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Vader

Genetic Soldiers? Advisory Group Urges Pentagon To Map Genes Of All Personnel

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© unknown

It sounds like something out of a dystopian science fiction novel, but it's not.

A new report from a secretive, highly influential group of scientists is urging the Department of Defense to begin collecting and mapping the full genome of all military personnel -- a move that could well give the Pentagon the ability to select for certain genetic predispositions.

Noting the dramatic decrease in the cost of fully mapping individuals' genomes, the report suggests that some traits relevant to war-fighting "are likely to have a strong genetic component, for which better understanding may lead to improved military capabilities."

Bizarro Earth

US - Obama official: MLK would love our wars!

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© Library of Congress/Defense.gov
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Right: Jeh C. Johnson.
A top Pentagon official says the antiwar civil rights leader would support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

(UPDATED)With Martin Luther King Jr. Day right around the corner, attempts to misuse and/or whitewash his legacy are to be expected, particularly on the right.

But this, from Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson, is brazen even in the annals of misappropriations of King:
Washington, Jan. 13, 2011 - If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, would he understand why the United States is at war?

Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department's general counsel, posed that question at today's Pentagon commemoration of King's legacy.

In the final year of his life, King became an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, Johnson told a packed auditorium. However, he added, today's wars are not out of line with the iconic Nobel Peace Prize winner's teachings.

"I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation's military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack," he said.

Handcuffs

Britain's anti-terror control orders condemned as 'trademark of despots'

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© Leon Neal/AFP
Theresa May, the home secretary, is believed to be sympathetic towards keeping control orders in some form.
Human rights groups across the world attack one of the 'most serious violations' of natural justice in developed democracies

A powerful coalition of human rights groups has intensified pressure on the government to abandon its use of control orders, as ministers continue to wrangle over whether to scrap the controversial counter-terrorism measure.

An international alliance of civil liberties organisations has united to condemn the UK for presiding over one of the "most serious violations" of natural justice in any developed democracy.

Campaigners from the Middle East, North and South America, Africa and Europe - including the UK human rights group Liberty - have signed a statement condemning punishment without charge or trial as an affront to democratic values. Among the signatories are the American Civil Liberties Union, Canadian Civil Liberties Union, the Kenya Human Rights Commission, Argentina's Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and South Africa's Legal Resources Centre.

Bizarro Earth

The Mystery of the Black Goo

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I got off the WeatherBird II mid way through the cruise in Pensacola, Florida. Five days later, an e-mail arrived from chief scientist David Hollander, subject line: "Yuck!"

As soon as it was back out on the water, the WeatherBird II headed to Perdido Pass, about two miles from Orange Beach, Alabama. When the team pulled up the multi-corer, they were stunned by what they found: the cylinders filled with pitch black, gelatinous goo that looks exactly like crude oil. But it didn't act like oil: the scientists were able to wash it off their hands easily, and it smelled strongly of sulfur, not petroleum. "As a sedimentoloist I can tell you that none of us have ever seen anything like this in the Gulf of Mexico," Hollander says, "especially not in shallow water. It certainly didn't belong there."

The location was also interesting. According to Hollander, "this exact area was subjected to over two months of continuous oiling of the shoreline region and the widespread use of dispersants in near-shore shallow waters."

Dollar

The True Value of Money

You know we live in an age of declining humanity when a study is conducted outlining the price of a human life. More specifically, when the value of a specific nationality is formally measured as though one ethnicity is more precious than another.

A study revealed that the death of an Iraqi person costs the US government $2.40 each. In other words, an Iraqi costs as much as a value meal from McDonalds.

What is more shocking than the degrading price tag is the deconstruction of a human being entailed within this study. The miracle that is the human body, a complex system of nerves, organs and bloodstreams that house a soul is completely disregarded. The person's value to others as a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, lover and companion is completely undermined. This study reduced a human being, composed of flesh and spirit, into an inexpensive, discardable commodity.

Instances such as this only reaffirm my suspicion that the end of man will precede the moment of divine judgment promised by multiple beliefs, since man himself will cause it.

Admittedly, this is perhaps a highly cynical, slightly paranoid, and borderline blasphemous belief of mine. But when we live in an age in which people find it acceptable (and possible) to quantify the cost of human beings, can I be blamed?

The condition of the human race as a whole has become so sickeningly desensitized that it has come to a point in which it is able to calculate the monetary value of another human.

And what has instigated this epidemic of desensitization is the birth of a new religion in the 20th century.

The economy, an entirely human construct in which sanctity is bestowed upon a 6x3inch paper bill, is now the most influential belief system.

Pills

15 Dirty Big Pharma Tricks That Rip You Off and Risk Your Health for Profit

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© unknown
Even during a recession, pharma is still the nation's third most profitable sector. Here are some of the dirty tricks it employs to stay on top.

Even during a two-year recession with people losing their homes and jobs, pharma is still the nation's third most profitable sector. How does it do that? In part by cheating the government, misrepresenting science, bribing doctors, patients and pharmacies, and squeezing the FDA. Other than that, the industry plays completely fair. Pharma has often been criticized for lack of creativity in developing new drugs. But these dirty tricks show its creativity is alive and well when it comes to putting the public at risk just to turn a profit.
  1. Astroturf Patients?

    Pharma promotes fake patient advocacy groups to lobby for its interests.

    These front groups often push the FDA to approve an expensive drug that has acceptable, cheaper alternatives. Or, they'll try to prevent Medicaid from switching to the less pricey drug. One of the largest faux groups, the "grassroots" National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), was investigated by Sen. Charles Grassley for undisclosed pharma links. He found the 10 top NAMI state chapters received $3.84 million from pharma in less than five years, the biggest largesse from Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

    How else can you tell an astroturf group? Their Web sites look just like the pharma companies that fund them.
  2. Cheating the Government

    Pharma is now a top defrauder of the federal government. "Desperate to maintain their high margin of profit in the face of a dwindling number of important new drugs," pharma illegally promotes unapproved uses of drugs and deliberately overcharges Medicare and Medicaid, says Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group. Pharmaceutical companies have been hit with $14.8 billion in wrongdoing settlements in the last five years. But that's still cheaper for Big Pharma than going about things the old-fashioned, legal way. So the fraud continues.
  3. Trials and Fibulations

    Presiding over clinical trials can make a doctor thousands per patient. But they wouldn't compromise patient safety just to make a buck, would they? Medical College of Georgia psychiatrist Richard Borison and his colleague Bruce Diamond did 13 years ago when they tested Zyprexa, Risperdal and 20 other drugs and ended up in jail. So did Baystate Medical Center's Scott Reuben, who went to prison earlier this year for fraudulent Celebrex, Neurontin and Lyrica trials. And a Tucson facility testing asthma drugs Symbicort, Advair and Singulair doctored data and risked patients' health to net as much as $10,000 per patient, according to a whistleblower and government and court documents. How many other drugs were tested for such fiscal outcomes? Not counting recalled ones, of course.
  4. More Trials and Fibulations

    Even without fraud, pharma-sponsored studies can deceive. Trials that only determine that a drug is "not worse" than another one or impute safety before real data are available -- as in the case of Vioxx and Avandia's threat of heart attacks -- can skew results. And some research is not meant to be accurate to begin with. The Johnson & Johnson Center for Pediatric Psychopathology Research at Massachusetts General Hospital was founded to "move forward the commercial goals of J.& J." according to unsealed court documents. Its head, Harvard's Joseph Biederman, promised J.& J. a proposed drug trial "will support the safety and effectiveness of risperidone [Risperdal] in this age group," before it was ever conducted. Why leave things up to science?
  5. Overseas Adventurism

    As pharma increasingly eyes poorer countries for new markets and cheaper manufacturing it also eyes them for cheaper clinical trials. In 1996, 11 Nigerian children died in trials testing Pfizer's not-yet-approved antibiotic Trovan. While Pfizer paid the Nigerian government and state of Kano millions in a settlement, documents released by Wikileaks show that Pfizer tried to extort Nigeria's former attorney general to drop the lawsuits. Trovan was withdrawn from U.S. markets in 2001 for liver toxicity, though "safety signals" may have appeared sooner.

Smoking

Anti Smoking Campaign: Kingdom of Bhutan: Police Raid Homes to Stub Out Smoking Habit

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© unknown
Bhutan police can raid homes of smokers in a search for contraband tobacco and are training a special tobacco sniffer dog in a crackdown to honor a promise to become the world's first smoke-free nation.

Buddhist Bhutan, where smoking is considered bad for one's karma, banned the sale of tobacco in 2005, but with a thriving tobacco smuggling operation from neighboring India, the ban failed to make much of an impact.

But legislation passed in the new year, granting police powers to enter homes, is set to stub out the habit, threatening five years in jail for shopkeepers selling tobacco and smokers who fail to provide customs receipts for imported cigarettes.

Smoking in private is not illegal in the Himalayan kingdom, but as the sale of cigarettes is banned, smokers are restricted to 200 cigarettes or 150 grams of other tobacco products a month that can be legally imported. And they must provide a customs receipt when challenged by police.

The Bhutan Narcotic Control Agency has started raids, with officials allowed to enter homes if someone is seen smoking or if officials have reason to believe there is illegal tobacco there.

There has been widespread grumbling about the new rule.

Magic Wand

Italy: Evidence Mounts Over John Paul II Beatification

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© The Associated Press / L'Osservatore Romano
In this Nov. 2, 2010 file photo made available by the Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano newspaper, Pope Benedict XVI prays before the tomb of Pope John Paul II for the traditional November 2nd All Soul's day prayers, in the Vatican Grottoes. Evidence is mounting that the pope will soon approve the miracle needed to beatify Pope John Paul II. On Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011, workers began restoring a mosaic near the entrance of St. Peter's Basilica where John Paul's remains are expected to be moved for better public access once he takes the key step toward possible sainthood.
Evidence is mounting that the pope will soon approve the miracle needed to beatify Pope John Paul II, setting the stage for a major celebration this year for a Catholic Church trying to recover from the clerical sex abuse scandal.

Italian news media have been reporting that in recent weeks Vatican-sponsored panels confirmed that a young French nun was miraculously cured of Parkinson's disease after praying to the Polish-born John Paul.

Pope Benedict XVI now must sign off on the miracle and set a date for the beatification, the first major step to possible sainthood.

Polish Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, former No. 2 of the Polish Bishops' Conference and an old friend of the late pope, told The Associated Press on Thursday that he understood an announcement could come Friday, though he stressed he didn't have independent confirmation.

He said the beatification date could be as early as May 1, though other reports have said it would be later in the year given the enormous preparations that will be necessary to host the influx of pilgrims for the event.

On Thursday, workers began restoring a mosaic in a chapel near the entrance of St. Peter's Basilica, where John Paul's remains presumably would be moved for better public access once beatified.

USA

Ex-US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused of torture

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Former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

A US rights group has filed a lawsuit charging former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with involvement in torturing former prisoners in American prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) catapulted the torture case into prominence on Thursday after it lodged an appeal to a court in the District of Columbia, alleging that Rumsfeld and some senior US military officials were quite aware of a torture case involving nine detainees between 2002 and 2004 in American prisons in the two countries, AFP reported.

The case initially was brought forth in December 2006, but later on was withdrawn by a federal court in March 2007 on the grounds that the ex-defense secretary and other top American military officials were immune from prosecution.

Bad Guys

Congress Quietly Prepares to Renew Patriot Act

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© n/a
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) has introduced a little-noticed bill that intends to once again renew controversial provisions of the Bush administration's USA Patriot Act that are due to expire this year.

When the act was first signed into law, Congress put in some "sunset" provisions to quiet the concerns of civil libertarians, but they were ignored by successive extensions. Unfortunately, those concerns proved to be well founded, and a 2008 Justice Department report confirmed that the FBI regularly abused their ability to obtain personal records of Americans without a warrant.

The only real sign of strong opposition to the act was in 2005, when a Democratic threat to filibuster its first renewal was overcome by Senate Republicans.

Since the bill introduced by Rogers on Jan. 5 was virtually identical to the extension passed last year, its passage was seen as likely.

"Given the very limited number of days Congress has in session before the current deadline, and the fact that the bill's Republican sponsor is only seeking another year, I think it's safe to read this as signaling an agreement across the aisle to put the issue off yet again," the conservative-leaning Cato Institute's Julian Sanchez wrote.

"In the absence of a major scandal, though, it's hard to see why we should expect the incentives facing legislators to be vastly different a year from now," he added. "I'd love to be proven wrong, but I suspect this is how reining in the growth of the surveillance state becomes an item perpetually on next year's agenda."

As senator, Obama promised to support reforming the Patriot Act, but voted in favor of extending it in 2005 and 2008. Similarly, he signed last year's extension into law with little fanfare. FBI and Department of Justice officials had consistently argued that restricting their blanket authority to conduct warrantless searches would harm national security.