The United States consumes more than 50 tons of antibiotics a day—80% of which is not used for humans.

Rather, about 40 tons goes to promote agricultural production, such as giving antibiotics to cattle and chickens.

This practice has dire ramifications for human health, two experts warn, as the abundance of antibiotics in the food chain has resulted in drug-resistant bacteria that can leave people vulnerable to infections and other illnesses.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a critical threat to public health,” Aidan Hollis and Ziana Ahmed wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine. “The value of antibiotics for human health is immeasurable.”

The operation to clean up the nuclear mess spread by the Fukushima reactor meltdown has been plagued with mismanagement and illegal activity as subcontractors have been cited for a number of violations, including recruiting homeless people to work for below minimum wage. According to a new exposé from Reuters, the problems stem from a network of subcontractors related to Obayashi Corp, the second-largest construction company in Japan.
Arrests throughout the year have plagued the $35 billion cleanup project: 
In the October case, homeless men were rounded up at Sendai's train station by Sasa, then put to work clearing radioactive soil and debris in Fukushima City for less than minimum wage, according to police and accounts of those involved. The men reported up through a chain of three other companies to Obayashi.
The reports states that the three largest crime syndicates in Japan have set up a black market recruiting network under Obayashi. There are at least 19 other major contractors tied to the cleanup in addition to Obayashi. The company has not yet been charged with any wrongdoing.
The structure of the operation lends itself to these kinds of oversights, with a pyramid structure of the largest contractors at the top and smallest at the bottom. Reuters said they found 733 contractors in all. The nuclear waste cleanup bidding process was also less stringent than other public works projects, lacking in some places basic disclosure and certification requirements.
The news is just the latest in a series of hurdles for the plant's cleanup and decommissioning after a series of meltdown following an earthquake in 2011. As of late October, more than 90 million tons of toxic water still had to be dealt with, forcing the government to step up its involvement—and investment—in plant owner Tepco's efforts. Just before Christmas, officials announced that the project would take an extra three years, missing its initial anticipated completion date of March 31, 2014.

The US will move “more sophisticated weapons” into Okinawa as a Japanese governor has approved a measure that would allow the relocation of a controversial US military base on the island, an analyst says.

“The American military base in Okinawa has gotten into the news recently because the US has announced that it will reduce its troop strength there by nearly half, from 18,000 Marines to 10,000,” political analyst and writer Linh Dinh told Press TV on Saturday.

However, he added, “What’s lost in this relative good news is that the Pentagon is moving more sophisticated weapons into Okinawa, including anti-submarine planes, Stealth fighters and drones. This is the first time American drones are stationed in Japan.”

“So that’s the big picture,” the analyst noted. “The US and Japan are beefing up their military posture against China.”

The initiative, which Brooks is calling “Pacific Pathways,” is also an opportunity to recast the army’s image in Washington, yielding television images of soldiers — not just marines and sailors — responding to typhoons and cyclones. “We can no longer afford to build (combat) units and put them on a shelf to be used only in the event of war,” Brooks’s command wrote in an internal planning document.

To the Marine Corps, however, Brooks is committing the equivalent of copyright infringement. Marines regard themselves as America’s first — and only — maritime infantry force. They have troops in Asia that are not tied down in South Korea — three infantry battalions, an aviation wing and a full logistics group based in Okinawa — and, they note, they have an expeditionary unit that sails around Asia to conduct bilateral exercises and respond to crises. Those marines were among the first to respond to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last month.

“They’re trying to create a second Marine Corps in the Pacific,” said a marine general, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the army’s internal plans. “To save their budget, they want to build a force the nation doesn’t need.”

Okinawa’s governor on Friday acceded to U.S. plans to maintain a large marine contingent in the prefecture, despite local opposition, by approving site preparation for a new air base on the less-populated northern half of Okinawa Island. To win permission, the marines have pledged to relocate almost 5,000 personnel to the U.S. territory of Guam, which could bolster the army’s case for a small rotating force closer to mainland Asia.

The army-marine fight has profound implications for both services. If Brooks succeeds, army leaders would lay claim to a new strategic narrative and gain a powerful argument to stave off additional rounds of personnel cuts, while the marines could face an existential crisis without their exclusive expeditionary status. If he doesn’t, the army, which is planning to shrink from 540,000 to 490,000 soldiers by 2017, could become even smaller.

 

They are the bane of ramblers and birds alike, but now homeowners are being warned that a nearby wind farm could cut the value of their houses by up to a third, an MP has claimed.

Geoffrey Cox, Conservative MP for West Devon and Torridge, said some homes in his area are now worth 'significantly less' thanks to giant turbines, and that it is an 'injustice' that homeowners should lose out while developers and land owners potentially pocket millions.

Mr Cox says proposals for scores of turbines have pushed rural areas to 'tipping point' and has called for a new scheme to compensate those whose homes are affected.

Desperate times: Geoffrey Cox MP says proposals for scores of turbines have pushed parts of rural areas to tipping point

Desperate times: Geoffrey Cox MP says proposals for scores of turbines have pushed parts of rural areas to tipping point

Planning Minister Nick Boles has proposed direct compensation for lost property value thanks to developments such as turbines, and also nuclear power stations, rail links and factories.

The minister is eyeing a pilot scheme in the coming months, and it could be based on the Dutch model that pays out an average of around £8,000 to householders that have suffered 'detriment'.

Mr Cox said he welcomed the proposal, which is likely to curry favour across rural Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, where the growing number of wind farms are seen as a blight by residents.

 

The MP said: 'An increasing number of people are coming to me with clear evidence that the value of their home is significantly less than what it otherwise would be were the wind farm not there.'

He added: 'I’m seeing a minimum 10 per cent to 15 per cent reduction. Some are seeing a loss of one-third of the value... How can that be fair?'

'How can it be right that landowners and developers are making millions of pounds, while the ordinary household is losing the value of what is their pension, or nest egg in old age.'

Wind farms are the source of much debate in rural communities, with a number of protest groups furious at the loss of local beauty spots.


 

In October, campaigners living near Ilkley in Yorkshire, won a campaign to have four giant turbines dismantled - the first ever wind farm to be scrapped in the UK.

Residents and walkers were delighted by the return of unspoilt views across the rolling hills and deep blue waters of Chelker Reservoir.

And to their relief, the 150ft high turbines will not be replaced after the council refused permission for two even bigger machines.

Angela Kelly, the chairwoman of the anti-wind farm campaign group Country Guardian, says she has seen the value of a number of properties slashed thanks to the presence of a nearby turbine. 

She claims she has even heard of buyers withdrawing at the last minute after discovering plans for a wind farm in the local vicinity.

Ms Kelly said: 'There is plenty of evidence that even the threat of a wind farm or a wind turbine  can prevent the sale of houses'.  

She added: 'Certainly after a wind farm has been erected properties within sight or sound of the turbines can become virtually unsaleable.

Of the Planning Minister's proposal, Mr Cox said: 'I would completely support households having to be paid compensation for the depreciation of their house value as a result of wind turbines.'

'It is simple nonsense for the pro-wind lobby to say they have no effect on house prices.'

But he warned: 'The devil will be in the detail. How would you differentiate between those that are entitled and those that are not?'

The compensation package was revealed quietly in December’s autumn statement, but was detailed by Mr Boles when her appeared before the Local Government Select Committee of MPs.

He said the proposal was a 'radical departure' from Britain’s current planning rules, but would help speed up major infrastructure that will boost growth, and would bring “individual benefits” for local residents from new development.

His idea goes beyond existing schemes to compensate homeowners for roads and rail links which affect the property by creating noise and traffic.

Mr Boles said: 'I think that everybody recognises that countries have to do difficult thing



tThe Independent Budget Office found it cost $167,731 in 2012 to house one of 12,287 daily New York City inmates, which is about $460-per-inmate-per-day.

The private prison industry has become an increasingly lucrative business, as the companies running them seek to increase profits by cutting inmates’ food provisions while pressuring state governors to guarantee prisons remain 90 percent full at all times.

In recent years, for-profit prisons have grown in popularity. The number of private prisons has increased from five in 1998 to 100 by 2008. The biggest private prison owner in the U.S. is the Corrections Corporation of America. It has seen its profits increase by more than 500 percent in the past 20 years – and it’s not stopping there.

Last year, the Corrections Corporation of America made an offer to 48 governors to buy and operate their state-funded prisons. In an audacious bid for more profits, the CCA’s pitched governors a so-called occupancy requirement, a clause demanding the state keep those newly privatized prisons at least 90 percent full at all times, regardless of whether crime was rising or falling.

In its 2010 annual statement, the CCA said: “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by . . . leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices.”

An American Civil Liberties Union report, “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,” examined the effects of private prisons at both state and federal levels, and how profits were driving state decisions. The report revealed record levels of incarcerations and record profits for the two biggest private prison companies.

It reported that in 2010 the two largest private prison companies alone received nearly $3 billion in revenue, and their top executives, according to one source, each received annual compensation packages worth well over $3 million.

Incarcerating huge population groups is one way of gaining profits, and another way is to minimize costs by cutting food provisions.

In a class-action suit filed by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of prisoners at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Utah, prisoners said they regularly endured inhuman conditions. One of the most common complaints was a lack of food.

An independent medical official stated that all inmates reported significant weight loss since arriving at the prison, anywhere from ten to 60 pounds.

“From my direct observation it is clear that all the men are much thinner, almost emaciated, in comparison to old snapshots I viewed in their charts or on their identity cards showing them much heavier,” the medical official said.

But that was only the tip of the iceberg – the private correctional facility owned byManagement and Training Corp also faces a lawsuit alleging multiple rapes, stabbings and beatings.

The correctional facility had frequent prisoner-on-prisoner stabbings due to lack of security. The lawsuit also mentioned the conditions of the cells where rats climb over prisoners’ beds and some inmates put the rodents on makeshift leashes to sell as pets to mentally ill prisoners.

Getting pulled over for rolling through a stop sign is whack. But getting pulled over, having a gun pointed in your face, and then being strip searched on the side of the road in front of your two children for rolling through a stop sign is, well, really whack and probably an excessive use of force.

At least. that's what a new lawsuit in the Sunshine State is claiming.

Last July, Leila Tarantino claims that she was pulled over by an officer with the Citrus County Sheriff's Department. In the suit, Tarantino says she came to a full stop and should have never been pulled over in the first place.

A passing cop pulled a u-turn, flashed the lights, and rolled up behind her. Tarantino claims that the cop immediately drew his weapon, pulled her from the car, and refused to explain why he pulled her over. Tarantino's two young children watched all of this unfold from inside her car.

- See more at: http://xrepublic.tv/node/6809#sthash.6BeYJWhK.dpuf

 A Florida judge presiding over misdemeanor drug cases reportedly showed up to work intoxicated and had to be removed from court. In a palpable irony, even a person who has dedicated her career toward meddling in other people’s lives and using the force of government against them is herself incapable of keeping herself sober at work. The judge faces no legal consequences and instead of being carted off to jail like so many of the recreational drug users she has dealt with, she will voluntarily put herself in rehab.

Judge Gisele Pollack, who founded Boward County’s misdemeanor drug court in 2005, was seen verbally assaulting her judicial assistant and yelling for her car keys to be returned before another judge intervened, according to an unidentified source.

The tirade followed Pollack’s abrupt dismissal of the day’s session after only serving an hour and a half on the bench, during which time she began slurring her words while addressing defendants.

“She’s not afraid to lock somebody up if they’re repeatedly thumbing their nose at authority.”

One can only speculate how many cases Pollack, an admitted alcoholic, may have presided over while under the influence. She says she will address what she calls “health issues” during an intensive two week outpatient program before returning to the bench.

Not everyone in the legal community feels that’s quite an adequate remedy.

“Could you imagine doing a night in jail because a judge couldn’t understand or appreciate your argument?” said attorney Steven Schaet. “If she’s adversely affected someone’s life, she shouldn’t be on the bench.”

There are thus far no indications Pollack will face official disciplinary action. She has, however, checked herself into rehab.

Pollack’s court provides misdemeanor drug offenders opportunities to have their charges dismissed and their records wiped clean if they complete six months of rehabilitative treatment. Offenders who relapse face tougher consequences.

 China may buy more Iranian oil next year as a state trader is negotiating a new light crude contract that could raise imports from Tehran to levels not seen since tough Western sanctions were imposed in 2012, running the risk of upsetting Washington.

An increase would go against the spirit of November's breakthrough agreement relaxing some of the stringent measures slapped on Iran two years ago over its nuclear program.

The November deal between Tehran and the group known as P5+1 -- made up of the United States and five other global powers -- paused efforts to reduce Iran's crude sales but required buyers to hold to "current average amounts" of Iranian oil imports.

That agreement was seen as a reward for a softer diplomatic tone from Tehran that was forced, some U.S. officials and lawmakers say, by U.S. and EU sanctions that slashed Iran's oil exports by more than half to about 1 million barrels per day (bpd) and cost it as much as $80 billion in lost revenue.

But industry sources say Chinese state-trader Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp, which was sanctioned by Washington in early 2012 for supplying gasoline to Iran, is in talks with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) for a new contract for condensate.

However, it was not clear how much of the light crude would be imported through any new term deal. Zhenrong or others could also continue buying condensate through spot deals.

"If they do step up imports from Iran, they are risking more sanctions from the U.S.," said a trader with a Western trading house that sells to China. "The Chinese government may make some noises if overall imports from Iran rise too much, but not if there is a slight increase."

Zhenrong, an affiliate of China's defense authorities in the 1990s, acts largely as an import agent for China Petroleum and Chemical Corp, or Sinopec, whose refineries process Iranian crude.

 Authorities urged residents to evacuate a small North Dakota community Monday night after a mile-long train carrying crude oil derailed outside of town, shaking residents with a series of explosions that sent flames and black smoke skyward.

The Cass County Sheriff's Office said it was "strongly recommending" that people in the town of Casselton and anyone living five miles to the south and east evacuate. A shelter has been set up in Fargo, about 25 miles away. Casselton has about 2,400 residents.

The sheriff's office said the National Weather Service was forecasting a shift in the weather that could increase the risk of potential health hazards.

"That's going to put the plume right over the top of Casselton," Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said at a news briefing.

Investigators couldn't get close to the blaze about a mile outside of Casselton and official estimates of how many train cars caught fire varied. BNSF Railway Co. said it believes about 20 cars caught fire after its oil train left the tracks about 2:10 p.m. Monday. The sheriff's office said it thinks 10 cars were on fire.

No one was hurt. The cars were still burning as darkness fell, and authorities said they would be allowed to burn out.

Authorities hadn't yet been able to untangle exactly how the derailment happened, but a second train carrying grain was involved. BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the train carrying grain derailed first, then knocked several cars of the oil train off adjoining tracks.

BNSF said both trains had more than 100 cars each.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Monday night it has launched a "go-team" to investigate the accident.

Ryan Toop, who lives about a half-mile away, said he heard explosions and drove as close as about two city blocks to the fire, which erupted on a day when temperatures were below zero.

"I rolled down the window, and you could literally keep your hands warm," Toop said.

The derailment happened amid heightened concerns about the United States' increased reliance on rail to carry crude oil. Fears of catastrophic derailments were particularly stoked after last summer's crash in Quebec of a train carrying crude from North Dakota's Bakken oil patch. Forty-seven people died in the ensuing fire.

The tracks that the train was on Monday pass through the middle of Casselton, and Cass County Sheriff's Sgt. Tara Morris said it was "a blessing it didn't happen within the city."

Morris said it could take up to 12 hours before authorities could get close to the fire. About 80 of the cars were moved from the site. Jeff Zent, a spokesman for Gov. Jack Dalrymple, said the National Guard was on alert if needed.

Temperatures were forecast to drop to minus 20 in Cass County overnight.

"Of course, Mother Nature, being North Dakota, it has to be one of the coldest nights of the year. It's deadly cold out there tonight," Laney said.

Mayor Ed McConnell said he didn't want any residents sleeping in their vehicles.

"All the experts say it can be a hazardous situation to their health," McConnell said. "We're going to try to get everybody out of the town."

In the initial hours, authorities told residents to stay indoors to avoid the smoke.

Hannah Linnard, 13, said she was in the bedroom of her friend's house about half a mile from the derailment, wrapping late Christmas presents.

"I looked out the window and all of a sudden the train car tipped over and the whole thing was engulfed in flames and it just exploded. The oil car tipped over onto the grain car," she said. Hannah said she could feel the warmth even inside the house.

Terry Johnson, the manager of a grain dealer less than a mile from the derailment, said he heard at least six explosions in the two hours following the incident.

"It shook our building and there was a huge fireball," he said.

North Dakota is the No. 2 oil-producing state in the U.S., trailing only Texas, and a growing amount of that is being shipped by rail. The state's top oil regulator said earlier this month that he expected as much as 90 percent of North Dakota's oil would be carried by train in 2014, up from the current 60 percent.

The number of crude oil carloads hauled by U.S. railroads surged from 10,840 in 2009 to a projected 400,000 this year. Despite the increase, the rate of accidents has stayed relatively steady. Railroads say 99.997 percent of hazardous materials shipments reach destinations safely.

) - One-third of Americans reject the idea of evolution and Republicans have grown more skeptical about it, according to a poll released on Monday.

Sixty percent of Americans say that "humans and other living things have evolved over time," the telephone survey by the Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project showed (Click http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/30/publics-views-on-human-evolution/ for the full survey).

But 33 percent reject the idea of evolution, saying that "humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time," Pew said in a statement.

Although this percentage remained steady since 2009, the last time Pew asked the question, there was a growing partisan gap on whether humans evolved.

"The gap is coming from the Republicans, where fewer are now saying that humans have evolved over time," said Cary Funk, a Pew senior researcher who conducted the analysis.

The poll showed 43 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of Democrats say humans have evolved over time, compared with 54 percent and 64 percent respectively four years ago.

Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants topped the list of those rejecting evolution, with 64 percent of those polled saying they believe humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

Indiana authorities have spent two fruitless days searching for a woman who was apparently washed away by floodwaters but plan to try again tomorrow.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources said Kathryn McGill, 31, was a passenger in a pickup truck driven by her husband, Adam McGill, 35, when he tried unsuccessfully Sunday morning to navigate floodwater on Highway 257 near the Pike County and Daviess County line  in the state's southwestern corner.

Kathryn McGill's drivers license said she was from Des Plaines, but the couple now lives in Norfolk, Va., where Adam McGill works for the Navy, Indiana Conservation Officer Joe Haywood said. They had been in Indiana visiting family and were headed back when they attempted to ford the highway, which is subject to frequent flooding by the nearby White River.

Waterfowl hunters saw the truck get swept off the road about 7:45 a.m., Haywood said, and after traveling to the spot by boat were able to rescue Adam McGill. His wife, though, was missing.

Searchers found the submerged truck Monday afternoon about 75 yards from the road, DNR officials said, but McGill wasn't there. At least 10 law enforcement and rescue agencies have looked for her since Sunday, using everything from sonar to boats to trained dogs in conditions Haywood described as very difficult.

 



 A BNSF train carrying crude oil in North Dakota collided with another train on Monday, setting off a series of explosions that left at least 10 cars ablaze, the latest in a string of incidents that have raised alarms over growing oil-by-rail traffic.

Local residents heard five powerful explosions just a mile outside of the small town of Casselton after a westbound train carrying soybeans derailed, and an eastbound 104-car train hauling crude oil ran into it just after 2 p.m. CST (2000 GMT), local officials said. There were no reports of any injuries.

City officials said they heard a series of blasts following the collision, including one at 3:40 p.m. Windows shook at the city auditor's office.

"Approximately 10 cars are fully engulfed resulting in heavy smoke in the area," the Cass County sheriff said in a statement at 4:36 p.m., adding that local fire and hazardous material teams were battling the blaze. The sheriff said it was not yet clear how the collision had occurred.

Residents within 10 miles were asked to remain indoors to avoid contact with the smoke.

Casselton City Auditor Sheila Klevgard said crews are pushing snow to contain the oil before it reaches a nearby creek.

Half of the oil cars have been separated from the train, but another 56 cars remain in danger, said Cecily Fong, the public information officer with the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. The collision destroyed both engines on the oil train. Both trains were operated by BNSF Railway Co, which is owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

The incident will likely stoke concerns about the safety of shipping increasing volumes of crude oil by rail, a trend that emerged from the unexpected burst of shale oil production out of North Dakota's Bakken fields. Over two-thirds of the state's oil production is currently shipped by rail.

Initial reports from the scene of the accident did not point to a malfunction on the oil-carrying train. Still, videos of the exploding railcars are likely to add to the ongoing debate on what fixes are needed as older train cars carry flammable fuels like oil.

The derailment occurred about a mile west of Casselton, a small town just west of Fargo, between an ethanol plant and the Casselton Reservoir, Fong said.

Casselton is state Governor Jack Dalrymple's hometown.

RAIL CROSSROADS

North Dakota is home to a raging shale oil boom that produced nearly 950,000 barrels of oil a day in October. It is also a major grain producer and long accustomed to a high volume of rail traffic.

But shipments of oil have surged lately, most of it the light, sweet Bakken variety that experts say is particularly flammable.

Trains carried nearly 700,000 barrels a day of North Dakota oil to market in October, a 67 percent jump from a year earlier, according to the state Pipeline Authority.

This summer, a runaway oil train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in the center of the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people. The incident fueled a drive for tougher standards for such shipments, including potentially costly retrofits to improve the safety of tank cars that regulators have cited as prone to puncture.

In early November, two dozen cars on another 90-car oil train derailed in rural Alabama, erupting into flames that took several days to fully extinguish.

The Association of American Railroads recently proposed costly fixes to older tank cars that do not meet its latest standards but continue to carry hazardous fuels such as oil.

The fixes include protective steel jackets, thermal protection and pressure relief valves, which could cost billions of dollars. Oil shippers, likely to be saddled with the costs of retrofits, oppose some of the changes proposed by the association.

Following the Canadian rail disaster, the U.S. Department of Transportation began an operation it dubbed "Bakken Blitz," which includes spot inspection of oil shipments aboard trains in North Dakota.
 
 
 

 Hackers stealing millions of debit and credit card accounts from customers at Target has dominated the headlines. But what happens to all that stolen data?

Well, it’s up for sale. And in some cases, banks are the ones paying off the crooks to get the information back.

Security expert Neal O’Farrell says there are many sites now selling the credit and debit card numbers that were stolen from Target customers.

“Here we have a Discover card. It’s selling for $39,” says O’Farrell.

So, who is buying them?

Well, anyone can, but right now some of the primary customers are the banks themselves, trying to limit the damage.

“They sell them to not the highest bidder, but any bidder,” says O’Farrell. “It’s almost like a kind of ransom.”

But numbers aren’t the only things the hackers have exposed. They also showed how vulnerable the current generation of credit cards is to fraud.

“It’s very, very old technology,” O’Farrell says.

Here in the United States, all of our card information is stored on magnetic strips, which can be easily compromised and duplicated.

But in Europe, they use a smart card technology known as “chip and pin.” The card generates a newcard number with every swipe.

“It’s much safer because it’s got essentially a tinycomputer on board, which has got security mechanisms,” says O’Farrell.

So, why aren’t we using “chip and pin” in the U.S.? Well, it would cost billions to replace card readers, not to mention new cards at $3 to $5 a pop.

But considering the costly fallout of credit card breaches, many Target customers say it would be a small price to pay.

police in China's restive far western region of Xinjiang shot dead eight people during a "terrorist attack" on Monday, the regional government said, the second outbreak of violent unrest this month in a region that has a substantial Muslim population.

The attack happened in Yarkand county close to the old Silk Road city of Kashgar in Xinjiang's far south, the Xinjiang government said in a statement on its official news website (www.ts.cn).

"At around 6:30 am, nine thugs carrying knives attacked a police station in Kashgar's Yarkand county, throwing explosive devices and setting police cars on fire," the brief statement said.

"The police took decisive measures, shooting dead eight and capturing one," it added, labeling the incident a "violent terrorist attack" which was being investigated further

 Saudi Arabia has pledged $3 billion to Lebanon to help strengthen the country's armed forces and purchase weapons from France, Lebanon's president said Sunday, calling it the biggest grant ever for the nation's military.

Michel Sleiman, who made the surprise announcement in a televised national address, did not provide any further details. The Lebanese army has struggled to contain a rising tide of violence linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria, a conflict that has inflamed sectarian tensions in Lebanon and threatened the country's stability.

"The Saudi king decided to give a generous, well-appreciated grant to Lebanon amounting to $3 billion for the Lebanese army, which will allow it to buy new and modern weapons," Sleiman said. "The king pointed out that the weapons will be bought from France quickly, considering the historical relations that tie it to Lebanon and the military cooperation between the two countries."

Sleiman said he hoped Paris would quickly meet the initiative, and help the Lebanese army with arms, training and maintenance.

French President Francois Hollande, who was in Riyadh Sunday for talks with Saudi King Abdullah, said that France would help if requested to do so.

"If there are demands that are addressed to us, we will satisfy them," Hollande told reporters.

Fragile in the best of times, Lebanon is struggling to cope with the fallout from Syria's civil war. That conflict has deeply divided Lebanon along confessional lines, and paralyzed the country's ramshackle political system to the point that it has been stuck with a weak and ineffectual caretaker government since April.

It has also seen a wave of deadly bombings and shootings that have fueled fears that Lebanon, which suffered a brutal 15-year civil war of its own that only ended in 1990, could be slowly slipping back toward full-blown sectarian conflict.

In a nod to those concerns, Sleiman said in his address that "Lebanon is threatened by sectarian conflict and extremism," and said that strengthening the army is a popular demand.

The Lebanese army is generally seen as a unifying force in the country, and draws its ranks from all of Lebanon's sects. But it has struggled to contain the escalating violence in the country since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict. It is also widely considered much weaker than the Shiite Hezbollah militant group, which is armed and funded by regional Shiite-power and Saudi-rival Iran.

The Saudi pledge appeared aimed, at least in part, at boosting the military in relation to Hezbollah.

Historically, the Lebanese army has been equipped by the United States and France.

A man killed by police after robbing an Arizona bank is believed to be the same suspect who killed a police officer in Mississippi just five days earlier, authorities said on Sunday.

According to federal court records, the man had also served a brief prison term for threatening to kill President Barack Obama in 2010 and had been ordered by a judge to receive mental health treatment.

The suspect was identified on Sunday by police as 40-year-old Mario Edward Garnett.

Garnett had pleaded guilty in federal court in his home state of Oklahoma in December 2010 to threatening to kill Obama. He was released from prison on July 19, according to the Bureau of Prisons website.

Wearing a mask, Garnett entered the bank in Phoenix on Saturday morning and displayed a handgun, filled a bag with cash from the vault and fled, the FBI said in a statement.

He got into a gun battle with a Phoenix police detective outside the bank and was shot and killed, the statement added, saying he was believed to be the same suspect who robbed a bank in the northeastern Mississippi town of Tupelo on Monday.

Tupelo police Officer Gale Stauffer, 38, was shot and killed at close range in the previous incident. Another officer was wounded.

Before the Tupelo shootout, the FBI said it believed Garnett had attempted to rob a bank in Atlanta, Georgia, which is about 300 miles east of Tupelo.

Authorities had launched a multi-state manhunt for Garnett and had offered a reward of more than $200,000.

Russia bomb blast

Emergency personnel work at the site of a bomb blast on a trolleybus in Volgograd. At least 10 people were killed Sunday in the city's second deadly blast in two days. 

 A bomb blast ripped a trolleybus apart in Volgograd on Monday, killing at least 10 people in the second deadly attack in the southern city in two days and raising fears of further violence as Russia prepares to host the Winter Olympics.

The morning rush-hour bombing, which left mangled bodies in the street, underscored Russia's vulnerability to militant attacks less than six weeks before the Sochi 2014 Games, a prestige project for President Vladimir Putin.

It came less than 24 hours after a suicide bomb blast killed at least 17 people in the main railway station in the same city, a major transport hub in southern Russia.

A Reuters journalist saw the blue-and-white trolleybus reduced to a twisted, gutted carcass, its roof blown off and bodies and debris strewn across the street. Federal investigators called the blast a "terrorist act".

"For the second day, we are dying - it's a nightmare," a woman near the scene said, her voice trembling as she choked back tears. "What are we supposed to do, just walk now?"

The consecutive attacks will raise fears of a concerted campaign of violence before the Olympics, which start on February 7 in Sochi, about 430 miles southwest of Volgograd.

In a video posted on the web in July, the leader of insurgents who want to carve an Islamic state out of the North Caucasus, a string of Muslim provinces south of Volgograd, urged militants to use "maximum force" to prevent the games from being held.

A female suicide bomber from the North Caucasus killed six people on a bus in Volgograd in October.

Spokespeople for the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland, could not immediately be reached for comment on the most recent bombings.

BIGGEST SECURITY CHALLENGE

In power since 2000, Putin secured the Games for Russia and has staked his reputation on a safe and successful event. He has law enforcement agencies to ensure security at the Olympics in Sochi, at the northwest end of the Caucasus mountain range.

Putin was first elected after winning popularity for a war against Chechen rebels, but attacks by Islamist militants whose insurgency is rooted in the war have clouded his 14 years in power and now confront him with his biggest security challenge.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either of the Volgograd attacks, which left dozens wounded in addition to the deaths. Authorities said 37 people were hospitalized after Sunday's attack and 23 were reported wounded on Monday.

After the attack on Sunday, in which authorities said a bomber detonated explosives in front of a metal detector at Volgograd station, Putin ordered law enforcement agencies to take measures to enhance security.

Police said additional officers would be sent to railway stations and airports nationwide and more extensive security checks would be conducted.

But the attacks raised questions about the effectiveness of security measures that the Kremlin routinely orders increased after bombings.

More attacks can be expected before the Olympics and cities in southern Russia where the Games are not being held are easier targets than Sochi, said Alexei Filatov, deputy head of the veterans' association of the elite Alfa anti-terrorism unit.

"The threat is greatest now because it is when terrorists can make the biggest impression," he told Reuters. "The security measures were beefed up long ago around Sochi, so terrorists will strike instead in these nearby cities like Volgograd."

"Half of our traffic police and emergency workers have been sent to Sochi," said Alexei, a Volgograd resident whose wife called from her car after hearing the blast and seeing the gutted trolleybus.

"She heard cries - I could hear her voice shaking," he said. "Then she locked herself in the car and gave way to hysterics."

A city of about 1 million, Volgograd is one of the venues for the 2018 soccer World Cup, another high-profile sports event Putin has helped Russia win the right to stage, and which will bring thousands of foreign fans to cities around Russia.

Sunday's attack was the deadliest to strike Russia's heartland since January 2011, when a male suicide bomber from the North Caucasus killed 37 people in the arrivals hall of a busy Moscow airport.

Investigators initially said a woman set off the bomb that filled the front of the railway station building with a massive orange fireball on Sunday, but later said the bomber could have been a man.

Singapore: A new way of assembling things, called metamaterials, may in the not too distant future help to protect a building from earthquakes by bending seismic waves around it. Similarly, tsunami waves could be bent around towns, and soundwaves bent around a room to make it soundproof.

While the holy grail of metamaterials is still to make objects and people invisible to the eye, they are set to have a more tangible commercial impact playing more mundane roles — from satellite antennas to wirelessly charging cellphones.

Metamaterials are simply materials that exhibit properties not found in nature, such as the way they absorb or reflect light. The key is in how they’re made. By assembling the material — from photonic crystals to wire and foam — at a scale smaller than the length of the wave you’re seeking to manipulate, the wave can, in theory, be bent to wil

The complaint alleges that after then-Gov. Jim Gibbons approved a K-9 program to target drug runners on Nevada's highways, Nevada Highway Patrol Commander Chris Perry intentionally undermined the program.

The complaint alleges that the drug-sniffing dogs used by troopers in the program were intentionally being trained to operate as so-called trick ponies, or dogs that provide officers false alerts for the presence of drugs.

The dogs were being trained to alert their handlers by cues, instead of by picking up a drug's scent by sniffing, the complaint said. When a dog gives a false alert, this resulted in illegal searches and seizures, including money and property, the complaint said.

The 103-page complaint alleges that Perry, along with others, used the K-9s to undermine the program to systematically conduct illegal searches and seizures for financial benefit.

Japanese officials in Okinawa on Friday approved the long-stalled relocation of a controversial U.S. military base, a breakthrough that could remove a running sore in relations between Tokyo and Washington.

More than 17 years after the two allies agreed to move the U.S. Marines’ Futenma Air Station from a densely populated urban area, the local government has finally consented to a landfill that will enable new facilities to be built on the coast.

The agreement will burnish the credentials of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the U.S., possibly taking some of the sting out of American criticism of his provocative visit Thursday to a war shrine seen by China and Korea as a symbol of Japanese militarism.

The issue has been deadlocked for years, with huge opposition to any new base among Okinawans fed up with playing host to an outsized share of the U.S. military presence in Japan, and who want it moved off the island altogether.

Okinawa’s governor Hirokazu Nakaima, long a thorn in the central government’s side, this week met Abe, who pledged a big cash injection into the island’s economy every year until 2021.

He emerged from the meeting declaring himself impressed with the package on offer, which includes a pledge to work towards the shuttering of Futenma within five years, and on Friday gave it his formal seal of approval.

“The imminent issue for us on Okinawa is to remove the dangerous airbase from the heart of the town as soon as possible,” Nakaima told reporters.

“The prime minister is saying the government will work towards halting the Futenma operation within five years.”

Abe praised Nakaima for making a “courageous decision,” while Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the government “will do its utmost to relocate the base to Camp Schwab as quickly as possible.”

A homeless Wisconsin couple moved into a “tiny home” Christmas Eve they helped build with fellow Occupy Madison members.

Chris Derrick and Betty Ybarra had been living since April in an encampment at a county park with other members of the protest group, which plans to build more small homes with college students and other volunteers for the city’s growing homeless population.

A citywide count in January found 831 homeless people – a 47 percent increase over three years – in Madison, where the average home sale costs nearly $300,000.

The protest group, which grew out of the Occupy Wall Street movement to protest wealth inequality, put together teams of volunteers to build two houses using a basic blueprint that can be adapted to fit the creators’ tastes.

The homeless volunteers earn their houses – which include a bed, toilet and insulation – by working under the supervision of more experienced builders.

o you believe that diet soda is healthful? What about flavored water? For one reason or another, there are numerous foods that have gained the title of “healthy food” when they really aren’t. Many of these foods are still being sold as healthy options and well-intentioned consumers are continuing to eat it up. Sometimes these food aren’t the worst of the bunch, but they are still not healthful options.

Seeing through the multi-million dollar marketing ploys of food makers is difficult. After all, they spend stacks of cash and employ people who are the very best at what they do in order to convince you their product is worthwhile.

1. Soy products including tofu, soy milk, and soy proteins - Non-organic soy products are most likely GMO. As a matter of fact, 90% of non-organic soy products sold in the U.S. are from genetically modified crops. While it’s marketed as a good source of plant-based protein, soy can have numerous unintended effects. Even organic soy has been shown to have endocrine disrupting effects, potentially leading to thyroid dysfunction, infertility, and even cancer. Admittedly, this is a controversial food in terms of healthfulness (when no GMO), so consume with cation.


2. “Healthy” cereals - Breakfast cereals with whole grains are marketed as a great way to start your day, but those whole grains are highly over-consumed by westerners, to the point where our body systems are inflamed and we become insulin resistant. Grains can cause the body to resist leptin, the hormone that predicts the onset of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance. Still, the “whole grains” labels are plastered all over grocery store shelves in an effort to convince you they are healthy.

3. Low-fat, low-sodium, or “lite” soups - Canned soups, no matter the label, are not a healthy option. Not only are they likely contaminated with the BPA lining the can, but they often contain flavor enhancers like MSG, known to cause migraines, obesity, and maybe even ADHD. They aren’t among some of the worst foods, but they certainly aren’t great either.

4. Agave - Agave has attracted many people because it’s natural, plant-based. But so is sugar. Like these sweeteners, agave isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It contains about 55% fructose, is highly processed, and lacks nutritional value. Need a little sweetener? Try raw, organic, locally-sourced honey.

5. Diet soda - Is diet soda bad for you? You bet. While diet soda doesn’t contain loads and loads of sugar like typical cola, this ‘healthy’ drink has been tied to everything from kidney failure and cancer, to obesity and stroke. Stick to filtered water.

China rejected two shipments -- almost 546,000 tons -- of U.S. dried distillers' grain, a corn byproduct, because it contained genetically modified material, state media reported Friday.

China's top food-quality watchdog rejected the two shipments because they contained MIR162, a special insect-resistant variety of maize developed by Syngenta, a Swiss maker of seeds and pesticides.

The first shipment, 545,000 tons, was rejected last week in Shanghai, state media said. The second shipment, 758 tons, was rejected Monday.

MIR162 is not on the Chinese government's short list of approved grains considered genetically modified organisms, or GMO.

Still, Chinese consumers remain wary of GMO crops and some nationalist-leaning pundits have suggested the Western-dominated technology leaves China’s food supply vulnerable.

China formally approved on Saturday easing its decades-long one-child policy and the abolition of a controversial labor camp system, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Both were among a sweeping raft of reforms announced last month after a meeting of the ruling Communist Party that mapped out policy for the next decade.

Under the new policy, couples will be allowed to have two children if one of the parents is an only child. Previously, a couple could generally only have a second child if both parents were only children.

The plan was envisioned by the government about five years ago, with officials worried that the strict controls were undermining economic growth and contributing to a rapidly ageing population China had no hope of supporting financially.

The resolution, formally approved by China's largely rubber- stamp parliament on Saturday, will allow local legislatures to decide when to implement the policies, Xinhua said.

Parliament also approved the abolition of the "re-education through labor" system, in place since 1957, which allows police to sentence petty criminals to up to four years' confinement in labor camps without going through the courts.

Critics say the system undermines the rule of law and is often used against political activists and followers of Falun Gong, a banned spiritual group

 Heightened attention to the crime of sexual assault in the U.S. military may be causing more people to come forward and report problems. Defense officials cite the increased awareness as a possible reason the number of reported sexual assaults rose by more than 50 percent this year.

More than 5,000 reports of sexual assault were filed during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, compared to the 3,374 in 2012, according to early data obtained by The Associated Press. About 10 percent of the 2013 reports involved incidents that occurred before the victim got into the military, up from just 4 percent only a year ago.

That increase, officials said, suggests that confidence in the system is growing and that victims are more willing to come forward. While cautious in their conclusions, officials said surveys, focus groups and repeated meetings with service members throughout the year suggest that the number of actual incidents — from unwanted sexual contact and harassment to violent assaults — remained largely steady.

A string of high-profile assaults and arrests triggered outrage in Congress and set off months of debate over how to change the military justice system. Military leaders launched a series of programs intended to beef up accountability and encourage victims to report crimes.

"Given the multiple data points, we assess that this is more reporting," said Col. Alan R. Metzler, deputy director of the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention and response office. He also noted that more victims are agreeing to make official complaints, rather than simply seeking medical care without filing formal accusations.

The military has long struggled to get victims to report sexual harassment and assault in a stern military culture that emphasizes rank, loyalty and toughness. Too often, victims have complained that they were afraid to report assaults to ranking officers, or that their initial complaints were rebuffed or ignored.

As a result, the crime has been vastly underreported — a fact that became evident when officials announced earlier this year that an anonymous survey had revealed that about 26,000 service members reported some type of unwanted sexual contact or sexual assault.

According to the latest numbers, the increase in reports across the services ranges from a low of about 45 percent for the Air Force to a high of 86 percent for the Marines, the smallest service. The Navy had an increase of 46 percent and the Army, by far the largest military service, had a 50 percent jump.

Jill Loftus, director of the Navy's sexual assault program, which also includes the Marine Corps, said the increase in reporting also suggests that more service members are starting to understand what types of behavior constitute harassment or assault.

She said that based on Navy surveys, "we are not seeing a perception that the number of incidents are going up."

"More likely, we have people who understand what sexual assault is," she said. And, she said, officials are hearing that more people are comfortable coming forward.

Meanwhile, a myriad of sexual assault arrests and scandals, including an Air Force commander's decision to dismiss sex assault charges against another officer who had been convicted of multiple offenses, got the attention of Congress. And it all led to a series of often emotional public hearings in which victims described their experiences.

As Congress debated changes in the military's justice system, the Pentagon and the services instituted new training programs that targeted rank-and-file service members as well as top commanders and officers.

Several of the new programs were aimed at encouraging service members to be more vigilant, and to look out for each other and intercede if they saw a bad situation developing. There also were moves to restrict alcohol sales, since drinking has long been associated with sexual assault and harassment.

By year's end, after lengthy negotiations between Capitol Hill and the Pentagon, lawmakers passed legislation that beefs up legal rights for victims and strips military commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions. It also requires a civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute a case and requires that any individual convicted of sexual assault face a dishonorable discharge or dismissal.

Defense officials beat back efforts to more drastically revamp the military justice system that would take authority away from commanders and allow victims of rape and sexual assault to go outside the chain of command for prosecutions.

Still, military leaders acknowledge a lot of work remains to b

 Heightened attention to the crime of sexual assault in the U.S. military may be causing more people to come forward and report problems. Defense officials cite the increased awareness as a possible reason the number of reported sexual assaults rose by more than 50 percent this year.

 

More than 5,000 reports of sexual assault were filed during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, compared to the 3,374 in 2012, according to early data obtained by The Associated Press. About 10 percent of the 2013 reports involved incidents that occurred before the victim got into the military, up from just 4 percent only a year ago.

That increase, officials said, suggests that confidence in the system is growing and that victims are more willing to come forward. While cautious in their conclusions, officials said surveys, focus groups and repeated meetings with service members throughout the year suggest that the number of actual incidents — from unwanted sexual contact and harassment to violent assaults — remained largely steady.

A string of high-profile assaults and arrests triggered outrage in Congress and set off months of debate over how to change the military justice system. Military leaders launched a series of programs intended to beef up accountability and encourage victims to report crimes.

"Given the multiple data points, we assess that this is more reporting," said Col. Alan R. Metzler, deputy director of the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention and response office. He also noted that more victims are agreeing to make official complaints, rather than simply seeking medical care without filing formal accusations.

The military has long struggled to get victims to report sexual harassment and assault in a stern military culture that emphasizes rank, loyalty and toughness. Too often, victims have complained that they were afraid to report assaults to ranking officers, or that their initial complaints were rebuffed or ignored.

As a result, the crime has been vastly underreported — a fact that became evident when officials announced earlier this year that an anonymous survey had revealed that about 26,000 service members reported some type of unwanted sexual contact or sexual assault.

According to the latest numbers, the increase in reports across the services ranges from a low of about 45 percent for the Air Force to a high of 86 percent for the Marines, the smallest service. The Navy had an increase of 46 percent and the Army, by far the largest military service, had a 50 percent jump.

Jill Loftus, director of the Navy's sexual assault program, which also includes the Marine Corps, said the increase in reporting also suggests that more service members are starting to understand what types of behavior constitute harassment or assault.

She said that based on Navy surveys, "we are not seeing a perception that the number of incidents are going up."

"More likely, we have people who understand what sexual assault is," she said. And, she said, officials are hearing that more people are comfortable coming forward.

Meanwhile, a myriad of sexual assault arrests and scandals, including an Air Force commander's decision to dismiss sex assault charges against another officer who had been convicted of multiple offenses, got the attention of Congress. And it all led to a series of often emotional public hearings in which victims described their experiences.

As Congress debated changes in the military's justice system, the Pentagon and the services instituted new training programs that targeted rank-and-file service members as well as top commanders and officers.

Several of the new programs were aimed at encouraging service members to be more vigilant, and to look out for each other and intercede if they saw a bad situation developing. There also were moves to restrict alcohol sales, since drinking has long been associated with sexual assault and harassment.

By year's end, after lengthy negotiations between Capitol Hill and the Pentagon, lawmakers passed legislation that beefs up legal rights for victims and strips military commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions. It also requires a civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute a case and requires that any individual convicted of sexual assault face a dishonorable discharge or dismissal.

Defense officials beat back efforts to more drastically revamp the military justice system that would take authority away from commanders and allow victims of rape and sexual assault to go outside the chain of command for prosecutions.

Still, military leaders acknowledge a lot of work remains to b

A Chinese icebreaker is expected a reach a Russian ship trapped in thick Antarctic ice with 74 people on board by Saturday, Russia said.

The Snow Dragon was one of three icebreakers dispatched to free the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which became stranded far south of Tasmania on Tuesday in ice driven by strong winds.

"The first, a Chinese icebreaker, is expected to arrive at the scene of the accident on December 28," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"Great news: Icebreaker Snow Dragon on Horizon with penguins! Everyone very happy!" Chris Turney, an Australian professor who helped organize the voyage on the Russian ship, said on Twitter on Friday.

He posted a photograph apparently showing the Chinese vessel, a speck on the horizon beyond an expanse of ice.

The Akademik Shokalskiy departed New Zealand on November 28 on a privately funded expedition which commemorates the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by famed Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.

The ship's passengers include scientists and tourists, many of them Australian, and what the Russian Foreign Ministry said were 22 Russian crew members.

Robert W. Wilson, a retired New York hedge-fund founder who committed his life to giving the fortune he made from investing to charities, has died. He was 87.

He died on Monday after leaping from his 16th-floor residence at the San Remo apartment building on Manhattan's Central Park West, according to a person with knowledge of the incident who asked not to be identified because family members hadn't been notified. Police said an 87-year-old man was found in a courtyard at the rear of the building and pronounced dead from an apparent suicide. He suffered a stroke in June, Gary Castle, his accountant, said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

Wilson, whose Wall Street career spanned five decades, started Wilson & Associates, a hedge fund, in 1969 after working as a securities analyst. He retired in 1986 and, by 2000, his net worth peaked at about $800 million, Castle said. By then, he had already begun to give most of his money away, donating more than $500 million to charities, primarily to conservation groups, Castle said.

One recipient was World Monuments Fund, located in New York, that's dedicated to preserving architectural and cultural heritage sites worldwide. In 1989, Wilson responded to a direct- mail appeal by the group seeking donations of $25 or more. He sent in a check for $5,000, Bonnie Burnham, president of the fund, said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

His support grew to a $100 million matching-fund grant to the organization that generated $300 million for projects in about 50 countries.

"He became the challenge king of the philanthropic world," Burnham said.

Wilson also made a $100 million gift, linked to matching donations, to the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund, according to a statement on its website. Other groups he supported with large contributions included the Nature Conservancy, located in Arlington, Va., and the Wildlife Conservation Society, in New York, Castle said.

This Christmas, enjoy the turkey and roast beef. But do yourself a favor, and skip the duck.

This whole controversy over A&E's hit show "Duck Dynasty" is whacked. Better make that "quacked."

First, the network puts Phil Robertson, the family patriarch, on indefinite suspension for making insensitive remarks in a magazine interview. Then, the rest of the family rallies around their leader and suggests that the hit show will not go on without him.


As you probably know unless you've spent the last couple of weeks crouching in a duck blind, Robertson -- in paraphrasing a Bible verse -- appeared to liken homosexuality to bestiality and used crude language to describe his own sexual preference. In speaking to GQ magazine, he also seemed to minimize the discrimination that African-Americans suffered in the South before the civil rights movement.

Criticism of Robertson poured in, but so did support for one's right to express oneself.

The patriarch responded: "I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different than me."

'Duck Dynasty' star breaks his silence

In fact, Robertson claims he and his family are the ones who have been treated disrespectfully -- by the producers of the show, and the entertainment industry in general.

In an interview two months ago with the Christian Post, Robertson said that television editors in Los Angeles "with no moral compass" have routinely manipulated the show's footage to intensify the language and make the family appear more profane and unruly than they really are.

"They inserted fake beeps like somebody had used profanity, but no one had used profanity. If you want that, you can get all of that you want," Robertson continued. "Just turn the station. There's plenty of that! And if we're not using profanity, why make it look like we're using profanity? What is the point? Why don't you just run it and say what we say?"

Eventually, he said, producers gave in and "quit doing that." According to Robertson, the editors also took out the phrase "in Jesus' name" when the family prayed.

It makes you wonder exactly how much reality is behind some of these reality shows.

And now, it looks like the whole spectacle of Robertson being taken to the woodshed by the network could be part of the show. According to Entertainment Weekly, A&E will -- starting January 15 -- air new episodes of the show that will include scenes featuring Robertson.

These new episodes were already in the can. Still, if A&E is sincere in its outrage over what Robertson said, then it should stop trying to profit from the show he helped make successful.

Michael Feeney, senior vice president of corporate communications for A&E, told me that since filming isn't set to resume until the spring, the network has not yet had to make a decision on Robertson's role. He said he couldn't comment on the Christian Post interview.

Despite the fact that an average of 14.6 million Americans tune in each week to track the adventures of the Robertson family when you count DVR recordings, I've never understood the appeal. For me, the question isn't why Phil Robertson was suspended. The real mystery is why he and his family -- who run a successful business making supplies for duck hunters -- have a television show in the first place.

I have a theory. Here is what you need to keep in mind as you waddle through this controversy: The reason that "Duck Dynasty" is on television is to make liberal studio executives at A&E, and parent company Disney feel superior, while making big profits for the studio.

The Robertsons are on television so that people in New York and Los Angeles -- the kind of folks who refer to anyplace in between as "flyover country" -- can feel progressive and enlightened by comparing themselves to simple country folks in Louisiana who, according to the elites, are neither. (And can make lots of money doing so.)

"Duck Dynasty' is this era's ode to "Amos 'n' Andy." In that show -- which aired on radio and television from the 1920s through the 1960s and which was created, written and produced by white people -- Americans were given the opportunity to laugh at African-Americans, adding insult to the injury that this group of citizens was already sustaining before the civil rights movement.

Now, Americans have a new group to laugh at -- a self-described"bunch of rednecks from Louisiana."

Here's the irony. This show is successful at least in part because the characters say things that many Americans consider colorful and crude. It makes them interesting. That's the schtick of the Robertson clan.

Now Phil Robertson is in hot water for staying in character and saying something colorful and crude. That is, Robertson was suspended for doing in print what he has, for the last four years, been paid to do on television.

That's awfully hypocritical of A&E. The network is embarrassed and would surely like to distance itself from the Robertson family. However, it seems, it would like to stay acquainted with the millions of dollars the show generates each year.

The network should be embarrassed. Not by what Robertson said; it couldn't control that. It should be embarrassed about what it could control: the way it responded and the mess it made of this situation.

In discussing this story, commentators have been talking a lot about rights. Robertson had the right to express his opinion. The network that has chosen to co-mingle its brand with the Robertson brand had the right to suspend him. Viewers who support the family have the right to boycott the network.

But with rights come responsibilities, and -- as far as A&E executives are concerned -- they include the responsibility to avoid the hypocrisy of continuing to profit from a persona they created that they now claim to find offensive.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think the "Duck Dynasty" holiday marathon is well under wa

The increase in police brutality in this country is a frightening reality. In the last decade alone the number of people murdered by police has reached 5,000. The number of soldiers killed since the inception of the Iraq war, 4489.

What went wrong? In the 19070’s SWAT teams were estimated to be used just a few hundred times per year, now we are looking at over 40,000 military style “knock and announce” police raids a year.

The police presence in this country is being turned into a military with a clearly defined enemy, anyone who questions the establishment.

If we look at the most recent numbers of non-military US citizens killed by terrorism worldwide, that number is 17. You have a better chance of being killed by a bee sting, or a home repair accident than you do a terrorist. And you are 29 times more likely to be murdered by a cop than a terrorist!

A hard hitting mini film by film maker Charles Shaw, properly titled RELEASE US, highlights the riveting and horrid reality of America’s thin blue line.

- See more at: http://xrepublic.tv/node/6720#sthash.v8fmMcAD.dpuf

Albert Einstein said:

"A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of the truth."

Indeed, scientists have shown that people will go to absurd lengths - and engage in mental gymnastics – in order to cling to their belief in what those in authority have said.

Part of the reason so many are so vulnerable to naive belief in authority is that we evolved in small tribes … and we assume that the super-elites are just like us.

In reality, there are millions of psychopaths in the world … and they are largely running D.C. and on Wall Street.

These people have no hesitation in lying to promote their goals.

The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs told Morley Safer of 60 Minutes and CBS News:

Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that? — stupid.

And studies show that the super-rich lie, cheat and steal more than the rest of us.

I'm honored to have the chance to speak with you and your family this year.
Recently, we learned that our governments, working in concert, have created a system of worldwide mass surveillance, watching everything we do.
A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves -- an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that's a problem, because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.
Together, we can find a better balance. End mass surveillance. And remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.
For everyone out there listening, thank you, and Merry Christmas.

 At least 34 people were killed in three bombings in Christian areas of Baghdad on Wednesday, including a car bomb that exploded as worshippers were leaving a Christmas service, Iraqi police and medics said.

Elsewhere in Iraq, at least 10 people were killed in three attacks that targeted police and Shi'ite pilgrims, police said.

Iraq is enduring its deadliest violence in years, reviving memories of the sectarian bloodshed between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims that killed tens of thousands in 2006-07.

The day's deadliest incident occurred in the Doura district of southern Baghdad when the car bomb went off as Christians were emerging from a Christmas mass, killing at least 24 people.

Shortly before, two bombs in a crowded market in a separate, mostly Christian area of Doura killed another 10 people.

Ahmed Edan, a policeman on duty in the area of the attacks, said the sound of the first of the two explosions caused worshippers to leave the church.

"A car parked near the church exploded when the families were hugging each other goodbye before leaving. The blast was powerful," he said.

"Bodies of women, girls and men were lying on the ground covered in blood. Others were screaming and crying while they were trying to save some of their wounded relatives."

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks in Baghdad, which also wounded 52 people.

 Russia formally dropped criminal charges against Greenpeace activists arrested in a protest over Arctic oil drilling on Wednesday, under a Kremlin amnesty extended to all 30 who had been facing up to seven years jail if convicted.

 

The environmental group said 29 of the 30, who are still in Russia after being freed on bail, have now been amnestied and will be free to leave for their home countries as soon as they secure exit visas. One more activist's case will be reviewed on Thursday, it said.

Russia's treatment of the activists - who spent two months in detention and had faced hooliganism charges punishable by seven years in jail - had drawn heavy criticism from Western nations and celebrities.

Their amnesty will remove an irritant in relations in what Kremlin critics say is a move timed to improve Russia's image ahead of the Sochi Olympics.

"This is the day we've been waiting for since our ship was boarded by armed commandos almost three months ago," Peter Willcox, who captained the Greenpeace vessel used in the protest, the Arctic Sunrise, said in a statement.

"I'm pleased and relieved the charges have been dropped, but we should not have been charged at all."

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia's response to a Greenpeace protest should serve as a lesson and Moscow would take tougher steps to guard against interference in its development of the region.

Russia says activists endangered lives and property in the protest at the state-controlled energy giant Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya platform in the Pechora Sea, a key element of Russia's plans to develop the Arctic.

Greenpeace said the boarding of its icebreaker by Russian authorities was illegal and says its activists conducted a peaceful protest.

The shadowy leader of a powerful al-Qaida group fighting in Syria sought to kidnap United Nations workers and scrawled out plans for his aides to take over in the event of his death, according to excerpts of letters obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Iraqi intelligence officials offered the AP the letters, as well as the first known photograph of the Nusra Front leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, the head of one of the most powerful bands of radicals fighting the Syrian government in the country's civil war.

The officials said they obtained the information about al-Golani after they captured members of another al-Qaida group in September. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to journalists.

"I was told by a soldier that he observed some of the workers of the U.N. and he will kidnap them. I ask God for his success," read an excerpt of a letter given by officials from Iraq's Falcon Intelligence Cell, an anti-terrorism unit that works under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The officials said other letters planned the kidnapping and killing of other foreigners, and Syrian and Iraqi civilians.

One U.N. worker was kidnapped for eight months in Syria and was released in October. Another two dozen U.N. peacekeepers were briefly held this year. It's not clear if those abductions had any relation to al-Golani's letters.

Syria's uprising began with peaceful protests, but it turned into an armed uprising after Assad's forces cracked down on demonstrators.

Since then, hard-line Islamic brigades have emerged as the strongest rebel forces in Syria, chiefly among them the Nusra Front.

Under al-Golani's leadership, it has dominated rebel-held parts of southern Syria, and it is a powerful fighting force in the Damascus countryside and northern Syria, with an estimated force of 6,000 to 7,000 fighters.

Al-Maliki's Shiite-majority government is considered a quiet ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The officials may have released the letter excerpts to underscore the dominance of al-Qaida in Syria.

The intelligence officials did not where they found the al-Qaida fighters who handed over the documents. They also would not say when the letters were written, though they said it represented a tiny sample of a large cache of documents.

The officials couldn't explain why the letter excerpts were in a sloppily written, grammatically incorrect version of an Arabic dialect used across the Levant. It is believed that al-Golani was an Arabic teacher before he rose through al-Qaida ranks, and typically hard-line Muslims try to write in classical Arabic.

It may have been that an aide was writing down al-Golani's speech. Arabs typically speak in dialects that are often quite different from the classical Arabic.

"The claim by Iraqi intelligence that Jolani and by extension, Jabhat al-Nusra, have been behind an explicit policy of kidnapping U.N. workers should be treated with some suspicion," said Charles Lister, a prominent analyst of Syria's militant groups. He referred to the Nusra Front by its Arabic name. "While it might well be true, elements within Iraq's security services have a clear interest in portraying jihadists in Syria and Iraq in a highly negative light."

Little is known about al-Golani, including his real name. He is believed to be 39 years old. The photograph suggests a man in his thirties.

Al-Golani is a nom de guerre, indicating he was born in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

A Syrian native, he joined the insurgency after moving to Iraq.

He advanced through al-Qaida's ranks and eventually became a close associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of the militant group al-Qaida in Iraq.

He eventually returned to Syria shortly after the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, where he formed the Nusra Front, first announced in January 2012.

The group gained prominence in April after Golani rejected an attempted takeover of the Nusra Front by another rival al-Qaida group, now known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Iraqi intelligence officials said it was members of ISIL who gave them the information about al-Golani.

The hackers who attacked Target Corp and compromised up to 40 million credit cards and debit cards also managed to steal encrypted personal identification numbers (PINs), according to a senior payments executive familiar with the situation.

One major U.S. bank fears that the thieves would be able to crack the encryption code and make fraudulent withdrawals from consumer bank accounts, said the executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the data breach is still under investigation.


Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said "no unencrypted PIN data was accessed" and there was no evidence that PIN data has been "compromised." She confirmed that some "encrypted data" was stolen, but declined to say if that included encrypted PINs.

"We continue to have no reason to believe that PIN data, whether encrypted or unencrypted, was compromised. And we have not been made aware of any such issue in communications with financial institutions to date," Snyder said by email. "We are very early in an ongoing forensic and criminal investigation."

The No. 3 U.S. retailer said last week that hackers stole data from as many as 40 million cards used at Target stores during the first three weeks of the holiday shopping season, making it the second-largest data breach in U.S. retail history.

Target has not said how its systems were compromised, though it described the operation as "sophisticated." The U.S. Secret Service and the Justice Department are investigating. Officials with both agencies have declined comment on the investigations.

The attack could end up costing hundreds of millions of dollars, but it is unclear so far who will bear the expense.

While bank customers are typically not liable for losses because of fraudulent activity on their credit and debit cards, JPMorgan Chase & Co and Santander Bank said they have lowered limits on how much cash customers can take out of teller machines and spend at stores.

The unprecedented move has led to complaints from consumer advocates about the inconvenience it caused from the late November Thanksgiving holiday into the run-up to Christmas. But sorting out account activity after a fraudulent withdrawal could take a lot more time and be worse for customers.

JPMorgan has said it was able to reduce inconvenience by giving customers new debit cards printed quickly at many of its branches, and by keeping branches open for extended hours. A Santander spokeswoman was not available for comment on Tuesday.

Security experts said it is highly unusual for banks to reduce caps on withdrawals, and the move likely reflects worries that PINs have fallen into criminal hands, even if they are encrypted.

"That's a really extreme measure to take," said Avivah Litan, a Gartner analyst who specializes in cyber security and fraud detection. "They definitely found something in the data that showed there was something happening with cash withdrawals."

BREAKING THE CODE

While the use of encryption codes may prevent amateur hackers from obtaining the digital keys to customer bank deposits, the concern is the coding cannot stop the kind of sophisticated cyber criminal who was able to infiltrate Target for three weeks.

Daniel Clemens, CEO of Packet Ninjas, a cyber security consulting firm, said banks were prudent to lower debit card limits because they will not know for sure if Target's PIN encryption was infallible until the investigation is completed.

As an example of potential vulnerabilities in PIN encryption, Clemens said he once worked for a retailer who hired his firm to hack into its network to find security vulnerabilities. He was able to access the closely guarded digital "key" used to unscramble encrypted PINs, which he said surprised his client, who thought the data was secure.

In other cases, hackers can get PINs by using a tool known as a "RAM scraper," which captures the PINs while they are temporarily stored in memory, Clemens said.

t's part of the lore of modern China. When paramount leader Deng Xiaoping was handing over power a generation ago, a widely recounted tale goes, he had some advice for his successor. For every five working days, spend four with the top brass of the People's Liberation Army.

The latest leader of China, Xi Jinping, shows every sign of applying that lesson. A month after assuming power in November last year, Xi visited the province of Guangdong on his first major political tour. Of the five days he spent there, three were at a military base, according to official coverage of his trip.

The son of a Communist revolutionary commander, Xi built his career as a friend of the army, and at times an official in it. But he still feels compelled to ask his generals for something in return: loyalty. "First, we must keep in mind that the military must unswervingly adhere to the party's absolute leadership and obey the party's orders," he said on one of his many military inspection tours.

Xi's injunction that the party comes first is a sign of the insecurity modern Chinese leaders feel at the top of their nation's huge and increasingly powerful armed forces, military experts say. As it grows mightier, the People's Liberation Army is growing trickier to govern.

The PLA's rising global profile is integral to Xi's stated vision for the nation: the "China Dream," a rejuvenated country that's both peace-loving and militarily powerful.

But Xi is less a true military man than Deng and the founder of the People's Republic, Mao Zedong. He is fundamentally a career bureaucrat, like his immediate predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin.

Like them, Xi has to win over the force that keeps the Communist Party in power. But he must do so at a time when the PLA is more self-confident than ever, mounting the first serious challenge to the naval dominance of the United States since the end of the Cold War.

"It will take time for Xi to take control of the military," says Huang Jing, an authority on the PLA at the National University of Singapore. "Most of the senior generals were not appointed by Xi. Instead they were all appointed by his predecessors."

The rise of a nationalistic leader with military leanings comes as the People's Liberation Army, with 2.3 million men and women under arms, is the hard edge of a rising China.

China's annual military spending is now second only to that of the U.S. armed forces. The PLA navy is projecting power further into the Pacific. Years of buying, copying and sometimes stealing technology have helped the PLA narrow its capability gap with the United States and other rivals in Asia.

BEYOND BORDERS

Xi, as chairman of the Central Military Commission, is commander-in-chief alongside his roles as party general secretary and president. He now oversees armed forces that are influencing events far beyond China's borders.

Fleets of Chinese warships patrol disputed territories in Asian seas. On December 5, a Chinese warship forced a U.S. guided missile cruiser, the USS Cowpens, to take evasive action in the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy said. The incident, in international waters, appeared to be an attempt to prevent the U.S. ship from observing sea trials of China's new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, naval experts said.

PLA fighters now scramble to guard the controversial air defense zone that Beijing imposed last month off its east coast. The Chinese navy also cruises the Indian Ocean, contributing to international anti-piracy efforts, while PLA peacekeepers are on duty in Africa and the Middle East.

In hardened silos and on mobile transporters, the PLA's Second Artillery Corps is modernizing China's modest but expanding armory of nuclear missiles, Chinese and foreign military analysts say. During Xi's tenure, likely to last another nine years, this force is expected to be bolstered with China's first effective ballistic-missile nuclear submarines. If PLA engineers can make them stealthy, these subs will be capable of retaliating if China comes under nuclear attack, according to Chinese and foreign military assessments.

All this has been a dramatic change. In the late 1990s, visiting foreign military officers scoffed at China's poorly equipped army. After more than three decades of soaring military spending, infusions of foreign and domestic technology and improvements in training, the PLA is transformed.

"There is no question China's power is growing," says Li Nan, an analyst of the Chinese military at the United States Naval War College. "That is contributing to a higher level of confidence."

Reflecting the more complex military challenges China faces, Xi has moved to establish a national security commission, thought to be modeled on the U.S. National Security Council.

No details about the proposed new body have been released. Foreign diplomats believe it is aimed at tightening coordination between China's sprawling military, intelligence, diplomatic and internal security agencies. Xi is likely to head the new body, according to several people familiar with the move.

Xi is keeping his generals close. The military's top two commanders are almost always photographed at his elbow on his frequent visits to exercises, frontline units and military schools: army General Fan Changlong and air force General Xu Qiliang.

He has also been quick to begin putting his own men at the top of the PLA hierarchy. Within days of taking over from Hu Jintao as head of the Central Military Commission in November last year, Xi promoted Wei Fenghe, commander of the Second Artillery Corps and member of the CMC, to full general. In late July and early August, he promoted six officers to the rank of four-star general, and 18 to lieutenant-general.

Eleven of those 24 officers are political generals, said Bijoy Das, a Chinese expert at India's Institute of Defence Analysis. "In essence it indicates that the Party is co-opting a section of the PLA echelon to ensure that the 'Party holds the gun,'" he said.

Xi is shown mixing with the lower ranks, too. Dressed in plain military-style khaki slacks and shirt, the solidly built 60-year-old stands in mess lines, selects a plate and chopsticks from a stack and is filmed eating and chatting with soldiers and sailors.

MILITARY PRINCELING

Xi, like all of China's Communist leaders, insists the PLA is bound with the party's fortunes. The army delivered political power with its civil war victory in 1949 over the Nationalists. It fought the U.S. to a prestige-enhancing stalemate in Korea. It buffered tumult at home in the early decades of the People's Republic and ended the 1989 Tiananmen protests in a bloody crackdown.

In his task of cementing ties with the generals, Xi had a head start.

His father, Xi Zhongxun, was a Communist guerrilla fighter who became a senior political leader and an architect of the market reforms that ignited China's economic boom. That makes Xi a "princeling" of the leadership, and he rubbed shoulders with other offspring of Communist China's founding elite.

Throughout his career, Xi has appeared to march in step with the PLA. In his first job after graduating from Tsinghua University, he was a key aide in the general office of the Central Military Commission, the top military council he now runs. Xi was secretary to Geng Biao, a defense minister and former military subordinate of Xi's father.

He held no rank, but his duties were considered military service. "The military sees Xi as one of their own," says a person with ties to the leadership.

As he climbed the rungs of China's provincial bureaucracy, Xi had a parallel career as a political commissar in local army headquarters, units of the PLA and the People's Armed Police, the party's paramilitary internal security force.

He was careful to defer to important old soldiers. About 10 years ago, when Xi was party chief in Zhejiang Province, a retired vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, Zhang Zhen, visited Zhejiang Province to celebrate his birthday. Xi, then provincial party chief, broke with his official duties for several days to accompany the civil war veteran.

"Zhang Zhen was very touched with Xi's respect for old cadres," said the individual with leadership ties. "Those who came to offer their birthday felicitations all saw Xi next to Zhang. It was a plus for Xi." Zhang Zhen's own princeling son, general Zhang Haiyang, is now political commissar of the Second Artillery Force.

As China has grown richer and better educated, the middle ranks of the PLA have filled with technically trained specialist officers. Along with that have come consistent if muted calls for China to have a fully professional army: one loyal to the state rather than the party, and free from the parallel supervision of political commissars who monitor the forces at virtually every level.

Amid these rumblings, the army remains deeply politicized, military analysts say. The PLA has long-standing internal factions and loyalties divided between rival political benefactors and regional commands.

While Xi was working his way up, Deng's successor, Jiang Zemin, was promoting dozens of senior officers who remain in positions of power today. Jiang was the man Deng advised to tend to the generals. In retirement, Jiang remains one of China's leading power brokers. His military appointments made sure his influence would outlast his term.

Hu Jintao, who replaced Jiang, likewise sought to anchor his position through military promotions and patronage before handing over to Xi. Both Jiang and Hu kept the funding tap wide open for new military hardware and substantially improved pay and conditions for the troops.

Xi appears set to maintain heavy military spending despite competing needs.

A hundred million Chinese still live in poverty, according to official measures, and there is growing pressure to spend more on health, education and pollution control. Official defense spending is set to climb 10.7 per cent this year to $119 billion. Much spending takes place outside the budget, however, and many analysts estimate real outlays are closer to $200 billion, second only to the United States. The U.S. Defense Department's 2012 budget totaled $566 billion.

FRIENDLY GENERALS

As Xi came to power at the 18th Party Congress in November last year, there was substantial turnover in the Central Military Commission. Eight of 10 uniformed members of the council were replaced.

It isn't clear if there is close patronage or loyalty between Xi and his top commanders. But other princelings, Chinese military analysts and foreign military attaches identify several generals with whom Xi is on especially good terms.

One is Central Military Commission member Zhang Youxia. Also close are two officers outside that top body: army General Liu Yuan and air force General Liu Yazhou. (The two Lius are not related).

Like Xi, these officers are princelings. Zhang Youxia is the son of General Zhang Zongxun, a celebrated senior commander in PLA's wars against the Japanese and the Nationalists. The elder Zhang fought civil war battles with Xi's father in north-western Shaanxi Province, according to people familiar with both men's family background.

People close to the military say Xi last year wanted to nominate Zhang, now head of the PLA's General Armaments Department, as one of the two vice chairmen of the CMC. Retired leaders Jiang and Hu vetoed the move, these people say.

Liu Yuan and Liu Yazhou are engaged in what they have described as an undeclared war by subversive foreign forces to unseat the Chinese Communist Party. They have also warned of the danger that unchecked corruption poses to the party's survival.

Liu Yuan, 61, is the son of former president Liu Shaoqi, once designated to succeed Mao before he was brutally purged in the Cultural Revolution and died in custody. The elder Liu was posthumously rehabilitated after Mao's death, clearing the way for his son's life of privilege.

In a late start to a military career, Liu Yuan joined the People's Armed Police as a political commissar at 41 before transferring to the army. He is now commissar of the PLA's General Logistics Department. Xi has publicly acknowledged his friendship with Liu on a number of occasions.

Liu Yuan was also close to the powerful regional party chief Bo Xilai. Bo was sentenced to life imprisonment in September for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

Liu first attracted wide attention for a rambling essay he wrote as a preface for a friend's book in 2010.

He called for China to reject imported political models, including Western democracy, and extremes of the left and right. In convoluted language, Liu nevertheless appeared to be suggesting a more open political system that would allow more robust debate without challenging the leadership of the party.

More recently, Liu has led a rhetorical assault on corruption in the military. "Liu Yuan himself has become the anti-corruption poster child," says Huang from the National University of Singapore. The campaign mirrors Xi Jinping's declared attack on graft, in which he has threatened to go after "tigers and flies" - corrupt officials big and small.

Liu Yuan helped bring down Lieutenant General Gu Junshan, who was sacked last year as deputy director of the PLA's logistics department and is soon expected to be court-martialed for corruption, according to three sources in Beijing. In an online discussion on the official People's Daily website on August 1, the military confirmed Gu was under investigation.

Liu Yuan may have paid a price for his zeal. "He was passed over for promotion because of this, and also because he was too close to Bo Xilai," said a person with ties to the leadership who is familiar with the anti-corruption drive.

"SILENT CONTEST"

General Liu Yazhou, also 61, is the son-in-law of Li Xiannian, who became president in the Deng era. Liu Yazhou, too, is a political officer rather than a military professional. One of the most outspoken senior officers, Liu became well known as a writer of fiction early in his career. He later turned to politics and strategy, writing frequently about the decisive role that air power plays in modern warfare.

For a time, he was widely regarded as one of the most liberal PLA officers. He once dared suggest that China needed a democratic political system to stamp out corruption and provide an environment where the best talent could get to the top. China routinely persecutes dissidents for airing similar views. His articles indicate he is an avid analyst of the U.S. military and the Pentagon's strategic thinking.

More recently, however, Liu has written about the party's "absolute leadership" over the PLA. He also appears to have hardened his views on America.

In his current posting as political commissar of the National Defense University in Beijing, Liu this year co-produced a documentary film, "Silent Contest." The documentary, thought to have been prepared for an internal military audience, appeared on Chinese websites for a couple of days in late October before being removed.

The film warned of an American "soft war" against China aimed at toppling the party. "They confidently believe it would be easier to divide or split China by approaching and engaging China and integrating it into the U.S.-led international political system," Liu says in the film.

The documentary includes similar warnings from other uniformed senior officers. And to clinch the message, General Liu rolls out his heaviest weapon: the commander-in-chief of the PLA and leader of the Communist Party.

"Western countries' strategic goal of containing China will never change," Xi Jinping is quoted as saying. "They absolutely don't aspire to see a big socialist country like us achieve peaceful development."

About 150 U.S. Marines are poised to enter turbulent South Sudan to help evacuate Americans and provide security for the U.S. Embassy, two U.S. military officials said Monday.

The troops are moving from Spain to Africa, probably to the nation of Djibouti, the officials told CNN's Barbara Starr on Monday.

An estimated 100 U.S. citizens are believed to be in the country, where steady violence is stoking fears of an all-out civil war in the world's newest country.

Up to 40,000 civilians have taken refuge in U.N. bases in the country, the world body says. It estimates some 62,000 people have been displaced in total, with five of South Sudan's 10 states affected by the violence.

Deployment here has escalated from the original 45 US troops on last Thursday, to an additional complement of 65 just yesterday, and now an additional 150 troops being deployed to South Sudan as of today: so from last Thursday to today, the US will have a total troop compliment of 260.

Look for these numbers to potentially escalate dramatically in the next week, between Christmas and New Year's day, when the US government thinks no one is paying any attention.

Police in Salinas, California are under fire after the department acquired a heavily armored military vehicle for SWAT team operations.

The $650,000 vehicle was gifted to the Salinas Police Department from the government through the 1033 program, which redistributes used equipment to other agencies. According to KSBW, the truck was used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to numerous outlets, police stated their SWAT team was in desperate need of a new vehicle. KSBW added that the new truck, built to withstand rifle fire and minefield explosions, has already aided officers looking to arrest a dangerous suspect. The individual was apparently spotted via the vehicle’s high observation deck.

While Police Chief Kelly McMillin believes the vehicle “provides a high capability of protection for our officers and the community,” other members of the community have been outspoken in their disagreement.

Posting on the police department’s Facebook page, citizens criticized the acquisition as excessive, as well as a sign of the militarization of law enforcement.

“That vehicle is made for war,” wrote one commenter. “Do not use my safety to justify that vehicle,”another one wrote. “The Salinas Police Department is just a bunch of cowards that want to use that vehicle as intimidation and to terrorize the citizens of this city.”

“To stop gang members?” asked a commenter. “Hmmm gang members don’t riot in mass numbers. It’s right in front of our faces and we don’t see it. Why would the ARMY!!! give something like that for FREE!!! Let’s think for once people.”

In an interview with the Salinas Californian, McMillin said he wasn’t surprised at the reaction. However, he disagreed with the charge that the truck’s arrival suggested a more militant police force.

“An allegation that we are militarizing has to be that we were patrolling the streets in platoons in greater numbers, that we were setting up checkpoints and searching people in and out of neighborhoods,” he said.

McMillin acknowledged that the truck looks intimidating, but insisted it would only be used to protect officers and citizens alike. As commenters continued to criticize the move, however, the police chief took to Facebook and made another state

- China's ruling Communist Party has banned officials from belonging to or visiting private clubs, saying they are often used as venues for illicit deals or sexual liaisons, in the latest move to stamp out pervasive corruption.

President Xi Jinping has pursued an aggressive drive against corruption since coming to power, vowing to pursue high-flying "tigers" as well as lowly "flies", warning that the problem is so serious it could threaten the party's power.

He has already ordered crackdowns on everything from banquets to funeral arrangements, and has now turned his attention to private clubs, which have proliferated in Chinese cities, ostensibly offering a quiet place for meetings or socializing.

In a statement issued late on Monday, the Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection, the party's anti-graft watchdog, said officials who go to these clubs would face severe penalties.

"Some party officials frequented private clubs, enjoying themselves with feasting and other entertainment, some even engaging in power-for-money or power-for-sex deals," the watchdog said.

These practices have a "serious negative effect on Party and political work styles and social ethics", it said.

"Such clubs are illegally established and operated, disregard the public interest and are hotbeds of extravagance and corruption."

State media have carried lurid tales of the goings-on in such clubs and the huge amounts of money charged for extravagant meals in luxurious surroundings, all at odds with Xi's other campaign for official frugality and for officials to show they are no different from ordinary people.

"Public anger has been rising against private clubs, which are often illicitly built with public resources, sometimes in historical buildings or parks, and frequented by the powerful and rich," the official Xinhua news agency said.

The anti-graft watchdog said that officials have been asked to promise they will neither enter nor accept membership of such private clubs.

"Violators will be strictly punished and their cases exposed to deter others," it said.

 Britain on Tuesday granted a posthumous pardon to Alan Turing, the World War II code-breaking hero who committed suicide after he was convicted of the then crime of homosexuality.

Turing is often hailed as a father of modern computing and he played a pivotal role in breaking Germany's "Enigma" code, an effort that some historians say brought an early end to World War II.

He died in 1954 after eating an apple laced with cyanide, two years after he was sentenced to chemical castration for the "gross indecency" of homosexuality. A coroner ruled that Turing committed suicide, though this has since been questioned.

Queen Elizabeth II has now pardoned Turing for "a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory", justice minister Chris Grayling said.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in Britain in 1967.

"A pardon from the queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man," Grayling said.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the code-breaker's work had saved "countless lives".

"Alan Turing was a remarkable man who played a key role in saving this country in World War II by cracking the German Enigma code," Cameron said.

"He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the father of modern computing."

The Enigma code was used to encrypt communications between German U-boats in the North Atlantic ocean. Turing's efforts to break it were virtually unknown to the public at the time of his death, as his work was kept secret until 1974.

Turing also published pioneering work on early computers, writing in a 1936 paper of a "universal Turing machine".

Having told people he was trying to "build a brain", his theory was the first to consider feeding programmes into a machine as data, allowing a single machine to perform the functions of many -- just like today's computers.

He lost his job at Britain's electronic eavesdropping agency GCHQ after he was convicted and poisoned himself with cyanide at the age of 41.

A GCHQ spokesperson on Tuesday said the agency was "delighted about the pardon".

The pardon is a victory for supporters, including leading scientists such as Britain's Stephen Hawking, who have long campaigned to clear Turing's name.

Britain's prime minister in 2009, Gordon Brown, issued a posthumous apology to the code-breaker, saying he had been treated "terribly".

But the government rejected a call to grant an official pardon last year on the grounds that Turing was properly convicted of what was then a criminal offence.

More than 37,000 people signed an online petition last year calling for a pardon.

Pardons are usually only granted in Britain when the person is innocent of the o

Target Corp. said Monday that the Department of Justice is investigating the credit and debit card security breach at the retailer.

 

The investigation comes after Target revealed last week that data connected to about 40 million credit and debit card accounts were stolen between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15. Security experts say it's the second-largest theft of card accounts in U.S. history, surpassed only by a scam that began in 2005 involving retailer TJX Cos. That affected at least 45.7 million card users.

The Department of Justice declined to comment on whether it's investigating the breach at Target, the nation's second-largest discounter. But Target said that it's cooperating with the DOJ's probe.

The news came as Target also said that it is working with the U.S. Secret Service in the retailer's own investigation and that its general counsel held a conference call on Monday with state attorneys general to bring them up to date on the breach.

"Target remains committed to sharing information about the recent data breach with all who are impacted," Molly Snyder, a Target spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Target has been trying to deal with fallout from the breach during what is typically the busiest shopping season of the year. By Monday evening, more than a dozen Target customers had filed federal lawsuits around the country, with some accusing Target of negligence in failing to protect customer data.

Target has said that it told authorities and financial institutions once it became aware of the breach on Dec. 15. The company issued an apology to customers and doubled the number of workers taking calls from customers around the clock. It also offered 10 percent off to customers who wanted to shop in its stores on Saturday and Sunday and free credit-monitoring services to those who are affected by the issue.

But there are early signs that some shoppers are scared off by the breach. Scotty Haywood, who lives in Smiths Station, Ala., said he plans to stop shopping at the store. He said his debit card number had been stolen after he used it at Target the day after Thanksgiving.

He said the card was denied when his wife tried to use it Thursday at a grocery store. He said the couple knew something was wrong because they had $2,200 in the account.

"The possible savings of a few dollars (by going to Target) are nothing compared to the money that has been stolen from us," he said.

Overall, Customer Growth Partners LLC, a retail consultancy, estimates that the number of transactions at Target fell 3 percent to 4 percent on Saturday, compared with a year ago. The Saturday before Christmas is usually one of the top busiest days of the season.

"Before this incident, Target had a chance of at least a decent Christmas. Now, it will be mediocre at best," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy.

Meanwhile, consumer perception about the Target brand has dropped steeply since the news broke Wednesday night, according to YouGov BrandIndex, which surveys 4,300 people daily. The index ranges from 100 to negative 100 and is compiled by subtracting negative customer feedback from positive customer feedback.

Before the breach, Target's index was 26, higher than the rating of 12 of its peer group of retailers that include Wal-Mart. Now, it's negative 19.

Eric Hausman, a Target spokesman, declined to comment specifically on sales or the impact of its 10 percent offer, but said that stores "were busy."

Target is based in Minneapolis and has nearly 1,800 stores in the U.S. and 124 in Canada.

We turned off all the lights," George Albernaz testified at a 2005 Department of Veterans Affairs hearing, "and … pretend that we were broken down and … we would take these barrels and having only steel-toed shoes … no protection gear, and proceed to roll these barrels into the ocean, 300 barrels at a trip."

Not all of them sank. A few pushed back against the frothing ocean, bobbing in the waves like a drowning man. Then shots would ring out from a sailor with a rifle at the fantail. And the sea would claim the bullet-riddled drum.

Back inside the ship, Albernaz marked in his diary what the sailors dumped into the Atlantic Ocean. He knew he wasn't supposed to keep such a record, but it was important to Albernaz that people know he had spoken the truth, even when the truth sounded crazy.

For up to 15 years after World War II, the crew of Albernaz's ship, the USS Calhoun County, dumped thousands of tons of radioactive waste into the Atlantic Ocean, often without heeding the simplest health precautions, according to Navy documents and Tampa Bay Times interviews with more than 50 former crewmen.

 

Navy sailor Lindsay Cooper knew something was wrong when billows of metallic-tasting snow began drifting over USS Ronald Reagan. [...] she and scores of crewmates watched a sudden storm blow toward them from the tsunami-torn coast of Fukushima, Japan. The tall 24-year-old with a winning smile didn’t know it then, but the snow was caused by the freezing Pacific air mixing with a plume of radioactive steam [...] Senior Chief Michael Sebourn, a radiation-decontamination officer, was assigned to test the aircraft carrier for radiation. The levels were incredibly dangerous and at one point, the radiation in the air measured 300 times higher than what was considered safe, Sebourn told The Post.

Lindsay Cooper, Navy sailor aboard USS Ronald Reagan during 3/11 rescue operation: “I was standing on the flight deck, and we felt this warm gust of air, and, suddenly, it was snowing [...] We joked about it: ‘Hey, it’s radioactive snow! I took pictures and video [...] Japan didn’t want us in port, Korea didn’t want us, Guam turned us away. We floated in the water for two and a half months [until Thailand took them in] “People were s- -tting themselves in the hallways [All the while crew members had been suffering from excruciating diarrhea].”

Cooper interviewed by EON, published Dec. 20, 2013: (at 4:30 in) “As soon as you step foot on the flight deck and went outside you had this taste of like aluminum foil.”[...] (at 10:45 in) We thought that we had felt a plume because there was kind of this warm air that went past the ship and you could kind of tell the differences between jet exhaust — we didn’t have any jets going around at the time. It was like 20 degrees outside and you could feel this warm air and you kind of enjoyed it at first and then you’re like, ‘Is that aluminum foil that I taste?’

SWAT team raid

At around seven thirty last Friday morning, inhabitants of The Garden of Eden, a small Intentional Community based on Sustainability, were awakened by a SWAT raid conducted by the City of Arlington for suspicion of being a full fledged marijuana growth and trafficking operation. Ultimately only a single arrest was made based on unrelated outstanding traffic violations, a handful of citations were given for city code violations, and zero drug related violations were found.

The entire operation lasted about 10 hours and involved many dozens of city officials, SWAT team, police officers, and code compliance employees, and numerous official vehicles including dozens of police cars and several specialized vehicles that were involved in the “abatement” operation. Witnesses say that there were helicopters and unmanned flying drones circling the property in the days prior to the raid that are presumed to have been a part of the intelligence gathering. The combined expenses for the raid itself and the collection of information leading up to the fruitless raid are estimated in the tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

All 8 adults present in the house were initially handcuffed at gunpoint by heavily armed SWAT officers, including the mother of a 22 month old and a two week old baby who was separated from her children during the raid. The majority of police activity on the day of the raid included mowing the grass, the forcible destruction of both wild and cultivated plants like blackberries, lamb’s quarters and okra, and the removal of other varied materials from around the premises such as pallets, tires and cardboard that the Community members say they had collected for use in sustainability projects. No marijuana or other drugs were found on site and the inhabitants of the premises were all unarmed.

Quinn Eaker

Quinn Eaker of the Garden of Eden.

After several hours and many requests from the community members, the City Police Officers finally produced two warrants. The first was a Search Warrant for a suspected marijuana growth and distribution operation purportedly being concealed on the premises. There was also an Inspection & Abatement Warrant for code compliance violations such as tall grass and storage in the yard, an issue that the City of Arlington and The Garden of Eden have been disputing since February of this year.   The marijuana warrant was issued based on an unsubstantiated claim by an Arlington City Police Officer of possession of marijuana by one of the community members for which there is no police record. Garden of Eden community members also say they have a series of documents showing that their dispute with the City of Arlington over the code compliance violations had already been addressed and settled.

Landowner Shellie Smith states that she has been requesting a peaceful and honorable resolution since the onset of the dispute in February, requesting the aid of the City Manager Trey Yelverton, Sheriff Dee Anderson and Mayor Robert Cluck, but has received no response in the matter. Ms. Smith says “the City codes are in violation of our natural and Constitutional rights to live freely while causing damage to no one, and since there is no damaged party, there has been no crime committed on our part. Rather, the City of Arlington has trespassed and committed robbery against us, amongst other crimes, and will be held accountable in a court of law in due time. We have been targeted by the system because we are showing people how to live without it. We are growing more than just tomatoes here, we are growing the consciousness that will allow people to live freely and sustainably, and the system doesn’t want that to be known.”

Former basketball star Dennis Rodman left North Korea on Monday, but didn't answer questions from the media on whether he had met with leader Kim Jong Un on his latest visit.

The two struck up a friendship when Rodman first traveled to the secretive state earlier this year.

Rodman declined to answer questions from reporters on his arrival at Beijing's airport.

On Sunday night, he told The Associated Press that he had not yet had a meeting with Kim. He arrived in North Korea on Thursday, a week after North Korea announced the execution of Kim's once-powerful uncle, sparking speculation by foreign analysts over the future of the Kim regime.

Rodman's short visit was aimed at finalizing plans to bring 12 ex-NBA players to Pyongyang for a Jan. 8 exhibition game marking Kim's birthday.

Rodman is the highest profile American to meet Kim since the leader inherited power from his father in late 2011.

- Maria A member of Russian punlyokhina, ak band Pussy Riot, walked free from jail on Monday under an amnesty allowing her early release from a two-year sentence for a protest in a church against President Vladimir Putin.

"They've just released her," Pyotr Verzilov, the husband of fellow band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who is also due to be released under the amnesty, told Reuters.

Alyokhina, 25, and Tolokonnikova, 24, were convicted of hooliganism for performing a crude "punk prayer" in a cathedral against Putin's ties to the Russian Orthodox church.

The two women had been due for release in March, but qualified the amnesty proposed by Putin, in part because both are mothers of small children. A third band member had her sentence suspended earlier this year.

Lawyers say the amnesty will also enable 30 people arrested in a Greenpeace protest against Arctic oil drilling to avoid trial - removing an irritant in ties with the West before Russia hosts the Winter Olympics in February.

Putin has said the amnesty, passed to mark the 20th anniversary of Russia's post-Soviet constitution, was not drafted with the Greenpeace activists or Pussy Riot in mind.

Tolokonnikova's father Andrei told Reuters on Thursday that the planned release of the band members was clearly a public-relations move ahead of the Olympics.

"It is an absolutely cynical game of the central authorities," he said while awaiting her release from jail in the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk

While coal, oil, and gas are an integral part of everyday life around the world, 2013 brought a stark reminder of the inherent risk that comes with a fossil-fuel dependent world, with numerous pipeline spills, explosions, derailments, landslides, and the death of 20 coal miners in the U.S. alone.

Despite all this, our addiction to fossil fuels will be a tough habit to break. The federal Energy Information Administration in July projected that fossil fuel use will soar across the world in the come decades. Coal — the dirtiest fossil fuel in terms of carbon emissions — is projected to increase by 2.3 percent in coming years. And in December, the EIA said that global demand for oil would be even higher than it had projected, for both this year and next.

Here is a look back at some of the fossil fuel disasters that made headlines in 2013, along with several others that went largely unnoticed.

Pipelines

March 29: An ExxonMobil pipeline carrying Canadian Wabasca heavy crude from the Athabasca oil sands ruptures and spills thousands of barrels of oil in Mayflower, Arkansas. The ruptured pipeline gushed 210,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude into a residential street and forced the evacuation of 22 homes. Exxon was hit with a paltry $2.6 million fine by federal pipeline safety regulators for the incident in November — just 1/3000th of its third quarter profits.

May 20: Underground tar sands leaks start popping up in Alberta, Canada, and do not stop for at least five months. In September the company responsible was ordered to drain a lake so that contamination on the lake’s bottom can be cleaned up. As of September 11, the leaks had spilled more than 403,900 gallons — or about 9,617 barrels — of oily bitumen into the surrounding boreal forest and muskeg, the acidic, marshy soil found in the forest.

July 30: About 50 tons of oil spills into the sea off Rayong province of Thailand from a leak in the pipeline operated by PTT Global Chemical Plc. It was the fourth major oil spill in the country’s history.

August 13: An ethane and propane pipeline belonging to Tesoro Corp. running beneath an Illinois cornfield ruptures and explodes. Residents heard a massive blast and then saw flames shooting 300 feet into the air, visible for 20 miles.

September 29: A North Dakota farmer winds up discovering the largest onshore oil spill in U.S. history, the size of seven football fields. At least 20,600 barrels of oil leaked from a Tesoro Corp-owned pipeline onto the Jensens’ land, and it went unreported to North Dakotans for more than a week. An AP investigation later discovered that nearly 300 oil spills and 750 “oil field incidents” had gone unreported to the public since January 2012.

July 30: About 50 tons of oil spills into the sea off Rayong province of Thailand from a leak in the pipeline operated by PTT Global Chemical Plc. It was the fourth major oil spill in the country’s history.

August 13: An ethane and propane pipeline belonging to Tesoro Corp. running beneath an Illinois cornfield ruptures and explodes. Residents heard a massive blast and then saw flames shooting 300 feet into the air, visible for 20 miles.

September 29: A North Dakota farmer winds up discovering the largest onshore oil spill in U.S. history, the size of seven football fields. At least 20,600 barrels of oil leaked from a Tesoro Corp-owned pipeline onto the Jensens’ land, and it went unreported to North Dakotans for more than a week. An AP investigation later discovered that nearly 300 oil spills and 750 “oil field incidents” had gone unreported to the public since January 2012.

October 7: An Oil and Natural Gas Corp. pipeline that carries crude from the offshore Mumbai High fields to India ruptures and spills at an onshore facility, but oil winds up flowing into the Arabian sea because of rainfall.

October 9: A natural gas pipeline explodes in northwest Oklahoma, sparking a large fire and prompting evacuations. No injuries or deaths were reported.

October 30: 17,000 gallons of crude oil spill from an eight-inch pipelineowned by Koch Pipeline Company in Texas. The spill impacted a rural area and two livestock ponds near Smithville and was discovered on a routine aerial inspection.

November 14: A Chevron natural gas pipeline explodes in Milford, Texas,causing the town of 700 people to evacuate. The flames could reportedly be seen for miles.

November 22: An oil pipeline explodes in Qingdao, China, killing 62 and setting ocean on fire. The underground pipeline’s explosion opened a hole in the road that swallowed at least one truck, according to Reuters, and oil seeped into utility pipes under Qingdao.

November 29: A 30-inch gas gas pipeline in a rural area of western Missouri ruptures and explodes, sending a 300 foot high fireball into the air.

Coal Mines

February 11 An explosion in a coal mine in northern Russia kills at least 17 miners in a shaft saturated with methane gas. Rescue workers said 23 people had been in the shaft at the time. The blast occurred about 2,500 feet underground.

February 13: Very large landslide hits a colliery in Northern England. No injuries, but Dave Petley, a geology professor at Durham University, said it “may well be the largest and most significant landslide in the UK for a decade or more.”

February 13: A 28-year-old mining machine operator was killed when he was pinned between the tail of the remote controlled continuous mining machine and the coal rib in an underground mine in Illinois. Timothy Chamness had only been a mine machine operator for 6 months when the incident occurred.

February 14: A landslide hits the Phillippines’ largest open coal mining pit, burying at least 13 workers and killing at least 7. The accident was the third to occur in mining sites in the country over the last six months.

February 19: A large rock cliff collapses on top of a coal mine in southern China, burying and killing five people, including two children. An estimated 5,000 cubic metres of rock fell on Yudong village in Kaili, in the country’s Guizhou province.

March 13: A 63-year-old man with 40 years of mining experience was killed underground when he was struck by a large piece of roof rock. The rock that fell was approximately 6 feet long by 5.5 feet wide and about 5 inches thick.March 29 and April 1: The Babao Coal mine explosions kill 53 people in China. The coal mine company responsible, Tonghua Mining (Group) Co. Ltd., was later found to have concealed the death toll in the incidents, additionally concealing deaths of six workers in five accidents in 2012.

May 11: Illegal mining causes an explosion in a Chinese coal mine that killed 28 and left 18 injured. China orders production suspension at all coal mines in the southwestern province of Sichuan, China’s 16th-biggest coal producing province, after the blast.

July 16: A landslide at a coal mine in Bulgaria claims the lives of two people who were discovered underneath 50 meters of land mass. It was the fourth major landslide in the Oranovo mine in the past eight years.

August 10: Seven people in India are killed after a landslide in a coal mine in the Sundergarh district of Odisha. The incident occurred while people from nearby villages were collecting coal from the “over-burdened” dump yard located near the mining area.

November 23: While working inside a coal mine in Ohio, a 32-year-old man was killed when he was struck by high pressure hydraulic fluid after a valve broke. Ryan Lashley had worked at The Century Mine, which was the site of another near-fatal accident that month.

November 27: A coal mine in northern China’s Shanxi Province is hit with a landslide that buried several excavators and kills two people.

December 4: Gas explodes in a coal mine early in eastern China’s Jiangxi province, killing at least six workers.

Offshore and Onshore Rigs

January 22: A Devon Energy natural gas rig in Utah catches fire, causing evacuations for half a mile radius of the rig. No injuries are reported.

July 7: A hydraulic fracturing operation at a gas well drilling pad in West Virginia explodes and injures seven people, four with potentially life-threatening burns. The explosion occurred while workers were pumping water down a well, part of the hydraulic fracturing process for recovering gas trapped in shale rock. The tanks that recover the water and chemical mixture after they return to the surface are what reportedly exploded.

July 27: BP’s Hercules 265 offshore gas rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana explodes, enveloping the rig in a cloud of gas and a thin sheen of gas in the water. After spewing gas for more than a day, the rig finally “bridged over,” meaning small pieces of sediment and sand blocked more gas from escaping.

August 20: A gas rig belonging to the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan exploded in the Caspian sea while workers were carrying out exploratory drilling, when it hit a pocket of gas at unexpectedly high pressure.

August 28: A “well-control incident” at an oil drilling rig in rural south Texas causes an “intense” explosion after workers were drilling horizontally into the Eagle Ford Shale, causing homes to be evacuated. No injuries reported.

Train Derailments

March 27: A Canadian Pacific Railway train derails, spilling 30,000 gallons of tar sands oil in western Minnesota.Reuters called it “the first major spill of the modern North American crude-by-rail transit boom.”

July 6: A unit, 74-car freight train carrying Bakken formation crude oil derails in Lac-Megantic, Canada, causing an incredibly tragic fire and explosion. Forty-two people were pronounced dead, 30 buildings downtown destroyed. Emergency responders describe a “war zone.” 2,000 people evacuated because of toxic fumes, explosions, and fires.

July 18: 24 cars of a 150-car coal train derail in Virginia, spilling more than a thousand tons of coal along the roadside.

October 19: A train carrying crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas derails west of Alberta, Canada, causing an explosion and fire. No injuries were reported. Nine of the derailed cars were carrying liquefied petroleum gas and four carried crude. The crude oil cars were intact and kept away from the fires with no indications of any leaks.

November 8: A 90-car train carrying North Dakota crude derails and explodes in a rural area of western Alabama. Flames spewed into the air on a Friday, only finally dying down by Sunday, in what the Huffington Post called “the most dramatic U.S. accident since the oil-by-rail boom began.”

December 9: 19 cars of a coal train near the Las Vegas Motor Speedway derail, spilling coal onto the ground. The train had four locomotives with 103 cars, each carrying about 75 tons of coal. The train was headed from a mine in Carbon County, Utah, to a utility company in Mojave, California.

Power Plants and Refineries

April 4: Federal safety officials eventually make Georgia Power pay $119,000 in penalties after an explosion at one of its coal plants. The blast injured two people and was caused by a buildup of hydrogen and air inside a generator.

April 5: Residents near an ExxonMobil refinery begin to smell “burning tires and oil” after the refinery leaked condensate water that accumulated while the company was flaring gas. Through the leak, ExxonMobil announced that it had released 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide and 10 pounds of benzene. According to readings at the spill site, the refinery measured 160 parts per million of hydrogen sulfide and 2 parts per million of benzene in the air.

August 8 and 15: 15,000 liters of oil spills into local streams in Cuba, after two separate instances at the Sergio Soto Refinery. The oil spill was the result of a negligent operator who failed to properly secure the residuals trap used to contain the hydrocarbon. While some of the oil was able to be contained, much of it was pushed upstream because of strong rainfall following the spill.

August 28: Approximately 20 gallons of partially refined petroleum from a New Jersey refinery spills into the Delaware River, after a leak in a heat exchanger that is part of the refinery’s crude oil processing unit. The spill was reported two hours after workers discovered it, when they realized it was going into the river.

September 10: An explosion at the Deely 1 coal power unit in Pennsylvania caused cascade housing damage. The explosion happened after coal dust in a silo caught fire.

Miscellaneous

January 27: A barge carrying 668,000 gallons of light crude oil on the Mississippi River crashed into a railroad bridge. An 80,000 gallon tank on the vessel was damaged, spilling oil into the waterway, which prompted officials to close the river for eight miles in either direction.

September 15: Fuel tanks explode at Virgin Islands gas station, resulting in a huge blast and a fire and causing two injuries. The St. Thomas community of Bovoni was evacuated and traffic was diverted after the explosion.

October 1: An underground fuel reservoir explodes on a Czech Lukoil petrol station on a highway in Prague, killing one person and injuring two.

November 23: Five are hurt after a gas tank near a drilling rig explodes in Wyoming.

December 14: Thousands of gallons of gasoline spill into a harbor in southern Alaska on Saturday after a pump used to funnel fuel into boats is accidentally severed. The 5,500 gallon spill occurred in the small village of the village of Kake, whose residents rely on fish and subsistence to get by.

China has declared it is building a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier of a size to rival the biggest in United States naval service in the first move of a major new arms race.

Chinese website qianzhan.com cites “top People’s Liberation Army” sources as saying the 110,000-ton aircraft carrier should be launched by 2020.

“By that time, China will be able to confront the most advanced US carrier-based fighter jets in high sea”

 

The Army has successfully tested a futuristic laser weapon capable of shooting football-sized mortar rounds and unmanned drones out of the sky. The truck-mounted weapon, known as the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) is still about a decade away from becoming an operational part of the Army's arsenal, but gives a hint at what a weapon of the future could look like.

The Army tested its HEL MD laser at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico for nearly six weeks starting in mid-November. The device was equipped with a 10-kilowatt solid state laser and a radar system mounted atop a heavy truck.

During the tests a "quarter-sized" invisible laser beam successfully targeted and destroyed more than 90 incoming mortar rounds and six to seven unmanned drones.

Terry Bauer, the project manager for the laser program, said the test results were "above and beyond" what they had expected going into the testing. "We had no thoughts that this 10-kilowatt would be as successful n doing that as it has been. "

Mortars are common battlefield weapons that are hard to protect against because they can be fired from short distances. The mortars used in the test were standard 60 millimeter rounds - the length of a football - fired from a distance of less than two kilometers in salvos of two to three mortar rounds each. The laser's success rate against incoming mortar shells indicates that battlefield protection from the small explosive rounds could be possible in a few years.

Army video of the laser tests shows the laser targeting the mortar so that it burns up in mid-air and does not explode when it completes its trajectory. "We turn it into a rock, basically," said Bauer.

Large test drones flying 5 kilometers from the laser system were made to crash into the New Mexico desert by aiming the laser at the tail of the unmanned aircraft. An infrared camera on the video captured how a small dot of light on the tail slowly grew in intensity, forcing the craft to lose navigational control. The laser can also be used for less offensive purposes by dialing back its intensity to blind sensors aboard the drones.

Plans call for shrinking the size of the laser system while also boosting its strength to 50 kilowatts, and ultimately 100 kilowatts. Shrinking its size will make it easier to mount on more mobile vehicles that can be used on the battlefield. Increasing the wattage will allow the beam to hit faster-moving targets at greater distances and in a shorter amount of time. For example, a 100 kilowatt laser beam will be able to bring down a target in a tenth of the time it currently takes for a 10 kilowatt laser.

The laser is able to fire and target only one incoming target at a time, so the idea is that when the lasers are fully operational they will be grouped in teams of three or five to protect against multiple incoming rounds. These laser units could be deployed in the future to help protect frontline units or bases . Ultimately the laser could be used against faster moving aircraft and cruise missiles.

The Navy made waves earlier this year when it unveiled that its own laser mounted aboard a destroyer had brought down test drones and which in the future could be used to fend off fast-moving attack boats. Current plans call for the Navy's laser to be tested aboard the USS Ponce, which is permanently stationed in the Persian Gulf.

The next phase of testing for the Army's laser will be early next year when it is taken to an Air Force base along Florida's Gulf Coast to see how it handles a marine environment.

A 17-year-old Colorado student shot in the head earlier this month by a gunman at her high school died on Saturday at a hospital with her family at her side, the facility and her family said.

Claire Davis was the only person wounded by gunfire when Karl Pierson, an 18-year-old senior at Arapahoe High School in suburban Denver, entered the school on Dec. 13 and opened fire with a shotgun, police said.

"Despite the best efforts of our physicians and nursing staff, and Claire's fighting spirit, her injuries were too severe and the most advanced medical treatments could not prevent this tragic loss of life," Littleton Adventist Hospital posted on the facility's official Facebook page.

Pierson shot Davis in the face at point-blank range as she sat outside the library with a friend during in the 80-second rampage, police said.

Pierson committed suicide in the library as an armed deputy stationed at the school cornered him, police said.

He had targeted the school's debate coach and librarian, Tracy Murphy, over a dispute the pair had, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said shortly after the attack.

Pierson acted in retaliation for discipline he received months ago from Murphy, who escaped harm in the shooting, Robinson has said. Students who knew Pierson said he was heavily involved in the speech and debate club, until he was placed on some kind of restriction by the coach.

Pierson came armed to create carnage at the 2,000-student school. Aside from his 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, Pierson had 125 rounds of steel-shot, buckshot and slug ammunition, a machete and three Molotov cocktails, police said.

In recent days, a number of prayer vigils were held for Davis, a skilled equestrian, in her community. She had been in a coma after the shooting.

"The grace, laughter and light she brought to this world will not be extinguished by her death - to the contrary, it will only get stronger," the Davis family said in a statement. "The Davis family would like to thank everyone who have sent their best wishes and prayers, and are grateful for the kindness and support of the community," the hospital statement said.

The announcement of Davis' death comes just two days after students were allowed back on the Centennial, Colo., campus for the first time since the shooting to retrieve belongings.

The shooting in the Denver suburb of Centennial occurred just eight miles from Columbine High School, where in 1999 two teenagers shot dead a teacher and 12 students before committing suicide.

Two NASA astronauts, their spacesuits newly modified with snorkels in case of another water leak, floated outside the International Space Station on Saturday to begin a marathon three-day task to fix the outpost's cooling system.

The spacewalk, which is being broadcast live on NASA Television, is the first for NASA since July when the spacesuit helmet worn by Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano began filling with water, a situation that could have caused him to drown.

Saturday's spacewalk was prompted by the December 11 shutdown of one of the station's two ammonia cooling systems, which forced the crew to turn off non-essential equipment and shut down dozens of science experiments.

While the six-member crew is not in danger, the remaining cooling system cannot support the three laboratories and other modules on the U.S. side of the $100 billion station, a project of 15 nations. The Russian side of the station has a separate cooling system.

Engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston tried devising ways to bypass a suspected faulty pump valve, but with time running short, managers decided to have astronauts replace the pump, located outside the station, with a spare.

The work is expected to take station flight engineers Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins three spacewalks to complete, the first of which began at 7:01 a.m. EST/1201 GMT on Saturday as the station sailed 260 miles over the southern Atlantic Ocean.

"Beautiful day. Awesome view," Mastracchio, a veteran of six spacewalks, said as opened the airlock's hatch to begin the planned 6.5-hour outing.

He and Hopkins wore spacesuits that were modified to protect them from another possible water leak. The problem in July was traced to contamination in piece of equipment called a fan pump separator, which circulates water and air in the spacesuit and removes moisture from air.

How the water-separator portion of the device became clogged remains under investigation, but NASA managers say they are confident the problem will not reoccur during Saturday's spacewalk.

Hopkins, who is making his first spacewalk, is wearing Parmitano's spacesuit, but it has been outfitted with a new fan pump separator.

In addition, both Hopkins and Mastracchio rigged their helmets with homemade snorkels, fabricated out of pieces of plastic tubing and Velcro, which they can use for breathing in case of another water leak.

The helmets also now include water-absorbent pads that can hold up to 27 ounces (800 milliliters) of water, said NASA's lead spacewalk officer Allison Bolinger.

The pads are attached to the back of the astronauts' helmets. During the spacewalk, Mastracchio and Hopkins periodically will test if the pads are squishy by leaning their heads back.

"This is our first line of defense," Bolinger told reporters during a press conference on Wednesday.

"As soon as the crewmember senses squishiness ... that's the sign that there is a problem in the (spacesuit) and it's time to come inside," she said.

RISKY WORK

During Saturday's spacewalk, Mastracchio and Hopkins are expected to prepare the 780-pound (354 kg), 5-foot (1.5 meter) wide cooling system pump for removal. A spare will be installed during two more spacewalks, scheduled for Monday and Wednesday.

The failed pump, which is located on a pallet on the right side of the station's external truss, will be stored outside the station for possible future repair and reuse.

It was installed in 2010 during an unexpectedly difficult series of spacewalks by astronauts Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson.

"What makes this pump very difficult (to work on) are (the) fluid disconnects because they are so large and they are pressurized and they contain liquid ammonia, so that's a hazard for us if it were to come in contact with us or our suits," Caldwell Tyson said in an interview with a NASA TV mission commentator.

Maintaining focus also can be a challenge, she added. "When you're on one of those pallets, you really have that sensation that you are sticking out on the edge of a skyscraper. Especially when you look down, you see your feet and then you see the Earth going 17,500 mph beneath you, it really does get your attention," Caldwell Dyson said.

"You tend to slow down and be a lot more careful when you have a backdrop like that," she said.

- Negotiations on a trade pact between a dozen countries around the Pacific Rim will take whatever time they need as the deal has to be both ambitious and comprehensive, U.S. trade representative Michael Froman said on Saturday.

The U.S.-backed deal, which Washington had wanted to conclude this year, aims to establish a free-trade bloc stretching from Vietnam to Chile and Japan, encompassing about 800 million people and almost 40 percent of the global economy.

But differences over farm tariffs between the United States and Japan have proved to be one of the major roadblocks and it will now not be finalized this year.

"I think we're focused on trying to reach agreement among the 12 countries as soon as possible, but based on it being an ambitious, comprehensive, high-standard agreement and we'll take whatever time is necessary to do that, letting the substance of the negotiations dictate the timetable," Froman told Reuters.

"There are a number of outstanding issues including state owned enterprises, intellectual property rights, the environment, labor," he said in Beijing, where he was visiting for annual China-U.S. trade talks.

"These are all issues that we've been devoting a lot of attention to over the last four months to make sure that we come out with an ambitious outcome," Froman said, adding there was no date or venue yet for the next round of talks.

More far-reaching than other deals, the TPP pact is aimed at going beyond tariffs on physical trade and it will try to regulate sensitive areas such as government procurement and give companies more rights to sue.

One problem area is the United States and Japan's disagreement over Japan's long-stated aims to exempt five sensitive farm products - rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and sugar - from the scrapping of tariffs.

The two countries held talks during a four-day TPP meeting in Singapore this month on the issue but have not come to any agreement.

The TPP negotiations, which have run for three years, have been mired in controversy over a lack of transparency, and slowed by the conflicting interests of the negotiating countries, U.S. lawmakers and advocacy groups.

The full list of those already in the talks is the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Chile, Mexico and Peru.

China said in May that it would study the possibility of joining the talks, but has said little about it since.

Asked whether China could realistically join the TPP in the near future, Froman said the United States and China had other issues on their plate.

"I think the near term focus ought to be on addressing the wide range of outstanding bilateral issues we have and exploring the bilateral investment treaty as the next natural step in the relationship," he said.

The United States and China agreed in July to restart stalled negotiations on an investment treaty, with Beijing dropping previous efforts to protect certain sectors of its economy from the start.

 Brazil's decision to buy Swedish fighter jets instead of F/A-18 Super Hornets from Boeing eliminates its most promising foreign-sales prospect just as the U.S. company faces critical decisions about extending the jet's production line past 2016.

The loss of the $4.5 billion contract for 36 planes is the latest blow to Boeing's defense division, whose F-15 fighter jet last month lost a potential 60-plane order from South Korea to Lockheed Martin Corp's next-generation F-35 fighter.

Without new orders, both programs, based in St. Louis, Missouri, could fold in several years, effectively putting Boeing out of the fighter-jet business until a next-generation plane is developed, a decade or more in the future. The closures would follow the shuttering of Boeing's C-17 military transport plane production, in Long Beach, California, set for 2015, also because of sagging sales.

All these prospects present a near-term threat to Boeing's defense business. Fighters and C-17s accounted for 40 percent of Boeing's military aircraft deliveries so far this year. Military aircraft sales totaled $11.5 billion in the first nine months of 2013, down from $11.9 billion a year ago. (Boeing does not break down revenue by product line.)

Spokesman Conrad Chun said Boeing was disappointed about the loss in Brazil but remained confident about the Super Hornet's prospects in Europe and the Middle East.

The outlook for new domestic or foreign contracts is also diminished by budget cuts in the United States and financial constraints abroad, leading to delays in contract decisions in some key foreign markets.

Without fighters and the transport planes, Boeing's military aircraft business would be largely reliant on Apache and Chinook helicopters and the P-8 antisubmarine plane.

Boeing's lucrative after-sale market would be undermined as well. More than 80 percent of the money earned on a fighter jet comes from sales of spare parts, upgrades and support services over the jet's lifespan of 30 years.

SLOWING PRODUCTION TO MAKE ORDERS LAST

Boeing executives deny they are in a dogfight with Lockheed's F-35, and say the two jets will be compatible for defense needs on board U.S. aircraft carriers for decades.

But even before the Brazil loss, Boeing was boosting its lobbying efforts to get U.S. lawmakers to buy more F/A-018s or EA-18G electronic attack planes, known as "Growlers."

It also is cutting costs on the production line, investing in automation and slowing output of the F/A-18 to make the orders last longer as it tries win more sales against the F-35.

Boeing still has orders for 73 more F/A-18s and 45 more EA-18Gs, which will carry it to the end of 2016. For Saudi Arabia it is building 84 F-15s, enough to keep production running through 2018.

F/A-18 production is slowing from four planes a month to three to preserve the line, said Mike Gibbons, F/A-18 program manager. Boeing needs to build around two planes a month to maintain it, he said. [ID:nL2N0JT03T] That would require orders for 60 additional planes from the Navy to carry production through 2020, when countries in the Middle East and others such as Canada and Denmark would need to replace their jets.

Boeing had hoped orders from Brazil, Malaysia and other countries could fill the gap. Now Brazil is a lost cause, and Malaysia recently said it was postponing its fighter competition.

The Gulf holds promise, but Boeing's F/A-18 could face rivalry there from the F-35 around 2020, when the Pentagon is considering allowing sales to the regio

Nineteen primary school children in China have been hospitalized after drinking yoghurt said to be laced with rat poison and herbicide, the Xinhua state news said.

A 34-year-old woman from Loudi city in the central province of Hunan confessed to poisoning the yoghurt drink before delivering to the students, Xinhua said on Saturday. It said the woman was suspected to be suffering from a mental disorder.

Three children were in serious condition but their lives were not in danger, Xinhua said. Investigations were going on.

There have been several attacks on schools in China in recent years while at the same time, food safety has become a contentious issue with a rising number of food-poisoning cases due in part to lax safety standards at small factories.

Chinese security forces have surrounded monasteries with paramilitary police and detained monks in a county in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which has been resisting forced displays of loyalty to the Chinese state, according to sources.

The security forces in recent weeks have also been raiding monks’ quarters and family homes, seizing computers and mobile phones and conducting daily political re-education sessions for area residents in “politically unstable” Driru (in Chinese, Biru) county, the sources said.

About 1,000 Tibetans have been detained since Chinese authorities launched the crackdown in Driru in September when Beijing began a campaign to force Tibetans to fly the Chinese flag from their homes.

“Over a thousand Tibetans from Driru county are now being held in detention,” a Tibetan living in Europe told RFA’s Tibetan Service, citing information gained from contacts in the protest-hit county.

Among those recently detained are about a dozen monks.

North Korea has threatened a “merciless” strike against the South after activists burned effigies of the ruling Kim dynasty on the second anniversary of the death of former leader Kim Jong-Il, officials said Friday.

The warning was contained in a message sent Thursday by the secretariat of the National Defence Commission, the North’s highest military body, through a military hotline, the South’s defence ministry said.

In rallies on Tuesday to mark the death anniversary of Kim Jong-Il, South Korean conservative groups burned effigies of young North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, his late father and grandfather.

he U.S. Border Patrol will evaluate the use of three helium-filled surveillanceballoons along the Texas-Mexico border that were originally used by the Department of Defense in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Standing beneath a 52-foot-long tethered balloon on Thursday in Penitas, the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector Chief Rosendo Hinojosa said the blimp-shaped aerostat would help intercept smuggling along the busiest section of the Southwest border.

The father of the man fatally shot by Los Angeles police a week ago was emotional Friday as he recounted watching his son's death on live television.

Bill Beaird, 80, wept as he spoke to reporters outside the Los Angeles Police Department's downtown headquarters, the same day his family filed a $20-million claim against the city in the death of his son Brian. The claim is a legal precursor required when suing a California government entity.

Bill Beaird said his youngest son called him the evening of Dec. 13 and said he was being chased by police. His son insisted he hadn't done anything wrong, Beaird said. The father said he told his son to pull over anyway.

"He said he was going to do it, but he didn't do it," Bill Beaird said.

Later, Beaird watched live as a KTLA-TV News helicopter showed police chasing the Corvette into downtown L.A. He saw his son's car T-bone another car before spinning onto the sidewalk. The driver staggered out of the vehicle, briefly raised his hands with his back to the police officers, then grabbed his stomach as he fell to the ground.

"I thought it was my son, but I wasn't sure," Bill Beaird said.

Beaird said he was initially confused about what happened to the man -- the television reporters said he might have been shot with a Taser, he recalled. But when he tried to reach his son and couldn't, his family began putting the pieces together.

Brian Beaird, 51, had no weapon, police said. Preliminary information indicated three officers from the LAPD's Newton Division shot more than 20 times.

An investigation of the shooting is underway. After reviewing a preliminary report about the incident on Thursday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck placed the three officers who opened fire on extended leave pending the final use-of-force investigation.

In announcing his decision to assign the officers to home, Beck said he was troubled by the incident.

"After hearing the preliminary briefing, I am very concerned about the circumstances that led up to and resulted in this officer-involved shooting,” Beck said in a statement.

The names of the officers placed on leave Friday were expected to be released after they were formally notified.

Bill Beaird, an Army veteran, said his son followed in his own footsteps and joined the military. Brian Beaird was discharged from the National Guard in 1988 after undergoing surgery for a brain tumor, his father said.

Bill Beaird said his son was a "disabled veteran" who needed regular medical care. An attorney for the family, Dale Galipo, said that after the surgery Brian Beaird developed some paranoia -- including some toward police.

"He was simply afraid and paranoid of the police, even though he has never been convicted of any felonies," Galipo said. "And that paranoia of the police is one of the reasons why he didn't pull over."

Galipo, who has secured multimillion-dollar verdicts in other police shooting cases, said his clients planned to file a federal wrongful death suit should the $20-million claim not be settled. Galipo also said he hoped the district attorney's office would "strongly consider" criminal charges against the officers involved.

"Usually the story involves, 'He was reaching in his waistband,' 'He had a gun,' 'He had something that looked like a gun,' " Galipo said. "In this case, none of those stories will work because everybody saw actually what happened on video."

According to a new poll,

 

'whatever' is the word that has been irritating us for years.

 

Which word do you find the most annoying?

 

28 %   Like  10,980 votes

20 %  You know   7,739 votes

37 %   Whatever    14,450 votes

2 %   Obviously   1,198 votes

13 %  Just sayin'   5,144 votes

Two Muslim converts were found guilty on Thursday of murdering a British soldier in broad daylight on a London street, hacking him to death in a gruesome killing that horrified the nation.

A jury at London's Old Bailey criminal court decided unanimously that Michael Adebolajo, 29, and Michael Adebowale, 22, were guilty of murdering Lee Rigby on May 22 but not guilty of the attempted murder of a police officer.

The two British citizens had denied murdering Rigby, with Adebolajo saying the killing was part of a war for Allah in response to Western military action in nations such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

The court heard the two men ran over Rigby, a 25-year-old Afghan war veteran, near an army barracks in Woolwich, southeast London, then attacked his unconscious body with knives and a meat cleaver, trying to behead him.

They then dragged his corpse into the middle of the road where Adebolajo asked a bystander to video them, with their hands covered blood, as he calmly explained what he had done.

"We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we've killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers," Adebolajo told the camera.

"He is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

Marijuana consumption in Washington state is about twice as large as previously estimated, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Using federal data and information from a new survey of marijuana users in Washington state, researchers say marijuana consumption likely will range from 135 metric tons to 225 metric tons during 2013, with 175 metric tons as the median estimate.

The analysis was done as a part of efforts to help the Washington State Liquor Control Board prepare for commercial sales of marijuana, which will begin in 2014 as a result of Washington's Initiative 502 that legalized the commercial production and sales of marijuana for recreational

A 700-horsepower Hennessey C7 Corvette Stingray became the first 2014 Corvette to break the 200 mph barrier. It happened on a newly created CLOSED section of the Grand Parkway toll road outside of Houston, Texas. Highway 99 is slated to be opened to the public on Saturday. Even though Texas has the Union's first 85 mph highway, the Hennessey team does not recommend the following video. This was a legal operation overseen by the Texas Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety 

The Hennessey C7 HPE 600, equipped with a 100 horsepower Nitrous Express kit and stock suspension, hit 200.6 mph. Hennessey is a Texas-based tuning shop based on speed and racing.

The objective was to test the toll sensors, ostensibly. Jalopnik reports that the sensors captured the license plate. Test Driver John Hennessey reports that the road is perfect, "as smooth as silk, easy breezy.

Today the mainstream media is gleefully reporting findings they mistakenly believe show all multivitamins to be worthless at preventing disease. “Case Closed: Multivitamins Should Not Be Used,” declares Forbes. “New studies dispel multivitamin myths,” reports NBC News. And CBS News shouts, “case is closed” after studies find no health benefits.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Monday voiced concern that "radical jihadist are taking the upper hand" in the camp of those who oppose President Assad's army.
"National Coalition is losing supporters. There is a sign of a split in the National Coalition. The Free Syrian Army is experiencing some kind of crisis. There is a new group called Islamic Front which we would like to study deeper, but on the surface they promote quite radical views," he told reporters after a meeting with EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
He stressed that Geneva II must be convened on the date announced by the UN Secretary General, January 22. and noted that there will be another preparatory meeting on 20 December in Geneva where they will discuss several key issues.
"One is the growing threat of terrorism to Syria and the entire region. This is task number one," he said.
"It is a very deep crisis and will require long negotiations taking into accounts the interest of all religious, political and ethnic groups and the inclusion of opposition groups," he stated.
"We want the opposition to be clearly represented by those who control the situation politically and who have something to say on the ground," said Lavrov.
He said Russia wanted to unite the opposition and has invited the National Coalition including its leaders Ahmad Jarba to Moscow.
"The only way to get out of the mess is for the Syrians to deal with each other without outside interference, without any recipes imposed from outside," Lavrov stated.
The Russian foreign minister said they also discussed Ukraine.
"It was our common agreement that every one should respect sovereignty of any country including Ukraine and everyone should allow their peoples to make the free choice of how they want to develop their country," he said.
The meeting also prepared for the EU-Russia summit that will take place in Brussels in January.

emember Texas teenager Ethan Couch, who avoided jail time after drunkenly running over 4 pedestrians and killing them all? Ethan was only given probation after his spree because a psychologist testified that he wasn’t truly responsible, since he was suffering from the ill affects of growing up wealthy, also known as “affluenza”.

Part of Ethan’s “punishment” is attending rehab.  He will be confined to the upscale Newport Academy for the length of his rehabilitation.

Here are pictures of the facility at which he will be suffering.

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newport1

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Ethan’s incarceration at the luxury facility won’t be all fun and games.

Oh wait…yes, it will. Straight from the Newport Academy website, here is the description of Ethan’s new home away from home:

  • Newport Academy only accepts 6 adolescents at any one time into our program. Our gender-specific facilities are completely separate (6 boys, 6 girls). There are over 40 staff to provide care for these 12 total residents.
  • Newport Academy has on-site horses and facilities for Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. Recognized by many treatment experts as a significant therapeutic process with teens, Newport Academy is the one of the only treatment centers with horses and Equine Therapists on-site.
  • Newport Academy has “the most beautiful treatment facility in the industry that provides an environment of compassion and caring” (Treatment Magazine, 2009). Between both the Girls and Boys facility, Newport Academy sits on 6 acres of serene, equestrian property located just miles from Newport Beach, California. See our facilities here.
  • Newport Academy has an on-site gym with new, state-of-the-art equipment. The American Medical Association states that a regular exercise program is a key element of effective teen drug treatment.

If that sounds like too much work, don’t worry – there are also opportunities for recreation. Troubled adolescents can participate in mixed martial arts or take cooking lessons. Massages are offered, and they will also have access to a swimming pool, a basketball court, and 6 landscaped acres.

This is the punishment for a kid who stole beer and drank until his blood was at 3 times the legal limit for an adult. He then drove his F-350 and crashed into four pedestrians, killing all of them on impact.  When he crashed, two of his friends were thrown from his vehicle and seriously injured. One of those boys is so severely brain injured he will never walk or talk again.

While other families mourn the missing family members this year, Ethan will be in the lap of luxury, eating gourmet meals served by staff, and riding horses to help him to “rehabilitate.”

The notion of “justice” is very different when you’re rich, isn’t it?

- See more at: http://www.thedailysheeple.com/justice-is-different-when-youre-rich-check-out-the-luxury-digs-where-affluenza-teen-will-be-rehabilitated_122013#sthash.KRkdpPY8.dpuf

— Chinese authorities said Wednesday that a 73-year-old Chinese woman died after being infected with a bird flu strain that had sickened a human for the first time, a development that the World Health Organization called "worrisome."

China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the woman in the city of Nanchang had been infected by the H10N8 bird flu virus, a strain that had not previously been found in people, the Jiangxi province health department said on its website.

This is the second new bird flu strain to emerge in humans this year in China. In late March, the H7N9 bird flu virus broke out, infecting 140 people and killing 45, almost all of them on the mainland. The outbreak was controlled after the country closed many of its live animal markets — scientists had assumed the virus was infecting people through exposure to live birds.

Timothy O'Leary, spokesman for the World Health Organization's regional office in Manila, said WHO officials were working closely with Chinese authorities to better understand the new virus. He said though its source remains unknown, birds are known to carry it and it would not be surprising if another human case was detected.

"It's worrisome any time a disease jumps the species barrier from animals to humans. That said, the case is under investigation (by Chinese authorities) and there's no evidence of human-to-human transmission yet," O'Leary said by phone.

In the new case, the Jiangxi health department said the woman had severe pneumonia before dying Dec. 6 in a hospital in Nanchang.

She had suffered high blood pressure, heart disease and other underlying health problems that lowered her immunity, the health department said. Her medical history showed that she had been in contact with live poultry.

The health department said "no abnormalities" have been found in people who had close contact with her. It did not say if they had been tested or quarantined, though China has in previous outbreaks taken those measures.

Experts are cautious when it comes to bird flu viruses infecting humans. They have been closely watching the H5N1 bird flu virus, which has killed 384 people worldwide since 2003. The virus remains hard to catch with most human infections linked to contact with infected poultry, but scientists fear it could mutate and spread rapidly among people, potentially sparking a pandemic.

 Indian police removed concrete security barriers outside the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi on Tuesday in apparent retaliation for the treatment of an Indian diplomat who was strip-searched after her arrest in New York last week.

The diplomatic spat was triggered by the December 12 arrest of Devyani Khobragade, a deputy consul general at the Indian Consulate in New York, on charges of visa fraud and making false statements for allegedly lying about how much she paid her housekeeper, an Indian national.

On Tuesday, New Delhi police used tow trucks and a backhoe loader to drag away long concrete blocks from roads running past the embassy and leading up to gates of the compound, a Reuters witness said.

The low barriers had prevented vehicles from approaching the compound at high speeds and were presumably designed to help protect the embassy against attack from suicide bombers.

The embassy has multiple layers of security and is also protected by a high wall.

Indian police and government officials declined repeated requests for comment on why the barricades were taken away, but Indian television networks, citing unnamed sources, said their removal was one of several retaliatory measures India planned.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it had told the Indian government at a "high" level that Washington expects New Delhi to protect its embassy and stressed it did not want the incident with the Indian diplomat to hurt bilateral ties.

"We understand there are sensitive issues involved here," said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. "We don't want this to negatively impact our bilateral relationship."

A senior Indian official, who asked not to be named, said police posted in the area would ensure continued security.

"We take the security of all diplomatic missions in India very seriously. Checkposts are provided. This is only an issue related to traffic flows," the official said.

STRIP SEARCH

The U.S. Marshals Service, part of the Justice Department, for the first time confirmed on Tuesday that Khobragade had been strip-searched. Indian media had previously reported this.

In a statement, the Marshals Service said it took custody of Khobragade after her arrest by the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. It confirmed she was strip-searched, saying it followed "standard arrestee intake procedures."

As the dispute over the diplomat's treatment grew, Indian politicians, including the leaders of the two main political parties and the national security adviser, refused to meet with a delegation of U.S. lawmakers visiting India this week.

Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon branded as "barbaric" the treatment of the diplomat, who according to Indian media was handcuffed upon arrest last week and strip-searched before being released on bail.

Khobragade, who was released on $250,000 bail after giving up her passport and pleading not guilty to the charges, faces a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted on both counts.

Her attorney Daniel Arshack was not immediately available for comment.

According to Harf, the State Department spokeswoman, there are different types of diplomatic immunity. Khobragade had what is known as "consular immunity," which applies only to acts committed in connection with official duties, she said.

India has become a close trade and security partner of the United States over the past decade, but the two countries have not totally overcome a history of ties marked by distrust.

"Everything that can be done will be done, I assure you. We take this thing very seriously," Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid told TV news network CNN-IBN.

"We have put in motion what we believe will be an effective way of addressing this issue but also put in motion such steps that we believe need to be taken to protect her dignity."

Indian TV networks said the other steps included checking the salaries paid by U.S. Embassy staff to domestic helpers and withdrawing consular identification cards and privileges such as access to airport lounges for some U.S. diplomats and families.

India's Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Embassy said they were unable to comment on the media reports.

Khobragade's arrest triggered a fierce debate in India over how to respond to the alleged mistreatment of the helper.

Shashi Tharoor, an Indian government minister and former U.N. diplomat, said many envoys in New York from developing nations were themselves paid less than U.S. minimum wage, adding it was unrealistic to expect them to pay domestic staff more.

EYES ON ELECTION

Khobragade falsely stated in her nanny's visa application that she would be paid $9.75 an hour, a figure that would have been in line with the minimum rates required by U.S. law, according to a statement issued last week by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The diplomat had privately agreed with the domestic worker that she would receive just over a third of that rate, the U.S. attorney said.

With general elections due in less than six months, Indian politicians are determined not to be called soft or unpatriotic.

Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, and Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family that leads India's ruling Congress party, both declined to meet the U.S. delegation.

"Refused to meet the visiting USA delegation in solidarity with our nation, protesting ill-treatment meted (out) to our lady diplomat in USA," Modi said in a tweet.

A senior member of Modi's socially conservative party, currently the favorite to form the next government, said India should retaliate by putting partners of gay U.S. diplomats in the country behind bars.

India's Supreme Court last week effectively ruled homosexuality to be illegal.

"The reason why they have arrested this Indian diplomat in New York is violation of the law of the land in the United States. Now the same violation is taking place wherever U.S. Embassy official have obtained visas for their partners of the same sex," former finance minister Yashwant Sinha told Reuters.

"If American law can apply to Indian diplomats in New York, the India law can apply here," he said.

Amanda Knox

 

 U.S. student Amanda Knox pleaded her innocence in the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher in an email to an Italian court on Tuesday, saying she was afraid to appear in person for fear of conviction.


The case has dragged on for six years, frustrating attempts by the British student's family to discover the truth about her death, and with three trials doing little to clear up mysteries surrounding the details of the murder.

"I am innocent. I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal, I did not plot or instigate. I did not kill Meredith, I did not take part in her murder," the lengthy letter written in Italian said, read to the court by her lawyer Luciano Ghirga in closing arguments for the defense.

Kercher's half-naked body was found with more than 40 stab wounds and a deep gash in her throat in the apartment she shared with Knox in Perugia, a picturesque town where both were studying as university exchange students.

Knox explained the unusual step of defending herself in an email rather than in person by saying she feared lawyers for the Kercher family would succeed in their request to have her sentenced to three decades in prison.

"I am not present in court because I am scared. I fear that the prosecution's line will influence the decision and will blind everyone," read the email, sent from the United States where Knox now lives.

The student, 26, and her Italian former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, 29, were convicted of murdering Kercher in 2009, in a verdict overturned in a subsequent trial.

SLANDER CONVICTION

Now the case is being tried again in a courtroom in Florence after Italy's Supreme Court quashed the acquittals in March, citing inconsistencies in the case. Sollecito pleaded his innocence in an address to the court last month in which he described the charges as "absurd".

Ivory Coast-born Rudy Guede is serving a 16-year sentence for the 2007 murder, but the prosecution says the wounds of the 21-year-old Leeds University student indicate there was more than one attacker.

Knox, who has a standing conviction for slander for falsely implicating Congolese bar owner Patrick Lumumba in the crime, wrote in the letter that she made the accusation under pressure from police.

Francesco Maresca, the lawyer representing the Kercher family, dismissed her arguments as well-worn. The prosecution insists forensic evidence proves without doubt that Knox and Sollecito are guilty of the crime.

"Letters from those involved in the trial I'd take with a pinch of salt," Maresca told Reuters outside court in response to Knox's email.

A final verdict in the retrial is expected in mid-January.

That verdict would then need to be confirmed by the high court to become official, a process that would take months, and it is unclear whether the United States would agree to extradite Knox to serve any eventual sentence.

Knox has appealed against her slander conviction to the European Court of Human Rights, which has binding power over Italy, and could do the same if convicted of the murder.

The email concluded: "I am innocent. Raffaele is innocent. Meredith and her family deserve the truth. I ask you to put an end to this enormous injustice. In faith, Amanda Marie Knox."

Tom Laughlin, a filmmaker who drew a huge following for his movies about the ill-tempered, karate-chopping pacifist Billy Jack, died Thursday at a Thousand Oaks hospital. He was 82.

He had been in failing health for several years, his daughter Teresa Laughlin said.

Laughlin starred in and co-produced the four films of the 1960s and '70s showcasing Billy Jack, a troubled Vietnam veteran who quietly promotes a message of peace when he's not throwing bad guys through plate-glass windows.


An iconoclast who battled Hollywood studios, Laughlin fought on other fronts as well.

Laughlin founded a Montessori school in Santa Monica after he deemed the public schools unworthy of educating his children. When he decided the political system was hopelessly corrupt, he mounted three quixotic presidential campaigns. After becoming disillusioned with Catholicism, he immersed himself in Jungian psychology, writing books and counseling friends.

"He was an extraordinary Catholic for about five minutes," Teresa Laughlin told The Times, "but once he found Jungian psychology, it supplanted everything else."

His films included "The Born Losers," a 1967 biker movie; "Billy Jack" in 1971; and "The Trial of Billy Jack" in 1974. A fourth film, "Billy Jack Goes to Washington," had only a limited release after its production in 1977.

Based on the Frank Capra classic, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," it condemned the nuclear energy industry and was suppressed by politicians with something to lose, Laughlin suggested to reporters.

"However corrupt you think Washington and Congress are, you're not even close," he said in a 2007 Sacramento TV interview.

Harold Camping didn't live to see the end of the world.

The Oakland-based radio preacher, who died Sunday, drew international attention, much of it in the form of ridicule, when he predicted—more than once—the precise date of the Rapture and then had to concede his error. He was 92.

Camping died at his home in Alameda after suffering a fall last month, according to a statement from his Family Radio Network.

Convinced that he had unlocked hidden clues in the Bible, Camping predicted the end of the world no fewer than 12 times, beginning in 1978, according to an aide, and was persistent in the face of his repeated failures. The most famous of his prophecies was his next to last, when he named May 21, 2011, as Judgment Day, and sent acolytes on a cross-country tour to warn people in the months leading up to it.

When May 22 dawned, Camping was apparently holed up in his Alameda home, having provided fodder for comedians and TV talk show hosts, but disappointing his small band of followers, some of whom had quit jobs and ended relationships in anticipation of their ascent to heaven. The next day, he conceded that he hadn't worked out the date "as accurately as I could have," and that the apocalypse actually would begin on Oct. 21, 2011.

In June 2011, Camping was hospitalized after experiencing a minor stroke.

Camping's fruitless attempts at prophecy emerged from an apocalyptic strain of Christianity that seeks clues in Scripture and in the modern world to the End Times predicted in the New Testament. It is an idea that is especially alluring during times of economic or sociopolitical turmoil, said Doug Weaver, a professor at Baylor University who followed Camping's career.

"I just think it's a social phenomenon," Weaver said. "American religion does allow for a lot of ideas to flourish in the marketplace."

Harold Egbert Camping was born July 19, 1921, in Boulder, Colo., but moved as a child to Southern California. He graduated with honors from UC Berkeley in 1942 with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, and began his own construction business shortly after the end of World War II. A heart condition had kept him out of the draft, according to Matt Tuter, his radio producer.

Camping grew up in the Christian Reformed Church, where he became an elder and Bible teacher. In 1958, he joined with two partners to form a nonprofit Christian radio network, Family Stations Inc., according to the network's website. He eventually sold his construction business and went to work full-time as president and general manager of Family Radio, which later claimed to broadcast Bible teaching on more than 140 radio stations, as well as by shortwave and the Internet.

Camping issued his first Judgment Day prophecy in 1978, according to Tuter, straining his relations with the Reformed Church. When he came up with a new prediction in 1988, "they'd had it with him," Tuter said, and Camping was told he could no longer teach Sunday school. He quit the Reformed Church, and later proclaimed that the "church age" had ended because Satan had taken over all churches.

He had another prophecy in 1994: The world would end sometime in September. "The judgment throne is coming," he proclaimed. He was wrong again.

In the hubbub surrounding his May 2011 prediction, Camping acknowledged that his strange obsession had alienated many people, including most of his family. "It's so bad, most of my family I can't even talk about it with," he said at the time.

Camping was the author of about 30 books and pamphlets, most of which were offered free of charge. Although his ministry brought in significant donations—Tuter estimated that it spent $100 million advertising the May 21 Judgment Day – Camping himself appeared to live modestly, as if convinced that his earthly existence was fleeting.

apan announced Tuesday it will buy stealth fighters, drones and submarines as part of a splurge on military hardware that will beef up defence of far-flung islands amid a simmering territorial row with China.

 

The cabinet of hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to spend 24.7 trillion yen ($240 billion) between 2014 and 2019 in a strategic shift towards the south and west of the country -- a five percent boost to the military budget over five years.

The shopping list is part of efforts by Abe to normalise the military in Japan, which has been officially pacifist since defeat in World War II. Its well-equipped and highly professional services are limited to a narrowly defined self-defensive role.

It comes with the establishment of a US-style National Security Council that is expected to concentrate greater power in the hands of a smaller number of senior politicians and bureaucrats.

Fears are growing in Japan over the rising power of China, with the two countries embroiled in a dispute over the sovereignty of a group of islands in the East China Sea, and the perennial menace posed by an unpredictable North Korea.

New guidelines approved by the cabinet on Tuesday said Tokyo will introduce a "dynamic joint defence force", intended to help air, land and sea forces work together more effectively.

Abe said the shift would allow Japan's military to better shoulder its responsibilities on the global stage, through what he has promoted as "proactive pacifism".

"We hope to make further contributions to the peace and stability of the international community through proactive pacifism," he said. "This shows with transparency our country's diplomatic and defence policies."

Spending will be raised to 24.7 trillion yen over five years from April 2014, up from the present 23.5 trillion yen over the five years to March 2014, but the figure could be trimmed by up to 700 billion yen if the defence ministry can find savings and efficiencies.

New hardware will include three drones, 52 amphibious vehicles, 17 Osprey hybrid choppers and five submarines -- all designed to boost maritime surveillance and bolster defence of islands.

The spending will also encompass two destroyers equipped with the Aegis anti-missile system and 28 new F-35 fighter jets, a stealth plane far superior to the F-15s that Japan currently has in service.

Analysts noted that much of this kit will replace obsolete equipment, but the shift in military priorities is evident.

"The guidelines underscore a clear shift of Japan's major defence focus to the protection of its islands in the East China Sea," said Hideshi Takesada, an expert on regional security at Takushoku University in Tokyo.

During the Cold War, Japan's military was largely static, with the majority of resources in the north and east to guard against any invasion by Russia.

But changing dynamics and in particular the rise of China -- where double-digit rises in defence spending are the annual norm -- mean that Japan's armed forces need to be located further south and to be able to deploy to the country's many far-flung islands.

"The guidelines show Japan's readiness for practical defence if China's bluff turns to be real military action," Takesada said.

Regional tensions were ratcheted up last month when China abruptly declared a new Air Defence Identification Zone over the East China Sea, including over disputed Tokyo-controlled islands called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.

Abe on Saturday denounced the declaration and demanded Beijing retract it immediately and unconditionally, after a summit with Southeast Asian leaders where a joint statement called for freedom of travel on the seas and in the air.

Beijing issued a sharp rebuke, singling out Abe for "slanderous remarks".

The guidelines also call for Japan to boost its missile defence system to counter "a grave and imminent threat" from North Korea.

Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test in February, following a rocket test in December 2012.

The recent purging and execution of the uncle of leader Kim Jong-Un further set nerves on edge, with analysts warning the isolated natio

 China's investment in Britain's 16 billion pound Hinkley Point project is its first foray into Europe's nuclear power market and a marker of its global ambitions, but its firms will depend on foreign partners if they are to fulfill them.

China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) plan to take a combined 30-40 percent stake in a consortium led by French utility EDF to build French-designed EPR reactors in southwest England.

China has the world's largest nuclear building program at home and hopes to leverage this into a nuclear export industry.

While China has already built reactors for its ally Pakistan, Hinkley Point is its first nuclear project in a developed country, and Beijing hopes the UK credentials will help promote its two nuclear giants on the global stage.

But industry analysts say gaps in the Chinese supply chain, fears of political interference and inexperience in the economics of nuclear power mean the firms will struggle to go it alone.

"They are very ambitious, but whether they will be welcomed overseas is another question," said Li Ning, a nuclear power specialist and dean of the School of Energy Research at China's Xiamen University.

In Britain, for example, political discussions behind closed doors about Chinese nuclear involvement concluded the public would not accept Chinese companies owning majority stakes in new plants and that initial participation should be capped at 49 percent, a source familiar with the discussions said.

China's massive domestic nuclear new-build program is one of the few bright spots in the global nuclear industry following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, which prompted several countries including Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Belgium to close or phase out their nuclear programs.

After a post-Fukushima suspension lasting a year and a half, Beijing restarted its program late in 2012 and aims to bring capacity up from 12.57 gigawatts now to 58 GW by the end of 2020. Nearly 30 GW of new capacity is under construction in China, more than 40 percent of the world's total new-build.

"CLUELESS ON PROFIT"

China's regulators have long encouraged nuclear firms to build an entire industrial chain with global reach.

After Fukushima, "history has given China an opportunity to overtake the world's nuclear energy and nuclear technology powers", Zhang Guobao, China's former top energy official and a tireless advocate of nuclear energy, told a September meeting of nuclear scientists, according to state media.

China plans to bid for projects in Argentina and Turkey.

But its domestic experience won't necessarily translate well overseas, said Arnaud Lefevre, head of French nuclear consultancy Dynatom International, which has been involved in the nuclear business in China.

"All the business of nuclear power plants in China is controlled by state-owned enterprises which are set up to produce power plants, not profits," he said.

"They have no clue about international business. They have absolutely no clue how to make profit in nuclear," he added.

 

In a stinging rebuke to President Barack Obama’s surveillance policies, a federal judge on Monday branded the National Security Agency’s mass collection of Americans’ telephone data “almost Orwellian” and likely a violation of the Constitution. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden cheered the ruling.

Appeals Court Judge Richard Leon invoked Founding Father James Madison and the Beatles in a frequently scathing ruling. Leon, appointed by then-President George W. Bush,ordered the government to halt bulk collection of so-called telephony metadata and destroy information already collected through that program. But he suspended his order as the case works its way through the courts.

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘abitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” Leon wrote.

The judge also dealt a blow to the government’s argument that such surveillance programs  a source of controversy ever since Snowden revealed their reach in a series of unauthorized disclosures  are necessary to thwarting terrorist plots.

“The Government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the Government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature,” he wrote.

Leon said Founding Father James Madison would likely be “aghast” at the NSA’s activities  but also conjured up a Beatles-themed image to rebut the government’s suggestion that it does not collect Verizon metadata.

“To draw an analogy, if the NSA’s program operates the way the Government suggests it does, then omitting Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and Sprint from the collection would be like omitting John, Paul, and George from a historical analysis of the Beatles. A Ringo-only database doesn’t make any sense, and I cannot believe the Government would create, maintain, and so ardently defend such a system,” he wrote in footnote 36 on page 38.

Among Leon’s other flourishes, he warned that the so-called war on terrorism “realistically could be forever!” He expressed concerns about the “almost Orwellian technology that enables the Government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States.” And he said modern-day surveillance tactics would have been “the stuff of science fiction” at the time a precedent ruling was issued.

The White House had no immediate response to the ruling.

But Snowden, in a statement distributed by independent journalist Glenn Greenwald, cheered.

Country singer Ray Price, whose propulsive 1956 hit “Crazy Arms” helped revolutionize the sound of country music in the 1950s, died Monday at his home in Mount Pleasant, Texas, following a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 87.

His death was announced by family spokesman Bill Mack, a country music disc jockey.

Price charted more than 100 hits during a span of nearly 40 years as a regular presence on the country charts from 1952 to 1989, from “Crazy Arms” and “Heartaches by the Number” during his first round of fame in the ‘50s through deeply felt ballads such as his 1970 Grammy-winning recording of Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times.”

Price cited country giant Hank Williams as one of his few mentors. He toured with Williams, and they roomed together for a time. Price took over Williams’ band after the fabled singer and songwriter died at age 29 in 1953.

Tiring of the standard rhythm of honky-tonk music that emphasized the second and fourth beats in each four-beat measure, Price asked his bassist to play evenly on each beat of the measure while they were in the studio to record “Crazy Arms,” a song written by Chuck Seals and Ralph Mooney. He also asked the fiddle player to try something new and instructed the drummer to play something different than what he was used to.

“I don’t know where it came from,” Price said years later of the rhythm that became known as "the Ray Price shuffle. “It’s just what I wanted. Everybody at the session thought it was the funniest thing they ever heard. They just thought it was strange. It was -- and it was on the charts for 45 weeks.”

Price won two Grammys and several awards from the Country Music Assn. and the Academy of Country Music. He was a member of the Grand Ole Opry and in 1996 was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Price’s Cherokee Cowboys band was a fertile stop for many musicians who would go on to become stars in their own right, including Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck and Johnny Bush.

While being treated for pancreatic cancer earlier this year, Price said his only complaints were stomach upset from radiation treatment.

And his sharp sense of humor showed little evidence of wear. “The doctor said that every man will have cancer if he lives to be old enough,” he told an interviewer in San Antonio recently. “I don’t know why I got it — I ain’t old.”

A high school senior has been suspended for a year and will not graduate on time for committing a terrible offense…he gave a teacher a hug.

Sam McNair is a 17-year-old student at Duluth High School in Georgia. He was suspended last week when a school hearing officer decided he violated the Gwinnett County Public Schools’ rules on sexual harassment.

“Something so innocent can be perceived as something totally opposite,” said McNair.

A surveillance camera caught the hug. It shows McNair placing his arms around the back and front of the teacher and giving her a “side” hug.

According to a discipline report, the teacher claimed McNair’s cheeks and lips touched the back of her neck and cheek.

McNair denied he kissed his teacher or that he sexually harassed her. He said he hugs teachers on a regular basis and has never been disciplined for it.

 

The retort just came hours after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Saturday he was "deeply concerned" by China's establishment of the air zone and that he believed "many" leaders of Southeast Asian countries attending the meeting shared his view. The statement came during the Japan-ASEAN summit in Tokyo.

"We express strong dissatisfaction with the Japanese leader's use of an international meeting to make slanderous remarks about China," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said late Saturday.

He added that Japan's "attempt to promote a double standard and mislead international public opinion is doomed to fail."

"The one that has unilaterally changed the status quo over the Diaoyu islands is none other than Japan itself," Hong said. "In this regard, China has taken lawful and necessary measures to safeguard its sovereign territory and is fully justified and blameless."

Last month, China declared an air defense identification zone over an area of the East China Sea which includes the disputed Tokyo-controlled islands, in a move that ratcheted up an already-tense situation.

Saturday's Japan-ASEAN summit was the first major gathering of Asian leaders since China's move to assert its power over the skies near its southeast coast.

The back-and-forth between Tokyo and Beijing also comes after reports that a Chinese naval vessel nearly collided with a US warship in the South China Sea on December 5.

In a joint statement, the heads of state on Saturday encouraged Japan's "proactive contribution to peace" and announced that they had "agreed to enhance cooperation in ensuring freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety", language viewed as a cautious show of support for Tokyo.
Read more: http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2013_12_15/China-rejects-Japanese-PM-s-call-to-rescind-air-zone-4105/

Over 80 civilians in a town northwest of the Syrian capital of Damascus have been executed by Islamist rebels, sources within the Syrian military told RT. Many others were kidnapped to be used as human shields.

Government forces are continuing a large-scale operation against Jabhat al-Nusra and Liwa Al-Islam fighters, who captured the town earlier this week. The area is located some 20 kilometers away from Damascus. 

According to SANA news agency, around 1,000 militants were in the town when it was enveloped by the army on Friday. 

The military sources said the “armed groups have performed an execution of civilians” in Adra, RT Arabic correspondent Abutaleb Albohaya reported from Syria. 

For now it’s established that over 80 people were killed in the areas now taken over by the army. Often whole families were murdered,” he said. 

The number of executed civilians is expected to rise after government troops manage to recover the rest of the town - which has a population of around 20,000 - from the Islamists, the military source added. 

“Some families were kidnapped in order to be used as human shields in areas where the Syrian army is now trying to free the civilians,” Albohaya stressed. Iraqi Al-Ahd television says this is the reason the Syrian army is abstaining from using artillery on Sunday. 

The military sources also said that the other kidnapped families were moved to the area south of Adra in the direction of the town of Douma, which has been the opposition’s strategic backland since the start of the Syrian crisis [in March, 2011]. It’s also where the most important rebel fortifications are situated,” Albohaya said. 

The rebel presence remains strong in Adra, with “snipers entrenched in high-rise buildings,” he added. “Many opposition militant groups are still acting in areas outside and within the town.” 

The army’s special forces have performed several successful operations against those groups, which have resulted in the deaths of dozens of militants, the military source said. 

The military is storming every house and has already freed dozens of Alawite, Druze, and Christian families from the rebels, Al-Ahd reported. 

The government troops have cornered a highway leading to the international airport in Damascus, which is situated four kilometers away from Adra. 

The military does not exclude the possibility that militants will break through the blockade in this direction, putting the nearby town of Dahiyat al Asad in danger, according to Al-Ahd.

‘People toasted in ovens’


What the Islamist rebels did when they entered Adra on Wednesday morning was a “massacre,” one a local resident told RT. 

The situation was terrible - with killing, atrocities, and fear as the background. Unidentified armed men came into town, but it was obvious that they were Jabhat al-Nusra militants,” Muhammad Al-Said said. 

The worst crime they committed was that they toasted people in ovens used to bake bread when those people came to buy it. They kidnapped and beat up many,” he added. 

According to Al-Said, the rebels committed the atrocities so they could place blame on government forces. 

But the resident said that Adra citizens are “waiting for Syrian troops to save us from the terrorists, who came from other countries.” 

Those, who could, fled to Damascus. Some hid in the basement, with infants, the elderly, women, and sick people among them. The situation was really terrible,” Al-Said said.

Peter O'Toole, the iconic star of Lawrence of Arabiawho became one of Hollywood's early rebels, died Saturday in a London hospital following a long illness.

O'Toole, 81, was nominated for eight best-acting Oscars, a record, for films that include 1962'sArabia, The Lion in Winter (1968) and Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969).

Most recently, he earned an Academy Awardnomination for Venus, a drama about veteran actors whose lives are upended when they meet a teenager. O'Toole won an honorary Oscar in 2003 for his body of work, which would include more than 90 films and TV shows.

O'Toole's family is overwhelmed "by the outpouring of real love and affection being expressed toward him, and to us, during this unhappy time," his daughter Kate said in a statement. "There will be a memorial filled with song and good cheer, as he would have wished."

Born Peter Seamus O'Toole in Ireland, O'Toole originally wanted to be a newspaper reporter, and one of his first jobs was as a copy boy. But after a stint as a radioman in the Royal Navy for two years, he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and got the acting bug. While he had dabbled in theater since he was 17, O'Toole turned his attention to film, earning small roles in movies around 1960.

He shot to stardom in 1962, when director David Lean chose him to play T.E. Lawrence in Arabia, and earned a reputation as a hard-drinking Hollywood hell-raiser, a reputation he seemed to enjoy. A diehard rugby and Shakespeare fan (he once confessed to knowing all of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets by heart), he was offered a knighthood in 1987, but turned it down, citing personal and political reasons.

O'Toole was tall, fair and strikingly handsome, and the image of his bright blue eyes peering out of an Arab headdress in the spectacularly photographed desert epicArabia was unforgettable.

Playwright Noel Coward once said that if O'Toole had been any prettier, they would have had to call the movie Florence of Arabia.

In 1964's Becket, O'Toole played King Henry II to Richard Burton's Thomas Becket, and won another Oscar nomination. Burton shared O'Toole's fondness for drinking, and their off-set carousing made headlines.

O'Toole played Henry again in 1968 in The Lion in Winter, opposite Katharine Hepburn, for his third Oscar nomination.

Four more nominations followed: in 1968 for Goodbye, Mr. Chips, in 1971 for The Ruling Class, in 1980 for The Stunt Man, and in 1982 for My Favorite Year. It was almost a quarter-century before he received his eighth and last, for Venus.

Stomach cancer nearly ended his life in the 1970s, before a triumphant return for Oscar-nominated turns in 1980's The Stunt Man and 1982's My Favorite Year.

O'Toole announced last year that he was giving up acting, saying: "I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell." His last film is Katherine of Alexandria, in which he plays Cornelius Gallus, a palace orator. The film is scheduled for release in 2014.

He is survived by his two daughters, Pat and Kate O'Toole, from his marriage to actress Siân Phillips, and his son, Lorcan O'Toole, by Karen Brown.

 

The United States containment strategy towards China will lead to further escalation in tensions between the two rivals, an analyst tells Press TV.

“The US policy in recent years, in particular Obama‘s pivot to Asia policy where he in effect announced that the US was concentrating its military and economic resources on Far East instead of the [Persian] Gulf, is an indication that Washington is looking to contain China’s expansion in the region,” said James Petras, a retired Bartle professor of sociology and author of 65 books.

Petras said Washington’s containment policy “is running the risk of alienating China which is the principal creditor of US debt, particularly $2 trillion in treasury notes.”

On Thursday, the US Pacific Fleet announced that an American guided missile cruiser and a Chinese warship “nearly collided” in the South China Sea on December 5.

The incident has raised tensions between the two countries whose relations had already been strained after Beijing announced an air defense zone over the East China Sea last month.

 

The U.S. government on December 12 “mistakenly” murdered 15 people attending a wedding in Yemen.

Citing “local security authorities,” Reuters reports that the families celebrating the wedding “were killed in an air strike after their party was mistaken for an al-Qaida convoy.”

Another unnamed official told Reuters that 10 people were killed immediately by the missiles, while five died later of injuries they sustained in the attack. Five more members of the wedding party were wounded, but survived the strike.

Although the United States certainly would not confirm the story, witnesses report that the missiles were fired from a drone.

On Monday, a similar strike executed by a U.S. drone killed at least three people traveling in a car in Yemen. The remotely controlled aircraft launched several missiles at a vehicle as it passed through the Al Qutn area of Hadramout. LongWarJournal cites a Yemeni intelligence official who claimed that it was impossible to identify the victims of the attack as the bodies were “burned beyond recognition.”

President Barack Obama, calling for new gun control legislation earlier this year, appealed to "all the Americans who are counting on us to keep them safe from harm." He also declared, "If there is even one life we can save, we’ve got an obligation to try." But some perils are not worth registering on Obama’s scorecard.

While the president frequently declaims on the dangers of privately-owned guns, his administration is scorning a mandate to track how many Americans are shot and killed each year by government agents. The same 1994 law that temporarily banned the sale of assault weapons also required the federal government to compile data on police shootings nationwide. However, neither the Justice Department nor most local police departments have bothered to tally such occurrences.

Instead, the Justice Department relied on the National Crime Survey of citizens to gauge the police use of force. But as Prof. James Fyfe, one of the nation’s foremost experts on police shootings, observed in 2001, that survey relies on "questions about how often the respondents have been subjected to police use of force. Since dead people can’t participate in such a survey, this work tells us nothing about how often police kill."

Many police shootings involve self-defense against violent criminals or protection of people against dangerous culprits in the act of wreaking havoc. However, killings by police are not a negligible proportion of the nation’s firearms death toll. Shootings by police accounted for almost 10 percent of the homicides in Los Angeles County in 2010, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Jim Fisher, a former FBI agent and criminal law professor, compiled a database of police shootings and estimated that in the United States in 2011 police shot more than 1,100 people, killing 607. Fisher relied on the Internet to track the casualties, and the actual toll may be significantly higher. (Many police departments are secretive about their shootings and succeed in withholding either numbers or key details from the public.) Fisher’s numbers do not include cases of off-duty police who shoot acquaintances, such as the recent case of the married veteran D.C. policeman convicted of murdering his girlfriend and leaving their 11-month-old baby to die in an overheated SUV to avoid paying child support.

According to the FBI, 323 people were killed nationwide by rifles in 2011 — less than 4 percent of the total deaths by firearms. The official statistics are not broken down by the type of rifle, so it is impossible to know how many of the victims were slain with the type of weapons that Sen. Dianne Feinstein and presumably Obama classify as assault weapons. Nationwide, 10 percent of the killings with rifles were committed by law enforcement officers, according to the FBI. Ironically, the raw numbers of killings by police are tossed into the firearm-fatality totals that some politicians invoke to drum up support for confiscating privately owned guns.

Researcher Andrew Howard said: ‘Potential sites for life to get started are abundant in the galaxy

‘We still don’t know how easily life can spring forth on a potentially habitable planet but with 40 billion chances, I’m optimistic that we’re not alone.’

The findings, detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were based on a statistical analysis of observations made by Nasa's now-crippled Kepler space telescope.

Scientists used data collected by Nasa’s Kepler telescope, which took photographs of 150,000 stars every 30 minutes for four years.

These images were then analysed for small but regular dips in the star’s light – a telltale sign that a planet is passing in front of it.

Some 42,000 of the stars monitored were like the sun or slightly cooler and these had 603 planets orbiting them.

Ten of these were Earth-like, that is, roughly the size of our planet and just the right distance from their star for it to be neither too hot or too cold for life to survive.

After accounting for holes in the data, they estimated that 22 per cent of all sun-like stars are circled by a planet that could be suitable for life.

‘Our galaxy has 40 billion chances for life to get started and evolve,’ said Dr Howard, of the University of Hawaii.

‘Today, more than ever we need to focus on searching for intelligent life.’



A wealthy former Fortune 500 executive, who recently received a $1.2 million payout when he left his most recent position for health reasons, was driving around aimlessly in Lebanon, N.H. Saturday night when he decided he’d had enough of being alive.

So 53-year-old Robert Dellinger decided to terminate his own privileged existence by suddenly swerving his Chevy pickup truck across the Interstate 89 grassy median, hoping to crash into an embankment.

Unfortunately, instead, his vehicle flew into the air, shearing off the top of an oncoming SUV, killing the young couple inside instantly. The suicidal man also took the life of the couple's unborn child. But Dellinger survived.

A strange phenomenon has been occurring in police custody around the U.S., which seems to defy both the laws of physics and the limits of human physiology. Young people of color, handcuffed with their hands bound behind their backs, are able to shoot themselves in the head. For the critical observer, belief is beggared.

As I noted last year, twice in six months, young men have managed to shoot themselves in the head while in handcuffs in the back of police cars. And now again, a North Carolina teen has died of a gunshot wound that police say was self-inflicted while the young man was in handcuffs.

A Durham teen [17-year-old Jesus Huerta] died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said…

China will become first country to land on the Moon for 37 years when its rover touches down on Saturday.

The unmanned craft ‘Chang'e-3’ is expected to land at 3pm GMT on a lava plain known as the Bay of Rainbows. It has been travelling since December 2.

It will make China one of only three nations, after the United States and the former Soviet Union, to ‘soft-land’ on the Moon's surface.

Probes and missiles have been fired at the Moon to take readings and throw dust into the atmosphere, but no space programme has attempted to land since the Russian’s sent a rover to collect soil samples in1976.

The Chinese claim they are looking for natural resources such as rare metals.

Prof Ouyang Ziyuan from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said their scientists are exploring whether solar panels could be installed on the Moon to harness the power of the sun through the thinner atmosphere.

"The Moon is full of resources - mainly rare earth elements, titanium, and uranium, which the Earth is really short of, and these resources can be used without limitation,” he said.

But US Apollo astronauts Eugene Cernan and ‘Buzz Aldrin’ have pointed out that the landing module is far bigger than needed to carry a rover and believe it may be a trial run for a human landing.

The 'Jade Rabbit' lunar rover

US scientists have also expressed concern that the mission could skew the results of a NASA study of the Moon's dust environment.

Chinese officials have already stated that they are keen to send humans to the Moon, in what would be the first manned lunar missions since the US Apollo programme in the 1960s and 1970s

Upon landing the craft will release Jade Rabbit, a six wheeled lunar rover, with four cameras and mechanical digger arms to collect samples at a depth of 30m.

The robot's name comes from a Chinese myth about the pet white rabbit of a goddess, Chang'e, who is said to live on the Moon.

China first sent an astronaut to space in 2003 and currently conducts around 18 space launches a year. The Chinese government has expressed a wish top open a permanent space station within the Earth’s atmosphere in the next decade.

The Soviet Union's Luna 24 probe was the last space mission to land on the Moon in August, 1976 -- four years after the United States launched the manned Apollo 17 mission.

 A U.S. guided missile cruiser operating in international waters in the South China Sea was forced to take evasive action last week to avoid a collision with a Chinese navy ship maneuvering nearby, the U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement on Friday.

The incident on December 5 involving the USS Cowpens came at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and China following Beijing's declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea.

The Pacific Fleet statement did not offer details about what led to the near-collision. But it did say the incident underscored the need for the "highest standards of professional seamanship, including communications between vessels, to mitigate the risk of an unintended incident or mishap."

Beijing declared the air defense zone over the East China Sea late last month and demanded that aircraft flying through the area provide it with flight plans and other information.

The United States and its allies rejected the Chinese demand and have continued to fly military aircraft into the zone, which includes air space over a small group of islands claimed by China but currently administered by Tokyo.

In the midst of the tensions over the air defense zone, China deployed its only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, to the South China Sea for maneuvers. Beijing claims most of the South China Sea and is involved in territorial disputes in the region with several of its neighbors.

 
  • More turmoil expected after North Korea's ouster of second-in-command


North Korea has executed the powerful uncle of young leader Kim Jong Un, state media said on Friday, the biggest upheaval in years as the ruling dynasty sought to distance itself from responsibility for the isolated states's dire living standards.

Jang Song Thaek, considered the second most powerful man in the secretive North, was killed just days ahead of the second anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il, the father of North Korea's current ruler.

The execution coincided with Kim Jong Un - the third Kim to rule North Korea - suddenly being portrayed in state media as the image of his father rather than his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, who is still revered as the founder of the nation.

Kim Jong Il was blamed by some for the 1990s famine that killed a million people.

The North's KCNA news agency released pictures on Friday of a handcuffed Jang being manhandled by guards and said that he had been executed for trying to seize power and for driving the economy "into an uncontrollable catastrophe".

Jang was pictured in the ruling party's Rodong Sinmun newspaper without his Kim Il Sung loyalty badge on his lapel when he was led away, which would indicate his disloyalty to North Koreans who all wear lapel badges.

"Jang Song Thaek has been purged in a way that suggests Kim Jong Un wanted to make a point," Ruediger Frank, a North Korea expert, wrote in an article on Johns Hopkins University's U.S. Korea Institute website 38 North on Friday.

The dictatorial North has been run by the same family since 1948. Its economy, which was once larger than South Korea's, is now a fortieth the size of its prosperous neighbor. Its 24 million people regularly suffer food shortages, according to the United Nations.

The younger Kim has been credited in the North's media with presiding over a powerful military state as well as an economic revival.

INTERNAL DIVISIONS, COMPETING FACTIONS

Jang was married to Kim Jong Un's paternal aunt and is believed to have been 67 years old. He had been purged in 2004 and disappeared from public view until 2006, but became a vice chairman of the powerful National Defence Commission and a member of the ruling Workers' Party politburo.

He had visited Beijing, North Korea's only major ally, and was in charge of economic projects as well running a string of illicit money-raising schemes for Pyongyang, according to North Korea experts and defectors.

While North Korea has purged many officials in its 65-year history, it is rare that anyone so powerful had been removed in such a public manner - suggesting a recognition of internal divisions and of competing factions surrounding Kim Jong Un.

"This is a man who could have competently executed a coup in North Korea," said Mike Madden, an expert on the North's power structure and author of the North Korea Leadership Watch website and blog.

The commentary from KCNA said that Jang had been plotting to overthrow Kim Jong Un and had "a fantastic dream to become premier... to grab the supreme power of the party and state".

"The accused Jang brought together undesirable forces and formed a faction as the boss of a modern day factional group for a long time and thus committed such hideous crime as attempting to overthrow the state," KCNA said.

"The special military tribunal of the Ministry of State Security of the DPRK ... ruled that he would be sentenced to death according to it. The decision was immediately executed," it said, using the North's title of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

North Korean politics are virtually impenetrable from outside and Jang could also easily have been purged over a falling out with Kim, or even with his wife.

There are signs that the North's 1.2-million strong army has sought to assert power and that Jang ran foul of Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae, the top political operative for the armed forces.

 A Montana bride who was accused of pushing her new husband to his death from a cliff in Glacier National Park pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Thursday in an 11th-hour deal with prosecutors that will spare her from a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Jordan Graham, 22, reached the deal just as closing arguments had been due to begin in her federal murder trial in Missoula over the July 7 death of her husband of eight days, 25-year-old Cody Johnson.

In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to drop first-degree murder charges that could have carried a mandatory life sentence, should she have been convicted, as well as charges of lying to law enforcement.

Graham, in admitting her guilt, told the judge that on the day her husband died, the couple had driven to the park and walked down to an embankment on the cliff face, where she told Johnson she wasn't happy and "wasn't sure we should be married." He responded by grabbing her hand, she said.

"I told him to let go and I pushed his hand off," Graham said. "I just pushed his hand off and just pushed away."

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy asked her if, after that, she knew Johnson had fallen over the cliff, and Graham responded that she did.

Before accepting the plea, the judge warned Graham that by pleading guilty she was "possibly looking at spending the balance" of her life in prison. She responded that she understood the consequences.

While a second-degree murder conviction may be punishable by life in prison, it can also result in a lesser sentence of about 20 years behind bars, with possible adjustments for accepting responsibility and other factors.

U.S. Marshals led Graham away in handcuffs after the hearing, during which her mother cried in court. Graham had been in her parents' custody and under electronic monitoring pending trial.

Federal prosecutors contended that Graham deliberately shoved her husband off a rock ledge while the couple was hiking a steep trail at Glacier and then lied to investigators and tried to cover up the crime.

Graham's attorneys had said the death was an accident that happened during a marital dispute in which Johnson grabbed his wife's arm and jacket and she pulled away even as she pushed him.

The case was being heard in federal court because the death occurred in a U.S. national park, which is owned by the federal government. Federal prosecutors declined to comment after the hearing.

Graham's public defender, Andy Nelson, told reporters his team was "drained" and that the case had been "a long, emotional process."

Jury selection in the case began on Monday, and on Thursday morning defense attorneys mounted their side of the case by, among other things, showing a video of Graham and Johnson dancing closely at their wedding and presenting evidence she had paid an artist to write a customized song for the couple.

 

A 16-year-old boy has been spared jail time for killing four people while driving drunk because his rich parents spoiled him, C

Ethan Couch from Keller, Texas, was facing up to 20 years behind bars for the incident, but instead, State District Judge, Jean Boyd, sentenced him to a decade of probation.

The incident occurred in June when Couch and his friends stole beer from a Walmart store in Burleson. After consuming the alcohol they got into his pickup to go to another store. Couch was behind the wheel and plowed into some pedestrians and killed four people, and injured nine altogether. One of the passengers in his car remains in hospital with severe brain damage.

Couch was traveling 70 miles per hour in a 40 zone and his blood alcohol level was .24 at the time of the crash, three times the legal limit for an adult. He also had valium in his system.

The teen was described as belligerent and uncooperative at the scene, at one point exclaiming, “I’m outta here”.

Couch’s attorney argued his parents were responsible for the teen’s actions because they had raised him to believe that wealth and privilege could shield him from consequences. His psychologist also testified that he was used to getting whatever he wanted and was allowed to drive at 13 – with the emotional age of a 12-year-old. Apparently the judge bought that argument.

The victims’ families are angered at the judgment and many sobbed in court when the verdict was handed down. Eric Boyles, whose wife and daughter were killed in the crash told the Star Telegramafter sentencing:

‘Money always seems to keep (Couch) out of trouble. Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail. If (he) had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different,” he said.

The long-term safety of the popular artificial sweetener Splenda (sucralose) has been called into question by a new review study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Researchers from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) discovered that sucralose essentially releases cancer-causing dioxins in food when baked or otherwise heated, which is one of its primary marketed uses.

Citing an earlier study published by researchers from the Department of Pharmacology at Duke University in North Carolina, the review challenges a number of claims made in support of Splenda's alleged safety, including the claim by its manufacturer, McNeil Nutritionals, that sucralose passes through the body completely undigested. Evidence shows not only that this is false but also that sucralose is hardly the innocuous substance that we have all been led to believe it is.

"The study asserts that in human and rodent studies sucralose was shown to alter levels of glucose, insulin and glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1)," writes Laura Sesana for the Washington Times (WT). "The authors also warn that when sucralose is used for cooking at high temperatures it generates chloropropanols, a class of chemicals that may be linked to a higher risk of cancer."

Millions of women are subjected to ionizing radiation every year when we get mammograms at the directive of our health care providers. Radiation risks might be worth it if actual cancerous tumors were detected by mammograms, but a Swedish study involving over 60,000 women pointed out recently that 70% of all detected ‘tumors’ weren’t tumors at all, but false positives that led to invasive biopsies. Up to 80 % of all positive mammograms turn up without a shred of cancer after the biopsy, as well.

Furthermore, mammogram screening increases your risk of cancer. Just four breast films (the usual for one session) exposes a woman to 1 rad (radiation absorbed dose) about 1000 times more than a chest X-ray. If cancer is present, the extreme compression during a mammogram can help cancerous cells to spread (Lancet, 11992; 3440:122). Some doctors in the medical community, including, Dr. John W. Gofman, an authority on the health effects of ionizing radiation, estimates that 75% of breast cancer could be prevented by avoiding or minimizing exposure to ionizing radiation. Dr. Gofman goes so far as to say that medical radiation may even be a primary cause for numerous cancers, including breast cancer.

In an interview conducted with the doctor back in 1994, he said:

“The human experimentation that has been done is bad, and it’s good that that’s being cleared away. But for 25 years the DOE (Department of Health) has not shown any concern for the health of Americans. Their concern has been for the health of the DOE. Their falsehoods concerning the hazards of ionizing radiation have put not thousands of people at risk, not millions of people, but billions of people.”

Aside from the obvious health risks, since no radiation exposure is actually ‘safe,’ there are the inflated costs of breast-cancer detection via mammography. Prices range anywhere from several hundred dollars to almost $3000, with many insurance companies refusing to pay the majorities of the cost of the ‘detection.’ This does not include the cost of biopsy, and later, the chemo and further radiation treatments that will be prescribed to women who have been found to have breast cancer, likely due to radiation exposure.

One study involving 40,000 women screened in Norway found that for every 2,500 women being screened, one death stemming from breast cancer would be prevented, while 6-10 women would be treated for a non-threatening cancer which would never actually cause symptoms. The researchers estimated that between 1,169 and 1,148 were over-diagnosed and received unnecessary treatment. This means unnecessary exposure to radiation. Similarly, a study published in the well-respected Cancer journal describes how radiation treatments actually promote malignancy in cancer cells instead of eradication.

Finally, breast cancer can be treated or avoided with changes in diet, exercise, lifestyle, doses of sunshine, and nutritional supplements. People have been beating cancer with nutrition with supplements like turmeric and Omega 3 fatty-acids for as long as anyone can remember. Health-damaging radiation as both a screening procedure and a ‘cure’ are archaic and brutal as well as costly and unnecessary.

NASA said Wednesday it was looking into a problem with a malfunctioning cooling pump on the International Space Station, but there was no immediate danger to the six crewmen on board.

A valve on a pump on one of the station's two external cooling loops shut down because it was too cool Wednesday afternoon, NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said. He said that at no time was the crew at risk. But some non-critical equipment of the massive orbital outpost were powered down.

"It could be a serious problem, but it's not an emergency," Johnson Space Center spokesman Kelly Humphries said.

Engineers suspect a valve inside the pump was faulty and ground controllers moved electrical power supplies to the other cooling loop, Jacobs said. These loops circulate ammonia outside the station to keep equipment inside and outside cool.

"The station wasn't ever in any danger," Jacobs said.

Jacobs said the crew of two American astronauts, three Russian cosmonauts and a Japanese astronaut were preparing to go to bed as normal, while engineers on the ground tried to troubleshoot the problem. The faulty pump and cooling loop did start up again, he said.

Humphries said it was too early to speculate whether a spacewalk would be needed to fix the problem.

The station commander is cosmonaut Oleg Kotov. Americans Rick Mastracchio and Michael Hopkins, Russians Mikhail Tyurin and Sergey Ryazanaskiy, and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata are aboard. The orbital outpost, the size of a football field and weighing nearly 1 million pounds, has been in orbit more than 220 miles above Earth since 1998.

Uruguay became the first country to legalize the growing, sale and smoking of marijuana on Tuesday, a pioneering social experiment that will be closely watched by other nations debating drug liberalization.

A government-sponsored bill approved by 16-13 votes in the Senate provides for regulation of the cultivation, distribution and consumption of marijuana and is aimed at wresting the business from criminals in the small South American nation.

Backers of the law, some smoking joints, gathered near Congress holding green balloons, Jamaican flags in homage to Bob Marley and a sign saying: "Cultivating freedom, Uruguay grows."

Cannabis consumers will be able to buy a maximum of 40 grams (1.4 ounces) each month from licensed pharmacies as long as they are Uruguayan residents over the age of 18 and registered on a government database that will monitor their monthly purchases.

When the law is implemented in 120 days, Uruguayans will be able to grow six marijuana plants in their homes a year, or as much as 480 grams (about 17 ounces), and form smoking clubs of 15 to 45 members that can grow up to 99 plants per year.

Registered drug users should be able to start buying marijuana over the counter from licensed pharmacies in April.

"We begin a new experience in April. It involves a big cultural change that focuses on public health and the fight against drug trafficking," Uruguay's first lady, Senator Lucía Topolansky, told Reuters

The wreckage of a wooden steamship that sank 152 years ago in a storm on Lake Huron with no survivors has been found, according to a Michigan explorer.

What exactly happened to the Keystone State and its 33 occupants in a November 1861 voyage to Milwaukee from Detroit remains a mystery, said David Trotter, who found the wreck with his crew of explorers in July.

The 288-foot side-wheel steam ship hit rough weather and was last seen in a disabled condition off Port Austin on November 8 or 9 in 1861, Trotter said.

"She literally sailed into oblivion. Nobody heard anything from her," Trotter said in a telephone interview.

The wreck was found in 175 feet of water 30 miles northeast of Harrisville, a small city north of Lansing. The location put the wreck about 50 miles off course.

Trotter, 72, who lives in the Detroit suburb of Canton, Michigan, has found more than 100 shipwrecks on the Great Lakes over the last four decades. In 2012, Trotter and his crew discovered the New York, a 283-foot steamer that also sank in Lake Huron in 1910.

"It's a great chance to touch history to swim back into time," Trotter said of why he searches for shipwrecks.