Goodbye, Sunshine!

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Tea Party-Controlled Legislature Pushes ‘Industry-Driven’ Great Lakes Water Withdrawal Bill

By Anastasia Pantsios, EcoWatch – The Ohio legislature, dominated by a Tea Party-controlled Republican supermajority, often seems to be creating more problems than it solves. And it could be creating a problem with international ramifications. In its lame duck session, the chamber passed HB 490 last week, a water-quality bill which alters standards for withdrawing water from Lake Erie and its tributaries, and sent it to the state Senate, where it’s expected to pass. The omnibus bill contains some good things, such as new restrictions on use of fertilizers on farmland, one of the causes of last summer’s algae bloom in Lake Erie that shut off the water supply to nearly 400,000 people in the Toledo area. But there’s a lot of dissent about its new rules for the withdrawal of Lake Erie water by industrial and other heavy users. And when there’s disagreement about the impact of something this...

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Blu-ray Discs Could Help Make Better Solar Cells

By Colin Jeffrey, Gizmag – Blu-ray discs have proven themselves superior to DVDs as storage media in light of their high capacity, high definition, and higher transfer rate. Now researchers claim that Blu-ray discs have one more advantage over DVDs: they also have the ability to help markedly improve the efficiency of solar cells, when their etched information patterns are repurposed for use as light concentrators. According to new research from a team at Northwestern University, Illinois, it has been discovered that the scattering effect on light shone through the arrangement of data etched on a Blu-ray disc improves energy absorption across the spectrum of light used by solar cells. “We had a hunch that Blu-ray discs might work for improving solar cells, and, to our delight, we found the existing patterns are already very good,” said Associate Professor Jiaxing Huang, of the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied...

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Schumer: Labor’s Share of Profit Should be Core of 2016 Democratic Agenda

By Dante Atkins, Daily Kos – In a speech that sounded more like that of a liberal economist and less like that of a United States senator from New York, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) this week outlined a path forward for a Democratic victory in 2016 that will focus on increasing middle-class incomes and using government as a shield for workers against the forces of globalization, automation, and job loss through technological efficiency. The question? Whether that agenda, specifically designed to win over white working-class voters, will come at the expense of programs and proposals that help key Democratic constituencies? Schumer noted that for the first time in American history, median wages have been in decline for a decade, even as outsourcing, technology, and efficiency have increased profits at the very top. In his view, Democrats — starting in 2009 with their ascension to the presidency and large majorities in...

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The Sunday Funnies & Factoids – The ‘Too Much Scotch Makes Keith a Sad Boy’ Edition

by Keith Lennox, All-len-All – 11/30/14 Hello, gang.  Hope all is going better than good.  Just a quick intro today as I slept late after over-indulging last evening….. that Glen Fiddich character can be your best friend and worst enemy at the same time. 1) The Grammy Awards were introduced to counter the threat of rock music. In the late 1950s, a group of record executives were alarmed by the explosive success of rock ‘n roll, considering it a threat to “quality” music. 2) The final resting-place for Dr. Eugene Shoemaker – the Moon. The famed U.S. Geological Survey astronomer, trained the Apollo astronauts about craters, but never made it into space. Mr. Shoemaker had wanted to be an astronaut but was rejected because of a medical problem. His ashes were placed on board the Lunar Prospector spacecraft before it was launched on January 6, 1998. NASA crashed the...

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At Home and Abroad, UN Report Details Abysmal US Record of Abuse

Torture, indefinite detention, excessive force, and systematic discrimination and mistreatment have become part of the nation’s modern legacy by Jon Queally – An official report by the United Nations Committee Against Torture released Friday found that the United States has a long way to go if it wants to actually earn its claimed position as a leader in the world on human rights. Following a lengthy review of recent and current practices regarding torture, imprisonment, policing, immigration policies, and the overall legacy of the Bush and Obama administration’s execution of the so-called ‘War on Terror,’ the committee report(pdf) found the U.S. government in gross violation when it comes to protecting basic principles of the Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. ratified in 1994, as well as other international treaties. This was the first full review of the U.S. human rights record by the UN body since 2006 and the release of...

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Bubonic Plague Outbreak Spreads in Madagascar

By Dragos Mitrica, ZMEScience – If you thought the bubonic plague is a thing of the past… then think again! The dreadful disease is making a resurgence in the island of Madagascar, off the eastern coast of Africa. There have already been 138 suspected cases of the disease, with a total of 47 victims. You may know the black plague as a medieval disease, responsible for wiping out a third of Europe’s population in the 14th century. But while it’s been many years since the disease has actually been active on the large scale, it never really went away. The bacteria Yersinia pestis, responsible for the plague, is still here. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified patient zero: a male living in the Soamahatamana village in the Tsiroanomandidy district in Madagascar. Since, the disease seems to have spread to other cities, including the capital Antananarivo. While the disease is easily treatable...

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Calorie Counts Are Coming To Movie Theaters, Vending Machines, And Pizza Joints Near You

by TARA CULP-RESSLER – The Food and Drug Administration is releasing long-awaited rules on calorie labeling this week that will give Americans more information about the food they’re purchasing. Public health advocates are praising the regulations for going even further than they expected — requiring public calorie counts for movie theaters and vending machines in addition to chain restaurants. “This is one of the most important public health nutrition policies ever to be passed nationally,” Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a group that has been pressuring the agency to reform its food labeling practices for years, told the New York Times. “Right now, you are totally guessing at what you are getting. This rule will change that.” National calorie labeling is one of the lesser known provisions in the Affordable Care Act, which required the FDA to come up...

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OPEC Decision Likely to Crash U.S. Fracking Industry

By Anastasia Pantsios, EcoWatch – At its meeting this week in Vienna, Austria, the 12 member countries of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) voted to keep their output target unchanged despite a 30 percent slump in the oil price since June, due primarily to the explosive growth in fracking in the U.S. as well as decreasing global demand. While Venezuela made a case for an output reduction, Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil producer and exporter, pressured to keep it the same. The price immediately declined in response, dropping below $72 a barrel, a price last seen in August 2010. “There’s a price decline. That does not mean that we should really rush and do something,” OPEC secretary general Abdallah Salem el-Badri told the BBC. “We don’t want to panic. We want to see the market, how the market behaves, because the decline of the price does not reflect a fundamental change.” Russian...

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Federal Judge Finds Goodell’s Story Was A Lie, Immediately Reinstates Ray Rice To NFL

by JUDD LEGUM – An arbitrator has reinstated former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who had been suspended indefinitely for a brutal domestic violent incident, to the NFL, effective immediately. Rice is accused of assaulting his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, at an Atlantic City hotel last February. Initially, a video was released showing Rice dragging Palmer on conscious out of the casino elevator immediately following the alleged assault. In June, the NFL heard from Rice during a disciplinary hearing and suspended him for two games. In September, TMZ acquired video from inside the elevator showing the assault itself. Following the release of the video, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell claimed that Rice misled the league about what had transpired in the elevator. Goodell told CBS News that “when we met with Ray Rice and his representatives, it was ambiguous about what actually happened.” He said in a league letter that the...

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Darren Wilson, Officer who Killed Michael Brown, Resigns from Ferguson PD

The white police officer who killed Michael Brown has resigned from the Ferguson Police Department, his attorney said Saturday, nearly four months after he shot dead a black 18-year-old, fueling protests that have rocked the St. Louis suburb and the nation. Darren Wilson, 28, has been on administrative leave since the shooting on Aug. 9. His resignation was announced Saturday by one of his attorneys, Neil Bruntrager. The resignation is effective immediately, Bruntrager said. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Wilson cited security concerns as a reason behind his resignation. A grand jury spent more than three months reviewing evidence in the case before declining in November to issue any charges against Wilson. He told jurors that he feared for his life when Brown hit him and reached for a gun. The U.S. Justice Department is still conducting a civil rights investigation into the shooting and a separate probe of...

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‘This Is Only the Beginning’: Oregon GMO Labeling Measure Heads to Recount

By Andrea Germanos,, Common Dreams – Advocates of labeling genetically modified foods are cheering that an Oregon measure that would require such labeling is headed to an automatic recount. Measure 92, as Common Dreams reported earlier this month, would mandate that beginning January 2016, certain food items that were produced with or contain GMOs, also referred to as genetically engineered (GE) food, would be labeled as such. Despite the Yes on 92 campaign being greatly outspent, the final tally showed Monday that the effort was defeated by only 0.06 percentage point, less than the threshold needed to trigger a recount. The Oregonian reports that the recount will take place by December 12. “Thanks to the tireless efforts of on the ground organizers, and despite an aggressive and expensive opposition campaign, GE food labeling is still alive in Oregon,” stated Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety, an organization that...

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Amid Shrinking Abortion Rights Nationwide, an Effort to Fund Access from the Grassroots

New York Times spotlights campaign to “fund abortion travel for low-income people in Texas” by Sarah Lazare – Despite strong U.S. support for the right to choose, the past three years have seen dramatic cuts to reproductive health care access, with states passing over 231 laws restricting abortion, according to the Guttmacher institute. In the face of these cuts, impacted communities have found creative ways to help each other get needed reproductive health care, while at the same time organizing to defend abortion rights on a broad scale. An article published Thursday in the New York Times describes one such creative grassroots action. Journalist Jackie Calmes tells the story of Lenzi Sheible, who at the age of 20 is the co-founder of Fund Texas Choice, which describes itself as a “non-profit organization funding abortion travel for low-income people in Texas.” The article explains: Although longtime groups like Planned Parenthood remain active, and...

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Final Blow to Arab Spring? All Charges Dropped Against Egypt’s Mubarak

Ousted president may not walk free immediately, but court’s ruling seems to complete counter-revolution in nation that helped spark wave of uprisings by Jon Queally – In yet another blow to the Egyptian revolutionaries whose hopes have been repeatedly dashed since the protests they initiated in 2011 swept former autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak from power, a court on Saturday dropped all the remaining criminal charges, including allegations of murder, that had been levied against the nation’s former president. Al-Jazeera America reports: An Egyptian court has thrown out charges against former President Hosni Mubarak, his interior minister, and six aides over the killing of protesters during the 2011 Egyptian uprising. Chief Judge Mahmoud Kamel al-Rashidi also cleared Mubarak and his sons, Alaa and Gamal, of corruption charges related to gas exports. The judge said too much time had elapsed since the alleged crime took place for the court to rule on the matter....

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Americans Rushed To Purchase Guns This Black Friday

by IGOR VOLSKY – The FBI processed three background checks for gun purchases every secondon Friday, as more than 144,000 shoppers were expected to buy firearms on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. As of 2 p.m. Friday, an FBI spokesperson told CNN that the agency had already processed “more than 94,000 transactions, on pace to surpass last year’s 144,758.” Approximately 3,000 checks or 2 percent will not be completed as a result of insufficient information, 71 receive instant approvals, and approximately 1.1 percent of purchasers fail the check. If the government cannot complete the background check in three business days, the buyer is allowed to purchase the gun anyway. “The challenge is to have staff keep up with this volume. We do that by limiting personal leave, asking employees to work extra shifts and reutilizing former … employees to serve in NICS during this busy period,”...

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Government Data Sharpens Focus on Crude-Oil Train Routes

Local governments often unaware of potential dangers By Isaiah Thompson, special to ProPublica – The oil boom underway in North Dakota has delivered jobs to local economies and helped bring the United States to the brink of being a net energy exporter for the first time in generations. But moving that oil to the few refineries with the capacity to process it is presenting a new danger to towns and cities nationwide — a danger many appear only dimly aware of and are ill-equipped to handle. Much of North Dakota’s oil is being transported by rail, rather than through pipelines, which are the safest way to move crude. Tank carloads of crude are up 50 percent this year from last. Using rail networks has saved the oil and gas industry the time and capital it takes to build new pipelines, but the trade-off is greater risk: Researchers estimates that...

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U.S. School Meal Rules Might Work Against Good Nutrition, Study Says

HealthDay News – New federal mandates controlling the types of meals served at U.S. schools may actually promote eating habits tied to obesity and diabetes, a new study suggests. Although it’s now required that school meals contain less fat and more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, there are no rules on added sugar or extra carbohydrates, researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health explained. The researchers found schools are mainly serving processed whole grains, which are easily converted into sugar during digestion. Meanwhile, many schools are serving canned fruit, fruit juice and flavored milk, items that contain added sugar, the study found. The study’s authors said that expanding federal school meal rules to include an increase in the amount of whole grain and whole food products served, as well as limits on added sugar and processed foods, could help ensure kids are eating the right carbohydrates. They...

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UN Experts to Obama: Don’t Bend to CIA Wishes on Torture Report

Open letter reminds Obama the world is watching, urges him to release transparent torture report by Andrea Germanos – A group of United Nations human rights investigators has written to President Obama to urge him not to yield to the CIA but to release in the most transparent way possible the still-classified Senate torture report on post-9/11 abuses. The Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), has been innegotiations with the administration over redactions to the report, thus continuing to delay its release. As David Firestone wrote at the New York Times last week, Deferring to the C.I.A., the White House has blocked Democrats from informing the public as to how much torture went on in the previous administration, and how poorly it worked. The administration is refusing to allow the report to be released if it includes pseudonyms for the C.I.A. officers who participated in the torture program, claiming...

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Prosecutor Who Let Darren Wilson Slide Is Charging A Black Cop For Hitting A Suspect’s Hand

by JAMESON PARKER – A lot has been said about the shoddy way St. Louis prosecutor Bob McCullough handled his obligations to see justice done in the case of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shooting unarmed teenager Michael Brown. Many reporters and law experts have noted how McCulloch had, from the very beginning, seemed almost eager to let Darren Wilson off the hook. That intuition seemed confirmed during McCulloch’s announcement that the grand jury – typically just a formality before going to trial – had found no reason to charge Darren Wilson of any crime. During his statement, McCulloch spent a great deal of time attacking Michael Brown (the victim), attacking the media for covering the case in a way that didn’t presume Wilson’s innocence, and discrediting any witness who had made a statement contrary to Wilson’s own account of what happened. It was a dog and pony show, and...

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The Economic and Fiscal Benefits of Deferred Action

By Patrick Oakford and Philip E. Wolgin – After 17 months of inaction by House Republicans on any form of immigration reform legislation, President Barack Obama took the first step toward fixing our nation’s broken immigration system through a smart and sensible set of executive actions. Only Congress can provide a permanent and durable solution, but the president took actions that are within his authority to protect close to 5 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation, and, critically, to grant them temporary legal status and a three-year, renewable work permit. The president also announced a slew of other reforms, including increased border security; new enforcement priorities that will focus our resources on serious criminals, not their family members; and changes for entrepreneurial immigrants, foreign students, and high-skilled workers. Taken together, these actions will strengthen our economy, raise new tax revenue, and create jobs. Deferred action means higher wages and more tax...

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