to the case of Rezwan Ferdaus, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison at age 27 for wanting to attack the Pentagon and Congress with mini-drones loaded with explosives.

An FBI agent told Ferdaus’ father that his son “obviously” had mental health problems, the report said. But that didn’t stop an undercover agent from conceiving the plot in its entirety, it said.

“The US government should stop treating American Muslims as terrorists-in-waiting,” the report concluded.

Mike German, a former FBI agent now with the Brennan Center, said FBI counterterrorism excesses were a source of concern — “concerns that they both violate privacy and civil liberties, and aren’t effective in addressing real threats.”

But JM Berger, a national security expert, said law enforcement faces a dilemma: it can’t just ignore tips or reports about people talking about wanting to commit a terrorist action or seeking support for one.

“The question is how to sort out which cases merit investigation and which do not,” he said.

]]> 0
‘Sovereign citizens’ get 10 years for duping debtors with phony federal treasury scheme Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:06:01 +0000 Travis Gettys Three “sovereign citizens” from South Carolina were sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for their roles in a bogus debt-elimination scheme.

James Dew, Jerry Hartsoe, and Mark Shannon were each convicted in April on eight counts of mail fraud in connection with their Eden Gifted Properties, which offered to pay clients’ debts – for a fee – using phony government documents.

A fourth man, Ronald Kevin Hayes, pleaded guilty in January to failing to report a felony to authorities.

The FBI launched an investigation of the company, which also used the name “Hakanumatata For All,” after several banks complained about packets containing more than 50 elaborately titled but ultimately meaningless legal documents.

Prosecutors said the men had ties to the sovereign citizens group Republic for the united States of America, or RuSA, and recruited their victims at the organizations’ meetings and foreclosure seminars.

The men told victims they could to eliminate home loans and other debts if they paid Eden Gifted Properties 10 percent of the debt amount, reported The Sun News.

They encouraged customers to obtain cash advances from credit cards or raid their retirement accounts to pay the fees, which they described as “donations.”

The company then flooded banks with official-looking documents that falsely claimed to pay off debts by drawing from a $100 billion Treasure Department bond sent to Timothy Geithner, the former treasury secretary.

Investigators said the men used “complex, legal-sounding language designed to confuse, delay, or otherwise obstruct the lawful role of the IRS, the United States Bankruptcy Trustee, and the banks.”

The men claimed Eden Gifted Properties had stopped more than 1,500 foreclosures and eliminated more than $400 million in customer debt – but in reality, the company’s owners transferred customer fees into their own bank accounts for personal expenses.

The debt elimination scheme is based on the sovereign citizen belief that the U.S. had replaced its original common law system with admiralty law, which governs the sea and international commerce, after the government abandoned the gold standard in 1933.

Some sovereign citizens believe the government pledges its citizens as collateral in backing its debts with the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. government, which then sets up shell corporations containing up to $20 million at the U.S. Treasury in each person’s name.

Sovereign citizens believe they can split the corporate shell – which is identified on government documents in all capital letters — from the flesh-and-blood person by filing the right paperwork, which they then believe frees them from obligations to pay taxes or obey other laws.

This “redemption,” which involves filing a financial statement through the Uniform Commercial Code, allows a person to tap into his secret treasury account to pay debts, sovereign citizens believe.

Mark Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said there is “not even the slightest basis” for their “bizarre claims.”

“It’s a movement that tells you you can get something for nothing, which accounts for why it’s the fastest-growing segment of the radical right,” Potok said. “People want to believe they don’t have to pay their bills or their overdue taxes.”

Sovereign citizens claim they have set up governments-in-waiting in 38 states to lay the foundation for the Republic for the united States of America.

The organization’s founder, Monty Irvin, described himself as the “governor” of Alabama and compiled an arsenal of weapons to prepare for the collapse of the federal government.

Irvin was convicted with his wife in 2011 of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and three counts of tax evasion.

Hartsoe, one of the men involved in the Eden Gifted Properties case, had his skin permanently stained blue after drinking a mixture of colloidal silver and zinc on the recommendation of a chemist as a cure for an illness.

[Image: Businessman Looking At Document Through Magnifying Glass via Shutterstock]

]]> 0
New Age leader sues ex-students over leaked video of her drunken racist anti-gay rant Mon, 21 Jul 2014 18:58:47 +0000 Tom Boggioni The leader of a New Age consciousness and enlightenment school, who channels the voice of a 35,000-year-old Lemurian warrior when speaking to her followers, is suing two former students after they posted a drunken rant by her saying Jews have enough money to “have paid their way out of the goddamned gas chambers by now,” and Mexicans breed “like rabbits,” among other slurs.

JZ Knight, a 65-year-old former rodeo queen and cable TV saleswoman who heads the Ramtha School of Enlightenment (RSE) in Yelm, Washington, is suing ex-students Virginia Coverdale and David McCarthy for uploading live-streamed video from a 2011 Ramtha ’channeling’ that turned into a drunken bigoted diatribe, according to Susy Buchanan of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“Fuck God’s chosen people! I think they have earned enough cash to have paid their way out of the goddamned gas chambers by now,” Knight told her students in the released video. Knight explained “I’m telling you this, every goddamn Mexican family is a Catholic—they’re breeding like fucking rabbits,”  before adding that “all gay men were once Catholic women.”

Knight delivered her speech while students followed her in a drinking game, taking a drink of wine every time she did. Wine ceremonies have been a ritual at RSE since 1996, where students are taught to believe that wine grapes were brought to Earth by extraterrestrials 450,000 years ago.

JZ Knight, born Judith Darlene Hampton in 1946 in Roswell, New Mexico., encountered Ramtha the warrior in 1977 while experimenting with construction paper pyramids. According to her biography, she placed a pyramid on her head and Ramtha, a 7-foot-tall apparition of golden glitter clad in a purple robe, appeared in her kitchen.

“I am Ramtha the Enlightened One. I have come to help you over the ditch,” he told her.

Beginning in 1979, JZ (short for Judith Zebra, no periods needed) began channeling Ramtha at workshops and retreats called “Ramtha Dialogues.”

Early students included Shirley MacLaine (who broke off contact with Knight 30 years ago, according to a spokesperson for the actress), and actors Richard Chamberlain and Mike Farrell. According to RSE officials, actresses Salma Hayek and former “Dynasty” star Linda Evans are current students.

Knight has grown wealthy over the years, purchasing the ranch in Yelm where the school is located. According to RSE, the land was once part of ancient Lemuria during Ramtha’s lifetime, before he migrated to Atlantis and freed his people from tyranny at the age of 14. Ramtha then went on to conquer two-thirds of the world at the head of an army of 2.5 million, before spending seven years meditating and then ascending like Jesus.

According to Knight’s Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based PR firm, “Since the school was founded in 1989, more than 86,000 people worldwide have attended RSE events including about 7,500 in Washington State.” Approximately 2,000 students live near Yelm, a town with a population of close to 7,000.

At the school, students are taught the four tenets of Ramtha’s philosophy: the statement, ‘You are god’; the mandate to make known the unknown; the concept that consciousness and energy create the nature of reality; and the challenge to conquer yourself.

Knight also teaches students to hoard gold and prepare food and supplies to survive for two years following one of the natural disasters that she often predicts will hit the earth. Knight, as Ramtha, is also a believer in the “New World Order” making her a favorite of white nationalist website Stormfront, which lists her writings under headings such as “Jews were responsible for causing WW1 & 2.”

Recently followers have become disenchanted with Knight’s drunken rambling, feeling this is not the enlightenment they are seeking.

In the 16-hour video released by the ex-students, a drunken Knight proclaims, “Fuck Jehovah,” in Ramtha’s voice, before claiming Jesus as a fellow alien who came to Earth to teach the same basic philosophy.

From the same stage, an acolyte of Knight’s, former priest Míceál Ledwith, calls the biblical God “fickle, capricious, psychotic, neurotic, and insecure, and we are supposed to believe that he is the creator God.”

Knight adds that God is a “psychotic, insecure son of a bitch,” before dancing onstage with Ledwith.

Former student Coverdale, currently appealing a $600,000 judgement against her from Knight and RSE, said “Although admittedly, as a rule, the cult does not have as one of its ideologies hating Mexicans or Jewish people or gay people or Catholics, JZ Knight herself is proving she does as her [drinking] increases and she is unable to keep up the love act she had going in the ’80s. It is beyond hate speech.”

“In America, there are many First Amendment rights I agree with, even if I disagree with what is being said. Where I get concerned is when you have a large group of people that believe they are hearing from a powerful enlightened entity, creating an ‘us versus them’ situation,” she added.

For her part, Knight maintains the videos were heavily edited, saying ““Those tapes were illegal from the get-go, and that they were distributed, edited and chopped to make us look like bigots and hateful people when nothing could be further from the truth, nothing! I will not let other people rewrite our history!”

The video continues to keep popping up on the Internet, despite efforts by  Knight’s attorneys to have it removed on copyright grounds.

[JZ Knight image via video screencap on YouTube]

]]> 0
Friend of accused Boston bomber found guilty of obstructing justice Mon, 21 Jul 2014 18:52:19 +0000 Reuters By Scott Malone and Daniel Lovering

BOSTON (Reuters) – A U.S. jury on Monday found a friend of the accused Boston Marathon bomber guilty of obstructing the investigation into the deadly blasts by removing a backpack containing fireworks shells from the suspect’s dorm room.

The friend, Kazakh exchange student Azamat Tazhayakov, was found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice for going to suspected bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s room three days after the April 15, 2013 attack and removing a backpack containing empty fireworks shells.

The jury found Tazhayakov not guilty of similar charges involving a laptop computer.

His mother broke down in tears when the verdict was read, while Tazhayakov, dressed in a dark suit and tie, sat quietly between his lawyers.

Prosecutors have said Tazhayakov, fellow Kazakh exchange student Dias Kadyrbayev and Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Massachusetts, removed evidence from Tsarnaev’s room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth after realizing that their friend was depicted in photos the FBI released of the suspected bomber.

Tazhayakov could face up to 20 years in prison on the obstruction of justice count and up to five years on the conspiracy count. He will be sentenced on Oct. 16, U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock said.

Kadyrbayev is awaiting trial on the same charges later this year, while Phillipos faces the lesser charge of lying to investigators.

During six days of testimony at U.S. District Court in Boston, jurors heard FBI agents testify that Tazhayakov told them he had been present when the items were removed and later watched as a garbage truck hauled away the backpack.

They also saw a videotaped statement from Kadyrbayev’s girlfriend saying that she told him to dispose of the backpack when she realized the FBI was hunting for Tsarnaev.

Tazhayakov’s attorneys had said their client never touched the backpack or laptop, contending that Kadyrbayev did so and later dropped the backpack into a dumpster.

None of the three men were charged with playing any role in the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, which injured more than 260 people in addition to killing three.

Tsarnaev is awaiting trial on charges that carry the death penalty. His older brother, Tamerlan, who prosecutors contend also played a key role in the attack, died following a gun battle with police several days after the bombing.

]]> 0
Texas Gov. Rick Perry to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops to the border: reports Mon, 21 Jul 2014 18:46:47 +0000 Reuters By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) – Texas Governor Rick Perry was expected to announce plans on Monday to send 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the Mexican border to boost security, according to local media, a move that could pile pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama.

Perry, seen as a possible Republican Party candidate in the 2016 presidential election, planned a news conference at 2 p.m. local time (1900 GMT), to speak about immigration.

Sources in the governor’s office have told Texas media outlets that Perry briefed political leaders and security officials over the weekend of his plans to deploy the Texas National Guard.

Representatives for Perry had no comment on the reports.

Perry previously called on Obama to send 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border. In a letter to the president this month, he said, “Securing our border will provide an immediate reduction in the number of illegal immigrants entering our country.”

The governor’s expected announcement comes just days before Obama plans meet with the leaders of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador on Friday to discuss cooperation on the influx of child migrants from Central America into the United States. {ID:nL2N0PT24B]

During the nine months ending June 30, more than 57,000 children were detained at the U.S.-Mexico border, most of them from Central America, and double last year’s count.

Tony Payan, director of the Mexico Center at Rice University’s Baker Institute in Houston, said Perry’s plan is more about politics than security because the state’s guard troops will play supporting roles on the vast border and likely be deployed for a short period of time.

“The operational impact is limited. This forces one to think that this is a political move by Rick Perry,” he said.

“They can play support for the (U.S.) Border Patrol for surveillance and help in infrastructure projects like wall building,” he said.

The White House and various lawmakers have called the influx a humanitarian crisis, and the Obama administration has requested an additional $3.7 billion from Congress to deal with the situation.

Republicans, who say Obama’s immigration policies have encouraged the flood of minors into United States, so far have balked at signing off on the money and have reissued calls for Obama to boost border security.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu)

]]> 0
Why are Fukushima engineers creating walls of ice under a contaminated nuclear plant? Mon, 21 Jul 2014 18:06:07 +0000 The Conversation By Jonathan Bridge, University of Liverpool

Engineers at Fukushima nuclear power plant have been trying to create a £185m ice wall to isolate contaminated water from mixing with groundwater. However, there has been a steady stream of news articles reporting on problems associated with the work so far. They are simply adding to the sense of despair and distrust that has hung over the clean-up operation since the disaster occurred at the site more than three years ago. However, a closer look at the technology inspires hope.

Strong foundations

Artificial ground freezing (AGF) is not as crazy as it might sound. It is a technique that has been used in civil engineering for more than a century. Invented by German engineer FH Poetsch in the 1880s for use in the mining industry, the principle of the process has not changed since then.

The idea is to pipe brine solution (extremely salty water) at –30°C to extract heat from the under the surface, and to cause the water in cracks and pores to freeze. The ice binds the rock and soil grains together in a sheet up to several metres thick, while also preventing the movement of unfrozen water through the ground.

At Fukushima, they will insert 1,550 pipes that go 33 metres deep. In the last month 100 pipes have been put in place, and testing has begun.

The freezing of the ground has two effects – improved strength and reduced permeability – which make AGF a useful solution to a range of civil engineering problems. As well as stabilising shafts and preventing water from entering working areas in mines, AGF is widely used in construction of dams and tunnels, where water can make the excavation impossible.

Two of the largest, most complex infrastructure projects in the US in recent years – the “Big Dig”, tunnelling an interstate beneath downtown Boston, and the New York East Side Access project which involves boring a new rail tunnel beneath already-buried road and rail networks – have used AGF extensively. It has also been one of the standard options on the table for engineers on London’s £15 billion Crossrail project.

In all these cases, ice-wall technology holds advantages over other methods. It is completely reversible with minimal environmental footprint. It can accommodate a wide range of soil formations and structures, critically giving it the ability to operate in sites which already harbour buried structures and services, such as at Fukushima.

Complex, but not sci-fi

Despite the long history of ice-wall technology in civil engineering, every project is different and subsurface environments are notoriously complex. Things can, and do, go wrong. Nevertheless, the key risk factors are well known. Poor design and maintenance of the refrigeration system is a predictable hazard, manageable through strong project leadership and use of well-informed AGF specialists in both the specification and implementation phases.

Less predictable is the effect of groundwater flow, which is a critical factor at Fukushima since groundwater management is the primary objective of building an ice wall there. Moving water freezes less easily than stationary water, and when it does it is not easy to predict how it would do so. Improvements in computer simulation of freezing behaviour in porous media and in modelling the complexity of subsurface environments are key.

So the scale of the challenges faced by the ice-wall engineers at Fukushima are huge. But they are not unprecedented. Ground freezing has even been used for radiation mitigation before, for example at mining operations in Canada and Australia where radioactive radon gas is a threat to the health and safety of mineworkers. The idea of using ice-wall technology to isolate and treat a volume of contaminated groundwater – exactly the objective at Fukushima – is based on patents outlining the concept of an underground ice-walled storage volume dating back to the 1960s.

None of this diminishes the magnitude of the problems facing engineers and managers at the world’s highest-profile contaminated site. But the ice-wall technology itself is not the bizarre stunt that has sometimes been portrayed. It might even work.

Next, read this: What is the ‘acceptable risk’ when planning a nuclear power plant?

The Conversation

Jonathan Bridge receives funding from the Natural Environmental Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board. He consults to the UK National Nuclear Laboratory.

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

]]> 0
Looking upward: Vertical farms offer a bright future for hungry cities Mon, 21 Jul 2014 18:05:22 +0000 The Conversation By Tim Heath, University of Nottingham and Yiming Shao, University of Nottingham

The 21st century has seen rapid urbanisation and the global population is now expected to grow to more than 8.3 billion by 2050. Currently, 800m hectares – 38% of the earth’s land surface – is farmed and we’ll soon need to give over another 100m hectares if we continue to use current agricultural methods. That’s not additional fertile land that actually exists though, so some are investigating the potential of vertical farming.

It has been suggested that a 30 storey 27,800,000 m2 vertical farm could be achieved within one New York City block. That farm could feed 50,000 people, providing 2,000 calories for every person each day. With results like that as a prospect, it’s easy to see why enthusiasts see vertical farms as the future.

Growing up

Vertical farms are still very much at the conceptual stage. The idea is to cultivate crops on multiple levels within high-rise buildings in urban areas. It’s not an entirely new proposition, with architect Ken Yeang suggesting a vision of high-rise plant cultivation in mixed-use skyscrapers as early as the 1980s. Professor Dickson Despommier, the leading international advocate of vertical farms, describes them as “a global solution” to the world’s urban food needs.

Vertical farms do indeed have many advantages. They would enable us to produce crops all year round using 70% less water. We wouldn’t need to use agro-chemicals and could avoid the adverse environmental factors that affect yield and quality in more traditional farming. And if food were grown in urban areas in the first place, we could eliminate the financial and environmental costs of importing food into towns and cities.

Growing pains

In some respects, farming is now a practical possibility. The technology it requires, in terms of plant growth and construction, are available. We can already cultivate plants without soil and recycle the water used to deliver clean indoor farming, for example. Hydroponics, where plant roots are grown in nutrients dissolved in water, is one option. This plant-growing technique can be combined with traditional aquaculture to raise fish or prawns – a farming technique known as aquaponics. Another way to grow plants is aeroponics, which involves growing suspended plants by spraying the roots with a nutrient-rich water solution.

Section through a proposed vertical farm
Matthew Humphreys, University of Nottingham


But even though it has been more than than 20 years since the concept was first proposed and the pressure of climate change continues to mount, vertical farming is still not a reality. The two biggest problems have been financial and technological viability, particularly when it comes to actually building these high-rise spaces.

Vertical farms need contemporary building materials and renewable energy systems. Sunlight reflecting and collecting devices such as light shelves, light pipes and fibre optics can deliver natural light deep into buildings to provide energy for photosynthesis.

The development of LED makes it possible for a vertical farm to operate without the need for sunlight but the cost and energy consumption are currently prohibitive. The initial cost could easily be more than $100m for a 60-hectare vertical farm, which makes it unrealistic at the moment. But this could change as the price should drop rapidly as the technology develops. The obvious solution is to integrate natural light where conditions are suitable and LED in other parts of the building.

In the meantime, investors are likely to stay away. Vertical farms integrate advanced technologies and need to be relatively large-scale if they are to yield attractive results. It has been estimated that the return on investment for a 10-storey vertical farm would be be approximately 8%, whereas investors typically seek a minimum rate of return of 10-12%. And since there are risks involved in developing a new type of building, investors are realistically more likely to want an annual return of around 15%. Again though, economic viability will undoubtedly come with technological improvements.

Making it happen

Progress is being made towards resolving all these issues so the next step will really be to get a prototype vertical farm up and running in an urban location. What few small-scale prototypes exist in the world are based mainly in research institutions. To be sure that the technique can work, we’ll need to construct a high-rise structure in a more realistic environment. If it works, it could spark follow up projects.

Inside a proposed vertical farm
University of Nottingham


To make vertical farming a reality, we need the support of governments and pioneering organisations willing to take a punt. If they do, we could make a huge contribution to food security and could transform the everyday lives of city dwellers across the world. There are more than 26 cities with a population of over 10m, each requiring up to 7,000 tons of food to be imported to feed their residents –- vertical farms could, be one of a package of more sustainable alternatives to feeding them.

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

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

]]> 0
Obama signs executive order barring federal discrimination against LGBT people Mon, 21 Jul 2014 18:01:37 +0000 Reuters By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Monday barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The order did not include new exemptions for religious organizations, a move that was welcomed by gay rights activists.

For a long time the White House has resisted issuing such an executive order, preferring instead to push for legislation in Congress that would ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in workplaces nationwide.

But that legislation stalled in Congress, and advocates pressed Obama to take action to bar such discrimination among federal contractors, who make up about a fifth of the U.S. work force.

“Many of you have worked for a long time to see this day coming. You organized, you spoke up, you signed petitions, you sent letters – I know because I got a lot of them,” Obama said to laughter from a crowd of advocates at the White House.

“And now, thanks to your passionate advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause, our government – of the people, by the people, and for the people – will become just a little bit fairer.”

In the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson signed an order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating “against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Obama’s executive order added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected categories.

Obama urged participants to continue working for anti-discrimination legislation that would apply to all employers.

“Congress has spent 40 years – four decades – considering legislation that would help solve the problem. That’s a long time,” he said.

“But I’m going to do what I can, with the authority I have, to act. The rest of you, of course, need to keep putting pressure on Congress to pass federal legislation that resolves this problem once and for all.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Tom Brown)

]]> 0
Jury selection due for Detroit man accused of killing black teen who was seeking help Mon, 21 Jul 2014 17:18:34 +0000 Reuters (Reuters) – Jury selection was expected to begin on Monday for a white suburban Detroit homeowner charged with killing a black teenager with a shotgun blast to the face after she knocked on his door seeking help early one November morning.

Theodore Wafer, 55, faces a second-degree murder charge and up to life in prison for the killing of Renisha McBride, 19, on his front porch.

The racially charged case has sparked protests in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, and comparisons to the 2012 shooting death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Defense attorneys told a preliminary investigation in November that Wafer, an airport maintenance worker who cares for his elderly mother, feared for his life when the fatal shooting occurred.

McBride had a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit for driving in Michigan when she died and had crashed a car hours before, according to witnesses who testified for prosecutors at the preliminary examination.

A woman who reported the crash testified, however, that McBride appeared confused and injured, not combative.

Wafer called 911 after the shooting and police have said he admitted firing the fatal shot but said it was an accident.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Tom Brown)

]]> 0
Creationist Ken Ham calls to end space program because aliens are going to hell anyway Mon, 21 Jul 2014 17:15:14 +0000 David Edwards Creationist Ken Ham has said that the U.S. space program is a waste of money because any alien life that scientists found would be damned to hell.

“I’m shocked at the countless hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent over the years in the desperate and fruitless search for extraterrestrial life,” Ham wrote in a Sunday column on his Answers in Genesis website.

Ham argued that “secularists are desperate to find life in outer space” as a part of their “rebellion against God in a desperate attempt to supposedly prove evolution.”

“Life did not evolve but was specially created by God, as Genesis clearly teaches. Christians certainly shouldn’t expect alien life to be cropping up across the universe,” he continued. “Now the Bible doesn’t say whether there is or is not animal or plant life in outer space. I certainly suspect not.”

But regardless of whether there was life in outer space, Ham asserted that it could not be truly “intelligent.”

“You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation,” he explained. “Jesus did not become the ‘GodKlingon’ or the ‘GodMartian’! Only descendants of Adam can be saved. God’s Son remains the ‘Godman’ as our Savior.”

Friendly Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta called Ham’s quest to end the space program “a new low even for him.”

“Jesus Christ, Ken Ham is talking about the eternal damnation of alien life forms,” Mehta wrote. “They’re all going to hell, apparently, and why go in search of life on other planets if they’re all doomed to a lake of fire?”

“To whine about the pittance we spend on space exploration because ‘Christians certainly shouldn’t expect alien life to be cropping up across the universe’ has to be a new low even for him.”

]]> 0
Judge goes easy on man in vicious Detroit beating, citing his fatherless upbringing Mon, 21 Jul 2014 17:02:02 +0000 Travis Gettys A Michigan prosecutor voiced her strong disapproval Thursday when a judge gave a lighter sentence to a 19-year-old who severely beat a man who struck a child with his pickup truck.

Latrez Cummings was sentenced to six months in jail as part of a three-year intensive probation sentence, and he could have the felony assault conviction wiped from his record if he meets the conditions of the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act.

Cummings was among four adults and one juvenile charged in the April 2 beating of 54-year-old Steven Utash after he injured a 10-year-old boy who stepped off the curb.

The boy was hospitalized but is expected to fully recover, while Utash’s family said he suffered brain damage that limits his ability to work or drive.

Three assailants were sentenced last week, but Judge James Callahan postponed Cummings’ sentence so attorneys could determine whether he had actually enrolled in online classes, as claimed.

The judge found Cummings had not enrolled, and the teen told the court he was unable to do so because classes were full and had instead taken care of his daughter.

Callahan could have sentenced Cummings to up to 23 months in jail, but he cited the teen’s upbringing by a single mother in imposing the lighter sentence.

“That’s what you have needed in your life is a father, someone to discipline you, someone to beat the hell out of you when you made a mistake,” Callahan said. “As opposed to allowing you, or encouraging you to do it to somebody else.”

Assistant Wayne County prosecutor Lisa Lindsay objected, and the judge reminded her that “we’ve all been 19 years of age at some point in time in our lives.”

“It might be different for a young lady,” the judge said, “but for a young man without the guidance of a father, being 19 years of age, I can understand how some of these problems have existed in the past.”

Lindsay, who is black, rebuked the judge, who is white, telling Callahan he had set a “low bar” in excusing Cummings’ behavior.

“There are plenty of young black males who live in the city of Detroit who are raised by a single mother who do not – I repeat, do not – engage in criminal activity,” Lindsay said.

“There are plenty of young black males who did not have a father who live in the city of Detroit who do not come into court and lie to a judge,” she added. “There are plenty of young black males who live in the city of Detroit who do not behave the way that this man behaves. And the fact that he did not have a father, the fact that he is a young black male does not give him the right to engage in criminal activity.”

Watch the prosecutor’s remarks in this video posted online by WJBK-TV:

]]> 0
Virginia dad leaves twin baby girls in hot car, police find him having sex 30 feet away Mon, 21 Jul 2014 16:36:15 +0000 David Edwards A Virginia man was charged with felony child endangerment and indecent exposure on Friday after police found his 1-year-old twin daughters inside his hot vehicle while he was having sex behind a friend’s duplex.

Prince George police told WTVR that neighbors called on Friday to report hearing the sounds of children crying. Officers responding to the scene found the two 1-year-old babies inside 27-year-old Juan Munford’s hot car, while he was having sex with a woman about 30 feet away.

“We went around to the back of the duplex and discovered a male and a female engaging in sexual intercourse,” Prince George Police spokesperson Capt. Brian Kei explained. “At that point [officers] made contact with the individual who identified himself as the father of the two twins.”

The neighbor who called police insisted to WTVR that he made the right decision because so many children had recently died from being left in hot cars. But the neighbor said that he did not feel safe interrupting the father’s tryst.

“I was afraid to get fussed at because I was interrupting something,” he said.

Munford was charged with two counts of child endangerment, and one count of indecent exposure. He was expected to spend the weekend in jail. The woman was charged with incident exposure, and released at the scene.

The two 1-year-old children were taken to Southside Regional Medical Center for evaluation, and placed in the care of child protective services.

Watch he video below from WTVR, broadcast July 19, 2014.

]]> 0
NC takes five kids from pregnant, homeless mom who sought home for them on Craigslist Mon, 21 Jul 2014 16:31:41 +0000 Tom Boggioni A North Carolina woman, unable to find housing thorough the Durham Department of Social Services, had her five children taken away from her by the DSS after she posted an ad on Craigslist looking for a home for herself and her family.

Frustrated with the DSS’s inability to help her find a place to live, and finding area shelters full, Moshimalee Johnson, 32, turned to Craigslist, seeking a temporary home while she looked for a new job, according to the News-Observer.

“Five kids in need of temporary home (durham nc),” Johnson, 32, wrote on July 9 in the apartments wanted section of Craigslist.

“I am currently homeless and looking for someone to take my five kids until I can find a job and a place to live,” Johnson’s ad said. “I called DSS and they won’t take them. The shelter has a waiting list and Urban Ministries won’t let you work if you come there. I am a certified nursing assistant but can’t find work due to numerous doctor’s appointments because my 6-year-old accidentally hung himself. Please help anyone.”

Johnson later explained, “Maybe I didn’t make myself clear. I didn’t want to give the kids up. I wanted a place for me and my kids.”

A day after the Craigslist ad posted, a case worker appeared to take her children away, saying using Craigslist was “inappropriate.”

“They said a murderer or child molester could have come asking about them,” Johnson said.

The children, aged 9, 7, 6 and 2-year-old twins were taken away and placed into foster care. Johnson is currently eight-months pregnant.

She explained that she was looking for a housing situation close to medical, therapy and social service appointments for her children, while hoping the person who provided housing could watch the children while she worked at night or on third shift.

According to Johnson, the children’s father helps financially, but not enough to provide for a home for the family.

Johnson lost her health care agency job in 2013 after her minivan broke down and she was late to work too many times because of the bus. She was then evicted from her apartment and moved her family in with her mother soon after.

Currently unemployed, Johnson,  who previously made $10 an hour as a healthcare worker., hopes to get a job soon and find a place to live so she can be reunited with her children.

“I am a certified nursing assistant,” Johnson said. “It’s not hard to get a job. It’s just hard to get a job right now.”

[Image Moshimalee Jonelle Johnson Facebook]

]]> 0
Canvas fingerprinting: Meet the online tracking device that is virtually impossible to block Mon, 21 Jul 2014 15:51:01 +0000 Julia Angwin, ProPublica by Julia Angwin ProPublica, July 21, 2014, 9 a.m.

This story was co-published with Mashable.

A new, extremely persistent type of online tracking is shadowing visitors to thousands of top websites, from to

First documented in a forthcoming paper by researchers at Princeton University and KU Leuven University in Belgium, this type of tracking, called canvas fingerprinting, works by instructing the visitor’s Web browser to draw a hidden image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, the images can be used to assign each user’s device a number that uniquely identifies it.

Like other tracking tools, canvas fingerprints are used to build profiles of users based on the websites they visit — profiles that shape which ads, news articles, or other types of content are displayed to them.

But fingerprints are unusually hard to block: They can’t be prevented by using standard Web browser privacy settings or using anti-tracking tools such as AdBlock Plus.

The researchers found canvas fingerprinting computer code, primarily written by a company called AddThis, on 5 percent of the top 100,000 websites. Most of the code was on websites that use AddThis’ social media sharing tools. Other fingerprinters include the German digital marketer Ligatus and the Canadian dating site Plentyoffish. (A list of all the websites on which researchers found the code is here).

Rich Harris, chief executive of AddThis, said that the company began testing canvas fingerprinting earlier this year as a possible way to replace “cookies,” the traditional way that users are tracked, via text files installed on their computers.

“We’re looking for a cookie alternative,” Harris said in an interview.

Harris said the company considered the privacy implications of canvas fingerprinting before launching the test, but decided “this is well within the rules and regulations and laws and policies that we have.”

He added that the company has only used the data collected from canvas fingerprints for internal research and development. The company won’t use the data for ad targeting or personalization if users install the AddThis opt-out cookie on their computers, he said.

Arvind Narayanan, the computer science professor who led the Princeton research team, countered that forcing users to take AddThis at its word about how their data will be used, is “not the best privacy assurance.”

Device fingerprints rely on the fact that every computer is slightly different: Each contains different fonts, different software, different clock settings and other distinctive features. Computers automatically broadcast some of their attributes when they connect to another computer over the Internet.

Tracking companies have long sought to use those differences to uniquely identify devices for online advertising purposes, particularly as Web users are increasingly using ad-blocking software and deleting cookies.

In May 2012, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, noticed that a Web programming feature called “canvas” could allow for a new type of fingerprint — by pulling in different attributes than a typical device fingerprint.

In June, the Tor Project added a feature to its privacy-protecting Web browser to notify users when a website attempts to use the canvas feature and sends a blank canvas image. But other Web browsers did not add notifications for canvas fingerprinting.

A year later, Russian programmer Valentin Vasilyev noticed the study and added a canvas feature to freely available fingerprint code that he had posted on the Internet. The code was immediately popular.

But Vasilyev said that the company he was working for at the time decided against using the fingerprint technology. “We collected several million fingerprints but we decided against using them because accuracy was 90 percent,” he said, “and many of our customers were on mobile and the fingerprinting doesn’t work well on mobile.”

Vasilyev added that he wasn’t worried about the privacy concerns of fingerprinting. “The fingerprint itself is a number which in no way is related to a personality,” he said.

AddThis improved upon Vasilyev’s code by adding new tests and using the canvas to draw a pangram “Cwm fjordbank glyphs vext quiz” — a sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet at least once. This allows the company to capture slight variations in how each letter is displayed.

AddThis said it rolled out the feature to a small portion of the 13 million websites on which its technology appears, but is considering ending its test soon. “It’s not uniquely identifying enough,” Harris said.

AddThis did not notify the websites on which the code was placed because “we conduct R&D projects in live environments to get the best results from testing,” according to a spokeswoman.

She added that the company does not use any of the data it collects — whether from canvas fingerprints or traditional cookie-based tracking — from government websites including for ad targeting or personalization.

The company offered no such assurances about data it routinely collects from visitors to other sites, such as did not respond to inquiries from ProPublica about whether it was aware of AddThis’ test of canvas fingerprinting on its website.

Read our recent coverage about how online tracking is getting creepier, how Facebook has been tracking you, and what tools to use to protect yourself.

[Spying computer via Shutterstock]

]]> 0
India police beat back protesters of alleged child rape Mon, 21 Jul 2014 15:44:28 +0000 Agence France-Presse Indian police beat back angry protesters who attempted to storm the premises of a top Bangalore school where a six-year-old girl was allegedly raped, an officer said Monday.

Several hundred activists from a student group gathered outside the school in the southern city to demand action against management whom they accuse of initially trying to hush up the case.

“We resorted to caning the activists to bring the situation under control, as some of them were attempting to pull down barricades and barge into the school premises,” a police official told AFP outside Vibgyor High School.

Hundreds of enraged parents have held a series of protests in Bangalore since the alleged incident was revealed last week, as India struggles to rebuild its battered reputation over levels of sexual violence in the country.

Police on Sunday arrested a 30-year-old roller-skating instructor who was expected to appear in a local court later Monday over the attack.

Police seized a laptop containing images of children being raped from the instructor, who had worked at the school since 2011, the city’s police commissioner, Raghavendra Auradkar, told reporters.

“The videos were downloaded from porn sites through the Internet,” Auradkar said late on Sunday.

“He is married and has a three-year-old child too. We will produce him in the local court on Monday and seek his custody for further interrogation and investigation,” Auradkar said.

India is especially sensitive to cases of sexual violence after the 2012 fatal gang-rape of a student on a moving bus in New Delhi, which led to a public outcry and new tougher laws to deter rapists.

Police said the girl had complained of the July 2 attack to a teacher at the school, but her parents only learned of the incident a week later when she shared details with them.

The child was allegedly assaulted in a classroom at the top fee-paying institution, favoured by local politicians and business leaders.

The instructor apparently supervised roller-skating activities as part of the sports programme at the school, which has closed its doors since the uproar.

Monday’s protestors chanted slogans and submitted a letter demanding improved student safety. A school official, under security escort, assured the crowd that changes were being made.

]]> 0
Gay couple challenges legal halt to same-sex marriage in the Florida Keys Mon, 21 Jul 2014 15:43:03 +0000 Reuters MIAMI (Reuters) – A gay couple hoping to marry in the Florida Keys filed an emergency petition on Monday to reinstate a judge’s ruling which struck down the state’s gay marriage ban.

Last week Circuit Judge Luis Garcia, whose jurisdiction includes the Florida Keys, ordered the Monroe County Clerk of Court to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting on Tuesday.

But the ruling was automatically put on hold after Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican, announced she planned to appeal it, stating that the final decision on the issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court.

While the ruling applied to only one Florida county, it marks the first decision in several court cases across the state challenging a same-sex marriage ban approved by Florida voters in 2008.

In Thursday’s ruling Garcia found in favor of two 43-year-old male bartenders in Key West, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, saying Florida’s gay marriage ban violated their rights to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Writing by David Adams; Editing by Jim Loney)

[Same sex marriage via Shutterstock]

]]> 0
California needs to ban lawn-watering Mon, 21 Jul 2014 15:38:03 +0000 Amanda Marcotte The California drought is highlighting a number of serious problems that our country has let fester for decades, including global warming and casual disregard for the limits of our resources. This story in particular just really demonstrates how this kind of catastrophe was inevitable, a product of a culture that has made a virtue out of exploiting the environment and doesn’t know how to change course now that the piper is demanding payment.

The entirety of California is currently experiencing drought conditions and more than 80 percent of the state is classified as an extreme drought. Laura Whitney and her husband, Michael Korte, have been trying to conserve water in their Glendale, California home by cutting back on lawn watering, taking shorter showers, and doing larger loads of laundry. Now, they are facing a fine of up to $500 for not keeping their lawn green.

As Think Progress notes, instead of conserving water in California, water use actually went up 1% in May, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s because the lack of rain means people are watering their lawns more. And while there’s a lot of talk in the state about how it’s virtuous to go without lawn-watering and how people need to really learn to conserve, the reality, as this story shows, is that the long-standing infatuation with having big, green lawns that seem to exist for no other purpose than to be wasteful clearly is triumphant. People have it in their heads that if you don’t have a green lawn, it’s because your house has gone to seed. That kind of obsession with what’s right and proper tends, unfortunately, to eclipse abstract concerns about depleting resources.

To be blunt, this isn’t a problem that America is capable of fixing. The only real solution to this is to, as Hamilton Nolan wrote in one of his more lucid rants at Gawker, to ban lawns. As long as lawns are a thing, there’s going to be social and, as this story shows, even government pressure to keep them up at a certain level, and that level is unbelievably wasteful. But a blanket law making it illegal to water grass would get the job done. Sure, some people would sneak out at night and try to water—which at least is  less wasteful than mid-day watering—but slap a few fines on people and that would help fix that. More importantly, having the law outright ban it would basically read as permission to just let your damn lawn die. The nosy neighbors that have been calling the authorities on this couple, demanding that they water their lawn, would have way less leverage. People would have more motivation to redo their lawns in a style that is more adapted to their local climate. People who say they can’t do that are just being lazy and weak-minded. Faced with having to watch a lawn grow brown or fixing it up somehow, many of them might find inspiration to do something more useful with that space.

From Think Progress:

According to the Contra Costa Water Board, lawn care is typically the single biggest water user for the average property and a 500-square-foot lawn can use more than 18,000 gallons of water per year. Among their tips for maintaining a lawn while in the midst of drought conditions: “Be willing to accept a less than lush lawn during the drought.”

It’s time to move past “tips” and start getting aggressive. Grass is using up more water than people. Now there’s not enough water. Time to put people ahead of grass.

]]> 0