AuthorTopic: Knarf's Knewz Channel  (Read 1849788 times)

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    America's military is outspending peer adversaries and 'needs to do better,' warns a new Rand report.
    Capabilities of Russia and China have advanced so much that in certain situations that they could have a military edge over U.S. forces.
    One of the authors of the report said the U.S. could still "move the needle back" through sustained investment in certain military capabilities.
    Also, Rand said the U.S. faces a nuclear and missile threat from North Korea which Washington and its Asian allies "lack satisfactory answers."

US troops patrol village in Afghanistan's Logar Province.

U.S. defense modernization efforts are "failing to keep pace" when compared with its two big adversaries, and American forces are "poorly postured to meet key challenges in Europe and East Asia," according to a starkly worded new report from think-tank Rand.

As tensions with North Korea heighten, Rand's 190-page report, entitled "U.S. Military Capabilities and Forces for a Dangerous World," also discussed war scenarios with NATO-Russia involving the Baltic states. It also broke down a possible U.S.-China clash over Taiwan and gaps in existing U.S. capabilities.

With those factors in mind, the Rand report's authors said that the nation's armed forces are "insufficiently trained and ready" when looking at the active service components. That assessment comes despite the U.S. military presence in several regions of the world, and ongoing anti-terrorism missions and the war in Afghanistan, which is nearing its 20th year.

"In short, providing the military power called for by the United States' ambitious national security strategy, which has never been easy, has recently become considerably more challenging," said the report.

"The coincidence of this new reality with a period of constrained defense budgets has led to a situation in which it is now far from clear that our military forces are adequate for the tasks being placed before them," the authors wrote.

More tellingly, Rand's analysis also noted that the capabilities of China and Russia have advanced so far they could potentially beat American forces in certain situations.

"Put more starkly, assessments in this report will show that U.S. forces could, under plausible assumptions, lose the next war they are called upon to fight, despite the United States outspending China military forces by a ratio of 2.7:1 and Russia by 6:1," read the report. "The nation needs to do better than this."

CNBC reached out to the Defense Department for comment on Saturday, but did not receive an immediate reply. However, Rand's study was funded in part by the department, suggesting they are aware of its contents.
Fighting Complacency

David Ochmanek, a senior international defense researcher at Rand and one of the authors of the report, said that from members of Congress to others, "there's a sense of complacency about the U.S. military capabilities."

He said the priority shouldn't be to build more aircraft carriers, submarines and airplanes, but to start equipping those things better. Also other investments are needed that let the U.S. armed forces operate to their fullest potential.

For example, Ochmanek said spending on advanced cruise missiles, jam-resistant tactical and theater communication systems, satellite defense technology, and even hardening American military bases from attacks are just some of the things that should be done to enhance the nation's forces.

"We're talking something on the order of an added $20 billion to $30 billion a year on a sustained basis could allow us to pretty smartly move the needle back where it needs to be, vis-a-vis both Russia and China," Ochmanek told CNBC in an interview on Friday.

According to the report, the U.S. spends about 3.4 percent of its GDP on defense, while it estimates Russia spends some 4.5 percent. NATO has a target for members to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense but only five of the 28 member countries are meeting the alliance goal.

    "... we concluded that, as currently postured, NATO cannot defend the Baltic states against a determined, short-warning Russian attack." -Rand analysis

Rand analysts wrote that even the combined forces of NATO might have a tough time if the Russian military were to make a move into some Baltic states, which regained independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It pointed out that Russian President Vladimir Putin might use the same military playbook he used during Moscow's aggression against Ukraine, and the annexation of Crimea.

The report said Putin in making the moves against Ukraine showed he's willing to take "a more confrontational policy" with the West and European security matters to achieve his political aims.

Previously, Rand developed a Russia-NATO war scenario that depicted Russian military aggression in the Baltics in 2020, which included Moscow sending forces to the borders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

One of the things it found was Russian forces could invade by using armed and motorized units heavily supported by artillery pieces and other military equipment. Meanwhile, NATO would rely on light infantry — and essentially have its ground forces "badly outgunned."

The question is whether the U.S. could use its air forces quickly to give NATO "relative advantage" in a war. Russia's advanced surface-to-air missile systems could prove formidable in a conflict against U.S. combat aircraft and potentially limit NATO's air access, Rand's study estimated.

"In short, we concluded that, as currently postured, NATO cannot defend the Baltic states against a determined, short-warning Russian attack," the authors said. "Until rectified, the capability shortfalls that account for this vulnerability mean that the Baltic states live under the threat of a swift, low-cost coup de main by Russian conventional forces."
Defending Taiwan

Similarly, Rand said China now has weapons and capabilities that would make it tougher for the U.S. to prevail in a battle to defend Taiwan against Beijing potentially retaking the breakaway island republic.

It also said China has improved training and readiness of its forces and studied past American military campaigns, so it can develop strategies of its own that counter the U.S. power-projection capabilities.

Rand said China's military spending grew at double-digit rates every year from 2000-2014, resulting in a total increase during the stretch of more than 480 percent in real terms. China has invested heavily in modernizing its air force and air defenses as well as developing advanced land-based ballistic and cruise missiles that can be launched from mobile vehicles that make them harder to find.

In fact, Beijing has an anti-ship ballistic missile with a range of up to 2,500 miles that is sometimes known as the "carrier-killer" missile, which could potentially threaten a U.S. aircraft carrier deployed to protect Taiwan.

"For example, in a war with China set in 2020, if U.S. forces were to use the same operations concept for power projection that they have used since Operation Desert Storm [in 1991] and employed currently programmed weapons and munitions, those forces would likely face great difficulties in achieving air superiority over the Taiwan Strait," the report said.
North Korean threat

The report also discussed a potential U.S. conflict with North Korea and said China is a "wild card." Rand contended that Beijing might get involved in a North Korea conflict "to limit damage to China itself and to ensure that it has a role in determining the shape of any post-conflict settlement."

Regardless, Rand said the U.S. is facing a nuclear and ballistic missile threat from North Korea, a looming possibility for which Washington and its Asian allies "lack satisfactory answers."

North Korea could decide to use nuclear weapons in several scenarios, including "early in a war to bolster its battlefield chances," Rand's analysts wrote. "The United States' overwhelming superior nuclear arsenal would surely be a factor in the North Korean calculus, but it would be imprudent to assume that nuclear deterrence will automatically hold in a war involving a nuclear-armed regional adversary."

Indeed, the report makes a case "that deterrence of a nuclear-armed adversary with inferior conventional forces may be more brittle than commonly thought," and not the same as deterring a peer adversary like China or Russia.

"North Korea's weakness makes it difficult to deter them from using their nuclear weapons with the threat of retaliation alone," said Ochmanek. "So we're driven to try to get capabilities to actually prevent them from using the weapons — and that's just technically very hard to do."
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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California gov: Trump doesn’t fear God or ‘existential consequences’
« Reply #9601 on: December 09, 2017, 03:52:02 PM »
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) says President Trump's stance on climate change demonstrates that he does not appear to fear the "wrath of God" or have any regard for the "existential consequences" of his environmental policies.

“I don’t think President Trump has a fear of the Lord, the fear of the wrath of God, which leads one to more humility ... this is such a reckless disregard for the truth and for the existential consequences that can be unleashed,” Brown said in an interview on CBS's "60 Minutes," which is set to air on Sunday.

Brown, who studied to become a Jesuit priest prior to entering politics, has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration.

His latest comments come as the southern portion of California battles massive wildfires that in just a few days have damaged thousands of acres of property and destroyed hundreds of buildings.

Trump declared a state of emergency in California, which permits federal assistance to supplement the state and local response to the fires.

The order allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts in the areas affected by the wildfires.

Northern California grappled with a series of wildfires earlier this year that took the lives of 44 people and resulted in billions of dollars of damage.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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Amid the talk of draining swamps, restoring political might to blue-collar America and turning off the spigot of taxpayer cash that showers Washington, a familiar battle cry is ricocheting through this city: Move the bureaucrats out.

It has the ring of a Trumpian fantasy. Dislodge arms of the federal government from Washington and reattach them in faraway places, spreading the wealth generated by these well-paid agency workforces and forcing senior bureaucrats to face the people they affect.

But the idea has established populist roots that spread across party lines, and they are reemerging at this unique political moment.

The swaggering Interior secretary from Montana is putting the finishing touches on his plan to move the headquarters of three large public lands agencies to the West. The Stanford economist representing Silicon Valley in Congress sees opportunity to strategically seed regions of the country with pieces of the federal bureaucracy that can benefit them — and that they can benefit. The unlikely prospect of locating the Department of Transportation in Los Angeles is dangled by Republicans eager to show this crusade has bipartisan cred.

There hasn't been so much buzz about getting "Washington" out of Washington since Franklin D. Roosevelt sent 30,000 federal workers to the Midwest after a presidential commission advised such moves would ensure the prototypical federal employee "remains one of the people in touch with the people and does not degenerate into an isolated and arrogant bureaucrat."

“We need to find out what we can move,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Youngstown, Ohio, who is seeking to create a commission that would identify parts of the bureaucracy that could be moved to economically distressed regions like his. A fellow Ohio congressman and political rival, tea party activist Warren Davidson, has mounted a parallel bureaucracy migration push. He calls it the “Drain the Swamp Act.”

None of it is going over well with die-hard Washingtonians. Many scold that the idea will flame out the same way it did when the Clinton administration pondered and then dropped a big relocation initiative, and the Reagan administration did the same before it.

When the House Government Oversight Committee passed a “Divest D.C.” resolution earlier this year that calls on all agencies to investigate moving out, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the nonvoting House representative for Washington, warned that it would cost taxpayers a fortune, spread dysfunction throughout the bureaucracy and economically devastate the region.

Her Democratic allies on the committee were not impressed by the suggestion of the measure’s sponsor, former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) that maybe it could lead to the Department of Transportation moving to the traffic capital of the nation, liberal Los Angeles.

Other Democrats, though, are intrigued by the possibilities of a redistributed bureaucracy.

“There is a lot of wisdom outside the Beltway,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, the Silicon Valley Democrat. He wants agencies to more aggressively tap into it, as the Defense Department did when it set up a shop in Silicon Valley. Khanna, a Stanford economist, is among several in Washington’s intellectual circles who say fading factory and farm towns are well positioned to benefit from the kind of relocations envisioned in plans like Ryan’s.

There are other reasons the movement has regained steam of late. While only 15% of the federal workforce is in Washington, it is where most of the top decision makers live and work. David Fontana, a professor at George Washington University Law School who is writing a book about decentralizing the federal government, says their bubble is growing evermore insulated from reality.

"When you have this concentration of important people all in a single place, they form their own tight networks immune to other influences," he said. Decentralizing that power away from the capital has long been a trend in other countries, Fontana said. "This is not a crazy idea."

The Trump administration will likely put it to the test soon. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Montanan, is aiming to move the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation out of Washington as soon as logistically possible. Western politicians like Sen. Corey Gardner (R-Colo.) are cheering him on.

“Ninety-nine percent of the nearly 250 million acres of land managed by BLM is west of the Mississippi River, and having the decision makers present in the communities they impact in Colorado or across the region will lead to better results,” Gardner wrote in an email.He wants the bureau headquartered in his state, and Colorado’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, has joined Gardner’s lobbying campaign.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who held a hearing Thursday to examine Zinke’s plan, said in an interview that his constituents are so distrustful of what they see as a heavy handed National Park Service that he had to abandon his plan to elevate Dinosaur National Monument to a national park, a move that he hoped would lure a world-class research center to the state and boost tourism. He’s hopeful Zinke’s blueprint would ultimately ease those tensions by bringing more public lands management out west.

Some Democrats, though, see a sham at a time Zinke has also been unabashed about his plans to shrink the Interior Department’s workforce, which includes pushing workers out by relocating them. “This reorganization is an exercise in weakening the Department of Interior by driving employees out,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). “Once they’re gone, the extractive industries will be able to check off the top item on their wish list” — getting the stewards of public land out of their way.

A lot of the broader relocation debate is familiar. And some scholars project that while a few hundred jobs might get moved here or there, the broader vision of moving large pieces of Washington officialdom hundreds or thousands of miles away will end up in the shredder, as tends to happen with outsized plans to reinvent and reimagine government. The politics are messy, the logistics are tough, and the status quo is entrenched.

"While this has perennial appeal, it is hard to pull off," said Andrew Rudalevige, a professor of government at Bowdoin College in Maine.

There is also the danger of that it could create problems instead of solving them. Matt Lee-Ashley, a public lands expert at the liberal Center for American Progress, warns that accountability is undermined when agencies move away from the lawmakers and federal investigators who watch over them. He points to the scandal that enveloped the Minerals Management Service during the administration of George W. Bush. It had been set up in suburban Denver with a mandate to conduct the business of collecting $10 billion in royalties like a private company. It turned into a cesspool of corruption and bad behavior, according to federal investigators.

Of course, the argument that Washington is the cure for corruption and bad behavior can be a tough one to make. And the headaches and expense of shoehorning so many agency headquarters into this costly, congested town keep growing.

The projected costs of a new FBI headquarters in suburban Washington escalated until they hit close to $2 billion. The plug got pulled on the whole project over the summer amid the rising price and difficulties pulling off the land swap it was designed around.

"There is all this unused office space outside of Detroit where the FBI could build for not much money," said Paul Kupiec, a scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute. That city, unlike suburban Washington, desperately needs the economic surge such an agency would bring, he said. "Why are we spending billions of dollars on these headquarters in Washington?"
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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Pharrell Williams: ‘It rains and they shoot black people’
« Reply #9603 on: December 09, 2017, 04:03:13 PM »
N.E.R.D are back with a politically charged new album featuring Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, Ed Sheeran and cosmic synths

Seeing sounds ... (left to right) Shay Haley, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo.

Pharrell Williams is in a conference room at the London HQ of his record label, Sony. He’s here to play music from the new album by his alt-rap band N.E.R.D, the group he fronts alongside schoolfriends Chad Hugo and Shay Haley, who subverted the face of hip-hop with their punk-infused riffs in the early-00s. “I don’t know if you’ve seen the news or who’s running my country but it’s a real fucking shit show,” Pharrell says while introducing the record. “I’ve never seen such desperation in my life.”

The new release, No_One Ever Really Dies, is a return to form for N.E.R.D. It’s their most political and ambitious album to date, and for Pharrell it heralds a particularly candid incarnation for the man who chirpily encouraged us in 2013 to “clap along” if we felt like “happiness is the truth”. Perhaps back then we were more cheerful? Three years after Happy, the UK’s best-selling single of 2014 (more than 1.9m physical sales to date) and the world feels like an overload of sadness: a mess of Trump and Weinstein, terror threats, police brutality, economic uncertainty and ecological disasters. The question: “Why the politics now, Pharrell?” elicits a simple, if frustratingly vague response: “If not now, when? If not me, who?” he says.

It is a bold new direction for the band, who rarely made social consciousness central to their music, even if N.E.R.D’s very presence was political in itself. Formed in 1999, the trio were critical for a wave of pioneering modern artists such as Frank Ocean and Tyler, the Creator (such is the latter’s adoration of the group, he compared being introduced to Pharrell as “meeting God” in 2011. “That’s my hero,” he said). With N.E.R.D’s distinct musical and sartorial style – which was always more skater boy than rap star – they inspired a whole generation who were drawn to their individuality and oddness, defying the cultural stereotypes that were imposed on them elsewhere.

While their legacy lived on via other artists, however, after the critical success of their first two albums – In Search Of … and Fly or Die – 2008’s Seeing Sounds and 2010’s Nothing were met with indifference. What happened? “EDM came in,” says Shay when we meet. “We had some internal issues. It was a dark time creatively.”

Even Pharrell admits that they hated the later work. “I mean look at the fucking title: Nothing,” he groans. “That’s when we started losing ourselves. The label wanted uptempo records and we acquiesced. I was super-depressed. It was a tough fucking time.” Instead, Pharrell went off and became a massive pop star in his own right, Chad continued to produce for the likes of Earl Sweatshirt and the Internet, while Shay managed a couple of local acts from Virginia. For seven years, they weren’t ready to return to N.E.R.D. “It was tough but you need those times,” Pharrell reflects. “When you fall, it’s not only how and when you get up, but it’s about really looking at yourself. It was a dark time, but I feel like we’re in the middle of the sun right now.”

Two weeks after the London playback, I meet Williams in the bowels of the Long Beach Convention Center in Los Angeles. He’s here for a performance at ComplexCon, a two-day festival and exhibition featuring streetwear, art, food, performances and panels. It is attended by thousands of kids buying limited-edition tees and rappers including Rick Ross and Migos. ComplexCon is so star-studded that barely anyone even mentions the sight of a bearded André 3000 in a lift.

Pharrell, his hair today painted bright orange, is wearing a pop star-style oversized leather jacket and huge sunglasses. We retire to a trailer in the artists’ compound where Pharrell’s wife, Helen Lasichanh, hangs out with their eldest son, Rocket. Chad and Shay float about, too, although Pharrell does the heavy lifting. In fact, Chad rarely speaks. When we briefly meet later after N.E.R.D’s live performance he’s barely audible, offering up a string of strange noises to explain what the album is about. “The impetus [to re-form] was Pharrell playing us some fantastic, like, cosmic synths,” Hugo says before miming the sounds. “It felt good. Real positive.” He wanders off to get a beer.

For much of our conversation Pharrell’s eyes are closed in contemplation. He can be a tricky interviewee, one-on-one; throughout the interview, replies are little more than wistful “hmm”s. He often asks for things to be repeated. (At one point, when I ask if he paints, he wonders if it might somehow be a trick question. It isn’t.) Our chat quickly moves on to Lemon, written originally for Puff Daddy, he admits, before Rihanna had a go, hence the pair posting the song’s lyrics on Instagram back in 2015. The song finally ended up as the album’s lead single, a fitting sequitur for the sonic experimentation to come. Pharrell tells me he borrowed the opener, “The truth will set you free/ But first it’ll piss you off”, from Gloria Steinem. It’s a phrase attributed to her from a speech she gave in 1998. Much like on his 2014 solo album GIRL, feminism is very much at the forefront of his mind.

Earlier this year he and Lasichanh, a former model and designer, had triplets, and watching her carry his children forced Pharrell to view his wife, and womankind, with an entirely new lens (although when recently asked whether or not he changed his three babies’ nappies the answer was a simple “No”). “Every single person outta 7 billion people on this earth came through the conduit of the woman’s body. I’m telling you, my respect for womankind is a different thing,” he says.

This, and perhaps the ever-evolving conversation in a post-Weinstein world, have caused the group to consider their own previous songwriting. Much of N.E.R.D’s early music seemed to be solely about strippers and sex; however, Shay claims 2001’s Lapdance was far more socially conscious. Buried beneath the breathy “Ooh baby you want me” refrain was some real rage: “It’s so real/ How I feel/ ’Cause this society/ That makes a nigga wanna kill.”

“Lapdance was a metaphor about politics, we just wrote it in a fun way,” Shay tells me. “I think that’s one of the beauties about the band: we have an innate gift to shine a light on real issues juxtaposed with the music.” Other Pharrell lyrics – such as his solo track Can I Have It Like That released in 2006 – were a little more juvenile (and let’s not forget that Pharrell did, after all, pen the lyrics to THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL SONG OF THE DECADE, Blurred Lines). He is under no illusion that his back catalogue is a bastion of righteousness and radicalism, however, and he’s ready to hold his hands up. “I’ve made all kinds of songs in my career,” he says. “People might say: ‘Oh what about this song?’ Yep, you’re right. I recognise now. I get it. It was fun to me at the time, but the earth changes and the rules change. We have to remember that. Context is important.”

He also remains baffled that women were once denied the vote and now wants them to rule the world. “Imagine if it were women’s fingertips that had access to all of the nuclear codes around the world. Women know on a physical level what it takes to bring a life into this world. They deliver the message of life. So they’re gonna think twice before they press that button. It would be awesome to see women in control for once. We’ve seen what men do. They blow shit up. Not all of them, but the ones who don’t haven’t yet figured out how to stop the ones who are into the destructive nature.”

He stops. “Women and millennials, man, I’m telling you they have the power. That’s where I think the change is gonna come for this country.” He’s on a roll. “A man can say whatever it is that he wants, but he can’t do what women can do, period. [Men] will never understand what a woman goes through. She goes through something that men could never understand, every month, and still she shows up at her job, does her job, like ain’t nothing ever happened. Period. It’s unbelievable.” Period, literally, I exclaim. “Your words,” he politely points out.

The origins of N.E.R.D really started in Virginia Beach, where Chad and Pharrell met aged 12 at Kempsville, an after-school programme for gifted kids. As teenagers, they found themselves around influential local producers such as Teddy Riley (for whom Pharrell wrote Rump Shaker) and Timbaland and Missy Elliott. They did talent shows and then formed a band with two other friends. For a period they were called D.R.U.G.S – Doing Righteous Under God’s Surveillance. Thankfully they ditched that name, becoming the Neptunes – a production line for pop stars – while N.E.R.D became their passion project, a band that could experiment without the confines of commercial expectation. Their 2001 debut, In Search Of … was far more inspired by the cosmos than the brutal realities of Earth that they now explore. The name was a nod to Spock actor Leonard Nimoy.

For many years, N.E.R.D and the Neptunes dictated the charts, shooting pop and rap into the stratosphere with esoteric 808s and otherworldly synth patterns. As the Neptunes, the pair made hits for everyone from Kelis (Milkshake) and Jay-Z (Frontin’) to Justin Timberlake (Like I Love You), Britney Spears (I’m a Slave 4 U) and Snoop Dogg (Drop It Like It’s Hot). N.E.R.D, more punk rock in practice, had perhaps less commercial, but certainly as much critical success, with tracks such as Lapdance, Rock Star, Provider, She Wants to Move and Everyone Nose.

Pharrell says the new record was inspired by everything from Gang of Four and Alan Vega to early electro; its songs are definitely full of unexpected turns. “You never quite know what’s going to happen next,” he says. “I want you to be shocked and exhilarated.” The album’s political leanings are cemented by the appearance of Kendrick Lamar on two tracks. He’s heard first on Don’t Don’t Do It, described by Pharrell as the centerpiece of the record. It is about the fatal shooting by police of Keith Scott in North Carolina in 2016.

“This was something I saw on the news. We have that crazy, crazy man [running the country] but also they have police that shoot unarmed black people the whole time. It rains and they shoot black people,” he says of the song that shares its musical DNA with OutKast’s Hey Ya. “I hid the story in something that’s so jubilant because that way you won’t miss the message.’’ Lamar appears again alongside MIA on Kites, a timely comment on Trump’s bans and walls. The album also features appearances from André 3000, Future and Ed Sheeran, singing in a questionable accent.

Having been so open during the London playback, Pharrell is noticeably more cautious when talking on the record about Trump or politics. Careful, probably, not to be misquoted. Wary, perhaps, that being explicitly outspoken might affect his life and that of his wife and children. When the tape recorder is turned off, he talks at length about why this record is important. The shades come off. He asks if I have listened to the US national anthem – and that I check out the third verse. This, he says, will help me understand where he’s coming from. The third verse is widely read as a celebration of slavery. Although it’s no longer sung in schools or at sporting events, its very existence speaks to the systematic racial injustices in his country. Its very existence, Pharrell insists, means athletes must continue to “take the knee”, because racism is inherent, ingrained in the very heart of the American conscience.

He may not have a pitch to kneel on, but he has a platform that encourages discourse and revolution. He sees so much potential in the country and, though he ducks his head when I wonder if he might enter politics one day, he seems certain that he wants to do his bit, which comes out in the music. N.E.R.D’s very presence remains a symbol of passion, perseverance and ingenuity for a generation.

“This isn’t music,” Pharrell decides. “It’s a movement.”
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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CBP, Coast Guard Seize Drug Smuggling Submarine
« Reply #9604 on: December 09, 2017, 04:12:31 PM »

CORPUS CHRISTI – Customs and Border Protection based out of Corpus Christi said they captured a drug submarine attempting to smuggle nearly two tons of cocaine into the country.

Crews from the CBP Air and Marine Operations tracked the sub last month while operating in international waters.

Officers tracked the sub for several days before a Coast Guard Cutter stopped it and arrested its crew.

Over 3,800 pounds of cocaine were seized and three suspects on board face multiple charges.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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Judge halts clearing of rare forest targeted for Walmart
« Reply #9605 on: December 09, 2017, 04:15:11 PM »
MIAMI (AP) — Bulldozers downing trees on a property targeted for a Walmart-anchored shopping center were ordered to stop work after a federal judge issued an emergency injunction sought by environmentalists fighting to save the vanishing forest.

The judge issued the injunction Friday, hours after the Center for Biological Diversity and three other groups sued to overturn a decision earlier this week that cleared the way for the mall, 900 apartments and a parking lot. The land near Zoo Miami had long been targeted for conservation and is part of what was once one of the largest tracks of pine rockland, a globally imperiled forest, outside Everglades National Park.

In her ruling, Judge Ursula Ungaro said the plaintiffs showed a likelihood of winning their case and that ongoing work could cause irreparable harm.

“We are elated,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the suit with Tropical Audubon, the Miami Pine Rockland Coalition and the South Florida Wildlands Association. “The judge’s order has given these plants and animals and the residents of this community an opportunity for their day in court, an opportunity to have justice upheld, and a fighting chance at survival.”

The Miami Herald reports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed off on a habitat conservation plan that cleared the way for the development. The project was first unveiled in 2014. A day after the federal agency okayed the plan, bulldozers began downing trees and plowing brush.

In approving the conservation plan, wildlife managers said the menagerie of plants and animals, some of which can be found only in pine rockland, have a better chance at surviving because the land had become overgrown and choked by invasive plants after the University of Miami, which was given the land by the U.S. government, failed to maintain it before selling it to Cummings for $22 million.

In their lawsuit filed Friday morning, environmentalists said the plan failed in a number of ways, starting with surveys of the disappearing species the plan is intended to protect.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also allowed Cummings’ environmental consultants to develop their own formula for calculating the amount of damage that might occur. The untested method, the lawsuit said, had not been peer-reviewed and could set a precedent for use on other projects. About 3,000 people submitted comments on the plan, most opposing it.

Fish and Wildlife spokesman Ken Warren said the agency had received a copy of the judge’s ruling Friday.

“Our staff put a lot of good work into this project,” he said in an email. “Now it becomes a matter for the court.”
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Whales and dolphins face ‘perfect storm’ of plastic and pollution
« Reply #9606 on: December 09, 2017, 04:24:33 PM »

In the wake of BBC’s Blue Planet 2 highlighting global damage in our oceans, a new report warns that whales and dolphins around Britain are facing a greater number of threats today than at any point in history and many thousands are dying as a result.

ORCA, a Portsmouth-based charity that campaigns for marine mammals, has just issued The State

of European Cetaceans 2017 report, and says government action is needed urgently. The report highlights the sheer scale of the challenges that whales, dolphins and porpoises have simply to survive, and if action isn’t taken, some of our most beloved populations will be at serious risk of extinction.

The charity highlights that the breadth and scale of these threats exceeds even that seen at the peak of global whaling, with the diverse and serious threats they face having a catastrophic impact on some species.

The UK’s only pod of killer whales is facing extinction because of toxic pollution. With only eight members remaining and no reports of a calf being born for over 20 years, the pod may be gone in a matter of decades, despite the toxins that are killing them having been banned for almost 40 years.

The report also examines the suffering faced by whales and dolphins when they become entangled in fishing lines. Animals who fall victim to ‘bycatch’, as it is known, drown slowly, with some suffering for months through dragging the heavy gear in which they are snagged across the oceans before they finally succumb.

Sally Hamilton, ORCA Director, said: ‘The devastation being caused on a daily basis by the manifestation of these threats is terrible, and often results in some of the cruellest suffering imaginable. Worst of all, so many of these deaths could be prevented if we gave our marine life the protection they need.’

ORCA have recommended a series of steps that could help to limit some of these threats:

A tax to arrest the addiction we have to the single use plastics that are destroying our environment.

An enforced obligation on every fishing vessel to report any whale, dolphin or porpoise caught in its nets – not to punish them, but to properly assess the scale of the problem

Action by government and industry to stop the millions of tonnes of toxic material still threatening the environment from causing more damage.

More support and more investment in marine conservation efforts to build a clearer picture of the damage we are doing to our whales and dolphins.

ORCA patron and BBC wildlife presenter Chris Packham added: ‘It’s terrifying to think that whales and dolphins, despite decades of conservation work, are at greater risk today than ever before, and the thousands killed around the UK each year are often subjected to the cruellest of fates. Reports like ORCA’s The State of European Cetaceans 2017 help to show just how much work there is still left to do to safeguard these wonderful animals for future generations to enjoy.’

One positive finding from the report is that a ground-breaking analysis of ORCA’s citizen science research, conducted by volunteers over a period of eleven years, was proven to support the traditional research used to dictate UK & European marine protection policy.

This landmark finding demonstrates for the first time that citizen science, which is significantly more cost effective than traditional research, could be the key to a more sustainable way of protecting marine life in the longer term.

Read the full report here.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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Re: Modern Day Witches Call Theirs ‘A Beautiful Way Of Life’
« Reply #9607 on: December 09, 2017, 04:43:18 PM »
At a time when participation in traditional religions is declining among Americans, the practice of witchcraft is said to be on the rise.

CBS2’s Ali Bauman went inside the secret world of modern-day witches to explore why so many say they’re falling under its spell.

“I am the high priestess,” Lisa Stewart said.

“To be a witch is incredibly relevant in today’s society,” Anton Stewart explained.

Nestled in the heart of the Hudson Valley is the Church of the Eternal Circle, the only legally recognized Wiccan Church in the state of New York.

“We follow the tradition of the craft of the wise — witchcraft — and we are witches,” Stewart said.

For the first time, members invited CBS2 to attend their services.

“The time is right,” Lisa said.

Stewart and her husband Anton are the founders of the church.

“There are definitely more of us than you think,” she said.

It’s estimated that as many as a million people identify as being a witch in the U.S. with 20 percent of that population said to be in New York.

“We have professionals of all kinds,” Lisa said.

Including a librarian, a computer scientist, a nurse, and a homemaker or two.

“Very normal people are part of this religion,” Dr. Davis Sprague said.

In addition to practicing witchcraft, Dr. Davis Sprague — a former Methodist — is a practitioner of internal medicine.

Joe Laudati, a sculptor, converted from Catholicism.

“Keep an open mind,” he suggested.

Unlike its pop-culture portrayal, members say witchcraft is actually grounded in love and spirituality.

“The green skin came from the fact that women who claimed to be witches were abused and their faces were bruised,” Lisa said.

They say magic is simply the belief that you can make anything happen.

“It’s kind of like prayer,” Lisa explained.

There is no devil worship, only a love for the goddess of creation and inspiration along with the antlered god of all things wild and free they say.

But what about the broom?

“It’s for sweeping your circle, and clearing the energy,” Lisa said.

A somber celebration marked the start of winter. Known as the night of souls, it’s when witches honor their ancestors.

“When I tell people that I’m a witch, I’m met sometimes with abject horror,” Anton said.

They say it’s a misconception based on old myths that the modern day witches want to dispel.

“It’s really a beautiful way of life,” Lisa said.

With a strong belief in what goes around comes around, Wiccans say there’s never a need for black magic.

Earth based religion is the true religious heritage of people of northern European ancestry. In the longer range of things, it was our spiritual path for far longer than what we have now, for many thousands of years, until the Burning Times, when the followers of the old ways were ruthlessly killed to force common people into the officially sanctioned Christian (Catholic) Church, which has itself now splintered into hundreds of factions.

A lot of what is now Wiccan religion has been sort of made up, since not many written records actually exist about what the real rituals were. Some things the modern "witches" get right. God AND Goddess. (The Christians got rid of the Goddess, much to their ultimate detriment.)

I don't like the term "witch", which journalists love to use. Early European earth based religion has much in common with Native American religion. It's all about the wheel of life, the changing seasons, and the cycles of the moon. The magic and spells and so forth...seems to me to be about the power of intention.

In our culture witch means a sit-com character (Samantha) or, on the other extreme, devil worshiper or the ultra hedonistic path of people like Alistair Crowley. Neither has much of anything to do with Wicca.

There is a lot of positive energy in this revival of the ancient path. It's local, non-hierarchical, egalitarian, inclusive, and joyous.  I'm okay with it.
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

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'Mermaid baby' born in Kolkata dies 4 hours later: What is Mermaid Syndrome?
« Reply #9608 on: December 10, 2017, 04:03:19 AM »

Representational image

A 23-year-old woman in West Bengal gave birth to a baby with fused legs, or mermaid-like features, on Wednesday, say reports.

However, the tot, who was born with a rare condition called Sirenomelia, also known as Mermaid Syndrome, at Chittaranjan Deva Sadan Hospital, a government-run hospital in Kolkata, died just four hours after it was born. The baby’s sex could not be indentified due to its underdeveloped pelvis and fused legs. Read: Odisha conjoined twin girls Ganga-Jamuna share a single heart and liver

Doctors say lack of proper nutrition and improper blood circulation from a mother to the baby can create this kind of abnormality.

The rare birth was the second such known case in India and the fifth in the world.  Earlier in 2016, a woman from Uttar Pradesh gave birth to the first known 'mermaid baby' of the country, but it survived only for 10 minutes.

“I had never seen such a baby before. It is the first case of Sirenomelia in the state and second in the country,” Dr Sudip Saha, a child specialist at the hospital, was quoted as saying. Read: Here's why stressed babies may not show they are in pain

Dr Sudip further revealed that the baby’s mother, Muskura Bibi, 23, and her husband are a labouring couple and had not sought proper medication, including a sonogram, during pregnancy due to lack of money.

So, they found out about their baby’s condition only after the birth.

"The baby had a normal formation in upper part of the body but below the waist, its legs were fused together. The lower part was not developed completely," Dr Sudip added.
What is Mermaid Syndrome? What is the cause of it?

Sirenomelia is an extremely rare congenital developmental disorder characterised by anomalies of the lower spine and the lower limbs. Affected infants are born with a partial or complete fusion of the legs.

It is estimated that this condition is found in approximately one out of every 100,000 live births -about as rare as conjoined twins – although the exact incidence is unknown. The condition appears to affect males more often than females by a ratio of 2.7-1.

Researchers do not know the exact cause of sirenomelia. However, they believe that both environmental and genetic factors may play a role in the development of the disorder.

Babies born with the rare disorder are usually fatal within a day or two of their births because of complications associated with abnormal kidney and urinary bladder development and function.

Only a few babies born without fatal kidney and bladder complications are known to have survived beyond birth with this condition.

Tiffany Yorks of Clearwater, Florida, (born on May 7, 1988) was the longest-surviving ‘sirenomelia’ patient to date. She underwent a successful surgery in order to separate her legs before her first birthday. She suffered mobility issues due to her fragile leg bones, and compensated by using crutches or a wheelchair to move around. She passed away on February 24, 2016 at the age of 27.
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California wildfires' vast scale seen in astronaut's photos
« Reply #9609 on: December 10, 2017, 04:10:06 AM »

Smoke streams from wildfires in southern California as seen from the International Space Station by NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik on Dec. 5.

Photos from space show the incredible scale of the devastation caused by the still-raging Southern California wildfires, which have blackened almost 200,000 acres and forced thousands of people from their homes.

From his perch aboard the International Space Station 250 miles above the Earth's surface, NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik snapped a series of unsettling photos and posted them on Twitter.

"Today's pass over SoCal unfortunately doesn't look any better," he said in a tweet posted on the evening of December 7. "The fires east of Camp Pendleton and in Baja are visible as well."

Thick smoke streams from several fires in southern California in an image acquired by NASA's Terra satellite on Dec. 5.

In the Sentinel-2 photo (below) — which uses false-color imagery to reveal details of the blazes and the damage they've caused — active fires are orange, the burn scar is brown, unburned vegetation is green, and developed areas are gray.

The European Space Agency's Sentinel-2 satellite captured the data for this false-color image on Dec. 5.

The weather in Southern California doesn't seem to be helping firefighters contain the blazes; the National Weather Service warned on its website earlier today that a "red flag warning remains in effect" given the low humidity in the area and the high winds.

But maybe the winds will diminish according to Bresnik's tweeted wish: "May the Santa Anas die down soon."
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Independent test results found mold on medical marijuana sold in the Valley that would not meet standards in some other states.

Unlike most states with medical marijuana programs, Arizona does not establish contaminant standards for cannabis or require that cannabis products be tested in any way.

An independent lab tested four cannabis flower products from Encanto Green Cross Dispensary in Phoenix after former employees complained to CBS 5 Investigates about issues with mold.

Of the four samples tested by Delta Verde Laboratory, three showed “total yeast and mold” levels that would exceed safety limits set by states like Colorado, Washington and Massachusetts.

“It should be pulled off the shelf, absolutely,” said lab director Jim Clark of the three products that exceeded the other states’ threshold.

In an interview, Encanto Green Cross managing member Bill Brothers dismissed the lab results as unreliable and insisted the dispensary had no ethical or legal obligation to remove any cannabis from sale.

“There’s no evidence or proof that we have a mold issue. None whatsoever,” he said. “I don’t know whether you’re sending these samples to 7-Eleven, Kwik-E-Mart or Dr. Feelgood for testing.”
“That’s mold growing on the wall”

Arizona's Family toured Encanto Green Cross, located near Interstate 17 and Encanto Avenue, for a report in October. Not long after that report, former employees began reaching out to say we missed something: issues with mold.

Encanto is the only dispensary we received complaints about; however, mold is an industry-wide concern.

Arizona’s Family began contacting other former Encanto employees and current members of the cannabis industry. Each former employee provided state-issued identification to verify they once worked for the dispensary.

Five former employees of Encanto and two employees in related businesses said they witnessed or heard about concerns with mold at the dispensary they considered unusual.

Former cannabis trimmer Matthew Love said he regularly saw moldy cannabis.

“There's not a single day that I've had gone by not having to see someone, one of the trimmers, wearing a mask while they're trimming because of the smell or the odors from the moldy flower that we would trim,” he said.

“I was having personal, adverse reactions to some of the flower. Like, I'd develop rashes and start itching out of nowhere some days,” he said.

Love said all the trimmers were under pressure to turn in a pound of trimmed cannabis in every eight-hour shift.

“So many people would be in a rush and when you take the moldy flower out, that subtracts from your total and that affects your rate a bit,” he said. “Some trimmers would trim [moldy flower] into their actual trim bins to be weighed for regular.”

Former security guard Zackary Padilla provided pictures of mold outside grow rooms earlier this year. One picture in late January shows streaks of condensation on the wall inside in a cultivation room.

Padilla also provided emails showing he complained about mold to his supervisors from January through March of 2017.

“Can we get an update on where we're at with this, and then it would be crickets. No response. No update. And as I would walk around, I would notice these problems weren't fixed. These problems were getting worse,” he said.

Both men said they were fired after raising concerns. The dispensary says the men were fired for serious misconduct. An attorney for the dispensary sent Padilla a cease and desist letter in April citing breach of contract and other claims.
Inspection records are secret

Both Love and Padilla say the Arizona Department of Health Services came in to inspect Encanto this year, but the state's findings are secret.

"The statute prohibits you, prohibits the Health Services Department from giving whatever enforcement action they're taking. You can't find out about it," said former ADHS director Will Humble.

Humble said the department is prohibited from releasing all compliance, enforcement and inspection records by statute.

"It's not DHS’ fault, that's the voter-approved language [of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act] that says that,” Humble said.

CBS 5 Investigates requested Encanto’s inspection reports from the dispensary last week. Wednesday night, Encanto emailed a one-page report showing it was cited for two deficiencies in an Oct. 5 inspection.

In addition to a record-keeping error, the inspectors found the “dispensary’s cultivation failed to ensure all production of the medical marijuana is conducted in clean and sanitized conditions.” The inspectors noted the packaging room had marijuana debris on the floor, tables and chairs, and that the chairs themselves were made of fabric that “cannot be cleaned and sanitized.”

The dispensary also provided a one-page response from the state showing its corrective action plan had been accepted.
Taking it to the lab

Encanto Green Cross sent us lab results from an independent testing facility called C4 Laboratories showing its products passed safety tests. However, the online testing summary does not indicate when products were tested.

Encanto provided invoices for test results showing at least 37 samples were tested at C4 between Aug. 21 and Oct. 10.

The independent lab screened for pesticides and did a visual inspection with a microscope for "foreign matter,” including mold. But according to two lab directors, those visual tests can miss a lot of micro-organisms.

CBS 5 Investigates decided to pay for a common test that can detect mold levels that are invisible to the foreign matter screening.

We arranged to have a medical marijuana cardholder buy four different strains of cannabis flower products at Encanto, then took the samples to Delta Verde Laboratory, whose laboratory director formerly worked for the Arizona Department of Health Service’s state laboratory in food testing.

The lab found mold present on all four samples, which is normal. Mold is naturally occurring and appears just about everywhere – it’s the amount that matters.

Medical journals have documented a handful of cases where patients with compromised immune systems got infections like fungal pneumonia from moldy marijuana. But there is "currently no universally accepted standard" for how much mold is safe.

While Arizona has no safety testing standards for marijuana at all, states like Colorado, Washington and Massachusetts establish a threshold standard of 10,000 colony-forming units per gram.

Three of the four samples exceeded the 10,000 CFU standard.

“That doesn't mean this material necessarily is going to be injurious to anybody's health, but it's clearly not a desirable situation to have a high level of microbial contamination,” Clark said.

        Citrus Sap - 3,100 cfu/g
        Agent Orange - 12,000 cfu/g
        Blue Dream - 20,000 cfu/g
        Valentino OG – Too numerous to count/estimated 300,000 cfu/g

The most contaminated sample, sold under the brand Valentino OG, had mold levels that were off the charts: what the lab calls “too numerous to count.” Using techniques to estimate the number of colonies rather than count them, the lab estimated the sample had 300,000 CFU.
Encanto Green Cross response

In an interview, Brothers, the dispensary boss, acknowledged Encanto had mold in a “water irrigation purification chamber” earlier this year.

“It was adjacent to three reverse osmosis systems that were designed to purify the water. There was a leak. That leak sprayed on the wall. After a period of time, mold arrived. It was never at any point in time inside of a cultivation room [or] at any point in time did it come in contact with the plants or the flowers,” Brothers said.

Brothers initially said the dispensary “immediately, within 24 hours” removed the drywall and repaired the leak after Padilla reported it – sometime around January. When presented with Padilla’s series of emails citing mold from January through March, Brothers said the dispensary took remediation steps “within a few weeks.”

When presented with the lab results from Delta Verde, Brothers brushed off the results, saying the dispensary should not be judged by standards in other states and suggesting the samples might have been contaminated by the cardholder who delivered them to the laboratory.

The cardholder was unaffiliated with any of the sources used in this story. CBS 5 Investigates recorded and followed the cardholder during transit.

Brothers also suggested that all lab results from independent testing facilities should be considered unreliable because no facilities are “certified” by the state.

The State of Arizona does not certify facilities for cannabis testing because it does not mandate testing of cannabis in the first place, according to a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“If there are no certified laboratories, how can you trust any results regarding cannabis in the state of Arizona?” Brothers asked.

“How can we trust your results?” responded reporter Derek Staahl.

“My results are in-house and they're not for public use,” Brothers said.

In addition to outside testing from C4 Labs, Brothers said Encanto does its own internal testing with paid chemists on staff.

Said Staahl, “I have trouble reconciling the argument that we can trust some results -- your internal paid employee results – [and] we cannot trust outside results.”

“Oh no, I'm not asking you to trust my results,” Brothers said. “I'm asking me to trust my results. I'm the one authorized by the State of Arizona by a dispensary agent card to cultivate on behalf of the patients. You are not.”

Brothers stressed that Encanto does not have a mold problem but said he would support legislation for mandatory testing requirements because other dispensaries may be using harmful pesticides.

“There are over 100 cultivators in the state that are currently selling medicine to patients without any laboratory testing or care, control, and custody at all. Nobody knows what these cultivators are putting in.”
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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Woman burns down Cincinnati, Ohio, home trying to kill bedbugs
« Reply #9611 on: December 10, 2017, 04:18:18 AM »
Authorities said that three people were injured and 10 people were left homeless after a woman accidentally started a fire while trying to kill bed bugs with rubbing alcohol at a multi-family home in Cincinnati.

WXIX-TV reports it's the second time in two weeks that a fire sparked by attempts to kill bed bugs has caused extensive damage in Cincinnati.

Officials say the fire late Friday heavily damaged a five-unit building and sent three people to a hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. Their injuries aren't considered life-threatening.

The Red Cross is finding lodging for three teenagers and seven adults. CBS affiliate WKRC reports that the damage is estimated at $250,000.

Eight people were left homeless on Nov. 28 when a 13-year-old boy set fire to an apartment building after dousing a bed bug with alcohol.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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NFL Tickets Fall to an Incredible $4 Apiece
« Reply #9612 on: December 10, 2017, 04:20:28 AM »
he NFL has been hit hard ever since more players than ever protested during the national anthem in retaliation to President Donald Trump criticizing those who kneeled.

Ratings have crashed, fans have boycotted and ticket sales have plummeted. The league has become one of the most divisive brands in the country, and Trump hasn’t stopped putting pressure on Roger Goodell and the NFL to do something about the protests.


Now, ticket sales for the upcoming game between the 3-9 Indianapolis Colts and the 6-6 Buffalo Bills, which will take place in Buffalo, are going for a whopping $4. And Vivid Seats has plenty of tickets available for the game on Sunday
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The 'drop dead' drug terrorising North America linked to 10 deaths in Melbourne
« Reply #9613 on: December 10, 2017, 04:29:12 AM »
A string of deaths in Melbourne are believed connected to the extremely dangerous "drop dead" drug fuelling the worst opioid crisis in United States history.

The 10 overdoses, involving a suspected mix of heroin and fentanyl, are thought to be the first deaths attributed to the concoction outside of North America, where last year drugs killed more than 60,000 people.

It is feared more local cases could occur, with about 30 international fentanyl shipments entering Australia in the past 18 months, along with an even deadlier substance, an elephant tranquilliser called carfentanil, which is 10,000 times stronger than morphine.

Fentanyl – known as "drop dead" – and similar synthetic painkillers are so powerful only a few milligrams can kill.

A reporter holds up an example of the amount of fentanyl that can be deadly after a news conference in Virginia

The Sunday Age has learnt that 10 people died in Melbourne in the late spring of 2015 when it is suspected a batch of heroin was mixed with fentanyl and supplied to heroin users.

Among the dead were a 52-year-old man discovered unconscious in a toilet block, and a veteran drug user who had been taking heroin since he was 14.

The Melbourne cluster was identified when Luke Rodda, a forensic toxicologist at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, was reviewing cases and noticed a trend.

His investigations found nine people aged 25 to 57 had died with fentanyl and an element of heroin in their blood between late September and late November 2015, in two distinct areas around Richmond and Dandenong.

There was also a 10th death – the youngest on the list, a woman aged 23. Although her toxicology results did not test positive to heroin, fentanyl-laced heroin was found at the scene, supporting the theory she had taken the tainted powder.

There was no evidence that any of those who died knew they were consuming fentanyl.

Assistant Adjunct Professor Rodda, now chief forensic toxicologist with San Francisco's Chief Medical Examiner, said the fentanyl used in the heroin could have been extracted from legal prescription medication, but was more likely illegally produced in clandestine laboratories in China or Mexico and smuggled into the country.

Commonly prescribed by doctors and used by anaesthetists, fentanyl is about 10 times stronger than heroin, meaning you need far less to create a fatal dose. In the US, it has even begun appearing in methamphetamine, cocaine and pills purporting to be painkiller oxycodone, where it is sold to unsuspecting users and consumed with often fatal results.

    Fentanyl is here, it's coming and it's killing.

Fake oxycodone pills that are actually fentanyl that were seized by Tennessee police.

The dark web is awash with dealers willing to sell the drug to worldwide buyers.

A number of Australian-based sellers also claim to have powder fentanyl in stock and they pepper their descriptions of the product with stern warnings about its strength.

One dealer offering to sell 100 milligram of pure fentanyl for $435 said the drug was only appropriate for the experienced and highly tolerant "fent" user.

"This is no joke," the seller wrote. "So even opiate tolerant people are on another playing field."

Fentanyl for sale on the dark web.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection says it has detected fentanyl in international mail on 30 occasions in the past 18 months.

Alarmingly, there are also emerging substances that begin to blur the line between illegal street drugs and what might be better described as chemical weapons.

Australian border officials have made two detections of mammal tranquilliser carfentanil in the past year, and said although the amounts were small, a department spokeswoman said one gram equalled 50,000 lethal doses.

Shane Neilson, head of high risk and emerging drugs with the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, said the although the market for the ultra-potent drug was "very small", they were monitoring it closely due to its lethal potential.

"Given its primarily legitimate purpose is to tranquillise elephants and other large animals, you can imagine the potency in the human body," he said.

"Effectively there is no safe level of use of carfentanil."

Mr Neilson said you didn't see "container loads or boat loads of illicit drugs" in potent opioid trafficking because "the quantities of fentanyl and carfentanil that can be lethal are measured in grams and fractions of grams".

"It's a new way of looking at a potential threat."

A cluster of users fatally overdosing on

a combination of fentanyl and heroin
Case    Date of death in 2015   Sex    Age   Region*   Circumstances
1    September (late)    M    57    A    Methadone permit
2    September (late)    F    37    A    10-year heroin user. Methadone permit
3    September (late)    M    46    A    Syringe in close proximity
4    September (late)    F    23    B    GHB and alprazolam user, drug paraphernalia at scene
5   October (early)    M    25    A    Recent heroin user
6    October (early)    M    34    B    20-year heroin user
7    October (mid)    M    37    A    Syringe in close proximity
8    October (late)    M    32    B    Syringe found in situ
9    November (late)    M    52    A    Unconscious in toilet block
10    November (late)    M   37    A    Heroin user. Methadone permit. Syringe in proximity

* A = Richmond area, B = Dandenong area
Source: Rodda LN, Pilgrim JL, Di Rago M, Crump K, Gerostamoulos D, Drummer OH. A Cluster of Fentanyl-Laced Heroin Deaths in 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. J Analytical Toxicology. 2017 May 1;41(4):318-324.

The drugs are so strong there is fear officials and emergency service workers could be put in danger simply by coming into contact with seized packages containing the deadly powder, and a safety alert has been issued to all Australian Border Force officers.

In August this year the US Drug Enforcement Administration said it found enough fentanyl in a New York apartment to kill 32 million people. The amount? Just 64 kilograms.

Although the level of illegal fentanyl imports in Australia pale in comparison to the US, similarities exist between their drug markets that have experts watchful.

Mr Neilson said rising prescription opioid use in Australia was a warning sign, although factors such as Australia's lack of land borders and more stringent drug prescribing practices would mean a local fentanyl problem was unlikely to reach the lethal scale seen in the US.

He said that he was aware of the cluster of deaths in Melbourne, but was cautious about commenting as there was evidence that the people who died also other had drugs in their system. Those drugs included methadone, valium, cocaine and GHB.

Dr Monica Barratt from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre said because fentanyl was so much stronger than other opioids, users needed far less to get high, which could appeal to local drug dealers.

"You might only purchase a very small amount, but it can go a long way if you were a distributor adding it to heroin or [mixing it with] an inert powder and selling it off as heroin.

"It would be quite a profitable enterprise."

It is also easier to smuggle in postage, she said.

In Richmond, community workers say it is important that information about drug trends is shared quickly to save lives, as a drug like fentanyl could have disastrous effects, with little warning.

"Our colleagues in Canada and the US are certainly warning us to prepare ourselves for illicit fentanyl to reach our markets," said Kasey Elmore, manager of the drug program at North Richmond Community Health.

"Given recent border seizures, some would argue it's not a case of if, but when."

A delegation including senior Victorian police and state MP Fiona Patten recently visited cities in Canada and the US to learn about the opioid crisis.

Ms Patten said many of those overdosing in those communities were not injecting drug users, but legal pain medication addicts supplied with oxycodone laced with fentanyl or carfentanil.

"I think we are doing some things that will prevent it happening as badly in Australia," Ms Patten said.

"But fentanyl is here, it's coming and it's killing."
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2017 Nobel Peace Prize: What is ICAN?
« Reply #9614 on: December 10, 2017, 04:34:30 AM »

The creation of ICAN was inspired by the success of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1997

The Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) will be receiving the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Sunday.

ICAN has been at the forefront of pushing for an end to the use of nuclear weapons through the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which has 50 signatories including Brazil, South Africa and Vietnam to date.

The Nobel committee cited ICAN's efforts "for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition on such weapons", in an announcement in Oslo, Nowary on October 6.

ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn told reporters that given the current political atmosphere around the world, the call to ban nuclear weapons is more imperative.

"The treaty is meant to make it harder to justify nuclear weapons, to make it uncomfortable for states to continue the status quo, to put more pressure on them," she said.

Here are some things to know about the winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize:
Banning nukes

In a landmark resolution, 123 countries voted to start talks on a "legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons" in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly in October 2016.

In July, a UN conference adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

It is the "first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated in 20 years", the UN said in a statement.

The treaty opened for signature during the annual UN General Assembly last month.

As of September 20, 50 states had signed the treaty, which bans the use, development, testing or storing of nuclear weapons under any circumstances.

However, some of the top nuclear powers have yet to sign on to the pact, including the United States, Russia and China.   

Significantly, Iran, which has been accused by the US President Donald Trump of pursuing a nuclear programme, has signed the treaty.

Strength in numbers

Before the Nobel committee's announcement, ICAN was a little-known organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Originally founded in Australia in 2007, ICAN has now become a global coalition of 468 non-government organisations spread over 100 countries.

International partners include peace organisations to humanitarian and environmental groups.

Among its coalition partners are The Ceasefire Campaign in South Africa and the Africa Peace Forum in Kenya.

Physicians for Social Responsibility in Bangladesh is also a partner, as well as the Arab Network for Research on Landmines and Explosive Remnants of War.

Public figures who have voiced support for ICAN include Nobel Prize winners the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, as well as artist and activist Ai Weiwei, and internationally-known artists Herbie Hancock and Yoko Ono.

"Let's act up! Ban nuclear weapons completely and unconditionally," Ai Weiwei was quoted as saying as he declared his support for the nuclear weapons ban treaty.
Its roots

In 2006, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, adopted ICAN as a major priority at its world congress in Helsinki Finland. A year later, ICAN was formed in Australia, and its international campaign is officially launched in Vienna, Austria.

Beatrice Fihn said ICAN founders were also inspired to establish the group following the success of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which won the Nobel Prize in 1997.

As part of its work to push for the nuclear prohibition treaty, ICAN launched in 2012 the campaign "Don't Bank on the Bomb", pushing for divestment from hundreds of banks, pension funds and insurance companies with investments in companies producing nuclear arms.
Call for global responsibility

Online, many celebrated the news that ICAN was awarded this year's prize.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres congratulated the campaign, saying "now more than ever we need a world without nuclear weapons".


While ICAN's Beatrice Fihn said that the prize is a "huge" boost for her organisation and other groups working on the nuclear weapons issue, the world faces significant hurdles related to the nuclear weapons and threats of war.

Just before the Nobel committee made the announcement in Oslo, US President Donald Trump had threatened not to re-certify the nuclear deal agreed between world powers and Iran.

"We must not allow Iran ... to obtain nuclear weapons," Trump said.

"The Iranian regime supports terrorism and exports violence, bloodshed and chaos across the Middle East. That is why we must put an end to Iran's continued aggression and nuclear ambitions. They have not lived up to the spirit of their agreement," he said.

Iran has denied it is pursuing a nuclear weapons programme and said it would continue to abide by the deal. The UN nuclear monitor also said that Iran is in compliance with the deal.

Trump has also threatened "to destroy North Korea" if necessary after its leader Kim Jong-un said that nothing could stop his country from acquiring ballistic missiles with the capability of carrying nuclear warheads.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'