Daily Archives

U.S. plans for presence in Iraq after pullout

Washington Post – Despite Iraqi leaders’ insistence that the United States meet its deadline of withdrawing all troops by the end of 2011, the contours of a large and lasting American presence here are starting to take shape. Although a troop extension could still be negotiated, the politics of Iraq’s new government make that increasingly unlikely, and the Obama administration has shown little interest in pushing the point. Instead, planning is underway to turn over to the State Department some of the most prominent symbols of the U.S. role in the war – including several major bases and a significant portion of the Green Zone. The department would use the bases to house a force of private security contractors and support staff that it expects to triple in size, to between 7,000 and 8,000, U.S. officials said. Read Article

Iraq’s oil expansion plans face major challenges

Associated Press – Hundreds of miles of mostly rusty pipelines cut across the bleak desert landscape near this southern port city under a smog-filled sky, as foreign crews in flak jackets, guarded by armed security, work nearby to extract the crude oil on which Iraq has pinned its future. They are among the hundreds tasked with boosting Iraq’s oil after the country awarded foreign firms access to its fields. But as they begin their work, the scope of their challenge is becoming painfully clear. Pipelines are old and their capacity is too low. Storage terminals are needed. Ports must be upgraded after decades of neglect. Iraq is hoping to rake in tens of billions of dollars from its oil sector. But it’s not a matter of simply ramping up production from the fields — Iraq’s infrastructure is barely enough to move the amount of crude it’s already producing to markets. Read Article

Success of Afghan drug war is waning

Washington Post – After several years of steady progress in curbing opium poppy cultivation and cracking down on drug smugglers, Afghan officials say the anti-drug campaign is flagging as opium prices soar, farmers are lured back to the lucrative crop and Afghanistan’s Western allies focus more narrowly on defeating the Taliban. That combination adds a potentially destabilizing factor to Afghanistan at a time when the United States is desperate to show progress in a war now into its 10th year. The country’s Taliban insurgency and the drug trade flourish in the same lawless terrain, and are often mutually reinforcing. But Afghan officials say the opium problem is not receiving the focus it deserves from Western powers. Read Article

J&J faults cleaning procedures in massive recalls

Reuters – Johnson & Johnson faulted lax cleaning procedures and other problems at a manufacturing plant behind massive recalls of medicines like Tylenol, and said it was recalling nearly 50 million more bottles and packages of consumer medicines. The healthcare company’s reputation has been tarnished by repeated recalls totaling nearly 200 million bottles in the last year and it could face criminal charges from the U.S. Department of Justice. Read article
Related articles: New J&J recalls hit Benadryl, Motrin, Rolaids;
FDA finds grime at J&J plant, urges use of generics

Suu Kyi in bid to revive party

UKPA -Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is seeking to revive her political party in military-run Burma by launching an appeal to the Supreme Court of a ruling that upheld its banning, her lawyers have said. Ms Suu Kyi, who was freed from house arrest in November, has sent her team of lawyers to the capital of Naypyitaw to submit the appeal, said one of the lawyers, Nyan Win. A similar appeal in November to restore the National League for Democracy was dismissed. The party lost its legal status because it failed to re-register in order to take part in general elections that month, claiming the balloting would be neither free nor fair. Read Article

GM crop patents near end, US farmers ask what next

Reuters – The biotechnology industry should develop a format to handle the looming expiration of patents on the first wave of genetically modified (GM) crops, to avoid seed shortages or trade disruptions, the largest U.S. farm group said. “There just needs to be a way to deal with it,” Rosemarie Watkins of the 6 million-member American Farm Bureau Federation said on Thursday. Patents will expire in coming years on two dozen genetically modified seed varieties. The first, in 2014, will be the herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready soybeans developed by Monsanto Co (MON.N) and used by most U.S. soybean farmers. Read Article

China strikes deal with Burma to guarantee oil supply

Telegraph – hina has put the final piece of its energy supply jigsaw in place, signing a deal with Burma that will make it impossible to choke off Beijing’s oil supply. In a move that was described as a “golden bridge of friendship”, Burma’s ruling junta has given Beijing permission to build and operate a wharf on Burma’s west coast to receive tankers arriving from Africa and the Middle East and then pump their cargo overland to southern China. The new facility, at the deep sea port at Kyauk Phyu, is the culmination of decades of planning by Beijing to safeguard its energy supply. Currently, as much as 80 per cent of China’s imported oil and gas is forced to pass through the Strait of Malacca, a narrow bottleneck between Malaysia and Indonesia. Read Article

US: Albany lowers level of fluoride

Democrat-Herald – The Albany [State of Oregon] water system has lowered the degree of fluoridation in line with new guidelines, Public Works Director Diane Taniguchi-Dennis has announced. The federal Environmental Protection Agency said last week that too much fluoride apparently was causing mild tooth spotting among a few children. It recommended that water systems limit fluoride to no more than 0.7 parts per million or milligrams per liter. Albany said earlier this week it was awaiting new guidelines from Oregon public health officials. Read article

Mortars from Afghan border kill 5 in Pakistan: official

AFP— Five civilians were killed and six wounded when mortar shells fired from Afghanistan hit a border village in northwest Pakistan’s rugged tribal region, military officials said Friday. Read Article

British Afghan deployment ‘to avoid cuts’

UKPA – British commanders committed troops to operations in Afghanistan because they feared that the Army would be cut if they did not use them, the Government’s former envoy to Kabul has claimed. Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles said he had been told by the former head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, that if he did not re-deploy battlegroups coming free from Iraq he would lose them in a future defence review. In a written memorandum to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, he said the Afghan campaign had seen unprecedented” resources diverted to the Army and that most soldiers appeared to be “enjoying” it. Sir Sherard said British commanders also saw the mission in Afghanistan as an opportunity to redeem their reputation in the eyes of the Americans after the criticisms of their performance in Basra. Read Article

Burma to bring in conscription

UKPA – Military-ruled Burma has enacted a law that could conscript men and women into the armed forces and mete out prison sentences of up to five years for draft dodgers. According to an official document, the law, dated November 4 2010, but yet to be made public, will come into force when proclaimed by the ruling military council, said an official gazette with limited circulation. Burma, which currently has a volunteer army, boasts a 400,000-strong military which ranks among the largest in the world. Its troops are engaged in continuing conflicts with several ethnic minority groups seeking autonomy from the central government. Read Article

Burma to privatise 90% of its companies

BBC – The Burmese government may be planning a dramatic change in the way the country’s economy is managed. According to a report in local news media, the government intends to privatise 90% of state-owned enterprises by the end of this year. If true, it would mark a major shift in policy for the country, which recently held its first election in 20 years. Until fairly recently it has been the most rigidly state-dominated economy in Asia after North Korea. So is the report credible? Hard information on economic policy in Burma is almost impossible to obtain. The notoriously secretive government rarely speaks to Western media. But within that context, the latest report appears reasonably well sourced. Read Article

Exercise prevents knee injuries in army recruits

Reuters – Stretching and strengthening exercises help new military recruits avoid knee pain from hard training, UK researchers have found. Nearly a quarter of physically active people suffer from so-called anterior knee pain, researchers say, making it the most common knee problem. It’s also the main reason new British soldiers drop out of the Army. Read article

Australian organic farmer to sue over GM contamination

ABC – An organic farmer in the Great Southern says he will sue the owner of a neighbouring farm, after being stripped of his organic certification because genetically modified canola was found on his property. Kojonup farmer Steven Marsh alleges the GM material blew in from a neighbouring property belonging to Michael Baxter. Mr Marsh says he will lose a significant amount of income without his organic certification. Mr Baxter has vowed to defend the allegation and says he will have the backing of multinational biotechnology company Monsanto, which certified his GM crop. Read Article

Have scientists discovered how to create downpours in the desert?

Daily Mail-For centuries people living in the Middle East have dreamed of turning the sandy desert into land fit for growing crops with fresh water on tap. Now that holy grail is a step closer after scientists employed by the ruler of Abu Dhabi claim to have generated a series of downpours. Fifty rainstorms were created last year in the state’s eastern Al Ain region using technology designed to control the weather -Read Article

Alarming report on Brisbane River risks covered up

The Australian – A SECRET report by scientific and engineering experts warned of significantly greater risks of vast destruction from Brisbane River flooding – and raised grave concerns with the Queensland government and the city’s council a decade ago. But the recommendations in the report for radical changes in planning strategy, emergency plans and transparency about the true flood levels for Brisbane were rejected and the report was covered up. The comprehensive 1999 Brisbane River Flood Study made alarming findings about predicted devastation to tens of thousands of flood-prone properties, which were given the green light for residential development since the 1974 flood. The engineers and hydrologists involved in the study warned that the next major flood in Brisbane would be between 1m and 2m higher than anticipated by the Brisbane town plan. Read Article

Newer antipsychotics overused, U.S. study suggests

Reuters – Although first approved to treat schizophrenia, new antipsychotic medications are increasingly being prescribed for a host of other uses, even when there is little evidence they work, U.S. researchers said on Friday. The drugs, known as “atypical antipsychotics,” have quickly eclipsed older-generation or “typical” antipsychotics and are increasingly used to treat conditions like bipolar disorder, depression and even autism. Read article

Tunisia PM pledges calm, coalition talks as president flees

Reuters – Tunisia’s new leader promised order would be restored while he attempts to form a coalition to take the country to elections after a wave of popular protests swept the president from power. The Tunisian army was called onto the streets on Friday, witnesses said, as residents in several parts of the Tunisian capital said groups were marauding through the town setting fire to buildings and attacking people and property. In a dramatic climax to weeks of violent protests against his rule, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s president for more than 23 years, fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday and Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi took over as caretaker president. Read Article

Flood crisis spreads to five Australian states

The Australian – EMERGENCY services across five states were stretched to breaking point last night, as Julia Gillard threw 1200 troops at the Queensland flood crisis. This comes as fresh concern emerged that the management of Brisbane’s main dam had contributed to the disaster. Flood emergencies erupted in NSW and South Australia, and in Victoria more than 2000 people were forced to flee their homes after torrential rain hit the state. Read Article

Privacy Group Loses Bid for Body Scanner Images

Courthouse News – A federal judge rejected a civil liberties group’s attempt to force the Transportation Security Administration to reveal photos of full-body scans used at airports, reasoning that the images are used to train employees and could threaten the agency’s security. Electronic Privacy Information Center, a civil liberties group that monitors federal activities, submitted two requests to the Department of Homeland Security in 2009. The organization wanted copies of contracts between TSA and Whole Body Imaging, the company that makes the scanners. It also requested documentation of data breeches, training materials and technical specifications for the scanners, along with “all unfiltered or unobscured images captured using body scanner technology.” Read Article

Climate Fact Of The Day – Winter Temperature Record For N.E USA 1895-2010

SOURCE: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/cag3/nt.html

Warmest winter: 2002, second warmest: 1932.

Conclusion: Winters have warmed slightly due to some very cold winters in the early 1900s.

Prion disease can spread through air

New Scientist – You catch flu by inhaling germs – now it seems you can catch prion diseases that way too. Prions are misshapen proteins that cause brain degeneration in conditions such as mad cow disease and scrapie in animals, and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease in humans. They can get into you if you eat infected meat or receive infected blood, but it was thought they couldn’t spread through air. Now Adriano Aguzzi of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich reports that mice exposed for 10 minutes to aerosols containing as little as 2.5 per cent brain tissue from mice with scrapie all developed the disease within months. Read Article

Germany announces anti-dioxin action plan

Reuters – Germany on Friday announced a plan to enforce higher standards in animal feed production after the discovery of the toxic chemical dioxin in feed, which has triggered a health alert and hit sales of German eggs and pork. German and European Union authorities are struggling to contain the alert which began on January 3 when German officials said feed tainted with dioxin had been fed to hens and pigs, contaminating eggs, poultry meat and some pork at the affected farms. Read article
Related article: Dioxin scare: German feed fat ‘contains 77 times limit’

US Police turn to drones for domestic surveillance

USA Today – Police agencies around the USA soon could have a new tool in their crime-fighting arsenal: unmanned aerial vehicles inspired by the success of such drones on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Local governments have been pressing the Federal Aviation Administration for wider use of unmanned aircraft — a demand driven largely by returning veterans who observed the crafts’ effectiveness in war, according to experts at New Mexico State University and Auburn University. Police could use the smaller planes to find lost children, hunt illegal marijuana crops and ease traffic jams in evacuations of cities before hurricanes or other natural disasters. Read Article

U.S. Airports May Soon Test Body Scanner With Privacy Upgrades, TSA Says

Bloomberg – U.S. airport full-body scanners that show a generic figure rather than actual images of passenger body parts may be deployed to some airports for tests this year, the transportation security chief said today. John Pistole, who leads the Transportation Security Administration, said he reviewed testing of the upgraded machines yesterday and progress is being made. The agency may make decisions on further deployments based on the results of live testing in airports this year, he said in an interview. L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. and OSI Systems Inc.’s Rapiscan, which make the scanners for U.S. airports, delivered software upgrades to the agency last year that display an avatar and a box alerting authorities to potential threats. Read Article