The Raw Story Celebrating 10 Years of Independent Journalism Mon, 01 Sep 2014 23:04:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Media coverage of Michael Brown shooting exposes underlying prejudice Mon, 01 Sep 2014 23:04:13 +0000 Roy Greenslade, The Guardian In the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson last month there has been some soul-searching among American journalists about media coverage. Was it racist? Was it fair? Did the police get a better press than the protestors?

The New York Times’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, admonished the paper after complaints from readers about its description of Brown in a front page profile as “no angel”.

She called the choice of words “a regrettable mistake” and “a blunder”. She also felt it necessary to point out that the writer of the article, John Eligon, is black and “attentive to many of the issues in the Ferguson case.”

He told her that his piece presented a “mostly positive picture” of Brown. And the Times’s national editor, Alison Mitchell, defended Eligon’s profile as “a sensitive, nuanced account.”

The other problem was that the article ran alongside a profile of the police officer, Darren Wilson, who fired the shot that killed Brown.

This piece was considered by some critics to be softer in tone than the one on Brown. Sullivan commented: “Its pairing with a profile of Mr Wilson seemed to inappropriately equate the two people.”

An article in the Columbia Journalism Review raises further questions about the Brown coverage by considering whether it revealed “broader issues of bias” in terms of the crimes chosen as being newsworthy.

It cites an analysis by Media Matters for America which found that the reporting of black crime suspects by four New York TV stations was disproportionate (see the graphic).

The CJR article cites two further studies - here and here - which show how African-American men are disproportionately portrayed as criminals.

A similar point was made by Nick Wing in a Huffington Post report: “Media treatment of black victims is often harsher than it is of whites suspected of crimes, including murder.”

There have also been studies that show how white people suffering from crimes get more coverage than black victims, known as “missing white girl syndrome.” The term was coined, says the CJR writer Alexis Sobel Fitts, “to reflect the deluge of coverage when a young, affluent, white female goes missing — and the dearth of coverage when children of colour disappear.”

Revelations of this phenomenon of underlying prejudice are hardly new. The American Journalism Review presented a study about the skewed coverage in 1995.

And the same situation has been explored many times over in a British context. A report by Cardiff university’s journalism school in 2011 showed how ethnicity played a large part in the level of crime coverage. People of colour were more likely to be portrayed as perpetrators than white people and less often as victims than white people.

Journalists, and editors, are often confronted by this fact but it has been happening for generations and no change is in sight. Its latest manifestation occurs in the unbalanced reporting of migrants. Their crimes are highlighted. Their victimhood is underplayed.

Surely we should realise how this plays out in the wider community by fomenting prejudice. Biased media coverage is just one reason why racism continues to divide societies here and in the US. © Guardian News and Media 2014

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Rick Perry deletes tweet calling district attorney the ‘most drunk Democrat in Texas’ Mon, 01 Sep 2014 22:53:58 +0000 Eric W. Dolan Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Sunday deleted an image posted by his official Twitter account that labeled Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg “the most drunk Democrat in Texas.”

The image, imitating Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” beer advertisements, stated: “I don’t always drive drunk at 3x the legal blood alcohol limit… …but when I do, I indict Gov. Perry for calling me out about it. I am the most drunk Democrat in Texas.”

The tweet was quickly deleted, but can still be viewed thanks to the Sunlight Foundation’s Politwhoops tool.

“A tweet just went out from my account that was unauthorized. I do not condone the tweet and I have taken it down,” Perry tweeted.

Lehmberg was arrested last year for driving with a blood-alcohol level three times over the legal limit.

Perry later vetoed $7.5 million in funding for the state public integrity unit in an attempt to force Lehmberg to resign. Last month, the governor was indicted by a grand jury in Travis County on two felony charges of abusing power.

The Houston Chronicle noted that the image mischaracterized Perry’s indictment.

“Lehmberg did not indict Perry. She and other officials in solidly Democratic Travis County recused themselves from the case against Perry. Bert Richardson, a Republican judge from Bexar County, appointed San Antonio lawyer Michael McCrum to serve as a special prosecutor. McCrum brought forth charges against Perry, and on Aug. 15, a Travis County grand jury handed up an indictment alleging Perry abused his official capacity and coerced a public servant,” the Chronicle’s Patrick Svitek explained.

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Drunk tuxedo-wearing Seattle man opens fire on couple who interrupted public oral sex Mon, 01 Sep 2014 22:15:08 +0000 Eric W. Dolan A Seattle man wearing a tuxedo was arrested last week and charged with felony assault for shooting at a couple who caused his oral sex session to come to a premature end, according to The Smoking Gun.

The victims told police they were walking down the street around 2 a.m. Tuesday morning while having a verbal argument. When they turned a corner, they saw 64-year-old Paul Hunter standing in an alcove receiving oral sex from a woman. After being noticed, the woman got up and left the scene.

The victims said Hunter “got angry and started walking away,” but he turned around and fired one shot at them. After firing off the round, he continued walking away.

No one was injured in the shooting.

The couple called 911, and police were able to find Hunter — who was described as “older, wearing a tuxedo and having white hair” — with the automatic handgun still tucked into his pants. The officers also noted Hunter appeared to be “highly intoxicated.”

A witness collaborated the victim’s claims, and he told police that Hunter “had given the woman money and was angry at not getting anything in return. He heard them continue to talk about stepping into the alcove to finish things.” The witness also found a shell casing from the gun, which he turned over to police.

[A man aims a handgun. Photo:, all rights reserved.]

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Texas congressman backs lifting oil export ban despite GOP peers’ misgivings Mon, 01 Sep 2014 21:34:29 +0000 Reuters By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A senior U.S. Congressman from Texas has come out in full support of the United States lifting the 40-year old ban on crude oil exports, putting him at odds with fellow House Republicans wary of weighing in on the controversial issue.

Rep. Joe Barton, who until now has maintained a relatively neutral public stance on a topic that has divided Republican members of the House energy and commerce committee, told Reuters in a statement that the time was right for the United States to overhaul its long-standing restrictions on exporting crude oil.

“The shale revolution has changed the energy landscape in our country. It is time to change our laws to match this new reality,” said Barton, who represents Texas’ sixth Congressional district just southwest of Dallas, several hundred miles from the burgeoning oil patches of the Eagle Ford and Permian.

“I’m in favor of overturning the ban on crude oil exports.”

Barton chairs the energy task force of the Republican Study Committee, which will continue to debate the ban and issue position papers.

It is the most definitive statement that the former chairman of the House energy committee has made outside of private meetings on the subject, said Sean Brown, Barton’s press secretary.

Barton is “happy to discuss the issue” with House colleagues and some in the business community who may disagree, Brown said.

The outspoken lawmaker, in office since 1985, joins other powerful politicians including Senate energy and natural resources committee chair Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and ranking member Lisa Murkowski from Alaska in backing definitive action on exports. They want to move beyond the incremental measures that are already allowing a growing trickle of shale oil to find new markets, such as South Korea and the Netherlands.

Although several research reports have found that exporting the glut of shale oil would ultimately lower U.S. and global fuel prices, rather than raise them, U.S. public opinion remains divided on the issue.

Meanwhile some environmentalists are beginning to rally against overseas sales because they fear it will encourage even more fracking.


Barton’s previous public comments on the issue were more careful.

“I can debate either side of that,” he said at an event in February.

Barton said there was a strong economic argument to lift the export ban, but such a decision might roil environmentalists, provoking another political fight in a divided Congress.

Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who succeeded Barton as the energy committee chair, has not yet taken a position on the ban.

“The committee is still studying the issue. We will continue to conduct analysis the remainder of the year and into next Congress,” committee spokeswoman Charlotte Baker said.

With mid-term elections looming, some lawmakers want to avoid discussing crude exports altogether as it may raise fears among voters that a policy change would drive up gasoline prices.

Some lawmakers in Texas and on the east coast are at odds with others because oil refiners in their districts have benefited from the crude oil ban and oppose a policy change.

In March, four U.S. oil refiners including Alon USA Energy and PBF Energy formed anti-export group Consumers and Refiners United for Domestic Energy, or CRUDE, a lobby with the goal of preventing a hasty reversal of the ban.

Barton’s statement is significant because some prominent Republicans have not taken a firm stance on the issue yet, said Kevin Book, an analyst with Clear View Energy Partners.

“The reason he probably hasn’t been more vocal is because the rank and file is terrified,” he said.

But Barton has little to lose by backing crude exports, according to Book, since his district is home mainly to oil producers.

(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; edited by Jonathan Leff and Jessica Resnick-Ault and Tomasz Janowski)

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Celebrities, nudity and other ways 4chan drives the Internet hype machine Mon, 01 Sep 2014 21:30:30 +0000 The Conversation The powerhouse of internet virality, 4chan, has achieved notoriety, and in a spectacular way. The release of hundreds of images claiming to show a pantheon of celebrities in various compromising, or at least awkward, positions has brought the many other social media channels alive with the sniff of salacious gossip.

Consequently, as mainstream media must so often do in the era of internet and citizen journalism, the newspapers are buzzing with a mixture of horror at the invasion of privacy and the hint of seeing something far more revealing from a famous person than plunging cleavage.

The complex circumstances that have come together to make this incident combine all the extremes of social media, mainstream reporting, get-rich-quick schemes, gullibility, celebrity obsession and net-trolling. The Mirror asked how 4chan could have obtained the images. The straightforward answer is that 4chan was given the images by a hacker. More uncertain is how the hacker could obtain the images.

As worrying as the scale of this hack may sound, many of the stars involved claimed the images were fake. But to add confusion there are also claims that the PR people for Jennifer Lawrence have acknowledged the images as being of her and Mary Winstead recognised through Twitter that the photos tagged with her name were her own deleted images.

But what can really be believed in all of this turmoil is difficult to determine. With such a media storm being generated there are opportunities for many to benefit. For the hacker there is a chance to sell some of the even more risqué material to media outlets by taking advantage of the pseudo-anonymity of bitcoin exchanges.

For traditional media reporting organisations there is the exciting hint of obtaining an exclusive. In the days of internet gossip for a traditional media to obtain an exclusive is almost equivalent to finding a golden egg. And gaining an exclusive could fall either way for these organisations too: identifying the hacker or how they managed the hack would nearly be as good as obtaining a new image or video.

Any regular followers of 4chan will not be surprised by the attention the site is currently receiving. It hosted the inception of ideas including Lolcats, Rickrolling, Rage Comics and the Anonymous hackers group. So many of the ideas that first emerged on 4chan have become part of what we all expect and “do” online. But equally the site has been accused of encouraging online harassment and cyber-bullying.

Being “cutting edge” without being offensive or abusive is a difficult balance. This is particularly acute for 4chan when it is neither a patrolled or commercial space. There are no advertisers to please or risk offending and the site avoids the greater levels of identity-checking that we all have come to expect from using more conventional social media sites.

Unsurprisingly, this means that 4chan is among the first choices for posting the controversial, the new or simply the quirky and ultimately this material could come from anyone. Many other more commercialised social media sites rely on this impetus of creativity, originality and controversy that their own ecosystems cannot provide and do not encourage.

In 2010 TheNextWeb identified the five keys lessons to learn from 4chan: “use original content”, “know your audience”, “acknowledge your source”, “don’t copycat” and “make them laugh”. The headline “Hundreds of unseen nude pictures of celebrities from an anonymous hacker”, works on at least four of these criteria.

The role played by 4chan on social media is important. For many the site will be unknown. For those who seek it out in the wake of this turmoil the experience will feel as if they are stepping back ten years. For the vast majority there is no need to do anything – 4chan will come to them through shared images and links on other more familiar sites.

In its current form, 4chan cannot be easily stopped. The quickest method to stymie this stream of humour, abuse, creativity and bullying would be to buy the site from its creator, Christopher Poole. He declined to sell in 2005 and rumours of a sale to Google in 2012 went nowhere.

If 4chan were to shift away from its current cutting-edge role it is certain that a similar site would rise to fill this niche. Without 4chan the internet would be a much duller place. While it is impossible to condone the “dark” activities generated through 4chan, without even knowing it we will all need 4chan for as long it provides us with the shareable content that allows us to be social online.

By Gordon Fletcher, University of Salford

The Conversation

Gordon Fletcher previously received funding from InnovateUK.

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

Jennifer Lawrence attends the photocall for ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ at The 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival at Majestic Hotel on May 18, 2013 in Cannes, France. (cinemafestival /

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Amid foreign crises, Obama takes solace in US economic turnaround Mon, 01 Sep 2014 21:25:04 +0000 Reuters By Steve Holland

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – Throughout much of his presidency, Barack Obama has been under siege about the state of the U.S. economy.

But with economic growth now far more robust than when he took office, he is finding some measure of solace on the domestic front while a number of crises rage abroad.

With his handling of foreign policy under fire in confronting challenges from Ukraine to the Middle East, Obama made a Labor Day trek to Milwaukee’s annual Laborfest event to underscore how he feels his leadership on the economy has paid off.

“I just want everybody to understand because you wouldn’t always know it from watching the news,” he said. “By almost every measure, the American economy and American workers are better off than when I took office.”

The national unemployment rate was 6.2 percent in August, down more than a percentage point from the year before, and a far cry from when he took office in 2009 with the economy in crisis. After a 2.1 percent contraction in GDP in the first quarter of this year, GDP rebounded at a 4.2 percent growth clip in the second quarter.

Still, the job market for many is unsatisfactory and some have given up looking for jobs. Also many of the proposals Obama has made to create more jobs, such as persuading Congress to accept an increase in the minimum wage and boost infrastructure spending, have gone nowhere, forcing him to act where he can with executive orders.

Obama took credit, however, for the improving economic picture by harking back to decisions he made early in his first term, when he led an effort to bail out the U.S. auto industry. He also said his signature healthcare law has made life better for American workers:

“America is stronger because of decisions we made to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation asking the simple question: is this good for ordinary Americans?”

With little more than two months to go until November mid-term elections, the president was greeted at the airport by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a potential Republican candidate to succeed Obama in 2016. But Mary Burke, the Democratic challenger to Walker in Wisconsin’s governor’s race, steered clear of the Laborfest event, saying it was an official event, not a political one.

Obama made no specific reference to the state’s governor’s race, but he continued a pattern of criticizing Republicans at official events, blasting them for refusing to go along with his agenda in Congress and telling members of the audience who booed: “Don’t boo. Vote!”

Foreign policy challenges will retake center stage this week when Obama travels to Estonia and to a NATO summit in Wales.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, editing by G Crosse)

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Mountain forest changes threaten California water supplies Mon, 01 Sep 2014 21:20:58 +0000 Climate Central Originally published at Climate Central

Hike high enough up California’s Sierra Nevada and the forest morphs around you. At around 6,000 feet, the dazzling diversity of the lower montane forest, replete with California black oak, ponderosa pine, and incense cedars gives way to more monotonous landscapes of red fir and lodgepole pine. Hike further still and trees eventually disappear altogether, replaced with rocky topographies reminiscent of Mars.

The forestry changes underway threaten to slash the amount of water that flows down the mountain’s western rivers by a quarter by the end of this century.
Credit: Steve Dunleavy/flickr

As the globe warms, these landscape transformations areoccurring at higher altitudes. Temperature gradients over the sierra are shifting uphill, and they appear to be dragging lush, diverse, thirsty forests with them — up into lands where temperatures had previously been too cold for them to survive.

These landscape changes in the warming Sierra Nevada could have major repercussions for California’s economy. The thirstiness of the dense forests that flourish in the mountain’s middle reaches, an expanding sweet spot where water is more ample than in the lower ranges, and where temperatures are more amenable to plant life than in the higher stretches, makes them bona fide water hogs.

The forestry changes underway threaten to slash the amount of water that flows down the mountain’s western rivers by a quarter by the end of this century.

That’s according to findings published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research, by two University of California scientists, is the first to examine the hazards posed by this leafy uphill march for those other thirsty residents of California — the families, factories, and farms that rely on rivers draining west from the Sierra Nevada for more than 60 percent of their water needs.

“It’s a study that goes in there and says, ‘Could this be a big effect?’” said Michael Goulden, an associate professor at the University of California at Irvine, one of the paper’s coauthors. “Yeah, this could definitely be a big effect.”

The study only took measurements from one water basin in the Sierra Nevada, but the findings could have implications for water runoff at other mountains around the world as the climate continues to change.

Goulden and University of California at Merced professor Roger Bales use devices that measured evapotranspiration — that is, the amount of water sucked up by roots and breathed out by leaves — at four different altitudes in a sierra basin that nourishes Kings River.

“The first thing we saw was that evapotranspiration was highest at mid-elevation, and it was considerably lower at the highest site that we looked at,” Goulden said. Then they subtracted evapotranspiration rates from snowfall and rainfall figures. “That tells you what’s left over for streamflow.”

They concluded that most of the mountain’s runoff is being produced in areas above 7,000 feet. They warn that area could be encroached upon by thirstier forests as the mountain warms.

The research is the first to examine the hazards posed by this leafy uphill march for those other thirsty residents of California.
Credit: George Mejmantowicz/flickr


They extrapolated their findings to other parts of the basin using satellite images, which helped them compare forest cover. They looked at climate projections published in the recentIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, attempting to forecast how temperature rise will influence where different types of forests will grow. Then they combined those findings to conclude that westerly river flows originating in the Sierra Nevada could be reduced by 26 percent by 2100 — just because of the effects of vegetation changes.

The study comes with a laundry list of limitations. It didn’t closely examine the effects of expected precipitation changes or carbon dioxide levels on forest cover. And it makes a lot of assumptions about how forests will change as the climate changes — because detailed models simply are not available.

But it nonetheless makes inroads into understanding an influential phenomenon that has long been overlooked.

“Widely cited studies that simulate the effects of climate change on freshwater supply do not incorporate changes in vegetation,” said Wouter Berghuijs, a University of Bristol researcher who was not involved with the study. “This mechanism is conceptually not new, and it makes physical sense. But the authors very clearly, and to my knowledge for the first time, highlight that this can have a significant effect on the mean water supply.”

The new study is the latest bad news for water managers in California, and elsewhere, who are already bracing for a dryer future. Less rain and snow is forecast to fall on the Sierra Nevada as the climate changes, meaning the conditions that have caused California’s current drought are expected to arrive more frequently. And more precipitation is expected to fall as rain instead of snow, stealing away the snowpacks that act as natural reservoirs, slowly releasing moisture into human-made water reservoirs during hot and dry summer months.

And earlier this year, a study led by Berghuijs was published in Nature Climate Change showing that U.S. river flows fed by snow harbor more water than those fed by equivalent amounts of rain. The cause of these counterintuitive results is not known, but Berghuijs speculates it could be caused in part by rainwater leaching into soil, while snow often sits atop frozen ground.

Conducting more studies that improve our understanding of how climate change will reshape river flows in places like the Sierra Nevada could help governments adapt to the changes. In California, for example, that might mean chopping down more mountain trees.

“We need a sizeable investment in better information,” said Bales, who presented the results of his new paper to Californian water officials last month. “We’re operating by the seat of our pants.”

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‘Poor judgment’: Florida cops caught misusing emergency lights for breakfast trip Mon, 01 Sep 2014 21:04:09 +0000 Eric W. Dolan A local media outlet in Florida says it caught at least five police cars from three different agencies using their emergency lights to get to a bakery for a breakfast snack.

“It was poor judgment on their behalf,” Miami-Dade police Maj. Nancy Perez told Local 10 News. “They understand and their supervisors will be taking action.”

Two Miccosukee police officers, two Miami-Dade police offices and one Miami police officer were involved in the incident.

One of the officers reportedly blocked oncoming traffic at an intersection so that all of the police cars could drive together, with their emergency lights on.

The five officers ended up at Karlo Bakery in Miami. But Local 10 News discovered there was no emergency at the location. The officers were having breakfast.

Parts of the breakfast trip were captured on video by a cell phone.

Perez told Local 10 News that the officers were headed to a training event, and that the bakery was nearby.

“It still doesn’t excuse putting the lights on,” Perez added.

Watch video, courtesy of Local 10 News, below.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

[Police lights via Shutterstock]

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Virginia college student sorry for ‘trying to make a point’ with racist ‘Whites Only’ signs Mon, 01 Sep 2014 20:38:15 +0000 Eric W. Dolan A student at Sweet Briar College in Virginia who confessed to putting up racist segregation signs says her intention was to show that “the past is a part of us.”

School officials said last week that labels with the words “White Only” and “Colored” where placed on doors and a water cooler in a dorm, The News Advance reported.

“For someone who grew up in the deeply segregated South, those words recall to me a world of racial discrimination, disregard for human dignity, and institutionalized prejudice,” SBC interim President James Jones Jr. remarked at the time.

Jones said in an update on Saturday that a student claiming responsibility for the bigoted labels sent him an anonymous email, in which she apologized. The student claimed the incident was a misguided attempt to expose people to America’s troubled history of racism.

“While posting these extremely hurtful labels, I had one thing in mind,” the email stated. “My mission was to show others that words can still have an extreme impact, and the past still resonates with us all. While moving forward, we can never really shake the past. The past is a part of us and we are a part of the past. While they did not necessarily know this before, we are all equal and nobody deserves to be treated unfairly. I was trying to make a point, but the point ended up “making me”…now everyone has ideas on what type of person that I am. I am none of these things….I am myself, I am caring and kind. I am the last person who would ever intentionally hurt someone else, but most of all, I am sorry!”

Jones encouraged the student to report herself to a member of the College’s administration, and said an investigation would continue.

“When one has been in presidential harness as long as I (this starts my nineteenth year at three very different liberal arts colleges), one knows that these sorts of acts, whereas perhaps well intentioned, have occurred at other colleges and universities, but in each case, these sorts of acts cause unforeseen consequences to come to the fore in a moment’s time. What has occurred on our College campus since Thursday morning points directly to the fact that sometimes our actions and words, no matter how well intentioned, backfire unexpectedly and inflict pain, hurt, and suffering upon others around us.”

[Adorable five year old African American Girl drinking from water fountain via]

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Oklahoma cop accused of raping black women finds supporters on social media Mon, 01 Sep 2014 20:17:13 +0000 Eric W. Dolan Supporters of an Oklahoma City police officer who was charged with raping or sexually abusing eight black women have raised more than $7,000 for the 27-year-old cop.

Daniel Holtzclaw was arrested in August on charges of rape, forcible oral sodomy, sexual battery, and indecent exposure for allegedly sexually assaulting women while on patrol. He is being held on $5 million bond.

Friends and family of the three-year veteran of the Oklahoma City Police Department have created a Facebook page called “Justice for Daniel Holtzclaw.” They insist the criminal allegations against him are false, and have been using the page to try to sell shirts that read, “Free the Claw” and “#JusticeForDanielHoltzclaw.”

More than 500 people have “liked” the Facebook page.

Supporters of Holtzclaw have also launched a crowdfunding campaign on the website GoFundMe. The page was created by Holtzclaw’s sister, who hopes to raise $100,000 for her brother, according to The crowdfunding campaign has raised $7,390 so far.

“The pursuit of Justice will be lengthy, but with the support of Family, Friends, and the Community, Daniel Holtzclaw will be vindicated and justice will prevail,” the page states. “All funds raised will assist Daniel and his Family as they seek the JUSTICE Daniel Holtzclaw so rightly deserves.”

Prosecutors claim that Holtzclaw stopped women, who were all black and between the ages of 34 and 58, while on patrol and threatened to arrest them or physically harm them unless they exposed themselves, allowed him to fondle them, or had sex with him.

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British ‘jihadist’ mom and former rock band member threatens to behead Christians: reports Mon, 01 Sep 2014 19:49:26 +0000 Agence France-Presse A middle-aged British mother-of-two and former rock band member has joined jihadists in Syria and wants to behead Christians with a “blunt knife”, British media reported.

The reports identified the woman as Sally Jones, 45, from Kent in southeast England, and said she now goes by the name Sakinah Hussain, or Umm Hussain al-Britani.

Security experts estimate that hundreds of Britons have gone to the Middle East to join the Islamic State (IS) militant group, the most brutal to emerge out of Syria’s bloody civil war and the most successful.

The well-funded group controls large swathes of Syria and Iraq and has proved adept at using social media to boost its profile, attract recruits and terrify enemies with images of mass executions and battlefield victories.

Last week another female British jihadist reportedly in Syria, known as Khadijah Dare, purportedly tweeted that she wanted to be the first woman to kill a British or US “terrorist”.

The Daily Mail and the Sunday Times alleged that Jones, a convert to Islam, travelled to Syria after an online romance with convicted 20-year-old computer hacker Junaid Hussain, and is now based in the IS stronghold of Raqa.

The Sunday Times said she had tweeted last week saying: “You Christians all need beheading with a nice blunt knife and stuck on the railing at raqqa… Come here I’ll do it for you!”

Jones’ Twitter account was still active on Monday, but could not be independently verified and the post quoted by the newspaper was not on her timeline.

The alleged threat is likely to be taken seriously by British security agencies after an IS video posted online last month showed a man with a British accent appearing to behead US freelance journalist James Foley.

The brazen execution heaped pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to toughen anti-jihadist security measures, and Britain has since raised its terror alert level to “severe”, citing the threat from returning jihadists.

Jones’ twitter account banner page features a photo of man who appears to be Junaid Hussain, and another tweet says she and her “husband” — presumably Junaid — had been stuck in Syria’s northwestern city of Idlib for seven months before joining the “khilafa”.

The “khilafa” is the Arabic word for caliphate, a sovereign, religiously led state IS have declared in lands they control.

Cameron is expected to outline tougher measures against jihadist suspects later on Monday.

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US urges Israel to reverse plan to seize Palestinian land in the West Bank Mon, 01 Sep 2014 19:46:33 +0000 Agence France-Presse The United States urged Israel on Monday to reverse its latest plan to seize Palestinian land in the Bethlehem area of the occupied West Bank.

“This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve, and construction tender they issue, is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians,” a State Department official said.

“We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision.”

The plan, announced Sunday, foresees the expropriation of of 988 acres (400 hectares) of Palestinian land by the Israel government.

According to the Israeli military, the move was a political decision made after the June killing of three Israeli teenagers snatched in the same area, known to Israelis as the Gush Etzion settlement bloc.

Israel has named three Palestinians from the southern West Bank city of Hebron as being behind the murders.

The plan has angered the Palestinians and alarmed Israeli peace campaigners.

The move has also been slammed by Egypt, which last week mediated a permanent truce between Israel and the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip to end a 50-day war — the deadliest in years.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of settlement expansion on land the Palestinians claim for a future state is deemed illegal by the European Union and an “obstacle to peace” by the United States.

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Iraqi forces push back Islamic State militants after breaking weeks-long siege Mon, 01 Sep 2014 19:44:45 +0000 Agence France-Presse Iraqi troops, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militiamen backed by US air strikes pressed a fightback against jihadist-led militants Monday, buoyed by breaking a weeks-long siege of a Shiite town.

The military gains came as a senior UN rights official said the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group has carried out “acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale” in Iraq, and caretaker premier Nuri al-Maliki vowed the country would be the group’s “graveyard”.

The breakthrough at Amerli on Sunday was the biggest offensive success for the Iraqi government since IS-led militants overran much of the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad in June.

The United States carried out limited air strikes in the area during the operation, the first time it has expanded its more than three-week air campaign against IS beyond north Iraq.

Iraqi forces kept up the momentum on Monday, with Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen retaking Sulaiman Bek, a town north of Amerli that had been an important militant stronghold.

“Within a few hours, we were able to clear the town completely,” the commander of the Shiite Badr militia, Transport Minister Hadi al-Ameri, told AFP in Sulaiman Bek.

Fighters celebrated in the abandoned town, firing in the air, chanting anti-IS slogans and showing off a captured black flag of the group.

Security forces and Shiite militiamen later retook the nearby town of Yankaja from the militants, officials said.

- ‘Graveyard’ for jihadists -

Before the operation, the mainly Shiite Turkmen residents of Amerli were endangered both because of their faith, which jihadists consider heresy, and their resistance to the militants who had besieged the town for 11 weeks.

UN Iraq envoy Nickolay Mladenov had warned that they faced a “massacre” by the militants.

Maliki visited Amerli, 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of Baghdad, on Monday, vowing that “Iraq will be a graveyard” for IS.

A convoy of militia fighters arrived in the town to a rapturous welcome of ululations and celebratory gunfire.

But scuffles also broke out among hungry residents when the fighters began to distribute food and water.

The operation to break the siege of Amerli was launched on Saturday.

The government’s reliance on Shiite militiamen in this and other operations risks entrenching groups which themselves have a history of brutal sectarian killings.

The United States said it had launched four air strikes in the Amerli area.

In doing so, it effectively supported operations involving militia forces which previously fought against US troops in Iraq.

David Petraeus, a former commander-in-chief of US-led forces in Iraq, has warned against America becoming an “air force for Shiite militias”.

Meanwhile, more pledges were made to provide arms to Iraq’s Kurds, who are battling jihadists in the north and east.

Backed by US air strikes, Kurdish troops have succeeded in clawing back some areas that fell to the jihadists last month.

The air campaign continued on Monday, with American warplanes carrying out strikes against IS targets in the area of Mosul dam in northern Iraq.

Germany’s defence ministry has announced that it will send anti-tank rocket launchers, rifles and hand grenades to support Kurdish forces.

On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel made an impassioned 25-minute speech in support of arming the Kurds, saying: “We have the opportunity to save lives and stop the further spread of mass murder in Iraq.”

- At least 1,420 killed -

She also said an estimated 400 German nationals had travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside jihadists, and that “we must fear these fighters could return one day”.

Various Western countries have expressed such fears, and British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday announced tougher measures against suspected returning jihadists.

These would include banning suspects who are British from returning to the UK, while police will get enhanced powers to temporarily strip departing suspects of passports at the border.

The United Nations mission to Iraq said on Monday that at least 1,420 people were killed in Iraq violence in August and 1,370 were wounded.

It said these figures did not include Anbar province, west of Baghdad, acknowledging difficulties in verifying information from conflict zones and areas outside government control.

IS and its allies control a large swathe of northeastern Syria as well as territory in Iraq, and its rule has been marked by atrocities that have shocked the world.

“The reports we have received reveal acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale,” deputy UN rights chief Flavia Pansieri said Monday.

Washington has said operations in Syria will be needed to defeat IS, but has so far ruled out any cooperation with the Damascus regime against the jihadists.

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Texas pastor demands public library ‘purge’ vampire books: I think it’s dangerous for kids Mon, 01 Sep 2014 19:35:09 +0000 Eric W. Dolan A Texas pastor is leading a campaign to have books about vampires pulled from Cleveland’s public library.

Phillip Missick and other religious leaders have called on the Austin Memorial Library to remove books about vampires, demons and other magical beings from the teen section.

“This is dark. There’s a sexual element. You have creatures that aren’t human. I think it’s dangerous for our kids,” Missick, a pastor at King of Saints Tabernacle of Cleveland, told KTRK.

Missick is circulating a petition that requests that the “occultic and demonic room be shut down, and these books be purged from the shelves, and that public funds would no longer be used to purchase such material, or at least require parents to check them out for their children,” according to the Cleveland Advocate.

He claims there are 75 books in the library that deal with the occult, including the Twilight series.

Rev. James Holt of Cornerstone Church signed the petition, but told the Cleveland Advocate he doesn’t want to see the books completely purged from the library. He said parents were responsible for censoring what their children read.

“The word ‘censorship’ is not an ugly word. If you don’t censor what your children see, hear and read, then guess what, your child is going to be spending a lot of time with Pastor Holt later on in life dealing with twisted-up and torn-up lives,” Holt said. “If you allow your children to digest all of the negativity in the world, then don’t stand there with your hands on your hips wondering where things went wrong. The word ‘no’ is not a bad thing. The word ‘no’ can come from a place of love. It’s our job to protect them, even when it comes to literature and art.”

In a letter to Missick, head librarian Mary Merrell Cohn explained that the City Council had adopted an ordinance called the Library Bill of Rights. The measure prohibits the library from removing books or other content “because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

“I understand they have the right to these books, but I also have a right to complain about them,” Missick told KTRK.

Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said in a blog post that Missick was engaging in a tactic the religious right movement has tried for decades. He noted religious leaders had tried to censor books like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and, more recently, the Harry Potter series.

“Every time, it’s the same tired argument: Young people need to be ‘protected’ from themes such as ‘the occult,’ human sexuality, modern science and so on. I think it’s pretty obvious what the Religious Right is up to here: They want to ‘protect’ children from critical thinking, self-reflection and the type of curiosity about our world that an immersion into literature can give us,” Boston wrote.

Watch video, courtesy of KTRK, below.

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District suspends ‘dangerous’ teacher for writing scifi novel about school shooting in 2902 Mon, 01 Sep 2014 19:03:31 +0000 Scott Kaufman A 23-year-old middle school teacher in Cambridge, Maryland was placed on administrative leave and “taken in for an emergency medical evaluation” after the Dorchester County Board of Education and Sheriff’s Office discovered he had written a novel about a school shooting — that is set 900 years in the future.

WBOC reports that English and Language Arts teacher Patrick McLaw wrote a novel called The Insurrectionist under the pseudonym “Dr. K.S. Voltaer.” According to its official description, novel begins “on 18 March 2902, [the day] a massacre transpired on the campus of Ocean Park High School, claiming the lives of nine hundred forty-seven individuals — the largest school massacre in the nation’s history.”

Dorchester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Henry Wagner said that “we have advised our community that the gentleman has been placed on administrative leave, and has been prohibited from entering any Dorchester County public school property.” He added that “there will be a Cambridge Police Department presence at Mace’s Lane middle school for as long as we deem it necessary.”

Dorchester Sheriff James Phillips told WBOC that “I think that the various police agencies that we have, working in conjunction with the board have a handle on the situation and I think we’re going to have a safe and happy opening day of school tomorrow.” He noted that a photograph and description of McLaw were distributed to all local area schools, as well as those in neighboring counties.

Sheriff Phillips assured parents that his department was taking the threat posed by McLaw’s science fiction novel very seriously. “A K-9 sweep was conducted at the Mace’s Lane School looking for explosive devices and other weapons. A secondary search was performed by police and school officials looking for suspicious packages or other items. Both of these searches were negative,” he said.

“The residence of the teacher in Wicomico County was searched by personnel,” he continued. “A further check of Maryland State Police databases also proved to be negative as to any weapons registered to him. McLaw was suspended by the Dorchester County Board of Education pending an investigation and is no longer in the area. He is currently at a location known to law enforcement and does not currently have the ability to travel anywhere.”

["Men wear as a robot for the presentation Almost Human an upcoming American science fiction/crime drama on FOX Network on october 28 2013 in New York USA" on Shutterstock]

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Colorado mom impaled through buttocks in texting-and-driving crash: ‘I’m a miracle’ Mon, 01 Sep 2014 18:17:02 +0000 David Ferguson A Colorado mom was impaled through the buttocks by a metal pole from a guardrail after she crashed her vehicle while sending a text message.

The New York Daily News reported that Christina Jahnz had just dropped her daughter off at school in Elizabeth, Colorado on Wednesday morning when she realized she was running late.

Jahnz said she “did a voice text,” then looked down for “a split second” to verify it, but that instant was enough for her to plow her truck into a guardrail.

A pole from the guardrail reportedly pierced straight through the body of the car and into Jahnz’s upper thighs and buttocks, leaving her helplessly impaled.

“The next thing I knew, I was looking up, and there was white powder from the air bags deployed,” she told Channel 9 News.

Paramedics sawed through the rail to free Jahnz and rushed her to Parker Adventist Hospital.

“I went into surgery and I lost count of the stitches after 40. They stitched me up inside too. I’m truly a miracle. They said if it [had] gone just a little bit the other way I would have bled out,” said Jahnz.

Jahnz said that she hopes her story will serve as a warning to others not to text and drive.

“It’s devastating knowing that I could have prevented it to begin with. I just hope my story helps to save the lives of others. Don’t text and drive,” she said.

Watch video about this story, embedded below:

[image of Christina Jahnz via screecap]

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Researchers discover first evidence of Neanderthal artwork — a ‘rococo Twitter hashtag’ Mon, 01 Sep 2014 18:01:39 +0000 Reuters Belying their reputation as the dumb cousins of early modern humans, Neanderthals created cave art, an activity regarded as a major cognitive step in the evolution of humankind, scientists reported on Monday in a paper describing the first discovery of artwork by this extinct species.

The discovery is “a major contribution to the redefinition of our perception of Neanderthal culture,” said prehistorian William Rendu of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, who was not involved in the work. “It is a new and even stronger evidence of the Neanderthal capacity for developing complex symbolic thought” and “abstract expression,” abilities long believed exclusive to early modern humans.

In recent years researchers have discovered that Neanderthals buried their dead, adorned themselves with black and red pigments, wore shell and feather jewelry and cared for the elderly and infirm, all evidence of complex thought. But no unambiguously Neanderthal art was ever found.

The new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could change that.

Researchers from 11 European institutions reported that deep in Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, they found carvings that resemble nothing so much as a rococo Twitter hashtag: eight partially crisscrossing lines with three shorter lines on the right and two on the left, incised on a shelf of bedrock jutting out from the wall about 16 inches (40 cm) above the cave floor.

The engraving is covered by undisturbed sediment that contains 294 previously discovered stone tools. They are in a style long known as the signature of Neanderthals, who had reached Europe from Africa some 300,000 years ago.

Standard techniques had dated the tools at 39,000 years old, about when Neanderthals went extinct, meaning the art below it must be older.

Modern humans, who painted the famous caves at Lascaux in France and Altimira in Spain, by then had not reached the region where Gorham’s Cave is located.

The researchers ruled out the possibility that the engravings were accidental or from cutting meat or animal skins. Instead, they were made by repeatedly and intentionally using a sharp stone tool to etch the rock, reflecting persistence and determination: one line required at least 54 strokes and the entire pattern as many as 317.

“This engraving represents a deliberate design conceived to be seen by its Neanderthal maker and, considering its size and location, by others in the cave as well,” anthropologist Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, and his colleagues wrote. “It follows that the ability for abstract thought was not exclusive” to modern humans.

Another hint that Neanderthals created art came in 2012, when archaeologists dated simple wall paintings (mostly red dots and hand stencils) in Spain’s El Castillo Cave to 41,000 years old. That made them the world’s oldest prehistoric art and old enough for it to have been made by Neanderthals. But because no artifacts were found, it was not possible to definitively rule out modern humans as the artists.

(Reporting by Sharon Begley; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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Ancient Stonehenge mystery solved thanks to particularly dry summer: archeologists Mon, 01 Sep 2014 17:43:17 +0000 Steven Morris, The Guardian One of the many mysteries of Stonehenge may have been solved, not because of a brilliant scientific breakthrough or thanks to painstaking research, but after a maintenance team’s hosepipe turned out to be a little short.

Archeologists have long argued over whether the ancient monument was once a perfect circle or if it was always, as it is now, an incomplete ring.

When a hosepipe used to keep the grass green in hot spells failed to reach a broken part of the circle, unsightly brown patches began to appear. Custodian Tim Daw was fretting over the blemishes when he realised they matched the spots where stones would probably have stood if the monument was a complete circle.

Daw, said it was a “lightbulb moment”. “I was standing on the public path looking at the grass near the stones and thinking that we needed to find a longer hosepipe to get the parched patches to green up,” he said.

“I remembered that the marks were where archaeologists had looked without success for signs that there had been stone holes. I called my colleague over and he saw them and realised their possible significance as well. Not being archaeologists we called in the professionals to evaluate them.

“I am still amazed and very pleased that simply really looking at something, that tens of thousands of people had unwittingly seen, can reveal secrets that sophisticated machinery can’t.”

The professionals duly took charge. Aerial photographs were hurriedly commissioned (before the rain could come and remove the brown patches) and the scorch marks on the western side of the Wiltshire site were carefully mapped.

Some of the brown patches indeed tallied with where stones would have stood if the circle was a complete one.

Other brown patches corresponded to recorded archaeological excavations, included trenches dug by the engineer William Gowland in 1901. That some of the patches matched the site of the trenches supports the theory they indicate disturbed ground rather than simply appeared by chance.

The patches were spotted last summer but the conclusions have just been detailed in a report by Daw and other English Heritage staff published in the latest edition of the journal Antiquity. The report points out that despite being one of the most intensively explored prehistoric monuments, Stonehenge continues to hold surprises. It also highlights the value of continually surveying the site from the ground and air.

Susan Greaney, senior properties historian for English Heritage, said the accidental discovery was “really significant” and added: “It shows us just how much we still have to learn about Stonehenge. It’s great that people who know the site really well and look at it every day were able to spot these parch marks and recognise them for what they were.”

Greaney said what may have happened to the missing stones remains another puzzle. They could have been removed and used as stone for local houses or even roads. But the lack of a decent-sized hosepipe means that the idea that the circle was deliberately left incomplete can probably be discounted.

There are no plans to excavate beneath the brown marks but English Heritage, which manages Stonehenge, may deliberately fail to water parts of the site next time there is a hot spell in case other mysteries can be solved by observing what happens if the hoses are left off.

["Beautiful view of Stonehenge site" on Shutterstock]

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Eleven movies to watch on Labor Day that are actually about labor Mon, 01 Sep 2014 17:37:29 +0000 Katie Halper Happy Labor Day! If you have the day off, and want to show some appreciation for the people who got it for you, then find your closest striking workers and walk the picket line with them. But if you’re feeling a little less ambitious but don’t want to be a total ingrate, you can watch a movie. Not Labor Day, with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. And not just a film that takes place on Labor Day, like A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy, as good and old-fashioned as the film is. Check out one of these!

1. Matewan (1987). Directed by Jon Sayles, with Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell, and . Cinematography by  Haskell Wexler. The film is fictional but based on the true story of the 1920 coal miners’ strike in Matewan, a small town in the hills of West Virginia, against the Stone Mountain Coal Company. Chris Cooper plays Joe Kenehan, an organizer for the United Mine Workers and former Wobbly who must organize the miners and fight against the company’s attempt to pit Black and white workers against each other.

2. Bread and Roses (2000). Directed by Ken Loach, with  ,  and… George Lopez. I know. George Lopez doesn’t scream social justice indy film, but Bread and Roses is one of the few movies to explore union organizing is a contemporary, rather than historical context. The film doesn’t overly romanticize the labor movement either, and shows the complicated racial and cultural dynamics often at play.

3. The Organizer (1963). Directed by , with . The film is about exploited textile workers in Turin, Italy at the end of the 19th century. Professor Sinigaglia, played by , is helps organize a strike and transitions from intellectual to organizer. The film was nominated by the Academy Awards for best screenplay.

4. Harlan County (1976). Directed by .  This amazing verite documentary captures the 1973 strike in Harlan County, Kentucky. After miners join the United Mine Workers of America, the Eastover Mining Company refuses to sign their contract. The film justifiably won an Academy Award for best documentary.

5. Salt  of the Earth (1954). Directed by  with  and . When life gives you lemons, make lemonade  a Blacklist, make a production company. That’s what blacklisted director Herbert Biberman, producer Adrian Scott, theater owner Simon Lazarus, and blacklisted screenwriter Paul Jarrico did, when they founded the Independent Productions Corporation. This film focuses on the mining strike in Grant County, New Mexico. The strikers, who were predominantly Mexican Americans,  demanded that the Empire Zinc Corporation give them the same benefits and wages it gave white miners. According to the filmmakers, this was  the “first feature film ever made in [the US] of labour, by labour, and for labour” and “a film that does not tolerate minorities but celebrates their greatness.” Actor Rosaura Revueltas was deported before filming ended and the last shots of her had to be filmed in Mexico and smuggled into the U.S. 

6. Modern Times (1936). Directed by , with . Chaplin’s iconic tramp character appears for the last time in this classic comedy famous for its hilarious assembly line scene.

7. Nine to Five (1980). Directed by , with , and . Three women exact revenge on their sexist, exploitative boss, in this hilarious comedy. So, conservatives, if you don’t like union,s meet the alternative!

8. Roger & Me (1989). Directed by and starring (duh)  . In this often hilarious documentary, Michael Moore  tries to track down GM CEO Roger Smith to discuss what he did to his home town Flint, Michigan. In addition to learning a lot about labor and capital, you’ll learn a lot about your colors and will find out if you’re a fall, winter, summer, spring.

9. Milagros Been Field War (1989). Directed by Robert Redford, with  . Raise your hand if you saw this film in the theaters when you were eight!

10. Silkwood (1983). Directed by Mike Nichols, with . Warning: not a knee-slapper, like, at all. Nor is it a good film to show people considering going into labor organizing. The film is based on the true story of Karen Silkwood, who worked at a nuclear power plant and became whistle blower and labor union activist. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Actress in a Leading Role (Meryl Streep), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Cher),  Best Director (Mike Nichols), Best Screenplay (Nora Ephron, Alice Arlen) and Best Film Editing (Sam O’Steen). It won a Golden Globe for  Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Cher), Best Motion Picture, and Best Director (Mike Nichols)

11. Newsies (1992).  Directed by  with . Got kids? Show them this musical movie about the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. Also, check out Christian Bales’s New York accent, which he would resurrect for American Hustle. 

Also, if you are going to a Labor Day party, you’re definitely going to want to learn this dance. #LaborMovementJazzHands. Check out Christian’s moves.


These are other films that I really want to see and/ or that people have recommended. Since I haven’t seen them, I can’t officially endorse them. But I can unofficially.

Los lunes al sol (Mondays in the Sun)

Human Resources


Blue Collar

The Killing Floor 

Norma Rae (I know. I can’t believe I haven’t seen that, either! Don’t tell anyone)


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NATO to create high-readiness ‘spearhead’ force to counter Russian threat Mon, 01 Sep 2014 17:31:42 +0000 Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian Nato is to create a 4,000-strong “spearhead” high-readiness force that can be deployed rapidly in eastern Europe and the Baltic states to help protect member nations against potential Russian aggression, according to Nato officials.

Leaders from the 28 Nato countries are expected to approve the plan at the alliance’s summit in Wales when the Ukraine crisis tops the agenda on Friday.

The Nato secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said the force, drawn on rotational basis from Nato allies, could be in action at “very, very short notice”.

Rasmussen described it as a mixture of regular troops and special forces that could “travel light but strike hard”. It would be supported by air and naval forces as needed.

He declined to say how many troops would be engaged but Nato officials said it would number around 4,000 and would be expected to deploy to any alliance member country within 48 hours..

“It is so that we are ready should something nasty happen,” a senior Nato official said.

Russia is likely to view the creation of the high-readiness force as an aggressive move.

Nato has struggled to find a response to Russia since the Ukraine crisis began in February, beyond increased military exercises in the Baltic states.

One of the biggest criticisms of Nato’s response to Russian actions has been its lack of speed and flexibility.

The spearhead force does not help with the immediate crisis in Ukraine, which is facing Russian incursions in the east and south of the country. But the force might have a deterrent effect if Russia was considering destabilising the Baltic states.

Since the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia in March, Poland and other east European and Baltic state members of Nato have demanded the alliance take a more active and high-profile role in their defence.

Other allies, however, have been wary of doing anything that might endanger a 1997 agreement with Moscow under which Nato pledged not to base substantial numbers of soldiers in eastern Europe on a permanent basis.

Officials said that troops would be constantly rotated, in order not to violate the 1997 agreement. However, the constant rotation will in effect mean Nato will have a permanent presence in the Baltic states.

Airfields and seaports in the region could also be upgraded to permit their use by the force, Rasmussen said.

Officials said the creation of the force, formally named the high-readiness joint task force, had been triggered by the Ukrainian crisis and military planners have been working on it since. “Elements of the force should be in place by Christmas,” an official said.

Rasmussen said: “These crises can erupt with little warning, move at great speed and they all affect our security in different ways.”

The spearhead group is part of an overall Nato plan that “responds to Russia’s aggressive behaviour but it equips the alliance to respond to all security challenges wherever they may arrive”.

There is already a Nato response force in place. “We will now significantly enhance the responsiveness of our Nato response force. We will develop what I would call a spearhead within our response force – a very high readiness force able to deploy at very short notice. This spearhead would be provided by allies in rotation, and could include several thousand troops, ready to respond where needed with air, sea and special forces support,” Rasmussen said.

“This will require reception facilities on Nato territory and pre-positioned equipment and supplies, command and control and logistics experts. So this force can travel light, but strike hard if needed.

“We will also look at possible upgrades to national infrastructure. That could include airfields and ports to support reinforcements, if the need arises. And we will improve our early warning through an upgrade of our intelligence gathering and sharing.”

One of the biggest challenges Russia’s actions have posed is that Nato is designed for conventional warfare but much of the action in Ukraine has been covert and deniable. The spearhead group will be trained to deal with unconventional actions, from the funding of separatist groups to the use of social media, intimidation and black propaganda.

A Nato spokeswoman said the spearhead force is completely separate from a 10,000-strong British-led joint expeditionary force that is also being proposed. The spearhead group is a purely Nato concept whereas the British expeditionary force, which would be made up of troops from seven nations, could operate with the European Union and other multilateral organisations. The British plan would also have a wider remit, engaged in peacekeeping as well as crisis management.

But a lot of crossover is inevitable as only half-a-dozen of the 28 member Nato countries have the capability to contribute significant military forces. British forces would almost certainly take part in the spearhead group.

The summit will see calls led by US for increased defence spending to confront the Russian threat.

Officials said the spearhead force could be used against other emerging threats in the future. Asked by reporters if the spearhead group might be used against Islamic State in Iraq, a Nato official said it was premature to speculate on that.

The two-day summit in Newport begins on Thursday, with the first day dominated by plans for Afghanistan after combat troops withdraw at the end of the year.

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England announces tougher measures to stop homegrown jihadists from leaving, returning to country Mon, 01 Sep 2014 17:27:20 +0000 Agence France-Presse Prime Minister David Cameron announced tougher measures Monday against Britons planning to fight in Iraq and Syria, and battle-hardened jihadists who could return to launch attacks on home soil.

Cameron said his government would draw up measures to ban suspects who are British nationals from returning to the UK, while police will get enhanced powers to temporarily strip departing suspects of passports at the border.

He announced the measures in parliament after Britain raised its terror threat risk level to “severe” on Friday — meaning an attack is thought “highly likely” — due to fears over the situation in Iraq and Syria.

“Adhering to British values is not an option or a choice. It is a duty for all those who live in these islands so we will stand up for our values, we will in the end defeat this extremism and we will secure our way of life for generations to come,” Cameron told the House of Commons.

Some 500 British jihadists are estimated to be fighting in the two countries, both of which are facing a major offensive from the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

British police made 69 arrests linked to fighting in Syria in the first half of 2014 — a rate five times higher than in 2013 — with offences including suspicion of travelling abroad for terrorist training.

The measures apply to suspects where there is insufficient evidence to charge or deport them and are the latest steps in years of debate since the September 11, 2001 attacks over how to handle suspected Islamic extremists in Britain.

Police will be able utilise rarely-used powers known as a Royal Prerogative to seize at Britain’s borders the passports of those they suspect want to travel and fight in Syria and Iraq.

Cameron said his government would also be drawing up “a targeted discretionary power to allow us to exclude British nationals from the UK”.

- Escape wearing burqa -

Fears in Britain about the number of homegrown fighters joining jihadists were fuelled last month by a graphic video showing the killing of US journalist James Foley by IS, which featured a man with a London accent.

But Cameron insisted the measures were not a “knee-jerk reaction” amid fears from his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, about possible civil liberties contraventions.

Civil liberties are a key part of the centre-left Liberal Democrats’ political philosophy and the party was reluctant to back steps it sees as too draconian ahead of next year’s general election.

Ahead of the announcement, former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, who was also international high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, warned against overreacting to the current situation.

“It is always easy to persuade frightened people to part with their liberties. It is always right for politicians who value liberty to resist attempts to increase arbitrary executive powers unless this is justified, not by magnifying fear, but by actual facts,” he wrote in Sunday’s Observer newspaper.

But in a blow to the Liberal Democrats, Cameron also announced a tightening of Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs).

These allow suspects who have been assessed by intelligence agencies to be tagged electronically and prevented from travelling overseas.

Cameron said the powers would now be extended to include restrictions on individual movement such as “relocation powers” and “enhanced use of exclusion zones”.

There are currently no TPIMs in force, although two suspects subject to TPIMs, Ibrahim Magag and Mohammed Mohamed, absconded in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
Somali-born Mohamed, suspected of connections to Al-Qaeda linked Shebab, went missing after changing into a burqa at a mosque in west London and slipping away.

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Armed Open Carry activists crash Ohio anti-gun violence rally and harass protesters Mon, 01 Sep 2014 17:18:16 +0000 David Ferguson A group of armed Open Carry activists descended upon a group of protesters against gun violence in Akron, Ohio on Sunday in a misguided attempt to “educate” them.

The blog compiled a timeline of social media updates and marchers themselves tweeted and took photos as the men carrying assault rifles and handguns approached them and began to berate and harass the people attending the protest, which was organized by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Late in the afternoon on Sunday, pastor and marcher Kristine Eggert posted on the social medium Twitter:

She followed up with another tweet that said:

Activist Demanda Evers wrote on Monday:

This is not the first time that armed men have counter-protested at Moms Demand Action events. In November of 2013, a group of Open Carry activists harassed and intimidated members at a Moms Demand Action planning meeting at a restaurant called the Blue Mesa Grill in Arlington, Virginia.

MDA issued a statement after the event that said, in part, “Gun advocates held an armed protest in the parking lot, and our mom members and restaurant customers were terrified by what appeared to be an armed ambush. Sadly, these bullies feel they must use guns to intimidate moms and children and try to inhibit our constitutional right to free speech. But Moms Demand Action will not be deterred.”

In a piece entitled “Spitting, Stalking, Rape Threats: How Gun Extremists Target Women,” Mother Jones magazine’s Mark Follman detailed the viciousness with which gun advocates have targeted members of MDA and other gun safety groups.

Moms Demand Action was formed in the wake of the December, 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which gunman Adam Lanza gunned down 20 first graders and six school staffers. The group has called for “gun sense” in the U.S., demanding that lawmakers place limits on magazine sizes for semi-automated and automated weapons, more stringent background checks for all firearm sales and other measure aimed at limited the shooting deaths of U.S. children.

The YouTube account “Ohio Carry” uploaded video of the incident. Watch below:

[image of Open Carry activists converging on anti-violence protester in Akron via]

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White House: Securing release of US citizens in North Korea is ‘top priority’ Mon, 01 Sep 2014 17:16:35 +0000 Reuters The White House said on Monday it was continuing to do all that it can to secure the release of three Americans detained in North Korea, after they made a televised appeal for help from the U.S. government.

The three spoke to the cable channel CNN on Monday, with one of the prisoners saying his health was failing and another describing his situation as “urgent.”

“We have seen the reports of interviews with the three American citizens detained in North Korea,” Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement.

“Securing the release of U.S. citizens is a top priority and we have followed these cases closely in the White House. We continue to do all we can to secure their earliest possible release,” he said.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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President Obama formally notifies Congress of ordering air strikes in Iraq Mon, 01 Sep 2014 17:02:46 +0000 Reuters President Barack Obama on Monday formally notified Congress that he had authorized targeted air strikes in Iraq to help deliver a humanitarian aid to the besieged Shi’ite town of Amerli, the White House said in a statement.

Iraqi security forces backed by Shi’ite militias on Sunday broke the two-month siege of Amerli by Islamic State militants and entered the northern town, after U.S. military carried out air strikes on IS militant positions near the town and airdropped humanitarian supplies to the trapped residents there.

Obama has to notify Congress of the authorization under the the War Powers Resolution.

“This operation is consistent with the military missions we have outlined to date in Iraq – to protect U.S. personnel and facilities and to address the humanitarian situation on the ground,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh Editing by W Simon)

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Baton Rouge TV personality killed by son-in-law and alleged lover in murder-suicide attempt Mon, 01 Sep 2014 16:53:28 +0000 Scott Kaufman The host of the popular Baton Rouge Around Town morning show was shot to death by his son-in-law in what police believe was an attempted murder-suicide, WAFB-TV reports.

The body of Scott Rogers was found in his St. Gabriel, Louisiana home along with that of his alleged murderer, his son-in-law Matthew Hodgkinson. Police had been called to the house on numerous occasions earlier in the week, according to Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi. “It’s been topsy-turvy at this residence. We responded to a couple of calls. It’s been a high stress environment for this family and looks like it culminated in this,” he said.

Hodgkinson, who also served as his father-in-law’s executive producer, left a voicemail with WAFB-TV on Tuesday indicating that Around Town had been cancelled. “Scott is facing a family catastrophe,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going on or why at this point but I have made the decision to cancel future shows. I hope you can keep us in your prayers as we move forward.”

The next day, Sheriff Stassi said authorities “received a call that shots were heard as somebody was entering the residence. On follow up, it was described as a murder-suicide scene and we’re investigating it as a homicide until it’s determined what we have here. It was determined that Scott Rogers was deceased and another male at the residence had received a shot to the head and was in critical condition.”

Hodgkinson remains at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in critical condition.

The events leading up to the murder and attempted suicide are not entirely clear, but Sheriff Stasi noted that Rogers’ daughter, Kimberly Ann Scott-Rogers, was testifying before a grand jury at the time her father was shot. Stassi told The Times-Picayune that the marriage between Scott-Rogers and Hodgkinson was a ploy to acquire citizenship for the British citizen, with whom Rogers was involved in a sexual relationship.

The Advocate reports that Rogers had fled the United Kingdom in the 1990s after he was accused of sexually abusing children at his dance studio. Hodgkinson and another student at the dance studio followed Rogers to the United States, where the three of them continued to live together for more than 20 years.

Two weeks ago, federal authorities removed Rogers’ two adopted sons — one aged 10, the other only 2 years old — from the household.

Watch a report on the murder and attempted suicide via WAFB-TV News below.

[Scott Rogers screen capture via YouTube]

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…and now a Labor Day message from a lady who quit her job to be with her ‘Meat Monster’ Mon, 01 Sep 2014 16:44:26 +0000 TBogg Sarah Palin, whom you may vaguely remember like a regrettable hairstyle that seemed like a good idea at the time, has a Labor Day message for all of you hard workin’ ‘Muricans out there who haven’t quit your jobs a couple of years after being hired because you could make more money shaking down rubes.

It makes sense that Palin,  who is a job creator –she quit her job creating an opportunity for someone else — would have strong feelings about labor in America. Just like her daughter Bristol, who went into labor while still in high school before becoming a high paid spokesmodel for abstinence.

And Sarah Palin’s message is this: she honors you, particularly the ones of you who build trucks and do something something something food.

“You know, too, we drive a bunch of trucks and built with American union hands. We all eat food and …and … many other products that we’re consuming are delivered in union built trucks….Look, we all for hard working Americans.”

Also, too, you know too, Sarah says conservatives love unions which is why some of her BFF’s like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have stripped public unions of collective bargaining rights because of good old fashioned individualism.

Or the 2012 Republican Party platform that called ” for enacting a nationwide “right-to-work” law. Such a law would prohibit union contracts at private-sector workplaces from requiring employees to pay any dues or other fees to a union, ” or banning ‘card check’ which allows unions to organize.

Basically, Conservatives  like their unions like they like their Republican House: you can join, but it’s completely ineffective which is okay because you don’t really do anything.

So, Happy Labor Day America! Enjoy your barbequing and whatnot today while Sarah celebrates by showing off her Meat Monster to those Duck Dynasty guys, who are in Wasilla negotiating for the right of one of them to marry youngest daughter Piper before she hits 15 and is too old for breedin’ purposes.

Remember: if not for those  two hard years of labor Sarah put in at the Governor’s office, the Palin family might well have ended up like these folks.

Although that is still possible, because anything is possible in these here U. S. of A’s…

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Putin to BBC: Russia is protecting the cities of east Ukraine from the Ukrainian government Mon, 01 Sep 2014 15:36:38 +0000 David Ferguson This week, BBC contributor John Sweeney managed to do what very few journalists have been able to in recent months when he put Russian President Vladimir Putin on the spot with questions about the Russian incursion into Ukraine and takeover of the Crimean Peninsula.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Sweeney said, “the killings in the Ukraine, thousands are dead, Ukrainians, Russians, Malaysians, British. So, sir, do you regret the killings in the Ukraine?”

“I will answer,” said Putin through a translator, “The essence of the tragedy in Ukraine, from my understanding is that the current government in Ukraine does not want to conduct political negotiations with the eastern regions of the country, political and essential negotiations.”

“What’s the purpose, then, of military operations of those people in the southeastern regions?” he continued. “What was the reason? What provoked their actions?”

Putin went on to say that hostile Ukrainian regiments had surrounded the cities and villages in eastern Ukraine and began to shell them. Russian and pro-Russian forces are active in the region, he said, to protect those cities and villages from the Ukrainian government. Western media, he said, has been remiss in reporting this aspect of the conflict.

He then nodded curtly and walked away.

Watch the video, embedded below via YouTube and Russia Today:

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Iraqi prime minister vows Iraq will be ‘graveyard’ for ISIS jihadists Mon, 01 Sep 2014 15:23:42 +0000 Agence France-Presse Outgoing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki vowed Monday that Iraq will be a “graveyard” for jihadists as he visited the Shiite town of Amerli after the breaking of an 11-week siege.

“Iraq will be a graveyard for (the Islamic State),” the two-term premier said in televised remarks from the town, referring to the powerful jihadist group.

Iraqi security forces, Shiite militiamen and Kurdish fighters launched a major operation on Saturday to lift the siege of Amerli, a town in Salaheddin province, northeast of Baghdad, where thousands of mainly Shiite Turkmen residents had been trapped.

They broke through and secured the town on Sunday and are now pressing their counteroffensive elsewhere in the area.

Maliki vied for a third term in office but his bid fell apart as security collapsed, with IS-led militants overrunning chunks of five provinces in a sweeping offensive in June.

Kurdish forces backed by American air strikes have clawed back some ground lost to a renewed militant push in August, but the Amerli operation is the Iraqi government’s biggest offensive success since the conflict began.

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‘Paranoid’ FL divorce judge accused of punishing woman who refused Facebook ‘friend’ request Mon, 01 Sep 2014 15:03:07 +0000 Scott Kaufman A Florida judge who is being investigated for sending a Facebook “friend” request to a woman whose expensive divorce case she was deciding is asking the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission to dismiss the charges against her, The Orlando Sentinel reports.

In an August 25, 2014 hearing, Circuit Judge Linda Schoonover was charged with three dozen counts of improper conduct. Schoonover claims that all the charges should be dismissed because three allegations were removed from official court documents, which she believes means the Judicial Qualifications Commission needs to formally restart its entire investigation.

The charges stem from behavior that fellow lawyers and judges described to The Orlando Sentinel as “bizarre,” “inexplicable,” “disruptive,” and “paranoid.”

For example, Schoonover secretly installed a camera in chambers because she believed employees at the courthouse had bugged her office, and she wanted to record video of them retrieving the recording equipment. She contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and turned over the video. The FDLE reported that there were men in the crawl space above her courtroom, but they were heating and air conditioning contractors.

She also punished a local real-estate agent with a harsh debt and property ruling after the woman refused her Facebook “friend” request. Schoonover is also accused of refusing to listen to the testimony of a litigant because “he annoyed her.”

Russell Hershkowitz, who is one of 17 lawyers whose cases Schoonover is barred from hearing, said that “she’s got too much power and lacks the ability to control herself.”

Another attorney whose cases Schoonover is barred from hearing, Harry Roen, said “she’s in over her head. She doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

Watch a report via WESH below.

[Judge Shoonover via official Florida court webpage]

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Nude photographs of A-List celebrities stolen from cloud service and posted online Mon, 01 Sep 2014 15:01:29 +0000 Agence France-Presse Nude photos purportedly showing many top stars, including Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence and pop star Rihanna, bounced around social media, in an apparent massive hacking leak, US media reported.

“It’s so weird and hard how people take your privacy away from you,” Lawrence said in a tweet on Sunday.

The actress’ agent, meanwhile, vowed to take legal action.

“This is a flagrant violation of privacy. The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence,” her representative told TMZ entertainment website.

Word of the images began spreading early Sunday, amid reports that the photos had been obtained by hacking iCloud accounts, Mashable and other media reported.
Among the celebrities whose pictures allegedly were stolen and posted online were Avril Lavigne, Amber Heard, Gabrielle Union, Hayden Panettiere and Hope Solo, according to Mashable.

Media reports said among the other starlets targeted were Hillary Duff, Jenny McCarthy, Kaley Cuoco, Kate Upton, Kate Bosworth, Keke Palmer and Kim Kardashian.
Former Nickelodeon star and singer Victoria Justice said the images claiming to show her unclothed body were anything but the real deal.

“These so called nudes of me are FAKE people. Let me nip this in the bud right now. *pun intended*” she tweeted.

A spokesperson for actress and pop star Ariana Grande told BuzzFeed that images said to be of her, are “completely fake.”

But horror movie actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whose intimate photos were leaked, acknowledged her frustration.

“To those of you looking at photos I took with my husband years ago in the privacy of our home, hope you feel great about yourselves,” she tweeted.

“Knowing those photos were deleted long ago, I can only imagine the creepy effort that went into this. Feeling for everyone who got hacked.”

["Oscar winning actress Jennifer Lawrence at the X-Men Days Of Future Past world premiere in New York on May 10, 2014" via AFP]

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Eruption of Yellowstone supervolcano could spell the end of the U.S.: geologists Mon, 01 Sep 2014 13:32:08 +0000 Scott Kaufman According to an article published by United States Geological Survey scientist Larry Mastin in the latest edition of Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, an eruption of the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park would blanket much of the United States in a meter of ash.

Mastin and his colleagues used computer modeling to determine the effects of the kind of ash cloud — known as an “umbrella” — the supervolcano would produce. A supereruption would eject 240 cubic miles of material into the atmosphere, which would not only shut down electronic communication and render air travel impossible, it would immediately and dramatically alter climate across the continent.

The supervolcano beneath Yellowstone has produced eruptions of this scale at least three times — once 2.1 million year ago, once 1.3 million, and most recently, 640,00 years ago. Mastin and his team used data on ash distribution from the most recent eruption to calculate the thickness of the ash fall from another potential supereruption, and found that cities close to the supervolcano would be buried beneath more than a meter of ash.

The “umbrella” ash cloud would deposit ash as far away as New York and Los Angeles, but the damage to the central region of the country would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the two coasts to have any meaningful communication with each other.

Even the small accumulation of ash on the East and West Coast would create massive problems for the population. Traction on roads would be significantly decreased, leading to more automobile accidents; electrical transformers would be shorted-out; sewer and water lines would be blocked; crops would be ruined; and individuals with respiratory problems would find it difficult, if not impossible, to breathe.

Such a cloud would spread across the country in a bull’s eye pattern, because the force of the ejection and the composition of the ejected material would make the cloud more powerful than the prevailing winds.

“In essence, the eruption makes its own winds that can overcome the prevailing westerlies, which normally dominate weather patterns in the United States,” Mastin said. “This helps explain the distribution from large Yellowstone eruptions of the past, where considerable amounts of ash reached the West Coast.”

["Grand prismatic mineral deposit at Yellowstone National Park" via ynp on Flickr, Creative Commons license]

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Ted Cruz: ‘Kitty cat’ Obama should be more like ‘Russian bear’ Putin Mon, 01 Sep 2014 13:19:33 +0000 David Ferguson Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) took a swipe at President Barack Obama’s foreign policy decisions in a speech on Saturday at conservative think tank Americans for Prosperity’s Defending the American Dream summit in Dallas.

According to Business Insider, the Tea Party darling and possible Republican presidential contender for 2016 was enthusiastically cheered by the crowd, who chanted “Run, Ted, run!” and wildly applauded his attacks on the Obama administration.

“Back in Washington there’s a diet that is now very, very popular,” Cruz quipped. “It’s called the Obama Diet. Works very, very well. You simply let Putin eat your lunch every day.”

Cruz further riled up the crowd by taking aim at the Affordable Care Act — also known as “Obamacare.”

“In the year 2017, a Republican president in the Rose Garden is going to sign a bill repealing every word of Obamacare!” he crowed.

He went on to belittle Obama’s decision not to commit thousands of ground troops to containing the spread of radical Islamic group ISIS in Iraq and its neighbor Syria.

“(A)ll across this world America has receded from leadership,” Cruz complained. “Look at Russia right now. Sadly, the state of the world is the Russian bear is encountering the Obama kitty cat.”

“You know what? The United States of America has never been a kitty cat,” he went on. “The reason Putin feels no fear to march into his neighbors, the reason why our allies up and down Europe are terrified of what’s next is because this president, as he puts it, is leading from behind.”

Obama, Cruz said, should position “anti-ballistic missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic.”

Watch the full speech, embedded below via Business Insider:

[hat-tip to Talking Points Memo]

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Florida utilities fear the second-coming of ‘Green Governor’ Charlie Crist Mon, 01 Sep 2014 12:30:10 +0000 Reuters When Charlie Crist last governed Florida, his green energy and climate policies made him few friends among the state’s powerful electricity corporations.

Now, as the Republican-turned Democrat bids to return to the governor’s mansion, it may be payback time.

Florida’s three largest utilities have poured money into the re-election campaign of Republican incumbent Governor Rick Scott in an expensive and closely watched political battle for the nation’s largest swing state.

The election spending is notable in a tight race where the issues of energy and climate change have taken center stage in recent weeks, with both candidates asserting their environmental credentials.

As Republican governor between 2007 and 2011, Crist “sent shivers through the entire utility system,” said Colleen Castille, who headed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection under Governor Jeb Bush.

Crist was a darling of clean energy advocates, hosting a climate change summit in 2007 alongside another green Republican, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. His focus on clean energy challenged the Florida utilities who are heavily dependant on natural gas and coal, as well as some nuclear.

In his bid to return to the office he left in 2011 – to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate – he has yet to outline his energy policy, but utilities aren’t taking any chances.

According to current state records, Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest electric utility serving 4.6 million customers, over the last year has given a combined $1.2 million to Scott’s political action committee, Let’s Get to Work, and the Republican Party of Florida. Duke Energy contributed another $1.2 million to Scott and the Republican Party.

A third company, TECO, contributed $1.15 million to the Republican Party of Florida.

Crist’s campaign does not appear to have received a penny from the utilities, though they have contributed a combined $500,000 to the Florida Democratic party.

“The big utilities aren’t fans of his because as governor and Attorney General, Charlie Crist actually stood up to them and fought to keep families’ rates low,” the Crist campaign said in an emailed statement.

“Rick Scott has taken millions of dollars from them and let them hike Floridians’ energy bills and stifle the development of renewable energy.”

Earlier in his career, Crist was the beneficiary of the largesse of power companies, who have increasingly favored Republicans over Democrats in recent years.

It’s not easy to precisely calculate the effect of the utilities’ contributions on the 2014 governors’ race as funds can be channeled in various forms through different entities.

A spokesman for FP&L, one of the largest rate-regulated utilities in the United States, declined to discuss the election race but pointed out that FP&L had made solar investments and in the past supported Crist’s efforts to cut carbon emissions.

Duke Energy also declined to discuss contributions, but made clear its preference in the race. “We support Governor Rick Scott because we believe Governor Scott has a better plan for Florida,” said a company spokesman.

A TECO spokeswoman confirmed its contribution to the Republican Party of Florida, adding, “We support candidates who focus on building the economy and creating jobs.”

Both campaigns are brimming with money: Scott has hauled in about $28 million since November compared to $21 million for Crist.


While in office Scott has built a business-friendly reputation supporting utility rate hikes to cover massive investments in new power lines, natural gas pipelines and nuclear plants that environmentalists oppose.

Under Scott’s watch the state’s renewable energy programs, including solar installation rebates, were dismantled.

Scott denies his campaign is in bed with the utilities, saying his policies have kept rates in check while limiting government meddling.

“Governor Scott is always looking at ways to diversify Florida’s energy sources, but unlike Charlie Crist, he does not believe that Floridians should pay higher energy costs due to overly burdensome government regulations,” said Scott’s spokesman, Greg Blair.

California billionaire Tom Steyer, a former hedge-fund manager turned environmental advocate, in August began targeting Scott’s environmental record, as well as the political contributions the governor has received from the utilities.

Steyer’s Super-Pac, NextGen Climate, has run ads highlighting the Scott administration’s approval of a plan to let Duke Energy continue billing consumers for $3.2 billion in higher electric rates to pay for two failed power plants.

Scott hit back with his own barrage of ads, accusing Steyer and Crist of inventing “fiction,” noting that Crist backed nuclear expansion as governor.

In one ad the Scott campaign agreed that Duke got a soft deal, but blamed it on Crist. “Crist made it easier for Duke Energy to take your money,” the campaign said.

In March the non-partisan watchdog, Integrity Florida, published a report critical of the political influence of Florida’s top energy corporations.

“Increasingly, the Florida Legislature sets its agenda and policy outcomes based on the needs of large political donors rather than the public interest,” it concluded. “For the last five election cycles, these electric utilities were among the largest donors to state-level campaigns in Florida.”

Electric utilities contributed more than $18 million to state-level candidates and party organizations between 2004 and 2012, two-thirds of which went to Republicans, it said.

During that period legislators approved higher consumer electricity prices while removing consumer-friendly state regulators who opposed the rate hikes, the report found.

(Additional reporting by Bill Cotterell in Tallahassee and Letitia Stein in Tampa, editing by Ross Colvin and John Pickering)

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Pregnant New York woman shot and killed while sitting in her car Mon, 01 Sep 2014 12:24:15 +0000 Scott Kaufman Police in Suffolk County, New York are investigating the shooting death of a pregnant woman outside of her home on Saturday night, Newsday reports.

Milagro “Millie” Canjura and her unborn child were shot multiple times in her car, which was parked in front of the two-bedroom apartment she shared with her husband.

A neighbor who didn’t want to be identified said, “Her windows were shattered. I’m looking from here and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, Millie just got shot!’ And then we didn’t see her move.”

The neighbor said she had texted Canjura that the mail had arrived at the complex. She picked up the mail and was sorting through it in her 2011 Toyota Camry when the neighbor heard six shots being fired. The neighbor immediately called 911.

Police arrived minutes after receiving multiple 911 calls indicating that there had been shots fired, but were unable to assist Canjura. She was taken to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, where both she and her fetus were pronounced dead.

One neighbor that agreed to be identified, Neil Washington, told CBS 2 New York that she was shot “in cold blood. That’s the part that disturbs me. They shot this young lady in cold blood. And the most distrubing part of this whole thing that was going on last night is to come out to the corner of the yard, and you could actually see her body slumped over. Breaks my heart.”

No suspects have been identified.

Watch a report on the shooting of Milagaro Canjura via CBS 2 New York below.

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Americans detained in North Korea seek ‘urgent’ help from US government in CNN interviews Mon, 01 Sep 2014 12:14:57 +0000 Reuters Three U.S. citizens detained in North Korea spoke to the U.S. television channel CNN on Monday with one pleading with the United States for help and another describing his situation as “urgent”.

Kenneth Bae, who was arrested 18 months ago and sentenced to 15 years hard labor for attempting to bring down the state, told CNN he was working eight hours a day, six days a week, and was the only inmate at a prison camp staffed by more than 20 officials, including a doctor.

“My health is failing,” Bae said.

“I ask the U.S. government and people out there to really put in effort to send somebody, to make it work,” he added.

In the past, U.S. citizens held in North Korea have been freed after visits from former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Tourists Matthew Miller and Jeffrey Fowle, who were arrested this year, told CNN they were being treated well as they awaited imminent trial.

“My situation is very urgent,” said Miller, from Bakersfield, California, who was arrested in April when he ripped up his tourist visa upon entry to the isolated country and said he was seeking asylum, state media said at the time.

“Very soon I am going to trial, and I (will) directly be sent to prison,” Miller said.

Jeffrey Fowle, a middle-aged man from Miamisburg, Ohio, said he was being treated well: “I hope and pray that it continues, while I’m here, two more days or two more decades.”

He was arrested in May after he left a bible under a bin in the toilet of a sailor’s club in the northeastern city of Chongjin.

It was not immediately clear if the detained U.S. citizens, who CNN said were given five minutes each to be interviewed, were speaking freely.

Bae, who appeared to have been interviewed separately, was shown in the CNN video dressed in a casual shirt and trousers – a departure from previous official and foreign media footage that showed the Korean-American dressed in prison-camp work clothes.

CNN, which was in Pyongyang to cover a wrestling match organized by a Japanese politician, said the interview was not pre-planned, and its crew had to cut short an earlier appointment when they were told “immediately to meet with a high-level government official in the capital”.

(Reporting by James Pearson; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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John Oliver addresses YouTube critics: ‘You are all BRILLENT’ Mon, 01 Sep 2014 12:04:41 +0000 David Ferguson HBO’s This Week Tonight was on hiatus this week, but host John Oliver released a web-only clip in which he addressed some of the critiques he and the show have gotten in the form of YouTube comments.

“A few weeks ago, we did a story on America’s nuclear arsenal,” Oliver said. “And the discourse it set off was…let’s just say it was full of words.”

For example, one commenter wrote, “I don’t even understand why the audience is laughing.”

While another jabbed at Oliver’s looks, writing, “John Oliver does look like a parrot.”

“There’s a lot to feel uncomfortable about there,” Oliver said. “Primarily, there’s the word ‘does,’ like he’s agreeing with someone.”

But, lest we get the impression that all of his Internet comments are negative and hurtful, Oliver pointed viewers to one positive comment, in which a viewer wrote, “This guy is BRILLENT.”

“That warms my heart,” he said. “BRILLENT is exactly what I am,” i.e., not quite brilliant.

“Thank you for watching,” he concluded. “And special thanks to all our YouTube commenters down there. You are all BRILLENT, every single one of you.”

Watch the video, embedded below via YouTube:

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Chinese regulators give Microsoft 20 days to explain itself in anti-trust probe Mon, 01 Sep 2014 11:24:09 +0000 Reuters A Chinese anti-trust regulator said on Monday it has given Microsoft Corp 20 days to reply to queries on the compatibility of its Windows operating system and Office software suite amid a probe into the world’s largest software company.

The State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) questioned Microsoft Vice President David Chen and gave the company a deadline to make an explanation, the agency said in a short statement on its website.

Microsoft is one of at least 30 foreign companies that have come under scrutiny by China’s anti-monopoly regulators as the government seeks to enforce its six-year old antitrust law. Critics say the law is being used to unfairly target overseas businesses, a charge the regulators deny.

According to a state media report on Monday, Microsoft’s use of verification codes also spurred complaints from Chinese companies. Their use “may have violated China’s anti-monopoly law”, the official Xinhua news agency said on Monday.

Verification codes are typically used by software companies as an anti-piracy mechanism. They are provided with legitimate copies of software and can be entered to entitle customers to updates and support from the manufacturer.

Microsoft has long suffered from piracy of its software within China. Former Chief Executive Steve Ballmer told employees in Beijing that the company made less revenue in China than it did in the Netherlands.

Complaints about verification codes potentially violating anti-monopoly laws are Kafka-esque, said Duncan Clark, chairman of Beijing-based tech consultancy BDA.

“It’s hard to make sense of and hard to see how Microsoft can appease,” said Clark. “How does an anti-piracy measure constitute monopolistic behavior if other suppliers can also use the same technique?”

SAIC also repeated that it suspected the company has not fully disclosed issues relating to the compatibility of the software and the operating system.

“(A) special investigation team conducted an anti-monopoly investigation inquiry with Microsoft Vice President Chen Shi (David Chen), and required that Microsoft make a written explanation within 20 days,” the SAIC said in a statement on its website.

In a statement, Microsoft said it was “serious about complying with China’s laws and committed to addressing SAIC’s questions and concerns”.

Last month, a delegation from chipmaker Qualcomm Inc , led by company President Derek Aberle, met officials at the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) as part of that regulator’s investigation of the San Diego-based firm.

NDRC said earlier this year that the U.S. chipmaker is suspected of overcharging and abusing its market position in wireless communication standards.

Microsoft’s Nadella is expected to make his first visit to China as chief executive later this month.

(Reporting by Michael Martina and Matthew Miller; Additional reporting by Paul Carsten; Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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North Korea welcomes Pope to Seoul by testing short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan Mon, 01 Sep 2014 11:20:53 +0000 Agence France-Presse North Korea test-fired what appeared to be a short-range missile into the sea off its east coast Monday in the latest of a series of missile and rocket tests, military officials said.

It was launched at 10:30 am (0130 GMT) from a site northeast of Pyongyang towards the Sea of Japan (East Sea) and flew about 220 kilometres (130 miles), the South’s joint chiefs of staff said.

Details were not given, but a military official told AFP on condition of anonymity: “North Korea appeared to have test-fired a new tactical or short-range Scud missile.”

The launch was made near Ryongnim, some 60 kilometres south of the border with China, he said, declining to confirm a Yonhap news agency report that North Korea has built an underground Scud missile base in the region.

Monday’s exercise came as cross-border military tensions run high following a series of missile, rocket and artillery launches in July and August.

Almost three weeks ago the North fired five short-range rockets into the sea just as Pope Francis arrived in Seoul for a five-day visit.

The North often fires missiles and rockets as a show of force or to express anger at perceived provocations, but the frequency of the recent tests is unusual.

UN resolutions bar North Korea from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology.

But the North has defended the missile launches as a legitimate exercise in self-defence and a response to US war manoeuvres.

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Poland uneasy with Russian aggression on 75th anniversary of outbreak of WWII Mon, 01 Sep 2014 11:18:37 +0000 Agence France-Presse Poland marks the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II Monday with one eye on Russia, which invaded it during the war and is now throwing its weight around in neighbouring Ukraine.

From the very first German shells fired at a Polish fort in Gdansk in the early hours of September 1, 1939, to the final days in 1945, Poland suffered some of the worst horrors of the war, chief among them the extermination of most of its Jewish population by the Nazis.

Nearly six million Poles, or about 17 percent of the population — including around three million Jews — died in the conflict.

Memories of the era have been bubbling to the surface since Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March, and a fierce conflict began in the country’s east.

“To use military force against one’s neighbours, to annex their territory, to prevent them from freely choosing their place in the world — this provides a worrying reminder of the dark chapters of Europe’s 20th-century history,” Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said in a newspaper opinion piece ahead of the anniversary.

Polish historian Andrzej Friszke meanwhile recalled the infamous Munich agreement that Britain and France signed with Nazi Germany in 1938, allowing it to annex swathes of Czechoslovakia in a failed bid to avert war.

“There is an attempt again to sacrifice some (people) to buy an illusion of peace for the rest,” he told AFP.

- Poland carved up -

On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union secretly agreed to carve up eastern Europe between them by signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Just over a week later, the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on the Polish fort of Westerplatte, near the northern city of Gdansk (then called Danzig).

It is at Westerplatte that Poland will hold official ceremonies on the September 1 anniversary, with Komorowski and his German counterpart Joachim Gauck in attendance.

One of the first cities bombed by the Nazis was Wielun, near the former German-Polish border. It was destroyed in the very first minutes of the war, with 1,200 of its residents killed in the initial attack.

“It was a foretaste of how the war would turn out: the bloodiest, most terrifying of all of history’s conflicts,” said Jan Szkudlinski, a historian at the new Museum of World War II in Gdansk.

“A conflict that, in contrast to the war of 1914-18, claimed many more civilian victims than military lives,” he told AFP.

Hitler’s attack on Poland led Britain and France to declare war on Nazi Germany.

On September 17, 1939, the Soviet Union in turn invaded Poland and the Red Army executed thousands of Polish army officers in 1940 in the notorious Katyn massacre.

In 1941, the Nazis tore up the pact with Moscow and invaded Soviet-occupied eastern Poland.

Two alliances then battled it out until the end: the Axis powers led by Germany, Italy and Japan and the ultimately victorious Allied forces led by Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States.

- ‘Shivers up my spine’ -

Barbara Rybeczko-Tarnowiecka was nine years old and living with her parents in Warsaw in 1939.

“I still remember the sound of the bombs and the frightening din of the windows all shattering at once,” she told AFP.

“And I retain the sight of the column of German troops passing before our house and singing at the top of their lungs.”

She peered at them through the bars of the front gate to her building along with other neighbourhood children. Fast-forward 75 years and Rybeczko-Tarnowiecka is again apprehensive.

“I am very concerned by what is going on between Russia and Ukraine,” she said.
“To be honest, I’ve been avoiding the news, because it sends shivers up my spine.”

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Drug company admits it concealed debilitating side effects, fatalities from government regulators Mon, 01 Sep 2014 11:10:57 +0000 Agence France-Presse The Japanese unit of Swiss pharma giant Novartis (Xetra: 904278 – news) has admitted it did not report more than 2,500 cases of serious side effects in patients using its leukaemia and other cancer drugs, reportedly including some fatalities.

The revelations, which marked the latest in a string of scandals at the company’s Japanese subsidiary, come after local authorities slapped the firm on the wrist, saying it had to clean up its operations.

On Friday, Novartis issued a statement saying it had failed to report to regulators at least 2,579 cases where patients had suffered serious potential side effects from its drugs.

Japan’s Jiji Press news agency said they included some fatal cases, without specifying a figure.

The unit declined to comment on Monday, referring questions to its Swiss headquarters.

Japanese media said the number of cases involved could rise as Novartis probes 6,000 other cases.

The news comes about four months after Novartis replaced the top executives at its Japanese arm over allegations it did not properly disclose the possible side effects of its leukaemia treatments.

In July, Japanese prosecutors laid charges against the unit over claims that falsified data was used to exaggerate the benefits of a popular blood-pressure drug.

They also indicted a former employee, Nobuo Shirahashi, alleging he manipulated the data in clinical studies that were later used in marketing the drug Valsartan.

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Knife-wielding man kills three children, wounds five others at elementary school Mon, 01 Sep 2014 11:07:10 +0000 Agence France-Presse A knifeman stabbed three children to death and wounded five more plus a teacher in a rampage at a Chinese primary school on Monday, reports said, in the country’s latest attack against youngsters.

The attacker killed himself by jumping from a building following the carnage at a school in Shiyan in the central province of Hubei, according to the official news agency Xinhua.

The six wounded have been hospitalised, it said, adding two were seriously hurt.

The man, surnamed Chen, “died on the spot”, Xinhua said without providing further details.

He carried out the attack “because he couldn’t enrol his child” at the school, local broadcaster Shiyan Television said on its verified Sina Weibo account, China’s version of Twitter, without elaborating.

A local police official declined to provide information, saying: “I am not clear, the police bureau officials are at that school investigating.”

Monday was the first day of the new school year in many parts of China.

Xinhua said it was not immediately known how Chen entered the premises, adding: “Security at many schools has been tightened after a spate of attacks on children in recent years.”

They include five incidents in 2010 that killed 17 people — 15 of them children — and wounded more than 80.

Last March a man killed two relatives and then slashed 11 people, including six children, outside a school in China’s commercial hub Shanghai.

Earlier this summer police in Qianjing — which is near Shiyan — killed a suspect who was attempting to take over a primary school, state media said.

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Federal judge blocks Louisiana law that would have closed state’s abortion clinics Mon, 01 Sep 2014 03:03:59 +0000 Reuters NEW ORLEANS La. (Reuters) – A federal judge on Sunday temporarily blocked a Louisiana law that advocates say would likely have closed of all five abortion clinics in the state.

The measure, signed into law by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in June and due to take effect Sept. 1, would require doctors who perform abortions to have patient admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their practice.

However, the judge’s ruling means that for the time being doctors can continue to perform legal abortions while seeking to obtain admitting privileges. A hearing will be held at a later date for the judge to make a more permanent ruling on the law.

“Plaintiffs will be allowed to operate lawfully while continuing their efforts to obtain privileges,” Federal Judge John deGravelles wrote in the decision.

Abortion rights activists applauded the decision, the latest in a string of rulings against similar measures, saying it would give abortion doctors more time to seek the hospital privileges.

“Today’s ruling ensures Louisiana women are safe from an underhanded law that seeks to strip them of their health and rights,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which sued to block the law on behalf of three of the state’s five clinics.

Louisiana is among 11 states that have passed similar laws, with courts recently ruling unconstitutional such measures in Alabama and Mississippi. Key parts of Texas law that would have shuttered most remaining clinics in that state was blocked by a federal judge on Friday.

Abortion rights campaigners, along with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association, say admitting privileges laws impose medically unnecessary requirements on doctors.

Anti-abortion advocates have countered that the measures are intended to protect women’s health, though some have also lauded their effect of shuttering clinics.

Only one doctor who performs abortions in Louisiana currently has hospital admitting privileges, the Center for Reproductive Rights said.

If all other doctors in the state are forced to stop performing abortions, that doctor, fearful for his safety, would stop carrying out the procedure, the group said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Police officers in Ferguson now wearing body cameras after weeks of unrest Mon, 01 Sep 2014 02:57:08 +0000 Reuters (Reuters) – Police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, have begun wearing body cameras after weeks of unrest over the shooting death of an unarmed black teen by a white officer and sharply differing accounts of the incident, officials said on Sunday.

Michael Brown, 18, was shot multiple times by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, sparking nearly three weeks of angry protests in the St. Louis suburb and drawing global attention to race relations in the United States.

Law enforcement and witnesses gave differing accounts of what transpired before Brown was shot, with police saying the teen had struggled with the officer. Witnesses say Brown held up his hands and was surrendering when he was shot multiple times in the head and chest.

The discrepancy has revived calls for officers across the county to be outfitted with body cameras to help capture an accurate record of police-involved incidents.

The policy has the support of scores of law enforcement agencies and the American Civil Liberties Union. Opponents say the cameras could be an invasion of privacy and deter people from approaching police with a tip.

During protests on Saturday, Ferguson officers began wearing small body cameras clipped to their uniforms that recorded crowds, conversations and even some taunts by demonstrators, a police official said on Sunday.

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the cameras have been well received by officers.

“They are really enjoying them,” he said. “They are trying to get used to using them.”

The cameras were donated by two video surveillance companies, Safety Visions and Digital Ally. In a statement on its website, Safety Vision said it donated the cameras in the hopes that they could bring transparency to future investigations.

“The city of Ferguson has gone through an unfortunate series of events and Safety Vision body cameras and flashlight DVR will assist in capturing prima facie evidence for investigations involving vandalism, looting, and shots fired,” the statement said.

Some stores were looted in nightly protests, and police responded with riot gear and moved in military equipment to try to quell the turmoil.

A St. Louis County grand jury has begun hearing evidence about Brown’s killing and the U.S. Justice Department has opened its own investigation.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Sandra Maler)

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New York thunderstorms ends Electric Zoo music festival, halts US Open, delays flights Mon, 01 Sep 2014 02:50:42 +0000 Reuters NEW YORK (Reuters) – Severe thunderstorms on Sunday forced an early end to New York’s Electric Zoo music festival, delayed flights at area airports and injured two people after a lightning strike near a Bronx beach.

Rain halted play at the U.S. Open in Queens, New York, interrupted the Made In America outdoor concert in Philadelphia and shut down the Electric Zoo electronic music festival on Randalls Island in New York, which ended early for a second year in a row.

“We apologize to fans, but your safety is our main concern,” Electric Zoo organizers said in a Tweet explaining why the three-day festival was cut short by “extreme weather.” Thousands of concertgoers were told to leave.

The festival ended early last year due to the deaths of two concertgoers who used an illicit drug known as Molly, and the tragedy led to new safety protocols this year.

Severe weather quickly swept across the metropolitan area in the late afternoon, with lightning striking a tree near Orchard Beach in the Bronx, injuring two people who were standing beneath it, said National Weather Service meteorologist Lauren Nash. They were taken to Jacobi Medical Center but a hospital spokeswoman declined to comment on their conditions.

Torrential rain and strong winds caused widespread delays at all airports in the New York metropolitan area as well as Philadelphia International Airport, according to

Skies cleared quickly after the early evening storm, although there were some lingering rain clouds.

“We could still see some showers or thunderstorms overnight in the New York area,” meteorologist Nash said.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Mother calls for investigation into daughter’s injuries school calls result of playground fall Mon, 01 Sep 2014 02:11:53 +0000 Tom Boggioni A Mississippi mother is demanding answers from both her daughter’s elementary school as well as the police over the horrific injuries her 5-year-old daughter sustained, which the school has dismissed as the result of playground fall.

According to Lacey Harris, her daughter, AvaLynn, returned home last week from Arlington Elementary School with massive facial bruising which the mother claims is the result of being kicked in the face by another student, according to GulfLive.

When Harris asked for an explanation, she was told by the school that nothing violent happened to the little girl and that she fell  while on the playground.

On the ‘Justice for AvaLynn’ Facebook page, a poster tells a different story, writing: “AvaLynn informed Lacey that she was assaulted by another student: that she was kicked repeatedly in the face until she fell off of the slide on the school’s playground. The school informed Lacey were no teachers present when the incident occurred, and because of that, no one could prove whether or not another student had harmed Ava.”

Harris filed a report with with the Pascagoula Police Department on Thursday, but the police thus far are deferring to the school.

According to Pascagoula Police Department Lt. Jim Roe, “The mother alleges another child kicked her child on the slide. Right now, there’s no indication something criminal took place. I have spoken with school security, and an assistant superintendent is investigating the matter.”

The Pascagoula School District has issued a statement, saying: “A student was injured while playing on the playground at Arlington Elementary School Tuesday afternoon. School officials responded to the situation. The parent was contacted and the student received medical treatment. No other children were involved in the incident. The Pascagoula School District remains committed to the safety of all its students.”

Despite Harris’ request for a full investigation police have indicated that they may not proceed because they don’t believe a crime was committed.

In the meantime, Harris has created a gofundme page to help raise funds for AvaLynn’s treatment, saying the little girl required a CAT scan to check for further injuries and may need surgery.

[Image Justice for AvaLynn Facebook page]

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Leader of Los Zetas drug cartel arrested near US/Mexico border Mon, 01 Sep 2014 00:18:40 +0000 Agence France-Presse A leader of the violent Los Zetas drug cartel has been arrested in the northwestern Mexican state of Tamaulipas bordering the United States, officials said on Sunday.

Mario Alberto Arce Moreno, 31, was apprehended by federal and state police, who were able to make the arrest “without firing a single shot,” according to a press release issued by law enforcement officials.

Authorities said Arce is a top figure with the Zetas, one of Mexico’s most feared cartels.

He is alleged to have been involved in major drug trafficking and human smuggling operations for the cartel, which is said to be responsible for much of the violence that has roiled the northern Mexican states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas in recent years.

He was arrested with three other people, two young men and a woman, whose identities were not revealed. Police also seized three firearms and a vehicle during the arrest.

The government says tens of thousands of Mexicans have been killed in drug-related violence in the country since 2006.

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British lesbian activist escapes after being held by her mother who wanted to ‘fix’ her sexuality Mon, 01 Sep 2014 00:05:14 +0000 Martin Williams, The Guardian A British lesbian activist has flown home to safety after being held captive by her mother in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who wanted to “fix” her sexuality.

Christina Fonthes, 27, visited her family in Kinshasa on 11 August, but they stole her passport in a bid to keep her in the country and “cure her of her gayness”.

She initially managed to get to the British embassy in the city to apply for emergency travel documents but was unable to stay in the building. Fonthes then travelled to a friend’s house to hide from her family but was reportedly seized by police on the way and taken back to her relatives.

Friends said she was in “massive danger” and suggested the arrest by police was planned by her family.

In a plea for help, Fonthes tweeted on Thursday: “Im NOT missing. My passport has been stolen BY MUM. and I need to return to the uk asap.”

Her partner, the BBC sports presenter Jessica Creighton, said: “It became apparent that her family were unhappy with her decision to be an out lesbian. They took her passport and [were] refusing to give it back. They have said they want to keep her in Congo and ‘cure her of her gayness’.

“Chris is a British citizen and should be under the protection of the British government. So far, their so-called protection has been utterly useless,” she told the Independent last week.

The woman, who co-founded the Rainbow Noir LGBT group in Manchester, has lived in the UK for most of her life and is a British citizen.

Rainbow Noir thanked wellwishers on Facebook on Sunday, saying that Fonthes had managed to return to the UK. “We can confirm that Christina is safe,” it said. The group tweeted that Fonthes was “back home with friends & loved ones! She wants to take some time to unwind and heal, and thanks you for all your support.”

Creighton confirmed her partner was safe, tweeting: “It’s been an unbelievably tough few days. Thank you for all the support!” © Guardian News and Media 2014

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Son of Allentown police chief allegedly pulls gun on detectives in road rage incident Sun, 31 Aug 2014 23:44:16 +0000 Tom Boggioni Authorities took the son of Allentown’s police chief into custody Friday night after he allegedly pointed a loaded handgun at plain clothes detectives in what is being called a “road rage incident.”

According to WFMZ, police arrested 22-year-old Christopher Fitzgerald, son of Allentown Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald, and charged him with simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. He was released on bail Saturday.

According to court documents, plain clothes detectives were in a car trailing the younger Fitzgerald’s white Nissan when he ‘braked-checked them,” stepping on the brakes multiple times. Believing that he had almost caused an accident, the detectives pulled alongside Fitzgerald’s car.

According to the detectives, Fitzgerald opened his car door and pointed a handgun on them, causing the detectives to put their car in reverse and call for backup.

Whitehall Police later found and arrested Christopher Fitzgerald stopped in the Lehigh Valley Mall parking lot.

Court documents describe the gun as a Glock loaded with 16 rounds.

Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald told the Allentown Morning Call that he hopes the public will withhold judgment until the whole story comes out.

“My son has been raised by police officers and respects law enforcement. It is very difficult for me to believe that he would do any thing to harm a police officer, ” he said. “I don’t know what happened, but I think there is more to this story than what we’re hearing so far. I for one will withhold judgment until he has his day in court.’

According to the chief, his son was driving his girlfriend to work at the mall when the incident occurred, and that the couple’s 1-year-old son was also in the vehicle.

Fitzgerald took over as the police chief of Allentown after serving in the same capacity in Missouri City, MO.

Watch video below from WFMZ:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

[Police chief image from Allentown PD website]

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WA woman to serve time after 9-year-old son took gun to school, wounded classmate Sun, 31 Aug 2014 22:06:49 +0000 Tom Boggioni A Washington woman has been sentenced to jail for her part in a shooting at an elementary school after a handgun her son had in his backpack went off, wounding a classmate.

Jamie Lee Chaffin was sentenced to 14 months in prison after pleading guilty to unlawful weapon possession charges, reports the Kitnap Sun.

On Feb. 22, 2012, Chaffin’s then 9-year-old son took a loaded handgun to school in his backpack, which went off wounding 8-year-old classmate, Amina Kocer Bowman, shattering her elbow and damaging her internal organs before the bullet came to rest in her spine.

According to Chaffin’s son, he took the gun to school to protect himself from classmates.

The boy told investigators that he took the gun from the dresser of Chaffin’s boyfriend, Douglas Bauer, during a visit the weekend before the shooting. According to the boy and his siblings, there were other unsecured firearms sitting around Bauer’s home.

Chaffin and Bauer each were charged with third-degree assault, however prosecutors dropped that charge against Chaffin, in return for her testimony against Bauer.

Chaffin faced two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm  due to an 2007 felony conviction for trying to cash a stolen check  which prohibited her from owning or having access to guns. Prosecutors later dropped her charges to one count of possession.

Defense attorney Michael Clark requested a sentence of less than the recommended 14 months, citing a statement from Chaffin’s therapist explaining that she was the victim of abuse earlier in her life, was unable to provide for herself, and was dependent on Bauer at the time of the shooting.

Judge Leila Mills ordered Chafiin to serve the full recommended sentence pointing outing out Chaffin’s criminal history as well as a statement from another juvenile who previously saw a gun in the glove box when traveling with Chaffin. According to the juvenile, Chaffin put her finger to her lips as a signal to not to say anything.

Mill’s explained that the testimony showed Chaffin was well aware of her firearm prohibition.

“I’m not finding there’s anything to justify or excuse this behavior,” Mills admonished Chaffin. “You were under orders not to have a firearm. It was a direct violation.”

Chaffin’s son agreed to a plea agreement with Kitsap County prosecutors, submitting to a year of court-supervised probation after taking responsibility for bringing the gun to school.

Charges against Bauer were thrown out in July by the state Supreme Court.

[Image Bremerton police mugshot]

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Bavarian bakers threaten strike during Oktoberfest, pretzel shortages loom Sun, 31 Aug 2014 20:34:06 +0000 Agence France-Presse Bakers in Bavaria are threatening to go on strike during Germany’s famed Oktoberfest over a pay dispute, depriving beer festival-goers of their traditional salty pretzel accompaniment, a report said Sunday.

“If we don’t get any further by mid-September, we’ll strike in the bakeries,” Focus news magazine quoted deputy regional president of the NGG gastronomy union Mustafa Oz as saying, in its Monday edition.

“Then there’ll be a lack of pretzels and bread rolls” at the Oktoberfest, he added.

The union is negotiating on behalf of 48,000 employees of the bakery sector in southern Bavaria state but so far the proposals by employers have fallen far short of their call for a 6.5-percent wage hike.

The 181st edition of the world-famous Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich begins on September 20, and is expected to draw millions of visitors for a celebration of beer, lederhosen, dirndl dresses and oompah music.

Millions of litre-sized Mass glasses of frothy beer help wash down traditional foods such as pretzels, pork and dumplings.

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WATCH: Dash cam video of Texas woman who asphyxiated to death following arrest Sun, 31 Aug 2014 20:06:37 +0000 Tom Boggioni One year after the death of a Texas woman who died from asphyxiation while in police custody, a dash cam video has been released in response to a civil suit filed by the woman’s family against the police department.

The video, provided to KXII with the approval by the State Attorney General, shows Lesa Suratt struggling with officers in the back of a police cruiser as they attempted to extract a sandwich bag full of drugs she had stuffed in her mouth.

Suratt was pulled over by Sherman police last August during a traffic stop and was then handcuffed and placed in the back of a police cruiser along with passenger Monica Garza.

According to an investigation by the Texas Rangers, Suratt was able to free one hand and stuffed a small sandwich bag of drugs in her mouth while the police were occupied. The report stated that the officers noticed something in her mouth and attempted to open it by using pressure to the side of her face and neck.

According to the lawsuit filed by Suratt’s sister, LInda, officers used excessive force, saying they struck her sister with an open fist and a flashlight in an effort to get her to spit the bag out.

In the video, officers can be seen struggling with Suratt, before pulling her from the vehicle over a screaming Garza.

The suit claims that officers began life saving measures to help Suratt breathe, but failed to call for medical help for twenty minutes or more.

Suratt was transported to Texas Health Presbyterian- Wilson N Jones Hospital where she died. An autopsy report revealed that she died from asphyxiation.

Sherman Police Chief, Otis Henry, claimed his officers were cleared by the Texas Ranger’s report.

“The actions of our officers were investigated by an outside agency, the Texas Rangers,” Henry stated. “The results of their investigation were presented to a Grand Jury and they reviewed the evidence and investigation, and they determined there was no wrongdoing.”

Sherman City Attorney, Brandon Shelby, says both parties plan to meet next month saying, “It’s a conference with the judge where they map out upcoming deadlines as far as discovery goes, dispositive motions, and that sort of thing. So they are very very early in the civil suit.”

Watch the video below from KXII:

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Rep. Mike Rogers: Hundreds of US foreign fighters in Syria pose ‘very serious threat’ to US Sun, 31 Aug 2014 18:34:52 +0000 Reuters Hundreds of U.S., British and Canadian citizens who have trained with Islamic State fighters trying to carve out their own state in Iraq and Syria pose a “very serious threat” to the United States, a top Republican lawmaker said Sunday.

Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, urged the Obama administration to aggressively prosecute U.S. citizens who had trained overseas as it weighed options for how to respond to escalating violence by Islamic State militants in Iraq.

He said an attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels in May had shown a new push by extremist groups to carry out attacks on Western targets, and growing efforts to recruit backers on social media.

“I’m very concerned because we don’t know every single person who has gone and trained and learned how to fight,” Rogers told “Fox News Sunday.”

The United States carried out three air strikes on Saturday against Islamic State fighters near the besieged Shi’ite town of Amerli in northern Iraq and airdropped more than hundred additional bundles of humanitarian aid to civilians trapped there, the Pentagon said.

President Barack Obama last week authorized the new military action, broadening U.S. operations in Iraq amid an international outcry over the threat to Amerli’s mostly ethnic Turkmen population. Washington is seeking to build an international coalition to fight against Islamic State forces.

Rogers said he believed hundreds of U.S. citizens had trained with Islamic State at least once, in addition to an estimated 500 British citizens and hundreds more from Canada, with their passports essentially allowing them “free travel” to the United States to carry out extremist attacks.

“The chances of error are greater than our ability to track every single area. It’s a very serious threat,” he said, noting that U.S. intelligence agencies were also tracking “pretty serious” threats of planned attacks in the West by al Qaeda.

Concerns about Americans associating with Islamic State militant fighters have grown in recent weeks after the deaths of two U.S. citizens in Syria.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in July dozens of Americans were among roughly 7,000 foreign fighters that U.S. intelligence agencies estimate to be operating in Syria, out of roughly 23,000 violent extremists.

Rogers said the number of Americans who had traveled and trained overseas at least once was considerably higher.

He said U.S. efforts to tamp down on such travel by U.S. citizens needed to be handled carefully to avoid restricting the ability of other Americans to travel overseas.

But aggressive prosecution of those who trained with extremist groups could have a deterrent effect, he said.

Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, echoed Rogers’ concerns.

“The biggest threat that I see to the United States right now are Americans and Brits who have passports that have the ability to come into our country without getting a visa,” Ruppersberger told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

“We had the suicide American bomber who was radicalized, came home to visit his parents, went back and then killed himself. Now, that could have happened in the United States,” Ruppersberger said.

A 22-year-old man from Florida carried out a suicide bombing in Syria’s Idlib province in May. A Denver woman was arrested in July on suspicion of trying to fly to Syria to help insurgents, and two men in Texas were arrested on similar charges in June.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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Libyan Islamist militiamen take possession of evacuated US embassy Sun, 31 Aug 2014 17:53:44 +0000 Agence France-Presse Islamist militiamen have moved in to the American embassy compound in the Libyan capital after it was evacuated last month, an AFP photographer said on Sunday.

Members of the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) group said they had gone in to secure the complex of several villas in southern Tripoli to prevent it from being looted.

“Diplomatic missions have been invited to return to Tripoli, and in the meantime we are here to secure the area,” one militiaman said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Washington evacuated its embassy staff on July 27, with Secretary of State John Kerry warning the mission had faced a “real risk” from fierce fighting between armed groups for control of Tripoli’s international airport.

Fajr Libya won the battle for the airport, seizing it on August 23 from nationalist fighters from Zintan, southwest of Tripoli, who had held it since the overthrow of long-time dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

The AFP photographer said there was little sign of damage at the US diplomatic compound apart from some shrapnel scars on an exterior barbed wire-topped wall.

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Elderly couple and their two disabled adult children found shot to death in Chicago suburb Sun, 31 Aug 2014 17:40:47 +0000 Reuters Four members of one family were found shot to death at their home in a Chicago suburb, police said on Sunday.

Local media said the victims were an elderly couple and their two severely disabled adult children. Police said they were investigating the incident in Elmhurst, about 18 miles west of Chicago, but there was no threat or danger to others.

The bodies were discovered Saturday evening after Elmhurst police went to the home for a “well being check,” police said in a statement, identifying the four dead as Francis and Joan Stack, both 82, Francis Stack Jr., 48, and Mary Stack, 57, Elmhurst.

The Chicago Tribune, citing DuPage County court records, said the adult children of the elderly couple suffered from severe mental disabilities and were in residential care programs but came home nearly every weekend.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Robin Pomeroy)

["Closeup of senior couple fighting with a gun" on Shutterstock]

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Number of dead health workers climbs as Ebola epidemic continues to spread Sun, 31 Aug 2014 17:37:29 +0000 Agence France-Presse Nigeria on Sunday confirmed a fresh case of Ebola in a doctor whose husband died from the virus, adding to a growing list of healthcare workers in West Africa hit by the epidemic.

The woman’s husband was also a doctor and died in the city of Port Harcourt on August 22 after treating a patient who had contact with a Liberian man who brought the virus to Nigeria in late July.

She was in stable condition at an isolation unit in the financial capital, Lagos, said Sampson Parker, the health commissioner of Rivers State, of which Port Harcourt is the capital.

Nigeria’s medics have paid a heavy price in the outbreak: of the six people who have died from the disease in Africa’s most populous nation, two have been doctors and two others nurses.

Another doctor and a pharmacist were put into isolation at a unit outside Port Harcourt, Parker said.

“They have not been confirmed (as having Ebola) and we are awaiting the result of investigation,” he told a news conference.

The World Health Organization has voiced concern about the number of healthcare workers hit by the Ebola outbreak: more than 120 health workers have died and over 240 others infected so far.

The disease has killed a total of 1,552 people and infected 3,062 as of August 26, according to WHO figures.

In Guinea, where 430 people have died in all, nurses told AFP they lacked basic medical equipment to treat patients and had even bought items such as gloves and protective clothing themselves.

- Travel restrictions -

In Senegal, doctors were treating a young Guinean man who became the country’s first confirmed case of the disease. He was said to be in a “satisfactory” condition in hospital on Saturday.

The case lends credence to fears that the haemorrhagic fever, for which there is currently no vaccine, is spreading rapidly.

At current infection rates, it could take six to nine months and at least $490 million to bring under control, by which time over 20,000 people could be affected, the WHO has warned.

In Liberia, hardest hit by the outbreak with 694 deaths, the government has denied permission for any crew to disembark from ships docking at any of the country’s four ports.

Medical screening of passengers was also causing long delays at Monrovia’s international airport but a 21-day quarantine thrown around the city’s West Point neighbourhood was lifted on Saturday.

Air travel to West Africa has been badly hit by the disease. Eight of the 11 international airlines serving Monrovia have suspended flights, including British Airways and Air France.

The WHO and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS have both called for travel bans to be lifted, saying medical screening should identify at-risk passengers instead.

- Football qualifiers -

The Ebola crisis has cast doubt over a number of international football fixtures involving the worst-hit countries, with qualifying beginning next week for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.

Sierra Leone, where 422 people have died so far, named a 20-man squad consisting entirely of foreign-based players for its matches against Ivory Coast and the DR Congo.

But Ivory Coast’s government has refused to allow the game to be played in Abidjan and not announced an alternative venue. The Ivorians risk forfeiting the match if they fail to show up.

Ebola-linked restrictions have led to sporadic violence in recent weeks. In Guinea, 55 people were injured in N’Zerekore after two days of protests this week over a government-imposed curfew.

The WHO has credited public health campaigns, especially in Guinea and Nigeria, for limiting the transmission of Ebola.

Guinea-Bissau, currently Ebola-free, on Saturday announced a national hygiene drive, with the cleaning and disinfection of public places on the last Saturday of every month.

Nigeria, however, has seen its hopes of containing the virus dashed with the outbreak in its oil-producing hub, 435 kilometres (270 miles) east of Lagos.

The city is home to a number of global oil and gas majors. Anglo-Dutch giant Shell and France’s Total said this week that the arrival of Ebola has not affected operations.

Chevron said it, too, was closely monitoring developments and implementing “precautionary measures” for its workforce.

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CNN host stunned when radical Muslim cleric makes 9/11 joke during soundcheck Sun, 31 Aug 2014 17:27:04 +0000 Scott Kaufman On CNN’s Reliable Sources this morning, host Brian Stelter spoke with radical Muslim cleric Anjam Choudary, who last week got into a fifteen minute-long shouting match with Fox News commentator Sean Hannity.

“Why would you agree to go on a show like [Hannity]?” Stelter asked.

“I don’t believe there’s any platform that shouldn’t be utilized to spread the message of Islam,” Choudary replied. “I know Sean Hannity’s going to interrupt, that he has been rude to some of his guests. But in between that, I can try to spread the message of Islam.”

“At the end of the day,” he continued, “I believe the truth will prevail, and as you can see by the reaction on social media that I won that debate, and that people are listening to what I actually said, and not what Sean Hannity said.”

“I believe that the Shariah is the best way of life,” he also said. “I believe that one day Shariah will come to America and the rest of the world.”

“What I wonder,” Stelter asked, “is aren’t you abusing the press freedoms you would like to see eliminated under Shariah law?”

“No,” Choudary replied. “I believe that Allah created eyes to see, the tongue to speak. Nobody says to you that you have a right to speak — rather, this is a freedom that Allah created, and he gave you the ability to speak. So I don’t abide by the parameters of your acceptable behavior.”

“But this kind of network, this kind of conversation, would not happen under the kind of environment you would like to see exist,” Stelter responded.

Choudary replied that despite the fact that there is no independent media in Syria or Iran, that does not mean that there can’t be an independent media in an Islamic state. He then contended that there is no such thing as “radical” Islam.

“There is no such thing as a radical or moderate form of Islam,” he said. “You know, a woman is either pregnant or not pregnant. If you abide by Islam, and you follow what is in the Koran and the traditions of the prophet — then, quite frankly, you’d never find anything that I say which does not have Islamic basis.”

“So many Muslims would reject what you just said,” Stelter said, “and say that you are warping your religion for terrible purposes.”

“You’ll find that those people who differ from me believe in secularism, freedom — maybe they’re being paid by the government to say what they say,” Choudary replied.

“Now you’re just making up stuff!” an exasperated Stelter nearly shouted.

“No, that is not true all,” Choudary replied. “I’ve been propagating Islam, and I’ve met most of the leaders of the Muslim community, so I know what’s out there. If you go to Muslims who are actually practicing Islam…you’ll find that they say the exact same thing as me. Because I’m not calling for leadership for individuals, I’m calling for leadership for Islam.”

The conversation abruptly ended when Stelter said, “here’s what bothers me: when we were setting up for our interview here, the audio engineer asked you to count to ten to check the mic, and you started to do that — but then you said 9/11, 7/7, 3/11. Is this all some sort of joke to you?”

“You know,” Choudary said, “if you had a sense of humor, you would have laughed at that. It was just a soundcheck. You shouldn’t take any of these things that seriously. If you want to make it a big deal, then do so, but it makes you look much more shallow, really.”

“I have nothing more to say,” Stelter responded.

Watch the entire interview via CNN below.

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Penn. man sentenced for suffocating girlfriend after failing to kill her in 115 mph car crash Sun, 31 Aug 2014 16:21:43 +0000 Scott Kaufman A 21-year-old man was sentenced to 28 to 56 years in prison for suffocating the girlfriend he failed to kill in a deliberate 115 mile per hour automobile accident, Lancaster Online reports.

According to prosecutors, Benjamin Klinger was driving with his on-again, off-again girlfriend Samantha “Sammi” Heller on December 4, 2012. He deliberately crashed his 1986 Toyota Celica into the guardrail in an attempt to kill Heller, police contend, and upon discovering that she was still alive, prosecutors claimed that he sat on her chest and suffocated her.

A passing motorist witnessed him doing so and called 911. On the call, a woman can be heard moaning in pain in the background.

Heller’s family said that they tried “to do everything they could to keep Sammi away from Ben,” but that she continued to date him despite their efforts.

At his sentencing hearing, Lancaster County Judge Margaret Miller told Klinger that there “is no doubt in my mind you lived your life with a callousness, arrogance and a cowardliness, frankly, because being a bully is a coward. You treated [Heller] like an object, and when that object became an inconvenience, the object was removed from your path.”

She sentenced him to 23 to 46 years for third-degree murder and homicide by vehicle, and added three to six years for a pending charge against him for sending a sexually explicit photograph of having sexual intercourse with a minor, as well as another two to four years for dealing drugs to an undercover police officer.

["Crashed Mustang" via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons License]

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Aftershocks still shake California’s Napa Valley a week after 6.0 magnitude quake Sun, 31 Aug 2014 15:27:24 +0000 Reuters California’s Napa Valley, the site of a strong and damaging earthquake a week ago, was shaken by a small aftershock early on Sunday.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake, measuring magnitude 3.2, occurred five miles southwest of Napa. There were no immediate reports of damage.

It was one of many aftershocks that have occurred since Aug. 24 when a magnitude 6.0 quake struck, the biggest to hit California’s Bay Area in 25 years, injuring more than 200 people and damaging dozens of buildings.

Grape-harvesting season is getting under way in Napa County, where thousands of people are employed in wine production.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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Iceland issues red alert after new eruption on island’s largest volcano Sun, 31 Aug 2014 15:25:34 +0000 Agence France-Presse Iceland on Sunday raised the aviation alert at its largest volcano, Bardarbunga, to maximum level red following a new eruption in a lava field nearby.

The alert entails a ban on all flights below 6,000 feet (1.8 kilometres) within a radius of 10 nautical miles (18.5 kilometres, 11.5 miles) of Bardarbunga.
“All airports are open. The area has no effect on any airports,” the Civil Protection Office said in a statement.

Sunday was the third time in a week that Iceland issued a red alert for aviation due to seismic activity at the peak, prompting fears of global flight chaos like that caused by another Icelandic volcano four years earlier.

In April 2010 Eyjafjoell, a smaller volcano, spewed a massive ash cloud into the atmosphere, triggering the closure of airspace for days and stranding more than eight million travellers.

Bardarbunga, at 2,000 metres (6,500 feetis Iceland’s second-highest peak and is located under Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajoekull.

It also sits in one of the most active seismic areas on the planet.

The Bardarbunga volcano system, in the southeast of the country, became active on August 16, producing hundreds of tremors daily.

Sunday’s eruption took place shortly before 0600 GMT in roughly the same area in Holuhraun lava field where another and smaller eruption took place Friday, according to the Civil Protection Office.

And it took place along a longer fissure than Friday’s eruption — 1.5-kilometre (0.9-mile) compared with one-kilometre (0.6-mile).

The authorities also said that scientists who had been monitoring the eruption were forced to flee on Sunday because a sandstorm was sweeping across the Bardarbunga area.

The Vatnajoekull glacier which covers the volcano is largely uninhabited but popular with tourists and hunters, who stay at trekking cabins and campsites in the summer months. The area was evacuated within days of Bardarbunga kicking into action.

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Russell Brand: Industrial farms would ‘defecate in our faces’ if it made them more profitable Sun, 31 Aug 2014 15:11:57 +0000 Scott Kaufman On the latest episode of The Trews, English comedian Russell Brand criticized the global corporate food industry for caring more profit than people.

“The food industry and the agricultural industry,” he said, “when conducted on a global, transnational level by multinational corporations is terrifying. There’s all sorts of skullduggery conducted by the likes of Monsanto, [genetically modified] farming — the intervention into local farming practices.”

“The UN recently did a study,” Brand continued, “and they learned that all of our agricultural needs could be met by localized organic farming. This is the model we want to head towards — localized collectives controlling our own resources, growing our own food, naturally, in harmony with planet.”

“People will tell you that can’t work,” he said, before imitating one such person. “‘That can’t work! Only industrialized agriculture can feed the world! That’s why no one’s hungry!’”

He switched back into his own voice to interject, “That’s why most people are starving! All of their systems, from stuff they tell us to eat, to the way they tell us to eat it, from the way they sell us it, and set up trade agreements and transportation systems to convey the food — it is all for one reason, and one reason only: to benefit them as much as they possibly can without just defecating in our faces.”

Watch the entire episode of The Trews via YouTube below.

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Protest at controversial dolphin hunt leads to arrest of animal rights activists Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:45:04 +0000 Agence France-Presse Fourteen animal rights activists have been detained on the Faroe island of Sandoy in the North Atlantic while trying to stop a controversial dolphin hunt, their organisation said Sunday.

The activists were detained Saturday when attempting to save a pod of 33 pilot whales, members of the dolphin family, as the mammals were driven to shore to be killed by waiting hunting parties, according to environmental group Sea Shepherd.

“The 14 have been under arrest since Saturday, and three of our boats have also been seized,” Lamya Essemlali, president of Sea Shepherd France, told AFP.

Large numbers of pilot whales are slaughtered each year on the Faroe Islands, an autonomous territory within the kingdom of Denmark.

The method involves the mammals being forced into a bay by flotillas of small boats before being hacked to death with hooks and knives.

While many locals defend the hunt as a cultural right, animal rights campaigners have denounced it as a “brutal and archaic mass slaughter”.

The group detained on Saturday included six Sea Shepherd members on shore on Sandoy, and eight who were on three small boats near the island.
Sea Shepherd said a ship from the Danish Navy ordered the environmental organisation’s three boats to stand off and later seized the vessels.

A spokesman for the Danish Armed Forces’ Arctic Command, which is responsible for the Faroe Islands, said it was standard procedure for the Danish Navy to assist the Faroese police in its work. Faroese police could not immediately be reached for comment.

Those arrested were eight French citizens, two South Africans, two Spaniards, one Italian and one Australian, according to Essemlali.

After their arrest, the hunt went ahead and all 33 pilot whales were killed, according to Sea Shepherd.

- ‘Atrocity’ -

One of the boats seized on Saturday, B.S. Sheen, is sponsored by American actor Charlie Sheen, who said he was proud his vessel had taken part in trying to stop the “atrocity.”

“The Faroese whalers brutally slaughtered an entire pod of 33 pilot whales today — several generations taken from the sea — and Denmark is complicit in the killing,” Sheen said in a statement.

The demonstrators were taking part in an ongoing campaign in which hundreds of activists have pledged to patrol the waters around the Faroe Islands to block the killing of pilot whales.

The killings — known locally as “grinds” — have emerged as a prominent celebrity cause, with renowned ballet dancer Sylvie Guillem and former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson among the backers of Sea Shepherd’s campaign.
Since records began, more than 265,000 small cetaceans have been killed in the Faroe Islands, mainly between the months of June and October, according to Sea Shepherd.

It says that 267 pilot whales were killed in one grind last year near the Faroese town of Fuglafjorour.

Whaling in the Faroes stretches back to the earliest Norse settlements more than 1,000 years ago, and community-organised hunts date to at least the 16th century.

["Two Dolphins Swim In The Pool" via Shutterstock]

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California sex offender impersonating cop ‘arrests’ and rapes exotic dancer Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:11:44 +0000 Scott Kaufman A California exotic dancer who was raped by a convicted sex offender impersonating a police officer spoke about her ordeal to Fox 11 on Saturday.

Desiree Patton said that her assailant, Guy Dietz, found her through online advertisements placed by the exotic dancing agency she works for. She said that when she arrived at Dietz’s Torrance, California home, he informed her that he was a police officer, placed her under “arrest,” and handcuffed her hands behind her back.

“He was very good at it. Very good. Everything was like he was an off duty officer,” she told Fox 11. “And, he basically blackmailed me at first and then forced himself on me.”

Patton claimed that Dietz said, as an officer, he can arrest her and trump up charges. “He can make the report anything he wants it be,” she said. “He’ll take me to jail. I felt I was in danger.”

Torrance Police Sergeant Paul Kranke confirmed that Dietz did, in fact, impersonate a police officer, and that he had previously served time for a 1998 rape conviction that placed him on the California sex offender registry.

Police were dispatched to his house, but he had already fled. Dietz was later spotted 270 miles away, near Soledad in Monterey County, where he led California Highway Patrol officers on a chase that reached speeds of 140 miles per hour. He was taken into custody after ditching his vehicle and attempting to flee on foot.

Asked why she spoke out and identified herself as the victim, Patton said, “so many women have been abused and raped…and I don’t want to be another quiet person. I want this guy to get the maximum penalty.”

Watch an interview with the rape victim via Fox 11 below.

Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

["Police Officer Delay Prostitute In Front Of Brick Wall" on Shutterstock]

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Are emojis the world’s first universal language? Sun, 31 Aug 2014 13:33:03 +0000 Alex Bellos, The Guardian I sent one this morning. My pal texted to say that she was in that most invidious of contemporary social tangles: someone was offering her a Kate Bush spare but she had already committed herself elsewhere. Me, I was busy thinking about emoji. I didn’t have time to deal with someone else’s heartache or their moral scruples vis-a-vis ditching an apparently iron-clad prior engagement. I scanned quickly through the available faces: there was one, all scrunched up in dismay about something or other. I decided it would do to convey a mixture of can-you-believe-it crossness and wrenching disappointment, selected it, added zilch and pressed send.

Obviously, I could have replied simply: “AAAARGH!!!”. That would have been quick and done the job. But being a wordy sort of person and also much given to fruitless rumination, I would have been more likely to spend 20 minutes and several paras (yes: even in a txt msg) trying to convey perfectly my empathetic rage at her thwarted desire and suggest half-a-dozen doomed compromises (“Perhaps if you left after the first course your great aunt wouldn’t be too hurt?”).

But my timid scrunch-face puts me so behind the curve that I might as well start training carrier pigeons. A single emoji just doesn’t cut the mustard any more, no matter how vigorous its expression; not when you can get cats with hearts for eyes, Roswell aliens, flamenco dancers, lavatories and cable cars (my favourite food item is something that looks very much like a deep-fried prawn. Why?). These more highly developed and extensive version of early emoticons – the :-) and :-( built from ASCII characters and used in texts and emails – have opened up serious new possibilities. The savvy and inventive are now sending entire communications, both public and private and on multiple platforms, in emoji, artfully stringing together expressive little yellow heads with pictures of dancing girls, umbrellas, snowmen, saxophones and aubergines (this probably means something like “signal failure at Thornton Heath. Don’t put the moussaka on until after Emmerdale”). And all in 144 pixels per symbol.

Want to make yourself feel slightly nauseous and utterly baffled? Go to (take note of the warning to epilepsy sufferers) and watch a screenful of pictograms and numbers tell you exactly how many and exactly which emoji are being used on Twitter at this very moment. Quite what you’d do with that information is another matter, but hey, knowledge is power.

All of which brings us a very long way from the end of the last millennium, when Japanese teenagers started using emoji on their pagers (the word itself consists of e-, picture, mo-, writing, ji, character). By 2010, the Unicode Consortium, a software industry body whose 10 full members include Google, Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo, had approved a set of internationally standardised emoji; the following year, Apple incorporated them into iOS5. Now there are more than 800, with new characters added at regular intervals (the process to add one of your own devising, Unicode warns, is a long and formal one; essentially, you’d have to demonstrate it fulfilled a genuine communication gap). Their nature has begun to spark intense debate, most recently about the lack of diversity in available human pictograms; why, for example, are there numerous images of a white woman in a pink sweater in a variety of poses, but a single image of a brown-faced man in a turban?

If we are beginning to construct and communicate in a new alphabet, one that transcends existing language even if it is still culturally specific, we surely wouldn’t want it to begin by excluding vast swaths of humanity. We might also ponder what other uses it could be put to, given that a quick glance at Twitter suggests that it is currently deployed largely to compress fleeting social experiences and imbue them with a humorous, semi-ironised edge, or, rather poignantly, to suggest what you might rather be doing (dancing, drinking, getting a manicure) than what you actually are (working, hanging out the washing, clearing crap out of the gutter).

They are, though, already popping up in our shared culture; just think back to March for Jesse Hill’s unofficial video accompaniment to Beyoncé’s Drunk in Love (lots of symbols of Martinis, lips, cigarettes, diamonds and lightning strikes). “It’s funny,” the video producer told Vogue. “I’ve never been asked about how much I’m using emoji, and now all of a sudden people are calling me an emoji artist.” And one even grander project has already taken place: the “translation” of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick – all 10,000 or so sentences of it – into emoji, a feat masterminded by data engineer Fred Benenson, funded by Kickstarter and undertaken by more than 800 Amazon Mechanical Turks (workers who perform laborious “human intelligence tasks” for a fee per task, so called because their labour is organised through an Amazon site).

After they had turned 19th-century American epic prose into little pictures three times over, more workers voted on their favourite versions of each sentence, which is why I don’t understand why the book’s famous opening sentence, “Call me Ishmael”, becomes, to my eyes at least, “telephone/man-with-moustache/yacht/whale/OK-sign”. But I am undoubtedly missing something. Modernity, perhaps.

On the bright side, we might wonder whether emoji represent a chance to be free, however temporarily, of the constraints and treacheries of language. Words give us the opportunity to express doubt, ambiguity, the finer gradations of thought, of course, but they can also act as multipliers of misunderstanding, as blunt weapons for banishing dissent, as vehicles for forked-tongue political rhetoric.

Follow the way of the emoji and you will mourn the moment when you finally open your heart to the person who has meant the most to you. But you will also learn how much easier it is to get out of an unwanted date (flames + person running + heart broken in two), resign from a rubbish job (paper and pencil + briefcase + lit bomb + pink-sweater-girl waving goodbye + wine) or arrange to go out on the town (multiple possibilities, suggesting that this is what it’s all about). Roland Barthes would have had a field day.

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300 people injured, 1 dead in Pakistan protests Sun, 31 Aug 2014 13:29:46 +0000 Jon Boone, The Guardian Anti-government protesters forced their way into the grounds of Pakistan’s parliament on Saturday amid violent clashes that saw police fire teargas and rubber bullets at crowds demanding the prime minister’s resignation.

A man died and more than 300 people were injured, according to local hospitals, during clashes that broke out after the followers of former cricket star Imran Khan and Pakistani-Canadian cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri began moving towards key government buildings in the heart of Islamabad.

Associated Press quoted a hospital official, Dr Wasim Khawaja, as saying that one protester, Naveed Razzaq, drowned in a ditch when the crowd was bombarded with tear gas

Thousands of protesters had besieged the sensitive area for nearly two weeks after the government deliberately chose not to use force to prevent them entering the high-security “Red Zone” of the capital. But police were finally compelled to respond after protesters attempted to use a crane to remove sea containers placed to block access to official buildings in the area, including the residence of the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who was not in the capital at the time.

Despite the presence of more than 30,000 security forces, the protesters, armed with hammers and cutting tools, eventually succeeded in using a truck to ram open gates outside Pakistan’s imposing Parliament House, allowing people to flood on to the expansive lawns. The crowds did not attempt to enter the building itself after finding the entrance blocked by a large group of soldiers.

More than 300 people, including women, children and police officers were admitted to two government hospitals, Associated Press reported. The injured had wounds from tear gas shells, batons and rubber bullets, said Dr Javed Akram, who heads the capital’s main hospital. He said 37 police officers were among the injured.

Protesters started regrouping at daybreak on Sunday and made repeated attempts to break through the heavy deployment of police and barricades to reach the premier’s residence, AP reported. Police strengthened their lines and responded by lobbing tear gas canisters.

In recent days, Khan and Qadri had both threatened to try to push into the state buildings unless their demands for Sharif to stand down were met. They had also insisted that their supporters would remain peaceful, but many of them carried bamboo staves and had become prepared with eye protection and rudimentary gas masks.

Although both men had promised to lead from the front, with Khan even claiming he would “take the first bullet”, they both stayed back, with Khan remaining inside a specially converted sea container that he has occupied throughout the protests.

Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, described the police action against the crowd as illegal. “Now we will show this government. We will call for countrywide agitation and we will jam the whole of Pakistan,” he said.

Khan is ostensibly protesting against what he claims was industrial-scale rigging in last year’s general elections, although no independent watchdog has supported his allegations. Qadri, a cleric whose own political party has no seats in parliament, has said he wants a “Green revolution” that will sweep away a democratic order he claims is inherently corrupt.

But in recent days, his demands have focused on a criminal investigation into the prime minister and other senior leaders over the killing of at least 10 of his supporters during confrontations with police in Lahore in June.

The desire to avoid a similar deadly confrontation made the government deeply reluctant to use force against Khan and Qadri when they first entered Islamabad after a “long march” from the city of Lahore on August 15. Serious violence could force an intervention by Pakistan’s powerful military, which has repeatedly ousted civilian governments – a move many analysts believe Khan and Qadri had hoped to provoke.

The military, which has fought bruising policy battles with the government over the last year, has already taken a central role in the saga after army chief General Raheel Sharif held a late-night meeting with Khan and Qadri on Thursday.

But the discussions failed to create a breakthrough, with Khan returning to address his supporters with a promise that he would not end his protest until Sharif resigned.

On Saturday, the government insisted that Sharif would not step down despite the scenes in the capital and outbreaks of violence in other cities in the country.

Late on Saturday night, the country’s defence minister said the protesters would not be allowed to continue and would be cleared.

Other political parties have generally supported Sharif during the drawn-out crisis. But the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party said it “strongly condemned” the police crackdown, while the leader of the Muttahida Quami Movement announced a “day of mourning” and demanded Sharif’s resignation.

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Scientists hope to root out disease in your dog via genetic sequencing Sun, 31 Aug 2014 13:24:51 +0000 Robin McKie, The Observer Molly is a 16-month-old black labrador retriever and like so many dogs of her breed, she is exuberant, biddable and anxious to please. She also has a distinct personality, insists her owner Sussi Wiles, from Harefield, Middlesex. “Molly is just a bit cheeky and will do unexpected things. She will jump up at you when you are not expecting it. But she is also good-natured and cheerful and really likes being around people.”

The labrador retriever, of which there are yellow, chocolate and black varieties, is the UK’s most popular pedigree dog. It is estimated there are several hundred thousand living in homes round the country today, a popularity that has much to do with the dog’s innate, endearing good nature. Hence many owners’ fanatical devotion to them. As one website dedicated to the breed puts it: “When God made labrador retrievers, he was showing off.”

Molly is typical in possessing that lovable, affectionate disposition though she is unusual in one intriguing aspect. Information about her life is now being recorded in extraordinary detail in an online project, called Dogslife, which aims to trace the environmental roots of illnesses in the labrador retriever – and a lot more.

According to scientists at Edinburgh University’s Roslin Institute – the research institute where Dolly the Sheep was created and which launched Dogslife four years ago – the project could become the forerunner of many similar schemes. The aim is to trace the environmental roots of disease – viruses, bacteria, poor food or poor exercise regimes – in other pedigree dogs, and possibly other pedigree animals including top farmyard breeds of bulls and sheep, they say.

For good measure, the Roslin team are planning to augment the data they get from Dogslife by exploiting the very latest techniques in DNA analysis to uncover the genetic – as opposed to the lifestyle – roots of labrador disease. The aim is to create the first labrador genome. Hence its title: the Labradome project. And if it works it could become a pioneer for other pedigree animals, both pets and livestock. The labrador retriever is about to play an unexpectedly important role in the nature-nurture debate, it transpires.

“We picked the labrador for the simple reason that it is the most common pedigree dog in the UK,” says Professor David Hume, Roslin’s director. “However, the lessons learned from it will go far beyond this breed or indeed for dogs in general.

“The key point is that dogs like the labrador retriever are now getting human-like conditions because – as veterinary care and nutrition improves – they are living to ripe old ages when they start to succumb to heart disease, arthritis and cognitive loss. They get Alzheimer’s disease, in effect. They also get obese and suffer diabetes as a consequence. Hence our interest.”

Molly’s involvement in Dogslife requires Wiles to key in reams of information every month about her dog’s diet, hours of exercise, treatments for fleas and worms and any bouts of illness she might suffer. The project – which remains an exclusively labrador project for the moment – currently has more than 4,500 dogs signed up to its website.

Owners put up photos of their pets and regularly input veterinary information – though a select few have even more onerous work to do. They have to send regular samples of their dogs’ excrement to the Roslin team to provide information about the microbes that inhabit the animals’ guts and which might leave them susceptible to various digestive disorders.

From the huge stores of doggy data that are being built up this way, researchers expect they will soon begin to tease out some of the causes of disease that affect labradors in later life and answer key questions about their lifestyles. Are particular types of dog food associated with particular diseases? Do infections at certain stages in a dog’s life leave it vulnerable to more serious diseases in later years? And what exercise regimes are most likely to produce good health in later age for the labrador?

“If a dog is getting the trots all the time, we want to know if it’s because they have got a certain type of organism in their guts,” adds Hume. “And does it make a difference what kind of feed they get: dried food or fresh meat? How does diet affect an animal’s health status?”

Many of the roots of labrador ailments are not going to be environmental in origin, of course, but will be inherited. Hence the Roslin team’s decision to launch the Labradome project in parallel with Dogslife. This will involve geneticists creating a high-quality sequence of the genome of a single labrador retriever: the first time that a full genome of this breed will have been sequenced.

“We are going to sequence in depth the entire complement of genes in a healthy labrador retriever to ensure we have a perfect, accurate picture of the basic genetic structure of one of these dogs,” says Dylan Clements, the Roslin researcher who is leading the project. “Then we will sequence the genomes of a number of other labradors, animals that have various different labrador diseases, such as hip dysplasia.

“Then by comparing their genomes with those of our standard, healthy dog, we will be able to work out what are the differences in genetic sequences between the various animals. In this way, we hope to be able to unravel the genetic roots of some of the labrador retriever’s main illnesses.”

A key factor in setting up the Labradome project has been the recent, dramatic cut in the cost of sequencing genomes. The first human genome that was sequenced just over a decade ago cost billions of pounds. The development of ultra-fast, automated sequencing machines has since slashed the price of unrolling the billions of bases of DNA that make up genomes of mammals. As a result, it should be possible to get a really high-quality genome for a labrador for only a few thousand pounds, says Clements.

Hence the decision to set up the Labradome project on the back of Dogslife, says Hume, and to exploit two of the most dramatic technological marvels of the 21st century: the internet and the genome sequencer. “We are funded to fully sequence 50 labradors which we are choosing from a spectrum of different animals with different phenotypes (observable characteristics) so we can get insights into the causes of the main illnesses that affect the breed.”

One of the principal ailments to be analysed as part of the Labradome project will be a condition called accessory pathway disease, in which the heart short-circuits and beats faster and faster and which can lead to heart failure. Another is called portosystemic shunts, which occurs when a dog’s blood circulation misses out its liver so that it becomes clogged with unhealthy chemicals that would normally be filtered out.

And then there is hip dysplasia, in which the bones that fit into a dog’s hip socket become loose so that the animal develops severe osteoarthritis. “We know this condition is caused by a group of genes, not a singe one, and that is probably true for accessory pathway disease and portosystemic shunts as well. However, if we can create the incredibly detailed sequence that we are planning to do for the labrador retriever and compare dogs with hip dysplasia with our standard healthy animal, we hope we will be able to pin down those genes.”

Armed with this information, researchers can then study how these genes are activated and think of lifestyle changes that might prevent these illnesses from erupting. The point, they say, is that once the Labradome project is finished, it will be possible to look at a top breeding male and see what recessive traits he possesses. Chromosomes come in pairs and if a dog has a gene involved in a disease on one chromosome but has a healthy one on the other chromosome of that pair, it will not be affected by the disease. However, the dog can still pass the disease gene on to future generations so that if two carriers are bred, they can produce offspring affected by the disease. Such conditions are said to be recessive.

“And that is why the Labradome project will be so useful,” says Hume. “We will be able to spot if a stud male has got an unhealthy recessive gene. Then we could breed future generations from it by taking offspring that did not have the chromosome with the disease gene. We would only use offspring that had inherited the chromosome with the healthy gene. Effectively we will be removing that disease from the pedigree. This is known as molecular selection and we are going to use to improve the genetic fitness of the labrador retriever.”

This point is backed by Clements. “This is a fantastically exciting time for canine genetics,” he says. “It has become an amazingly powerful tool to dissect the molecular basis for why these diseases develop and to help us ways to breed out complex inherited diseases.”

For her part, Wiles is simply content that the labrador retriever is getting its proper share of the limelight. “These dogs are incomparable and it seems really fitting that they are leading the way in this sort of research. I know why Molly is fantastic. Now scientists are going to know why that is.”

["Dog Labrador Nature Of Water" on Shutterstock]

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China struggles with children ‘left behind’ by government’s one-child policy Sun, 31 Aug 2014 13:19:56 +0000 Tania Branigan, The Guardian Yes, it is just a simple stuffed toy. But put it into a child’s arms and watch as he pretends to feed it, talks to it, even crowns it as a monarch. First, it gives him security; then it allows him to role-play and develop social skills.

Chinese authorities hope tips like these, included in a book for parents and nursery teachers, will help to stem mental health problems among the country’s young. While budgets for child and adolescent mental health services are being frozen or cut in the UK, China is seeking to expand provision, promote psychotherapeutic approaches and adopt preventative measures.

Since 2012 Beijing nurseries and schools have promoted mental health as well as physical fitness. Last year China passed its first mental health law and told paediatricians to screen patients for warning signs: Do the three-month-old baby’s eyes follow moving objects? At 18 months, can she make eye contact? Officials have also enlisted foreign psychotherapists to help train specialists and increase awareness.

“The government is paying a lot of attention to psychological health,” said Dr Zheng Yi, president of the Chinese Society for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and deputy director of Beijing Anding Hospital at Capital Medical University.

The preliminary results of research he has overseen, to be released later this year, suggest around 15% of Chinese children have mental health problems. He said that compared favourably with a rate of around 20% elsewhere, but noted that some problems, such as anxiety disorders, appear to be on the increase.

Rising living standards have allowed more parents to focus on their children’s emotional wellbeing, but development has also brought new problems, including dramatic changes in family structures and increased educational and social pressure. “For a lot of children, economics are not a problem. The problem is that opportunities to play are fewer,” said Zheng.

Others cite the impact of the generation gap created by China’s transformation and the impact of the “one child” policy. Only children may enjoy better care but can become over-indulged “little emperors”, or suffer loneliness because they lack company their own age.

Viviane Green of the department of psychosocial studies at Birkbeck College, one of the international experts developing the training programme, said cases were often similar to those in the UK, with “acting out teenagers; early attachment issues”.

But she added: “What probably is slightly different is how emotions are expressed, because the culture is different and filial piety is very strong. People do have conflicts – but the sense of self is not an individualised model as we have here – [the idea] that good mental health is about separating and moving away. It’s much more about duty to the family of origin and the links you keep with them.”

Psychotherapy is growing fast in China, but the country’s specialists must “help these new ideas to relate to other kinds of experience they have got from local culture, as well as people like psychiatrists,” said Dr Wang Qian, who has organised the international training as director of the executive office of the national psychoanalytical unit.

Dr Sverre Varvin, who chairs the China committee of the International Psychoanalytical Association and has trained Chinese professionals for years, added: “China is a really metaphorical culture and you have to spend some time to discover what the metaphors are.”

Serious problems remain in the provision of services. There is a dearth of child psychiatrists in China, which Zheng said would be addressed by training paediatricians and general doctors in early diagnosis and basic treatment.

Services are scarcest of all in the countryside, where they may be most needed. Many migrant workers leave their offspring at home when they move, because China’s “household registration” system means they struggle to get services such as education in the cities. Most are reunited once a year at best.

Almost 50% of these “left-behind” children suffer depression and anxiety, compared with 30% of their urban peers, according to a new study funded by the Heilongjiang provincial government. They are also more likely to suffer from mood swings and stress. The lead researcher, Yang Yanjie of Harbin Medical University, said their psychological problems tended to be more complex: “Left-behind children usually have inferiority complexes, lower self-esteem and lower confidence. Many appear to lack security and are too afraid or feel too much anxiety to interact with other people,” she said.

Some are effectively raised by single parents; in other cases, both parents work, and they are reared by grandparents who may lack the time and energy to nurture them. Guardians were often focused on material support and ignored children’s emotional needs, said Yang.While there is little funding for programmes targeting vulnerable groups at present, the appetite for them is striking. Save The Children initially provided “psychological first aid” in emergencies such as natural disasters, offering basic support and identifying those who need further assistance. But Pia MacRae, its China director, said staff and partners then requested it extend training to workers at centres for street children.

Zheng believes attention must be focused on prevention as well as cure. Social changes need not be damaging if people adapt appropriately: making sure only children spend time with other boys and girls their own age; perhaps alternating stints as migrant workers so that there is always one parent at home.

But the first big challenge, he said, was to tackle perceptions so that mental health problems no longer carried a stigma for children. “If we can get rid of that, seeing a psychiatrist will be like seeing a doctor if you have a fever,” he said.

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Professional fighter ‘War Machine’ sent to Nevada to face charges for brutally assaulting girlfriend Sun, 31 Aug 2014 13:15:38 +0000 Reuters The professional fighter known as “War Machine” was in custody in a Las Vegas jail on Saturday after being transferred from Southern California, where he was arrested for assault stemming from an ex-girlfriend’s accusation that he beat her in Nevada.

Jonathan Koppenhaver, an Ultimate Fighting Championship competitor, was released from jail in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, on Wednesday to be transported to Nevada, said Captain Don Aguilar, a spokesman for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.

Koppenhaver, 32, was in custody on charges including battery resulting in substantial harm, battery by strangulation and assault with a deadly weapon, according to the website for the Clark County detention center in Las Vegas.

His ex-girlfriend, adult film actress Christy Mack, said on Twitter earlier this month she had suffered 18 broken facial bones, a broken nose and rib and a ruptured liver when “War Machine” attacked her and a man at her home.

A Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department arrest warrant named Koppenhaver as the prime suspect in the Aug. 8 assault against two people at a Las Vegas residence. It did not identify the alleged victims by name.

The mixed martial arts fighter was arrested on Aug. 15 at a hotel in the Los Angeles suburb of Simi Valley.

Koppenhaver had taken to social media to respond to the allegations before his arrest, writing on Twitter: “The cops will never give me fair play, never believe me. Still deciding what to do but at the end of the day it’s all just heart breaking.”

(Reporting by Alexia Shurmur; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Chris Michaud)

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Parents of British brain tumor boy to go before Spanish judge Sun, 31 Aug 2014 13:12:23 +0000 Agence France-Presse The arrested parents of a five-year-old British boy with a brain tumour who was taken from hospital without medical consent and found in Spain will appear before a Spanish judge on Tuesday, police said.

Brett King, 51, and Naghemeh King, 45, will appear in a Madrid court following their arrest on Saturday evening, a police spokesperson said Sunday.

“The child is receiving hospital care, the parents are in detention,” he said, adding that the other six children in the family are staying in an undisclosed location, looked after by the adults among them.

Five-year-old Ashya King was removed from a hospital in Southampton in southern England on Thursday, leading police to issue a European arrest warrant for his parents.

They were tracked down to a guesthouse, Hostal Esperanza on the Costa del Sol, around 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Malaga in southern Spain, after they were recognised by an employee.

“It’s my colleague that alerted the police,” an employee at the hostel told AFP by telephone. “She had seen them on an online newspaper.”

- ‘He’s very happy’ -

Authorities in Britain, France and Spain have been racing against the clock to locate Ashya, who was operated on just one week ago and requires feeding through a nasal tube and a machine, raising fears that it could run out of batteries.

“As you can see, there’s nothing wrong with him,” said the father Brett King in a video on YouTube posted on Saturday by one of the other children.

“He’s very happy since we took him out of hospital, he’s been smiling a lot more.”

The video shows Ashya sitting on his father’s knees and hooked up to the feeding machine.

King says he pulled his son out of hospital because he was upset with the care he was receiving, and wanted to seek different treatments abroad that were not offered by the British public healthcare system.

He does not explain in the video why the family chose to visit southern Spain but police had earlier indicated the family had “strong links” to the area.

“There are no winners in this situation. I’ve said all along that this must be a terribly distressing time for Ashya’s family and I stand by that now,” said Chris Shead from Britain’s Hampshire police.

He said the arrest warrant was based around “neglect” but added: “That does not necessarily mean they would be charged with that offence.

“It purely gives us the power to arrest and then we’ll be able to speak to them.”
King’s parents, who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, were seen boarding a ferry to Cherbourg in France after taking the boy.

On the Hampshire police’s Facebook page, one poster, Katie Fletcher, wrote: “This is my mother’s friend, she has run away in desperation because they cannot accept that there is nothing that can be done for their son and want to look for help abroad.

“Please don’t judge, they are a very sweet loving family and I can only believe they are doing this because they want to help their son.”

The boy’s paternal grandmother, Patricia King, said her son and his wife were “marvellous” parents.

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Ukrainian rebels prepare for renewed offensive as EU threatens Russia with sanctions Sun, 31 Aug 2014 13:05:20 +0000 Agence France-Presse Pro-Russian separatists were preparing a fresh offensive on a key coastal location in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, as EU leaders gave Moscow one week to curb its support for the rebels or face new sanctions.

A ragtag mix of volunteer battalions and local residents were bracing for a desperate defence of Mariupol, a strategic port city and the last big town in the region still under Ukrainian control.

“We can hold them off, but for how long? We don’t have the strength to beat them,” said Panther, a tattooed fighter with the Azov battalion, said to be one of the most radical nationalist groups fighting in the area.

The renewed rebel assault of the past week has raised fears in Brussels that the conflict in eastern Ukraine could descend into a “full-scale war” with Russia that risks engulfing the entire continent.

The European Union agreed to take “further significant steps” if Moscow did not rein in its support for the rebels, EU President Herman Van Rompuy said on Sunday after a meeting of the bloc’s 28 heads of state.

They ordered the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to draw up options for new sanctions within a week.

“Everybody is fully aware that we have to act quickly given the evolution on the ground and the tragic loss of life of the last days,” Van Rompuy told a news conference.

NATO last week accused Moscow of sending at least 1,000 troops to fight alongside the rebels, and presented satellite imagery showing artillery, tanks and armoured vehicles crossing the border.

Russia has flatly denied any involvement in the fighting and says any Russian troops in Ukraine are volunteers on holiday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the new sanctions would build on existing measures against Russia which mainly cover financial services, armaments and energy.

British Prime Minister David Cameron warned Moscow that “if she carries on in this way the relationship between Europe and Russia, Britain and Russia, America and Russia will be radically different in the future.”

- ‘Today Ukraine, tomorrow Europe’ -

The latest warnings came after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko visited Brussels to urge the EU to take tougher steps against Russia’s “military aggression and terror”.

“We are very close to the point of no return. The point of no return is full-scale war, which is already happening in the territories controlled by the separatists,” he told a news conference.

“Today we are talking about the fate of Ukraine, tomorrow it could be for all

Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite, whose Baltic nation is wary of the resurgent power on its eastern border, warned that “Russia is practically in a state of war against Europe” and urged EU military assistance to Kiev.
Poroshenko said he expected the West to increase its weapons contributions to Ukraine following discussions at a NATO summit in Cardiff on Thursday and Friday.

Those hoping for a tough line on Russia were emboldened by the announcement on Saturday that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a vocal Kremlin critic, has been chosen to replace Van Rompuy as the EU’s next president.

Although Russia continues to deny direct involvement in the conflict, there have been media reports of secret military funerals for those sent to fight in Ukraine.

On Sunday Russian media quoted a military official saying that a prisoner swap had taken place at the northeastern border with Kharkiv region.

Ten Russian paratroopers were exchanged for 63 Ukrainian soldiers who had crossed the border last week, said Major General Alexei Ragozin, deputy commander of Russia’s Airborne troops that Kiev has accused of heavy involvement in the fighting.

- Last city standing -

The past week has seen a renewed rebel offensive around Ukraine’s Azov Sea, pointing to a possible attempt by Moscow to establish a corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula it annexed in March.

Volunteers manning the barricades at Mariupol fear their trenches and barbed wire will be little match for the insurgents’ tanks, but recognise the importance of their task.

“It is the last big town in the region under Ukrainian control, home to half a million people,” commander of Ukraine’s Azov battalion, Andriy Biletskiy told AFP.

The rebels have advanced swiftly along the coast, capturing the nearby town of Novoazovsk last Wednesday, just one day after Poroshenko met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks that failed to achieve any breakthrough.
Poroshenko said on Saturday that fresh peace talks grouping representatives of Kiev, Moscow and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) would take place in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on Monday.

But on the ground there was no sign of a let-up in the fighting, with Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, telling Russian media on Saturday that the rebels were “preparing a second large-scale offensive.”

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Game-changing heart failure prevention drug to hit US market in 2015 Sun, 31 Aug 2014 13:01:57 +0000 Agence France-Presse An experimental drug from Swiss pharma giant Novartis (Xetra: 904278 – news) reduced deaths from chronic heart failure by 20 percent compared with an existing treatment, according to the results of a vast new study.

The new drug, called LCZ696, has been labelled a potential “blockbuster” with sales in the billions of dollars, say analysts.

Cardiovascular failure, in which the heart does not pump blood effectively, kills at least 26 million people a year worldwide.

Novartis unveiled the highly anticipated results on Saturday at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Barcelona, Spain and simultaneously in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study — conducted with more than 8,400 patients in 47 countries over 27 months — compared the safety and effectiveness of the drug on patients with heart failure to the current gold standard, Enalapril.

At the end of the observation period, 21.8 percent of participants taking LCZ696 died from heart failure, a fifth lower than the 26.5 percent who died taking Enalapril.

Novartis plans to request authorization to bring the medication to market from the US drug regulator by the end of the year, and from the European Union equivalent in early 2015.

It said in a statement that the results were “highly significant and clinically important”.

The drug also reduced hospitalizations by 21 percent, the study showed.

“I think that when physicians see these data, they will find it compelling, and what we will see is a paradigm shift,” said Milton Packer, a clinical sciences professor at the University of Texas and a co-author of the study.

Despite existing treatments, the mortality rate from heart failure remains high, with around 50 percent of patients dying within five years of diagnosis, Novartis said.

The condition leads to shortness of breath, fatigue, and fluid retention in the arms and legs.

Novartis announced last March it was ending its clinical trial early because the results showed a marked improvement over Enalapril, the medication most often prescribed for heart failure, high blood pressure and other heart problems.
But the new drug, LCZ696, is likely to be expensive, analyst Tim Anderson of Sanford C. Bernstein told the New York Times.

Anderson said the drug may cost as much as $7 (five euros) a day — or $2,500 a year — in the United States, nearly double the $4 a day pricetag on other options, which are available as generics.

The study found an increased risk of low blood pressure with LCZ696, but fewer instances of kidney problems than with the group taking Enalapril.

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US extends offensive against Islamic State militants and Al-Qaeda using Twitter, Facebook Sun, 31 Aug 2014 03:12:06 +0000 Agence France-Presse The United States has launched a social media offensive against the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, setting out to win the war of ideas by ridiculing the militants with a mixture of blunt language and sarcasm.

Diplomats and experts are the first to admit that the digital blitz being waged on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube will never be a panacea to combat the jihadists.

But US officials see social media as an increasingly crucial battlefield as they aim to turn young minds in the Muslim world against groups like IS and Al-Qaeda.

For the past 18 months, US officials have targeted dozens of social network accounts linked to Islamic radicals, posting comments, photos and videos and often engaging in tit-for-tat exchanges with those which challenge America.

At the US State Department, employees at the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), created in 2011, manage an Arabic-language Twitter account set up in 2012 (, an English-language equivalent ( and a Facebook page, launched this week, (

- ‘Many skirmishes, few battles’ -

A senior US State Department official described the strategy as a kind of cyber guerrilla campaign.

“It is not a panacea, it is not a silver bullet,” the official explained. “People exaggerate, people think this is worthless or they think it a magic thing that will make the extremists surrender. It is neither one of those. It is slow, steady, daily engagement pushing back on a daily basis.

“It is a war of thousands of skirmishes, but no big battles. America likes big battles but it is not — it is like guerrilla warfare,” said the official.

The murder of US journalist James Foley, whose execution by Islamic State militants on August 19 was released in a video on the Internet, jolted the new breed of US cyber-warriors into a frenzy.

Since Foley’s murder, the CSCC has ramped up its Twitter campaign, posting tributes to the slain reporter, opinion pieces and analyses on radical Islam from across the international media, along with cartoons and graphic photos.

The State Department last week tweeted about the death in Syria of Islamic State members, one of whom, Abu Moussa, had recently declared that the group would one day “raise the flag of Allah in the White House.”

Another tweet congratulated militant Yazidis who claimed to have killed 22 Islamic State fighters in Iraq.

Another post was more in keeping with the sober diplomatic tone Washington is used to, a photo-montage showing Syria’s leader Bashar Al-Assad alongside Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in front of a city in ruins.

“Baghdadi and Assad in a race to destroy Syria – don’t make it worse,” reads a message.

- Historic parallels -

The US-managed Twitter accounts are also not squeamish about reproducing images distributed by jihadists depicting mass executions, drawing historic parallels between Islamic State militants and the Nazis.

One post showed armed Islamic State fighters standing over a ditch filled with executed people, alongside another almost identical image of Nazis killing people in similar circumstances.

“Then & Now: Nazis ? like ISIS ? murdered out of intolerance, hatred, zeal,” read a comment alongside the two images.

Satire is also used to undermine militants, with one re-tweeted cartoon referring to the “ISIS bucket challenge” featuring a participant named as “the civilized world” being drenched by a bucket of blood.

The US officials say the social media offensive is an attempt to “contest space” on social networks which had previously been dominated by Islamist radicals.

“This is an area, a field, where before we came along the adversaries had this space to themselves,” the official explained.

“You had English language extremists that could say any kind of poison and there will be very low push-back against them,” he added. The ultimate aim is to make youths in the West or Muslim nations think twice before embarking on a journey to Syria or Iraq to join Islamic State fighters.

US officials are also mindful of striking the right tone as they troll Islamists.

“Twitter is unfortunately or fortunately a platform which is suitable for what we call snark, sarcasm, for insulting people,” the official said. “This is something also we are trying to do, we try to attack.

“We are respectful about things, the loss of human life of innocent people, victims of AQ or victims of ISIS, that is not something for sarcasm.

“But when you are mocking them, it is effective to draw the comparison between what they say and what they do. The hypocrisy of this group is a weakness.”

William Braniff, executive director of National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, said the US online strategy was a step in the right direction but would take a while to yield results.

“For a decade the government is criticized for not engaging in the world of ideas online,” Braniff said.

“The department of State eventually created this program in part to address that criticism.

“This is a just a drop in a bucket — there is so much extremist propaganda online and so many formats for extremists to dialogue that this is really just spitting into the wind.

“We have to give these sort of programs time to build momentum.”

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Campaign manager for Mitch McConnell resigns over Ron Paul bribery allegations Sun, 31 Aug 2014 02:41:22 +0000 Reuters (Reuters) – The campaign manager for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican locked in a tough re-election battle, resigned late Friday in fallout from a scandal stemming from his time with the 2012 Ron Paul presidential campaign.

McConnell is facing Kentucky’s Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in a race Republicans view as important if they are to secure control of the Senate.

While denying any wrongdoing during his time working for Paul, Jesse Benton said in a statement that he would not “allow any possibility that my circumstances will effect the voters’ ability to hear (McConnell’s) message and assess his record.”

Benton was the spokesman for the libertarian Paul’s unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign when, during the Republican primary season, a supporter of a rival candidate was secretly paid by a Paul staffer to publicly switch sides.

Former Iowa state Senator Kent Sorenson pleaded guilty this week to concealing $73,000 he was paid to endorse Paul over U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann.

Benton denied any knowledge of the payment.

McConnell, who has served as Senate minority leader since 2007, would be in line to become majority leader if he holds his seat and Republicans retake the Senate.

(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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Liberia bans sailors from disembarking from ships at seaports due to Ebola fears Sun, 31 Aug 2014 01:36:33 +0000 Agence France-Presse Liberia on Saturday said it would deny permission for any crew to disembark from ships at the country’s four seaports until the Ebola epidemic ravaging west Africa was under control.

Sailors on commercial ships can normally ask for a “shore pass” allowing them to get off the vessel and access the port, but the documents are being withdrawn to curb the spread of the virus, said Matilda Parker, head of Liberia’s ports authority.

“For vessels coming in we have cancelled shore passes. Absolutely no one from on board vessels will be allowed down,” she told AFP.

The country’s four seaports, including the Freeport of Monrovia, would adopt a “zero tolerance” approach, Parker said, against an outbreak which has claimed 1,500 lives since the start of the year.

Liberia, the hardest-hit of five west African nations struggling with the epidemic, has seen almost 700 deaths.

“For the workers who are going onboard vessels, they are going through three layers of screening at the gate, at the security desk and also at the peer. They have been instructed not to get in contact with anybody on board,” Parker added.

Parker, a US-educated private sector management specialist, was taken on in 2009 to become what remains the world’s only female port authority head, charged with turning around the fortunes of the underperforming, inefficient Freeport of Monrovia.

The port is run by APM Terminals, which operates in 63 countries, as part of a deal committing the company to a $145 million investment including a 600-metre wharf and state-of-the-art container tracking technology.

The port — known as the “gateway to Liberia’s economy” — handles the majority of imports in an economy which has to buy in almost all commodities, meaning the price of fuel, machinery, manufactured goods and food rely heavily on its smooth running.

ArcelorMittal (Other OTC: AMSYF – news) , the world?s biggest steel producer and the first investor to enter post-war Liberia in 2005, has ploughed an estimated $75 million in Buchanan, the country’s second-largest port.

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With airline seating space decreasing, ‘legroom wars’ are increasing Sun, 31 Aug 2014 00:03:07 +0000 Agence France-Presse To recline or not to recline? Airplane “legroom wars” are prompting growing rage in the United States, with two recent seat battles sparking a heated debate about the knee-bumping practice.

Amid the furor, one thing everyone seems to agree on is that space on passenger planes is getting scarcer and scarcer.

The question of reclining etiquette “has been a topic of discussion for many years,” said Sarah Schlichter, editor in chief of

“But the current uproar seems to be a sign that people are simply not happy fliers anymore.”

Within just a few days, two aircraft were re-routed because of passengers fighting over a seat recline.

On a United Airlines flight between Newark, New Jersey and Denver, Colorado — which was detoured to Chicago — one passenger even used a “Knee Defender” to hold his position.

The $22 gadget consists of two clips that attach to tray table arms to block the seat in front of them from leaning back.

Sales of the gadget “in the past two and a half years have been increasing on a continuous angle,” its inventor, Ira Goldman, told AFP, without giving precise figures.

“People are travelling more, on more crowded planes, the space is smaller and the airlines still provides seats that recline,” added the six-foot-three (1.92-meter) entrepreneur who says he flies 100,000 miles (150,000 kilometers) a year.

- Recliners versus legroomers -

For the past week, commentary, often tongue-in-cheek, has abounded, denouncing the cramped seats and taking sides in the undeclared war between the too-tall versus the — generally inadvertent — strikes of the knee crushers in the next row.

“The war between recliners and legroomers is escalating,” joked website on Friday.’s Dan Kois was unafraid to take sides, saying “tilting your seat back on an airplane is pure evil.”

He described a cross-country flight with “the deceptively nice-seeming schoolteacher’s seatback so close to my chin that to watch TV I must nearly cross my eyes.”

But in The New York Times, Josh Barro defended the recliners.

“I fly a lot. When I fly, I recline. I don’t feel guilty about it,” he wrote.

The “Knee Defender” inventor, who created his gadget more than a decade ago, however, is ready to move on.

“I would be gratified if the airline industry would solve the problem that they have been ignoring for so many years,” he said.

In fact, a Wall Street Journal study in October 2013 found that airlines were reducing space for economy class passengers in order to make more room for first and business class passengers, who pay far higher ticket prices.

The norm for long flights has gone from around 18 inches (46 centimeters) in the 1970s and 1980s, briefly up to 18.5 inches before shrinking down to just 17 inches in recent years, the newspaper reported.

In comparison, legroom on a typical US train is more like 20 inches.

To stop the legroom battles, some low-cost carriers, like easyJet and Ryanair, have removed the reclining option on short flights.

“Baggage restrictions and fees, the loss of meal services, tighter seating and more for-fee upgrades that reduce the basic experience, all contribute to more aggravation for fliers,” said Schlichter.

- Slowly does it -

Etiquette experts say leaning back is every passenger’s right — but beware about pushing too hard to exercise it.

“You purchase that as part of your ticket price, and no other passenger has the right to prevent you from reclining your seat,” said Anna Post, one of the directors of a famous school of etiquette, the Emily Post Institute.

“We may be right, but trying to pursue being right may cause more trouble that it’s worth,” she said, advising passengers to lean back slowly “so you don’t slam into someone.”

“Sometimes just a little bit is enough to be more comfortable.”

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As vinyl record sales boom, Nashville leads the way Sat, 30 Aug 2014 23:34:53 +0000 Edward Helmore, The Guardian “This is the mother, the metal mother,” says Jay Millar, examining a brilliant silver disc on the machine floor of United Record Pressing in downtown Nashville. “And the mother is where it all starts.”

Fifty years ago United stamped out the Beatles’ first US single and dozens of Motown hits followed by countless 45s and 33s through the 1970s and 1980s. Today more than two dozen vintage presses stamp out albums in a hissing, whirring display of a century-old technology that not only refuses to die, but is roaring to life. Nashville can lay claim to being the world capital of vinyl, and the city’s music industry is struggling to keep up with the demand.

United Pressing is the largest vinyl pressing plant in the US, with a close relationship to Jack White’s production emporium Third Man Records nearby, as well as Nashville’s booming analogue music recording scene.

Next year the firm will add 16 presses that should boost daily output to 60,000 records. Millar, director of marketing, won’t say where they found the presses – manufacturing of vinyl records ceased in the early 1980s and competition for presses comes from surprising quarters. The last few machines capable of cutting a metal mother – the stamp that imprints the plastic vinyl – were purchased at auction by the Church of Scientology, whose followers believed that the best way to preserve speeches of the master, L Ron Hubbard, for posterity was a 33⅓ album.

Scientologists are not the only ones returning to vinyl. After years of bruising format wars that have halved the size of the music industry, consumers appear to have made a decision. As CD sales and MP3 downloads decline, streaming services and vinyl sales are growing. “So now we’ve got digital, peak of the convenient, and vinyl, peak of the experience,” says Millar. “We’re running 24 hours a day, six days a week and still not meeting demand.” As of mid-June, vinyl sales in the US were up 40% over the same period last year and look set to easily exceed 2013′s 6 million total for the year. It’s worth remembering that in 2007, vinyl sales struggled to reach 1 million.

It’s understandable that Nashville analogue audiophiles such as Jack White or Black Keys would want their music pressed but now even mainstream pop artists such as Taylor Swift and Beyoncé want their music available in LP format. Demand is so great that production time has doubled to 12 weeks, and record companies now won’t schedule a release date until they know they can get the vinyl.

If any album has come to symbolise the vinyl boom it’s Jack White’s recent Lazaretto, the top seller of the year. Packed with novelties, including one side that plays from the centre to the edge, it shifted 40,000 LP copies in the first week of release in June, more than any release since 1991, and is still selling 2,000 copies a week.

Third Man Records, first established to print the White Stripes catalogue, is emblematic of a musically resurgent Nashville, home to energetic rock’n'roll and psychedelic scenes. It’s testament to White’s obsession with sound.

Neil Young recorded his recent A Letter Home in a phone booth-like contraption near the entrance. There’s a straight-to-acetate cutting machine from James Brown’s King Records in Cincinnati; a glass cabinet in which toy monkeys dance to new releases. Red walls face one direction, yellow another. Slender women in yellow-and-black Third Man livery move between offices. There are several large stuffed animals, including one that looks like a yak.

“Actually it’s a tahr,” says Ben Swank. He and Ben Blackwell are White’s consiglieres in Third Man operations. The trio are architects of Third Man’s “Your Turntable’s Not Dead” campaign and a direct subscription service that offers a monthly mailout of vinyl releases. Since moving from White’s native Detroit to Nashville in 2007, Third Man has put out nearly 300 records, mostly singles.

“Jack does more of the Americana, Ben and I do more of the rock’n'roll and punk. We’re still predominantly a 45 label. We try to be spontaneous. Got the master? Let’s put it out!”

With studios here tied to Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and Brendan Benson, Swank says Nashville, with its long association with country music, is re-emerging as a centre for artisans. “There’s a community here – a mom-and-pop thing,” he says. “It’s not that we shun anything current. It’s just more romantic for us to use a ribbon mike or analogue tape. There’s an aspect of working harder for something that gives it more value.”

The success of Nashville may be to do with the city’s innate conservatism. Country music, for instance, continued on eight-track long after other genres abandoned the format and, like survivors in a nuclear apocalypse movie, recording and mastering studios were never dismantled. “We’re in a sweet spot,” Swank adds. “People still want objects with personality.”

But there’s residual anxiety that the analogue revival is temporary. “Everything comes back once before it goes away for ever,” says VH1′s Bill Flanagan. “If it’s just a nostalgic or hipster-elitest thing, where does that leave us in 10 years? It might be the last gasp of an expiring culture before we all get sucked into the [digital] cloud.”

In the meantime, demand for vinyl shows no sign of letting up. Each year, around Record Store Day on the third Saturday of April, tempers flare over production runs, with bands and labels complaining they can’t get their tracks pressed and accusing each other of sabotage. Production bottlenecks aside, it’s significant that some of vinyl’s big customers are now high-street stores. Moreover, vinyl’s physical limitations – two sides, roughly 20 minutes each – is forcing a return to craft lost in an era of 70-minute CDs or single-track-focused iTunes sales. Chris Mara, at the analogue-only studio Welcome to 1979, says that artists still want to create music in terms of albums and they’re prepared to step back in time to achieve that end.

Mara’s side business repairing 24-track analogue tape machines has never been busier. “Bands come here because they want to record the hard way,” says Mara. “They want to be able to say to themselves and their fans, this is our band. This is our craft. We played every note, in this spot.”

Question is, can manufacturing keep up? Millar thinks it can – mothers, masters, plating-tanks, lacquers and all. “The revival happened and now we’re shifting into higher gear. Vinyl’s not going away. Maybe demand will plateau out at some point but that won’t be about form, it’ll be about content. For now, it’s a pretty nice place to be.” © Guardian News and Media 2014

[Woman listens to vinyl records on Shutterstock]

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Car linked to suspect who threatened Obama discovered in Connecticut Sat, 30 Aug 2014 23:21:24 +0000 Reuters HAMDEN Conn. (Reuters) – A car sought in connection with a suspected threat against President Barack Obama has been located in Connecticut, authorities said on Saturday.

The U.S. Secret Service, which is responsible for presidential security, had asked state police for help in locating the car in connection with a possible threat to the president, State Police Lieutenant J. Paul Vance said.

Both the state police and the Secret Service declined to specify the nature of the threat.

The vehicle, a 2014 Volkswagen Jetta, was found late Friday night in Hamden, a suburb of New Haven, Vance said.

Obama on Friday night was in Newport, Rhode Island, which is about 90 miles east of Hamden, attending a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser.

The Secret Service, in a statement on Saturday, said that it had investigated information about a suspicious person and vehicle and was working to determine its validity.

“There have been no arrests or charges brought in this case at this point,” Secret Service spokeswoman Nicole Mainor said in the statement.

The car was found near an ice rink and a group of apartment complexes, police said.

(Corrects paragraph 5 to show that Newport is east of Hamden instead of west, corrects byline to remove “and”)

(Reporting by Richard Weizel; Editing by Jonathan Kaminsky and Leslie Adler)

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9-year-old Oregon girl dies on beach after sand hole collapses on her Sat, 30 Aug 2014 23:13:10 +0000 Reuters (Reuters) – A 9-year-old girl who was digging in a large sand hole on an Oregon beach suffocated and died after the sand caved in around her and other beachgoers were unable to dig her out in time, police said on Saturday.

The girl, identified as Isabel Grace Franks, was playing Friday evening on the beach in Lincoln City, about 80 miles southwest of Portland, when she was buried in a hole between 2 and 4 feet deep, the Lincoln City police said.

The girl was under the sand for between five and seven minutes before she was pulled out, Lincoln City Police Sergeant Randy Weaver said.

The girl, who was visiting Lincoln City with her parents from Sandy, Oregon, was unconscious and not breathing when she was pulled out from the collapsed sand hole. She was taken to a hospital in Lincoln City, where she was unable to be revived, the Lincoln City Police Department said in a statement.

“When you dig in the sand it keeps falling back in on itself, so it was extremely difficult to get her out,” Weaver said. “It was a tragic event.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky; Editing by Leslie Adler)

[Shovel and bucket on beach on Shutterstock]

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Florida’s $900K Obamacare alternative draws 30 subscribers, considers selling pet insurance Sat, 30 Aug 2014 22:25:05 +0000 Tom Boggioni Six months after the launch of a $900,000 alternative to the Affordable Care Act, Florida’s Health Choices program has only signed up 30 subscribers and administrators say they are considering offering pet insurance if it will help draw more customers.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the program was created in lieu of expanding Medicaid or working with the federal government to offer subsidized insurance plans.

Unlike the federally backed programs, Florida Health Choices doesn’t offer health insurance plans designed to shield consumers from big-ticket expenses like hospitalization, instead offering limited benefits and discount plans for items like dental visits, prescription drugs, and eye-care.

After six months Florida Health Choices only has 30 enrollees, not counting seven plans which were canceled either because the subscribers changed their minds or they failed to pay their premiums.

During that same period, nearly 984,000 Floridians have enrolled in private coverage under Obamacare, leaving nearly 764,000 Floridians who are too poor to afford subsidized plans and unable to qualify for Medicaid due to Florida’s strict standards which the GOP-controlled legislature and Republican governor refuse to alter despite offers of federal assistance.

Citing poor enrollment numbers, one of Florida Health Choices biggest backers, state Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach), expressed disappointment, saying “Obviously we wanted more (business), but the competition is giving it away for free.”

Rose Naff, CEO of Florida Health Choices, admitted the program is off to a slow start, and said they were seeking new products and companies to partner with, while admitting they have considered selling medical insurance for pets if that would help draw more business.

“We’re going to continue to grow and learn about our users and enhance the platform,” Naff explained.

Naff also pointed out that the program has not spent the entire $900,000 budget and in fact, has more than $1 million in the bank after reaching a settlement in a dispute with  the  firm originally  hired to build the  website.

Florida Health Choices is the brainchild of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) who proposed a low income insurance program while serving the Florida legislature.

In December of last year, Rubio enrolled his family in a federal health care exchange created by the Affordable Care Act.

[Image golden retriever puppy playing with a stethoscope on Shutterstock]

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Kidnapped child with brain tumor found in Spain with his parents Sat, 30 Aug 2014 22:03:31 +0000 Agence France-Presse Ashya King, the five-year-old British boy with a brain tumour who was taken from hospital without medical consent, has been found in Spain with his parents, who have been arrested, Spanish police said.

“Ashya King was found in a hotel 3 km from de Velez Malaga (southern Spain) and was admitted to a hospital,” the National Police force wrote on its Twitter page. “His parents have been arrested.”

British police also confirmed the missing family had been found.

“Ashya has been found,” said an update on the website of the Hampshire Constabulary. “He is in Spain with his mum and dad.”

According to the statement, police were speaking with Ashya’s parents and the boy’s condition was being assessed.

“This is all we know at this time — but, he has been found,” it added. “Thank you to everyone who has been incredible in helping us spread this appeal.”

Police earlier issued a European arrest warrant for Brett King, 51, and Naghemeh King, 45, after they drove their son away from a hospital in Southampton in southern England on Thursday.

Interpol launched a missing persons alert following a request from British police, who led the search.

“There are no winners in this situation. I’ve said all along that this must be a terribly distressing time for Ashya’s family and I stand by that now,” said Chris Shead from Britain’s Hampshire police.

He added that Ashya’s six brothers and sisters were also found safe in Spain.

He said the warrant was based around “neglect” but added: “That does not necessarily mean they would be charged with that offence.

“It purely gives us the power to arrest and then we’ll be able to speak to them.”

King’s parents, who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, were seen boarding a ferry to Cherbourg in France after taking the boy.

Spanish police had said on Saturday they were looking for the missing child on the Costa del Sol.

The family were said to have “strong links” to the Marbella area on the south coast and use of a house there.

- ‘Please don’t judge’ -

In a tweet, posted alongside a picture of the child and his mother apparently taken in a hospital, the Spanish authorities had earlier said they were looking in Malaga and Marbella “for a family from the UK. The parents are denying treatment to a child who needs it.”

The boy was being fed through a tube and the batteries on his feeding system would have expired, British police had warned.

The youngster has undergone extensive surgery and was last operated on nine days ago.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for refusing blood transfusions on religious grounds, but are otherwise open to other medical procedures.

The group said there was no indication that the boy’s parents had been motivated by religious convictions and appealed to them to seek the best medical treatment for him.

It is not known why the couple took their son.

On the Hampshire police’s Facebook page, one poster, Katie Fletcher, wrote: “This is my mother’s friend, she has run away in desperation because they cannot accept that there is nothing that can be done for their son and want to look for help abroad.

“Please don’t judge, they are a very sweet loving family and I can only believe they are doing this because they want to help their son.”

The boy’s paternal grandmother, Patricia King, said her son and his wife were “marvellous” parents.

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St. Louis Rams cut Michael Sam, first openly gay NFL player Sat, 30 Aug 2014 20:48:23 +0000 Reuters (Reuters) – Defensive end Michael Sam’s dream of becoming the first openly gay player in the National Football League (NFL) was put on hold on Saturday when he failed to make the St. Louis Rams’ 53-man roster for the 2014 regular season.

The 24-year-old, a standout with the University of Missouri who had announced he was gay in February, was one of 22 players waived in the final cuts by the Rams to reach the roster limit before Saturday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline.

Sam, who became the first openly gay player to be selected in an NFL Draft when he was taken in the seventh round by the Rams in May, had said he would be watching the Missouri Tigers take on South Dakota State in Columbia, Missouri when the final roster moves were made.

As he is now on waivers, he can be claimed by any team but could join the Rams as part of a 10-player practice squad if he clears waivers.

“All my focus has been on playing and trying to make the team,” Sam had told reporters when the Rams introduced their draft selections three months ago.

“I’m determined to be great. I’m determined to make this team. I have every confidence in myself that I’ll make this team.”

Sam, the co-defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, had been vying with undrafted Ethan Westbrooks during the pre-season for the last of nine defensive line spots with the Rams.

Westbrooks, who made the roster on Saturday, ended up with 12 tackles and two sacks in four preseason games while Sam had 11 tackles and a team-leading three sacks.

“I believe (Sam) can play in this league, yes. As can some of the other guys on this team that had good preseasons,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said after his team ended the preseason with a 14-13 loss to the Dolphins in Miami.

Fisher was scheduled to hold a news conference later on Saturday to discuss the team’s final roster moves.

St. Louis went into the preseason training camp with eight defensive linemen already inked in on the roster: Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, William Hayes, Eugene Sims, Alex Carrington and first-round pick Aaron Donald.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Gene Cherry)

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Texas Border Patrol agent fires at armed militia member while chasing border crossers Sat, 30 Aug 2014 20:01:46 +0000 Tom Boggioni A Border Patrol agent working the Texas-Mexico border area near Brownsville fired upon an armed man who later claimed to be a militia member, reports NBCDFW-5.

According to Border Patrol spokesman Omar Zamora, several agents had been pursuing a group on undocumented immigrants the border Friday afternoon when one agent spotted a man carrying a long arm weapon. The agent fired four times, not hitting the man, who dropped his gun and identified himself as a militia member.

Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio, whose agency was brought in to conduct an investigation, said the incident occurred on private property and the man had permission to be there so no arrest was made. He also noted that the unidentified man was wearing camouflage and carrying either a rifle or shotgun when he suddenly came upon the group of agents.

Lucio explained the difficulties that the militia members are creating for law enforcement officers, saying, “It just creates a problem from my point of view, because we don’t know who they are.”

The sheriff pointed out that, with the Border Patrol, Texas Department of Public Safety and local law enforcement, there are already enough law enforcement agencies working to secure the border. While recognizing the militia’s right to carry weapons, Lucio added, “We really don’t need the militia here.”

[Image South TX Border Patrol agent on horseback via Flickr]

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Death of man after New York police restrain him ruled a homicide Sat, 30 Aug 2014 19:44:19 +0000 Reuters NEW YORK (Reuters) – The death of a man who was restrained by police during a drug-fueled outburst was ruled a homicide by the city’s medical examiner, New York police said, as the department faces accusations of overly harsh arrest tactics.

Ronald Singleton had taken the illegal narcotic PCP, also known as angel dust, police said.

He was “overly irate and irrational, cursing and screaming” in the back of a taxi on July 13 and then attempted to fight a police officer whom the driver had alerted for help, the New York Police Department said in statement on Friday.

The 45-year-old was “restrained and placed in a protective body wrap”. Singleton, who was not arrested, went into cardiac arrest in an ambulance and was pronounced dead at hospital.

He died from “physical restraint by police during excited delirium” due to the PCP, and also from heart disease and obesity, the New York City medical examiner announced on Friday, according to the police statement.

His death came four days before that of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old man suspected of peddling loose untaxed cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk who police put in a choke hold as they arrested him.

The incident has become part of a wider national debate about how American police use force, particularly on citizens who are not white. Earlier this month residents in Missouri took to the streets to protest against the shooting by police of an unarmed black teenager.

A New York City prosecutor on Aug. 19 said he would present evidence to a grand jury next month to determine whether anyone should be criminally charged in Garner’s death.

Police officers have not faced disciplinary measures over Singleton’s death, which is being investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. The police department said it would cooperate with the investigation.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

[image via Agence France Presse]

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California passes plastic bag ban, would be first such law in U.S. Sat, 30 Aug 2014 19:40:54 +0000 Reuters SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) – The California state legislature enacted a ban on plastic grocery bags on Friday near the end of its two-year session, a measure that if signed into law would become the first of its kind in America.

A number of cities and counties in California and other U.S. states, including Hawaii’s Maui County, have made it illegal for grocery stores to pack purchases in plastic. But at the state level, opposition from plastic bag makers has usually prevailed.

The California Senate voted 22-15 for the bill, which must be signed into law by Sept. 30 by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who has not signaled a position on the measure.

“Single-use plastic bags not only litter our beaches, but also our mountains, our deserts, and our rivers, streams and lakes,” said state Senator Alex Padilla, who sponsored the bill.

Padilla backed a similar measure last year but it failed by three votes. The fate of this bill was uncertain until the waning hours of the session after falling three votes short in the state’s Assembly on Monday.

But after picking up the support of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, the bill passed a second vote in the Assembly.

The measure would ban grocery stores from handing out single-use grocery bags with customers’ purchases, and provide money to local plastic bag companies to retool to make heavier, multiple-use bags that customers could buy.

Environmentalists have pushed for banning plastic bags, which are cheaper for supermarkets to use than paper bags, but create mountains of trash that is difficult to recycle. In California, there is particular concern that the bags, when swept out to sea, could harm ocean life.

After the defeat of his earlier bill, Padilla won the support of some California-based bag makers by including the funding for retooling. But in recent months, out-of-state manufacturers campaigned against the bill, even producing television advertisements targeting Padilla, who is running for secretary of state.

Cathy Browne, general manager at Crown Poly, a plastic bag manufacturer in Huntington Park, California, said the bill would lead to layoffs at companies like hers.

More than 10 billion plastic bags are used in California each year, according to an estimate by Californians Against Waste, an advocacy group supporting the bill.

By Aaron Mendelson, Reuters, 2014

[image of firemen carrying plastic bags in CA via Reuters]

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Bryan Fischer: Jesus is the ‘magic force’ that keeps the universe from ‘flying apart’ Sat, 30 Aug 2014 18:08:53 +0000 David Ferguson See also: Did the historical Jesus exist? A growing number of scholars don’t think so

Christian radio host Bryan Fischer said on Friday that Jesus Christ is actually the supreme force in the universe, the power that is “keeping the universe from flying apart into fragments.”

The Friendly Atheist blog at reported that the remarks echo statements Fischer made in 2013 in which he said that Jesus is what holds atoms together and keeps electrons whirling around an atoms nucleus.

“What’s keeping the universe together right now?” said Fischer on Friday. “It’s Jesus Christ.”

Fischer then began to read from the Bible’s book of Hebrews, “He upholds the universe by the word of his power,” and added, “So what’s keeping the universe from flying apart into fragments?”

“There is some magic force” in the physics of atoms and planetary bodies, he said. “Scientists don’t even know what it is, it’s called the strong force because it keeps the nuclei together. They don’t know what it is.”

“But we know who it is,” he continued. “Jesus Christ is the strong force that holds the universe by the word of his power.”

Watch video of Fischer’s remarks, embedded below via Right Wing Watch:

Part One:

Part Two:

[image of Bryan Fischer via screencap from]

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Researchers suggest marching in unison may make men more prone to aggression Sat, 30 Aug 2014 17:08:08 +0000 Medical Daily Ever wonder if there was something other than tradition that caused men to move in unison when marching into battle. Chances are you haven’t, but a pair of psychologists did and what they concluded actually makes pretty good sense. Apparently, walking in military formation not only intimidates the enemy, but also makes the men doing the…

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Scientists discover mite species living, eating, sleeping and fornicating on human faces Sat, 30 Aug 2014 17:02:56 +0000 RedOrbit There are mites crawling all over your face right now, and it doesn’t matter what you do or how hard you wash or how much soap you use, you can’t get rid of them – and you can thank North Carolina State University graduate student Megan S. Thoemmes and her colleagues for that unsettling bit of…

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California Legislature passes bill to protect temp workers Sat, 30 Aug 2014 16:38:24 +0000 Pro Publica The California legislature has passed a bill that would hold companies legally responsible if the temp agencies and subcontractors they hire cheat workers out of their wages or put them in harm’s way. Labor officials across the country have increasingly expressed concern about the rapid growth of the temporary staffing industry since the recession. They have…

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Ultra-Orthodox Jews expelled from Guatemalan village after conflict with locals Sat, 30 Aug 2014 16:35:50 +0000 International Business Times A group of ultra-orthodox Jews who moved from Canada to a remote part of Guatemala a few months ago to find religious freedom have now been forced to leave their homes after conflict arose with local villagers there. The Lev Tahor settlement in the San Juan la Laguna, which is about 93 miles west of Guatemala…

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Washington conservative think tank to boycott Labor Day by working Monday Sat, 30 Aug 2014 16:34:49 +0000 David Ferguson A conservative group in Olympia, Washington has vowed to boycott Labor Day because of the holiday’s association with labor unions.

According to the Seattle Times, business backed conservative think tank the Freedom Foundation plans to protest the national holiday by refusing to take Monday off and having a “work-in” all day instead.

“I can’t think of a problem in society that can’t be traced in some way back to the abuses of organized labor, so it would be hypocritical of us to take a day off on its behalf,” said the Freedom Foundation’s CEO Tom McCabe.

Times columnist Danny Westneat pointed out that if McCabe really wants to protest union-led reforms in the workplace, then he should work every Saturday, as well.

“What’s odd about it, though,” Westneat wrote, “is that only 12 percent of American workers even belong to unions anymore. Yet we — I say ‘we’ because I’m in that 12 percent — somehow retain an almost supernatural mind-meld authority over the oppressed and hapless other 88 percent.”

Freedom Foundation materials call public labor unions a “disease” that is “running rampant” in Washington state.

Westneat pointed to Seattle-based company Boeing’s fiasco with the 787 Dreamliner jet-building program, in which Boeing management ran rough-shod over union protests about how the massive jetliners were being built.

“The 787 is now being called ‘a case study in how not to build an airplane,’” Westneat said. The jets were grounded all over the world after serious problems were found in their electrical systems and fuel lines, costing the company billions.

“It was the workers who warned that the program wasn’t going to fly, and management who ignored them,” Westneat wrote. “Yet it was management who were handsomely rewarded, while the workers — when they weren’t saving the Dreamliner debacle from imploding — who had their retirements slashed.”

“But let’s all protest against this and stagnant wages and outsourced jobs and all the other realities of work in America by…working on Labor Day!” the columnist concluded, saying that he isn’t just taking Monday off, “I’m boycotting Tuesday, too!”

[image of business people with heads in sand via]

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Dozens of Yazidi women ‘sold into marriage’ by ISIS: NGO Sat, 30 Aug 2014 16:30:02 +0000 Agence France-Presse Several dozen Yazidi women kidnapped by Islamic State jihadists in Iraq have been taken to Syria, forced to convert and sold into marriage to militants, a monitoring group said Saturday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based NGO, said it had confirmed that at least 27 Yazidi women had been sold for around $1,000 each to IS fighters.

The group said it was aware that some 300 Yazidi women had been kidnapped and transported to Syria by the jihadists, but it had so far documented the sale into marriage of 27.

“In recent weeks, some 300 women and girls of the Yazidi faith who were abducted in Iraq have been distributed as spoils of war to fighters from the Islamic State,” a statement said.

The group said it had documented several cases in which the fighters then sold the women as brides for $1,000 each to other IS members after forcing them to convert to Islam.

“The Observatory documented at least 27 cases of those being sold into marriage by Islamic State members in the northeast of Aleppo province, and parts of Raqa and Hassakeh province,” the NGO said.

It added that some Syrian Arabs and Kurds had tried to buy some of the women in a bid to set them free, but they were only being sold to IS members.

The Observatory said it was unclear what had happened to the rest of the 300 women, and strongly denounced the “sale of these women who are being treated as though they are objects to buy and sell.”

Both UN officials and Yazidis fleeing IS advances in Iraq have said fighters kidnapped women to be sold into forced marriages.

UN religious right monitor Heiner Beilefeldt warned earlier this month of reports of women being executed and kidnapped by IS militants.

“We have reports of women being executed and unverified reports that strongly suggest that hundreds of women and children have been kidnapped ?- many of the teenagers have been sexually assaulted, and women have been assigned or sold to ‘IS’ fighters,” she said.

Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking minority who follow an ancient faith rooted in Zoroastrianism, are dubbed “devil worshippers” by IS militants because of their unorthodox blend of beliefs and practices.

The IS emerged from the one-time Iraqi affiliate of Al-Qaeda but has since broken with that group and espouses an interpretation of Islam that has been widely rejected.

It has pressed a campaign of terror in the areas under its control in Syria and Iraq, which it deems an Islamic “caliphate,” carrying out decapitations, crucifixions and public stonings.

In June, the group launched a lightning offensive in Iraq, overrunning parts of five provinces.

In August, it captured Yazidi villages in the area of Mount Sinjar, prompting an enormous outpouring of the minority amid reports of executions and the abduction of women.

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Al Pacino on performing with cats in Venice Sat, 30 Aug 2014 16:27:05 +0000 Agence France-Presse Al Pacino may be one of the greatest actors of all time, but he confessed Saturday that he was helped in his latest films by performing alongside a cat and throwing his acting skills out of the window.

Sporting a pair of reflective sunglasses, a spiky haircut and a cheeky grin, “The Godfather” star told journalists his performance in David Gordon Green’s “Manglehorn”, which is in the running for the Golden Lion, was helped by his feline co-star.

The 74-year-old plays an ageing locksmith unable to get over the lost love of his life, who shuts himself off from the world, has a frustrated relationship with his wealthy son and whose only real friend is his cat.

“I was trying to be tender. The cat is a wonderful construct, it helps shape my character, it sheds light on who he is and his relationship to the world,” the Oscar-winner said.

“I have both cats and dogs and love animals, maybe that’s what came through in the film,” he said.

Scenes in which Pacino’s character Manglehorn wallows in loneliness or loses himself in violent outbursts are offset by the hope inspired by his growing fondness for a bank clerk, played by fellow Academy Award winner Holly Hunter.

During one of their weekly encounters a man enters the bank with a bunch of flowers and begins belting out a love song to the amazement of the onlookers, eliciting a reaction in Manglehorn which drew praise from critics in Venice.

“When the guy came in a started singing, I just stood there and let it move in on me. To be honest I didn’t know I was doing anything — which I guess is as good a form of acting as any if you don’t know what you’re doing,” he quipped.

“It’s what you learn early on. Don’t try to play it, it’s playing itself.”

- Free shoes and rent -

The skill was one he picked up during the early stages of his career, when he was part of The Actors Studio, founded in New York in 1947, where actors, playwrights and directors came together to work between jobs or try out new methods.

“It was a place for actors to go to experiment with their talent. And it was all free. I stress this because we forget that. It was given to us,” he said.

“As a 25-year-old, with no money, I remember getting my rent there once. I had a 50 dollar a month place I couldn’t afford. They gave us shoes as well!”

It’s a double bill for Pacino in Venice, with the premier as well of Barry Levinson?s “The Humbling”, an adaption of a novel by Philip Roth, in which he plays a renowned theatrical actor suffering from anxiety and hallucinations.

Asked if his latest characters, in the twilight of their lives, reflect in any way his own ageing process or possible exit from the silver screen, Pacino joked “I felt like quitting this morning!”

“No seriously, I have three children, who have been a real source of enlightenment for me. The relationships I’ve had, the people I’ve met in work and play, have made for an amazing experience so far and I have been lucky to do something I love.

“The plane of my career is not landing yet,” he said.

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Ecuador’s women turn to boxing to fight sexual violence Sat, 30 Aug 2014 16:24:00 +0000 Agence France-Presse After surviving a harrowing rape attempt, Any Hurtado took up boxing — and found herself surrounded by other Ecuadoran women using their fists for protection in a country torn by sexual violence.

Statistics paint a disturbing picture of the threats women face in the South American country: six out of every 10 have been the victims of gender-based aggression, and one girl in 10 suffers sexual abuse before the age of 18.

Hurtado, a 17-year-old nursing student, lived through her own horror story last year.

She was walking home when a group of men surrounded her and tried to rape her.

“They started grabbing me and trying to assault me,” she told AFP.

“As I was struggling against them I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get away. But I found the strength somewhere. I hit the one closest to me and managed to run away.”

After the incident, Hurtado, who lives alone since her father emigrated to Spain four years ago, went to a gym in La Tola, a neighborhood in central Quito, and began learning to box.

There, she found a cohort of other women with stories similar to her own donning gloves and learning to use their fists to defend themselves.

One of them is Tania Lara, a 27-year-old domestic worker whose ex-husband used to beat her.

“Sometimes I wish I could go back in time. I think about what it would have been like then if I were the way I am now, a boxer. I’d have hit him hard,” she said.

Another boxer, Maria Vega, a 30-year-old who sells potatoes at a market in the capital, said she trains with even more passion ever since she first put her boxing to use on the street.

“A guy grabbed my cell phone and I took off running after him. I beat him to the ground until he gave it back,” she said with a grin.

The women put their gloves on, then got into the ring — Vega with no protective headgear.

“There it is Tania! Harder, no fear, don’t let her get you,” yelled Segundo Chango, a local boxing coach who gives free lessons to the women.

Lara and Vega traded hooks and jabs for 15 minutes, moving around the ring gracefully as other boxers looked on.

“You think a woman can’t last a week (boxing), but when you see them in there you realize they’re tough,” said Eric Bone, another of Chango’s trainees.

- Next generation -

The La Tola gym began offering training for women boxers 10 years ago. Since then, a growing number have taken advantage of the classes — about five a day currently, said Chango.

That reflects a natural response to the dangers women face in Ecuador, said Santiago Castellanos, a psychologist at the Latin American Social Sciences Faculty who specializes in gender studies.

“We live in a society where the public space is often safer for men than women. So women turn to self-defense… when society sees them as weak objects,” he said.

These boxers reject the notion held by some that boxing may make them less feminine.

Amarilis Carbos, a 26-year-old office worker, took off her heels when she entered the gym, stored her purse in a locker and removed her make-up.

“My parents never let me box because obviously it was a sport for men,” she said after changing into her workout clothes.

But now Carbos not only practices the sport, she even teaches it to her eight-year-old daughter.

“She has to learn to defend herself too,” she said.

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Masked California cop accused of beating woman with a baseball bat Sat, 30 Aug 2014 15:42:31 +0000 David Ferguson A 30-year veteran of the Walnut Creek, California police force is accused of attacking a woman with a baseball bat while wearing a mask to conceal his identity.

According to KTVU, Richmond, California police arrested 53-year-old Gregory Thompson at around 2:00 A.M. on Aug. 16 after residents called police to report a woman screaming.

“We’d already gone to bed, kept hearing a banging, thumping noise,” said Richmond resident Carus Culver.

Neighbor Jason Peneyra said, “Police came knocking on our doors. They were looking for a suspect.”

Richmond police said they found Thompson sitting in his car. He identified himself as an officer of the law, but investigators found a mask lying in the floorboard of the vehicle and a baseball bat in the trunk.

“It’s alarming for a police officer to do that,” said Peneyra to KTVU. “That’s weird. That’s really weird.”

Richmond Police Capt. Bisa French said, “We don’t have a motive in this case, but we’re looking at the possibility this was mistaken identity, or someone else was supposed to be targeted. We just don’t know.”

Neighbors said that Thompson’s parents own a house in the neighborhood that is currently standing empty. They said they have noticed broken windows in the property and other minor acts of vandalism.

If that’s the case, Culver said, “You call the police, you don’t take matters into your own hands and act violently.”

The woman Thompson attacked and another woman who attempted to intervene reportedly received minor injuries. Both are suspected to fully recover.

Watch video about this story, embedded below:

[image of masked man with baseball bat via]

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Permanent temps: What your life as an ‘elderly migrant’ worker will be like when you can’t retire Sat, 30 Aug 2014 15:21:16 +0000 Lynn Parramore, AlterNet This story first appeared at AlterNet.

In a must-read article in the current issue of Harper’s magazine, journalist Jessica Bruder, adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, adds a new phrase to America’s vocabulary: “Elderly migrant worker.” She documents a growing trend of older Americans for whom the reality of unaffordable housing and scarcity of work has driven them from their homes and onto the road in search of seasonal and temporary employment across the country. Packed into RVs, detached from their communities, these “Okies” of the Great Recession put in time at Amazon warehouses, farms and amusement parks, popping free over-the-counter pain reliever to mask the agony of strained muscles and sore backs. And when they can’t hold up any longer? The RV sometimes becomes a coffin.

Since the financial crisis ripped the security out from under millions of people, the bulk of our politicians, including President Obama, actually tried to reduce, rather than increase, Social Security. The absence of pensions, along with the inadequacy of 401(k)s, skyrocketing healthcare and job insecurity and unemployment, are sending more and more people scrambling to figure out a way to keep body and soul together. Even grandparents are joining the ranks of those for whom life has become a game of Survivor. In an email interview, I asked Bruder about this alarming trend and what it means for the country, now and in the future.

Lynn Parramore: In your recent article in Harper’s, you describe a trend of downwardly mobile elderly folks traveling the country in RVs in search of temporary and seasonal work. How many people are we talking about? How fast has this trend been emerging?

Jessica Bruder: Though no one keeps an official tally of how many older Americans are doing this kind of work, their ranks appear to be growing rapidly in the wake of the housing bust and market crashes.

Amazon first hired a handful of migrant full-time RVers in 2008 through a program the company later named “CamperForce.” As of 2014, it had expanded to employ some 2,000 workers, according to a recruiter I met in Quartzsite, Arizona. The American Crystal Sugar Company taps the same labor pool each fall to staff its annual sugar beet harvest, and their recruitment numbers are up, too. This year, they’re hoping to recruit 600 “workampers,” up from 450 the year before.

LP: What’s the gender breakdown among these traveling workers? What kinds of work are men and women doing?

JB: I was impressed by how many older, single women I met among the working nomads, from a tarot reader living in a former convict labor van she’d transformed into a roving gypsy boudoir, to an ex-medical technician who managed to fit her whole life—along with a Shih-Tzu, a lovebird and a loquacious African Grey parrot—into a 10.5-foot Carson Kalispell sport trailer.

The gender breakdown was roughly even. Employers don’t discriminate when doling out hard or dirty work, whether it’s scrubbing campsite toilets or walking 15 miles a day on a concrete warehouse floor to pack Amazon’s holiday orders.

LP: Amazon’s ads for CamperForce Associates sound so upbeat about the opportunities for older workers: recruiting “flexible and enthusiastic RV’ers with a positive, can-do attitude to join us in our warehouses,” with an emphasis on “fun” stuff like prizes and “community activities.”

What’s the reality of the actual work experience, based on your investigation?

JB: The ads are surreal. They sound like an invitation to summer camp, and not just the ones for Amazon jobs. “Feel like a kid again!” and “Hey workamper, it’s time for fun!” are a couple slogans used by recruiters for Adventureland, a theme park in Altoona, Iowa where migrant workers run the rides, games and concessions for $7.25 to $7.50 an hour. Recruitment materials for the beet harvest, with 12-hour overnight shifts in subzero temperatures, refer to the work as “an unBEETable experience!”

This stuff is propaganda, pure and simple. It panders to the illusion that older Americans are free to retire, working only for fun, rather than acknowledging the reality that many folks need to keep bringing in money to survive.

Much of the work is hard and physically taxing. Several people I met dropped out of the Amazon program after a few weeks because their bodies just couldn’t take it. Others suffered from “trigger finger,” a ten­don condition that can be caused by repetitive movements like UPC scan­ner use. Many RVs I visited looked like mobile apothecaries, stocked with Icy Hot pain-relief gel, foot-soaking tubs with Ep­som salts, and bottles of Aleve and Advil.

LP: What kinds of social services are these people able to get when they’re moving around? How do they get Social Security checks, or state-based Medicaid, or Obamacare?

JB: Many traveling workers establish permanent addresses in states like Texas and South Dakota, where residency requirements are lax and taxes are low, so they’re still eligible for many social services and can get their mail forwarded to wherever they’re stationed.

But there are challenges. For example, states often require Medicaid recipients to visit local doctors, which doesn’t work when you’re on the road. And I met folks who simply couldn’t afford to have an extra $100 deducted each month from their social security to get Medicare coverage. Many rely on the cheap medical services they can get in places like Los Algodones, Mexico, known for cut-rate dentists and eye doctors.

LP: What happens to these people when they are too sick to work? 

JB: They get by the best they can, relying on each other or their families. I met a lot of parents and grandparents who hated the idea of leaning on the next generation, but would do it in an emergency. For some, there’s no good answer to this question. I heard a couple harrowing stories of older migrants who died in their RVs.

LP: What does this trend reveal about the changing nature of work in America, and the direction in which many of us are headed? 

The social contract is falling apart. With the death of pensions and the increase of short-term, temporary jobs bearing no benefits, we’re moving toward a winner-take-all economy with no safety net to help people weather hard times.

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Economic justice: How NC progressives are fighting back against the Tea Party Sat, 30 Aug 2014 14:51:26 +0000 Moyers & Company This story first appeared at

Editor’s note: The Moral Mondays movement began as a grassroots response to North Carolina’s rightward lurch after Republicans won complete control of the state’s government for the first time since 1870. Modeled on the civil rights movement, it has united a diverse group of citizens in opposition to the draconian legislative agenda that’s turned what was once the most moderate state in the South into a laboratory for conservative ideology. Moyers & Company documented the story in a special, “North Carolina: State of Conflict,” that aired earlier this year.

The movement has since spread to Georgia, and spawned a series of “Truthful Tuesdays” protests in South Carolina. Rev. Dr. William Barber II, head of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, is one of the movement’s key organizers and most prominent spokesperson. This Q&A was excerpted from a longer interview with Barber that first appeared at Political Research Associates earlier this week.

As William Barber prepared to spread a message of hope and democracy through a week of actions Aug. 22-28 in Raleigh and other Southern state capitals, he talked with me about North Carolina’s free-market ideology and how it has already affected the people who live there. Barber, referring to the billionaire-backed tea party, the national group that pushes free-market policies at the local and state level, says these past two legislative sessions have been a “coordinated, premeditated attempt to undermine progress and engage in regressive tea party policies.”

“This is really Robin Hood in reverse,” Barber told me. “It is government of business, bought by business, for business. And not just business — because lots of business leaders disagree with them — but this is tea party greed. This is Koch brother-type greed.”

Barber bristles, though, at the notion that conservatism or partisan politics are at the root of the problem. “I fuss against these terms ‘liberal’ versus ‘conservative’,” he says, “because I want to conserve the essence of our Constitution and then liberally make sure everybody has access to them. What we’re dealing with is extremism, and you can’t just define it as ‘conservative.’”

At the local level, says Barber, the state legislature’s extreme adherence to free-market neoliberal policy is gutting the state’s public school system. “Five thousand teachers being fired, being removed, and local school boards decrying [this] because of the impact that it was having on classroom sizes and students,” he says.

Barber adds that, because of the salary cuts, he sees teachers actively leaving North Carolina. “In fact,” he said, “one state, Texas, sent memos out and said if you’re in North Carolina, come to Texas. And you know that’s kind of sad, considering Texas’s regressiveness, when they actually can offer teachers more than North Carolina.”

Barber also described the legislature’s attempt to shift $10 million earmarked for public schools to voucher programs that could only be used to pay for private schools. In shifting these public funds into private hands, said Barber, the legislature refused to require that private schools benefiting from the vouchers maintain the same non-discrimination standards that public schools must uphold, meaning that private schools receiving voucher funds would have been allowed to restrict enrollment however they chose. A Superior Court judge declared on Aug. 21 that the state’s school voucher program is unconstitutional, citing the lack of accountability inherent in the program, and issued a permanent injunction stopping the voucher program from going forward.

[Conservative mega-donor] Art Pope and the tea party aren’t just alienating teachers and progressives, says Barber. They are also alienating Republicans across the state. Barber says that the legislature and McCrory never made clear, even to their own constituents, what they were planning to do once they achieved a supermajority in the statehouse and won the governorship. “They did not run saying,  ‘Elect me, I’m going to take your health care, cut your public education, and strip you of your unemployment even if you lost your job at no fault of your own,’” says Barber. “So, we’ve had a Republican unemployed person stand on the stage [at a Moral March] and say, ‘I’m a Republican, but I’m unemployed — I didn’t vote for this.’”

Even Republicans holding public office are objecting to the legislature’s actions. Adam O’Neal, a self-described conservative Republican mayor from Belhaven, NC, began a one-man march of 273 miles to Washington DC on July 14 to dramatize the impact of Gov. McCrory’s and  [House Speaker Thom] Tillis’ refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. O’Neal explained that the lack of Medicaid funds had forced the only hospital in his coastal community to close, creating a “medical desert” that would certainly cost lives. O’Neal also lamented the potential economic impact of the hospital closing; he told NPR, “How many people go retire somewhere where it doesn’t even have a hospital?”

I asked Barber what he believes is the neoliberals’ vision for North Carolina. “They believe that the way to a great North Carolina is to deny necessary funds and access to public education. Attack teachers. Deny unemployment. Deny earned income tax credit and other safeguards for the working poor. Deny affordable healthcare and access to healthcare, even if it allows people to die. Deny labor rights, LGBT rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights… And then, if you really want a great America after you’ve done all these things, then suppress the right to vote and attempt to use your power to stay in office. And then, after you’ve done all of that to create all this tension, ensure that everyone has access to guns easier than they have access to the polls. Now, that sounds crude and sinister, but those are their policies.”

Having set this grim scene, Barber continued with a surprisingly upbeat message:  “Whatever we’re facing now, it’s not greater than slavery, it’s not greater than Jim Crow, it’s not greater than women being denied the right to vote. We won those battles. But we did not win those battles by merely engaging in political arguments. We had to tap into the moral and social consciousness of the nation.”

“I am hopeful,” he went on, “because I believe in the deep moral consciousness at the heart of America. Those of us who believe in justice and who believe in freedom, we are the heartbeat of this nation. Our role now is to be like a social defibrillator, to shock the heart of the nation, to cause it to revive and to remember what the real enemy is: regressive extremism. And it’s not just about winning all the elections, but changing the context in which our politicians have to operate.”

Barber said he hopes that the momentum of the Forward Together Moral Movement (as one of the core groups organizing Moral Marches is currently called) will spread. He sees it moving across the South from North Carolina to help change the political context and create the possibility for the state NAACP’s 14-Point People’s Agenda to be written into legislation both in North Carolina and beyond. The Agenda includes anti-poverty, pro-labor policies; equality and equitable distribution of resources in public education; access to healthcare for all; fairness in the criminal justice system; and protection and expansion of the right to vote and the rights of immigrants.

Barber acknowledges that the neoliberal forces in his state — and across the country — remain powerful. “We’ve got to fight in the courts, we’ve got to fight in the legislative halls, we’ve got to fight in the streets, we’ve got to push at the pulpit, and we have to work at the ballot box,” he says. “If we do all of this with what I call a moral critique, so we’re not trapped with the language of Republican versus Democrat, I believe we can continue to work towards the reconstruction of this nation.”

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Did the historical Jesus exist? A growing number of scholars don’t think so Sat, 30 Aug 2014 14:01:53 +0000 Valerie Tarico, AlterNet This story first appeared at AlterNet.


Most antiquities scholars think that the New Testament gospels are “mythologized history.”  In other words, they think that around the start of the first century a controversial Jewish rabbi named Yeshua ben Yosef gathered a following and his life and teachings provided the seed that grew into Christianity.

At the same time, these scholars acknowledge that many Bible stories like the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and women at the tomb borrow and rework mythic themes that were common in the Ancient Near East, much the way that screenwriters base new movies on old familiar tropes or plot elements. In this view, a “historical Jesus” became mythologized.

For over 200 years, a wide ranging array of theologians and historians—most of them Christian—analyzed ancient texts, both those that made it into the Bible and those that didn’t, in attempts to excavate the man behind the myth.  Several current or recent bestsellers take this approach, distilling the scholarship for a popular audience. Familiar titles include Zealot by Reza Aslan and  How Jesus Became God by Bart Ehrman

But other scholars believe that the gospel stories are actually “historicized mythology.”  In this view, those ancient mythic templates are themselves the kernel. They got filled in with names, places and other real world details as early sects of Jesus worship attempted to understand and defend the devotional traditions they had received.

The notion that Jesus never existed is a minority position.  Of course it is! says David Fitzgerald, author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All . For centuries all serious scholars of Christianity were Christians themselves, and modern secular scholars lean heavily on the groundwork that they laid in collecting, preserving, and analyzing ancient texts. Even today most secular scholars come out of a religious background, and many operate by default under historical presumptions of their former faith.

Fitzgerald is an atheist speaker and writer, popular with secular students and community groups. The internet phenom, Zeitgeist the Movie introduced millions to some of the mythic roots of Christianity. But Zeitgeist and similar works contain known errors and oversimplifications that undermine their credibility. Fitzgerald seeks to correct that by giving young people interesting, accessible information that is grounded in accountable scholarship.

More academic arguments in support of the Jesus Myth theory can be found in the writings of Richard Carrier and Robert Price. Carrier, who has a Ph.D. in ancient history uses the tools of his trade to show, among other things, how Christianity might have gotten off the ground without a miracle. Price, by contrast, writes from the perspective of a theologian whose biblical scholarship ultimately formed the basis for his skepticism. It is interesting to note that some of the harshest debunkers of fringe Jesus myth theories like those from Zeitgeist or Joseph Atwill (who tries to argue that the Romans invented Jesus) are from serious Mythicists like Fitzgerald, Carrier and Price.

The arguments on both sides of this question—mythologized history or historicized mythology—fill volumes, and if anything the debate seems to be heating up rather than resolving. A growing number of scholars are openly questioning or actively arguing against Jesus’ historicity. Since many people, both Christian and not, find it surprising that this debate even exists—that credible scholars might think Jesus never existed—here are some of the key points that keep the doubts alive:

1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef.  In the words of Bart Ehrman: “What sorts of things do pagan authors from the time of Jesus have to say about him? Nothing. As odd as it may seem, there is no mention of Jesus at all by any of his pagan contemporaries. There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. I should stress that we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.” (pp. 56-57)

2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts. Paul seems unaware of any virgin birth, for example. No wise men, no star in the east, no miracles. Historians have long puzzled over the “Silence of Paul” on the most basic biographical facts and teachings of Jesus. Paul fails to cite Jesus’ authority precisely when it would make his case. What’s more, he never calls the twelve apostles Jesus’ disciples; in fact, he never says Jesus HAD disciples –or a ministry, or did miracles, or gave teachings. He virtually refuses to disclose any other biographical detail, and the few cryptic hints he offers aren’t just vague, but contradict the gospels. The leaders of the early Christian movement in Jerusalem like Peter and James are supposedly Jesus’ own followers and family; but Paul dismisses them as nobodies and repeatedly opposes them for not being true Christians!

Liberal theologian Marcus Borg suggests that people read the books of the New Testament in chronological order to see how early Christianity unfolded.  “Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product. The Gospel — the good news — of and about Jesus existed before the Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several decades after Jesus’ historical life and tell us how those communities saw his significance in their historical context.”

3. Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts. We now know that the four gospels were assigned the names of the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not written by them. To make matter sketchier, the name designations happened sometime in second century, around 100 years or more after Christianity supposedly began. For a variety of reasons, the practice of pseudonymous writing was common at the time and many contemporary documents are “signed” by famous figures.  The same is true of the New Testament epistles except for a handful of letters from Paul (6 out of 13) which are broadly thought to be genuine.  But even the gospel stories don’t actually say, “I was there.” Rather, they claim the existence of other witnesses, a phenomenon familiar to anyone who has heard the phrase, my aunt knew someone who . . . .

4. The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other. If you think you know the Jesus story pretty well, I suggest that you pause at this point to test yourself with the 20 question quiz at

The gospel of Mark is thought to be the earliest existing “life of Jesus,” and linguistic analysis suggests that Luke and Matthew both simply reworked Mark and added their own corrections and new material. But they contradict each other and, to an even greater degree contradict the much later gospel of John, because they were written with different objectives for different audiences. The incompatible Easter stories offer one example of how much the stories disagree.

5. Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.  They include a cynic philosopher, charismatic Hasid, liberal Pharisee, conservative rabbi, Zealot revolutionary, nonviolent pacifist to borrow from a much longer list assembled by Price. In his words (pp. 15-16), “The historical Jesus (if there was one) might well have been a messianic king, or a progressive Pharisee, or a Galilean shaman, or a magus, or a Hellenistic sage.  But he cannot very well have been all of them at the same time.”  John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar grumbles that “the stunning diversity is an academic embarrassment.”

For David Fitzgerald, these issues and more lead to a conclusion that he finds inescapable:

Jesus appears to be an effect, not a cause, of Christianity. Paul and the rest of the first generation of Christians searched the Septuagint translation of Hebrew scriptures to create a Mystery Faith for the Jews, complete with pagan rituals like a Lord’s Supper, Gnostic terms in his letters, and a personal savior god to rival those in their neighbors’ longstanding Egyptian, Persian, Hellenistic and Roman traditions.

In a soon-to-be-released follow up to Nailed, entitled Jesus: Mything in Action, Fitzgerald argues that the many competing versions proposed by secular scholars are just as problematic as any “Jesus of Faith:” Even if one accepts that there was a real Jesus of Nazareth, the question has little practical meaning: Regardless of whether or not a first century rabbi called Yeshua ben Yosef lived, the “historical Jesus” figures so patiently excavated and re-assembled by secular scholars are themselves fictions.

We may never know for certain what put Christian history in motion. Only time (or perhaps time travel) will tell.

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Don’t bring exotic rainforest animals home, expert warns Sat, 30 Aug 2014 13:48:33 +0000 Agence France-Presse Thousands of parrots, monkeys, iguanas, toucans, turtles and other rainforest animals are kept as exotic pets in Costa Rica, a practice putting some species at risk, according to experts.

The Central American country, famous for its rich biodiversity, won plaudits from conservationists two years ago for banning sport hunting in a pioneering move to protect wild animals.

But scientists and activists — gathered this week for the country’s first-ever conference on the issue of captive wildlife — say tropical animals face another major threat in Costa Ricans’ long-time love of exotic pets.

“There are no precise figures, but we know it’s a problem of great magnitude, because a study by the environment ministry found that 25 percent of households have a parrot or a parakeet as a pet,” said Andrea Aguilar of the Instituto Asis, a key figure behind the conference.

That would add up to nearly 400,000 exotic birds in cages, she said.

Aguilar’s institute runs a shelter for wild animals in La Fortuna de San Carlos, a lush region in northern Costa Rica that draws large numbers of foreign tourists with its famous wildlife and tropical vegetation.

The shelter takes in wild animals kept as pets that fall sick or are wounded by people, cars or electric shocks.

It gives them veterinary care and, when possible, prepares them for an eventual return to the wild.

“Costa Rican law forbids keeping wild species as pets, but the law isn’t enough because there’s a very deep-rooted custom. People don’t realize that wild animals are not and cannot be pets,” Aguilar told AFP in an interview ahead of the First Congress on Wildlife Rescue, Recovery and Freedom in San Jose.

She said people have a range of reasons for keeping pets such as white-faced capuchin monkeys, green iguanas or songbirds. They are drawn to the animals’ beauty, they want to entertain their children or they feel it brings them social status.

But the underlying problem is that people are largely ignorant of the animals’ diets, growth, life span, habitat, diseases and behavior.

“A family falls in love with a baby white-faced capuchin because it’s funny and affectionate, but when it reaches two years old its behavior will change. It will become aggressive, bite and pull people’s hair. That’s when it becomes a problem at home,” she said.

Such animals often end up being mistreated or killed, or, with luck, in a shelter, she said.

By that point returning them to their native environment is difficult. They lack survival skills and are unlikely to be accepted by other members of their species.

- Traffic in exotic animals -

The international traffic in exotic animals exacerbates the problem.

The illegal $20-billion-a-year trade has taken a major toll on Costa Rica’s biodiversity, as animals are captured and sold abroad, Aguilar said.

One of the goals of the three-day conference is to prod the Costa Rican government to expand environmental education programs for locals, foreign visitors and ecotourism operators.

“It’s important to make people understand that wild animals have to live in the forest, because they have different needs from domesticated animals,” said Aguilar.

Protecting the environment is also key for the Costa Rican economy, which depends heavily on tourism and attracted 2.4 million visitors last year — many of them drawn by the country’s tropical wildlife and forests.

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Porn king Larry Flynt still fighting for free speech, on Hustler’s 40th birthday Sat, 30 Aug 2014 13:42:33 +0000 Agence France-Presse Porn veteran Larry Flynt is celebrating the 40th birthday of his X-rated magazine Hustler — and from his gold-plated wheelchair he is as combative as ever in fighting for free speech.

Dressed in a beige suit with gold and diamond rings, Flynt surveys photos ranged on his enormous, Napoleon-style desk including his wife and himself with Bill Clinton, as well as caricatures and a collection of his magazines.

The front cover of the anniversary edition has a blonde on all fours dressed only in garters and a string of pearls. Inside there is no such modesty, with hardcore porn in full-color close-up.

“They did a poll recently — 80 percent of the women who enjoy adult film care about the dialogue and the quality of production. Men they don’t care, they take it raw,” he smiled.

The 71-year-old has been in his gold-plated wheelchair since an attack which left him paralyzed below the waist in 1978.

While celebrating his magazine’s four decades in print, he admits it is struggling, with circulation down from a peak of around three million during its heyday to “a couple of hundred thousand today”, according to a Hustler spokesman.

“Publishing is not good .. for anybody in America because Internet is replacing print. We’ll continue the magazine as long as it is profitable. Then we’ll go online,” Flynt said.

Hustler’s website doesn’t make much money either, competing with a tsunami of hardcore porn online which is often free, and made by amateurs.

- ‘Having our best year’ -

His business’ future lies above all in TV porn channels and on-demand videos, but also in Hustler-themed sex accessory and clothing stores and casinos, which he is opening everywhere.

“We’re having our best year this year,” he said. The sale of Hustler’s Beverly Hills headquarters building for $89 million has doubtless helped the bottom line.

But his proudest moments have been his legal victories in the fight for freedom of expression, he said.

Over the years he has faced repeated lawsuits for pornography, for desecration of the US flag, refusing to reveal sources, defamation and, most famously, for “emotional distress.”

In 1983 Flynt was sued by the Reverend Jerry Falwell over a parody of the pastor which appeared in Hustler. After initially being found in the wrong, Flynt took the case all the way to the Supreme Court in 1988.

The case was portrayed in the 1996 movie “The People vs. Larry Flynt” by director Milos Forman and starring Woody Harrelson, which was nominated for two Oscars.

“We won a lot of important legal battles for The First Amendment … like the case we had before the Supreme Court where parody was made protected speech,” he said.

“They couldn’t run us out of business, even though they tried very hard,” he said, adding that today’s comedy news programs like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report could not exist without the parody ruling.

“Many people are confused about what free speech is all about. It is not freedom for the thought you love. It is freedom for the thoughts you hate the most,” he added.

Flynt is pro gay rights and against the death penalty — he even campaigned, in vain, against the execution of the serial killer who put him in a wheelchair.

While he is politically committed, it is “probably not for the same reason as most people.

“I couldn’t care less who’s in office. It’s who they appoint to the Supreme Court, because those people are appointed for life. And they really make the decisions that affect your everyday life.”

He notably cites the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which did away with restrictions on campaign contributions for institutions, and also “decided that corporations are people.”

The ruling was “the most ludicrous decision I’ve ever heard of,” said Flynt.

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King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warns West will be jihadists’ next target Sat, 30 Aug 2014 13:39:02 +0000 Agence France-Presse King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has warned that the West will be the next target of the jihadists sweeping through Syria and Iraq, unless there is “rapid” action.

“If we ignore them, I am sure they will reach Europe in a month and America in another month,” he said in remarks quoted on Saturday by Asharq al-Awsat daily and Saudi-backed Al-Arabiya television station.

“Terrorism knows no border and its danger could affect several countries outside the Middle East,” said the king who was speaking at a welcoming ceremony on Friday for new ambassadors, including a new envoy from Saudi ally the United States.

The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group has prompted widespread concern as it advances in both Syria and Iraq, killing hundreds of people, including in gruesome beheadings and mass executions.

Lack of action would be “unacceptable” in the face of the phenomenon, King Abdullah said.

“You see how they (jihadists) carry out beheadings and make children show the severed heads in the street,” he said, condemning the “cruelty” of such acts.

“It is no secret to you, what they have done and what they have yet to do. I ask you to transmit this message to your leaders: ‘Fight terrorism with force, reason and (necessary) speed’.”

President Barack Obama has yet to decide whether the United States should launch raids against positions held by the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria to follow US air strikes on IS activities in Iraq.

US Secretary of State John Kerry called Friday for a global coalition to combat Islamic State fighters’ “genocidal agenda”.

Writing in the New York Times, Kerry said he and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet European counterparts on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Wales next week, to enlist assistance.

They will then travel on to the Middle East to build support “among the countries that are most directly threatened”.

“With a united response led by the United States and the broadest possible coalition of nations, the cancer of ISIS will not be allowed to spread to other countries,” Kerry said in Friday’s op-ed piece.

Asharq Al-Awsat said the king urged other countries to join the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre, set up in 2011 to respond to new threats, and to which Saudi Arabia has made a grant of $100 million.

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MSNBC’s Chris Hayes challenges senators who harassed Kirsten Gillibrand to come forward Sat, 30 Aug 2014 04:14:20 +0000 Arturo Garcia MSNBC Chris Hayes called out the lawmakers who allegedly harassed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to reveal themselves during a panel discussion on Friday regarding the culture of sexual harassment permeating the Capitol, which he called the “worst-kept secret in Washington.”

“I challenge the male senators — if they’re still alive, we don’t know if they are,” Hayes said. “But if you are, then you should come out and say that you did that, and you should apologize.”

Gillibrand has been criticized in some press circles for writing in her upcoming autobiography that unidentified male colleagues who told her to not get “porky” or that they preferred her to look “chubby,” though some female journalists have come forward to back up her account.

However, National Journal reporter Lucia Graves said, Gillibrand had no desirable options in the situation.

“She can, on the one hand, name names and make a huge public spectacle and perhaps have her career defined by this moment,” Graves said. “She can do what she’s done and talk in generalizations and then have people call her a liar or say that she needs to name names or tell her story on their terms. Or, the third option is silence, and I think that’s the most dangerous option of all, and all of the people who are attacking her for telling her story are encouraging that culture of silence which allows this kind of behavior to repeat.”

Hayes’ colleague Irin Carmon criticized the demands against Gillibrand to name the people involved, saying it was a subtle way for naysayers to accuse her of lying.

“I happen to think that if she did name names, there would still be people who sould say, ‘Not that guy, that guy’s a great guy. How could you impugn the reputation of that guy?’” Carmon explained. “None of these options are gonna clear her name.”

Columnist Ana Marie Cox, though, suggestion that the question of whether Gillibrand identifies her harassers goes beyond the political arena.

“I do, in this instance, think about what kind of lesson I would want to teach my daughter or my little sister, or some other woman that was close to me,” Cox told the panel. “Would I want her to say who it was? Would I want her to accept this kind of behavior with a laugh, or tell me that ‘He really didn’t mean it’? She can do what she wants, but I think we all should think about that particular question.”

During the discussion, Hayes showed footage of correspondents like Andrea Mitchell and Dana Bash sharing their own stories of being harassed, including Mitchell’s statement that she and her colleagues would exchange information on “whom you’d protect your young female interns from.”

He also shared the story of Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) being groped by Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) on an elevator, as described in a 1997 book by journalist Clara Bingham. Bingham wrote that Thurmond did not recognize Murray as a fellow senator and asked if the “little lady” was married before harassing her.

“She said he did not recognize her as a colleague,” Carmon said of the encounter between Murray and Thurmond. “He didn’t recognize her as a fellow human deserving of respect and of boundaries. That would be true whether she was a senator or not.”

Watch part 1 of the discussion, as aired on MSNBC on Friday, below.

Part 2 can be seen below.

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