TBR News March 30, 2013

Mar 30 2013

The Voice of the White House


            Washington, D.C. March 30, 2013: “An interesting week. Cyprus is planning to grab billions in their banks, belonging to rich Russians. This is so they can stay in the EU. The EU is about to collapse and Germany, France and Russia are secretly working up their own economic union. Israel is not going to attack Iran and North Korea is not going to attack the United States, no matter how many times they both hop up and down, braying like a donkey with a hot sweet potato shoved up their raddled fundaments. Millions of the brainless are flocking to Facebook and other social sites, making the FBI (and other agencies) happy because they have less work to do, spying on the American public. The Defense of Marriage nonsense will probably be negated, enraging the foaming idiots of the Christian Right who got it enacted some years ago. And there is also the usual noise about the ludicrous Shroud of Turin being authentic. In the strictest sense, it is. It is indeed a thirteenth century fake!”


Is Facebook causing Deterioration of Society as We Know It?

Is Facebook a boon or cause for concern for the mental health industry?


March 29, 2013

by Belén Fernández

Al Jazeera


             According to a New York Times article by Jan Hoffman referencing a study of the Facebook profiles of 200 university students in the United States, approximately 30 percent of the students “posted updates that met the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for a symptom of depression, reporting feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, insomnia or sleeping too much, and difficulty concentrating”. These findings are said to “echo research that suggests depression is increasingly common among college students”.


Hoffman’s point is that Facebook can therefore serve as an “early warning system for timely intervention” by parents and therapists. The article ends with a quote from a mother in Ohio: “Facebook might be a pain in the neck to keep up with… But having that extra form of communication saves lives”.


No mention is made of the obvious exacerbating influence of social networking sites when it comes to phenomena such as insomnia and concentration difficulty. Rather than promote Facebook as a life-saving tool, one could easily argue that such forums and other technological distractions in fact contribute to depressive trends.


Alienation from reality


The “Facebook Newsroom” currently lists developments such as “Today we’re rolling out improvements to timeline that help you express what’s important to you” and “Today we’re announcing a new version of Facebook designed to… focus more on stories from the people you care about”.


The attempted injection of human emotion into what is ultimately a dehumanising experience is symbolic of a general estrangement from reality in which Facebook culture is both a cause and a symptom.


The detrimental effects of the conversion of emotion and empathy into a click on a computer or a mobile phone can be observed in the following anecdote from Hoffman’s article:


“Replying to questions posted on Facebook by The New York Times, Daylina Miller, a recent graduate of the University of South Florida, said that when she poured out her sadness online, some readers responded only with the Facebook ‘like’ symbol: a thumb’s up.


‘You feel the same way?’ said Ms. Miller, puzzled. ‘Or you like that I’m sad? You’re sadistic?’”


Similarly inauspicious examples of the constriction of empathy and warping of inter-human relations include the “liking” of death announcements.


On my own Facebook feed, I’ve witnessed friends post news of a parent’s death only to be bombarded with the thumb’s up and comments to the effect of: “Sorry man!”


In addition to a cheapening of sentiment, Facebook also encourages alienation from reality by displacing the space-time continuum: instead of experiencing events and thoughts as they occur in real-time, users are often distracted by how best to market these events and thoughts to their Facebook audiences.


The transfer of the self onto a computer screen is furthermore decentring given the attendant diffusion of identity. As for the conditioned need for personal validation in the form of little red notifications appearing at the top of one’s Facebook page, this is conducive to a state of perennial anticipation that is counterproductive to the functioning of the nervous system. Posts on bowel movements and the like are an extreme example of the need to reiterate, and obtain acknowledgement of, one’s fragmented existence.


Though the Internet may compound the schizophrenic nature of US society, there are clearly more established causes of dehumanisation and individual alienation. The national glorification of violence and militarism, for one, abrogates realities of human suffering worldwide; in this context of dedicated estrangement from humanity, it is not overly surprising when citizens devoid of empathy perpetrate acts such as the 2012 Connecticut school massacre.


Mass attention deficit disorder


The ostensible function of social networking sites is, of course, to bring people closer together. The same function is attributed to the process of neoliberal globalisation.


Despite obvious superficial increases in interconnectedness in both cases, however, the fundamental outcome is alienating. In the latter instance, ‘interconnectedness’ has been characterized by enhanced disparity in socioeconomic conditions and a crusade for profit at the expense of communal wellbeing. In the former, the face-to-face contact for which human beings are programmed is replaced with electronic exchanges incapable of satisfying innate communication needs.


Willful misinterpreters of contemporary history continue to argue that globalization constitutes the solution to the very global ills it creates. In vaguely similar fashion, Hoffman’s New York Times article portrays Facebook as a potentially useful aid in the quest to promote mental health when the two concepts appear to be inherently at odds.


The neoliberal experiment in the US has helped mold a society disconnected from the human condition, where oppression of the individual has aimed to thwart popular solidarity that might threaten the experiment. What should be a universal right to health care, for example, is instead wielded punitively against the population, and, as acclaimed journalist and radio host Doug Henwood points out, “Obamacare” will presumably result in a situation in which “scores of millions are thrown onto the private individual insurance market and forced to pay $1,000 a month for crappy coverage”.


Henwood hopes that “this could vastly increase the constituency for a single-payer scheme, such as Medicare for All—assuming our rulers don’t destroy Medicare first”.


In the end, perhaps Facebook and similar phenomena have already contributed to solidarity on the health care front: in the very least, we’re united in mass attention deficit disorder.





Facebook is a water hole for the tiny of intellect and those weighted down with a (entirely justified) sense of useless- and worthlessness. Also, an FBI person told me recently that the GPS buttons they can (and do) slap under the fender of your car, and Facebook, makes their growing ability to spy on and and all Americans so much easier.

Who realy cares if Susan’s mother was eaten by trolls?

Or if her daughter’s raging acne is clearing up?

Or that Jimmy’s new job nutting sheep is improving his posture? 

Or that some budding mixed-blood actress’ tits melted in the hot sun of a Mexican beach?

Couldn’t she just cut them off, tan them and make tobacco pouches out of them instead of whimpering on Facebook?  

The entire subject of Facebook and other “social sites” can be best summed up with two words: Who Cares?


I never found the chatter of monkeys, high in the trees of the rain forests, to be of any interest.

I find the chatter of Christian fundamentalists to be equally pointless.

I find the denizens of the far left and far right to be random hoots from the back wards of lunatic asylums.


Good therapy for the dim of wit and feeble of mind.

The extremely low educational standards in the United States have produced an entire generation that can barely spell the filthy writing on public toilet walls, let alone attempt Malthus or LeBon.

“Social networking” has replaced news reporting because the average American has no interests in anything but their own pathetic lumps and excrescences.

If a plague broke out in over-crowded Cairo or Mumbai and swept the world, killing hundreds of millions, it would certainly improve matters tremendously, wouldn’t it?

Screeching gays, howling Muslim and Christian fundamentalists would all fall silent and all we would hear, those of us who survived, is the crunching of shovels as the rotting dead were buried.

The Last Blogger would be howling about the huge Jewish plots before he toppled off his stool and joined his rotting family on the stained carpet.

A book I recommend. ‘Watchers by the Pond’. There you can see the balance of things in the wild, untrammeled by “Christian” screechings, niche-group fartings and all.

‘Scientific American’ did a wonderful article, on the Internet, about the over-breeding problems of rats.

That, along with Malthus, ought to be read but again, who can read?

And as I said before, who cares?

Is God a concept, a force or a dirty old man with a long, stained nightgown and beard a la Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel depictions?

Good old Michelangelo who made his women look like resting weight-lifters and dreamed of pretty boys with big cocks!

More culture for the dim of wit, elevated editions.

I vividly recall a family of American tourists struggling on the sidewalk of Florence whilst the chubby, sweaty fifteen year old daughter brayed: “Mommy, I want to see the David!”

True culture from a dentist’s daughter from Scarsdale!

Turin shroud makes rare appearance on TV amid claims that it is not a forgery


Cloth seen by Catholics as burial shroud of Jesus, and medieval forgery by scientists, to be shown on TV for first time in 30 years


March 28, 2013

by Lizzy Davies in Rome

The Guardian 

            The shroud of Turin is to be shown on television for the first time in 30 years on Easter Saturday as a new claim that the four-metre-long linen cloth dates from ancient times proves its enduring ability to fascinate and perplex.

            As what the Vatican described as his parting gift to the Roman Catholic church before he resigned, Benedict XVI signed off on a special 90-minute broadcast of the shroud that will take place from Turin cathedral and be introduced in a brief preamble by his successor, Pope Francis.


            “It will be a message of intense spiritual scope, charged with positivity, which will help hope never to be lost,” said the archbishop of Turin, Cesare Nosiglia.


            Timed to mark the 30th anniversary of the shroud’s last appearance on TV – ordered by Pope Paul VI in 1973 – the unusual programme on the state broadcaster Rai comes as the new pope, the former cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, prepares for his first Easter as head of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.


            It also comes amid new claims that the piece of fabric, which many Catholics believe Jesus was buried in, does indeed date from around his lifetime. Previous tests apparently confirmed the shroud to be a clever medieval forgery.


            Giulio Fanti, associate professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at Padua University, claims tests had shown that the cloth, which bears the image of a man’s face and body, dates from between 280BC and 220AD.


            Fanti, a Catholic, claims that the carbon-14 dating used in a landmark study in 1988 was “not statistically reliable”. That study claimed that the “shroud” actually dated from the Middle Ages. But the mystery of the cloth has lingered ever since.


            The Vatican does not have a position on its authenticity. When he was still cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the previous pope wrote that the shroud was “a truly mysterious image, which no human artistry was capable of producing”.


            Fanti’s results are detailed in a new book, Il Mistero della Sindone (The Mystery of the Shroud), written by him and journalist Saverio Gaeta.


            Although it is rarely displayed, Catholics and historians keen for a closer look at the shroud will be able to study it at their leisure with the help of a new app launched on Friday. Users of smart phones and tablets will be able to download the multilingual application for free and examine detailed images of the shroud courtesy of high-definition technology.


            On Thursday the Catholic church’s first Latin American leader celebrates the Holy Thursday mass in a youth detention centre on the outskirts of Rome, where he will wash the feet of a dozen prisoners.


            On Friday he will lead a Good Friday procession from the Colosseum marking the stations of the cross and on Easter Sunday he will celebrate mass in St Peter’s square and give the traditional Urbi et Orbi – “to the city [of Rome] and to the world”– blessing. Tens of thousands of pilgrims are expected to attend.


            Comment: A few years ago the so-called Shroud of Turin was front-page news. An image of a naked man impressed upon a linen cloth had been traced by historians as far back as the 14th century, and was rumored to be the actual burial cloth of the Son of God. Scholarly opinion on ancient crucifixion and burial customs, and the almost magical nature of the image itself convinced many people that in touching this cloth they were touching material that had contacted the body of Jesus Himself. Because of the holiness of this relic, it seemed almost sacrilegious to submit a part of the shroud to radio-carbon dating. So partly for technical reasons and partly from religious inertia, scientific requests for shroud material were refused by its custodians. No science please.

            The advent of more sensitive techniques that used smaller samples to make an accurate dating changed things. In 1988, samples of the shroud were sent to three separate  and highly regarded forensic labs, and the results came back, substantially the same, that the linen in the cloth dated from 1260-1390 AD, giving credence to the hypothesis that the shroud was a medieval forgery. That’s what we think now. But scholars are free to question this conclusion (and some do)–that’s the way science works. Questioning authority is not only permitted in science–it is mandatory.


            However, a detailed analysis of the so-called “radient energy” image of Jesus on the cloth has very clearly shown that it was the result of painting a model with egg tempera paint and then having the cloth pressed on his modestly-draped nude body.

            The number of faked relics from the Middle Ages is astronomical and often nonsensical. The greasy bones of St. Agnes, kissed, fondled and venerated for generations, have proven to be the spinal bones of a sheep while the Spear of Destiny, allegedly the spear thrust into a crucified Jesus by a Roman centurion is, without a question, a Saxon spear point dating from 700 AD.


            The cathedrals of Europe abound with the skulls of small children alleged to be this or that saint and it is a very old joke to remark that there are enough samples of the True Cross around to build a small house. People will believe what they wish but when you see the skull of St. Stephan in a jeweled casket in a church in Austria as a boy of twelve, laughter replaces awe every time.


SAC hedge fund manager arrested by FBI in insider trading investigation


Reports say Michael Steinberg has been charged with conspiracy and securities fraud after FBI raid on his home


March 29, 2013

Associated Press in New York


            A portfolio manager for the hedge fund operator SAC Capital Advisors has been arrested in New York City as part of a federal insider trading investigation.


            The FBI says Michael Steinberg was arrested at 6am Friday at his home. It declined to specify the charges but the Wall Street Journal reported Steinberg had been charged with conspiracy and securities fraud.


            His attorney says in a statement that Steinberg “did absolutely nothing wrong.”


             Attorney Barry H Berke says Steinberg was “caught in the crossfire of aggressive investigations” into other people’s activities.


            At least four other people associated with the Stamford-based firm have been arrested over a period of about four years.


            On March 15, the Securities and Exchange Commission said that two affiliates of SAC Capital Advisors would pay more than $614m in what federal regulators called the largest insider trading settlement ever. The settlement is subject to court approval.


ACLU challenges ‘stingray surveillance’ that allows police to track cellphones


Civil liberties activists asking federal court to disallow evidence obtained by technology that mimics a genuine cellphone tower


March 28, 2013

by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles



A secretive technology which lets police locate and track people through their cellphones in alleged violation of the US constitution will be challenged in a potential landmark court case on Thursday.


The American Civil Liberties Union hopes to rein in the little known but widespread “stingray” surveillance devices which it claims violate the fourth amendment and the right to privacy.


The group will urge a federal court in Arizona to disregard evidence obtained by a stingray in what could be a test case for limiting the technology’s use without a warrant.


The case revolves around Daniel Rigmaiden, a hacker accused of leading a gang of sophisticated identity thieves which allegedly stole millions of dollars by filing bogus tax returns.


“We hope that the court sends the clear message to the government that it cannot keep judges in the dark. Judges are not rubber stamps – they are constitutional safeguards of our privacy,” Linda Lyle, the attorney leading the case, wrote in an ACLU blog post on Wednesday.


The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group, submitted an amicus brief with the ACLU, calling stingrays “the biggest technological threat to cellphone privacy that you don’t know about”.


A stingray mimics a cellphone tower, prompting a phone to connect to it even if no call is made. This lets a stingray operator send a signal to the phone, locate it and in some cases intercept conversations. The device sweeps up data from other people nearby, regardless of whether they are the focus of the investigation.


Stingray is the generic name for the technology. Similar devices, typically the size of a shoebox, have different names such as Triggerhead and Kingfish.


The FBI and other law enforcement agencies have used the technology at least since 2008 but according to the ACLU they have routinely concealed or downplayed its role in surveillance requests to federal magistrate judges.


“By withholding information about this technology from courts in applications for electronic surveillance orders, the federal government is essentially seeking to write its own search warrants,” said Lyle.


Through a Freedom of Information Act request the ACLU recently obtained what it called “troubling” emails dated May 2011 from Department of Justice officials in northern California who acknowledged not being explicit about stingrays in court applications for electronic surveillance.


“It shows that the government was engaged in a widespread practice of withholding important information for judges, and that it did so for years,” said Lyle.


The EFF said in a statement that the technology’s unrestricted use violated the fourth amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures:


“If uninformed courts approve the unregulated use of stingrays, they are essentially allowing the government to enter into the home via a cellular signal at law enforcement’s discretion and rummage at will without any supervision. The government can’t simply use technology to upend centuries of constitutional law to conduct a search they would be prevented from doing physically.”


The FBI so values the technology it has a policy of deleting the data it gathers to keep suspects in the dark about its capabilities, the Wall Street Journal reported.


Privacy right advocates including the Electronic Privacy Information Center have rallied around the case of Rigmaiden, 32, who faces charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and aggravated identity theft in an alleged scam which netted $4m in multiple bank accounts.


Rigmaiden has pleaded innocence and wants US district judge David Campbell to throw out evidence obtained by stingrays on grounds it violated his constitutional rights.


Prosecutors have argued Rigmaiden did not have reasonable “privacy expectations” in the whereabouts of his Verizon mobile broadband card and thus agents were not obliged to obtain a warrant.



Global internet slows after ‘biggest attack in history’


March 27, 2013

by Dave Lee Technology reporter,

BBC News


The internet around the world has been slowed down in what security experts are describing as the biggest cyber-attack of its kind in history.


A row between a spam-fighting group and hosting firm has sparked retaliation attacks affecting the wider internet.


It is having an impact on popular services like Netflix – and experts worry it could escalate to affect banking and email systems.


Five national cyber-police-forces are investigating the attacks.


Spamhaus, a group based in both London and Geneva, is a non-profit organisation that aims to help email providers filter out spam and other unwanted content.


To do this, the group maintains a number of blocklists – a database of servers known to be being used for malicious purposes.


Recently, Spamhaus blocked servers maintained by Cyberbunker, a Dutch web host that states it will host anything with the exception of child pornography or terrorism-related material.


Sven Olaf Kamphuis, who claims to be a spokesman for Cyberbunker, said, in a message, that Spamhaus was abusing its position, and should not be allowed to decide “what goes and does not go on the internet”.


Spamhaus has alleged that Cyberbunker, in cooperation with “criminal gangs” from Eastern Europe and Russia, is behind the attack.


Cyberbunker has not responded to the BBC’s request for comment.


‘Immense job’


Steve Linford, chief executive for Spamhaus, told the BBC the scale of the attack was unprecedented.


“We’ve been under this cyber-attack for well over a week.



“But we’re up – they haven’t been able to knock us down. Our engineers are doing an immense job in keeping it up – this sort of attack would take down pretty much anything else.”


Mr Linford told the BBC that the attack was being investigated by five different national cyber-police-forces around the world.


He claimed he was unable to disclose more details because the forces were concerned that they too may suffer attacks on their own infrastructure.


The attackers have used a tactic known as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), which floods the intended target with large amounts of traffic in an attempt to render it unreachable.


In this case, Spamhaus’s Domain Name System (DNS) servers were targeted – the infrastructure that joins domain names, such as bbc.co.uk, the website’s numerical internet protocol address.


Mr Linford said the attack’s power would be strong enough to take down government internet infrastructure.


“If you aimed this at Downing Street they would be down instantly,” he said. “They would be completely off the internet.”


He added: “These attacks are peaking at 300 Gbps (gigabits per second).


“Normally when there are attacks against major banks, we’re talking about 50 Gbps”


Clogged-up motorway


The knock-on effect is hurting internet services globally, said Prof Alan Woodward, a cybersecurity expert at the University of Surrey.


“If you imagine it as a motorway, attacks try and put enough traffic on there to clog up the on and off ramps,” he told the BBC.


“With this attack, there’s so much traffic it’s clogging up the motorway itself.”


Arbor Networks, a firm which specialises in protecting against DDoS attacks, also said it was the biggest such attack they had seen.


“The largest DDoS attack that we have witnessed prior to this was in 2010, which was 100 Gbps. Obviously the jump from 100 to 300 is pretty massive,” said Dan Holden, the company’s director of security research.


“There’s certainly possibility for some collateral damage to other services along the way, depending on what that infrastructure looks like.”


Spamhaus said it was able to cope as it has highly distributed infrastructure in a number of countries.


The group is supported by many of the world’s largest internet companies who rely on it to filter unwanted material.


Mr Linford told the BBC that several companies, such as Google, had made their resources available to help “absorb all of this traffic”.


The attacks typically happened in intermittent bursts of high activity.


“They are targeting every part of the internet infrastructure that they feel can be brought down,” Mr Linford said.


“Spamhaus has more than 80 servers around the world. We’ve built the biggest DNS server around.”


Cyberattack on anti-spam group has ripple effects


March 27, 2013

by Raphael Satter 



             LONDON (AP) — An Internet watchdog group responsible for keeping ads for counterfeit Viagra and bogus weight-loss pills out of inboxes around the world has been hit by a huge cyberattack, a crushing electronic onslaught that one expert said had already had ripple effects across the Web.


Spam-fighting organization Spamhaus said Wednesday that it had been buffeted by a massive denial-of-service attack since mid-March, apparently from groups angry at being blacklisted by the Geneva-based group.


“It is a small miracle that we’re still online,” Spamhaus researcher Vincent Hanna said in an interview.


Denial-of-service attacks work by overwhelming target servers with traffic — like hundreds of letters being jammed through a mail slot at the same time. In a blog post, San Francisco-based CloudFlare, Inc. said the attackers were taking advantage of weaknesses in the Internet’s infrastructure to trick servers from across the Internet into routing billions of bits of junk traffic to Spamhaus every second.


The attack could be bad news for email users, many of whose incoming messages are checked against Spamhaus’s widely used and constantly updated blacklists.


Hanna said that his site had so far managed to stay on top of the spammers, but warned that being knocked offline could give them an opening to step up their mailings.


The sheer size of the attack has already affected Internet users elsewhere, according to Patrick Gilmore of Akamai Technologies.


He explained that colleagues at other Internet service providers had been in touch to say their services were affected by the attack. He declined to identify them — saying they had shared the information on a confidential basis — but said problems include sluggish access and dropped connections.



Gay marriage: Doma faces uncertain future as court questions law’s validity


Anthony Kennedy suggests Defense of Marriage Act intrudes on states’ rights, while supreme court’s liberal justices paint it as discriminatory


March 28, 2013

by Chris McGreal



US supreme court justices strongly challenged a federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriages as discriminatory, motivated by prejudice and diminishing the power of individual states to regulate marriage.


            On the second day of historic hearings about gay unions, the 1996 Defence of Marriage Act (Doma) was left facing an uncertain future. The court’s usual swing vote on social issues, Justice Anthony Kennedy, aligned with the four liberal judges to strongly question the legitimacy of the law and the authority of the federal government to impose a definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman on those US states which permit same-sex unions. The law prevents same-sex spouses from receiving federal benefits, tax breaks and some legal protections.


             Kennedy bolstered the expectations of Doma’s opponents by emphasising his concerns that the law intrudes on the rights of individual states to recognise gay marriages.


            “When it has 1,100 laws, which in our society means that the federal government is intertwined with [its] citizens’ day-to-day lives, you are at real risk of running in conflict with what has always been thought to be the essence of the state police power, which is to regulate marriage, divorce and custody,” he said.


            The challenge to Doma was brought by Edith Windsor, who was married to Thea Spyer in Canada in 2007. The couple lived in New York, where their marriage was recognised by the state government. But when Spyer died in 2009, the federal government invoked Doma to force Windsor, who is now 83 and in poor health, to pay $363,000 in taxes on her late wife’s estate – a charge she would have been exempt from had she been married to a man.


            The liberal justices at times found themselves in the unusual position of backing Kennedy’s emphasis on states’ rights – a position usually defended by the court’s conservatives – as they painted Doma as unreasonably discriminating against legally married same-sex couples. Nine states and Washington DC recognise gay weddings.


            “It really diminishes what states have said about marriage,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


            She dismissed descriptions of Doma as merely having an administrative impact, saying it “affects every area of life” for gay couples, and creates “two kinds of marriage”.


            “The full marriage, and then this sort of skim-milk marriage,” she said.


            Justice Elena Kagan questioned the motivation for the law, saying Congress passed it in a climate of “animus” and “dislike” of homosexuals, and of “moral judgement”.


            Justice Stephen Breyer asked why it is necessary to single out gay people as subject to a law barring them from equal treatment. He called the discrimination “irrational” in law.


             Kennedy’s statements had opponents of Doma predicting he will ally himself with the liberal justices to strike down the law. But even if it is ruled unconstitutional, that will not establish a right to gay marriage – merely an obligation on the federal government to recognise it in those states where it is legal.


            The Obama administration has already repudiated the legislation and supports federal court rulings against it.


            The US solicitor general, Donald Verrilli, told the supreme court that refusing to recognise gay marriages is not like other forms of discrimination because of the impact on people’s lives, and said it breaches equal protection clauses in the constitution.


            Verrilli said gay people were a “persecuted minority” and asked why the spouse of a gay soldier killed in the line of duty should not receive the same benefits as those given to heterosexual couples.


            “The question before the court is whether the exclusion that Doma imposes violates equal protection, and it does violate equal protection because you can’t treat this as though it were just a distinction between optometrists and ophthalmologists, as the Lee Optical case did. This is a different kind of a situation because the discrimination here is being visited on a group that has historically been subject to terrible discrimination,” he said.


             However, Verrilli faced questions over whether obliging the federal government to recognise same-sex marriages where they are legal would not create another kind of discrimination against gay couples in states where they are not.


            Paul Clement, the former US solicitor general who argued and lost the case against Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms, defended Doma as merely creating uniformity in how same sex couples are treated across the country for administrative purposes. He said the law does not intrude on states’ rights because it does not regulate marriage but creates a framework for the implementation of policies on benefits and taxation.


            “The federal government is saying that within its own realm in federal policies, where we assume that the federal government has the authority to define the terms that appear in their own statute, that in those areas, they are going to have their own definition,” said Clement.


            Kagan questioned the idea that the law is merely administrative by quoting from the House of Representatives’ own report on the debate during the passing of Doma in 1996, which states that “Congress decided to reflect an honour of collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality”.


             Clement said that was not enough to make the legislation unconstitutional. “Does the House Report say that? Of course the House Report says that. And if that’s enough to invalidate the statute, then you should invalidate the statute. But that has never been your approach, especially under rational basis or even rational basis-plus, if that is what you are suggesting,” he said.


            But Kagan said that the motivation behind the legislation should cause the court to give it special scrutiny.


            “So we have a whole series of cases which suggest the following: which suggest that when Congress targets a group that is not everybody’s favourite group in the world, that we look at those cases with some rigour to say: do we really think that Congress was doing this for uniformity reasons, or do we think that Congress’s judgment was infected by dislike, by fear, by animus, and so forth?”


            She said: “I guess the question that this statute raises, this statute that does something that’s really never been done before, is whether that sends up a pretty good red flag that that’s what was going on.”


            The case, coming a day after the supreme court considered the constitutional legitimacy of a California referendum that overturned same-sex marriage in the state, pitted the White House against Republican leaders in Congress angered that the Obama administration will no longer defend Doma.


            Before the justices heard arguments over the law’s constitutionality, they considered opinions over whether Congress had the right to defend Doma. The court appointed its own lawyer, Vicki Jackson, to present the case for why Congress does not have “standing” to take legal action.


            Jackson told the justices that once Congress passes laws, responsibility for enforcing them shifts to the executive, and the legislature ceases to have active involvement. Jackson also said the supreme court should not consider the case because it was resolved by the Obama administration’s decision not to challenge federal court rulings overturning Doma.


            But Justice Antonin Scalia waded in to suggest that the supreme court has a role to play, because the federal government has taken the unusual step of no longer defending a law still on the statute books even while enforcing it.


            “I’m wondering if we’re living in this new world where the attorney general can simply decide: yeah, it’s unconstitutional, but it’s not so unconstitutional that I’m not willing to enforce it. If we’re in this new world, I don’t want these cases like this to come before this court all the time,” said Scalia.


Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned Clement over whether a committee founded by the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives specifically to defend Doma — the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, known as Blag — has the legal authority to act in the name of Congress. “Can you tell me where the authorisation is here?” she asked.


Clement said Blag had been authorised by a vote of the entire House.


Edith Windsor’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, questioned whether a majority could strip a minority of their rights — referring specifically to the case the court heard on Tuesday over the Proposition 8 referendum in California, which reversed a gay marriage law.


Roberts pressed her on whether change came about because of political lobbying or popular attitudes.


“The fact of the matter is, Mr Chief Justice, is that no other group in recent history has been subjected to popular referenda to take away rights that have already been given or exclude those rights, the way gay people have,” she said.



U.S. Sea Level Rise Along East Coast To Accelerate With Gulf Stream Slowdown


From Climate Central’s Michael D. Lemonick:

Huffington Post


 Experts on the sea level rise triggered by climate change have long known that it will proceed faster in some places than others. The mid-Atlantic coast of the U.S. is one of them, and the reason — in theory, anyway — is that global warming should slow the flow of the Gulf Stream as it moves north and then east toward northern Europe.


Now there’s a smoking gun that appears to validate the theory. A study in the February Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans ties the measured acceleration of sea level rise in this area to a simultaneous slowdown in the flow of the Gulf Stream. “There have been several papers showing (sea level rise) acceleration,” said lead author Tal Ezer, of Old Dominion University’s Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography. “This new paper confirms the hypothesis for why it’s happening.”


Even without faster-than-average sea level rise, America’s East Coast would be at high risk. On average, scientists have projected that the oceans should rise by about 3 feet by 2100, inundating low-lying land, contaminating water supplies and undermining roads, airports, port facilities and power plants. Add the storm surges that come with hurricanes and other severe weather, and the danger gets even worse. A worldwide average of 8 inches of sea level rise since 1900 has already put millions of Americans at risk; 3 feet more will greatly multiply that risk; and the even higher levels that Americans could see will be a very bitter icing on top of that already unpleasant cake.


The slowing of the Gulf Steam is not the only reason the U.S. coast will see higher sea level than the world average in coming decades, Ezer said. In some places, the land itself is slowly sinking as it readjusts to the disappearance of continental ice sheets more than 10,000 years ago.


But that process can’t explain why sea level rise should actually be speeding up, as a report in the Journal of Coastal Research documented in October 2012. Another study, which appeared in Nature Climate Change in June 2012, showed the same thing, and suggested that a Gulf Stream slowdown could be a contributing factor. Ezer’s own paper in Geophysical Research Letters in September 2012, documented the phenomenon in Chesapeake Bay, and once again, suggested the Gulf Stream’s possible role.


What makes this new study different is that it includes actual measurements of the Gulf Stream’s flow, from instruments mounted on underwater cables that stretch across the Florida Strait. It also uses satellite altimeter data to document changes in the height of the ocean from one side of the Gulf Stream to the other. Normally, the northeasterly flow of the stream literally pulls water away from the coast.


“It keeps coastal sea level a meter or a meter and a half lower than the rest of the ocean,” Ezer said. In recent years, however, the satellites show that the midpoint of the Gulf Stream doesn’t have as high an elevation as it used to, and that the edges aren’t quite as low — again, evidence that the stream itself is starting to slow down.


Theory says this is just what should be happening. Ordinarily, the Gulf Stream brings warm surface water from the tropics up along the U.S. coast, and then across to the eastern North Atlantic, where it cools and sinks to the bottom of the sea. The cold bottom water then flows south to the tropics, where it gradually warms, rises to the surface, and begins flowing north again. This constant flow, which meanders through all of the world’s oceans is sometimes called the global ocean conveyor belt, and the section that operates in the North Atlantic is called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation.


In a warming world, two things happen to throw a monkey wrench into the conveyor belt. First, melting ice, mostly from Greenland, dilutes the surface waters where the Gulf Stream reaches its northernmost extent. Since fresh water is less dense than salty water, the water has a more difficult time sinking to begin its journey southward. Second, the surface water is warmer than it used to be, and since warm water is less dense than cold water, this just adds to the problem.


Put the two together and you start to jam up the works, with the result that the whole conveyor belt slows down. And the water along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. begins to rise at an accelerating rate. While scientists expect sea level to rise by about 3 feet over the next 90 years or so, in places like New York City and Norfolk, Va., it could be significantly more. New York, where sea level is already a foot higher than it was in 1900, was just reminded of what happens when higher seas are pushed ashoreby a major event like Superstorm Sandy.


Add several more feet of sea level to that destructive equation, and the potential destruction is difficult to imagine.



US military veterans face inadequate care after returning from war – report


Study for Congress has ‘serious misgivings’ about government’s treatment of US troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan


March 26, 2013

by Karen McVeigh in New York



Almost half of the 2.2 million troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan report difficulties on their return home, but many receive inadequate care from the US Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs, according to a new study published on Tuesday.


The Institute of Medicine report, requested by Congress and funded by the Pentagon, expressed “serious misgivings” about methods used to treat the “significant numbers” of returning veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and substance use disorder. It cited tools and treatments used by the DOD which had “no clear scientific evidence base” and said more needed to be done to evaluate their effectiveness.


The study, aimed at examining lingering problems of veterans returning from both conflicts, also called into question a Defense Department policy which bans restricting access to private weapons “even if a service member is at risk from suicide”.


It examined veteran suicides, high unemployment rates and also the ramifications of the “high rates” of military sexual assault, all issues that have attracted recent congressional attention.


George Rutherford, the report’s co-author, said DOD had been slow to address the needs of returning veterans.


“Although several federal agencies are actively trying to address the support needs of current and former service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as their families, the response has been slow and has not matched the magnitude of this population’s requirements as many cope with a complex set of health, economic, and other challenges” said Rutherfold, chair of the IOM’s committee on the assessment of readjustment needs of military personnel, veterans, and their families.


“The number of people affected, the influx of returning personnel as the conflicts wind down, and the potential long-term consequences of their service heighten the urgency of putting the appropriate knowledge and resources in place to make re-entry into post-deployment life as easy as possible.”


The IOM, an independent nonprofit organisation, is part of the National Academy of Sciences.


Among its key conclusions, the report said:


• The DOD and the VA should do more to assess the efficacy and adequacy of treatment, especially if it is to be offered nationally. The tool used to assess cognitive function after a brain injury has “no clear scientific base” and the “Acceptance and Commitment” therapy used by the VA for depression “lacks sufficient scientific evidence to support its use as a first line intervention”, it said.


• Research shows that restricting access to lethal weapons prevents suicides, but, the report found that, even if a service member is at risk for suicide, DOD policy prohibits restricting that individual’s access to privately owned weapons. In 2010, half of all the 300 military suicides were by those who had deployed in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the report said. An estimated 22 veterans take their own lives every day, according to a VA report last month.


• It recommends that the DOD and VA “expand its definition of family” to include unmarried partners, same sex couples single parents and stepfamilies.


• It calls on the DOD and VA to work together “link and integrate” their databases to share data to track problems of personnel more effectively. A “large array” of relevant data, which could be used to answer key questions about re-adjustment, are being collected by several federal departments and agencies, the comprehensively analysed to answer many key questions about readjustment, the committee said.


• The DOD should make reducing domestic violence a priority, to combat the “troubling rise” in domestic violence in service members returning from deployment, “typically involving abuse of spouses or neglect of children”.


The 500-plus page report found that 44% of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan reported difficulties. Up to one in five suffers from PTSD, while a similar number have mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), the report says. Some have overlapping health conditions, most commonly PTSD, substance use disorder, depression and symptoms related to mild TBI. It noted that the unemployment rate among veterans aged 18-24 was over 30%, compared to 16% for civilians.


This month, members of Congress sent a letter to the chiefs of DOD and VA seeking data to investigate a new theory linking TBI with the military’s suicide crisis.


It warned that veterans’ needs would take decades to peak, based on previous conflicts, highlighting the need to manage current problems and plan for future ones.


Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which represents 200,000 people, said the IoM report was “spot on”.


“It confirms a lot of things that our members are telling us on the ground,” said Tarantino. “The majority of veterans don’t have problems but the ones that do, the Department of Defense are just too slow to implement changes.”


Citing the IOM’s recommendation for the DoD and the VA to have linked databases, Tarantino said it was “astonishing and inexcusable” that it hadn’t already happened.


In April 2009, President Obama promised a unified lifetime electronic health record for armed servicemen and women “from the day they first enlist to the day that they are laid to rest”.


But four years later, said Tarantino, it still hasn’t happened. The inability of the VA and the DoD to “electronically talk to each other” remains one of the biggest obstacles to getting quality of care, he said.


Asked about the DoD’s use of treatment which had no scientific base, Tarantino quoted General George Patton, who said “a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week”.


“There is a lot we didn’t know about these injuries. Even in 2013 we still don’t know as much about PTSD that we should. It’s critical that we move to evidence-based practice and have a clear way forward.”



US nuclear-capable bombers complete training mission in South Korea


US military announces B-2 stealth bomber drills amid threats of nuclear strikes from North Korea


March 28, 2013


The US has taken the unprecedented step of publicly announcing that two of its nuclear-capable B-2 bombers have taken part in military exercises with South Korea, dropping dummy munitions on an island range, in what is taken to be a show of force following weeks of North Korean hostility.


The announcement on Thursday is likely to further enrage Pyongyang, which has already issued a flood of ominous statements to highlight its displeasure at the exercises and at UN sanctions over its nuclear test last month.


But there were signs on Thursday that it is willing to go only so far. A North Korean industrial plant operated with South Korean know-how was running normally, despite the north’s shutdown a day earlier of communication lines ordinarily used to coordinate the movement of workers and goods across the border.


US Forces Korea said that the B-2 stealth bombers had flown from Missouri. It is unclear whether America’s stealth bombers have taken part in past exercises with South Korea, but this is the first time the military has announced their use. The revelation follows an earlier US announcement that nuclear-capable B-52 bombers participated in the joint drills.


North Korea sees the exercises as part of a US plot to invade and becomes particularly upset about US nuclear activities in the region. Washington and Seoul say the drills are routine and defensive.


North Korea has already threatened nuclear strikes on Washington and Seoul in recent weeks. It said on Wednesday that there was no need for communication in a situation “where a war may break out at any moment”. Earlier this month, it announced that it considers the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953 void.


But Pyongyang would have gone beyond words, possibly damaging its own weak finances, if it had blocked South Koreans from getting in and out of the Kaesong industrial plant, which produced $470m worth of goods last year. South Korean managers at the plant reported no indication of trouble on Thursday.


Analysts see a full-blown North Korean attack as extremely unlikely, though there are fears of a more localised conflict, such as a naval skirmish in disputed Yellow Sea. Such clashes have happened three times since 1999.


The Kaesong plant, just across the heavily fortified demilitarized zone that separates the two countries, normally relies on a military hotline by which the governments coordinate the movement of goods and South Korean workers.


Without the hotline, the countries, which do not have diplomatic relations with each other, used go-betweens. North Korea verbally approved the movement of hundreds of cross-border workers on Thursday by telling South Koreans at a management office at the Kaesong factory. Those South Koreans then called officials in their own country.


Both governments prohibit direct contact with citizens on the other side, but the Kaesong plant has separate telephone lines that allow South Korean managers there to communicate with people at home.


Factory managers at Kaesong reached by AP by telephone at the factory said the overall mood there was normal.


“Tension rises almost every year when it’s time for the US-South Korean drills to take place, but as soon as those drills end, things quickly return to normal,” Sung Hyun-sang said in Seoul, a day after returning from Kaesong. He is president of Mansun Corporation, a clothing manufacturer that employs 1,400 North Korean workers and regularly stations 12 South Koreans at Kaesong.


“I think and hope that this time won’t be different,” Sung said.


Technically, the divided Korean peninsula remains in a state of war. North Korea last shut down communications at Kaesong four years ago, and that time some workers were temporarily stranded.


This time, South Korea urged the north to quickly restore the hotline, and the US state department said the shutdown was unconstructive.


North Korea’s latest threats are seen as efforts to provoke the new government in Seoul, led by President Park Geun-hye, to change its policies toward Pyongyang. Its moves to order troops into “combat readiness” also are seen as ways to build domestic unity as young leader Kim Jong-un, who took power after his father’s death in December 2011, strengthens his military credentials.


The Kaesong complex is the last major symbol of inter-Korean co-operation. Other projects set up during a previous era of detente have stopped as tension has risen in recent years.


At the border on Thursday, a trio of uniformed South Korean soldiers stood to one side of a gate as white trucks rumbled through, carrying large pipes and containers to Kaesong.


The suspended hotline, which consists of two telephone lines, two fax lines and two dual-purpose lines, is almost the last remaining direct link between the two countries.


North Korea in recent weeks has cut other phone and fax hotlines – with South Korea’s Red Cross and with the American-led UN command at the border. But three hotlines used only to exchange information about air traffic were still operating normally on Thursday, according to South Korea’s air traffic centre.


In 2010, relations between the countries reached one of their lowest points in decades followimng a North Korean artillery bombardment of a South Korean island and a South Korean warship sinking blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack. A total of 50 South Koreans died.


Guest worker deal clears way for US immigration bill


Reports say Senator Charles Schumer has brokered deal between heads of Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO


March 30, 2013

by Matt Williams in New York




             Business leaders in the US have reportedly reached agreement with the nation’s largest federation of unions over a proposed guest worker programme for low-skilled migrants – a move that would seemingly clear the way for an immigration reform bill in Congress.


The Associated Press and the New York Times carried stories on Saturday claiming that the Democrat Senator Charles Schumer had brokered a deal between Thomas Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, and Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, on Friday evening.


The issue of guest-worker pay had become one of the final sticking points holding up a proposed bill on immigration, with union leaders pushing for a higher wage than business groups were willing to give. Under the proposed agreement that was reported on Saturday, employees would receive either the existing pay of American colleagues or the prevailing wage for the industry they were working in – whichever was higher.


The agreement would cover tens of thousands of low-skilled temporary workers brought in during staff shortages in, for example, the construction and hotel and restaurant sectors. The proposed programme would be capped at 200,000 workers a year, but that number would fluctuate depending on unemployment rates and shortages in certain sectors. The deal still needs to be signed off by Schumer and seven colleagues who make up a bipartisan immigration-reform negotiating team. But the deal is thought likely to be approved by the group, now that agreement has been reached.


Consensus over the guest-worker programme removes one of the biggest hurdles to completion of the immigration bill – reform that could create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. The bipartisan Senate group is expected to introduce the bill after Congress returns from its two-week recess on 8 April.


The New York Times reported on Saturday that Schumer had contacted the White House to inform the Obama administration of the agreement between unions and business. President Obama has been a major advocate of reform to the US’s immigration system and had threatened to publish his own plan if consensus cannot be forged in Congress.


Sicily revokes permission for U.S. military satellite station

March 29, 2013




PALERMO, Italy, March 29 (Reuters) – The Sicilian regional government in Italy has revoked permission for the United States to build a military satellite station on the island, its governor said on Friday, after protests by residents who said it could pose a health risk.


The planned ground station is part of the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), an ultra high-frequency satellite network aimed at significantly boosting communications capacity for the U.S. military and its allies.


Concerns about the effect the station’s electromagnetic waves could have on the health of residents around the town of Niscemi, including fears that the waves could cause cancer, have provoked protests on the island.


A U.S. military official said the United States hoped to allay any health concerns and would try to reach an agreement with the Italian government to get permission to build the facility.


The regional government of the semi-autonomous island last month delayed construction and called for an independent study into its health and environmental impact.


The Italian government said this month the demonstrations risked compromising operations at Sigonella, a U.S. naval base in Sicily.


“Through the relevant department, permission for the construction of MUOS has been definitively withdrawn,” Sicilian Governor Rosario Crocetta told reporters in the island’s capital of Palermo on Friday.


He did not say whether the decision to revoke permission for the site was related to the study or to health concerns.


Crocetta’s remarks came a day before a planned protest expected to draw several thousand in Niscemi, which local groups of the governor’s own Democratic Party were due to attend.


Lieutenant Colonel Monica Matoush, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Defense Department, said the U.S. military was confident that studies of the satellite system would show it was safe.


“We are committed to working with Italian health authorities to address health concerns raised by the local population,” she said in emailed comments to Reuters.


The satellite network also has stations in the United States and Australia.


In a visit to Italy in January, then-U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said he understood the concerns of residents but that U.S. studies had concluded there would be no health risk.

(Reporting by Vladimiro Pantaleone and Naomi O’Leary; Editing by Pravin Char)

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