Government Report Links Extreme Weather In North America To Global Warming Pollution
The U.S. Climate Change Science Program released a 162-page report overwhelmingly confirming that manmade pollution is causing "changes in weather and climate change." The report concludes that an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events "could seriously affect" human health, agricultural production, and the availability and quality of water in North America.
Led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the report represents the most extensive assessment yet of how global warming will impact North Americans in the future, synthesizing the findings of more than 100 academic papers, including the latest scientific evidence which wasn't considered in the most recent IPCC assessment. The report confirms that manmade global warming pollution has caused an increased frequency of heat waves, droughts, severe rainfall, and fierce hurricanes, and that there is a 90 percent likelihood that the frequency and intensity of such extreme weather events will continue to accelerate unless immediate action is taken to slow global warming pollution.
Exxon, Shell and BP Among Oil Giants Set to Receive No-Bid Contracts in Iraq
Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP -- the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company prior to nationalization of Iraq's oil business 36 years ago -- are "in talks with Iraq's Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq's largest fields." The contracts are intended to jumpstart oil production by half a million barrels a day while Iraqi leaders debate legislation on how to divide the nation's oil revenues.
Although worth only about $500 million to each company, the no-bid contracts are expected to give the companies a significant bidding advantage over competitors in future contracts on Iraqi oil development. The New York Times confirmed that the "unusual" no-bid contracts were awarded to the oil companies because they provided free advice over the past two years to the Iraq Oil Ministry. In all cases but one, the same company that provided free advice to the ministry on a specific oil field was awarded the contract for that field.
Leila Benali, an authority on Middle East oil at Cambridge Energy Research Associates, told the Times that "The bigger prize everybody is waiting for is development of the giant new fields," and that these initial contracts give the winning companies a "foothold" to vie for longer-term deals in Iraq.
While State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters that the U.S. had "no involvement" in encouraging the no-bid deals with U.S. oil companies, the Times points out that "there are still American advisers to Iraq's Oil Ministry."
The Bush administration indicated that it sees no need to "get involved" with the negotiations, despite concerns that the presence of U.S. companies, particularly ExxonMobil, could escalate tensions in Iraq and lead to further violence against U.S. troops.
U.S. Government Testing Drugs with Severe Side Effects on War Veterans
The government is employing hundreds of military veterans as lab rats in drug tests, distributing medications known to have potentially severe side effects like psychosis and suicidal behavior. A media investigation uncovered how the Department of Veterans Affairs is paying cash to distressed soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to take part in medical experiments. The practice raised serious ethical concerns in the wake of a near-lethal confrontation between police and an Iraq war veteran who suffered a psychotic episode while taking the controversial anti-smoking drug Chantix.
The VA knew for weeks that the drug had potentially severe mental side effects, yet failed to inform study participants of the dangers prior to the near-fatal incident involving James Elliott, a decorated Iraqi veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who was Tasered by police responding to a 911 call at his Maryland home. Elliot claims he was suffering from Chantix-induced psychotic hallucinations when he reached for a gun as officers approached him. Elliott was part of a Chantix trial targeted toward veterans with PTSD, and said the drug led him to suffer frequent hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.
The FDA alerted the VA weeks before Elliott's incident that Chantix was responsible for a large number of reported hallucinations, suicide attempts and psychotic behavior, but the VA did not alert Elliott or his fellow study participants of the risks prior to his confrontation with police. "You're a lab rat for $30 a month," Elliott said, arguing that the VA treated him like a "disposable hero."
New Research Links Traffic Pollution to Childhood Allergies
A study by German epidemiologists reveals the strongest evidence yet that the risk of developing a range of allergies and respiratory illnesses increases the closer children live to congested roads. The study suggests the risk of developing asthma, hay fever, eczema or other allergies is roughly 50 percent higher for children living 50 yards from a busy road than for those living 1,000 yards away.
"We consistently found strong associations between the distance to the nearest main road and the allergic disease outcomes," the study's lead author, Joachim Heinrich, wrote in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Oil Tycoon Pickens Tells Congress World Oil Production Has Peaked
Billionaire oil investor T. Boone Pickens told Congress he believes that oil production has peaked at 85 million barrels per day. Pickens said during testimony to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the United States' continued heavy reliance on foreign oil could drain the U.S. economy unless lawmakers act quickly to jumpstart a clean technology revolution. "The price of oil will go up further," Pickens predicts. "In 10 years, we will have exported close to $10 trillion out of the country if we continue on the same basis we're going now. It is the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind," he said. Pickens, who made his fortune investing in oil, announced plans for a $2 billion wind energy project earlier this year.
Blackwater Asks Judge to Apply Afghan Islamic Law Instead of U.S. Law In U.S. Soldier Fatalities Lawsuit
Private military contractor Blackwater is asking a federal court to rely on Sharia, the Islamic law of Afghanistan, rather than U.S. law, in an effort to avoid potentially stiff penalties in a lawsuit brought by the widows of three American soldiers who died when the Blackwater-run plane they were on crashed in the Afghan mountains.
Blackwater founder and owner Erik Prince told editors and reporters at North Carolina's News & Observer newspaper that, because the crash occurred in Afghanistan, the company believes the case should be decided by Afghan law. Sharia does not hold a company responsible for the actions of employees during the course of their work.
The lawsuit would be dismissed if the judge agrees that Sharia law applies in Blackwater's case.
Denver Police Stockpiling Pepper Weapons Ahead of Democratic Convention
Denver police are buying dozens of guns that fire a pepper spray-like substance instead of bullets, designed to aid police efforts to disperse crowds. The guns fire plastic balls filled with a powder that's "like a combination of cayenne pepper and baby powder," according to the manufacturer, which confirmed to reporters that the police requested the order be delivered in time for the Democratic National Convention in late August.
Denver received a $50 million federal grant for security during the convention, but refuses to disclose exactly how it is spending that money, prompting a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union last month.
Cheney Wins Battle, Records Will Remain Hidden From the Public
Vice President Dick Cheney won the battle to withhold his office's records from the public, leaving members of Congress frustrated and convinced that there may not be any further avenues to gain access to the secretive Vice President's records before he leaves office. "I'm not sure there's anything we can do," said Representative Henry Waxman, the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "He has managed to stonewall everyone."
Cheney argues that he doesn't belong to either the executive or the legislative branch of government exclusively, and therefore isn't subject to public information laws, even though previous administrations complied with information requests. Government personnel officials also confirmed that they have no information on Cheney's staff available for public review either.
The Justice Department rebuffed repeated requests by members of Congress to investigate Cheney's claims to secrecy, agreeing with the Bush administration's assertion that Cheney and his staff are not part of the executive branch.
Rumsfeld Solicited Torture Advice From Army Psychologists, Ignored Lawyers' Objections
A Senate Armed Services Committee investigation revealed that former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld and senior aides in the Pentagon asked military psychologists as early as July 2002 to provide a list of harsh methods interrogators might employ against detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. The psychologists, who train Army troops how to survive enemy interrogations, responded with a list of techniques including sensory deprivation, sleep disruption, stress positions, waterboarding and slapping. Despite immediate objections from military lawyers who questioned the legality of using the proposed techniques without further review, Rumsfeld ordered interrogators to use the methods on detainees at Gauntanamo anyway.
The Committee's investigation also revealed that the Defense Department strategically hid prisoners who were subjected to the harsher techniques from Red Cross personnel monitoring detention centers to ensure compliance with the Geneva Convention rules for treatment of prisoners of war. According to secret memos from 2002 when the harsh methods were first employed at Guantanamo, Pentagon attorney Lt. Col. Diane Beaver advised interrogators to "curb the harsher operations" while the Red Cross monitors were around, and said in a private meeting that interrogators' use of the techniques "is not being reported officially. The [Red Cross] is a serious concern. They will be in and out, scrutinizing our operations, unless they are displeased and decide to protest and leave. This would draw a lot of negative attention."
Beaver's comments were recorded in the minutes of an October 2002 meeting between CIA and military lawyers and intelligence officials who discussed how to hide "ghost detainees" from the Red Cross at military detention centers.
Another attendee at the meeting, senior CIA lawyer John Fredman, explained that whether harsh interrogation amount to torture "is a matter of perception." Fredman said, "If the detainees dies you're doing it wrong."
Armed Services Committee chair Sen. Carl Levin commented, "Were these actions the result of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own? It would be a lot easier to accept if it were. But that's not the case. The truth is that senior officials in the United States government sought information on aggressive techniques, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees."
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