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Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

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Elizabeth Warren- The Trans-Pacific Partnership clause everyone should oppose

By Elizabeth Warren

The United States is in the final stages of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive free-trade agreement with Mexico, Canada, Japan, Singapore and seven other countries. Who will benefit from the TPP? American workers? Consumers? Small businesses? Taxpayers? Or the biggest multinational corporations in the world?

One strong hint is buried in the fine print of the closely guarded draft. The provision, an increasingly common feature of trade agreements, is called “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS. The name may sound mild, but don’t be fooled. Agreeing to ISDS in this enormous new treaty would tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations. Worse, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.

ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions — and even billions — of dollars in damages.

If that seems shocking, buckle your seat belt. ISDS could lead to gigantic fines, but it wouldn’t employ independent judges. Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you’re a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it’s your turn in the judge’s seat?


Morgan Stanley in $2.6 Billion Mortgage Settlement

Source: NYT

Morgan Stanley said on Wednesday that it had reached a $2.6 billion settlement with the Justice Department over the sale of mortgage securities before the financial crisis.

Other large banks have already struck similar settlements, with Bank of America agreeing to pay a record $16.7 billion last year and JPMorgan Chase settling for $13 billion in 2013.

Compared with other Wall Street banks, Morgan Stanley was responsible for a smaller volume of securities backed by troubled mortgages, the investments at the heart of the settlements.

The $2.6 billion price tag, which will be included in Morgan Stanley’s final fourth-quarter earnings results, will more than wipe out the $1 billion in quarterly profits that the firm had announced last month. It will also reduce the firm’s profits for the year by more than 40 percent, taking the bank’s earnings for 2014 to $1.61 a share from $2.96 a share.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/26/business/dealbook/morgan-stanley-in-2-6-billion-mortgage-settlement.html?_r=1

Poor banksters….

Trump says he is serious about 2016 bid, is hiring staff and delaying TV gig

By Robert Costa February 25 at 3:19 PM

This time, Donald J. Trump says, he really means it.

The billionaire real-estate mogul — long amounting to a one-man circus sideshow in GOP presidential politics — said in an interview Wednesday that he is “more serious” than ever about pursuing a run for the White House in 2016.

In recent days, Trump said, he has hired staffers in key primary states, retained an election attorney and delayed signing on for another season as host of NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” because of his political projects.

“Everybody feels I’m doing this just to have fun or because it’s good for the brand,” Trump said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Well, it’s not fun. I’m not doing this for enjoyment. I’m doing this because the country is in serious trouble.”



honk honk- Mr Trump, the Clown car has arrived to pick you up

Pack of guinea pigs abandoned at Dolores Park in San Francisco

f you were waiting for the J train at the 20th and Church Streets Muni stop this morning, you might have noticed guinea pigs scampering around in the grass above the tracks. When the train rustled by, the furry rodents darted into bushes but as soon as quiet fell they came out from hiding to nibble on grass.

The lead gardener at Dolores Park, who prefers to go by just Michelle, says about six or seven guinea pigs were left in the park overnight.

“People leave all kinds of pets in Dolores Park,” Michelle says. “Bunnies, chickens and once I caught a man grazing his goats here.”

“It’s Dolores Park,” she added. “We get a lot of weird stuff here.”



First human head transplant could happen in two years

A radical plan for transplanting a head onto someone else’s body is set to be announced. But is such ethically sensitive surgery even feasible?

IT'S heady stuff. The world's first attempt to transplant a human head will be launched this year at a surgical conference in the US. The move is a call to arms to get interested parties together to work towards the surgery.

The idea was first proposed in 2013 by Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy. He wants to use the surgery to extend the lives of people whose muscles and nerves have degenerated or whose organs are riddled with cancer. Now he claims the major hurdles, such as fusing the spinal cord and preventing the body's immune system from rejecting the head, are surmountable, and the surgery could be ready as early as 2017.

Canavero plans to announce the project at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons (AANOS) in Annapolis, Maryland, in June. Is society ready for such momentous surgery? And does the science even stand up?

The first successful head transplant, in which one head was replaced by another, was carried out in 1970. A team led by Robert White at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, transplanted the head of one monkey onto the body of another. They didn't attempt to join the spinal cords, though, so the monkey couldn't move its body, but it was able to breathe with artificial assistance. The monkey lived for nine days until its immune system rejected the head. Although few head transplants have been carried out since, many of the surgical procedures involved have progressed. "I think we are now at a point when the technical aspects are all feasible," says Canavero.



Watch desert dust cross the ocean as seen from space

Huge clouds of dust from the Sahara desert are blown across the Atlantic Ocean every year, creating massive plumes that can be seen from space. Now, for the first time, a NASA satellite has calculated how much of it ends up in the Amazon rainforest, which depends on the delivery to keep its soil fertile.

The glowing arcs above are slices of dust clouds in the atmosphere, imaged along lines of longitude. Between 2007 and 2013, the satellite, called CALIPSO, bounced lasers off the dust and analysed reflected light to find that about 27.7 million tons of dust reaches the Amazon basin every year.

Due to the region's high rainfall, phosphorus in the soil – which is essential for plant growth – is washed away by local rivers. But luckily, the Saharan delivery contains about the same amount of the lost element, replenishing its supply.

Close to 43 million tons of dust is carried even farther than the Amazon, settling over the Caribbean Sea.


Men have hands amputated and replaced with bionic ones

Bionic hands are go. Three men with serious nerve damage had their hands amputated and replaced by prosthetic ones that they can control with their minds.

The procedure, dubbed "bionic reconstruction", was carried out by Oskar Aszmann at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria.

The men had all suffered accidents which damaged the brachial plexus – the bundle of nerve fibres that runs from the spine to the hand. Despite attempted repairs to those nerves, the arm and hand remained paralysed.

"But still there are some nerve fibres present," says Aszmann. "The injury is so massive that there are only a few. This is just not enough to make the hand alive. They will never drive a hand, but they might drive a prosthetic hand."


Alaska Legalizes Recreational Marijuana, Prompting Sarah Palin’s Town To Ban Pot Brownies

On Tuesday, Alaska became the third state in the U.S to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The law was passed in the November 2014 election, with 53.2 percent of Alaska voters approving the measure. It takes effect on Tuesday, February 24th.

Alaska joins Colorado and Washington State, becoming the third state to legalize recreational pot smoking. Colorado and Washington passed ballot measures legalizing marijuana in 2012. Voters in Washington D.C. and Oregon also passed legalization initiatives in November 2014. Oregon’s law will go into effect on July 1, 2015. The District of Columbia could see legal marijuana as early as Thursday, February 26, but because of wrangling between Congress and local officials, Washington D.C.’s status remains somewhat nebulous.

The new Alaska law permits residents to grow up to six marijuana plants and to share up to an ounce at a time with other individuals. It also allows private consumption of marijuana, which was already permitted by a 1975 State Supreme Court ruling, but the new measure erased ambiguity by overriding some laws that contradicted the Court’s ruling. Public consumption of pot is still prohibited, and anyone caught smoking marijuana in public could be subject to a 100 dollar fine.

Reacting to the law’s implementation, Alaska’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board issued an emergency regulation Tuesday morning, to define a public place. The regulation stipulated that, for the purposes of marijuana consumption, a public place is defined as:

A place to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access and includes highways, transportation facilities, schools, places of amusement or business, parks, playgrounds, prisons, and hallways, lobbies, and other portions of apartment houses and hotels not constituting rooms or apartments designed for actual residence.

While Anchorage has permitted the operation of Cannabis Cafes, which would permit pot use inside, the small town of Wasilla scrambled to impose specific restrictions just hours before the law took effect. Wasilla is best known for its most famous resident, Sarah Palin, who was mayor of the city of approximately 8,000 residents, from 1996-2002.



Can't have MJ competing with the meth, ya know....

Are We Entering a New Period of Rapid Global Warming?

By: Bob Henson

Residents of New England may understandably look back at 2015 as the year of their never-ending winter. For the planet as a whole, though, this year could stand out most for putting to rest the “hiatus”— the 15-year slowdown in atmospheric warming that gained intense scrutiny by pundits, scientists, and the public. While interesting in its own right, the hiatus garnered far more attention than it deserved as a purported sign that future global warming would be much less than expected. The slowdown was preceded by almost 20 years of dramatic global temperature rise, and with 2014 having set a new global record high, there are signs that another decade-plus period of intensified atmospheric warming may be at our doorstep.

The most compelling argument for a renewed surge in global air temperature is rooted in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). This index tracks the fingerprint of sea surface temperature (SST) across the Pacific north of 20°N. A closely related index, the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO), covers a larger swath of the entire Pacific. Both the PDO and IPO capture back-and-forth swings in the geography of Pacific SSTs that affect the exchange of heat between ocean and atmosphere (see Figure 1). We’ll use PDO as shorthand for both indexes in the following discussion.

The PDO typically leans toward a positive or negative state for more than a decade at a time. The positive phase, which features warmer-than-average SSTs along the U.S. West Coast, was dominant from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s. The PDO then flipped to a negative phase between about 1999 and 2013, with cooler-than-average SSTs along the West Coast. Figure 2 shows that even when a particular mode is favored, the PDO can still flip back to its opposite mode for periods of a few months or so.

It’s not clear exactly what drives the PDO, but in some ways it can be viewed as a geographically expanded version of the SST patterns created by El Niño and La Niña, averaged over a longer time period. (See Figure 2.) It’s well-established that El Niño can raise global temperature for a few months by several tenths of a degree Celsius, as warm water spreads over the eastern tropical Pacific and mixes with the overlying atmosphere. Likewise, La Niña can act to pull down global average temperature, as cooler-than-average water extends further west than usual across the tropical Pacific. The PDO mirrors these trends, but over longer periods. When the PDO is positive, there are more El Niño and fewer La Niña events, and heat stored in the ocean tends to be spread across a larger surface area, allowing it to enter the atmosphere more easily. When the PDO is negative, SSTs are below average across a larger area, and global air temperatures tend to be lower.



Study: Killers are less likely to be executed if their victims are black

Black people are much more frequently executed for killing white people than white people are for killing black people, and capital punishment is rarely used at all victims when are black — especially when they're male.

That's according to a paper that's set to be published in the journal Politics, Groups, and Identities.

The researchers — Frank Baumgartner, Amanda Grigg, and Alisa Mastro —compared homicide victim data with data on the victims of every inmate executed in the US from 1976 through 2013 (that's 1,369 executions).

Here's some of what they say the data revealed:

While 47 percent of all homicide victims were black, blacks made up 17 percent of the victims of inmates who were executed.


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