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KittyWampus's Journal
KittyWampus's Journal
August 31, 2013

Judge Rules Americans Have A Right To Air Travel, Takes Aim At ĎNo Flyí List

Judge Rules Americans Have A Right To Air Travel, Takes Aim At ‘No Fly’ List

A Federal Judge in Portland Oregon ruled yesterday that air travel is not a “mere convenience” as the government maintains, but a constitutional right that cannot be taken away without due process. The decision puts in jeopardy the use of the current ‘No Fly’ list because the government does not even inform citizens their names are being added, much less give them an opportunity to contest their inclusion. Judge Anna J. Brown ruled:

“Although there are perhaps viable alternatives to flying for domestic travel within the continental United States such as traveling by car or train, the Court disagrees with Defendants’ contention that international air travel is a mere convenience in light of the realities of our modern world. Such an argument ignores the numerous reasons an individual may have for wanting or needing to travel overseas quickly such as for the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a business opportunity, or a religious obligation… the Court concludes on this record that Plaintiffs have a constitutionally-protected liberty interest in traveling internationally by air, which is affected by being placed on the list.”

The lawsuit was brought by the ACLU on behalf of thirteen people, including four former servicemen, whose names appear on the government’s No Fly List, though they say they have no idea why. News of the favorable decision was posted on the ACLU website last evening.

The ACLU argued the No Fly List violates the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees that a citizen cannot be deprived of liberty without due process. They further argued that no one is ever informed that they are on the list; the only way to know for sure is to buy a ticket and see if screeners allow you on a plane. They also contend that the government will not tell people on the list why they have been included, nor is there any reliable procedure to be taken off the No Fly List. Judge Brown agreed.


August 31, 2013

Christian School With Creationist 'Science' Quiz Closing Down For Financial Reasons

Grifters gonna grift-

Blue Ridge Christian Academy, the school that made headlines after one of its creationist "science" quizzes was posted online, is officially closing down, according to the Travelers Rest Tribune.

The private, religious South Carolina school received attention in April when one of its science quizzes was posted on Reddit and subsequently went viral. The quiz, which was meant for fourth graders and titled “Dinosaurs: Genesis and the Gospel,” affirmed creationist beliefs, including the notion that dinosaurs and humans previously roamed the earth together and that God created dinosaurs.

While the school received an onslaught of criticism for the quiz, administrators also thought the attention could be a blessing in disguise. After the quiz was posted online, the financially troubled school began receiving monetary donations from around the world.

By late May the school had received about $15,000 from more than 70 countries. Still, the school needed $200,000 in order to operate during the 2013–2014 school year, according to the Travelers Rest Tribune.


August 29, 2013

Syrian Rebels- They Aren't All Al Qaeda. Noticing Rightwing Sites Claiming This

and unfortunately some DU'ers are as well.

Who are the Syrian Rebels? Here's the info I found. Will stand corrected if this is wrong:

Free Syrian Arm- 50,000 fighters, a self-declared non-sectarian group of early army defectors. Remains the largest opposition group in the country.

Syrian Liberation Front- 37,000 fighters operating in southeast. Islamist ideology

Syrian Islamic Front- 13,000 fighters, operate in northeast. Islamist ideology

Jabhat al-Nusra- 5000 fighters originally, comprised of Iraqi insurgents & allied to Al Qaeda in Iraq. They are well organized. Many Free Syrian army fighters are apparently defecting to this group.


"The lack of organizational structure both within the Free Syrian Army and between rival groups has allowed human rights abuses, such as the recent confirmation of rebel commander Khaled al-Hamad eating a dead man's heart, as well as many other alleged abuses, to become common and go unpunished.

This gives Assad an advantage in the propaganda war, in which he portrays all rebels as thugs and terrorists. As well as undermining their support on the international stage, this mobilises Assad's Alawite base and allows his ruthless crackdown to continue with impunity."


August 29, 2013

Miniature 'human brain' grown in lab

Miniature 'human brain' grown in lab
By James Gallagher
Health and science reporter, BBC News

Miniature "human brains" have been grown in a lab in a feat scientists hope will transform the understanding of neurological disorders. The pea-sized structures reached the same level of development as in a nine-week-old foetus, but are incapable of thought.

They used either embryonic stem cells or adult skin cells to produce the part of an embryo that develops into the brain and spinal cord - the neuroectoderm. This was placed in tiny droplets of gel to give a scaffold for the tissue to grow and was placed into a spinning bioreactor, a nutrient bath that supplies nutrients and oxygen.

The cells were able to grow and organise themselves into separate regions of the brain, such as the cerebral cortex, the retina, and, rarely, an early hippocampus, which would be heavily involved in memory in a fully developed adult brain.

The "mini-brains" have survived for nearly a year, but did not grow any larger. There is no blood supply, just brain tissue, so nutrients and oxygen cannot penetrate into the middle of the brain-like structure.

The technique could also be used to replace mice and rats in drug research as new treatments could be tested on actual brain tissue.

"Now it's not thinking, it's not communicating between the areas in the way our brains do, but it gives us a real start and this is going to be the kind of tool that helps us understand many of the major developmental brain disorders."

The team has already used the breakthrough to investigate a disease called microcephaly. People with the disease develop much smaller brains. By creating a "mini-brain" from skin cells of a patient with this condition, the team were able to study how development changed…… They showed that the cells were too keen to become neurons by specialising too early. It meant the cells in the early brain did not bulk up to a high enough number before specialising, which affected the final size of even the pea-sized "mini-brains".

The team in Vienna do not believe there are any ethical issues at this stage, but Dr Knoblich said he did not want to see much larger brains being developed as that would be "undesirable".


August 29, 2013

Is It Possible Syrian Rebels, Not Assad, Used Chemical Weapons? (Yes, But Not Likely)


Back in 2002, research conducted by George Lopez, a professor of peace studies at the University of Notre Dame, cast doubt on the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In this situation, Lopez rejects the notion that it was the Syrian rebels who used chemical weapons.

"This anarchic, killing stalemate" could motivate anyone, Winfield says, but such a scenario just doesn't make sense.

For one thing, the alleged chemical attack happened in the Ghouta region of Damascus. It is controlled by the rebels, and civilians in the area sympathize with the rebels.

"If [the rebels] have overrun an arms dump which had some of the agent, if a defector brought a limited amount with him, then it would explain why some of the signs and symptoms showed less toxicity than we expected," Winfield said. "That is a lot of 'ifs,' though."

Lopez concurs: "Western intelligence has been standing on its head to monitor all intel about those groups hostile to the West and what they have in their weapons access and supply. The amount of gas agents seemingly used was way beyond what a clandestine group could mix and develop without detection. And it is unclear they would have the expertise to mix the agents.

"Is it possible that a rebel group overran a storage facility of the government and captured some shells that were ready to be activated and then did so?" Lopez says. "Yes, but it would have had to have been a very large seizure preceded by a big battle between Assad top teams and rebels. It could not have happened without inside/outside knowledge."
August 29, 2013

U.S. congressional leaders to receive Syria briefing on Thursday

Source: Reuters

U.S. congressional leaders to receive Syria briefing on Thursday

By Patricia Zengerle and Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON | Wed Aug 28, 2013 8:50pm EDT

(Reuters) - Senior Obama administration officials will brief congressional leaders on Thursday on the situation in Syria, congressional aides said, amid complaints by lawmakers they have not been properly consulted as the president deliberates about possible military action.

The briefing by senior White House and national security officials will be with leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives, and the chairmen and ranking members of national security committees, Democratic and Republican congressional aides said.

President Barack Obama has a legal obligation to consult with Congress before sending U.S. forces into harm's way.

The briefing comes as U.S. lawmakers have increasingly complained they should have more of a say in any decision to punish Syria militarily in response to last week's chemical weapons attack on thousands of civilians.



Obama has broad legal powers to undertake military action against Syria. Under the 1973 U.S. War Powers Act, the president must notify lawmakers within 48 hours of launching military action. But forces can fight for 60 days before Congress has to approve any action.


Read more: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/29/us-syria-crisis-usa-congress-idUSBRE97R18W20130829

August 28, 2013

Key Questions On Syria-Assad Isn't "Winning" & Had Incentive To Use Chemical Agents

Have seen numerous assertions that Assad is clearly winning and had no incentive to use chemical agents. This group of questions has some basic information on these issues.

Key Questions on the Conflict in Syria

How did the conflict in Syria begin, who are the antagonists and why are they still fighting?

The conflict in Syria grew out of the 2011 Arab Spring protests, when Syrians peacefully demonstrated in towns across the country against Mr. Assad, who succeeded his father, Hafez al-Assad, as president; between the two, the family has held the presidency for four decades. Unlike some other countries facing democratic protests, the Syrian government responded with violence, killing many protesters and radicalizing the movement. Civilians began to take up arms, at first to defend their demonstrations and later to fight security forces in their cities and towns. This nascent armed movement was at first bolstered by army defectors who organized themselves, with Turkish help, under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army, but over time radical Islamists, including some allied with Al Qaeda, came to play a dominant role, defeating government forces on the battlefield in some towns in the north and east and imposing their rule there.

Where does the conflict currently stand?

Today, the Assad government remains the strongest single actor in the conflict, although it has lost a significant amount of territory in the north and east and faces a stalemate against rebels in important areas of the country, including Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus. Nevertheless, it has a strong arsenal, including chemical weapons, and robust support from its main allies, Russia and Iran. The rebels remain divided among hundreds of small militias and brigades, the most powerful of which are radical Islamist groups. They control much of the country’s north and east, including its borders with Turkey and Iraq, and have begun to enforce Islamic law in some towns. The more secular rebels aligned with the Free Syrian Army are active in towns and suburbs in the south, including the areas of Damascus targeted by the suspected chemical attack, but they are generally weaker than their Islamist counterparts.

The conflict has been growing in intensity and scope for more than two years, with the United Nations estimating more than 100,000 dead and millions displaced, why would the government use chemical weapons now?

There are a number of theories about why the Syrian government might have chosen to use chemical weapons at this point, just days after United Nations weapons inspectors arrived to investigate earlier allegations of chemical weapons use. One theory proposed by a senior Israeli official is that the attack in the Damascus suburbs may have been a miscalculation: Syria may have been using chemical agents on a smaller scale for some time, and used an unintentionally large amount in last week’s attack. “Maybe they were trying to hit one place or to get one effect and they got a much greater effect than they thought,” said the official.

Another theory, argued by Juan Cole, a professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Michigan, is that a siege mentality may have contributed to the Assad government’s decision to use chemical weapons. Faced with intractable Sunni rebels in the Damascus suburbs, the Alawite-led government may have decided to send them a message that the capital would be defended at all costs. “It is the typical behavior of a weak regime facing superior demographic forces (the Alawites are far outnumbered by Sunnis) to deploy unconventional weaponry,” Mr. Cole wrote in a blog post.

What do the United States and its allies hope to achieve through military intervention in the Syrian conflict, and what are the risks?

Pentagon officials have said that President Obama is considering limited military action to “deter and degrade” the Syrian government’s ability to deploy chemical weapons. He is not considering a more ambitious air campaign like the one that helped oust Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya in 2011, nor is he considering any action that would lead to the deployment of American troops in Syria. Any strikes would target the military units that have deployed chemical weapons, said Pentagon officials, as well as their headquarters and rockets or artillery units that could be used to launch them. Any strikes would not target chemical weapons storage facilities, which could have environmental or humanitarian consequences or open up sensitive sites to looters.

August 28, 2013

Walmart Extends Benefits To LGBT Employees' Same-Sex Domestic Partners

Source: Forbes

Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, will soon offer a full suite of benefits to its employees’ domestic partners, including those of the same sex.

The change will take effect in all 50 states, independent of each state’s definition of what marriage, domestic partnership or civil union entails.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant sent postcards to its staffers on Monday outlining changes to their health insurance policies for 2014, including news that “full-time associates can cover any spouse or domestic partner,” regardless of gender.

Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove stressed that offering healthcare to LGBT partners is “one piece” of the store chain’s updated benefits package, which includes a vision plan, 100% coverage for some surgeries including hip replacement and incentives to quit smoking.


Read more: http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2013/08/28/walmart-extends-benefits-to-lgbt-employees-same-sex-domestic-partners/

Only good for full time employees… and most employees are part time, on purpose.
August 28, 2013

Syria Isnít Iraq. Everything Isnít Iraq

Yes, I know. It's Jonathan Chait.

Syria Isn’t Iraq. Everything Isn’t Iraq.
By Jonathan Chait

The generation that came of age during World War II famously — and, in time, tragically — came to apply the formative lessons to every foreign-policy event that followed it. The generation that came of age during the Vietnam War, and then, more recently, the Iraq War, was imprinted with the opposite lessons. I’m not immune: My formative experience in college was the Gulf War and, soon after that, the eventual, successful interventions in the Balkans. (I have a cousin who is married to a Kosovar, whose husband was murdered by Serbian militants, and who was saved by the United States military.)

The merits of intervening in Syria strike me as both a closer call and a lower-stakes matter than what we think of as “major wars.” …… Attacking the Syrian regime won’t stop all future massacres of civilians, or even all chemical attacks on civilians, but it does strike, on balance, as better than doing nothing at all.

I’m continually struck by the ideological cleavage between myself and the Iraq War–vintage smart center-left writers, who generally agree with me on domestic policy but sharply diverge with me on foreign policy. Matthew Yglesias, for instance, regularly makes arguments against any kind of military intervention that impress other Iraq War–era neoliberals but strike me as insanely reductive. The arguments Yglesias poses today against a military strike against Syria eerily echo the arguments conservatives and libertarians make against any kind of domestic government intervention.

The argument for intervening in Libya was not that doing so would turn the country into a peaceful, Westernized democracy moving rapidly up the OECD rankings. It was that it would prevent an immediate, enormous massacre of civilians. Libya remains an ugly place; it would have been so regardless of whether NATO intervened. But the narrow, humanitarian goal that drove the U.S. to act was unambiguously accomplished without the larger dangers of mission creep that foes warned against. It’s telling that, rather than arguing that the overall costs exceeded the benefits, opponents are resorting to listing any bad things that have happened since.
An even worse argument is that, if we want to prevent the deaths of people in Third World countries, we should use humanitarian aid for things like anti-malarial nets rather than military force against people who are massacring them.

snip As I said, it is not an easy call. But I continue to be amazed that some of my younger liberal friends find it so easy to dismiss any weighing of pros and cons by venturing arguments structurally identical to ones that, in a domestic context, they recognize as absurd.

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