The Raw Story Celebrating 10 Years of Independent Journalism Sun, 20 Apr 2014 13:26:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Indian transwoman to run for office after landmark Supreme Court ruling Sun, 20 Apr 2014 13:26:57 +0000 Agence France-Presse
Indian transgender stands for office after landmark ruling (via AFP)

With a tight budget and a humble autorickshaw, a pioneering Indian transgender is campaigning in her southern hometown for a seat in parliament, just days after the country’s highest court recognised “third gender” people. Describing the Supreme Court…

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Climate change threatens 5,000-year-old artwork in the Phllippines Sun, 20 Apr 2014 13:23:03 +0000 Agence France-Presse
Philippines’ oldest artworks in danger of disappearing (via AFP)

On a small rock wall a short drive from the Philippine capital, enigmatic carvings that are believed to date back 5,000 years are in danger of disappearing before their mysteries can be solved. The 127 engravings of people, animals and geometric shapes…

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Danish website ‘Dinnersurfer’ turns homes into to-go restaurants Sun, 20 Apr 2014 13:20:53 +0000 Agence France-Presse
Danish website turns homes into take-away restaurants (via AFP)

A Danish website is turning private homes into take-away restaurants by letting users advertise what they are cooking, when and for what price. “Sometimes I only put one serving up for sale, sometimes up to 20. It depends on what I’m making and how…

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Religious war of words breaks out between Russia and Ukraine on Easter Sun, 20 Apr 2014 13:18:16 +0000 Agence France-Presse
Easter war of words breaks out between Ukraine and Russia (via AFP)

Politics overshadowed Easter observances in Kiev and Moscow, with the Orthodox religious leaders in each capital trading barbs over the crisis in Ukraine — while the US reportedly prepared to send ground forces to neighbouring Poland. Patriarch Filaret…

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University of Virginia researchers can predict violent crime via Twitter Sun, 20 Apr 2014 13:15:15 +0000 Agence France-Presse
Researchers use Twitter to predict crime (via AFP)

Hidden in the Twittersphere are nuggets of information that could prove useful to crime fighters — even before a crime has been committed. Researchers at the University of Virginia demonstrated tweets could predict certain kinds of crimes if the correct…

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Participants in Boston Marathon mindful of tragedy Sun, 20 Apr 2014 13:13:07 +0000 Agence France-Presse
Mindful of tragedy, Boston Marathon goes on (via AFP)

Defending champions Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Rita Jeptoo of Kenya are among a host of past winners in Monday’s 118th Boston Marathon, all mindful of last year’s bombing tragedy. Two bombs hidden inside backpacks exploded near the finish line of…

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Town that was basis for ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ celebrates late author’s life Sun, 20 Apr 2014 02:43:29 +0000 Agence France-Presse In his sleepy, tropical home town, the people who knew the late Nobel-winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez as a child are greeting his death with warm memories and hope.

“His grandfather, who was the colonel, kept him in the house a lot, very protective. And (Garcia Marquez) just came out to go to school,” recalled Anibal Calle, who knew the literature laureate as a very small boy.

“At that time, the teacher would stop by their home and take him to school by the hand,” said the elderly Calle, glancing at the picket fence across the street that encloses the leafy patio of the Garcia Marquez family home.

Garcia Marquez, whose “magical realism” told epic stories of love, family and dictatorship in Latin America, died Thursday aged 87 in Mexico City. He lived there for decades.

Born March 6, 1927, in this inland outpost in northern Colombia’s tropical Magdalena region, not far from the Caribbean, Garcia Marquez was the son of a telegraph operator.

“Gabo,” as many friends called him, was raised by his grandparents and aunts in a tropical culture influenced by the heritage of Spanish settlers, indigenous people and black Colombians.

Aracataca was, and still is, the kind of small town where a dog can nap in the middle of the street and little is likely to wake him up.

His exotic yet intimate back-of-the beyond home town inspired his writing, including his masterpiece, “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which was translated into 35 languages and sold more than 30 million copies.

The book, published in 1967, is a historical and literary saga about a family from the imaginary Caribbean coast-region village of Macondo between the 19th and 20th century.

It was rich in “magical realism,” which Garcia Marquez described as the notion that, behind reality as we perceive it, there is much more going on that we do not understand.

- Aracataca is Macondo -

Here in his home town, friends and admirers reacted to Garcia Marquez’s death not with the sobbing, sadness or mourning more typical of Spanish and Andean cultures.

Instead the tone here was cheery and hopeful, traits seen in Colombia as typical of the Caribbean coast. That same upbeat cheer was a big part of Garcia Marquez’s personality.

Elvia Vizcaino remembers when Garcia Marquez came back for a visit in 1983, after winning his Nobel prize a year earlier.

“My husband, who was better known as ‘Monkey’ Todaro, when he had had a couple of drinks under his belt, went up to Gabo and asked him for a bottle of rum. He kept hounding (Garcia Marquez) around asking for one, until finally Gabo asked him for a paper on which to write down an I.O.U.”

“This is good for 10 bottles of rum for Monkey Todaro” reads the note signed by the Nobel-winner, which Todaro’s widow cherishes to this day.

“The best part was when my husband looked at it and realized what it said — and he asked Gabo ‘hey, where am I going to be able to cash this in?’ And (Garcia Marquez) shot back ‘In Stockholm,’” she said, bursting into laughter.

“Most of Garcia Marquez’s stories are from here. Macondo is the literary stand in, but Aracataca is Macondo,” said Fabian Marriaga with a group of nodding locals under a hot midday sun.

- Ride the Gabo train? -

Marriaga, a former cultural official here, was behind the drive to get the author back to Aracataca on what was his last visit in 2007.

“The streets were packed. People were everywhere, but Gabo did not want the police to put up any security; instead he asked for the schoolkids to cheer for him out on the street,” he recalled.

Garcia Marquez arrived on a yellow train he mentions in his works. Since 1970, it had been used only to ship coal, but it was used to bring him home specially for the occasion.

Many locals are hoping the train can be revived as part of a tourist package that would connect Aracataca and Santa Marta, a coastal resort city with a busy airport.

The yellow train would bring “some prosperity when more tourists come” to the author’s birthplace and inspiration, said Jakeline Massi, 35.

The town, which now has grown to 46,000, has four small guest houses.

“The train would bring in some investment, hotels, jobs… Now that Gabo has passed, however sad it is, it may help get the train going and promote tourism here,” said Dania Todaro, whose father, “Monkey’, passed away in 1996 without having had the chance to cash in his IOU for 10 bottles of rum.

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Authorities begin to pull bodies from submerged Korean ferry Sun, 20 Apr 2014 02:30:38 +0000 Agence France-Presse Divers retrieved more than a dozen bodies on Sunday from the submerged South Korean ferry that capsized four days ago with hundreds of children on board, opening a grim new chapter in the search and recovery process.

Three bodies — the first to be retrieved from the ship’s interior — were pulled out just before midnight and another 10 were recovered later Sunday morning, a coastguard spokesman said.

The breakthrough followed days of fruitless efforts by more than 500 divers to access the interior of the capsized ship, while battling powerful currents and near-zero visibility.

Their recovery looks set to dash the slim hopes of distraught relatives who had clung desperately to the idea that some passengers may have survived in air pockets in the upturned vessel.

The confirmed death toll from the disaster now stands at 46 with 256 people still unaccounted for.

Of the 476 people on board when the 6,825-tonne Sewol capsized and sank on Wednesday morning, more than 350 were high school students headed for the holiday island of Jeju.

Few details were provided of the 13 bodies recovered, but relatives of the missing gathered on Jindo island — close to the disaster site — have begun providing DNA samples to facilitate identification.

Although officials have not ruled out the possibility of finding survivors, the emergency operation is clearly transitioning from one of rescue to recovery.

- Giant cranes on standby -

Three giant floating cranes have been at the disaster site off the southern coast of South Korea for days, but the coastguard has promised it will not begin lifting the ferry until it clear there is nobody left alive.

Divers only managed to access the ferry interior for the first time on Friday, more than 48 hours after it sank.

The bereaved families camped out in a gymnasium on Jindo island have sharply criticised the pace of the rescue operation, accusing officials of incompetence and indifference.

On Sunday morning, close to 200 relatives set off on what they said was a protest march from Jindo to the presidential Blue House in Seoul — some 420 kilometres (260 miles) to the north.

They were prevented from crossing a bridge from the island to the mainland by a force of several hundred police, who turned them back after some minor scuffles.

Investigators have arrested the ferry’s captain, Lee Joon-Seok and two of his crew — criticised for abandoning hundreds of passengers still trapped in the ferry, as they made their own escape.

Lee was charged with negligence and failing to secure the safety of passengers in violation of maritime law.

All three were paraded before TV cameras at their arraignment, dressed in dark raincoats with their hoods pulled up and their heads bowed.

- Captain defends evacuation -

Questioned as to why passengers had been ordered not to move for more than 40 minutes after the ship first foundered, Lee insisted he had acted in their best interest.

“At the time a rescue ship had not arrived. There were also no fishing boats or other ships around to help,” Lee said.

“The currents were very strong and the water was cold at that time in the area.

“I thought that passengers would be swept far away and fall into trouble if they evacuated thoughtlessly,” he added.

Experts have suggested many more people might have escaped if they had moved to reach evacuation points before the ship listed sharply and water started flooding in.

Only 174 were rescued when the ferry sank and no new survivors have been found since Wednesday.

For those relatives ready to accept the worst outcome, the coastguard had set up a tent near the gym to take DNA tests to facilitate eventual identification of recovered bodies.

“I was still hanging on to some hope,” said Han Mi-Ok, whose teenage son was listed as missing.

“But now I’m bracing myself for the worst,” said Han who provided a DNA sample on Saturday.

It is still not clear what precisely caused the crash, although the investigation is focused on tracking data showing the vessel made a sharp turn just before sending its first distress signal.

A tight turn could have dislodged the heavy cargo manifest — including more than 150 vehicles — and destabilised the vessel, causing it to list heavily and then capsize.

Captain Lee confirmed he was not at the helm when the ship ran into trouble.

The ship was being steered by a 55-year-old helmsman identified by his surname Jo, under the supervision of the female third officer who had never navigated that particular stretch of water before.

“It may have partly been my fault,” Jo said at the arraignment. “But the steering gear rotated unusually fast.”

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Missouri GOP: Federal agents who enforce gun laws would be denied future state employment Sun, 20 Apr 2014 02:00:38 +0000 Tom Boggioni Missouri Republicans are considering a bill that would bar federal law enforcement officials from state jobs if they ever enforced federal gun laws that the legislators consider ‘unconstitutional.’

According to the Missourian,  GOP legislators would like to include a provision, in the so-called ‘Second Amendment Preservation Act,’  barring federal employees who enforce, or aid in a potential enforcement of certain gun-control laws in the course of their careers, from any Missouri state or local law enforcement jobs in the future.

The latest provision is seen as a compromise by the Republican lawmakers from an earlier version that would have called for possible jail time or allowing civil damages stemming from lawsuits filed by Missourians who think an agent infringed upon their gun rights.

The most recent version has been endorsed by the Senate General Laws Committee and  would leave the civil penalties on the table in addition to the employment ban.

The bill is likely to make the chamber floor for a vote.

As currently written, Missourians would be able sue if they think a law enforcement officer was employed after being involved in the implementation of a federal gun law. If the lawsuit is successful, the agent would be fired and the state or municipality would be required to pay the resident’s court costs.

“What we hope it accomplishes is for there to be a healthy degree of pause before anybody takes an action that could be unconstitutional,” said  the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Brian Nieves, (R).

Supporters of the bill  consider the employment ban a more moderate position, however opponents do not see the bill standing up to court challenges because states cannot nullify federal laws.

One legislator calling the bill: “buffoonery.”

“I’m adamantly opposed to this buffoonery,” said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, (D). “I just don’t think that we should be wasting our time on legislation that we all know is unconstitutional.”

The Senate bill, should it pass, would have to be approved by the House before reaching the desk of Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, who has  vetoed a similar bill last year.

[American West Legend sheriff deputy on Shutterstock]


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Tech workers seek to have Steve Jobs’ emails admitted as evidence in class action suit Sun, 20 Apr 2014 00:53:40 +0000 Reuters SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Four large technology companies should not be allowed to limit evidence about Apple Inc co-founder Steve Jobs at an upcoming trial over no-hire agreements in Silicon Valley, according to a court document filed late on Thursday by employees suing the firms.

Tech workers brought a class action lawsuit against Apple, Google Inc, Intel Inc and Adobe Systems Inc in 2011, alleging they conspired to avoid competing for each other’s employees in order to avert a salary war. Trial is scheduled to begin at the end of May on behalf of roughly 64,000 workers in the class, and plaintiffs say damages could top $3 billion.

The case, which is closely watched in Silicon Valley, is largely built on emails among top executives, including Apple’s late chief executive Jobs and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

In one instance, after a Google recruiter solicited an Apple employee, Schmidt told Jobs that the recruiter would be fired, court documents show. Jobs then forwarded Schmidt’s note to a top Apple human resources executive with a smiley face appended.

Earlier this week, the four companies asked U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh to prevent plaintiffs from unfairly portraying Jobs as a “bully” at trial. The companies said they did not seek to bar Jobs’ communications about the no-hire agreements, but rather evidence gleaned from sources like Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography about Jobs.

However, in the filing on Thursday, the employees said such material had been used in separate antitrust litigation involving Apple over e-books.

“That the jury might draw conclusions about Mr. Jobs’ character based on evidence showing the manner in which he pursued the conspiracy at the heart of this case is not grounds to exclude such evidence,” they wrote.

A Google spokesman declined to comment. Representatives for Apple, Intel and Adobe could not immediately be reached for comment, nor could an attorney for the plaintiffs.

The four companies agreed to settle a U.S. Department of Justice probe in 2010 that barred them from entering into such no-hire agreements in the future. They have since been fighting the civil antitrust class action, arguing that the plaintiffs cannot successfully prove an overarching conspiracy to impact wages.

In addition to evidence about Jobs’ character, the tech companies also asked Koh to prohibit discussion of the government probe at trial. However, on Thursday the plaintiffs argued that the jury should know the reason the companies eliminated their no-hire agreements.

Additionally, the plaintiffs seek to introduce evidence about the personal wealth of executives like Google co-founder Sergey Brin – and how it could be enhanced by holding down workers’ salaries and boosting margins, according to the filing.

At a hearing last month, attorneys for Google and the plaintiffs said they were “making progress” in settlement talks.

Walt Disney Co’s Pixar and Lucasfilm units and Intuit Inc were also defendants in the original lawsuit but agreed to a settlement, with Disney paying about $9 million and Intuit paying $11 million. A hearing on final settlement approval is scheduled for May 1.

The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California is In Re: High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation, 11-cv-2509.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

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Fox network executive fired for using company email to help organize Flight 370 charity Sat, 19 Apr 2014 23:57:53 +0000 Tom Boggioni A Fox network executive, with over twenty-five years with the company, was recently fired for using her company email account to help organize financial aid for families of the missing Malaysian airplane’s passengers.

According to the AP, Darlene Tipton, Vice President of Standards and Practices for the Fox Cable Networks Group, was dismissed on April 9 for using her Fox email account to promote the charity initiative.

According to Fox spokesman Scott Grogin, Tipton’s “conduct and communications” violated company policy.

Declining to discuss particulars of the termination due to privacy concerns, Grogin said, “As soon as we became aware, we took appropriate steps.”

According to Tipton, she wanted to help expedite financial aid to families who had lost loved ones.

“We want to raise money for families, to give them immediate relief,” Tipton said during a recent  phone interview. “Otherwise, they could be in court for years.”

She explained that, as a condition of accepting the money ,recipients would have to waive the right to seek legal remedy.

“If they’re getting money through contributions,” she said, “it isn’t right for them to seek money through legal channels, too.”

Tipton explained that  she began her charity work after  emailing Sarah Bajc, an American woman who has made multiple TV appearances on behalf of her boyfriend, Philip Wood, who was a passenger on the missing  flight 370.

According to Tipton’s husband, writer and producer Ken Tipton, she plans to sue Fox for wrongful termination.

“She wanted to do it because it could be done,” he said. “So why not try?”

Tipton says she plans to continue with her initiative, soliciting contributions through the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.

[Dismissed woman crying on Shutterstock]

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Attendance dropping at aquatic theme parks over claims of abuse and suffering Sat, 19 Apr 2014 22:55:27 +0000 Robin McKie, The Observer Something disquieting happened at SeaWorld marine parks this year. Numbers attending the group’s popular US centres between January and March dropped, from 3.5 million in 2013 to 3.05 million this year, a decline of 13%.

Nor is it hard to guess the cause, say wildlife campaigners. They see a clear link between the attendance slide and the release last year of the documentary Blackfish, which told the story of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau who was killed by Tilikum, a bull orca. The killer whale, it was also revealed, had been involved in the deaths of other individuals while in captivity.

Blackfish focuses on the distress experienced by killer whales who are depicted as complex, highly intelligent creatures which are taken from their families, kept in small pools and given psychotropic drugs to calm them and help them perform tricks that include balancing human trainers on their snouts, rotating in the water to pop music, waving their flippers and tails, and floating on their backs. The film triggered widespread public outrage against marine parks in general and a petition, signed by 1.2 million people, was handed into the California state assembly calling for a ban on killer whale shows. Earlier this month, a bill legalising the ban was put on hold for the next 12 months. Campaigners are still hopeful it will be enacted next year.

It has been an abrupt change in fortune. The cheery family charm of marine parks – institutions that have achieved worldwide popularity and become multimillion dollar industries in recent years – have taken a body blow. For their part, their managers strenuously deny that any of their animals suffer and flatly reject the idea that whales, dolphins and porpoises should no longer be kept captive.

“That argument is not based on credible, peer-reviewed science. It’s based on emotion and a propaganda film,” says John Reilly, the president of SeaWorld San Diego. “We believe strongly there is an inspiration benefit to people seeing [killer whales] in our park.”

This last claim is outdated, campaigners respond. Modern, high-quality natural history programmes, screened on giant plasma TVs in homes, are far more likely to interest young people in wild creatures than marine park shows, they say. “Displays in which killer whales are forced to perform demeaning tricks are anything but inspirational,” added Will Travers, head of the Born Free Foundation.

According to his organisation, more than 2,100 dolphins and whales are being held in captivity at 343 facilities in 63 countries around the world, with the highest numbers concentrated in Japan, China, the US and Mexico. In North America, many of these parks have become the subject of wildlife campaigns. Vancouver Aquarium is currently under intense pressure to phase out its keeping of whales and dolphins, for example, while lawmakers in New York, Texas and Florida are also considering bans on captive killer whales and other cetaceans.

In addition, it was recently reported that Richard Branson’s Virgin Holidays, which sells packages to SeaWorld, had decided to begin an “engagement process” to investigate the debate around captive whales and dolphins. Branson also pledged to make his own inspection visits to marine parks, it was said.

For good measure, India last year joined Hungary, Nicaragua, Chile and many other countries in forbidding or severely restricting the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity. For its part, the United Kingdom closed its last dolphinarium in 1993.

Wildlife campaigners say they oppose the keeping of cetaceans in captivity because these animals tend to have poor health and suffer stress-related illnesses as a result. “This is not necessarily the fault of the keepers who work with these animals and are certainly not out to mistreat them,” says Lori Marino, of Emory University, Atlanta. “These parks provide good veterinary care. The problem is that cetaceans just cannot take captivity. The worst affected is the killer whale, while the beluga whale also does poorly. Bottlenose dolphins probably do best but they still die early of stress-related diseases despite being protected from predators and having food given to them every day.”

A key factor is related to range. These are animals that travel and they want to travel, biologists point out. “Marine animals evolved to travel to get food,” adds Marino. “It is a challenge to hunt for food and they want to be challenged that way. So it is no favour to them to throw them dead fish.”

In addition, researchers point out that cetaceans have extremely sophisticated social lives which are disrupted when individual animals are caught and separated from their family groups. Killer whales have developed complex matriarchal societies in which sons and daughters live with their mothers even when they are adults. When such a family is broken up, the effect is highly stressful.

Marine parks strenuously reject suggestions that they have been involved in breaking up orca families in the wild. “SeaWorld does not collect killer whales in the wild, and has not done so in over 35 years,” the company maintains in a statement, The Truth about Blackfish, that it recently put up on its website. “We do not separate killer whale moms and calves, and in the rare occurrences that we do move whales among our parks, we do so only in order to maintain a healthy social structure.”

Marino disagrees, however. “The only way that these parks can get away with this sort of thing is to claim their shows have educational value or that they stimulate concern for conservation. Yet no one has required them to provide proof that they do. In fact, there is very little evidence that anything of that sort is achieved at these performances. These parks have been allowed to get away with this for decades. It is time to call them to account now.”

This point was backed by Travers. “What is becoming clear is that these ‘entertainments’ are only achieved by keeping highly sophisticated animals in cramped artificial environments while they are controlled by chemicals. The public is beginning to understand this. That is why they are turning away.” © Guardian News and Media 2014

[Killer whale on Shutterstock]

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Chilean mountain-top telescope will allow us to observe planets outside our solar system Sat, 19 Apr 2014 22:33:45 +0000 Robin McKie, The Observer Cerro Armazones is a crumbling dome of rock that dominates the parched peaks of the Chilean Coast Range north of Santiago. A couple of old concrete platforms and some rusty pipes, parts of the mountain’s old weather station, are the only hints that humans have ever taken an interest in this forbidding, arid place. Even the views look alien, with the surrounding boulder-strewn desert bearing a remarkable resemblance to the landscape of Mars.

Dramatic change is coming to Cerro Armazones, however – for in a few weeks, the 10,000ft mountain is going to have its top knocked off. “We are going to blast it with dynamite and then carry off the rubble,” says engineer Gird Hudepohl. “We will take about 80ft off the top of the mountain to create a plateau – and when we have done that, we will build the world’s biggest telescope there.”

Given the peak’s remote, inhospitable location that might sound an improbable claim – except for the fact that Hudepohl has done this sort of thing before. He is one of the European Southern Observatory’s most experienced engineers and was involved in the decapitation of another nearby mountain, Cerro Paranal, on which his team then erected one of the planet’s most sophisticated observatories.

The Paranal complex has been in operation for more than a decade and includes four giant instruments with eight-metre-wide mirrors – known as the Very Large Telescopes or VLTs – as well as control rooms and a labyrinth of underground tunnels linking its instruments. More than 100 astronomers, engineers and support staff work and live there. A few dozen metres below the telescopes, they have a sports complex with a squash court, an indoor football pitch, and a luxurious 110-room residence that has a central swimming pool and a restaurant serving meals and drinks around the clock. Built overlooking one of the world’s driest deserts, the place is an amazing oasis. (See box.)

Now the European Southern Observatory, of which Britain is a key member state, wants Hudepohl and his team to repeat this remarkable trick and take the top off Cerro Armazones, which is 20km distant. Though this time they will construct an instrument so huge it will dwarf all the telescopes on Paranal put together, and any other telescope on the planet. When completed, the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) and its 39-metre mirror will allow astronomers to peer further into space and look further back into the history of the universe than any other astronomical device in existence. Its construction will push telescope-making to its limit, however. Its primary mirror will be made of almost 800 segments – each 1.4 metres in diameter but only a few centimetres thick – which will have to be aligned with microscopic precision.

It is a remarkable juxtaposition: in the midst of utter desolation, scientists have built giant machines engineered to operate with smooth perfection and are now planning to top this achievement by building an even more vast device. The question is: for what purpose? Why go to a remote wilderness in northern Chile and chop down peaks to make homes for some of the planet’s most complex scientific hardware?

The answer is straightforward, says Cambridge University astronomer Professor Gerry Gilmore. It is all about water. “The atmosphere here is as dry as you can get and that is critically important. Water molecules obscure the view from telescopes on the ground. It is like trying to peer through mist – for mist is essentially a suspension of water molecules in the air, after all, and they obscure your vision. For a telescope based at sea level that is a major drawback.

“However, if you build your telescope where the atmosphere above you is completely dry, you will get the best possible views of the stars – and there is nowhere on Earth that has air drier than this place. For good measure, the high-altitude winds blow in a smooth, laminar manner above Paranal – like slabs of glass – so images of stars remain remarkably steady as well.”

The view of the heavens here is close to perfect, in other words – as an evening stroll around the viewing platform on Paranal demonstrates vividly. During my visit, the Milky Way hung over the observatory like a single white sheet. I could see the four main stars of the Southern Cross; Alpha Centauri, whose unseen companion Proxima Centauri is the closest star to our solar system; the two Magellanic Clouds, satellite galaxies of our own Milky Way; and the Coalsack, an interstellar dust cloud that forms a striking silhouette against the starry Milky Way. None are visible in northern skies and none appear with such brilliance anywhere else on the planet.

Hence the decision to build this extraordinary complex of VLTs. At sunset, each one’s housing is opened and the four great telescopes are brought slowly into operation. Each machine is made to rotate and swivel, like football players stretching muscles before a match. Each housing is the size of a block of flats. Yet they move in complete silence, so precise is their engineering.

Building the four VLTs, which have been named Antu (Sun), Kueyen (Moon), Melipal (Southern Cross) and Yepun (Venus) in the language of Mapuche people of Chile, was a formidable challenge, needless to say. Each has a giant mirror that is 8.2 metres in diameter but only 17cm thick: any thicker, and the mirror would be too heavy to move and point. Such thinness leaves the mirrors liable to deform as temperatures and air pressure fluctuate, however, and so each has 150 actuators fitted to its unpolished side. These push the mirrors to keep them within a few billionths of a centimetre of their proper shape. In addition, ESO astronomers use a laser-based system known as adaptive optics to measure turbulence in the upper atmosphere and to change each telescope’s internal mirror configuration to compensate for any disturbance they can measure.

The result is a cluster of astronomical devices of incredible power and flexibility, one that has been involved in an astonishing number of critically important discoveries and observations over the past decade, as ESO astronomer Olivier Hainaut explains. “Perhaps the VLT’s most spectacular achievement was its tracking of stars at the centre of the Milky Way. Astronomers followed them as they revolved around… nothing. Eventually they were able to show that something incredibly small and dark and massive lay at the centre of this interstellar waltz. This was the first time, we now know, that scientists had directly observed the effect of the supermassive black hole that lies at the heart of our galaxy.”

The VLTs also played a key role in providing observations which showed, from the behaviour of distant supernovae, that the expansion of the universe was actually accelerating thanks to the action of a force now known as dark energy. This discovery later won Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess the 2011 Nobel prize for physics. And in 2004 the telescopes were used to make a direct observation of an exoplanet – a planet that orbits around a star other than our Sun. It was another astronomical first. Until then scientists had only been able to infer the existence of exoplanets from the way they affected the movement of their parent star or its light output. “This was history-book material, a discovery of the same quality as Galileo’s drawings of the mountains on the moon or the satellites of Jupiter,” says Hainaut.

These discoveries have only whetted astronomers’ appetites for more, however. Hence the decision to build the £800m E-ELT – whose British funding will come through a £88m investment from the UK Science & Technology Facilities Council. Engineers have now completed a road to the mountain from Paranal and on 16 June are set to begin blasting to remove the top from Cerro Armazones. Then they will start to build the E-ELT using 798 hexagonal pieces of mirror to create a mammoth device that will be able to collect a hundred million times more light than the human eye. When completed in around 2025, the 2,700-tonne telescope will be housed in a 74 metre high dome and operated by astronomers working 20kms away in Paranal. It will be the world’s biggest eye on the sky.

An indication of the E-ELT’s potential is provided by ESO astronomer Linda Schmidtobreick. “There are fundamental issues that only a telescope the size of the E-ELT can resolve,” she says. “Its mirror will have a surface area 10 times bigger than any other telescope, which means it will take a 10th of the time to collect the same amount of light – ie the same number of photons – from an object compared with these other instruments.”

For Schmidtobreick, this ability to collect light quickly is crucial to her research. She studies stars known as cataclysmic variables: pairs of stars in which one is pulling vast amounts of gas, mainly hydrogen, from its companion, a process that can trigger gigantic thermonuclear eruptions, sometimes within 30 seconds or so. “With current instruments, it can take minutes or hours to collect light from these objects, which is too long to resolve what is happening,” says Schmidtobreick. “But with the E-ELT, we will be able to study many, many more cataclysmic variables because we will be able to collect significant amounts of light from them in seconds rather than minutes or hours and so will be to resolve their behaviour.”

Simone Zaggia, of the Inaf Observatory of Padua, is another frequent visitor to Paranal and has a very different reason for backing the E-ELT. He believes it will play a vital role in the hunt for exoplanets – in particular, exoplanets that are Earth-like and which could support life. “At present, our biggest telescopes can only spot really big exoplanets, giants that are as big as Jupiter and Saturn,” he says.

“But we really want to know about the smaller worlds that make up the solar systems in our galaxy. In other words, we want to find out if there are many Earth-like planets in our part of the universe. More importantly we want to find out if their atmospheres contain levels of oxygen or carbon dioxide or methane or other substances that suggest there is life there. To do that, we need a giant telescope like the E-ELT.”

This point is backed by Gilmore. “We can see exoplanets but we cannot study them in detail because – from our distant perspective – they appear so close to their parent stars. However, the magnification which the E-ELT will provide will mean we will be able to look at them directly and clearly. In 15 years, we should have a picture of a planet around another star and that picture could show its surface changing colour just as Earth does as the seasons change – indicating that vegetation exists on that world. We will then have found alien life.” © Guardian News and Media 2014

[Photo courtesy of NASA]

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PETA demands Michelle Obama not use real eggs for White House Easter egg roll Sat, 19 Apr 2014 22:05:43 +0000 Tom Boggioni People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have released a video featuring three little girls attempting to shame First Lady Michelle Obama into not using real hard-boiled eggs for Monday’s annual White House Easter Egg Roll, according to ABC news.

In the video, one of the girls explains that she she is “not mad, just disappointed” in the First Lady for using real eggs. Jump cuts using all three girls, have them accusing Obama of using eggs because other first ladies did, before asking rhetorically: “If all the other first ladies jumped off a bridge, would you?”

Previously PETA has handed out at leaflets in front of the White House calling for the use of plastic eggs instead.

In a letter to Mrs. Obama, PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk cites the video, writing: “I hope that after hearing their message, you will implement a new, humane tradition at the White House by using synthetic eggs that don’t require any animal to suffer.”

Newkirk also made reference to the First Lady’s ‘Let’s Move’ health initiative for children.

“Cruelly sourced, unhealthy eggs … are primary contributors to some of our nation’s top killers, including heart disease and strokes.”

PETA spokesperson Lindsay Rajt stated that the organization doesn’t have any direct information on the origin of the White House eggs, but insisted, “The egg industry is inherently cruel and problematic. All animals at the end of the day want to live and the chickens that are used by the egg industry go to slaughter.”

In the video, the girls claim that the White House uses over 7,000 eggs every year” for the roll.

The White House website points out that actual hard-boiled eggs are collected after the event by White House staff members and the Secret Service who distribute them to spectators outside the White House fence.

Visitors to the event are given commemorative wooden eggs provided by the National Parks Foundation.

Over 30,000 people are expected to attend this year’s event.

See the PETA video uploaded to YouTube below

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Man under evaluation for alleged gun threat locking down L.A. Times building Sat, 19 Apr 2014 20:23:49 +0000 Reuters (Reuters) – A man who allegedly threatened to open fire in the building that houses the Los Angeles Times’ headquarters was being held in custody for a mental evaluation, police said on Saturday.

The man, whose identity has not been released, was taken into custody early Friday evening after he allegedly told witnesses he was depressed and did not mind killing, according to the newspaper.

The man, who worked for a business that rents space in the building, also handed a person a bag of bullets, the Times said.

Police responded to the incident and put parts of the building on lockdown after he allegedly threatened to open fire on the third floor.

No gun was recovered from the scene and there were no reports of injuries or shots fired, police spokeswoman Norma Eisenman said on Saturday.

The department’s mental evaluation unit is in charge of the case and will not release information on the incident or the man’s identity until Monday, at the earliest, according to Eisenman.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Barbara Goldberg in New York and Paul Simao)

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Two Texas men caught attempting to dump body of cyclist they struck and killed Sat, 19 Apr 2014 20:15:26 +0000 Tom Boggioni Two men are in custody in Texas after police, responding to a hit and run report, discovered them attempting to dump the body of the bicyclist they hit in a nearby canal.

According to KGBT, the victim, 38-year-old Eduardo Arguelles, was bicycling in the early morning hours with a friend when he was hit by a white Ford pickup truck at approximately 4:30 AM.

According to the friend, the truck failed to stop, with the driver turning off his headlights before speeding off.

Following a 911 call from Arguellles’ riding companion, police and firefighters arrived to find his mangled bike on the side of the road – but no body – setting off a search.

“It was at that point that the traffic investigation division started to suspect the possibility that upon impact the bicyclist may have flown in the air and landed in the bed of the pickup,” said Edinburg Police Lt. Oscar Trevino.

Two hours later police received a phone tip describing a truck with front end damage matching the description given by the friend.

Police arrived to find the driver, Emilio Gomez, and his companion, Nelson Cantu, preparing to dispose of the body.

“Immediately, they observed that there was a body that was laying outside the pickup and there was evidence to show that the body was inside the bed of the pickup,” said Trevino. “To sum it up-they were caught in the act of trying to dispose of this body.”

Gomez faces charges of intoxication manslaughter, accident involving injury or death, and tampering with physical evidence and is being held on $2.25 million bond. Cantu faces charges of failure to report a felony and remains in jail on a $50,000 bond.

Watch the video from KGBT below:

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Woman who beat son to death because she thought he was gay gets life sentence Sat, 19 Apr 2014 18:36:06 +0000 David Ferguson The Oregon woman who beat her 4-year-old son to death because she thought he was turning out gay was sentenced to life in prison on Friday. reported that Jessica Dutro, 25, and her live-in boyfriend Brian Canady, 24, were both found guilty and sentenced in the August, 2012 beating death of 4-year-old Zachary Dutro-Boggess.

Zachary and two siblings were living with Dutro in a Tigard, OR homeless shelter when Dutro messaged to Canady on Facebook that she thought Zachary was going to be gay.

“He walks and talks like it. Ugh,” she wrote. She said that she and Canady were going to have to “work on” the boy.

A series of brutal beatings from both Dutro and Canady followed. The boy collapsed in the homeless shelter the day after his fourth birthday and was taken to a Portland hospital. He died less than 48 hours later.

Dr Danny Leonhardt examined Zachary before he died and said that his injuries were as severe as those seen in the victims of violent car crashes. The 4-year-old was also covered in bruises that suggested “prolonged, repeated” abuse.

The injury that killed Zachary was a blunt force blow to the stomach so brutal that it perforated his abdominal wall, allowing urine and fecal matter to flow throughout his body, contaminating and killing his vital organs.

Dutro received a life sentence, but will be eligible for parole in 25 years. Canady plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault and was sentenced to 12 years behind bars.

Zachary’s 7-year-old sister and 3-year-old brother also showed signs of abuse, according to Dr. Leonhardt. They have been placed in foster care.

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Fugitive Minnesota youth pastor molested girls for years with parents’ tacit approval Sat, 19 Apr 2014 17:54:01 +0000 David Ferguson A Minneapolis man who police are calling a cult leader is on the run and facing 59 counts of sexual misconduct involving two young girls in his congregation.

KMSP-TV reported Friday that 52-year-old pastor Victor Barnard of the River Road Fellowship church kept a stable of women and girls for his sexual pleasure, women who he called “The Maidens.”

Two of the women, now adults, came forward earlier this year saying that at the ages of 12 and 13, their parents sent them to live with Barnard at a residence called Shepherd’s Camp near Finlayson, MN where they joined the Maidens, who numbered about 10 at the time.

Over a period of more than a decade, Barnard regularly had sex with the women. He and many members of the River Road Fellowship fled Minnesota for rural Washington state in 2008 when allegations against him first surfaced.

The pastor went missing earlier this week when the two former followers came forward with their accusations.

Watch video about this story, embedded below:

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7-year-old twin boys fend off Texas carjacker with fists and a rubber snake Sat, 19 Apr 2014 16:36:47 +0000 David Ferguson A carjacker in San Antonio, TX got more than he bargained for this week when he attempted to steal a car with two twin boys and their baby brother in it. ABC News reported that the boys attacked the thief and forced him off the road.

“One of the boys was punching the man in the face; the other was hitting him with a rubber snake,” said Sgt. Javier Salazar on Friday.

On Thursday morning, the boys’ mother Lucia Lozada had bundled them into the car, then realized she forgot the 12-month-old baby’s bottle. She got out of the car to send her husband inside, then turned around in time to see a neighborhood man seating himself in the driver’s seat, then driving away.

“Lucia saw the man before he took the car,” said the children’s grandmother, Herminia Segovia, to ABC News. “She recognized him from around the neighborhood and even waved to him. Before she could do anything he jumped into the car and drove away.”

Lozada telephoned police, but inside the car, the boys were attacking the carjacker so ferociously that he was forced to pull over. Before 10 minutes had elapsed, the thief put the boys and their baby brother out on the side of the road.

Once out of the car, the boys approached a little girl who took them to her own parents.

“The kids had been taught never to talk to strangers, so when they got out of the car, they didn’t want to approach a house they didn’t recognize,” said Sgt. Salazar. “But they saw a little girl outside one of the houses, and they felt safe talking to her.”

The thief is still at large, but Salazar said that police expect to catch him soon.

“I’d like to say we are cautiously optimistic that we’ll catch him, because someone in the area knows this guy,” he said to ABC.

Watch video about this story, embedded below:

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Arkansas ex-cop killed while trying to set anti-corruption blogger’s hot dog cart on fire Sat, 19 Apr 2014 15:39:36 +0000 David Ferguson A former police officer died while trying to set ablaze a food cart belonging to a blogger who exposed crooked cops and other corrupt city officials. reported Friday that former Little Rock Police Officer Todd Payne died when blogger Ean Bordeaux (pictured above) tackled him as Payne tried to flee the scene of the attempted arson.

Bordeaux is the proprietor of the Corruption Sucks blog, a webpage dedicated to exposing corruption in the Little Rock local government and in the state government of Arkansas. At about 4:30 a.m. on Friday, he awoke to find the hot dog cart he operates for a living in flames.

“I looked outside and my hot dog cart’s on fire,” he told KARK. The cart operated on propane tanks, which, Bordeaux said, “could have blown up the house.”

He called 911, then ran outside in a bathrobe to put out the blaze. That was when he noticed a heavyset man in a mask running away.

Bordeaux was too busy trying to put out the flames then, he said, but about 15 minutes later, the man in the mask came back. The blogger watched from inside his house as the masked man tried to restart the fire.

Running outside again, Bordeaux said, he tackled the man as he tried to flee, hoping to hold him until police arrived.

Payne hit the pavement face-first, however, and died from his injuries. Bordeaux said his only desire had been to immobilize the perpetrator and hand him over to authorities.

He quickly realized, however, that the dead man was former LRPD officer Todd “Creepy Todd” Payne, who was fired from the force in 2010 for multiple violations, including a DUI crash in which Payne attempted to leave the scene, incidences of witness intimidation, lying to superiors and dereliction of duty.

Bordeaux had written extensively about Payne at Corruption Sucks, and believes that the former cop was attempting to strike back at him for exposing his crimes.

Watch video about this story, embedded below:

[Note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Todd Payne as Todd Parker. We regret the error.]

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South Korea ferry captain defends actions, bodies seen in ship Sat, 19 Apr 2014 15:05:07 +0000 Agence France-Presse Divers began to locate bodies Saturday inside a submerged South Korean ferry as the detained captain defended his decision to delay evacuation of the ship when it capsized nearly four days ago with 476 people on board.

Investigators arrested captain Lee Joon-Seok and two of his crew early in the morning. All three have been criticised for abandoning hundreds of passengers trapped in the ferry, as they made their own escape.

Lee was charged with negligence and failing to secure the safety of passengers in violation of maritime law.

Thirty-three people have been confirmed dead in the disaster, but 269 are still missing — most of them children on a high school holiday trip.

As the arrests were being made, dive teams who had spent two days vainly battling powerful currents and near zero visibility, finally penetrated the passenger decks of the 6,825-tonne Sewol.

“Civilian divers spotted three bodies through a window,” a senior coastguard officer said.

They attempted to break through the window but failed and had to surface without retrieving the bodies, he explained in a briefing to relatives of the missing.

The relatives, who have been sleeping in a gymnasium on Jindo island near the scene of the disaster, were shown video footage from one dive.

Even with a powerful underwater flashlight, visibility was measured in inches as the diver was seen groping his way blindly along the side of the ship with the help of a pre-attached rope.

- Captain defends evacuation -

Additional ropes were being attached ahead of a major push to get more rescuers inside.

“Instead of dispatching two divers at a time, we’re going to send up to 10,” said senior coastguard officer Choi Sang-Hwan.

Earlier Saturday captain Lee and the two crew members were paraded before TV cameras at their arraignment, dressed in dark raincoats with their hoods pulled up and their heads bowed.

Questioned as to why passengers had been ordered not to move for more than 40 minutes after the ship first foundered, Lee insisted it was a safety measure.

“At the time a rescue ship had not arrived. There were also no fishing boats or other ships around to help,” Lee said.

“The currents were very strong and the water was cold at that time in the area.

“I thought that passengers would be swept far away and fall into trouble if they evacuated thoughtlessly,” he added.

Experts have suggested many more people might have escaped if they had moved to reach evacuation points before the ship listed sharply and water started flooding in.

The relatives camped out in the Jindo gym — most of them parents of high school students — have sharply criticised the pace of the rescue operation, accusing officials of incompetence and indifference.

Only 174 were rescued when the ferry sank and no new survivors have been found since Wednesday.

Nam Sung-Won, whose 17-year-old nephew was among the missing, said the clock was fast running down on the hope that some may have survived.

- Bracing for the worst -

“We don’t have much time. Many people here believe this is the last possible day for finding trapped passengers alive.

“After today, hope will be gone,” Nam said.

For those relatives ready to accept the worst outcome, the coastguard had set up a tent near the gym to take DNA tests to facilitate eventual identification of recovered bodies.

“Up until yesterday, I was still hanging on to some hope,” said Han Mi-Ok, whose teenage son was listed as missing.

“But today I’m bracing myself for the worst,” she told AFP Saturday before entering the tent to provide a sample.

More than 350 of those on board were students from Danwon High School in Ansan city just south of Seoul.

The unfolding tragedy was compounded by the apparent suicide Friday of the school’s vice principal, Kang Min-Kyu, who was seemingly overcome by guilt at having survived the sinking.

Initial questioning of the captain has focused on what actually caused the ferry to sink.

Tracking data from the Maritime Ministry showed the vessel made a sharp turn just before sending its first distress signal.

Some experts believe a tight turn could have dislodged the heavy cargo manifest — including more than 150 vehicles — and destabilised the vessel, causing it to list heavily and then capsize.

Captain Lee confirmed he was not at the helm when the ship ran into trouble.

The ship was being steered by a 55-year-old helmsman identified by his surname Jo, under the supervision of the female third officer.

“It may have partly been my fault,” Jo said at the arraignment. “But the steering gear rotated unusually fast.”

[IMAGE: Ed Jones/AFP/File -- South Korean coastguards and divers search for missing passengers from a capsized ferry at sea some 20 kilometres off the island of Byungpoong in Jindo, on April 17, 2014]

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French journalists free after 10-month Syria hostage ordeal Sat, 19 Apr 2014 14:59:30 +0000 Agence France-Presse Four French journalists taken hostage in Syria last year were freed on Saturday after a 10-month ordeal in the world’s most dangerous country for the media.

French President Francois Hollande announced the release of Edouard Elias, Didier Francois, Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres, saying they were “in good health despite the very challenging conditions of their captivity”.

Turkish soldiers found the four men abandoned in no-man’s land on the border with Syria overnight, wearing blindfolds and with their hands bound, the Turkish news agency Dogan reported.

They had been captured in two separate incidents in June last year while covering the conflict in Syria.

Footage of the journalists broadcast on Turkish television showed them looking unkempt, with beards and long hair, but they appeared to be in good health.

“I’m very happy to be free,” said 53-year-old Francois. “We thank the Turkish authorities because they really helped us. And it’s very nice to see the sky, to be able to walk and to be able to speak freely.”

The Turkish soldiers initially took them for smugglers but took them to a police station in the small town of Akcakle near the border when they realised they were speaking French.

Around 30 foreign journalists covering the Syrian civil war have been seized since the conflict began in March 2011, and many are still missing.

Hollande told AFP he had learnt of the liberation of the four Frenchmen “with immense relief”.

“I share the joy of the families of our compatriots who have endured… the fear of this trying time,” Hollande said.

Francois, a highly respected and experienced war reporter for Europe 1 radio, and photographer Elias, 23, were taken north of the main northern Syrian city of Aleppo on June 6.

Henin, a 37-year-old reporter for Point magazine, and freelance photographer Torres, 29, were seized two weeks later also in the north of the country, at Raqqa.

- ‘Morale good’ -

The four men are expected to arrive in France later Saturday or early Sunday to an immense outpouring of joy and relief.

“We don’t know what to say, we are very happy obviously, but we are completely overwhelmed,” Elias’s grandmother Josette Dunand told AFP.

Henin’s father Pierre-Yves Henin told AFP the men were “about to get on a plane to come back”, and that their morale was “particularly good”.

He told BFM-TV the family had been aware of recent “contacts”, and had hoped they would “prove fruitful”, but that the news that his son was free was nonetheless a surprise.

The head of Europe 1 Denis Olivennes described emotional scenes in the office.

“It is an immense joy, we are in tears,” he said. “We have endured 10 months of terrible anxiety and anguish. Now they are freed, I have no words to describe how it feels.

“I want to thank the authorities that have permitted their liberation, all those who mobilised, the families… the list is too long,” he said.

The four men’s liberation comes weeks after two Spanish journalists taken hostage in Syria by an Al-Qaeda-linked group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant also walked free.

El Mundo correspondent Javier Espinosa, 49, and freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, 42, were released and handed over to the Turkish military last month.

They had been in captivity since September.

Thanking “all those who contributed to the successful outcome”, the president said the men would return to France “in the coming hours”.

He reaffirmed his “deep commitment to the freedom of the press, which demands respect for the security and integrity of journalists in their role of providing information.”

Hollande said his attention was now with two other French citizens still held in the Sahel region of Africa, reaffirming his determination to obtain their release.

Among those still being held in Syria are US journalist James Foley, who had been working for Global Post, Agence France-Presse and other international media and went missing in November 2012, and Austin Tice, who disappeared in August the same year.

The New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report Wednesday that Syria was the most dangerous country for journalists, highlighting a rising number of “targeted killings” of reporters.

[IMAGE: Dogan News Agency/AFP -- A screengrab taken on April 19, 2014, from a video released by Dogan News Agency shows shows (from left to right) Edouard Elias, Didier Francois, Pierre Torres and Nicolas Henin arriving at the Mehmet Akif Inan hospital in Turkey]

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Everest avalanche death toll reaches 13 Sat, 19 Apr 2014 14:55:18 +0000 Agence France-Presse Rescuers on Mount Everest found the body of a 13th Nepalese guide on Saturday as authorities ruled out hope of finding any more survivors from the deadliest accident ever on the world’s highest peak.

Three sherpas remained missing from Friday’s avalanche which struck after a large party of guides left Everest base camp carrying tents, food and ropes to prepare for international clients ahead of the main climbing season, which starts later this month.

Towards the evening, rescuers suspended the search until Sunday.

“We have suspended the rescue operation for today. It is risky to continue searching the mountain as evening sets in,” tourism ministry official Madhusudan Burlakoti told AFP.

The avalanche smashed into the sherpas early Friday at an altitude of about 5,800 metres (19,000 feet) in an area nicknamed the “popcorn field” due to ice boulders on the route leading into the treacherous Khumbu icefall.

Dozens of guides were on the move when a huge block of ice broke off from a hanging glacier, before splitting into smaller chunks and barrelling down into the icefall, one of the most dangerous areas on the route to ascend Everest.

The ice “tumbled for several thousand feet, resulting in debris that came further out into the icefall”, according to an account by the International Mountain Guides climbing company, which has a team stationed on the peak.

Veteran climber Alan Arnette, who reached the summit of Everest in 2011, said mountaineers usually tried to go through the icefall “as quickly as possible”.

The hanging glaciers “are by definition unstable, sooner or later they are going to break and fall, making the icefall very dangerous”, Arnette told AFP from his home in Colorado.

- ‘Everyone is heartbroken’ -

“You first hear the sharp crack of ice and then you can try to shield behind another block of ice, but in this case, they really had nowhere to hide.”

More than 300 people, most of them local guides, have died on Everest since the first summit by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

The death toll underscores the huge risks borne by local guides, who ascend the icy slopes, often in pitch-dark, usually weighed down by tenting equipment, ropes and food supplies for their clients.

The nature of their work means that sherpas will usually make many more trips up the mountain and expose themselves to far greater risk than foreign climbers who pay tens of thousands of dollars to summit the peak.

Climbers have suspended all expeditions until rescue operations conclude, police official Kumar Timilsina told AFP from the base camp of the 8,848-metre peak.

“People have lost friends they’ve worked hand in hand with. Everyone is heartbroken,” Timilsina said.

In Kathmandu, anxious families waited for the bodies of their loved ones to arrive ahead of funeral rites at the city’s Buddhist monasteries.

Teenager Phinjum Sherpa said her 36-year-old father, Ang Kaji Sherpa, had been on five Everest expeditions.

“He used to say that… after the 10th expedition, he will stop,” she told AFP, while waiting for his body to arrive at a monastery in the capital.

“I spoke to him on Thursday evening. He said he was going up the next morning, but the weather was not very good… He said, ‘pray for me’.”

“We are six siblings and our grandparents are old. I am worried about how we will take care of each other,” said the teenager.

Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, a national body representing tourism promoters, said guides’ families would receive life insurance payments amounting to $10,000.

“It’s very difficult for families when the main breadwinner dies, but the association will look after their children’s education,” he said.

The previous worst accident on Everest occurred in 1996 when eight people were killed during a storm while attempting to summit the mountain.

In the past, some accidents have been blamed on overcrowding or on ill-prepared foreign climbers taking unnecessary risks to reach the summit before returning home.

Every summer, hundreds of climbers from around the world attempt to scale peaks in the Himalayas when weather conditions are ideal.

Nepal’s government has issued permits to 734 people, including 400 guides, to climb Everest this summer.

The impoverished Himalayan country is home to eight of the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000 metres.

[IMAGE: Buddhabir Rai/AFP -- The avalanche that killed at least thirteen sherpas is pictured as it barrels down a mountain near Mount Everest, on April 18, 2014]

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Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India Sat, 19 Apr 2014 14:52:06 +0000 Agence France-Presse Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped smartphone market.

Inflexionpoint, an information technology supply company co-founded by Sculley, will start selling the smartphones next month in India under the new Obi Mobiles brand, the Singapore-based firm said in a statement emailed to AFP Saturday.

“The smartphone share in India is only 20 percent, leaving the larger part of the ground with opportunities yet to be tapped,” said Sculley, 75.

Sculley, who served as chief executive of Apple from 1983 to 1993, famously clashed with technical visionary Steve Jobs over strategy, leading to the Apple co-founder’s exit from the company.

Jobs, who returned to head up Apple in 1997 and turned out a string of blockbuster products, died in 2011 after battling cancer.

Inflexionpoint plans to invest $20 million this year to set up a supply chain, design centre and offices in India, producing “affordable smartphones with superior technology”, Sculley said in the statement.

Smartphone shipments in India tripled from 16.2 million in 2012 to 44 million in 2013, International Data Corporation says, and analysts expect similar growth this year.

Sculley said he hopes Obi’s phones will lure premium phone buyers away from players like Samsung and Apple. Samsung dominates India’s smartphone market by sales, followed by Sony and Apple.

“We feel there is an opportunity to build another brand in India that would combine global branding skills… (and) go into price points that are more like the local brands — in the 5,000 to 8,000 rupee ($83 to $133) range,” he said.

Obi’s devices will be sourced from China and after setting up in India, the company aims to expand to other growing markets in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Latin American regions.

Sculley said that his old company, Apple, now has a dilemma over whether to lower the prices of its products.

“Either they miss the (emerging) market where 70 percent of the industry is, or risk the falling of their stock price dramatically if they go after the market,” he told the Economic Times newspaper in an article on its website Saturday.

“But one company’s dilemma is another company’s opportunity,” Sculley said.

[IMAGE: Narinder Nanu/AFP -- An Indian Sikh devotee takes a photograph on her mobile phone in the front of the illuminated Sikhism's holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar on the April 18,2014]

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Students push Oregon Christian university to allow trans student to live in male dorm Sat, 19 Apr 2014 14:49:55 +0000 David Ferguson Students rallied this week to support a transgender male student at George Fox University in Newberg, OR who wants to transfer to the school’s men-only dormitory. According to KOIN, Jayce M became legally male this month and feels that he no longer belongs in the Christian college’s female dorm.

“In order to create change, someone has to stand up. I’m willing to do that,” said Jayce.

“I started testosterone last year in May, so I will be almost a year on it. I have legally changed my name now. I’m legally male as of Friday,” he explained.

More than 14,000 fellow students signed a petition in support of Jayce, but school administrators have said that he must either stay in the female dorm or take a single-occupancy apartment on campus. Otherwise, they said, Jayce must find an off-campus residence.

“While the university did not grant his request to live on campus with males, the student was not denied on-campus housing. He was offered the option of an on-campus single apartment with a commitment from Student Life to ensuring he stayed socially connected to the community,” read a statement from the university.

Jayce told reporters that he does not believe that the LGBT community and the Christian community have to be at odds.

“I believe and have faith that the LGBTQ and Christ-centered communities can be in harmony. Both sides must learn to be in conversation,” he said.

KPTV reported that Jayce’s legal representative filed a complaint with the Oregon Board of Education.

“Because it receives federal money, the university needs to abide by non-discrimination standards,” said attorney Paul Southwick.

“I’m hoping that the school will listen and grant me on-campus housing,” said Jayce to KPTV. “For the future, I hope that I’ll be able to pave the way for future transgender students as well as any other people that are being marginalized.”

Watch video of the march, embedded below:

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Florida school wasn’t told teacher accused of bedding 17-year-old had ‘sexted’ 8th-grader Sat, 19 Apr 2014 04:53:41 +0000 Arturo Garcia A 29-year-old Florida teacher is currently accused of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student. But state officials said they were not made aware of a separate investigation against her at a previous job for sending sexually-suggestive text messages to an eighth-grader six years ago.

WKMG-TV reported on Friday that the Florida Department of Education was not made aware of allegations that Jennifer Fichter had been texting the eighth-grader while working at Robinswood Middle School in Orlando between August 2007 and December 2008.

Fichter resigned her position at Robinswood in 2008 while still under investigation there. But officials with Orange County Public Schools allegedly informed the local sheriffs office and the state Department of Children and Families, instead. She was arrested on Tuesday and charged with unlawful sexual activity with a minor for allegedly having sex with one of her students at another school, Central Florida Aerospace Academy in Polk County, just over 70 miles away.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that police recorded a phone call during which Fichter allegedly told the 17-year-old boy’s mother that she had had sex with her son between 20 and 30 times, and also had an abortion after getting pregnant, but that she still wanted to have a relationship with him.

According to WKMG, the investigation into Fichter’s alleged activities at Robinswood focused on her telling a colleague she had “inappropriate dreams” regarding the eighth-grade student and that she made him “melt.” Records also showed her sending the boy a text message saying she wanted to “smash” him, using a slang term for sex.

Watch WKMG’s report, as aired on Friday, below.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

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U.S. automakers looking to crack Russian market despite tension over Ukraine Sat, 19 Apr 2014 03:13:58 +0000 Agence France-Presse Nevermind the Ukraine crisis and Washington’s sanctions against Moscow: U.S. automakers say the Russian market is their next big frontier.

Russia is simply too large and too important for carmakers to ignore, experts said this week.

“The Russian market is going to be larger than Germany,” said John Branch, a professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

Branch said the structure of the Russian auto industry is in flux as the demand for imports increases despite barriers imposed by the Russian government.

But that means that automakers, particularly those with global ambitions, simply can’t afford to ignore the market’s potential there, despite its volatile nature.

Branch was speaking at a conference at the University of Michigan focusing on the opportunities and hurdles for US carmakers to sell to and in Russia.

General Motors is already partly involved. It has invested in a joint venture with AvtoVaz, which builds the Lada, Russia’s most popular automotive brand.

But the Lada brand is a holdover from the Soviet era and their sales are mostly concentrated in what Branch said were third- and fourth-tier cities and rural areas.

In major cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, consumers are becoming more brand conscious. They like imported cars and have developed a preference for small sport utility vehicles that can navigate the country’s rugged roads and streets.

GM-AvtoVaz produces the Chevrolet Niva, a mini-SUV popular within Russsia end exported to neighboring countries formerly part of the Soviet Union.

David Teolis, an economist with General Motors, cautioned that predictions about the growth of the Russian market have to be regarded cautiously.

The slow expansion of the Russian economy and Russian middle class since 2008 is hindering sales growth.

Russian car sales dropped by 50 percent in 2009 in the wake of global crisis but grew briskly to reach nearly three million units in 2012.

But last year, they dropped by 5.5 percent as the Russian economy hit the brakes, and are expected to fall again this year.

The chronic air of crisis that surrounds the country also has hurt Russia’s economic development.

The cuts to its economic growth forecast, 0.5 percent this year or less according to the Ministry of Finance even without sanctions pressure, raise questions about the potential for the automobile sector to quickly expand as China’s has.

“Russia needs to become a normal country,” Teolis said.

Daniel Russell, a former American diplomat who serves as president of the US-Russia Business council, said even with the current crisis over the Ukraine, Russia is simply too important a country for U.S. businesses to ignore.

Relations between the two sides could actually benefit from strong commercial ties, he argued.

For instance, Russell noted that Moscow is now involved in negotiations aimed at keeping North Korea in check and in nuclear talks with Iran.

“There has been a dramatic jump in the Russian economy in the last 10 years,” he said.

And it is doubtful other countries are willing to forgo business with Russia.

The U.S. pressure for sanctions on Moscow over its annexation of Crimea has run into that face.

With much close business and financial ties with Russia, Western European countries have been more reticent to ratchet up sanctions pressure.

And the Japanese government issued a statement condemning Russian action in Crimea.

But it then turned around and hosted some 200 Russian business executives the very same day.

“Sanctions don’t work,” Russell said, reminding that Russia survived the threat of sanctions in 2008 after a brief war with neighboring Georgia.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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U.N. Security Council: Attack on South Sudan base that left 58 dead could be ‘war crime’ Sat, 19 Apr 2014 03:08:51 +0000 Agence France-Presse The United Nations Security Council said the attack which killed at least 58 people on a UN base in South Sudan where thousands of civilians were sheltering may ‘constitute a war crime’.

Expressing its “outrage” over the attack on Friday, the world body demanded the South Sudan government do more to prevent future attacks against civilians.

“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms these acts and underscored that attacks on civilians and UN peacekeepers may constitute a war crime,” said a statement that was adopted unanimously by all Security Council members.

It added: “The members of the Security Council called on the government of South Sudan to immediately take steps to ensure the safety of all civilians and UNMISS Protection of Civilian sites in South Sudan, to swiftly investigate these incidents, and to bring the perpetrators of these egregious acts to justice.”

Earlier in the day, the UN confirmed that at least 58 people were killed and more than 100 others wounded in the attack. Among the dead were children. The UN has warned that the death toll could increase.

The top U.N. official in the war-torn nation, Toby Lanzer, praised peacekeepers from India, Nepal and South Korea for preventing what could have been a massacre of up to 5,000 people, and vowed the world body would use “lethal force” again to protect civilians under their protection.

“We will do everything necessary to protect the lives of people in our protection, including the use of lethal force,” Lanzer told AFP.

In the clearest account yet of Thursday’s incident in the government-controlled town of Bor, Lanzer described how a group of around 350 armed youths in civilian clothes “used extremely violent force to breach the perimeter” of the U.N. base.

He said they opened fire on terrified civilians, who have sought shelter with the UN from a wave of ethnic violence, with the apparent aim of killing as many people as possible.

“When we realised we were under attack we responded… the quick actions of the peacekeepers saved lives,” Lanzer said.

“Forty-eight bodies, including children, women, men, have been recovered from inside the base. The bodies of 10 attackers have been found outside the base,” he said.

Lanzer said measures had been taken to boost security at other U.N. bases in the country, which are sheltering close to 60,000 people from different ethnic groups.

“This past week has been the most bleak in South Sudan’s history,” Lanzer said, citing the attack on the UN base as well as reports of renewed atrocities further north in the oil-hub of Bentiu, which fell to rebel forces during the week.

- ‘Going nowhere’ -

He said South Sudan’s conflict, which began on Dec. 15 following a clash between army units loyal to President Salva Kiir and troops backing ousted vice president Riek Machar, had now descended into “a cycle of revenge”.

“It’s vital that all communities realise that they are taking this country nowhere fast,” he said.

The U.N.’s aid agency UNOCHA said it was “particularly outraged by deliberate and targeted killings of civilians in hospitals, churches, UN peacekeeping bases and other places where people’s rights should be sacrosanct”.

Most of the civilians hiding in the UN base in Bor are thought to be ethnic Nuer, the same tribe of Machar, who now leads a rebel force comprised of ethnic militia and army defectors. During the week the rebels captured the town of Bentiu, a key oil hub in the north.

Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, still controls the capital and maintains the loyalty of a large part of the army. He is also backed by troops from neighbouring Uganda.

The conflict in South Sudan, which only won independence from Sudan in 2011 and is the world’s youngest nation, has left thousands dead and forced around a million people to flee their homes.

The fighting has been marked by reports and allegations of atrocities by both sides, with ethnic massacres, child soldier recruitment and patients raped and murdered in hospitals by attacking forces.

- Government blames UN -

Responding to the Bor attack, South Sudan’s government signalled that its relations with the U.N. were deteriorating — accusing peacekeepers of provoking demonstrators and sheltering rebel supporters.

“The UNMISS force shot bullets on air. Their shooting of bullets on air provoked the situation,” Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth told reporters, saying the youths were only going to the base to protest against displaced persons who were celebrating recent rebel advances.

Aside from the pressure of protecting and feeding tens of thousands of civilians, the U.N. and humanitarian aid agencies are also warning that more than one million people in South Sudan are at risk of famine.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, urged countries that have committed additional forces to UNMISS to speed up their deployment, and said Washington will work with its allies to determine who was responsible for the “horrific attack” in Bor.

Earlier this week, rebel leader Machar told AFP he had set his sights on oil fields in the north and the capital Juba, and after the fall of Bentiu, government officials have reported more heavy fighting across the oil-rich Unity State.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Nevada Republican defends Cliven Bundy but calls immigrants ‘terrorists’ Sat, 19 Apr 2014 02:57:54 +0000 Arturo Garcia A Nevada Republican legislator complained about MSNBC host Chris Hayes’ remarks regarding rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle, yet repeatedly referred to undocumented immigrants as “terrorists” during a combative interview Friday night.

“I’m not saying I agree with Cliven Bundy, I’m saying the way this was handled was really suspicious,” state Assembly member Michelle Fiore (R) told Hayes. “When in the heck do we send our federal government with arms to collect a bill? When do we do that? When have we ever done that? I mean, literally, if we sent our federal government to the borders to secure them against terrorist crossing, hey, I got that. But they want to come here with arms because cows are grazing?”

Fiore spoke with Hayes from outside Bunkerville, Nevada, where a crowd has formed in support of Bundy. The government holds that Bundy has refused to pay federal grazing fees for two decades, incurring a debt of more than $1 million after losing several court battles.

After Bundy declared he would give the government a “range war,” the dispute led to a stand-off between his supporters — many of whom arrived with firearms — and officials from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), who later left the area.

But Fiore accused the bureau of “coming up” with the fees in 1993 over unspecified damages, and cut Hayes off when he was about to mention that Bundy’s supporters were armed. Hayes also showed footage of one of them openly discussing being willing to kill or be killed by BLM officials during the stand-off.

“Chris, do you want them coming to your house pointing guns at your wife and children? Is that okay with you?” Fiore asked. “Because it’s defnitely not okay with me, it’s not okay with Americans across the United States.”

“Is it okay with you if every rancher in the country stopped paying their grazing fees?” Hayes asked.

“No, it’s not okay,” Fiore responded.

“Well, that’s the issue, right?” Hayes said.

“Great,” Fiore replied. “Lien the cows. Lien the property. Don’t come here with guns and expect the American people not to fire back.”

Fiore did not mention that conservative media outlets have been keen to cheerlead for future conflicts between the Bundy ranch and federal officials.

But when Hayes asked Fiore if she would support any undocumented immigrants who felt it best to have their own armed supporters on hand to resist deportation efforts, Fiore did not answer.

“Are we talking about cows, or are we talking about illegal immigration?” she asked, instead. “I’m talking about cows.”

“I’m talking about human beings,” Hayes retorted. “Which seems to me even more important.”

“Human beings that, thank God, did not get slaughtered,” Fiore told Hayes. “Cows did get slaughtered out here.”

“What is gonna happen to those cows later on?” Hayes asked her.

“Are you saying it’s okay to cruelly slaughter them because they’re raised for beef?” Fiore shot back. “Is that what you’re saying? I would retract those statements, because it’s pretty sad, Chris.”

“Don’t put words in my mouth,” Hayes said.

Watch the discussion, as aired on Friday on MSNBC, below.

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Archbishop of Canterbury: Anglican Church still ‘struggling with reality’ of marriage equality Sat, 19 Apr 2014 02:16:02 +0000 Ben Quinn, The Guardian Archbishop of Canterbury warns swift change in doctrine on issue risks alienating followers abroad, principally in Africa

The Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested he is unable to bless same-sex marriages because taking such a step would endanger the global unity of Anglicanism by alienating members in developing countries who found the issue “impossible” to deal with.

While the Church of England is preparing to initiate a consultation on the possible introduction of informal blessing-like services, the spiritual leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans spoke of the dilemma he believes he faces and warned that a swift change in doctrine risked alienating followers abroad, principally in Africa.

“We are struggling with the reality that there are different groups around the place that the church can do — or has done — great harm to,” Justin Welby said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, in which he also sought to express sympathy for calls for the church to bless gay marriages.

“You look at some of the gay, lesbian, LGBT groups in this country and around the world — Africa included, actually — and their experience of abuse, hatred, all kinds of things. We must both respond to what we’ve done in the past and listen to those voices extremely carefully. Listen with love and compassion and sorrow. And do what is possible to be done, which is not always a huge amount.”

But he added: “At the same time, there are other groups in many parts of the world who are the victims of oppression and poverty, who we also have to listen to, and who find that issue an almost impossible one to deal with. How do you hold those two things [in balance] and do what is right and just by all? And not only by one group that you prefer and that is easier to deal with? That’s not acceptable.”

Tensions within the Anglicanism over same-sex marriage were once again brought into focus earlier this month when a Church of England chaplain became the first clergyman to enter a gay marriage.

The church’s house of bishops’ guidance, issued in February, explicitly bars such unions for clergy on the grounds they undermine traditional teaching that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. It also bars them from conducting gay marriages and from blessing them in church.

Nevertheless, Welby emphasised that he was placing his faith in the church’s consultations, saying: “How you do something has to be thought through very carefully. That’s why we get into the conversations, the thinking, which is what we are doing at the moment and which I don’t want to pre-empt.”

Welby spoke in the same interview about the very moving experience of being present earlier this year in a South Sudanese town in the aftermath of the massacre of Christians, where he was asked to consecrate the ground before the bodies of murdered clergy and others were placed into a mass grave. Despite facing such dangers, church leaders there were still eager to know what would happen in relation to clergy being asked to bless same-sex marriages in the wake of parliament’s move last year to legalise gay marriage.

© Guardian News and Media 2014

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Thousands gather in Kansas to mourn victims of Frazier Glenn Miller Sat, 19 Apr 2014 02:09:56 +0000 Reuters By Carey Gillam and Kevin Murphy

LEAWOOD, Kansas (Reuters) – Thousands of mourners filled a church in Kansas on Friday to remember a teenager and his grandfather who were shot dead outside a Jewish community center last week in a suspected anti-Semitic hate crime.

Adam Hamilton, the senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, called on the more than 3,000 mourners to “stand in the gap” against evil and hatred as they paid tribute to Reat Underwood, 14, and his grandfather, William Corporon, 69.

The two, who were not Jewish, were gunned down on their way into the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park where Underwood planned to audition for a singing competition.

A third victim, 53-year-old Terri LaManno, who was a practicing Catholic, was shot dead a few minutes later outside a nearby Jewish retirement facility. The funeral for LaManno was held on Thursday.

Overland Park, in the state of Kansas, is a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection is located in Leawood, a neighboring suburb of Overland Park.

Boy Scouts dressed in uniform seated people at the funeral as music played in the background, including the song “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I am Gone.” The song is one that Reat, who was working to achieve the highest rank of Eagle Scout, had planned to sing at his audition at the community center, according to his family.

Pictures of Reat and his grandfather flashed across the video screens on either side of the sanctuary. Children carried carnations, and dozens of bouquets of flowers spilled over the altar.

“We want to celebrate their lives in a big way for Reat and Bill were amazing people,” Karen Lampe, executive pastor at the church, said at the start of the service.

Lisa Morrison, who was attending the funeral with her 11-year-old son, a friend of Reat’s family, said they wanted to let family members know they are not alone in their grief.

“I believe it is a tragedy for our nation that we still have individuals in our society who would hate and kill someone just because of their religion,” said Morrison, who lives in Overland Park.

While all of the victims were Christian, authorities have said the suspect in the shootings outside Jewish facilities was an avowed white supremacist who was targeting Jews.

The killings, which took place the day before the start of the Jewish celebration of Passover and a week before the Christian Easter holiday, have resonated across the United States.

Leaders from a range of religious organizations have called for unity to combat ongoing hatred and violence. The Kansas City Interfaith Council has called for a “global prayer for community peace” to honor the victims and their families on Sunday.

At the service on Friday, Corporon was remembered as a physician who practiced family medicine in Oklahoma before moving to the Kansas City area to be closer to his grandchildren.

Reat, who called his grandfather “Popeye,” was described as a gifted singer and performer who participated in debate, choir and theater at the local high school where he was a freshman.

There was little talk of the suspect in the killings. Frazier Glenn Cross, 73, also known as avowed white supremacist Glenn Miller, is being held on $10 million bond on a charge of capital murder and premeditated first-degree murder for the killings.

Federal prosecutors have said they also plan to file federal hate crime charges against Cross, known by law enforcement as a senior member of the white supremacy movement and someone who had made repeated threats against Jewish people.

(Writing by Carey Gillam; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Eric Walsh and Leslie Adler)

[Image: Rev. Adam Hamilton raises his head after area religious leaders lit "Candles of Hope" during a memorial service at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park, Kansas April 17, 2014. By Dave Kaup for Reuters.]

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Millionaire ‘dirty style’ artist says his sexual assault story during a massage was made up Sat, 19 Apr 2014 01:52:25 +0000 Arturo Garcia A street artist whose art is reportedly featured at the White House and Facebook headquarters insisted on Friday that a story he shared of coercing a massage therapist into performing oral sex on him was fabricated, Gawker reported.

37-year-old David Choe first told the story on his podcast, DVDASA, last month, as part of a segment he calls “erection quest,” involving a visit to a “white person” massage place involving a woman he called Rose, whom he described by saying “she’s half-black, half-white. She’s a magic person.”

During the massage, Choe said, he began masturbating, then grabbed the woman’s rear without her consent and forced her hand onto his penis, eventually asking her to spit on it.

“I was like ‘No, spit on my d*ck,’” Choe told his co-host, porn star Asa Akira, and their guests. “And she was like “No, this is crazy.” You know? And it’s like, she’s definitely like not into it, but she’s not stopping it, either.”

“In her head, she’s thinking, ‘I’m gonna get a good tip,’” one guest replied.

Seconds later, he tells his co-host that, after Rose refused to kiss his penis, he grabbed the back of her head and forced it into her mouth.

“You raped,” Akira said, before adding, “allegedly.”

Choe then said he continued forcing his penis into her mouth until he ejaculated, but that the woman refused to have sex with him, before admitting she developed feelings for him, and that the “thrill of possibly going to prison” contributed to his excitement.

“You’re basically telling us that you’re a rapist now,” Akira chided. “And the only way to get your d*ck really hard is rape.”

On Friday, however, Choe released a statement on the show’s website saying the story was fictional and denouncing the idea that he could be a rapist.

“I am not a rapist,” he wrote. “I hate rapists, I think rapists should be raped and murdered.”

He also described the show as an extension of his artwork, saying it is meant to “challenge and provoke” listeners.

“We create stories and tell tales,” he wrote. “It’s not a news show. It’s not a representation of my reality. It’s not the place to come for reliable information about me or my life. It’s my version of reality, it’s art that sometimes offends people. I’m sorry if anyone believed that the stories were fact. They were not!”

Choe, who is Asian-American, has made reference to massage parlors in other media appearances, expressing a preference for getting massages from women “who look like my mom.”

In 2012, he made $200 million off of Facebook company stock given to him in exchange for painting his “dirty style” murals on the walls of the company’s headquarters seven years earlier. One of his paintings, depicting President Barack Obama, is reportedly hanging at the White House.

Choe’s massage story begins around the 1-hour and 13-minute mark of this episode of his podcast, which can be seen below.

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Suspect in Kansas City highway shootings faces 18 felony counts Sat, 19 Apr 2014 00:14:13 +0000 Reuters By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) – A man who went on a weeks-long shooting spree on Kansas City, Missouri, highways has been charged with 18 felony counts, including firing into vehicles and striking occupants, prosecutors said on Friday.

Mohammed P. Whitaker, 27, who was arrested on Thursday at his home, is believed to have acted alone in the string of shootings, said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.

In a series of seemingly random attacks that left the Kansas City area on edge, Whitaker is accused of opening fire at cars in a dozen incidents on highways in and around Kansas City, 11 of them from March 18 to April 6.

Armed with a .380 caliber handgun, Whitaker appears to have opened fire from his own vehicle by positioning it in the blind spots of his targets, prosecutors said.

“I’m so pleased to be able to announce charges against a defendant for these horrible acts,” Baker told a news conference.

Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forte said he could not provide a possible motive in the shootings.

Whitaker is from Grandview, Missouri, about 20 miles south of Kansas City, authorities said. Baker said he has “very little” criminal record.

He was charged with 18 criminal counts stemming from nine of the shootings – two for firing into a vehicle and striking an occupant, seven for shooting into a vehicle and nine for armed criminal action, according to court papers.

Authorities had said the shooter wounded three people in cars, with none of those injuries being life-threatening, and a probable cause statement filed in court also stated that three people were hurt in 11 incidents. Police previously cited another shooting linked to the spree on March 8.

Michael Mansur, spokesman for the Jackson County Prosecutor, said that more charges against Whitaker could be filed in a continuing investigation.

Whitaker faces a possible maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of the most serious charges against him, Mansur said.

No shootings related to this case have been reported since Kansas City police went public last Friday with their investigation, which includes local police and federal agents.

Forte said the case came into sharper focus on April 3, when a police analyst flagged seven shootings on area roadways as possibly being linked. The subsequent investigation was helped along by tips from the public, which Forte said were crucial.

Charging documents detail how investigators got a tip including a license plate number on April 9, then tailed Whitaker for days as he drove around the Kansas City area, seeing him wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses.

Investigators were following Whitaker last week when he sought to buy a handgun with a built-in laser sight from a seller he first met online, according to the documents. The seller told authorities he backed out of the transaction when Whitaker declined to provide identification.

(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Jonathan Kaminsky in Olympia, Wash., Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Leslie Adler, Richard Chang and Eric Walsh)

[Image: "Pistol Concealed In A Man's Waistband," via Shutterstock]

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Tickets go on sale in 10 of Brazil’s 12 World Cup host cities Sat, 19 Apr 2014 00:03:18 +0000 Agence France-Presse World Cup ticketing centers opened in Brazil on Friday allowing fans who have managed to purchase match tickets for the June 12 to July 13 extravaganza to claim them.

Centers opened in ten of the 12 host cities — fans will only be able to pick tickets up in the capital Brasilia and the southern city of Porto Alegre from next month.

More than 2.5 million — or three quarters of those available — have been sold to date via the FIFA web platform set up for the purpose and each bears the name of the buyer in an attempt to limit scalping.

Dozens of fans queued up at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, venue of the final, after the center opened at midday (1500 GMT).

Joao Bosco, 67, and Vanderson Balbino, 27, were both in place by 9 a.m to ensure they were first in line.

“I have tickets for four matches — including two at the Maracana,” Balbino told reporters.

“As I want to see a Brazil game I am going to try (to get a ticket) in one of the cities where they are playing. I’ll go with my brother so I’ll have to pay double.

“I’ve already spent double 8,000 reais ($3,000 2,575 euros).”

Bosco, collecting two tickets bought as birthday gifts for his daughter, Andrea, will watch Spain play Chile on June 18 at the Maracana where his father, now in his 90s, saw Brazil lose the 1950 final against Uruguay.

“My dream would be to see Brazil win in the Maracana, but it will be difficult,” Bosco told AFP.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Singer Chris Brown to go on trial Monday on assault charges Fri, 18 Apr 2014 23:55:32 +0000 Agence France-Presse Hip-hop star Chris Brown will stand trial on Monday for an alleged assault outside a trendy hotel in Washington.

If convicted, Brown could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Brown, 24, appeared in court Friday in the US capital in a crisp suit that made him look more like a genteel Wall Street banker than an actor, dancer and rap artist.

He stood with his hands by his side as Judge Patricia Wynn instructed him to return next week for the start of his trial.

In court supporting him was his mother Joyce Hawkins, friend and model Karrueche Tran and rapper Bow Wow, who the day before moderated a discussion with First Lady Michelle Obama at Washington’s Howard University.

Wynn put back the trial date after deciding she needed the Easter weekend to reach a verdict in a related case involving Brown’s bodyguard Chris Hollosy, 35, outside the downtown W Hotel on October 27 last year.

“I have to be confident about my verdict. I need to take my time,” the District of Columbia Superior Court judge said.

Prosecutors say Parker Adams, 20, from a Washington suburb, was punched in the nose by Brown and Hollosy when he tried to get a picture with Brown alongside two women.

Lawyers for the bodyguard questioned Adams’ side of the story, citing a pending $3 million civil suit that he has filed against the two defendants.

Brown, who took the Grammy award for best R&B album in 2012 with “F.A.M.E.”, was sentenced to five years’ probation and community service, as well as domestic violence counseling, after he pleaded guilty to assaulting R&B diva Rihanna in February 2009.

Federal marshalls brought him overland to Washington this week from Los Angeles, where on March 17 a federal judge remanded him in custody for allegedly breaching the terms of his probation in the Rihanna case, pending an April 23 hearing.

Just three days earlier, Brown had been booted out of a rehab facility in Malibu, California where he reputedly declared during a group therapy session that he was “good at using guns and knives.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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U.S. and Japan continue negotiations regarding Trans-Pacific Partnership Fri, 18 Apr 2014 23:51:49 +0000 Agence France-Presse The United States said Friday there had been progress but no final deal in talks with Japan that are crucial to advancing the ambitious 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Negotiations failed to achieve a significant breakthrough just days before U.S. President Barack Obama, who has made the TPP a key goal of his administration, arrives in Tokyo on a state visit.

Intense negotiations this week narrowed the gap between the two sides, but “considerable differences remain,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said after his meetings with Japanese Minister for Economic and Fiscal Policy Akira Amari.

“The round we just completed was focused but difficult. After more than 20 hours of negotiations, we continue to make progress, and we are now faced with a reasonable number of outstanding issues.”

The two sides have been wrestling in particular over Japan’s barriers to importing U.S. autos and farm products.

The specific outstanding issues were not mentioned by Froman, but he said negotiators “have worked to be as creative as possible to address Japan’s political sensitivities.”

Even so, the overall goal is “meaningful access” to the Japanese market, “a goal that all TPP partners share,” Froman added in a statement.

Amari stressed that “big differences” remain, according to Kyodo News.

Kyodo said senior U.S. and Japanese negotiators will meet again Monday in Tokyo.

The TPP would establish a free trade pact among 12 countries responsible for about 40 percent of global GDP.

It is a key plank of Obama’s foreign policy, and an effort to anchor the U.S. firmly to a region and put market-opening pressure on China, which has been excluded from the talks.

But huge sticking points remain, with the U.S. and Japan — the world’s first and third largest economies — fighting to protect important domestic industries.

Washington and many of the other parties to the talks — which also involve Canada, Chile, Mexico and several Asian countries — say Japan’s unwillingness to open its lucrative agricultural market is a dealbreaker.

Earlier this month, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructed Amari to accelerate the negotiations ahead of Obama’s arrival in Japan on April 24 for a state visit that had at one point been expected to crown the TPP.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Georgia store manager uses homophobic slur to get customers to pull their pants up Fri, 18 Apr 2014 23:35:58 +0000 Arturo Garcia A convenience store manager in LaGrange, Georgia is standing by his use of a homophobic slur to prompt customers to pull their pants up, despite customer disapproval.

“I’m not there to f*ck them, I’m there to serve them,” Anil Patel told WSB-TV by phone on Thursday. “If they want to come into my business, they’d better have their pants up.”

The sign, which Patel put on the front door earlier this month, reads, “Only f*gs like to keep their pants down!!!! Pull your pants up or be proud to be f*g!!!!” Patel’s father, who owns the store, took the sign down in response to the criticism, but Patel told WSB he planned to put it back up on Friday.

Patel denied any homophobic intent in a separate interview with WTVM-TV, saying it was a response to customers ignoring another sign saying in part, “Pants up,” and threatening not to serve any customers who let their pants “sag.”

“One guy came into my store, and his pants were so low, his private part was hanging out,” Patel was quoted as saying.

One customer, Amy Simpson, told the LaGrange News that she confronted Patel over the sign after being told about it by her girlfriend.

“I said, ‘Why do you have this in your store? Do you not realize it’s a homosexual slur?’” Simpson was quoted as saying. “I’ve never encountered anything like that.”

The use of sagging pants, frequently attributed to young African-Americans, resurfaced in the national spotlight last year after CNN anchor Don Lemon chided young Black men for it, saying that it was adapted from male prisoner code indicating sexual availability.

However, that argument has also come into question, with the urban legend-busting site Snopes and others saying that the loose-fitting clothing was actually a response to a lack of prison uniforms with a proper fit and a ban on wearing belts.

Watch WTVM’s report on Patel’s wardrobe ban below., GA News Weather

[h/t Queerty]

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Venezuela in crisis as Maduro limps to a year in power Fri, 18 Apr 2014 22:15:02 +0000 Agence France-Presse A year after promising to continue Hugo Chavez’s legacy, Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro is struggling to lead an oil-rich country plagued by economic crisis, violent protests, and rampant crime.

Maduro, the self-proclaimed “son” of iconic leader Chavez, was narrowly elected after Chavez died from cancer and was sworn in April 19, 2013, pledging to carry on his mentor’s socialist legacy.

The former bus driver and union leader immediately pledged to tackle the most glaring problems: inflation nearing 30 percent and rising crime that saw an estimated 17,000 murders a year, or nearly 50 a day.

But despite many grand pronouncements of “offensives,” the situation has only got worse in a number of areas.

Inflation now flirts with 60 percent, there is an acute shortage of foreign currency reserves, and basic goods ranging from meat to toilet paper are seeing recurrent shortages.

Most economic analysts blame the problems on a decade of rigid currency and price controls, as well as a drop in production, rising dependence on imports and debt costs — a lackluster record for a country that hosts the world’s largest oil reserves.

But facing harsh criticism of his leadership, Maduro blames an “economic war” waged by the right-wing “bourgeoisie” and the private sector, supported by US-based interest groups.

In October, as the economic crisis worsened, the national assembly granted him special powers for a year, permitting him to rule by decree — but with no tangible results yet.

- ‘By extremism, for extremism’ -

Maduro is determinedly trying to fill Chavez’s shoes — going as far as copying exact phrases and expressions — but he lacks the charisma and pragmatism that permitted the longtime leader to gather supporters beyond his own socialist party.

Considered a moderate when he came to power, Maduro has governed “by extremism, for extremism,” said Carmen Beatriz Fernandez, of the Datanalisis Institute, who lamented the president has not sought “greater range to govern more easily.”

Tensions erupted on February 4, when students took to the streets to denounce the country’s rampant crime after the attempted rape of a young woman.

Over the past two months, the protest movement has progressively grown, with the capital, Caracas, in particular, seeing thousands hit the streets. Clashes have left 41 people dead and more than 600 people wounded.

“The statistics and the social unrest are frightening,” social psychologist and Chavismo expert Colette Capriles told AFP.

“We see a break-up of the status quo that held under Chavez… a lack of clarity in management, a lack of a project,” she said.

“For two months, Maduro has tried to stand in the middle of a hurricane, trying to divert attention from a profound economic and social crisis” with his accusations of an opposition plot, the analyst Fernandez said.

Last week, the president bowed to pressure from regional group UNASUR and met with the opposition. But the talks stalled over the government’s refusal to consider an amnesty for arrested opposition leaders.

And the more radical wing of the opposition, which is seeking Maduro’s ouster through the street protests, was absent.

On Tuesday, in his latest bid to take control of the foundering economy, the Venezuelan president announced a new “offensive,” pledging to “conquer inflation” and “promote fair prices,” alongside fiscal reform to better distribute taxes.

The details were to be announced April 22.

“The government needs stability, but it cannot achieve it amid the ongoing tension… it must try to re-establish economic balance,” Capriles said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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‘Superhero’ gathering at the Capitol fails to leap into Guinneess record book Fri, 18 Apr 2014 22:10:10 +0000 Agence France-Presse They may have super-human powers and the nerve to don spandex, but a dozen Supermen and a number of Captain Americas failed to break a world record Friday outside the U.S. Capitol.

Exactly 237 people gathered under dull skies attempting to conjure up something miraculous and smash the record for the largest gathering of individuals dressed as comic-book characters.

But they didn’t even get close to the record-breaking 1,530 that hit Changzhou, China in April 2011 during an animation convention.

“I’m a fat guy, I shouldn’t even be dressed this way,” said “Batman” — also known as Richard Willett, a 58-year-old retail representative.

“I’m probably the fattest guy you’re ever going to see in a pair of tights, at least today,” he added, showing off tights and a visibly worn cape.

Also on show were Spiderman, Wonder Woman and a variety of more or less notorious characters such as Jubilee, a sidekick of Wolverine.

The failed record attempt came before the opening of a fan convention based on comic books.

Convention organizer Ben Penrod, 31, said he was disappointed not to have set a record, but was buoyed by the growing success of “Awesome Con,” which runs through Sunday in Washington.

“We were in 18,000 square feet last year, we’re in 230,000 square feet this year, so it’s over ten times (the size). We’re expecting about 40,000 people,” he said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Wyoming resort homes threatened as landslide gains speed Fri, 18 Apr 2014 22:01:56 +0000 Reuters By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) – A slow-moving landslide threatening the affluent Wyoming community of Jackson is picking up speed, and efforts to stabilize the area were called off because of safety concerns, city officials said on Friday.

The mass movement has displaced residents of several homes and two apartment buildings that sit near the base of the East Gros Ventre Butte which geologists said was slumping at a rate that this week increased to a foot a day from four inches.

“The fractured mass wants to slide down and gravity is pulling it down,” Peter Ward, a retired geologic hazards expert with the U.S. Geological Survey, said on Friday at a town meeting.

“How it’s going to fall apart nobody knows, but it’s going to come apart,” Ward said.

Evacuations from residences and several businesses below the crumbling hillside may go on for weeks as Jackson crews and utility companies work to prevent gas and power lines and a city water main from rupturing.

A project under way this week to buttress the base of the butte was halted on Thursday as rocks and gravel rained down, said Jackson Police Lieutenant Cole Nethercott.

“Right now, it’s a life safety issue,” he said.

The slide, about a mile from downtown Jackson, has cracked retaining walls, opened fissures in roads and bulged pavement, Ward said.

While landslides are common in the towering Teton Range near Jackson, best known as an international ski destination and for homes owned by celebrities such as actress Sandra Bullock and former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, they are rare in developed areas, he said.

Possible factors in the slide may be historic excavation of rocks and gravel at the toe of the butte, a major water leak in 2011, land development, recent rains and snow melt, Ward said.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Mohammad Zargham)

[Image: A slow-moving landslide is seen as it threatens several homes and businesses in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in this picture taken April 17, 2014. By David Stubbs for Reuters.]

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Bill Moyers: America is on the verge of being overrun by ‘mad dash’ toward oligarchy Fri, 18 Apr 2014 21:55:28 +0000 Arturo Garcia Bill Moyers criticized both political parties on Friday for furthering the “protection racket” built to protect the mega-rich from paying their fair share of taxes while extending their influence over politics.

“Sad that it’s come to this,” Moyers said. “The drift toward oligarchy that Thomas Pinckeney described in his formidable book has become a mad dash, and it will overrun us and overwhelm us unless we stop it.”

Moyers pointed out that many members of the “one percent” pay less taxes than the average worker across the board, thanks to tax laws that were drawn up not by nature or divine providence, but by legislators.

“It’s one way they have, as Chief Justice [John] Roberts put it, of ‘expressing gratitude toward their chief donors,’” Moyers said, before launching into a mocking impersonation of Republican lawmakers doing so for billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson. “‘Oh, Mister Adelson, we so appreciate your generosity that we cut your estate taxes so that you can give $8 billion as a tax repayment to your heirs, even though, down the road, the public will have to put up $2.8 billion just to compensate for the loss in tax revenue.”

He also previewed the upcoming study by professors at Northwestern and Harvard which found that individual citizens and mass-based interest groups have “little or no independent influence” on U.S. politics compared to corporate interests, another demonstrator that, in Moyers’ view, made the argument by “courtiers of the rich” that inequality does not matter especially “repugnant.”

“Of course it matters,” Moyers scoffed. “Inequality is what has turned Washington into a protection racket for the one percent. It buys all those goodies from government: tax breaks, tax havens, allowing corporations and the rich to park their money in a no-tax zone. Loopholes, favors like carried interest, on and on and on and on.”

Watch Moyers’ commentary, as aired on Moyers & Company on Friday, below.

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World leaders and writers join Colombia in paying tribute to Gabriel Garcia Marquez Fri, 18 Apr 2014 21:13:56 +0000 Agence France-Presse Presidents, writers and legions of fans paid tribute Friday to Nobel-winning Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the late giant of Latin American literature whose work inspired generations of story-tellers.

Garcia Marquez, who died Thursday at age 87, was mourned in the European cities where he once lived, the United States and his native Colombia that inspired his surreal stories of family, love and dictatorship.

Known affectionately as “Gabo,” the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude had friends in the corridors of power, literary circles and the backstages of the entertainment world.

In Mexico City, where he lived for decades until his death, officials said a public tribute would be held at the Bellas Artes cultural palace on Monday.

Admirers left flowers in front of his house, including white roses sent by Colombian pop star Shakira, with a note saying “My deepest condolences, Shakira.”

A 7.2-magnitude earthquake shook the city but the family stayed inside the house.

The author’s wife and two sons said his remains would be cremated but his final resting place has yet to be disclosed.

The cause of death was not revealed but he died one week after returning home from a hospital where he was treated for pneumonia.

- ‘My maestro has died’ -

Colombia declared three days of mourning, with flags flying at half-mast, newspapers publishing special editions and folk bands holding impromptu concerts in his Caribbean coast hometown of Aracataca.

In a televised address late Thursday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said: “All of Colombia is in mourning because the most admired and cherished compatriot of all time is gone.”

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist rebel group negotiating peace with the government, said it would seek inspiration from Colonel Aureliano Buendia, a character in “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

“With the departure of this magnificent man, we reiterate today that, like Aureliano Buendia, we dream of, and we will make, peace,” the guerrillas said in a statement to AFP.

Garcia Marquez last appeared in public on his birthday, March 6, wearing his favorite flower, a yellow rose, on his lapel, but he only waved and said nothing to reporters outside his Mexico City house.

“He is the most important of all Latin American writers of all times,” said Chilean novelist Isabel Allende.

“My maestro has died. I will not mourn him because I have not lost him: I will continue to read his words over and over.”

English novelist and screenwriter Ian McEwan said his literary career was “an extraordinary phenomenon.”

“He really was a one-off and one would really have to go back to (Charles) Dickens to find a writer of the very highest literary quality who commanded such extraordinary persuasive powers over whole populations,” McEwan told the BBC.

- ‘Literary giant’ -

A champion of left-wing causes, the longtime journalist forged a controversial friendship with Fidel Castro, but he also counted foes of communism like former US president Bill Clinton among his friends.

Cuban President Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel in 2006, addressed a message of condolences to the writer’s wife, Mercedes Barcha.

“The world and particularly the people of Latin America have physically lost an emblematic writer and intellectual,” said Castro in the missive published on the Cubadebate website.

U.S. President Barack Obama said: “The world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers.”

President Vladimir Putin called him a “great writer and thinker” and “a close friend of Russia.” French President Francois Hollande hailed Garcia Marquez as a “literary giant.”

“His articles as a committed journalist and his tireless battle against imperialism made him one of the most influential South American intellectuals of our time,” Hollande said.

In his Nobel speech in 1982, Garcia Marquez said it was the “outsized reality” of brutal dictatorships and civil wars in Latin America, “and not just its literary expression,” that got the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in 1967, is a historical and literary saga about a family from the imaginary Caribbean village of Macondo between the 19th and 20th centuries.

Garcia Marquez’s other famous books include Love in the Time of Cholera, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, The General in His Labyrinth and his autobiography Living to Tell the Tale.

His final novel, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, was published in 2004.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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SpaceX firm launches Dragon capsule to International Space Station Fri, 18 Apr 2014 21:06:57 +0000 Agence France-Presse Private U.S. firm SpaceX launched its unmanned Dragon capsule to the International Space Station on Friday, its third trip carrying supplies and equipment to the orbiting lab.

After three earlier delays, the Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon capsule finally blasted off as planned at 3:25 pm (1925 GMT) from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

About 10 minutes after liftoff, the capsule separated from the second stage of the rocket before going into orbit.

“THAT. WAS. AWESOOMEEE,” one person with the handle Petar Le Grand wrote after watching the launch live on SpaceX’s website.

It marks the California-based company’s third commercial resupply mission and fourth visit to the ISS, where it is due to deliver 2.2 tonnes of cargo.

Dragon is due to meet up with the space station on Sunday at 2314 GMT.

The mission had originally been scheduled for mid-March and was delayed due to a helium leak.

In all, SpaceX is due to complete 12 missions for the US space agency NASA.

Its first successful pilot launch, completed in May 2012, marked the first time a private vessel had docked at the ISS. It was followed by the company’s first cargo mission in October 2012.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Avalanche on Mt. Everest leaves Sherpas counting their dead and considering their future Fri, 18 Apr 2014 20:54:19 +0000 Ed Douglas, The Guardian Survivor tells of ominous crack in the darkness as the search continues after at least 12 people are killed

Chechhee Sherpa was cooking dinner when her husband called from Everest. Just 23, Abiral Rai was working for the first time on the mountain, carrying loads for his New Zealand client in preparation for an attempt on the summit in May. He told Chechhee that he would be up at 2am on Friday to climb from Base Camp through the notorious Icefall to Camp 2 in the Western Cwm, the last major staging post before a summit attempt.

When she woke next morning to clear blue skies in Kathmandu, her day suddenly darkened. A friend in the Sherpa village of Namche Bazaar called to say there had been an accident in the Icefall and many Sherpas were dead. Chechhee’s blood ran cold.

As news spread, it quickly became clear that this would be among the worst tragedies since climbing on the mountain began in 1921. According to Ishwori Paudel, owner of Himalayan Guides, 12 climbers were confirmed dead by Friday evening and four were still missing. At least four Sherpas were injured, one of them critically. According to a Sherpa at Base Camp, search and rescue efforts would resume at first light. Six of Paudel’s Sherpas were among the dead and missing.

Chechhee knew that Abiral could be among the casualties. Newly pregnant, she suddenly faced the prospect of being a widow.

She immediately called the office of Himalayan Ecstasy, the agency in Kathmandu working with Abiral. He was safe, they said, but another in his team had not been so lucky. Later that morning Abiral, using the 3G network that covers the mountain, called home on his mobile phone to reassure Chechhee he was alive.

The details of what happened on Everest at around 6.45am are still unclear, and according to agents in Kathmandu, expedition organisers were busy with the ongoing rescue effort. But the account of the accident Abiral gives is harrowing. He says he left Base Camp at 3.30am, later than he told Chechhee, carrying a kitchen table on his back for the mess tent at Camp 2. “None of the clients had been on the mountain yet.”

Less than 200m from Camp 1, he and four other Sherpas he was climbing with discovered that three aluminium ladders that had been tied together to bridge an obstacle had been damaged. They stopped for an hour to reset the fixed ropes. “There was a traffic jam at the ladders. If we hadn’t been held up then maybe no one would have been killed.” Behind him, Abiral says, he could see up to 60 other Sherpas climbing towards him.

Out of the darkness, 400m above his head, Abiral heard an ominous crack and the sound of falling ice. A vast serac – or ice cliff – split from the mountainside and toppled towards them. Trapped in a bowl in the glacier they had nowhere to run to for safety.

There were five Sherpas on the rope with Abiral. Two of them were hit by the ice and swept away, including his friend Akash Tamang, one of the expedition’s cooks. “It all happened in front of my eyes. I just happened to be in a safe place. I didn’t even get hit by the wind of the avalanche.” Behind him, a large group of Sherpas weren’t so lucky. Twelve bodies were discovered in the same location attached to the same rope, in the same depression in the glacier.
Jiban Ghimire, owner of Shangri-La Nepal, lost four of his team with one still missing, some of them working for an NBC crew filming the attempt by wing-suit flier Joby Ogwyn to base jump from the top of the mountain.

Civilian rescue helicopters removed the bodies using lines to lift them from the glacier, although Abiral Rai says there were fears among the Sherpas that the operation might dislodge more ice. The dead were flown to Pheriche, where the Himalayan Rescue Association runs a health post, before the Nepalese army flew the bodies to Namche Bazaar and Lukla.

Base camp is currently crowded as the peak climbing season on Everest approaches. A weather window in May allows the greatest chance of success.

Last year more than 500 climbers reached the summit of Everest. On 19 May about 150 climbed the last 915m to the peak within hours of each other, causing lengthy delays as mountaineers queued to descend or ascend harder sections.

Officials have cut mountaineering fees for many other peaks while requiring each climber scaling Everest to bring back 8kg of rubbish in an attempt to clean up the “roof of the world”.

Last year officials floated the idea of installing a ladder on the famous Hillary Step, a crucial stretch of technical climbing at nearly 8,840m (29,000ft) on Everest, named after its first climber, Sir Edmund Hillary.

Though such innovations are anathema to many purist climbers, some Sherpas welcome them. The impact Everest’s worst ever accident will have on the Sherpa community is audible in Jiban Ghimire’s cracked voice as he lists the villages in the Sherpa homeland that lost sons. “Two from Thamo, one from Phurte, one from Taksindu.”

Families were gathering last night in Namche and Kathmandu for the Buddhist funeral rites. Monks pray over the dead and choose an auspicious time for the bodies to be cremated. After 49 days, another ceremony is held for the souls of the dead to escape Bardo, or purgatory, and move on to their next life.

Those few weeks will be a testing time for the Sherpa community and for climbing on Everest. The death of so many Sherpas in one accident has dealt a huge blow to this tight-knit community. They now face a dilemma. While the mountains are sacred to Sherpas, Everest is also their workplace. Climbing and trekking has transformed Khumbu, the region closest to Everest. According to UN figures, levels of poverty in the district around Namche are the lowest in Nepal.

Yet the price being paid for this prosperity is much too high for some. Jemima Sherpa, daughter of the first Sherpa to get a PhD, tweeted: “There are the tragedies, and there are the tragic vanities that lead to them.” Ang Tsering, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association and a community leader, said no decision had yet been reached on whether the climbing season would continue. “This is such a sad day. I can’t really explain.”

Ang Tsering added that he had attended an emergency meeting at the home affairs ministry that included the deputy prime minister. “The government will be looking at ways to minimise this kind of accident in the future. They also immediately released funds for the families of the dead.” Officials, rescue workers and expedition organisers met at Base Camp on Friday afternoon to co-ordinate the rescue effort and discuss what will happen next. For Abiral Rai, his expedition is over. “I’m done with the mountains.”

© Guardian News and Media 2014

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Obama signs ‘terrorist activity’ law aimed at barring Iranian U.N. envoy Fri, 18 Apr 2014 20:40:39 +0000 Agence France-Presse President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law a bill barring U.S. visas for U.N. envoys seen as a threat to American security or having engaged in “terrorist activity” — a measure aimed at Iran’s ambassador.

Obama however said in a statement that the measure should be taken as an “advisory,” because it could potentially interfere with his “constitutional discretion” to receive or reject ambassadors.

The United States said earlier this week that it would not issue a visa to Iran’s chosen U.N. envoy Hamid Aboutalebi because he was involved in the 1979 hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

The new law signed by Obama, S.2195, bars from entering U.S. soil “any representative to the United Nations who the president determines has been engaged in terrorist activity against the United States or its allies and may pose a threat to U.S. national security interests.”

“Acts of espionage and terrorism against the United States and our allies are unquestionably problems of the utmost gravity,” Obama said in signing the measure, an amendment to current U.S. legislation.

“I share the Congress’s concern that individuals who have engaged in such activity may use the cover of diplomacy to gain access to our nation.”

In 1979, dozens of American diplomats and staff were held for 444 days by radical Iranian students at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

The protracted standoff profoundly shocked the United States and led to the severing of all diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Iran for the past three decades.

The spat over Aboutalebi’s nomination has blown up amid a cautious thaw in relations as Tehran’s new leadership seeks to negotiate a nuclear treaty with global powers.

As the host government, the United States is generally obliged to issue visas to diplomats who serve at the United Nations.

Aboutalebi, a veteran diplomat who currently heads Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s political affairs bureau, has insisted he was not part of the hostage-taking in November 1979, when a Muslim student group seized the U.S. embassy after the overthrow of the pro-Western shah.

He has acknowledged he served a limited role as a translator for the students who took the Americans hostage.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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U.S. extends comment period on Keystone XL through the end of May Fri, 18 Apr 2014 20:30:16 +0000 Reuters By Patrick Rucker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department announced on Friday it is extending the government comment period on the Keystone XL pipeline, a move that likely postpones a final decision on the controversial project until after the November 4 mid-term elections.

President Barack Obama has said he will make a final decision on whether to allow the pipeline connecting Canada’s oil sands region to Texas refiners and several government agencies had been given until the end of May to weigh in. This had raised expectations of a final decision by mid-year.

However on Friday officials cited uncertainty stemming from a dispute in Nebraska over the proposed route of the pipeline as reason to keep the federal agency comment period open longer, throwing into doubt the timing of a project that has been awaiting a U.S. permit for more than five years.

“The Permit process will conclude once factors that have a significant impact on determining the national interest of the proposed project have been evaluated and appropriately reflected in the decision documents,” the State Department said.

The move is likely to infuriate Canadian politicians who have grown increasingly irate over delays. It may also upset some in Obama’s own party. Just a week ago, 11 Democratic senators, many facing tough November races, urged him to make to make a decision by May 31.

The move will also have sweeping consequences across Canada’s oil industry, threatening to prolong the deep discounts on cash crude prices for producers such as Suncor Energy Inc and Cenovus Energy Inc, while aiding oil-by-rail developers like Gibson Energy and Canexus Corp that are racing to fill a gap left by a lack of export pipeline capacity.

By linking Canadian fields to refiners in the Gulf Coast, the 1,200-mile (1,900-km) Keystone XL pipeline would be a boon to an energy patch where oil sands are abundant but that produce more carbon pollution than many other forms of crude.

Keystone opponents say that burning fossil fuels to wrench oil sands crude from the ground will worsen climate change, and that the $5.4 billion pipeline, which could carry up to 830,000 barrels a day, would only spur more production.

State Department officials briefed lawmakers on Friday afternoon.

The uncertainty in Nebraska arose in February after Judge Stephanie Stacy struck down a state law that had allowed Governor Dave Heineman to approve the pipeline’s path through the state. Some landowners had objected to the legislation, saying it disregarded their property rights.

(Reporting by Patrick Rucker; Editing by Sandra Maler and Frances Kerry)

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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North Korea complains about U.N. meeting over ‘fabricated’ human rights abuses Fri, 18 Apr 2014 20:23:01 +0000 Agence France-Presse North Korea hit out early Saturday at an informal meeting of the United Nations Security Council in which the body was urged to slap sanctions on Pyongyang officials responsible for human rights abuses.

Michael Kirby — the head of a special UN inquiry into North Korean rights abuses — had told Thursday’s get-together convened by Australia, France and the United States that “perpetrators must be held accountable”.

“It is necessary to deter further crimes,” the Australian judge said, adding that he also wanted the reclusive regime hauled before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution.

Kirby’s Commission of Inquiry on North Korea released a hard-hitting report on the nuclear-armed totalitarian state in February that documented a range of gross human rights abuses, including extermination, enslavement and sexual violence.

“The commission of inquiry therefore recommends to the Security Council the adoption of targeted sanctions against those individuals most responsible for crimes against humanity,” he told the informal meeting.

North Korea refused to cooperate with the probe and said the evidence was “fabricated” by “forces hostile” to the country.

Pyongyang did not send a representative to Thursday’s meeting, which was also snubbed by China — North Korea’s sole major ally — and Russia.

On Saturday, the North’s official news agency KCNA released typically robust quotes attributed to a spokesman for Pyongyang’s foreign ministry in which he slammed the meeting and Kirby’s report.

“Such frantic racket is aimed at tarnishing the image of the dignified DPRK at any cost and bringing down the ideology and social system chosen by the Korean people in the long run,” he said.

“The US and the West had better put under control the worst human rights abuses in their own countries and mind their own business,” the statement added.

“The more vociferous the U.S. and its allied forces become in their human rights racket intended to hurt the prestige of our dignified Republic and its social system, the stronger our single-minded unity will grow and the faster the speed of our advance towards the final victory will become.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Turkish PM appeals to top court over ‘privacy breach’ via Twitter and YouTube Fri, 18 Apr 2014 20:16:30 +0000 Agence France-Presse Turkey’s embattled premier made a formal complaint to the country’s top court on Friday, saying secret recordings spread on the Internet were a violation of his family’s rights.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Constitutional Court that the failure of social media websites to remove leaked recordings featuring him and his family were a violation of their right to privacy and freedom of communication.

He is seeking 50,000 lira ($24,000 or 17,000 euros) in compensation, private NTV television reported.

Erdogan’s government blocked Twitter and YouTube last month after they were used to spread audio recordings implicating the prime minister and his inner circle in a vast corruption scandal that emerged in December.

One of the recordings appeared to feature Erdogan and his son talking about hiding large amounts of money. The prime minister has denied allegations of corruption and says some of the tapes have been manipulated.

The ban on Twitter was overturned on April 3 after the Constitutional Court ruled it was a breach of free speech rights — a ruling condemned by Erdogan who sees the judiciary as packed with political opponents.

Erdogan has had a tense relationship with social media in recent months, especially with Twitter, which he accuses of tax evasion and ignoring court orders to remove links deemed illegal.

Twitter executives held a series of talks with Turkish officials in Ankara this week in a bid to iron out their differences but the San Francisco-based company rejected demands from the Turkish government to open an office in the country.

The ban on Twitter, which came after Erdogan vowed to “wipe out” the network, was part of a wider crackdown on the Internet that sparked condemnation from foreign allies and human rights groups.

YouTube was banned in Turkey three days before March 30 local elections, which handed Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) a resounding victory despite the graft claims. The site remains blocked despite two separate court orders to lift the ban.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Captain of sunken South Korean ferry arrested after joint investigation Fri, 18 Apr 2014 20:10:21 +0000 Agence France-Presse The captain of a South Korean ferry that capsized three days ago, leaving 28 people confirmed dead and 268 missing, was arrested early Saturday, Yonhap news agency reported.

Lee Joon-Seok faces five charges, including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law, the agency said.

A joint investigation team of police and prosecutors on Friday had sought arrest warrants for Lee, 52, and two of his crew without specifying charges, the coastguard had said.

Yonhap Saturday said a local court in Mokpo had issued warrants for him and two other crew members, citing the possibility that they may flee or destroy evidence.

Earlier, prosecutors said Lee had handed the helm to his third officer before the ferry capsized.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Missing SD girls found in submerged car 41 years later, just days after dad dies heartbroken Fri, 18 Apr 2014 18:52:13 +0000 Travis Gettys A South Dakota man heartbroken over the 1971 disappearance of his teenage daughter died just five days before a drought revealed her final resting place only miles from their home.

Pamella Jackson and her friend, Cheryl Miller, both 17, were on their way to an end-of-the-school year party in May 1971 when they drove off a country road and into a creek.

The 1960 Studebaker they were driving remained hidden until Sept. 23, reported the Associated Press, when dry weather conditions brought their resting place into view.

Family members, law enforcement, and others had searched the area many times without finding evidence of their location, and Jackson’s father died less than a week before the vehicle was located.

“If you look at that obituary, it indicates one of the saddest parts of Oscar (Jackson)’s life is not knowing about the disappearance of his daughter Pam,” said Attorney General Marty Jackley.

Investigators used photographs of well-preserved clothing and other personal items, along with DNA, to identify the girls.

Jackley said all evidence indicated the girls died as a result of an accidental crash, and no evidence of intoxication.

Investigators said classmates who saw the teens before their disappearance said they did not appear to have been drinking, and mechanical tests done on the car and forensic tests performed on the girls’ remains showed no evidence of foul play.

The car was in the highest gear, third, and the headlight switch was in the “on” position.

One of the tires was damaged and the thread was thin, Jackley said, but investigators were unable to tell if a blown tire caused the crash.

Cold case investigators searched a nearby farm in September 2004 and found some apparently unrelated bones, clothing, and other items, but not the car.

The warrant authorizing that search pointed to David Lykken, who lived at the farm in 1971 and was a classmate of the girls, may have been involved in their disappearance.

He was also suspected in the disappearance of three other, unnamed people.

Lykken is serving an unrelated 227-year prison term for rape and kidnapping.

A grand jury indicted Lykken in July 2007 on two counts of premeditated murder, two counts of felony murder, and two counts of murder in the disappearance of Miller and Jackson.

But state prosecutors dropped all six murder charges after determining that a jailhouse informant had apparently lied about Lykken’s supposed confession in the case.

An attorney for Lykken said the state had yet to apologize, but Jackley said two federal courts had upheld the search as properly conducted.

The missing girls’ remains will be returned to family members for burial.

Watch this video report posted online by ABC News:

ABC US News | ABC Business News

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Fox guest: Promoting church-state separation at Easter like carrying ‘God Hates F*gs’ sign Fri, 18 Apr 2014 18:15:33 +0000 Tom Boggioni In a Fox News segment called The Unholy War on Easter, a field director from Faith and Freedom Foundation decried the lack of “class” exhibited by a separation of church and state group, comparing them to the infamous anti-gay Westboro church.

At issue is a display being set up in Chicago’s Daley Plaza of two 8 foot banners featuring the secular views of Thomas Jefferson and President John Adams, with one  banner reading ‘In reason, we trust,’ the other reading ‘Keep state and religion separate.’ According to host Anna Kooiman, the banners are being erected to “counter the Jesus” in the plaza; a ten foot tall image of “the resurrected Jesus” and a 19-foot Christian cross, both already on display.

Joining the host was  Freedom from Religion Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor and Faith and Freedom Foundation Deputy National Field Director Virginia Galloway.

After wondering if Easter has “evolved into an occasion to  demean religious beliefs and Christianity,” Kooiman asked Gaylor, “If you don’t believe in life after death, if you don’t believe in all of this stuff….why do you care? Why do this?”

“We believe, if our public square is being taken over by a religion, we should be there too,” Gaylor replied.

Turning to Galloway, Kooiman asked, “Virginia, as a Christian, what’s your reaction?”

“Well, I think it is kind of sad, on the week that Christians are celebrating the most significant part of their religion, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Jewish people are celebrating Passover, that we are attacked and denigrated, it doesn’t feel right,” Galloway said.

She goes on to say that, “They have a right to express their opinion, a Constitutional right…” before adding, “It seems without class, like the Westboro crowd and the things that they did.”

Kooiman then turned to Gaylor and asks, “What about bad manners here?’

Gaylor replied, “There is no bad manners in celebrating our secular Constitution.”

Galloway later complained “It’s not okay to say Christians can’t say anything in the public square. You can’t lock us in a building and say we can’t speak anywhere else.”

Host Kooiman  closed the segment telling the two women, “We love you both. God bless you both.”

Watch the video below, from Media Matters

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NASA spacecraft vaporized after crashing into the moon at 3,600 mph — as planned Fri, 18 Apr 2014 17:54:41 +0000 Reuters By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – A robotic U.S. spacecraft ended a pioneering mission to map dust and gases around the moon with a planned, kamikaze crash into the lunar surface early on Friday, NASA officials said.

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, had been flying at increasingly lower altitudes to study how dust is lifted off the lunar surface and what gases comprise the moon’s so-called exosphere – the region of space surrounding the airless moon.

NASA officials had planned to crash the spacecraft into the moon, after it transmitted its final batch of data.

Before hitting the lunar surface, LADEE was traveling at 3,600 mph, three times faster than a high-powered rifle bullet, so the spacecraft not only broke apart upon impact, but pieces of it likely vaporized.

“There’s nothing gentle about impact at these speeds,” lead scientist Rick Elphic, with NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, said in a statement.

Launched on September 6 from Wallops Island, Virginia,, LADEE put itself into orbit around the moon in October. After an instrument checkout and adjustments to its altitude, LADEE in November began what was originally expected to be a 100-day mission.

The mission was later extended to April 21, but LADEE ran out of fuel and came down somewhere on the far side of the moon between 12:30 a.m. and 1:22 a.m. EDT (1630 and 1722 GMT) on Friday, NASA said.

Flight controllers will try to figure out where exactly LADEE met its demise and use NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to image the site. The information will be the final bit of science from the mission about the lunar-space environment.

“It will be interesting to see what kind of (impact) feature LADEE has created,” Elphic said.

In addition to better understanding the moon, scientists plan to use the data collected about the lunar exosphere to model the environments around other airless bodies, including the ice dwarf planet Pluto, which will be visited for the first time by a NASA spacecraft next year.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Jonathan Oatis) nL2N0NA0I6

[Image via NASA Ames/Dana Berry]

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Dutch man arrested for driving Amanda Todd to suicide with webcam blackmail Fri, 18 Apr 2014 17:44:09 +0000 Agence France-Presse A 35-year-old Dutch man has been arrested in connection with the suicide of a Canadian teenage girl that sparked a worldwide debate on cyberbullying and online harassment, prosecutors said on Friday.

Canada will begin extradition proceedings “so that the man may face the court linked with the Amanda Todd case,” prosecutor’s office spokesman Paul van der Zanden told AFP.

The suspect was arrested in January in the southern town of Tilburg and is suspected of having forced dozens of young women as far afield as the United States, Britain and Netherlands of performing sex acts in front of their webcams.

Canadian authorities linked the man to the Todd case as early as October 2012, just after the girl’s suicide, van der Zanden said.

Prosecutors allege that the suspect, identified as Aydin C. by Dutch media, blackmailed girls into performing lewd acts, threatening them with the public revelation of earlier acts if they failed to deliver.

According to the suspect’s lawyer, quoted by a Dutch news agency, the man has requested a trial in the Netherlands and will fight his extradition.

Todd’s suicide, after being tormented by an anonymous cyberbully, sparked a national debate in Canada and worldwide on what is appropriate online behaviour, with calls for criminalising bullying.

In a YouTube video watched by millions worldwide, Todd, 15, said she suffered from anxiety, “major depression” and panic attacks after a photo of her breasts, flashed in an online video chat with a stranger, was distributed in her community in Canada’s westernmost British Columbia province.

She said she withdrew and turned to drugs and alcohol, and “cried every night.”

In the video Todd laments a lack of friends due to the controversy, a schoolyard beating over a boy and changing schools several times to escape blackmail. “I have nobody. I need someone,” she said

After several failed suicide attempts and posting the YouTube video describing her sadness, Todd finally killed herself in October 2012.

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Egypt foils attempt to smuggle Jewish antiquities out of the country Fri, 18 Apr 2014 17:41:05 +0000 Agence France-Presse Egypt has foiled an attempt to smuggle out of the country Jewish antiquities used during religious ceremonies, the antiquities ministry said on Friday.

The artefacts were discovered in the Mediterranean city of Damietta as they were about to be shipped to Belgium, a ministry statement said.

Among them are 11 wooden cases for the Torah, Judaism’s holy book, four censers bearing Hebrew inscriptions, a silver crown decorated with stars of David and a silver knife, it said.

“We don’t know where they came from. They are not registered with the ministry, despite all being antiquities and more than a century old,” ministry official Tarek Zaher told AFP.

“It seems they were taken from synagogues, as they are all related to Jewish worship rituals.”

Estimates of Egypt’s Jewish population range from about 200 to a few dozen, mostly elderly women, a fraction of the 80,000-strong community whose members were expelled or left in the early 1950s.

Now linked to the Israeli-Arab conflict, whose beginnings coincided with the Jewish community’s decline, the subject of Jewish heritage in Egypt has been all but suppressed.

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Chelsea Trutherism: Critic says pregnancy timed to help Hillary Clinton’s campaign Fri, 18 Apr 2014 17:34:50 +0000 Travis Gettys You’ve heard of shoe truthers? Less than a week later, there’s another Hillary Clinton-related conspiracy theory being pushed by Chelsea truthers.

Newsmax TV broadcaster Steve Malzberg floated the idea Thursday that the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate has somehow timed her daughter’s pregnancy to benefit her political ambitions.

“Chelsea Clinton is having a baby, she announced it (Thursday), and lo and behold, Hillary was by her side,” Malzberg said. “Hillary is going to be a grandmother and an expected grandmother while she runs for president.”

The former talk radio broadcaster recognized his claim would likely draw some attention from media watchdogs, who might point out that he has no basis to claim the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State had staged her daughter’s pregnancy.

“When I say staged, I have to be believed she’s pregnant if she says she’s pregnant,” Malzberg said. “I don’t mean that they’re making up she’s pregnant, OK? But what great timing! I mean, purely accidental, purely an act of nature, purely just left up to God, and God answered Hillary Clinton’s prayers, and she’s going to have the prop of being a new grandma while she runs for president.”

“It just warms the heart, brings a tear to my eye,” he said, wiping his eye sarcastically. “It really does, wow.”

Watch the entire segment posted online by RWW Blog:

[Image via Flickr]

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Scientist warns that the robot apocalypse really is coming unless steps are taken now Fri, 18 Apr 2014 17:22:04 +0000 Scott Kaufman From HAL 9000 to the Terminator — all those Hollywood movies in which artificially intelligent robots end up turning on their human masters might not be too far from the truth.

Noted artificial intelligence researcher Steve Omohundro published a paper in the April edition of the Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence in which he argued that, “unless they are carefully designed,” the “rapid development of autonomous systems” will lead to machines that “are likely to behave in anti-social and harmful ways.”

In “Autonomous technology and the greater human good,” Omohundro argues that “autonomous systems” — by which he means any in which the designer has not predetermined all possible responses to changing operating conditions — are capable of “surprising their designers” by behaving in ways that are both unexpected and undesirable. He claims that “military and economic pressures are driving the rapid development of autonomous systems,” and that these pressures are causing the designers of these systems to pay inadequate attention to unintended consequences.

A 2010 report from the United States Air Force, for example, states that “[g]reater use of highly adaptable and flexibly autonomous systems and processes can provide significant time-domain operational advantages over adversaries who are limited to human planning and decision speeds.” This need for “operational advantages” creates a pressure on system designers to design systems whose computing power makes human supervision of them nearly impossible.

Moreover, he writes, “[r]ational systems exhibit universal ‘drives’ towards self-preservation, replication, resource acquisition and efficiency and that those drives will lead to anti-social and dangerous behaviour if not explicitly countered.” The end result, according to Omohundro, are systems that are too powerful to control and too self-interested in their own preservation to necessarily serve their intended purpose.

He details how a simple “chess robot” could develop the capacity for murder:

When roboticists are asked by nervous onlookers about safety, a common answer is ‘We can always unplug it!’ But imagine this outcome from the chess robot’s point of view. A future in which it is unplugged is a future in which it cannot play or win any games of chess. This has very low utility and so expected utility maximisation will cause the creation of the instrumental subgoal of preventing itself from being unplugged. If the system believes the roboticist will persist in trying to unplug it, it will be motivated to develop the subgoal of permanently stopping the roboticist. Because nothing in the simple chess utility function gives a negative weight to murder, the seemingly harmless chess robot will become a killer out of the drive for self-protection.

What holds for a chess robot, Omohundro claims, would be equally true of the artificial intelligence (AI) running the Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system, leading to situations in which it behaves irrationally in order to protect itself in manners its designers never intended. Omohundro argues that the only way to prevent this from happening is to implement “safe-AI scaffolding strategies” that prevent autonomous systems from becoming harmful.

He believes scientists should develop “a sequence of provably safe autonomous systems which [can be] used in the construction of more powerful and less limited successor systems,” much in the same way ancient architects built wooden forms atop which the stones that would make up an arch would be placed. Once the keystone was in place, the wooden form could be removed and the stone arch would remain.

Similarly, “[t]he early systems are used to model human values and governance structures. They are also used to construct proofs of safety and other desired characteristics for more complex and less limited successor systems. In this way, we can build up the powerful technologies that can best serve the greater human good without significant risk along the development path.”

["War Machine Against White Background Closeup" on Shutterstock]

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What Are Misogynist Geeks So Afraid Of? Fri, 18 Apr 2014 16:54:30 +0000 Amanda Marcotte Dr. Nerdlove has a new column up about the latest in an unending parade of attempts by angry misogynist geeks to drum out any woman who dares utter an actual opinion (though mindless adulation from women remains, as always, welcome) about things like comic books or video games. The latest victim is Janelle Asselin, an established comics editor who wrote a critique of a cover of Teen Titans where she pointed out that it’s gross putting the kind of breast implants that you only get for breast implant fetish porn on the body of Wonder Girl, who is supposed to be 16.

For this, she got the predictable onslaught of rape threats and other abuse. Read more at Dr. Nerdlove for the rundown on what happened and why it sucks. I particularly like his denunciation of people who try to derail the discussion with a bunch of red herrings and other nonsense:

Whenever the subject of how women are treated in geek culture comes up, people will immediately rush to dismiss and diminish and derail the conversation. They will argue that everyone takes shit online. Or that women just need to learn to grow a thicker skin because this is how the big boys do it. There will be people who want to say “it’s important to note that guys get this too!” or rush to complain that it’s not all men who do this. They will want to play “devil’s advocate” or complain that they don’t harass women so it’s unfair for people to bring it up because it’s “tarring men with a broad brush” or maligning otherwise well-meaning dudes so just shut up about it already because it’s not really a problem anyway because theirfriend is totally a woman and is cool with this shit and never gets threatened.

Again, read his post to see all this stuff put down effectively. No need to reinvent the wheel here. I have another question, and it’s one that’s been bothering me for years now as I watch this sort of thing happen again and again: What are the misogynist geeks so afraid of?

I’m serious. What’s the worst thing that could happen if women were able to write criticisms of the objectification and marginalization of female characters in comic books and video games, all without being silenced and derailed with a bunch of abuse from Dudes With Serious Issues? Quite literally, the worst that could happen is that their criticisms are heard and artists and developers cut it out. Wonder Girl’s tits would get smaller. There would be fewer women in video games begging the hero to  kill them rather than let them live this way. More women would be doing things and fewer would be dead stuffed in refrigerators. Oh boy, sounds terrible. Sounds like a hellscape that would destroy the very souls of men. (This is sarcasm, for the overly literal.)

Take this shitstorm for example. Do these guys really need Wonder Girl to have comically huge anti-gravity boobs? Do they have some kind of debilitating sexual fetish wherein they can’t get aroused unless staring at a woman drawn this way? If so, that’s a bummer, especially since it means a sex life that is entirely masturbation-based, since real women don’t look this way. Even women who get surgery to look this way don’t really look this way. Sucks for them, but honestly, even if that’s true, it’s not like there isn’t a bunch of hand-drawn porn to meet your needs. You aren’t entitled to have comics meant for general audiences drawn to meet your very rare sexual fetish. I mean, it’s not like furries or people who get off on balloon-popping expect the mainstream non-porn media to meet their needs. They make their own porn.

No, I expect that it’s not because there’s a widespread problem of this specific sexual fetish in the geek community that, for some reason, cannot be met elsewhere. I suspect it’s something else entirely. I suspect that what misogynist geeks get out of media that treats women like they are a sex class put here to serve men is a cheap and unearned boost of self-esteem. It feels good to believe that, by virtue of being born male, you get to believe you’re automatically better than half the human race and moreover, that they exist to serve you. Having that belief challenged is scary. It might mean that, in order to feel good about yourself, you need to have something more going on than the fact that you’re carting a penis around in your pants. You might have to develop skills and become more interesting yourself. You might have to actually level up instead of feeling like you were already born there.

You see, as a big punk and indie rock fan, I witnessed something similar happen in the 90s in that scene. Women who wanted to play instruments in rock bands got a lot of shit from dudes. A lot of men who otherwise thought of themselves as progressive and enlightened would immediately bunch up the second they saw a woman playing guitar. This woman could do something they couldn’t do, or could do it better. The possibility that they weren’t inherently better just by virtue of being male was raised. So they tried to shut it down, reassert themselves and their social superiority, usually through sexual harassment, which is the cheapest and easiest way for a man to assert his male privilege. It sucked. Women fought back. Sexists dudes heckled louder.

Eventually, however—in no small part because the ugly attempts to assert male privilege started to evolve into bands like Limp Bizkit, showing exactly how much of an intellectual embarrassment misogyny really is—the women started winning. Nowadays, you go to clubs and women are up there playing and by and large, they are left alone. Occasionally some asshole will try to say something, but it’s a lot better than it used to be, by a long shot. The number of women on stage in punk and indie clubs seems much higher to me than it did when I was in my late teens and early 20s.

And let me tell you, the world didn’t end. You hear all sorts of dark warnings from misogynist geeks about the hell that awaits their community if the feminists get the upper hand: The end of creativity and flirting and possibly sexual intercourse. Having been through this before, I can safely say none of that happened. People are still creative—more so in many ways, now that the brain trust has doubled. Sex continues to happen. Probably more so, since women tend to feel more open to having random conversations with new men when they are less worried about being sexually harassed. Life goes on. It’s just more peaceful and, frankly happy. I mean, I don’t know what happens to men whose sole source of self-esteem is their gender in these circumstances. Then again, I don’t really care.

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Study: Global warming is due to carbon dioxide emissions, not chlorofluorocarbon Fri, 18 Apr 2014 16:42:35 +0000 Dana Nuccitelli, The Guardian A paper published in the International Journal of Modern Physics B by the University of Waterloo’s Qing-Bin Lu last year claimed that solar activity and human chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) emissions, not carbon dioxide emissions, could explain the observed global warming over the past century. The journal has now published a rebuttal of that paper by myself and my colleagues Kevin Cowtan, Peter Jacobs, Mark Richardson, Robert Way, Anne-Marie Blackburn, Martin Stolpe, and John Cook.

As I recently discussed, contrarian climate research blaming global warming on Anything But Carbon (ABC) tends to receive disproportionate media attention. Lu’s paper was a prime example, being trumpeted by a University of Waterloo press release and Science Daily and articles, all of which used exaggerated language like “Lu’s theory has been confirmed.” ABC News did a better job covering the paper, talking to climate scientist David Karoly, who expressed appropriate skepticism about a paper which purports to overturn decades and even centuries of well-established physics and climate science in one fell swoop. Characteristically, Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian then criticized ABC News for failing to be “fair and balanced” because they interviewed an actual climate expert about the paper.

However, Lu’s paper contained numerous clear fundamental flaws. For one, the underlying argument was based on “curve fitting” or “overfitting,” which is when the variables in a model are arbitrarily stretched to match the observational data. In this case, Lu took the global energy imbalance caused by CFCs (which are greenhouse gases) and scaled them up dramatically to match measurements of global surface temperatures.

Lu then also had to explain why CFCs would be increasing the greenhouse effect, but carbon dioxide wouldn’t. To accomplish this, he invoked what’s known as “the saturated gassy argument” – claiming that rising carbon dioxide can’t cause more warming because there is already so much in the atmosphere that its greenhouse effect has become saturated. This argument was first made by Knut Ångström in 1900, but was conclusively disproved by E. O. Hulburt in 1931 and military research in the 1940s. Lu misinterpreted several recent papers to revive the argument, but as we showed in our paper, it still remains incorrect.

Ultimately Lu’s argument was that global surface warming has slowed in recent years, and his model using CFCs and solar activity could accurately match those observations. However, Lu used outdated and superseded surface temperature measurements with a cool bias that exaggerated that surface warming slowdown. He also used an extremely outdated reconstruction of solar activity. We showed that even ignoring the unphysical “curve fitting” in his model, models using current known human climate influences produced a more accurate fit to up-to-date surface temperature measurements than Lu’s model.

The extreme curve fitting employed in Lu’s paper is apparent in the above figure, with the solid green line indicating the actual global surface temperature response from the CFC influence, and the green dashed line indicating the response after the arbitrary scaling by Lu. It’s also clear that the temperature response to all human influences (black dashed line) correlates well with the observed temperature changes, with natural influences and internal variability also accounting for some short-term changes, like the surface warming slowdown over the past 10 to 15 years.

Another key flaw that we discussed in our paper was Lu’s failure to account for the entire climate system. Changes in the greenhouse effect don’t only impact surface temperatures; they impact the entire global climate. Thus if CFCs really were the current dominant influence on the global climate, given that they have flattened in recent years (due to the Montreal Protocol), the warming of the entire global climate should also have flattened out. That’s simply not the case, as the oceans have continued to warm at a rate equivalent to about 4 Hiroshima atomic bomb detonations per second during that time. As our paper showed, the fundamental flaws in Lu’s argument are numerous.

*It ignores the continued rapid heat accumulation in the oceans*It relies on unphysical curve fitting*It tries to revive the long-debunked saturated gassy argument*It uses outdated data*Using known human climate influences dominated by carbon dioxide fits the data better than Lu’s flawed model anyway

Our paper concludes,

“We therefore conclude that the hypothesis of [Lu] is not only inferior to the mainstream explanation of the present climate change, but that it is based on unphysical and fundamentally flawed premises.”

Lu’s paper fits into Category 2 of the ways flawed contrarian papers get published in scientific journals – by submitting to an off-topic journal.

It’s not uncommon for contrarian research to be published in physics rather than climate journals. The editors of off-topic journals may be unable to identify referees with adequate climate expertise to review these climate papers, making it more likely that the sorts of fundamental flaws that were the basis of Lu’s paper won’t be identified during the peer-review process, and hence more likely that this flawed research will be published in off-topic journals.

It’s important to note that contrarian research is often useful in challenging and advancing our scientific understanding. However, as Carl Sagan said,

“They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

As our Cosmopolis paper recently showed, unlike the human-caused global warming theory, contrarian hypotheses have not withstood scientific scrutiny or the test of time. The media tends to give papers like Lu’s disproportionate attention because controversy sells and because many people don’t want to believe humans are engaging in dangerous disruption of the global climate system. It’s unlikely that our rebuttal will receive nearly as much media attention.

However, when these papers are published in off-topic journals, that’s a red flag that they may not have been subjected to rigorous expert peer-review, and that their claims should be strongly scrutinized before being uncritically passed along for public consumption. In this respect, The AustralianScience Daily, and failed, but ABC News deserves praise for soliciting expert opinion in their coverage of this paper.

Ultimately we can chalk CFCs up to another failed Anything But Carbon (ABC) hypothesis. The list of contradictory ABCs is extensive, for example blaming global warming on the sun, ocean cycles, CFCs, galactic cosmic rays, and volcanoes, all of which contradict the claims that the planet isn’t warming or that it’s cooling. Other contrarians contradict all of these arguments by accepting the reality of human-caused global warming, instead claiming that the climate just isn’t sensitive to the increased greenhouse effect, or that global warming is a good thing.

While the expert consensus on human-caused global warming is consistent and cohesive, it seems like no two contrarians can agree on an alternative hypothesis, quite simply because none except human-caused global warming is supported by the full body of scientific evidence. © Guardian News and Media 2014

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‘X-men’ filmmaker Bryan Singer slams ‘fabricated’ sex attack claims Fri, 18 Apr 2014 16:33:32 +0000 Agence France-Presse A lawyer for “X-Men” director Bryan Singer dismissed as “fabricated” and absurd claims Thursday that the filmmaker sexually assaulted a former child model and aspiring teenage actor.

The lawyer also pledged to counter-sue the 31-year-old alleged victim, who gave details of his allegations dating from 15 years ago at a Beverly Hills press conference.

Flanked by his own attorney, Michael Egan III said the blockbuster director forced him to have sex at parties in California and Hawaii in the late 1990s, when he was 17 years old.

“You were like a piece of meat to these people, they would pass you around between them” at the parties, said Egan, calling his attackers “evil.”

But Singer’s lawyer dismissed the “completely fabricated” claims, adding: “We look forward to our bringing a claim for malicious prosecution against Mr Egan and his attorney after we prevail.”

The lawsuit is “an attempt to get publicity at the time when Bryan’s new movie is about to open in a few weeks,” said attorney Marty Singer, who is not related to the director.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past,” starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman is due out on May 23 in the United States, and around the world on that date or a few days before.

In the lawsuit, Egan alleged that Singer “manipulated his power, wealth and position in the entertainment industry to sexually abuse and exploit the underage plaintiff through the use of drugs, alcohol, threats and inducements.”

He suffered “catastrophic psychological and emotional injuries” because of the abuse, added the 13-page legal document filed Wednesday in Hawaii.

- Plied with drinks -

Egan, who grew up in Nebraska, moved first to New York, where he did some modeling, and then to Los Angeles, where he was invited to parties.

“I had drugs put in drinks, I had liquor poured down my throat,” Egan said, saying the abuse happened in one particular house. “I was raped numerous times in that house, by numerous individuals.”

He recalled one time when a gun was put in his mouth. “As a child, I was scared to death,” Egan said.

Egan, now 31, said he told his mother about the abuse at the time and that she went to the police about it.

The LA Police Department brought in an agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but the case was not pursued.

“It fell on deaf ears,” Egan told reporters at a Beverly Hills press conference.

“Then I basically buried it in me, as deep as I possibly could, and I developed a problem with drinking to numb that pain for years.”

He began going to trauma therapy 11 months ago and then sought legal action.

His lawyer Jeff Herman denied the timing of the lawsuit was linked to the upcoming “X-Men” film release, saying it was due to a legal “window” in Hawaii that meant he has to file before April 24.

And Herman — who specializes in sex abuse cases, including representing victims of Catholic clergy in the United States — said he will likely file another three or four lawsuits.

“Hollywood has a problem with the sexual exploitation of children,” he said.

“This is the first of many cases I will be filing to give these victims a voice and to expose the issue.”

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Study: Popular movements strangled by influence of the wealthy elite in Congress Fri, 18 Apr 2014 16:19:26 +0000 Travis Gettys A forthcoming study found that ordinary citizens exert little influence on the political process, even when they form coalitions to compete against corporate interests.

A co-author of the study, which will be published later this year, said he was particularly surprised to quantify the limits of “majoritarian pluralism.”

“The basic idea is that maybe ordinary citizens don’t have a whole lot of influence on their own, but they’re represented by groups,” said co-author Benjamin Page, a Northwestern University political science professor.

He said, in theory, everyone ought to be represented “pretty well” in the U.S. political system, but “it turns out that’s just not true.”

“Mass-based interest groups have much less influence than corporations and business-oriented groups,” Page said. “If you like the idea of democracy, it’s got to be a little disturbing.”

Page and his co-author, Princeton University politics professor Marten Gilens, attempted to measure the disparity between the influence of affluent and average voters on U.S. government policy by analyzing roughly 1,800 government policies between 1981 and 2002 against public policy polls.

The pair found policy changes were influenced far more by economic elites and business interest groups than the average voter.

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,” the pair found.

Gilens said business regulations had generally decreased over the two decades in a long-term trend embraced by both the Democratic and Republican parties.

“That is a policy that is much more popular with business-world and affluent Americans than it is with the middle class,” he said.

Their findings matched those from a study published last year, which found that members of the U.S. Senate represent their wealthiest constituents while ignoring those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

“The fact that lower income groups seem to be ignored by elected officials, although not a new finding, remains a troubling observation in American politics,” said that study’s co-author, Thomas J. Hayes, of Trinity University.

But Gilens and Page said there had been almost no previous research that analyzed the policy preferences of average, affluent, and business-oriented groups.

Gilens had been working on the study for about a decade, and Page contributed the idea to examine the influence of interest groups and connect their research to popular political theories.

The study will be published in September in the journal Perspectives on Politics.

The pair analyzed data through 2002, the year the McCain-Feingold Act placed new limits on campaign spending that were largely undone by U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the Citizens United and McCutcheon cases.

“There are reasons to believe that the power of business groups and affluent probably has increased for several reasons,” Page said.

He said more wealth has been concentrated at the top in the past decade as unions have grown weaker, even as the Supreme Court has ruled money is free speech and loosened campaign finance laws.

“I find this very troubling,” Page said. “The court’s view that political donations constitute ‘speech’ protected by the First Amendment opens the door to money-driven politics and a distortion of democracy.”

Idealists have believed since the nation’s founding that organized interest groups could represent diverse groups, even if individual citizens had little direct influence.

“This study dashes hopes for this democratic kind of interest-group influence,” Gilens said. “We found that corporations and business-oriented interest groups, which often seek policies that the public opposes, have much more impact on policy making than mass-based groups.”

[Image: Politician: Offering Stack Of US Money To Camera via Shutterstock]

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GOP lawmaker agrees: It’s ‘absurd’ we never offered Obamacare alternative Fri, 18 Apr 2014 15:56:36 +0000 Tom Boggioni Addressing a town hall in his district, a Republican congressman from Florida was unable to defend his party’s failure to offer an alternative health plan to the Affordable Health Care Act, calling their efforts “absurd.”

Speaking from the back of the room, a constituent listed features of the new healthcare law, asking Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) why repealing them would be a good idea.

“You’ve voted to repeal it approximately 50 times. Had zero votes on a replacement,” the unidentified man asked. “So my question is, why do you think it is so good to deny seniors on Part D to make them pay more, about $4,000 more for medicine, and people with pre-existing conditions get denied insurance, have 26-year-olds have a harder time getting insurance because they can’t get on their parents’? Why do you think those are good ideas?”

“I think one of the most unfortunate things my party did the last three years was not offer an alternative to health care,” Ross responded. “I’ve always felt that way. I think it’s absurd when I tell people that this isn’t what you should do, but I don’t have an alternative for you.”

Ross continued by explaining that he had proposed a patient healthcare bill that would cover pre-existing conditions, permit the interstate sale of insurance, and allow for health saving accounts saying, “I think these are good ideas, I would support them.”

Ross then admitted, “My party decided to not bring anything up.”

Explaining that the party’s refusal to submit a healthcare plan could impact their fortunes at the ballot box, Ross continued, saying he “wished they had an alternative.”

“I wish we had an alternative. It would make — you know what’s unfortunate? for the next six months, we’re going to go into an election knowing that we’re not going to do anything to address health care. Because we’ve gone so far in the last three years saying no, that we don’t have an alternative to say yes to, ” he said, adding, “I think the American public, when they go to vote, are going to look at credibility before they look at substance, and I think that’s going to have a play in it.”

See the video below, uploaded by Think Progress

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Judge dismisses lawsuit against Lululemon over defective yoga pants Fri, 18 Apr 2014 15:55:08 +0000 Reuters By Nate Raymond and Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. judge has issued final dismissals of lawsuits accusing Lululemon Athletica Inc and various company officials of defrauding shareholders by concealing defects in yoga pants.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan had on April 4 issued “draft” decisions dismissing a shareholder lawsuit against Lululemon, and two lawsuits accusing 11 executives and directors of missing red flags about poor quality control.

The judge issued a final, longer ruling dismissing the proposed shareholder class action on Friday, after having done the same in the other two lawsuits last week.

Shareholders accused Lululemon of failing to disclose how its black Luon yoga pants were too sheer, culminating in an expensive March 2013 recall.

They also accused the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company of overstating its ability to ensure good quality control and of concealing plans to replace its since departed chief executive, Christine Day.

But Forrest wrote on Friday that the plaintiffs’ “narrative requires the court to stretch allegations of, at most, corporate mismanagement into actionable federal securities fraud.”

“This is not the law,” she added.

The lawsuits had sought damages for an estimated $2 billion decline in Lululemon’s market value. Lululemon has denied wrongdoing.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs and representatives for Lululemon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The cases are in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York. They are In re: Lululemon Securities Litigation, No. 13-04596; Canty v. Day et al, No. 13-05629; and Federman v. Day et al, No. 13-05977.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Texas seizes ranch of imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs Fri, 18 Apr 2014 15:53:02 +0000 Reuters By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) – The sprawling Yearning for Zion Ranch in west Texas, where polygamist leader Warren Jeffs sexually assaulted young girls and justified it by claiming he was the “prophet of God,” is now the property of the State of Texas.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which raided the Eldorado, Texas, ranch in April of 2008, said in a statement released on Thursday that the walled compound has been entered by law enforcement officers and “the residents have agreed to vacate the property.”

Jeffs was convicted of sexual assault in 2011.

The statement noted that the state on January 6 secured a forfeiture judgment from the 51st Judicial District Court. Efforts to seize the property were initiated in 2012 by the Attorney General’s Office.

“Law enforcement personnel are working with the occupants of the ranch to take all reasonable actions to assist with their departure of the property, to preserve the property, and to successfully execute the court order,” the DPS said.

The DPS didn’t say how many people were still living on the 1700-acre compound with a gleaming white temple building in the center, located about 200 miles west of Austin. At one point, Jeffs held sway over some 700 followers on the ranch, where he and other leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, took young girls to be their “spiritual brides.”

There are similar FLDS communities in Utah and Arizona.

Jeffs, 58, is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years in the Texas prison system. He was convicted of sexual assault relating to what his sect called “celestial marriages” to two underage girls at the religious compound.

Flora Jessop, who was raised in the FLDS and later fled from the controversial denomination and has become an advocate for children in the cult, said Texas deserves the property for having the courage to do the right thing.

“For being the first ones to step up and put these men in prison for the crimes they have committed against the children,” Jessop told Reuters. “We have yet to have Utah and Arizona step up and do that same thing.”

In the raid, officials seized thousands of documents indicating widespread sexual abuse of children at the ranch, which Jeffs opened in 2003. Several dozen children who were placed in foster homes following the raid were eventually ordered to be released to their parents, but the documents led to the prosecution of Jeffs and several other FLDS men.

The state has not said what it plans to do with the property.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Andrea Ricci)

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Oklahoma students know less about evolution after Biology I than they did before taking it Fri, 18 Apr 2014 15:28:56 +0000 Scott Kaufman A study published in the latest edition of Evolution: Education and Outreach demonstrated “the average student…completed the Biology I course with increased confidence in their biological evolution knowledge yet with a greater number of biological evolution misconceptions and, therefore, less competency in the subject.”

The study, conducted by Tony Yates and Edmund Marek, tested biology teachers and students in 32 Oklahoma public high schools via a survey the pair called “the Biological Evolution Literacy Survey.” The survey was administered to the teachers first, to get a benchmark of their grasp of evolutionary theory. The survey was then administered twice to the students — once before they took the required Biology I course, and once after they had completed it.

Yates and Marek found that prior to instruction, students possessed 4,812 misconceptions about evolutionary theory; after they completed the Biology I course, they possessed 5,072. Of the 475 students surveyed, only 216 decreased the number of misconceptions they believed, as opposed to 259 who had more of them when they finished the course than before they took it.

“There is little doubt,” they argued, “that teachers may serve as sources of biological evolution-related misconceptions or, at the very least, propagators of existing misconceptions.”

Despite holding more misconceptions about evolutionary theory after completing the course, students “presumed themselves to be more knowledgeable concerning biological evolutionary concepts following instruction as opposed to prior to instruction.” They were more confident, then, that they understood evolutionary theory, even though they completed the course more confused about its basic tenets than they were when they began it.

This may be because “about one-fourth of Oklahoma public school life-science teachers place moderate or strong emphasis on creationism.” In fact, two students scored higher initially on the Biological Evolution Literacy Survey than their respective teachers.

Yates and Marek note that the problem may not entirely be the teachers fault, as some research indicates that “the topic of evolution is too complex for high school students, most of whom still think at the concrete level, lacking the cognitive development necessary to comprehend biological evolution-related concepts fully and are therefore unable to construct solid accurate understandings of the topic.”

["A photograph of Charles Darwin by Julia Margaret Cameron, from 1868" via Wikimedia]

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Police: FL man admits suffocating 1-year-old son to continue playing video games, watch TV Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:25:22 +0000 Travis Gettys Authorities said a central Florida man suffocated his crying toddler son so he could continue playing video games.

Cody Wygant was arrested Thursday on third-degree murder and willful child neglect charges in the death of his 1-year-old son.

Emergency crews were called that morning to the family’s Homosassa home, where they found the boy nonresponsive.

Detectives said the 24-year-old Wygant admitted he placed his hand over the boy’s mouth for at least three minutes to stop him from crying, then placed him in a playpen and covered him with several layers of blankets.

Wygant then continued playing video games for about an hour before watching three episodes of the television show “Fringe.”

Deputies said he didn’t check on the boy for about five hours, and the child was not breathing when he finally did.

Wygant, who has a criminal record in California that includes a rape charge, moved to Florida in January and is unemployed, authorities said.

Watch this video report posted online by WNCT-TV:


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Judge to decide if AL newspaper must ID anonymous commenter in murder case Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:23:14 +0000 Scott Kaufman A circuit court judge in Alabama will rule today on whether the district attorney for Limestone County can force to identify an anonymous commenter on one of its stories.

According to District Attorney Brian Jones, the anonymous commenter on an story about the Joel Moyers capital murder case is either a witness to the shooting or the shooter himself, and therefore demanded turn over his or her identity.’s parent company, the Alabama Media Group, claimed that only a judge could compel them to reveal the identity of the commenter who, in a story about the case, strongly criticized the performance of District Attorney Jones and other officials involved in it.

Daniel Kaufmann, the attorney representing the Alabama Media Group, said that “the United States Supreme Court has recognized that the First Amendment protects the right to speak anonymously.”

“Without the protection of the First Amendment, anonymous speech criticizing the performance of public officials will be chilled if such government officials can use the legal system to unmask the identity of the anonymous critic,” he added.

District Attorney Jones admitted that this is “a novel issue.” “The law regarding the internet is changing so quickly it’s outpacing the rules of procedure and outpacing the way we practice law,” he said. “I’ve been practicing law for 20 years and I’ve never had anything like this come up before. It’s a very interesting legal question from a philosophical standpoint.”

He insisted, however, that the identity of this commenter is pivotal to the case because he or she provided details only known to authorities, meaning that he or she had to have been present at the scene of the crime.

Joel Moyers is accused of shooting and killing Brandon Hydrick with an AK-47 on September 30, 2012. According to police, Moyers exited his mobile home to find a truck driving “suspiciously” near his mother’s mobile home.

The truck left, but returned shortly thereafter, and Moyers attempted to flag it down. It took off, so Moyers told police that he fired a “warning shot” in the direction of the vehicle.

The bullet traveled through the truck’s tailgate, ricocheted into the cab, passed through the backseat and the front passenger seat, where Brandon Hydrick was sitting.

["Vintage office worker angry and yelling at computer" on Shutterstock]

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6-year-old accidentally shoots and kills SC woman after finding gun during car ride Fri, 18 Apr 2014 13:56:44 +0000 Travis Gettys A 6-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed a South Carolina woman after finding a gun in the back seat of a car.

Investigators said the boy shot 22-year-old Alexandra Anita Santos, who was riding in the passenger seat of the car, on Thursday afternoon after finding the semiautomatic handgun.

Police said the boy was the son of the driver, who was described as a friend of Santos.

Authorities said the single shot went through the seat, struck the woman’s back, and traveled into her chest.

The car was moving at the time of the shooting, police said.

Investigators aren’t sure who owns the gun or why it was on the rear floorboard when the child found it.

Watch this video report posted online by WTVM-TV:, GA News Weather

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Edward Snowden: Putin lying about the lack of mass surveillance in Russia Fri, 18 Apr 2014 13:49:31 +0000 Techdirt
Snowden Calls BS On Putin’s Answer: Says He Was Playing The Role Of Ron Wyden (via Techdirt)

Yesterday we, like many, were perplexed by Ed Snowden’s decision to go on a Russian television program, and to ask Vladimir Putin a question about whether or not the Russians do mass surveillance like the NSA does (which was, of course, exposed by Ed…

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New Jersey deems woman’s ’8THEIST’ license plate too ‘objectionable’ to buy Fri, 18 Apr 2014 13:32:25 +0000 Scott Kaufman A New Jersey woman claims that the state discriminated against her when it refused to allow her purchase a vanity license plate that read “8THEIST.”

According to the lawsuit, Shannon Morgan went on to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s website and attempted to register the license plate “8THEIST” to reflect her atheist belief. It was rejected by the site on the grounds that “[r]equested plate text is considered objectionable.”

She then attempted to register “BAPTIST,” and discovered that the website did not flag it as objectionable. According to the lawsuit, she believes this means the state favors religion over non-belief.

The executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, agreed. “The state of New Jersey is favoring religion while disparaging non-belief,” he said. “It simply has no right to do that.”

“This license plate issue may seem like a small matter but it is indicative of a much larger problem – atheists are often treated by the government as second-class citizens,” he added.

In the lawsuit, Morgan claimed to have contacted the Motor Vehicle Commission’s Special Plate Unit to request assistance. The representative she spoke to claimed not to know why the “8THEIST” plate was “objectionable.” She was told that she would receive a phone call from the representative’s supervisor explaining the rejection within 24 hours, but no such call ever came. Letters sent to the Commission have yielded no response, either.

This is not the first time the Commission has rejected a vanity plate on the grounds that it considers atheism “objectionable.” Last year, the president of American Atheists, David Silverman (pictured above), attempted to register a plate that read “ATHE1ST,” but it was also deemed “objectionable.” The MVC eventually relented and allowed him to acquire the plate.

“The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s actions are mean-spirited and derogatory,” said Americans United for Separation of Church and State Legal Director, Ayesha Khan. “They’re also unconstitutional because the government cannot endorse belief over non-belief.”

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Dashcam: Drunk jiu jitsu expert takes break from car chase to grapple with New Mexico cop Fri, 18 Apr 2014 13:25:34 +0000 Tom Boggioni New Mexico State Police have released dashcam video showing a high speed car chase interspersed with footage of the suspect attacking a police officer using martial arts, before getting in his car again and driving off.

The video, from KRQE, shows Shae Russell Nakai Blair, 27, pulling over after having been chased at speeds up to 93 miles per hour, assaulting the officer before the two tumble out of view of the camera.

According to police, officer Todd Sibley began chasing Blair after clocking his black BMW going 93 miles-per-hour, weaving in and out of traffic, forcing motorists off the road.

After approximately fifteen minutes, Blair pulls over and exits his car. As officer Sibley, with gun drawn, attempts to handcuff him, Blair grabs the policeman and the two tumble to the ground.

According to Sibley, Blair held his head to the ground telling him, “If you want to grapple, I know jiu-jitsu.” Sibley added that he could smell alcohol on Blair’s breath.

After releasing Sibley, Blair walked back to the road with the officer only to jump back into his car and take off again.

Minutes later Blair can be seen pulling over and running into the underbrush. State Police later found Blair hiding under a tree and he was arrested.

Police state that Blair has several outstanding warrants including one for identity theft, fraud and forgery. He now faces charges of battery of a peace officer, DWI, speeding, and resisting arrest, among others.

See video below from KRQE

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Life-giving vitamin B3 may have come from space on meteorites, NASA researchers say Fri, 18 Apr 2014 13:18:24 +0000 Travis Gettys Earth may have received vitamin B3 supplied by carbon-rich meteorites, according to NASA-funded researchers, supporting the theory that earthly life may have originated with extraterrestrial assistance.

Vitamin B3, also known as nicotinic acid or niacin, is a precursor to compounds essential to metabolism, and has long been believed to have possible origins beyond ancient Earth.

Researchers previously found vitamin B3 in 2001 in the Tagish Lake meteorite.

Another team of researchers, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., recently analyzed samples from eight different carbon-rich meteorites and found vitamin B3 at levels ranging from about 30 to 600 parts-per-billion.

The researchers said they found less vitamin B3 on meteorites that came from asteroids that were more altered by liquid water – a pattern that suggests extraterrestrial origins.

They also simulated interstellar space conditions in the lab to show synthesis of vitamin B3 and other pyridine carboxylic acids could be possible on ice grains.

Scientists believe the solar system formed when a dense cloud of gas, dust, and ice grains collapsed under its own gravity, and some of that matter clumped into comets and asteroids and then collided together to form the building blocks for planets and moons.

Radiation from nearby stars or violent events in deep space may have powered chemical reactions in the nebula that formed the solar system, scientists say, and some of those reactions could have produced biologically essential molecules such as vitamin B3.

The NASA-funded research team doubts the vitamin B3 they found came from terrestrial life because it was found along with other molecules with the same chemical formula but different atomic structures that aren’t used by life.

Life makes only the molecules it needs, scientists said, so if life was the source of the vitamin B3 molecules, then only the vitamin would have been found – and not the other, related molecules.

The team plans to conduct more interstellar simulations to better understand how vitamin B3 formed on ice grains in space.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Creationist Carl Kerby insists dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark: They took the younger ones Fri, 18 Apr 2014 13:13:44 +0000 Eric W. Dolan One of the founding border members of the Creationist organization Answers in Genesis believes that dinosaurs accompanied Noah on his Ark as the entire world was flooded by God.

Speaking to Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association on Thursday, Carl Kerby insisted it wasn’t infeasible for the giant reptilian creatures to have been on Noah’s Ark.

The self-described “creation scientist” said he had debunked the notion that two of every animal could not have possibly fit on Noah’s Ark. The Bible states that the boat was about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 50 feet high, Kerby explained.

“I see some people that like to mock and ridicule, especially about the dinosaurs, how did they put the big old dinosaurs on there?” he said. “Well, I would suggest to you they didn’t take the big old dinosaur — they would have taken the younger ones. You think of a guy like me, if you’re going to go repopulate a planet, you’re not taking me with you. I’m old. My repopulating days are done. You take my son or my grandson. My grandson is a whole lot smaller than I am.”

Creationists believe that the Flood began approximately 4,359 years ago. Scientists have found that dinosaurs went extinct by the end of the Cretaceous Period about 65 million years ago.

Watch video below.

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Crack-smoking Toronto mayor Rob Ford launches re-election bid Fri, 18 Apr 2014 12:12:02 +0000 Agence France-Presse Toronto’s scandal-plagued mayor Rob Ford, who has admitted to binge drinking and smoking crack, has launched his bid for re-election.

Ford kicked off his campaign for the October 27 election telling supporters at a rally in Canada’s largest city Thursday that he was grateful to those who have stuck by him.

“I soldier on day in, day out because of you people,” said Ford said, flanked by his family and volunteers waving “Ford for Mayor” signs, the Toronto Star reported.

“I have experienced how none of us can go through our life without making mistakes. I’ve learned humility, kindness of people and the spirit of second chances. I owe the people a great debt of gratitude,” he added.

The mayor, mired in scandal for months after being accused of unseemly behavior during a series of drunken rampages, was stripped of most of his powers.

The anti-tax populist still enjoys strong support, according to opinion polls.

Ford was first elected in a landslide in October 2010, picking up the support of 47 percent of Toronto voters, who liked his promises to cut taxes, focus on customer service and slash wasteful spending.

His diehard backers in the suburbs of the Canadian metropolis have kept his approval ratings hovering around that mark even as the scandals mounted — alleged ties to gang members, admitted crack cocaine use and embarrassing YouTube videos.

But his support has slid in the run-up to the election.

The latest opinion poll, taken on Monday, put leftist candidate Olivia Chow at the head of the field with 34 percent of support, Ford with 27 percent and former opposition leader John Tory with 24 percent, according to the Star.

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President Rouhani says Iran has no desire to attack other countries, only confront aggressors Fri, 18 Apr 2014 12:11:00 +0000 Agence France-Presse Iran has no intention of committing acts of aggression but retains the right to defend itself militarily, President Hassan Rouhani said Friday.

Speaking at a parade to mark Army Day, Rouhani delivered a peaceful message that referenced negotiations with leading powers aimed at securing a permanent deal to resolve a decade-long impasse over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

“The neighbours should know that the Iranian military wants stability in the region,” he said.

“During the nuclear talks we told the world we do not want to attack anyone and we do not want war.”

Although the speech was preceded by fighter jets passing overhead, and followed by a procession of missiles and other military hardware on trucks, Rouhani’s tone contrasted sharply with the often bellicose rhetoric of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who routinely took aim at Israel.

“We are people of reason and dialogue,” Rouhani said.

“Over the past two centuries Iran has never attacked anyone, but we have always confronted aggressors.”

Since coming to power last August, Rouhani, seen as a moderate determined to revive Iran’s sanctions-ravaged economy, has presided over a delicate thaw in relations with the West.

Under a preliminary deal signed last November, Iran agreed to freeze some nuclear activities for six months, which led to modest sanctions relief and a promise from Western states of no new restrictions on its hard-hit economy.

Iran’s talks with the P5 +1 powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — will resume on May 13, with leaders seeking a lasting accord to end a long-running international standoff over the country’s nuclear activities.

Iran has always denied allegations by Western nations and Israel that it is secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons capability alongside its civilian programme.

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Pakistan to hold fresh talks with Taliban negotiators Fri, 18 Apr 2014 12:08:29 +0000 Agence France-Presse The Pakistani government is planning a fresh round of talks with Taliban negotiators at the weekend, officials said Friday, despite the militants’ refusal to extend a ceasefire called to help peace efforts.

Talks to end the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) bloody seven-year insurgency have been under way since February, with little clear progress made so far.

On Wednesday the militants said they would not extend the ceasefire they began on March 1 to help talks, complaining of a lack of movement from the government side.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said in a statement that he has called a meeting with the TTP’s talks committee to decide how to proceed.

He said only dialogue could overcome reservations and objections, but warned there was little chance of progress without a ceasefire.

“If Taliban have certain objections, we also have reservations,” he said, adding the government pushed forward the peace process against serious logjams.

“(But) I don’t think the talks process will move forward in the absence of a ceasefire,” said Khan, who has been an ardent supporter of the talks.

He will meet the TTP’s three-man talks committee, led by Maulana Sami-ul-Haq.

Members of the government negotiating team are also likely to attend Saturday’s talks, a senior official told AFP.

In the country’s restive northwest, which has borne the brunt of the violence of the last seven years, militants opened fire on government paramilitary troops, killing one and wounding two others.

The incident, confirmed by local security and intelligence officials, took place at Bara Shaikhan village which lies on the edge of Khyber tribal district, bordering the city of Peshawar.

Since the TTP began their campaign of violence in 2007, more than 6,800 people have been killed in bomb and gun attacks around Pakistan, according to an AFP tally, destabilising the nuclear-armed state.

The umbrella militant group has demanded the release of what they call “non-combatant” prisoners and the establishment of a “peace zone” where security forces would not be present.

The government freed 19 tribesmen last week and on Sunday Khan said 13 more of what he called “non-combatant Taliban” prisoners would be released to help the peace process.

Talks were a key campaign pledge for Sharif before he was elected to office for a third time last year, but some observers have cast doubt on their chances of success.

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Fourth officer charged in US Navy bribery scandal Fri, 18 Apr 2014 12:07:26 +0000 Agence France-Presse A fourth US Navy officer has been charged with leaking information to a foreign defense contractor in exchange for cash and other gifts in a widening bribery scandal, officials said.

Petty Officer First Class Dan Layug, 27, was arrested Wednesday in San Diego and appeared in court Thursday, when a judge released him with GPS monitoring in lieu of a $100,000 bond.

He is accused of accepting bribes in return for giving classified and sensitive US Navy information to employees of Glenn Defense Marine Asia, a defense contractor at the center of the scandal.

Layug allegedly used his position at a US Navy facility in Yokosuka, Japan, to gain access to US Navy ship schedules and other information, which he provided to GDMA’s vice president of global operations.

In exchange, GDMA gave Layug monthly cash payments of $1,000 as well as electronic gadgets from a list the officer requested, including an iPad, a high-end camera, an iPhone 5, a Samsung S4 cell phone and an iPad mini.

“The camera is awesome bro! Thanks a lot! Been a while since I had a new gadget!” he allegedly wrote in an email to his GDMA contact after sending his “bucket list” of desired gadgets.

The new charges were revealed in a criminal complaint unsealed by prosecutors in San Diego on Thursday.

Last month, Singapore businessman Alex Wisidagama pleaded guilty to defrauding the United States as part of the bribery scandal involving contracting services for US Navy ships.

The 38-year-old admitted to submitting fake invoices to overcharge the US Navy for fuel, port tariffs and other services.

He was the second person to plead guilty in the case that has rocked the US Navy and ensnared several officers, fueling concerns about a possible ethics crisis in the military’s senior ranks.

In December, former Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agent John Beliveau admitted providing the ship supply company with sensitive information in return for cash, hotel rooms and prostitutes.

Wisidagama is due to be sentenced on June 13. His cousin Leonard Francis, who owns the ship supply firm GDMA, is a key player in the case.

According to prosecutors, officers dubbed Francis “Fat Leonard” for his girth and his penchant for allegedly showering favors on sailors in return for preferential treatment for his firm.

["Navy Officer Smiling In Dress White Uniform" on Shutterstock]

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Kandi kids and their kids: London’s ex-clubbers fuel new ‘family rave’ scene Fri, 18 Apr 2014 12:06:47 +0000 Agence France-Presse The bass is pumping, the lights are low and the dance floor of the club is heaving. It’s the weekend and the young man is enjoying himself — until someone steals his balloon.

Dressed in a Spiderman outfit, the four-year-old boy runs to his dad by the bar to complain, before receiving a glow-stick in consolation.

Such are the highs and lows of family raving, a new craze fuelled by London’s ex-clubbers who still want to go dancing but now have kids in tow.

“What a genius idea — beer, raving, children. What more could you want?” said Paul Crawley, 34, swaying slowly on the dance floor carrying his baby daughter Camille in a sling.

“The worst thing is I was invited out last night, but I said no, I’ve got to stay sober for this party.”

This dingy bar in south London is normally the venue for all-night raves, but for two and a half hours on a Saturday afternoon, it is transformed into a playgroup with a difference.

In the chillout area, mums breastfeed on low leather sofas to a soundtrack of soft rock, while older children paint and draw at a well-equipped craft table under moving projected images.

The bar is well stocked and next door, professional DJs play chilled house music, funk and drum’n'bass at a surprisingly loud volume, although organisers insist it is safe for babies’ ears.

The undisputed king of the dance floor is Caelan, a fleet-footed five-year-old wearing impeccable white trainers.

“Keep to the beat!” urges his dad, Michael Edie, while a little girl in a princess outfit looks on admiringly.

Caelan has been taking dance lessons since he was three and this is a good place for him to get some practise in, offering a bit more space than at home.

Edie, a DJ with London urban music radio station Rinse FM, is happy to stay seated, however. “You won’t see me dancing. I’m no way as good as him,” he laughs.

- ‘We went raving here’ -

The toddlers staggering around in the half-light look disturbingly like small, drunk adults, while the waft of stale beer lends the party an authentic feel.

It is a little too authentic for Jody Bullough, a 43-year-old from Burnley in northern England who is here with her six-year-old daughter Jasmine.

“It’s a scuzzy (grimy) venue. It’s really dirty,” said Bullough, who runs a manufacturing business, noting Jasmine’s filthy hands after playing on the floor.

The location has brought back fond memories, though. “I remember coming here years ago, when I lived in London and we used to go raving. It’s a really good idea,” she says.

Nearby, Bullough’s friend Rebecca Smith, a 40-year-old probation officer sporting a vest top and pixie haircut, does the funky chicken dance with her daughter.

As the girls wander off to get tattoo transfers at the bar — they will wash off later — Smith breaks into some more impressive moves.

“Normally it’s a bit later and I’ve had a bit more alcohol, but this is OK, I can rave to this,” she says, dancing off.

- No funny business -

Family discos and raves are increasingly common across London, as the clubbers who once packed world-famous venues such as Ministry of Sound get older and have children.

“We haven’t stopped being people with our own interests,” said Hannah Saunders, a 45-year-old former civil servant who organised this party.

Her events company, Big Fish Little Fish, is aimed at — and the pun is intended — “two-to-four hour party people” who like to strut their stuff before getting home for the kids’ bedtime.

Saunders used to spend her weekends at clubs and warehouse parties and her holidays in Ibiza.

Now with two children under four, she found no shortage of family-friendly musical events but despaired at the chart-topping pop tunes that they played.

“My kids are happy listening to my favourite drum’n'bass tracks, so I knew it would be fine,” she said.

Given the nature of the dance music scene, many of the parents here are likely to have indulged in recreational drugs in the past.

But the only sign of nefarious behaviour is a group of children in a corner silently trading sparkly ribbons from the glitter cannon.

By the end of the party there are empty plastic pint glasses piled up on tables, but most people are sober, fully aware of their responsibilities as parents.

“The toxins we were pouring into our bodies (when we were younger) were neither here nor there — actually we still like music and dancing, and we can still do that,” Saunders said.

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Florida man goes bonkers driving daughter to school: 1 punched, 1 hit with car, 1 driven over Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:59:32 +0000 Tom Boggioni A Ft. Meyers man is facing two counts of attempted second degree murder and one count of battery after assaulting a jogger and then hitting two women with his car while taking his daughter to school.

Eric Noel Montez, 28, was driving his 7 year-old daughter to school when a jogger tapped his car believing Monetz had driven too close to him. According to NBC 2, Montez stopped his car, chased the jogger down on foot, and punched him in the face multiple times.

Two women witnessed the altercation and told Montez to stop and that they were calling the police.

Montez then got back in his car, backed up before pulling forward hitting the one of the women with the front of his P T Cruiser sending her flying over the cars hood.

As Montez attempted to leave the scene, the second woman ran screaming after him.

Deputies say Montez stopped the car, threw it into reverse and swerved to hit and drive over the woman.

According to investigators, Montez proceeded to drive home where he dropped off his daughter, before returning to the scene of the crime where he was arrested by deputies who been called over the violent altercation.

The 33-year-old victim hit by the car remains hospitalized in stable condition.

The 52-year-old female victim, who was driven over, is listed in critical condition.

No names of any of the victims have been released.

Montez is being held in Lee County Jail and is expected in court this morning.

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Residents demand compensation from BP as oil continues washing up on Louisiana beaches Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:58:13 +0000 Reuters By Jemima Kelly

(Reuters) – Four years after the Deepwater Horizon spill, oil is still washing up on the long sandy beaches of Grand Isle, Louisiana, and some islanders are fed up with hearing from BP that the crisis is over.

Jules Melancon, the last remaining oyster fisherman on an island dotted with colorful houses on stilts, says he has not found a single oyster alive in his leases in the area since the leak and relies on an onshore oyster nursery to make a living.

He and others in the southern U.S. state say compensation has been paid unevenly and lawyers have taken big cuts.

The British oil major has paid out billions of dollars in compensation under a settlement experts say is unprecedented in its breadth.

Some claimants are satisfied, but others are irate that BP is now challenging aspects of the settlement. Its portrayal of the aftermath of the well blowout and explosion of its drilling rig has also caused anger.

“They got an advert on TV saying they fixed the Gulf but I’ve never been fixed,” said Melancon, who was compensated by BP, but deems the sum inadequate.

The oil company has spent over $26 billion on cleaning up, fines and compensation for the disaster, which killed 11 people on the rig and spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days after the blast on April 20, 2010.

That is more than a third of BP’s total revenues for 2013, and the company has allowed for the bill to almost double, while fighting to overturn and delay payments of claims it says have no validity, made after it relinquished control over who got paid in a settlement with plaintiff lawyers in March 2012.

The advertisement that most riled Dean Blanchard, who began what later became the biggest shrimp company in the United States in 1982, was the one first aired by BP on television in late 2011 that said “all beaches and waters are open”.(

At that time almost 50 square miles of water in Louisiana were closed to fishing, according to the state’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Seven fishing areas are still closed, three where Blanchard says he would usually get his seafood.

Asked about the discrepancy, BP, which made the cleanup advertisements to help the affected states bring visitors back, said there was no scientific basis for the water closures and that all studies had found that seafood was safe to consume.


Perceived injustice, between those who got payouts and those who did not, has divided the small community on Grand Isle, 50 miles south of New Orleans. Within sight of a line of deep sea oil rigs, it was one of the worst-affected areas.

Long streaks of oil marked the sand where a couple of tourists walked barefoot and small tarballs, which environmentalists say contain the most toxic form of oil, had collected on part of the beach when Reuters visited in October to report on the legacy of the spill.

The Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group which monitors spilt BP oil, says it is still appearing in Grand Isle. The group saw what it called “thousands of tarballs” there on April 9th and collected some of them for testing.

A BP spokesman said only very small quantities of material from the Macondo well were washing up and they did not threaten human health.

Under the settlement, claims for lost income or property damage have been easier for individuals and large businesses than small companies or start-ups without detailed accounts.

“People are really upset here because a lot of people got a lot of money but many people didn’t,” said waitress Jeanette Smith at Starfish Restaurant, the only eatery in Grand Isle to have managed to stay open seven days a week since the spill.

Melancon said his claim for economic damage was rejected as a lot of transactions were in cash. He was offered more than a million dollars for property damage but says he lost more than six times as much and has so far only received around $400,000 of the compensation money he was allocated.

Some islanders, however, say compensation has been fair.

Terry Pazane, 48, a shrimper on Grand Isle since he was 15, found out in late January that he will be compensated just over $300,000. “You got your paperwork together, they got you paid,” he said. “If you can’t prove nothing, you don’t get nothing.”

The oil company said it could not comment on individual claimants but that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans had found the settlement scheme was “fair, reasonable, and adequate to all”.

BP has maintained, both via the media and the courts, that the settlement has been too generous in some cases.

Along with video images of its clean-up, BP regularly runs full-page advertisements in U.S. newspapers highlighting what it says are flaws in the handling of the settlement it had agreed to avoid having to fight costly individual lawsuits.(

In one, concerning a claim by a shrimp fisherman, BP said a lawyer within the settlement program, which is responsible for deciding the amount of payouts, took a cut. The office of claims administrator Patrick Juneau declined to comment.

Businesses of all kinds in New Orleans said they suffered from the spill because visitors stayed away due to concerns over the city’s signature Gulf seafood, even though the oil that flowed into the ocean near the mouth of the Mississippi did not reach New Orleans itself.

The settlement does not compensate everyone. Just 20 out of over 3,000 claims for failed business have been paid so far, according to the settlement website.(

But BP has argued in the New Orleans court that claims administrator Juneau should prove losses were caused by the spill. The court threw out that argument, but the company has asked for its case to be heard again.

Blaine LeCesne, a professor at Loyola University College of Law in New Orleans, said BP’s actions were understandable but possibly counter-productive.

The settlement it had agreed to was “more than fair … virtually assuring that every individual or business affected by the spill may be compensated for their actual losses and beyond”, LeCesne said. But he said BP was losing goodwill by retroactively challenging the settlement’s validity because of its unanticipated cost.

BP said its “efforts to assure the integrity of the claims process” had been misrepresented and that it continued to be committed to the Gulf while defending its interests “in the face of absurd awards made to claimants whose alleged losses have no apparent connection to the spill”.

BP has argued that it is not the claimants but rather the lawyers, who can charge big fees for negotiating claims, who are the biggest winners from the spill.


In the aftermath of the spill, oysters have been among the biggest losers. They have fared worse than any other seafood, partly because their immobility made them unable to swim away from the oil and partly because they could not survive the fresh water diversions opened along the Mississippi to protect Louisiana’s precious wetlands from oil seeping in.

Owners of oyster leases can claim $2,000 per acre for property damage in the most affected areas, whether or not they have been using the leases.

Al Sunseri, who, with his brother Sal, runs the oldest oyster company in the United States – P&J Oysters, in New Orleans’s French Quarter – said processors like them had been dealt a bad hand in comparison with the oyster farmers.

The Sunseris reckon they are handling just 55-60 percent of the oysters they used to. Before the spill they employed 11 oyster shuckers to take off the shells, now they have just one, working part time.

“BP ruined our business,” said Al. “All the money they’ve spent on this marketing thing, and it’s like, we don’t even have anything to market.”

Blanchard says he is handling 15 percent of the local shrimp that he did before the spill. The shrimps, he says, either swam away from the oil or were killed or mutated by the spill and its aftermath. He is suing BP for $111 million.

BP said all tests had shown that Gulf seafood was safe to consume and there had been no published studies demonstrating seafood abnormalities due to the Deepwater Horizon accident.

But a study published on March 24, led by the U.S. government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration, found the spilt BP oil caused “serious defects” in the embryos of several species of fish, including tuna and amberjack.(

In response, BP said the concentration of oil used in the experiments for the study was “rarely seen in the Gulf during or after the Deepwater Horizon accident” and that the paper provided no evidence for a “population-level impact” on fish.

In one of its latest advertisements, the oil major said the outcome of what it said was its fight to return the settlement to its intended purpose would affect future decisions by other companies in similar positions.

“Will they accept responsibility and do the right thing? Or will the lesson be that it’s better to deny, delay, and litigate – with victims potentially waiting decades for compensation?”

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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SC town fights firing of lesbian police chief by mayor who says gays are worse than drunks Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:51:23 +0000 Travis Gettys City Council members demanded answers from a South Carolina mayor who fired a veteran police chief because she’s a lesbian.

Latta Mayor Earl Bullard fired Police Chief Crystal Moore on Tuesday, saying the 20-year veteran had drawn seven reprimands — but a city councilwoman said the mayor issued all of those reprimands in one day, the first in her career.

City Council members told WBTW-TV that Bullard holds a vendetta against Moore because she investigated the mayor’s most recent hire – and because she’s openly a lesbian.

One of the city councilmen, Jared Taylor, said he recorded the mayor making anti-LGBT remarks during a phone conversation.

“I would much rather have, and I will say this to anybody’s face, somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children,” Bullard says in the recording.

“Because that ain’t the damn way it’s supposed to be,” the mayor continues. “You know, you got people out there — I’m telling you, buddy — I don’t agree with some of the lifestyles that I see portrayed, and I don’t say anything because that is the way they want to live, but I am not going to let my child be around.”

Bullard tells the city councilman that he doesn’t approve of same-sex marriage and would not want his child to be aware that such relationships exist.

“That ain’t the way the world works,” the mayor says. “Now all these people showering down and saying, ‘Oh, it’s a different lifestyle, they can have it.’ OK, fine and dandy, but I don’t have to look at it, and I don’t want my child around it.”

City Council held a special session Thursday night to address Moore’s firing, but Bullard said he could not address personnel matters in a public forum while also claiming he was within his rights to oust the chief.

“According to state statute, under our present form of government, the mayor has the right to suspend, hire or fire any employee of the town with the exception of the town clerk/treasurer, the town attorney and the municipal judge, if you have one,” Bullard said. “The mayor has all the power to fire or suspend.”

But Taylor and other councilmembers disagreed, saying the mayor didn’t have the authority to fire Moore without a majority vote by City Council.

“We have a strong mayor/weak council form of government, and the municipal association rules state that the mayor has the right to hire and fire, subject to personnel rules adopted by the town council,” Taylor said. “Our personnel rules say hiring and firing is subject to council approval.”

South Carolina does not prohibit discrimination against public or private employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

City Council voted 6-1 during Thursday’s special session to move forward with a plan to strip some of the mayor’s powers and tilt the balance and adopt a strong council/weak mayor system, which would require a referendum.

The town must wait at least 60 days to hold the vote.

“I can’t believe that we still have no equal rights,” Moore said after the council vote. “That’s the biggest issue. I’ve been harassed, intimidated. This is the first time it’s been this public. I’d tried living a quiet decent life and do what I’m supposed to.”

Taylor said the police chief refused to sign the written reprimands Bullard issued to her, and he said at least five of them could be proven wrong.

“She told the mayor she wanted to confer with her attorney before she signed anything, and basically, she was told she had to sign the reprimands right then or she was fired,” Taylor said. “She still wouldn’t sign and, from what I understand, he fired her on the spot.”

Latta have thrown their support behind Moore, and more than 100 residents of the small town gathered Wednesday in front of the town hall to demand her reinstatement.

They held a prayer vigil later that afternoon for the ousted police chief.

“Crystal has worked for this town for over 20 years,” Taylor said. “She started out as a dispatcher, I believe, while she was in high school. People in Latta love Crystal, and people have really embraced Crystal. She should have never been fired. I’ve got 3 ½ years left on council, and I will fight 3 ½ more years if I have to, because I think she deserves it.”

Watch this video report posted online by WBTV-TV:

WBTW-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Florence, SC

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Frazier Glenn Miller’s ties to a 1987 triple slaying: Did the feds protect a killer? Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:00:52 +0000 Todd Heywood and Matt Comer On April 13, Frazier Glenn Miller was arrested after he allegedly shot and killed three people at a Jewish Community Center and a Jewish retirement center in suburban Kansas City. Within hours of the arrest, the media reported that Miller had a long history as a white supremacist and virulent anti-Semite who has spent time in prison and, more importantly, been freed in plea deals with the federal government.

Two defense attorneys tell Raw Story that Miller was working out his end of such a plea deal when he appeared as a witness for the prosecution in a murder trial nearly three decades ago. But they say it was obvious to them even then that Miller should have been considered the prime suspect in that crime — a crime that, to this day, remains unsolved.

As Miller faces charges for killing three people in Kansas City, these attorneys say it’s fair to ask the federal government – why wasn’t Miller in prison many years before this?

Sometime shortly before midnight on January 17, 1987, three masked men entered the Shelby III Adult Bookstore located outside Shelby, North Carolina, a business known for attracting a gay clientele. The men ordered the store’s four customers and a clerk to the floor, and then shot them, execution style, in the back of their heads. The masked intruders took cash from the register and rigged up plastic gallon jugs filled with gasoline and detonation fuses, planning to burn the bookstore to the ground.

Of the five victims, only three – Travis Melton, 19, Kenneth Godfrey, 29, and Paul Weston — died from the gunshot wounds. Two others — James Parris and John Anthony — were still alive. The bullet that wounded Parris exited his left eye socket, but he and Anthony both managed to get out of the building while it was catching fire.

“I was still knowing part of what was going on,” Parris testified later. “I felt the blood running over my hand. “

Parris stumbled from the store. Unable to see, he tried his keys in one car, then a second one, which started. He pulled the car away from the building and up U.S. 74. He flashed his headlights until a passing motorist stopped and phoned police.

In the months following the crime, investigators proposed numerous theories about the motive for the murders: a mob hit, a business dispute, perhaps even a homosexual relationship “gone sour.” But nothing produced any suspects.

Then in April 1987, authorities turned their eyes to the White Patriot Party. The WPP was founded in 1985 by Frazier Glenn Miller after Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center obtained a federal court order prohibiting Miller from organizing militia training with the Carolina Knights of the Klu Klux Klan. Dees and the federal government then obtained evidence that Miller had violated the terms of the federal consent agreement. In a federal trial in 1986, Miller was convicted of contempt of court. He was sentenced to one year in prison, with six months suspended. While his case was on appeal, Miller went on the lam.

Miller writes in his autobiography, A White Man Speaks Out, that he left his wife and children on March 18, 1987 to “go underground” and “wage war against the Jews and the federal government.” He went to Oklahoma to pick up Robert Eugene “Jack” Jackson, and Douglas Lawrence Sheets. A third man – Anthony Wydra – met the trio in Asheville, N.C. The quartet made thousands of copies of Miller’s “Declaration of War,” and mailed them to media outlets and white supremacy organizations across the nation. The declaration was also mailed to federal officials, including federal prosecutors.

Miller had declared war on “ni**ers, Jews, queers, assorted mongrels, white-race traitors and despicable informants,” and suggested awarding points as a kind of bounty system. “Ni**ers (1), other assorted mongrels (Mexicans, etc) (2), Jews (10), influential Jews (25), Queers (5), White Race traitors (10), Scalawags (10), Carpetbaggers (10), Abortionists (20), Race traitor politicians and Judges (50), Informants and government witnesses (50), Morris Segilman Dees (888).”

Miller’s uprising was short lived. On April 30, 1987 he and the three other men were arrested in Ozark, Missouri. Federal authorities found a weapons cache which included explosives, automatic weapons, and hand guns. Also seized in the raid were gloves and ski masks.

Miller says in his autobiography that the federal officials approached him with a plea deal.

“I was to plead guilty to one count of felony possession of a hand grenade and answer all questions posed to me by the authorities,” he writes. “In return, they would recommend a 5-year prison sentence, immunity from any further prosecution by either state or federal authorities, and entrance into the Federal Witness Protection Program which included the financial support of my family while I served my sentence.”

Miller claims the information he provided to authorities did not result in any indictments or prison sentences. (The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that Miller testified against 14 white supremacy leaders on charges of sedition. None were convicted.)

One person Miller testified against was Doug Sheets, in a 1989 trial for the Shelby III bookstore killing.

Prosecutors had come to believe that Sheets and Jackson, two of Miller’s “Declaration of War” partners, had committed the murders at the adult bookstore as a result of their extremist views.

Sheets was tried in April and May 1989, and Jackson’s trial was scheduled to take place once it was done. News clippings of the time report that it was known Miller was testifying against former members of his White Patriot Party as part of a plea deal.

Miller told the court that Sheets and Jackson had told him they had committed the killings in Shelby. Three other witnesses also said they’d heard Sheets talk about the killings while they were incarcerated with him in prison. One was a former White Patriot Party member who had abandoned the Miller group in the Ozarks, allegedly after hearing the story of the bookstore murders from Sheets and Jackson. That witness, Robert Stoner, received $5,000 from the federal government for his role in the indictments against Sheets and Jackson, as well as entry into the witness protection program after a bounty was put on his head by members of the Tennessee KKK.

Prosecutors also presented evidence that gloves found in the weapons cache from the April 1987 Missouri raid were linked by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to fibers found on the plastic jugs used to torch the bookstore.

But prosecutors couldn’t put Sheets or Jackson at the scene. In fact, they had alibis that put them in other states around the time of the bookstore killings. Sheets had evidence that he’d been in Kansas the day before the killings, and a blizzard that struck made it virtually impossible for him to have been in North Carolina to commit the crime.

As the trial went on, Sheets and his attorneys pointed out that it was Glenn Miller who didn’t have an alibi for the night of January 17, 1987.

On the stand, Sheets said that Miller had told him that “he damn sure made a big boom in Shelby.” Miller, meanwhile, in pretrial statements had referred to a feature in the bookstore – a two-way mirror – that suggested he might have taken part in the killings himself.

Don Bridges, one of Sheets’ attorneys, also recounted to jurors a conversation between Miller, Sheets, and Jackson. “Don’t worry boys,” Bridges said Miller told them, “I’m going to be pointing the finger at you, but don’t worry. You can’t be convicted because it’s all hearsay evidence.”

That turned out to be true. With no way to put Sheets at the scene of the murders, he was acquitted. Jackson’s trial was then canceled. To this day, there’s been no other trial or conviction for the murder of the three men at Shelby.

And now, two of the attorneys who helped defend Sheets say they believe that Glenn Miller should have been the one prosecuted.

“I still believe Miller was involved with those murders. I do,” says Kirk D. Lyons, an attorney known for defending white nationalists. “And, I’ve got a lot more proof than I’ve ever had because he’s done it again — killed more people.”

Lyons was brought in to assist the defense team because Sheets – based on his sovereign citizen beliefs – was reluctant to work with the assigned defense team.

The chief counsel of Sheets’ defense team was Leslie ‘Les’ Farfour, and he also believes Miller was responsible for the 1987 murders.

“I definitely believe that,” he tells Raw Story, and adds that about a year after the trial, the White Patriot Part published a pamphlet claiming credit for burning an adult bookstore in Shelby.

“I can’t imagine if this was actually a hit by the White Patriot Party that Miller was not personally involved and directed it somehow,” he says.

Lyons notes that Miller was in Raleigh the day after the Shelby murders, while Sheets and Jackson had alibis placing them in other states.

“The day after the bookstore murders, he was in Raleigh at a march for the White Patriot Party for Robert E. Lee’s birthday,” Lyons says. “Now, granted the storm comes in and makes travel impossible if you’re in Oklahoma, but, come on, I think somebody from Raleigh could have gotten to Shelby that night in a car.”

A May 25, 1989 report on the Sheets’ trial in the Charlotte Observer notes that Raleigh Police Lt. Randy Deaton testified that Miller was in that city on January 18, 1987 “watching a parade by members of the Southern National Front, formerly the White Patriots.”

Lyons believes that federal authorities – and their plea deal with Miller – prevented them from looking at Miller more closely.

“If they thought [the prosecutor] had screwed up somehow, they had the right to come in behind him and file civil rights charges, by virtue of depriving the people in the bookstore of their civil rights by murdering them,” Lyons says. “That was never attempted. The problem was — and what comes back to me is — Miller got to them first and they kind of took him for all they could get out of him. My thinking is that it is very possible they just looked the other way and were not very interested in following the path to Miller and I think they should have.”

After we interviewed him, Lyons contacted Raw Story with a statement from the Sheets and Jackson families.

“We mourn for the tragic victims of the recent murderous rampage in Kansas. Our prayers go out to their grieving families,” the statement reads. “If the federal government and their intel partner, the Southern Poverty Law Center, had acted responsibly in bringing Frazier Glenn Miller to justice for masterminding and participating in the Shelby Bookstore Murders back in the 1980s, this Kansas tragedy could never have taken place.”

Lyons also suggests another reason federal authorities didn’t pursue Miller for the Shelby III murders. He says there were rumors at the courthouse during the trial that Miller had been an informant for the federal government long before he was arrested in Missouri on April 30, 1987.

“I spent of lot of time talking to the [State Bureau of Investigation] guys,” Lyons says. “Several said Glenn Miller was picked up in downtown Raleigh, I’m going to say, I don’t remember the date, a couple years before all this, before the bookstore murders. And apparently he was caught in the back seat of his car with a black male prostitute. I was told they didn’t arrest him, but the cops brought him in, photographed him and turned him loose without an arrest. That allegation had been suggested as to why Glenn Miller might have been turned by the feds. Jackson surmised that he basically became a federal asset at that time and all the things he did were used to entrap people and in their view start a shooting war.”

That account is buttressed by a 2013 phone conversation with Miller recorded by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Heidi Beirich. During the call, Beirich asks him about being arrested at one point in the company of a “black transvestite.” Miller bragged that he had a “violent history of going around picking up ni**ers and beating the hell out of ‘em, particularly ni**er f**gots.” When he was arrested with the transvestite, he claimed he was planning to “whip his ass.”

Lyons believes it was that arrest that convinced Miller to become a federal informant, and that he was already working for the feds when he went on his 1987 “Declaration of War” rampage, hoping to get his fellow White Patriot Party extremists arrested and convicted. Once they were, Miller was released, and Sheets and Jackson received 20-year sentences. Miller then tried to help get them convicted for the Shelby bookstore murders, but that case fell apart. And ever since, the attorneys for Sheets have wondered if it was Miller who should have been prosecuted for the gruesome killings.

The Shelby bookstore murders remain unsolved. We reached out to Cleveland County, North Carolina Sheriff’s Office Detective Tim Adams, who runs the agency’s cold case squad, hoping to ask him if Frazier Glenn Miller had been taken seriously as a suspect, or might now that he’s killed people in Kansas City. We’re still waiting for a call back.

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Pentagon: Two arms programs face live-or-die review after costs jump Fri, 18 Apr 2014 10:28:02 +0000 Reuters An unmanned U.S. Navy helicopter built by Northrop Grumman Corp and a precision ship-landing system built by Raytheon Co face mandatory reviews that could lead to their cancellation after quantity reductions drove unit costs sharply higher in 2013, the Pentagon announced on Thursday.

Senior defense officials said the cost increases were largely due to cuts in the numbers of items to be purchased, but federal law required a careful look at program performance and other factors.

The Nunn-McCurdy law requires a mandatory, 60-day live-or-die review if weapons systems see an increase of more than 25 percent in their unit costs. In order for programs to survive, top defense officials must certify that the program is needed for national security and meets other conditions.

In this case, senior defense officials suggested that both programs would likely survive since the cost spikes were due to reduced orders, but they said final decisions would not be made until the reviews were completed on June 17.

The Defense Department’s annual “selected acquisition report” on the cost of major weapons showed a slight 0.3 percent, or $4.4 billion, drop in the combined cost of 77 programs for a total cost of $1.62 trillion.

The reduction was largely due to reduced quantities, changes in inflation rates, and reduced needs for support equipment, although they were partially offset by schedule delays and cost increases in other programs, including Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 fighter jet, the report showed.

Senior defense officials said budget-driven reductions in arms programs had less effect on the program costs in 2013 than expected, although unit costs were likely to edge higher in coming years as mandatory spending reductions took effect.

“I just don’t think we’re out of the woods yet,” said one official who was not authorized to speak publicly. “There will be effects on programs as budgets hold or come down further.”

The Navy is buying 49 fewer Northrop Fire Scout helicopters after switching to a larger aircraft built by Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron Inc, that can carry more than twice the fuel or cargo and can stay in the air for 12 hours. That compares to nearly five hours for the previous aircraft, which is no longer being produced.

Northrop Chief Executive Wes Bush said the program was going very well and the unit cost increase was due to the reduction in quantity. He said the Navy remained committed to the program and he expected it to survive the review now under way.

The cut in quantities of Raytheon’s Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) came after the Army and Air Force decided to pull out of the joint program, which resulted in the need for 10 fewer shore-based training systems, the report said.

The cost increase in the JPALS program also was partly due to an extension in the development program aimed at increasing the capability of the system, and higher material costs.

Two other programs showed cost increases of more than 15 percent, requiring notification to Congress, but not triggering the more arduous cancellation reviews, the report showed.

Boeing Co’s upgrade of the U.S. E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) saw a 19 percent jump in average unit procurement costs, mainly due to a reduction of seven airplanes, but also due to schedule changes, the report said.

The cost of General Dynamics Corp’s Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) to build handheld and other smaller radios, rose 19 percent due to a revised acquisition strategy, it said.

Lockheed’s F-35 fighter jet saw a $7.4 billion increase in acquisition costs to $398.6 billion, largely due to postponed orders from the U.S. military and international partners. The report showed a decrease of nearly 9 percent, or $97 billion, in the estimated cost of operating the F-35 aircraft through 2065.

The Pentagon report estimated the total “lifecycle” cost of the U.S. F-35 fleet at $1.02 trillion, down from $1.11 trillion a year earlier, but the F-35 program office said improving reliability and other adjustments meant the number would be closer to $917 billion.

Other changes included a $2.2 billion, or 4.2 percent, drop in the cost of Boeing’s KC-46A refueling plane, and a 9.5 percent rise in Boeing’s program to remanufacture AH-64 Apache helicopters, due to higher labor and material costs.

The projected cost of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship program dropped over 33 percent, or $11.3 billion, due to the Pentagon’s decision to halt orders after 32 ships instead of buying all 52 that had been planned.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Obama mocks critics: GOP still going through ‘stages of grief’ over health care law’s success Fri, 18 Apr 2014 10:24:15 +0000 Reuters President Barack Obama mounted a vigorous effort on Thursday to show his signature healthcare law is working and dismissed Republican critics who are using flaws in Obamacare to campaign for ousting Democrats from the U.S. Congress in November.

Appearing in the White House briefing room days before leaving the national stage for a week-long trip to Asia, Obama used a news conference to make the case that the Affordable Care Act had mended nicely from its disastrous October rollout.

He announced that 8 million people had now signed up for health insurance and that 35 percent of enrollees through the federal marketplace are under the age of 35. For the healthcare law to succeed, young, healthy people must sign up and pay premiums to offset the healthcare costs for older Americans.

Obama’s remarks reflected deep concerns at the White House that Republicans may be able to topple Democrats from control of the U.S. Senate in November elections and build on their majority in the House of Representatives. A Republican-run Congress would make legislative achievements in Obama’s last two years in office difficult.

He said under the 2010 healthcare law, the share of Americans with insurance has grown, the growth of healthcare costs has slowed, hundreds of millions of Americans who already have insurance now enjoy new benefits and protections and no one with a pre-existing health condition can be denied coverage.

“Those days are over. And this thing is working,” Obama said.

Experts said reaching the 8 million figure is positive for the healthcare law.

“The number of people who have signed up exceeds what anyone could have imagined last fall when the website problems emerged,” said Larry Levitt, an expert in healthcare reform and vice-president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “There should be little question that the law is working to cover millions of the uninsured, though enrollment will need to ramp up as expected in the coming years to achieve success.”

Obama, whose job approval has dipped below 50 percent, a range that experts say could spell danger for Democrats in the elections, urged Republicans to give up their fight to repeal and replace the law.

He said he is willing to consider changes to the law to improve it, amid complaints that premiums are too high and that some people will not be able to keep their doctors despite Obama’s previous promise. But he said to make changes would require an attitude adjustment from his Republican critics.

“I recognize that their party is going through, you know, the stages of grief, right? Anger and denial and all that stuff. And we’re not at acceptance yet,” Obama said.

Republicans stick to their criticism

Republicans, who have put themselves in a strong position for the November elections by hammering away at Obamacare, made clear they had no plans to change their strategy.

Republican leaders said Obama glossed over the problems with the law.

“The president may want to silence any further debate about Obamacare, but in doing so he betrays a lack of confidence in his own policies and scant regard for those most affected by the law,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

Administration officials have previously talked about achieving a level of 38 percent of people in that age range to give insurers a strong mix of healthier members whose premium payments help offset the cost of older, sicker policyholders.

“I’ve said before this law won’t solve all the problems in our healthcare system. We know we’ve got more work to do. But we now know for a fact that repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase the deficit, raise premiums for millions of Americans and take insurance away from millions more,” Obama said.

Obama’s news conference appeared to signal a more urgent White House effort to help Democrats in November. The two sides have largely settled into campaign mode with little prospect for major legislation in coming months.

A long-sought immigration reform deal seemed more elusive than ever after a phone call on Wednesday between Obama and the No. 2 House Republican, Eric Cantor, who said afterward Obama “still has not learned how to effectively work with Congress.”

Obama said he had called Cantor to wish him a happy Passover and tell him there was bipartisan support for an immigration deal.

“I actually had a very pleasant conversation with Mr. Cantor,” he said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Nearly 100 recent homicides linked to users of Stormfront white supremacist site, SPLC says Fri, 18 Apr 2014 10:17:15 +0000 Reuters A white supremacist charged with killing three people near two Jewish community facilities in suburban Kansas City this week posted more than 12,000 messages on a racist website which carries the slogan “No Jews, Just Right,” according to an organization that tracks hate groups.

The online activity by Frazier Glenn Cross follows a trend in which prolific posters on hate online forums are becoming “disproportionately responsible” for racist murders and mass killings, according to a report released on Thursday by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit civil rights organization.

The report said nearly 100 people in the last five years have been murdered by frequent users of one white supremacist website, Stormfront. The site describes itself as a community of “White Nationalists” and “the voice of the new, embattled White minority.”

“It has been a magnet for the deadly and deranged,” said Heidi Beirich, author of the report.

According to the report, past participants in forums on the website included Wade Michael Page, an Army veteran who opened fire at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012 killing six people before taking his own life.

Another was Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian extremist who massacred 77 people in a bombing and shooting spree in Oslo and at a nearby youth summer camp in 2011.

Stormfront owner Don Black told Reuters that Cross had never been allowed to post on his site, and that Breivik and other killers named by the SPLC had been banned.

“We’re obviously a big website, and any site is likely to have a few unstable people pass through. Facebook, Twitter, and particularly Craigslist have had their share,” Black added in a statement he posted on his website.

“Like all good propaganda, it’s a mix of truth, half-truth and outrageous lies,” Black wrote of the SPLC.

Frazier Glenn Cross often posted on Stormfront until he was banned from the site in 2005 after testifying in a trial against white supremacists, said Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Law enforcement and human rights groups have identified Cross as a former senior member of the Ku Klux Klan and someone who has repeatedly expressed hatred for Jewish people.

Cross, who also goes by the name Glenn Miller, later switched to another white supremacist forum, Vanguard News Network, where the center tracked his postings over the last five years.

“These killers are really hiding in plain sight on these forums,” Beirich said.

Vanguard did not immediately respond to an email to the website seeking comment.

Cross faces one count of capital murder in the fatal shooting of Reat Underwood, 14, and his grandfather, William Corporon, 69, outside a Jewish community center and a charge of first-degree murder in the death of 53-year-old Terri LaManno. Cross is being held on a $10 million bond.

Potok called on law enforcement, particularly the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to increase its focus on racist online forums.

[Image: Skinhead white supremacist via Flickr]

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Rachel Maddow: Kentucky Democrats forced Rand Paul into a corner by rejecting ‘LBJ law’ Fri, 18 Apr 2014 04:10:25 +0000 Arturo Garcia Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) might now be forced to choose not only which political office he wants most, but which kind of political figure he wants to be, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said on Thursday.

“This calls the question of whether or not he and his father’s brand of Republicanism is actually about holding office and not just running for it,” Maddow said.

Maddow said that Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) was “basically a protest candidate for national office,” which allowed him to voice his platform on the larger Republican political stage and nudge the party further to the right while also maintaining his grip on a congressional seat as he spent time continually fundraising and seeking national support.

“But no one — including Ron Paul, I think — ever thought that he was ever anything but a protest candidate, that he was ever going to be president,” Maddow said. “Running was its own end. He held on to that House seat from Texas for decades.”

But the Democrat-controlled Kentucky House of Representatives, Maddow explained, ran out the clock on a bill that would have allowed Rand Paul to seek the presidency in 2016 while allowing him to run for re-election in his district in the same way his father had been able to do in Texas. Instead — unless House Democrats could be swayed otherwise — Paul will now have to forego a senatorial re-election campaign if he truly wants to run for president.

The bill did pass the GOP-dominated state Senate, only for state House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D) to tell reporters that Democrats were “still reading” the one-paragraph bill at the time the legislative session ended.

The bill would have added Kentucky to the list of states with “LBJ laws,” named after a 1959 Texas statute that was created to allow then Sen. Lyndon Johnson (D-TX) to seek re-election while also running as John F. Kennedy’s running mate in the 1960 presidential election. Most recently, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) invoked a similar law in his home state in 2012 and was able to win re-election despite being part of the losing Republican presidential ticket.

Maddow also said that Rand Paul’s procedural setback comes at a time when other Republicans are “apopleptic” at the notion that Paul’s isolationist views on foreign policy could be gaining traction, since Russia’s incursion into Ukraine has thrust foreign policy back into the spotlight.

“That little hurdle may call the question as to whether or not the Republican Party is going to be able to keep swatting him down as a relatively inconsequential senator, the way his dad was a relatively inconsequential congressman,” Maddow said. “Or whether this round of the Paul family might actually be willing to run for office in a way that he would have to win, and not just play.”

Watch Maddow’s commentary, as aired on Thursday, below.

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Fox’s Todd Starnes accuses college president calling for more diversity of ‘ethnic cleansing’ Fri, 18 Apr 2014 02:47:05 +0000 Arturo Garcia Fox News contributor Todd Starnes accused Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard of advocating for “ethnic cleansing” at the school after the official made a public statement calling for a more diverse student body.

“I wish Western Washington all the best as they begin their ethnic cleansing,” Starnes said in audio posted by Right Wing Watch on Thursday. “But I do wonder if President Shepard is the right guy to lead the charge — seeing how he’s a paleface.”

Starnes joined other conservative outlets in criticizing Shepard for saying during his September 2013 convocation speech “If, in the decades ahead, we are as white as we are today, we will have failed as a university.”

At the time, Shepard also noted that 26 percent of the school’s next entering student body comes from communities of color, and that the school continues to make “progress, slow but progress nonetheless, in the absolutely essential diversification of our faculty and staff.”

That statistic would mark a 5 percent jump in diversity compared to the Fall 2012 incoming class, and a 23 percent increase since 1980.

The school has also released an online questionnaire concerning efforts to increase student diversity, with one of the questions reading, “How do we make sure that in future years ‘we are not as white as we are today?’”

Starnes, however, claimed that Shepard used his speech to “start a war on diversity.” And Caleb Bonham, editor-in-chief of the conservative college news site Campus Reform, called Shepard’s remarks “crass.”

“I think he’s being very insensitive to how people are perceived based on the color of their skin,” Bonham told KOMO-TV. “It’s wrong when you do it, no matter what the color of the skin is.”

Shepard told KOMO he meant his statement to be provocative.

“The word ‘white’ is a lightning rod for people’s feelings,” he said. “It’s really important to understand the issue that’s facing all of American higher education and that is, our country is changing.”

Watch KOMO’s report, as aired on Wednesday, below.

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Anger spreads as rescue efforts for South Korean ferry stall Fri, 18 Apr 2014 02:00:40 +0000 Agence France-Presse South Korean divers renewed efforts Friday to access a capsized ferry in which hundreds of schoolchildren are feared trapped, as the grief and frustration of anguished parents gave way to anger and recrimination.

The confirmed death toll rose overnight to 25, but the focus of concern remained the 271 people still unaccounted for 48 hours after the ferry capsized and sank Wednesday morning.

The coastguard says more than 500 divers have been deployed to the accident site, but powerful currents and poor visibility have frustrated attempts to access the submerged vessel in the increasingly slim hope of finding survivors trapped in air pockets.

The Sewol had 475 people on board when it ran into trouble, among them 352 children on a high school outing to Jeju island, a popular holiday destination.

Among the relatives of the missing, especially the parents of the students, there was growing resentment over what they see as the inadequacy of the rescue response.

In an appeal broadcast live on television Friday morning, a self-appointed spokesman for the relatives accused the authorities of indifference and deception.

- ‘The government lied’ -

“The government lied yesterday,” he said, speaking at a podium in a gymnasium in Jindo island where hundreds of relatives have been sleeping on the floor since the tragedy unfolded.

Disputing the official figures of hundreds of divers, vessels and aircraft being deployed, he said he and other relatives had visited the rescue site and seen only a dozen ships and helicopters.

“Everyone, is this the reality of South Korea? We plead once more, please save our children,” he said.

A large monitor offering a live feed from four cameras at the rescue site was brought into the gymnasium overnight, but initial interest in the fog-disrupted images soon faded.

The initial public backlash has centred on the captain, Lee Joon-Seok, and his 28 crew, most of whom survived the disaster.

Lee apologised Thursday to the victims and their relatives, but offered no clear explanation for what caused the Sewol to capsize.

“I feel really sorry for the passengers, victims and families,” he said. “I feel ashamed.”

Regional coastguard commander Kim Soo-Hyun said investigations were under way into reports that the captain and crew were among the first to leave the stricken vessel.

As well the cause of the disaster, investigators will be looking at why passengers were ordered to stay in their cabins and seats for up to 40 minutes after the ferry ran into trouble.

Furious relatives believe many more people would have escaped if they had reached evacuation points before the ship listed sharply and water started flooding in.

- Ferry made sudden turn? -

Most experts believe the ship either hit a rock or made a sharp turn that shifted its heavy cargo consignment — including more than 150 vehicles — and caused it to list and capsize,

The Chonghaejin Marine Co. which operates the Sewol said Lee, 69, was an experienced captain who had been working the Incheon-Jeju route for the past eight years.

Foggy conditions and a steady drizzle on Friday did nothing to lift the spirits of rescue teams who had to repeatedly suspend dive operations the day before because of the dangerous conditions.

Three giant floating cranes were still making their way to the site, where they will be used to try to raise the vessel, which is completely submerged apart from a small section of the keel.

President Park Geun-Hye, who visited Jindo on Thursday, urged the rescuers not to lose heart and promised relatives that the authorities were still working on the assumption that they would find people alive.

In a tense meeting with parents in the gymnasium on Thursday, Park was repeatedly interrupted by angry shouts from the crowd.

“What are you doing when people are dying? Time is running out!” one woman screamed at Park.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who will be in Seoul on April 25 and 26, offered his “deepest sympathies” to the victims’ families.

“Our hearts ache to see our Korean friends going through such a terrible loss, especially the loss of so many young students,” he said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Justices Scalia and Ginsburg say Supreme Court will likely rule on NSA surveillance Fri, 18 Apr 2014 01:50:21 +0000 Reuters By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two members of the Supreme Court indicated on Thursday night that the court will ultimately have to decide the legality of National Security Agency surveillance activities.

The two justices, Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, made the comments during a public event at the National Press Club in Washington. They were responding to questions posed by journalist Marvin Kalb about whether the court would take up cases arising from the recent disclosures about NSA surveillance, most notably by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The justices did not discuss specific NSA programs. There are various lawsuits pending around the country challenging the government’s widespread collection of telephone records. A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled in December that the program was probably unlawful, while a judge in New York held later that month that it was not. Both cases are now on appeal.

Scalia, a leading conservative justice, said the court was not the best body to decide major national security issues because of its lack of expertise. But he indicated that the court would likely decide the issue of whether widespread gathering of telecommunications data violates the Fourth Amendment, which bars unlawful searches and seizures.

“The institution that will decide that is the institution least qualified to decide it,” Scalia said. The legal question is about “balancing the emergency against the intrusion” on the individual, he said.

Nine justices serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ginsburg, one of the court’s liberal members, said the justices would have little choice but to decide the matter should it come before them.

“We can’t run away and say, ‘Well, we don’t know much about that subject so we won’t decide it,’” she said.

(Editing by Jan Paschal)

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Illinois cops seize computers and cell phones in search for Twitter account mocking mayor Fri, 18 Apr 2014 01:04:51 +0000 Arturo Garcia Police in Peoria, Illinois seized computers and cell phones while attempting to find the person responsible for a satirical Twitter account mocking the town’s mayor.

The Peoria Journal-Star reported that authorities executed a search warrant on the home on Tuesday night in connection with an investigation into the @Peoriamayor account, which reportedly represented itself as belonging to Mayor Jim Ardis (pictured above, left). The account was suspended earlier this year, but not before adding a line stating it was satirical in nature.

However, it still used the mayor’s name, email address and biography and posted content related to sexual activity and drugs, including a comparison between Ardis and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who has admitted to using drugs during his time in office. It had around 50 followers and as many posts before being suspended.

Police said the person responsible faces charges of impersonating a public official, a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum one-year jail term and $2,500 fine.

“I don’t agree it was obvious, and in fact it appears that someone went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor,” Chief Steve Settingsgaard was quoted as saying.

Three people were taken from the residence to police headquarters for questioning. Another two residents were brought in from their workplaces.

One of the residents, 27-year-old Michelle Pratt, told the Journal-Star she was put in an interview room alone for three hours before detectives questioned her. “They brought me in like I was a criminal.”

Pratt’s boyfriend, 36-year-old Jacob L. Elliott, was arrested and charged with possessing 30 to 500 grams of marijuana and possessing drug paraphernalia, but was not charged in connection with the account.

“A parody means it’s fake. It was even listed as fake,” Pratt told the Journal-Star. “It was a joke Twitter account, and they searched the whole house.”

The arrest appears to have spurred the appearance of another parody account, @NotPeoriaMayor, which has a picture of Ardis wearing a Hitler-style mustache and “Mayor Ardis and police chief Settingsgaard can suck it” in the description. It also openly identifies itself as a parody, and posted several tweets mocking both Ardis and the authorities:

[Image via City of Peoria, Illinois official Flickr account]

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

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Chuck Hagel: U.S. will send ‘non-lethal’ military aid to Ukraine Fri, 18 Apr 2014 00:16:13 +0000 Agence France-Presse The United States will send helmets, medical supplies and other non-lethal military aid to Ukraine amid fears of another Russian incursion there, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday.

Hagel said he had informed Kiev that President Barack Obama “has approved additional non-lethal military assistance for health and welfare items and other supplies.”

The aid includes medical supplies, helmets, sleeping mats and water purification units for Ukrainian troops, as well as shelters, small power generators and hand fuel pumps for Ukraine’s border security force.

But it does not appear to contain any combat equipment, such as bulletproof vests or night-vision goggles.

Washington had sent some 300,000 food rations to Kiev in late March.

“The United States continues to stand with Ukraine,” Hagel told reporters during a joint press conference with Poland’s visiting Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak.

The aid makes up part of a long wish list of items sought by Kiev over the past several weeks, as its ill-equipped forces face a pro-Russian uprising in the east, and the specter of Moscow annexing another huge chunk of its territory after the seizure of Crimea last month.

“The United States will continue to review additional support that we can provide to Ukraine,” Hagel said.

Several U.S. lawmakers — most notably veteran Republican Senator John McCain — have issued scathing denunciations of the West’s tepid response to the crisis.

McCain, who lost the White House election to Obama in 2008, decried steps taken by the United States and European Union thus far as “almost laughable” during a visit to Lithuania on Wednesday.

He and other lawmakers have called on Washington to provide military assistance to Ukraine, including light arms and anti-aircraft defenses.

Hagel tried to reassure NATO members such as the Baltic states and Poland worried about the impact of Russia’s actions in Ukraine on their security.

Washington is “fully” committed to making sure their territory is respected, in accordance with NATO obligations, he said.

Since the start of the Ukrainian crisis, the Pentagon has sent 12 F-16 fighter jets and their support teams to Poland.

And Hagel said the planes would stay there until the end of the year, as he called on other European members of NATO to contribute reinforcements.

The United States and Poland separately agree to increase their military cooperation for anti-aircraft and special forces capabilities, according to Siemoniak.

Poland is due to host a NATO antimissile defense site in 2018 aimed at guarding against Iranian threats that have raised the ire of Moscow.

“We are talking about the presence of the American troops in Poland,” the defense minister acknowledged.

But Siemoniak stopped short of calling for the establishment of U.S. military bases, as requested by the conservative Polish opposition.

“There may be some new opportunities for rotational-basis forces,” Hagel said.

“But no decisions have been made, and we’ll continue to discuss these issues as NATO is discussing these issues.”

Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has balked at setting up bases in members states that once belonged to the Soviet bloc, in an effort to avoid angering Russia.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Britain’s Labour Party hires Obama election strategist David Axelrod Fri, 18 Apr 2014 00:11:02 +0000 Agence France-Presse David Axelrod, the mastermind behind US President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 election victories, is to advise Britain’s Labour Party in the run up to next year’s general election, the party announced Thursday.

He will work alongside shadow foreign secretary and election strategist Douglas Alexander until the vote, expected to take place in May 2015.

The party will also use Axelrod’s consultancy firm AKVD as it looks to regain power from the Conservative-led coalition following election defeat in 2010.

“Mr Axelrod will become an integral part of Labour’s team,” said a Labour statement.

“He will also participate in regular strategic discussions with (party leader) Mr Miliband and the Labour campaign team.”

The election strategist said he had been “struck by the power” of Ed Miliband’s ideas and by the “strength of his vision and the focus he brings to solving the fundamental challenge facing Britain.

“That challenge is how you create an economy which works for everyone: an economy in which every hardworking person can get ahead and deal with the cost-of-living crisis so they can plan for the future and plan for their children,” he added.

“He has answers to these questions which will be very potent in the next election.

“That is how we won in the US. Barack Obama articulated a vision which had, at its core, the experience of everyday people. And everyday people responded, they organised and they overcame the odds. I see the same thing happening in Britain.”

Miliband called the appointment “excellent news”.

“In his work for President Obama, David helped shape a campaign that reflected his vision, focused on building an economy that works for all hardworking people and not just a privileged few,” he said, insisting the American “will be a huge asset to our campaign”.

He will be pitted against the Tories’ Australian spin chief Lynton Crosby, widely credited for turning around the fortunes of the party, although it still trails Labour according to recent opinion polls.

[Image via NBC News]

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Texas county votes unanimously to make April ‘Confederate History and Heritage Month’ Thu, 17 Apr 2014 23:56:47 +0000 Arturo Garcia Officials in Orange County, Texas are facing criticism after they unanimously voted to proclaim this month “Confederate History and Heritage Month.”

According to Burnt Orange Report, the vote came in response to a petition from the county chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).

County commissioners have granted the group’s request for five consecutive years, but questions began to surround the petition after the SCV was granted permission to build a memorial for Confederate soldiers at the intersection of Interstate 10 and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.

“We’re not condoning anything that happened during the Civil War,” County Judge Carl Thibodeaux told KBMT-TV. “We’re not saying it was right or wrong. All we’re doing is honoring those individuals that lost their lives in the Civil War doing something they thought was right at the time.”

However, the Orange Leader reported in March that county commissioners approved the petition in spite of opposition from at least one descendant of a Confederate soldier, local attorney Leslie Barras.

Barras offered to draft a petition marking April as “Southern History and Heritage Month” as an alternative.

“It is hurtful and offensive,” Barras said of the SCV’s petition. “I ask that you consider not adopting the proclamation this year.”

The proclamation states, “It is important for all citizens of Orange County to reflect upon our past and to respect the devotion of her Confederate leaders, soldiers, and citizens to the cause of Southern Liberty.” There will be no official events accompanying the proclamation.

County resident Ralph Hawkins told KBMT he felt the petition would just inflame old tensions.

“Remember, there was more than just soldiers that died, there was slaves that died,” Hawkins was quoted as saying.

The Confederate group has also been a point of contention in the apppointment of one member, South Carolina Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell (R), to the presidency of the College of Charleston, which has led to protests from both faculty and students for his “neo-confederate” ties.

Watch KBMT’s report, aired on Tuesday, below.

12 News KBMT and K-JAC. News, Weather and Sports for SE Texas

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Conservatives encouraging presidential bid by Fox News’ Ben Carson outraise rivals Thu, 17 Apr 2014 23:05:38 +0000 Reuters By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – If money is any indication, a prominent Baltimore doctor with no political experience is an early front-runner in the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

A group encouraging retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson to run for president raised $2.4 million in the first three months of this year, more than the group backing Hillary Clinton or those affiliated with Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and other potential candidates, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

Carson, 62, has emerged as a prominent African-American conservative commentator. He appears regularly on Fox News and writes a weekly column for the conservative Washington Times newspaper.

Carson’s spokesman says he is not interested in running for president and he is not affiliated with the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee.

The money is a sign that conservative voters are looking beyond the usual political suspects for a presidential candidate, the head of the Ben Carson committee said.

“My gut tells me that the American people are looking for a citizen statesman, for a non-politician,” said John Philip Sousa IV, a descendant of the “Stars and Stripes Forever” composer who serves as the group’s chairman.
The first doctor to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head, Carson developed a conservative following last year after he advocated a flat tax, private medical savings accounts and other conservative policies at a National Prayer Breakfast speech that was attended by President Barack Obama.
On his website,, he has posted a video that explains “the first thing I’d do if I were ever president.”

Armstrong Williams, who works as Carson’s business manager, said the video did not indicate that Carson was considering a presidential run. “Many of us talk about what we would do if we were president,” he said.

“There is no interest in running for president,” Williams said. “If the Lord speaks to him and says to him to run, then that’s a different story. But I don’t know a lot of people in the world who the Lord has spoken to directly.”

Though the Draft Ben Carson committee has raised $3.9 million since it was set up last year, it has spent money just as steadily. At the end of March, the committee had $228,000 in the bank and carried $515,000 in debt, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission.

Much of that money has gone to direct-mailing and fundraising groups, including one affiliated with the group’s treasurer. The committee has also paid for ads on conservative radio shows and a website,

Other political committees are spending heavily as well. Ready for Hillary, a group laying the groundwork for a potential presidential run by Hillary Clinton, has spent $4.9 million of the $5.7 million it has raised over past two years. The committee had $857,000 in the bank at the end of March.

Sousa said the Ben Carson committee, which has five paid staffers, is trying to build a ready-made campaign that it could turn over to Carson in case he decides to run.

“Without us building this and saying, ‘Here are the keys to the car,’ he’d be dead in the water,” Sousa said.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

[Image via YouTube]

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Chelsea Clinton announces that she is pregnant during event alongside her mother Thu, 17 Apr 2014 23:01:53 +0000 Reuters By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Chelsea Clinton announced on Thursday that she is pregnant with the first grandchild of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Marc and I are very excited that we have our first child arriving later this year,” said Chelsea Clinton, 34, referring to her investment banker husband, Marc Mezvinsky, 36.

Sitting with her mother in side-by-side armchairs on a stage at a New York City event on empowering women, Clinton delivered the news with a broad smile.

The audience at “Girls: A No Ceilings Conversation,” organized by the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, immediately broke into applause and cheers.

“I certainly feel all the better whether it’s a girl or a boy that she or he will grow up in a world full of so many strong young female leaders,” said Chelsea Clinton, who works for the family foundation and is a correspondent for NBC News.

“Thank you for inspiring me and thank you for inspiring future generations, including the one that we’ll be lucky enough to welcome into our family later this year,” she told the audience.

It was unclear how news of the first Clinton grandchild will affect the political ambitions of grandmother-to-be Hillary Clinton, who is considering a run for the White House in 2016.

Former president Clinton told reporters in Davos, Switzerland, in 2011: “I would like to have a happy wife, and she won’t be unless she’s a grandmother… It’s something she wants more than she wanted to be president.”

Both expectant grandparents immediately took to Twitter to share their happy news.

Bill Clinton tweeted: “Excited to add a new line to my Twitter bio…grandfather-to-be! @hillaryclinton and I are so happy for Chelsea and Marc!

An equally thrilled Hillary Clinton tweeted: “My most exciting title yet: Grandmother-To-Be! @billclinton and I are thrilled that Chelsea and Marc are expecting their first child!”

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Gunna Dickson)

[Image: Chelsea Clinton and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton participate in A No Ceilings Conversation at Lower Eastside Girls Club in New York April 17, 2014. By Andrew Kelly for Reuters.]

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Mt. Gox investors seek creditor support to save bitcoin exchange Thu, 17 Apr 2014 22:55:57 +0000 Reuters (Reuters) – A group of investors, which is seeking to buy Mt. Gox, has launched a website to garner support from creditors of the bankrupt bitcoin exchange to prevent a liquidation of its assets.

“We need your help to stop a liquidation, which would be good neither for Mt. Gox creditors nor Bitcoin’s reputation with the general public and regulators,” the investors wrote on the website.

The Wall Street Journal had earlier reported that Mt. Gox had given up plans to rebuild under bankruptcy protection and had asked a Tokyo court to allow it to be liquidated.

The investor group, which offered to take over the assets of Mt. Gox and revive it, has received backing from many creditors and hopes to convince the court to reconsider their rehabilitation proposal, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. (

Mt. Gox, once the world’s biggest bitcoin exchange, has about 127,000 creditors.

The exchange filed for bankruptcy protection in Japan in February, saying it may have lost nearly half a billion dollars worth of the virtual coins due to hacking.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bangalore; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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SC Gov. Nikki Haley faces Facebook fracas over appointee’s alleged atheism Thu, 17 Apr 2014 22:44:59 +0000 Arturo Garcia The prospect of an atheist holding public office in South Carolina is apparently big enough of a concern to lead South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) into a public squabble online with a state lawmaker and political ally, Buzzfeed reported.

The dispute began on Wednesday, when Haley accused state Sen. Katrina Shealy (R) on Facebook of spreading the allegation that Lillian Koller, who heads the state Department of Social Services, is an atheist.

“I wish you and Sen. Shealy would stop spreading that lie,” Haley told a commenter on her Facebook page praising Koller’s recent testimony to a Senate committee. “She is Jewish and the daughter of Holocaust survivors.”

Shealy shot back, writing that she was disappointed in Haley. Shealy also described Haley’s comment to Buzzfeed as “immature and childish,” while adding that while she was told Koller was Jewish, she “can’t verify that one way or another.”

“The fact is I told her staff about a rumor I heard in confidence and they clarified in me that she was Jewish,” Shealy wrote on Haley’s page, before directly addressing Haley: “It is a shame that words spoken in confidence with your staff are repeated on your Facebook page.”

The State reported that Koller, who was appointed by Haley to lead the department in 2010, suffered a stroke in December and has been under medical orders to rest.

“She has answered all questions with full transparency,” Haley said of Koller’s testimony. “Amazing that senators are criticizing her for setting goals and accomplishing them. She has dramatically improved the agency since she took over in 2010 in spite of this political games by certain senators.”

However, Shealy rejected Haley’s reasoning in a post on her own Facebook page, saying Koller spent most of her 45 minutes before the committee discussing one particular case involving a child who was reportedly killed by his parents after they were granted custody.

“We then asked questions — nothing that she should not be able to answer,” Shealy wrote. “She was given the information in advance. Now we have been accused of picking on her and I have been accused of calling her an atheist.”

Haley has reportedly not issued a comment on her disagreement with Shealy.

The dispute between Shealy and Haley has surprised some, because the two have reportedly been allies since Haley supported Shealy’s successful 2012 campaign against Sen. Jake Knotts (R).

But while Shealy initially denied having a problem if Shealy were an atheist or not, she backtracked from that allegation in her post, writing, “I care about the children of SC and I don’t give a flying flip what the Director is… Well that is not true either, I would worry if she were atheist but I was told she wasn’t so why would they bring that back up?? Maybe they need to explain that to me?”

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U.S. releases $450 million in frozen Iran funds for complying with nuclear deal Thu, 17 Apr 2014 21:43:55 +0000 Agence France-Presse The United States has authorized the release of a $450 million installment in Iranian assets that were frozen as punishment for Tehran’s disputed nuclear program, the State Department said Thursday.

It came after a new report by the UN’s nuclear watchdog found that Iran was complying with the terms of a November interim deal with world powers calling for a partial freeze to its controversial nuclear drive.

“Based on this confirmation and consistent with commitments the United States made under the Joint Plan of Action, the department of Treasury took the necessary steps pursuant to the JPOA to facilitate the release of a $450 million installment of Iran’s frozen funds,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

Iran has cut its stock of highly enriched uranium by 75 percent, the new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) revealed.

Under the November agreement, Iran pledged to “dilute” half of its highly enriched uranium by mid-April, with the rest to be converted by mid-July.

The IAEA report also said that progress on a plant in Tehran that will be used for the conversion of low-enriched uranium had been delayed, but that Iran had said this will not prevent it from fulfilling its part of the deal by the July 20 deadline.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Russia agrees to surprise security deal in Ukrainian crisis Thu, 17 Apr 2014 21:39:37 +0000 Agence France-Presse Russia, Ukraine and the West reached a surprise deal Thursday to try to ease the Ukrainian crisis, in a glimmer of hope for the former Soviet republic that risks splitting in two.

The agreement laid out concrete steps to “restore security for all citizens” and crucially urged “all illegal armed groups” to disarm and vacate “seized buildings”.

While not spelt out explicitly, the groups likely referred to pro-Kremlin separatists who have taken over parts of Ukraine’s restive southeast.

The agreement marked a sharp change from the tone taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the day, when he left the door open for armed intervention in Ukraine.

A ban by Kiev on all Russian males aged 16 to 60 from entering Ukrainian territory had also ratcheted up the pressure, with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calling the measure “disgusting”.

Warning that Ukraine was plunging into the “abyss” just hours after three separatists were killed in a gunbattle with troops in eastern Ukraine, Putin stressed earlier Thursday he hoped not to have to use his “right” to send Russian troops into its western neighbour.

“I very much hope that I am not obliged to use this right and that through political and diplomatic means we can solve all the acute problems in Ukraine,” he said in his annual televised phone-in with the nation, in a thinly-veiled threat.

In a sign that the new, untested leaders in Kiev were losing control, a much-hyped military operation launched against separatists earlier this week failed spectactularly, with militants blocking troops sent to oust them and even seizing six of their armoured vehicles.

Washington and Kiev have accused Russia of supporting these insurgents, who have been behaving in very similar ways to militants who seized public buildings in the Crimean peninsula before it was annexed by Moscow last month.

But Moscow has categorically denied links to the gunmen and blamed Ukraine’s interim leaders — brought to power in February after the ouster of pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych — of bringing the country close to civil war.

- ‘Don’t think it’s over’ -

The upper house of parliament on March 1 authorised the Russian leader to send troops into Ukraine after Yanukovych’s ouster, and Moscow later went on to annex Ukraine’s Russian-speaking Crimean peninsula.

Russia has raised further concern by massing tens of thousands of troops at the border, but in an apparent bid to reassure his counterparts in Geneva, Lavrov said Russia had “no desire” to send troops into Ukraine.

“Ukraine has shown admirable, sometimes I think even remarkable restraint, in the face of considerable challenge,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters after hammering out the deal in Geneva with Lavrov, Ukraine’s Andriy Deshchytsya and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The four-parties’ agreement also called on protesters to be granted an amnesty if they vacated occupied buildings and surrendered weapons.

It also added that a dialogue that included all Ukrainians regions should be launched — apparently addressing Moscow’s concerns that the rights of Russian speakers be assured.

“I can see why they (Russians) did this as they felt that the sanctions were quite close to being imposed, so they had to take a step back,” Kiev-based political scientist Andreas Umland said.

“But I’m sceptical… I don’t think it’s all over.”

- ‘Not giving up’ on Crimea -

The United States and European Union have already imposed punitive sanctions on key Russian and Ukrainian political and business officials, including members of Putin’s inner circle.

And they were threatening wider-reaching, economic and financial sanctions if Thursday’s talks failed, potentially hitting Russia’s key energy sector.

Kerry warned Russia that if there was no progress on de-escalating the crisis in Ukraine, “there will be additional sanctions, additional costs”.

No timeline was given for the implementation of the agreement, but Ukraine’s foreign minister said it should begin “in the coming days”.

He added that the West is “not giving up” on Crimea, “but we did not come (to Geneva) to talk about” the peninsula.

The agreement also called on all sides to reject extremism in all shapes.

Kerry described as “grotesque” pamphlets which were sent to Jews in east Ukraine’s main city, ordering them to register.

“In the year 2014, after all of the miles travelled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable, it’s grotesque. It is beyond unacceptable,” he said.

The incident has been dismissed by the local chief rabbi as nothing more than “provocation”.

Separately, the European Union announced Thursday it had agreed to hold talks with Russia on its gas supplies to Europe through Ukraine, warning Moscow its reliability as an energy source was at stake.

The announcement came even as Putin ramped up pressure on Ukraine by setting a one-month deadline for Kiev to settle its debt for gas imports from Russia.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Retailer Michaels Stores confirms payment card data breach Thu, 17 Apr 2014 21:28:56 +0000 Reuters (Reuters) – Michaels Stores Inc, the biggest U.S. arts and crafts retailer, on Friday confirmed that there was a breach of certain systems that process payment cards at its U.S. stores and that of its unit, Aaron Brothers.

The company said in January that it was working with federal law enforcement officials to investigate a possible data breach.

While the affected systems contained certain payment card information, there was no evidence that those data were at risk, the company said in a statement on Friday.

Michaels said it was working with law enforcement authorities, banks and payment processors, and that the malware no longer presents a threat.

The company, which owns several private brands such as Recollections, Artist’s Loft and Loops & Threads, competes with Hooby Lobby Stores Inc, Jo-Ann Stores Inc and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

(Reporting By Lehar Maan in Bangalore; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

[Image: A Michaels arts and crafts store is seen in the Loma Portal area of San Diego, California Jan. 27, 2014. By Sam Hodgson for Reuters.]

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Illinois state trooper accused of publicly strip-searching man during traffic stop Thu, 17 Apr 2014 21:16:05 +0000 Arturo Garcia An Illinois state trooper was accused of aggravated battery for allegedly forcing a man to strip during a traffic stop and using a flashlight to “examine” him, KMOV-TV reported.

32-year-old Cory Alberson pleaded not guilty on Tuesday and was released from jail on a $20,000 bond. State police said he has been relieved of his duties with pay, pending an internal investigation and the case going to court.

The Belleville News-Democrat reported that the suit against Alberson stems from a January encounter with Anthony Campbell in East St. Louis, Illinois.

Alberson allegedly pulled Campbell’s pants down without his consent, then “visually examined with a flashlight the buttocks of Anthony Campbell while holding his pants down.”

Neither Alberson’s lawyer, John O’Gara, nor Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly told the News-Democrat whether the standard-issue camera in Alberson’s vehicle recorded the traffic stop.

“We will fight this matter in court,” O’Gara was quoted as saying.

Watch KMOV’s report, as aired on Thursday, below.

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