Daily Archives: May 27, 2011

US Senate renews anti-terror powers

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (AFP/Getty Images/File, Chip Somodevilla)

AFP | May 27, 2011

WASHINGTON — The US Senate voted Thursday to extend until 2015 controversial counter-terrorism search and surveillance powers at the heart of the Patriot Act adopted after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Lawmakers adopted the measure 72-23 just hours before it expires at midnight (0400 GMT Friday), sending the bill to the House of Representatives. Voting in the House was not expected until 8:00 pm (0000 GMT), according to a congressional aide.

With the clock ticking, President Barack Obama — currently on a European tour — would also have to sign the act for it to pass into law.

FBI and intelligence officials have warned that if the Patriot Act is not extended by the deadline they would be robbed of crucial tools in the fight against terrorism — including wiretapping.

“I have no doubt that the four-year Patriot Act extension, that members of both parties will agree to today, will safeguard us from future attacks,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.


Kill The Un-American Patriot Act

Congress has debated whether to extend the act just temporarily, longer-term or permanently in recent months. In February, Congress approved a three-month extension to allow time for negotiations.

In play are provisions allowing authorities to use roving wiretaps to track an individual on several telephones; track a non-US national suspected of being a “lone-wolf” terrorist not tied to an extremist group; and to seize personal or business records or “any tangible thing” seen as critical to an investigation.

While the White House backs extending those powers, the law has drawn fire from an unusual coalition of liberal Democrats and Republicans tied to the arch-conservative “Tea Party” movement who say it goes too far.

Republican conservative Rand Paul sought to impede the extension by adding on several amendments, including a ban on inspecting some archives of arms sellers during terror investigations. That measure was rejected in an 85-10 vote.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy called for greater congressional surveillance in counterterrorism inquiries.

FBI director Robert Mueller wrote to Congress leaders on Wednesday to warn them of the urgency of the matter.

“It is important that these tools be reauthorized without lapsing,” Mueller wrote, opposing proposed amendments which he said “would adversely impact our operations.”

“Certain amendments currently being proposed would impose unique limitations on our ability to investigate foreign spies and terrorists and protect Americans against foreign threats.”

Body of Chilean President Salvador Allende is exhumed to determine whether he was killed or committed suicide

Medical workers remove the coffin of Chilean President Salvador Allende from a tomb in Santiago. (Roberto Candia, Associated Press / May 24, 2011)

A forensic team will try to determine whether the leader, who was overthrown in 1973, actually committed suicide, as is believed, or was killed.

Los Angeles Times | May 24, 2011

By Fabiola Gutierrez and Chris Kraul

Reporting from Santiago, Chile, and Bogota,— Nearly four decades after a bloody coup overthrew Chilean President Salvador Allende, the remains of the socialist leader were exhumed Monday to try to determine whether he was killed or committed suicide.

The flag-draped coffin of Allende, who died during an attack on the presidential palace on Sept. 11, 1973, by military forces, was removed from Santiago’s General Cemetery by government officials and taken to a forensic medicine facility.

The procedure was authorized by an appellate court judge April 15 in response to controversy over whether Allende killed himself, was felled by a bullet fired from outside the palace, was given a coup de grace by an associate after a failed suicide attempt or was executed by soldiers.

The longstanding version of events, which has been accepted by Allende’s family, is that the president killed himself with an AK-47 assault rifle given to him by Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Forces controlled by coup leader Gen. Augusto Pinochet were about to storm the palace and Allende had vowed not to be taken alive.

Human rights groups and independent investigators say there are discrepancies in the official autopsy report, among them the possibility that the late president suffered two gunshot wounds. The lawyer who led the effort to reopen the case said clarifying the circumstances of Allende’s death was “a debt to human rights.”

“The wound left by President Salvador Allende’s death is still open,” the lawyer, Eduardo Contreras, told The Times in a telephone interview. “We have never gotten to the bottom of the real cause,” he said, adding that the position of Allende’s body and the rifle did not “correspond with a suicide.”

Allende’s daughter Isabel — a senator who is not to be confused with the novelist of the same name, a cousin — read a statement at the cemetery Monday saying the family supported the investigation even though it remains convinced Allende’s death was a suicide.

One Allende supporter, physician Patricio Guijon, said he was present during Allende’s suicide and saw the president’s skull explode from a shot fired with a weapon Allende had placed between his knees.

But rights groups say the president’s death has never been officially investigated by the government and is one of 726 such open cases from the coup and the years of military rule that lack closure.

A 1975 investigation by a U.S. Senate committee into CIA activities found that U.S. intelligence officials “appeared to have condoned” the coup and may have helped its leaders gather information before the overthrow.

Allende’s remains were first buried in Valparaiso west of the capital, then moved to Santiago in 1990 after Pinochet left power. No target date has been set for completion of the investigation by a six-member forensic team, which includes Spanish doctor Francisco Echeverria, who was named by the Allende family.

Chinese labor camp guards forced prisoners to play World of Warcraft in lucrative internet gaming scam

Chinese prisoners were forced into ‘gold farming’ – building up credits on online games such as World of Warcraft.

Labour camp detainees endure hard labour by day, online ‘gold farming’ by night

China used prisoners in lucrative internet gaming work

guardian.co.uk | May 26, 2011    

by Danny Vincent in Beijing

As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali would slog through tough days breaking rocks and digging trenches in the open cast coalmines of north-east China. By night, he would slay demons, battle goblins and cast spells.

Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for “illegally petitioning” the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.

“Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour,” Liu told the Guardian. “There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn’t see any of the money. The computers were never turned off.”

Memories from his detention at Jixi re-education-through-labour camp in Heilongjiang province from 2004 still haunt Liu. As well as backbreaking mining toil, he carved chopsticks and toothpicks out of planks of wood until his hands were raw and assembled car seat covers that the prison exported to South Korea and Japan. He was also made to memorise communist literature to pay off his debt to society.

But it was the forced online gaming that was the most surreal part of his imprisonment. The hard slog may have been virtual, but the punishment for falling behind was real.

“If I couldn’t complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things,” he said.

It is known as “gold farming”, the practice of building up credits and online value through the monotonous repetition of basic tasks in online games such as World of Warcraft. The trade in virtual assets is very real, and outside the control of the games’ makers. Millions of gamers around the world are prepared to pay real money for such online credits, which they can use to progress in the online games.

The trading of virtual currencies in multiplayer games has become so rampant in China that it is increasingly difficult to regulate. In April, the Sichuan provincial government in central China launched a court case against a gamer who stole credits online worth about 3000rmb.

The lack of regulations has meant that even prisoners can be exploited in this virtual world for profit.

According to figures from the China Internet Centre, nearly £1.2bn of make- believe currencies were traded in China in 2008 and the number of gamers who play to earn and trade credits are on the rise.

It is estimated that 80% of all gold farmers are in China and with the largest internet population in the world there are thought to be 100,000 full-time gold farmers in the country.

In 2009 the central government issued a directive defining how fictional currencies could be traded, making it illegal for businesses without licences to trade. But Liu, who was released from prison before 2009 believes that the practice of prisoners being forced to earn online currency in multiplayer games is still widespread.

“Many prisons across the north-east of China also forced inmates to play games. It must still be happening,” he said.

“China is the factory of virtual goods,” said Jin Ge, a researcher from the University of California San Diego who has been documenting the gold farming phenomenon in China. “You would see some exploitation where employers would make workers play 12 hours a day. They would have no rest through the year. These are not just problems for this industry but they are general social problems. The pay is better than what they would get for working in a factory. It’s very different,” said Jin.

“The buyers of virtual goods have mixed feelings … it saves them time buying online credits from China,” said Jin.

The emergence of gold farming as a business in China – whether in prisons or sweatshops could raise new questions over the exporting of goods real or virtual from the country.

“Prison labour is still very widespread – it’s just that goods travel a much more complex route to come to the US these days. And it is not illegal to export prison goods to Europe, said Nicole Kempton from the Laogai foundation, a Washington-based group which opposes the forced labour camp system in China.

Officials suppressed WWII report indicating no evidence of Japanese American disloyalty

U.S. official cites misconduct in Japanese American internment cases

Acting Solicitor Gen. Neal Katyal says one of his predecessors, Charles Fahy, deliberately hid from the Supreme Court a military report that Japanese Americans were not a threat in World War II.

LA Times | May 24, 2011

By David G. Savage, Washington Bureau

Korematsu, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton, died in Marin County in 2005 at age 86. On Tuesday, his daughter Karen said she was grateful that Katyal had acknowledged the mistakes of his predecessor.

Reporting from Washington — Acting Solicitor Gen. Neal Katyal, in an extraordinary admission of misconduct, took to task one of his predecessors for hiding evidence and deceiving the Supreme Court in two of the major cases in its history: the World War II rulings that upheld the detention of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans.

Katyal said Tuesday that Charles Fahy, an appointee of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, deliberately hid from the court a report from the Office of Naval Intelligence that concluded the Japanese Americans on the West Coast did not pose a military threat. The report indicated there was no evidence Japanese Americans were disloyal, were acting as spies or were signaling enemy submarines, as some at the time had suggested.

Fahy was defending Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which authorized forced removals of Japanese Americans from “military areas” in 1942. The solicitor general, the U.S. government’s top courtroom attorney, is viewed as the most important and trusted lawyer to appear before the Supreme Court, and Katyal said he had a “duty of absolute candor in our representations to the court.”

Katyal, 41, who is of Indian American heritage and is the first Asian American to hold the post, said he decided “to set the record straight” Tuesday at a Justice Department event honoring Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

He said that two of the government’s civilian lawyers had told Fahy it would be “suppression of evidence” to keep the naval intelligence report from the high court.

“What does Fahy do? Nothing,” Katyal said.

Instead, Fahy told the justices the government and the military agreed the roundup of Japanese Americans was required as a matter of “military necessity.” Roosevelt issued the order on Feb. 19, 1942, about two months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, which plunged the U.S. into World War II.

In 1943, the high court unanimously upheld a curfew imposed on Japanese Americans in the case of Gordon Hirabayashi vs. United States. And in 1944, the court in a 6-3 decision upheld the removal order imposed on Japanese Americans in Fred Korematsu vs. United States. The majority accepted the government’s claim that it was a matter of “military urgency.”

Scholars and judges have denounced the World War II rulings as among the worst in the court’s history, but neither the high court nor the Justice Department had formally admitted they were mistaken — until now.

“It seemed obvious to me we had made a mistake. The duty of candor wasn’t met,” Katyal said.

Korematsu, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton, died in Marin County in 2005 at age 86. On Tuesday, his daughter Karen said she was grateful that Katyal had acknowledged the mistakes of his predecessor.

“It was a remarkable statement he made,” she said. “It proves what my father believed all along — that removing the Japanese Americans was wrong and incarcerating them was unconstitutional.”

Korematsu was sent to a camp in Utah, one of 10 in the country. California had two, Tule Lake and Manzanar.

Katyal said that last summer he was doing research for several immigration cases when he came upon some ugly, disturbing comments about Asians in 19th century briefs submitted to the Supreme Court. Chinese immigrants were described as “people not suited to our institutions.” People from India were described as a “subject race.”

He then looked into the history of the World War II internment cases, including documents revealed in the 1980s. Peter Irons, a professor at UC San Diego, had found reports in old government files that showed the U.S. military did not see Japanese Americans as a threat in 1942. His research led to federal court hearings that set aside the convictions of Korematsu and Hirabayashi. Congress later voted to have the nation apologize and pay reparations to those who were wrongly held.

Katyal said he decided it was important to publicly acknowledge the mistakes made in the solicitor general’s office. Hiding the truth from the justices, he said, “harmed the court, and it harmed 120,000 Japanese Americans. It harmed our reputation as lawyers and as human beings, and it harmed our commitment to those words on the court’s building: Equal Justice Under Law.”

Hirabayashi is now 93 and living in Canada. His memory of the World War II years has faded, said his nephew Lane Hirabayashi, a professor of Asian American studies at UCLA. “I know Gordon would be very pleased by this. He didn’t know at the time that government prosecutors had distorted evidence. However, he knew in his heart that mass incarceration was unconstitutional,” he said.

“I thought it was good and very long overdue,” Irons said of Katyal’s statement. “This was a deliberate, knowing lie by Fahy to the Supreme Court. For the government’s highest counsel to make that statement now is quite noteworthy and admirable.”

A year ago, Katyal became the acting solicitor general when Elena Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court. He had made a name for himself in legal circles in 2006 when took on the case of Salim Hamdan, who faced a military trial at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He won in the Supreme Court, which struck down the military commissions because they had not been authorized by Congress.

But that victory in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld earned him some critics in the Senate — and it may have cost him the chance to win Senate confirmation as solicitor general. This year, President Obama passed over Katyal and nominated Deputy White House Counsel Donald Verrilli Jr. for the post. Katyal said he would step down when the Senate officially confirmed Verrilli.

With no labeling, few realize they are eating genetically modified foods

Some consumers are concerned that such foods may pose health risks and say manufacturers should be required to identify them for consumers

LA Times | May 24, 2011

By Monica Eng, Tribune reporter

When a team of activists wearing white hazmat suits showed up at a Chicago grocery store to protest the sale of genetically modified foods, they picked an unlikely target: Whole Foods Market.

Organic foods, by definition, can’t knowingly contain genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs. But genetically modified corn, soy and other crops have become such common ingredients in processed foods that even one of the nation’s top organic food retailers says it hasn’t been able to avoid stocking some products that contain them.

“No one would guess that there are genetically engineered foods right here in Whole Foods,” said Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association, which organized the protest. The activists dramatically trashed a battery of well-known health food brands outside the store, including Tofutti, Kashi and Boca Burgers.

Though people have been modifying foodstuffs through selective breeding and other methods for centuries, genetically modified crops differ in that the plants grow from seeds in which DNA splicing has been used to place genes from another source into a plant. In this way, the crop can be made to withstand a weed-killing pesticide, for example, or incorporate a bacterial toxin that can repel pests.

Some consumers are concerned that such changes may pose health risks and say manufacturers should be required to prove GMOs are safe for human consumption before putting them on the market. They also say products containing genetically modified ingredients should be identified for the consumer; the U.S. is one of the few industrialized nations that does not require such labeling or testing.

Industry representatives say that GMOs are safe and that labeling them is unnecessary, citing a 1992 statement from the FDA saying the agency had no reason to believe GMOs “differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.” No mainstream regulatory organization in the U.S. has opposed the introduction of GMOs.

“FDA has the scientific and nutrition expertise to establish food labeling and to assess food safety,” said Ab Basu, the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s acting executive vice president for food and agriculture. “You can look at the FDA website and see that if the corn is substantially equivalent to corn produced conventionally, there is no reason to label it as being any different.”

Critics of the technology say they are concerned not only about possible health risks but also about soil and plant nutrient losses, contamination of non-GMO crops and increased pesticide use.

With an unprecedented number of genetically modified crops being greenlighted by the Obama administration in recent months amid public debate — including ethanol corn, alfalfa and sugar beets under certain conditions — some advocates say the issues may be reaching the awareness of consumers beyond the health-conscious shoppers who frequent Whole Foods.

They cite polls taken by the Pew Center, Consumers Union and Harris Interactive over the last decade that have consistently found the vast majority of Americans would like to see genetically modified foods better regulated and labeled.

“If companies say genetic engineering is fine, then OK let’s label it and let the consumers make their own decisions,” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, which produces Consumer Reports. “That’s what all the free market supporters say. So let’s let the market work properly.”

Michael Jacobsen, executive director for Center for Science in the Public Interest, which does not oppose GMOs, says many manufacturers see labeling as too risky. “No food company would use GMOs if they had to label them because there is no benefit to the companies,” he said. “The term GMO has become a toxic term, and so if a company figures they will lose maybe 2 percent of their sales why should they? It’s all loss for them.”

In fact, a 2006 study for the Pew Initiative for Food and Biotechnology found that only 23 percent of women (the primary shopping decision makers) thought genetically modified foods were safe.

But knowledge on this topic also remains low. The same Pew study found that only 26 percent of American consumers believed they’d ever eaten genetically modified food, while a 2010 survey by the International Food Information Council reported that only 28 percent of respondents knew such foods were sold in stores.

Currently 14 states have introduced legislation on GMO labeling but most of it has not moved out of committee, including an Illinois bill introduced in February by Rep. Deborah Mell, D-Chicago. She says she plans to reintroduce it next session. Only Alaska, with its huge wild salmon industry, has passed a biotech seafood labeling law.

On the issue of safety, both sides of the debate come armed with research. This year Spanish researchers published an overview of GMO food safety studies in Environment International, finding that peer-reviewed studies had found health risks and no health risks in roughly equal numbers. The paper notes, however, that many studies finding no risks were sponsored by the biotech industry or associates.

Canadian researchers this year reported that the blood of 93 percent of pregnant women and 80 percent of their umbilical cord blood samples contained a pesticide implanted in GMO corn by the biotech company Monsanto, though digestion is supposed to remove it from the body. “Given the potential toxicity of these environmental pollutants and the fragility of the fetus, more studies are needed,” they wrote in Reproductive Toxicology.

As the biggest producer of GMO seeds and the compatible pesticide Roundup, Missouri-based Monsanto is at the heart of the GMO debate. Monsanto would not make a representative available for an interview but did offer a statement on the lack of long-term animal or human safety studies on genetically modified crops.

“Experts in the field of food safety are satisfied that (the current) approach is sufficient and reliable to assure the genetically modified crops are as safe as their conventional counterparts,” the statement said. “This expert community does not see a need and thus does not recommend long-term tests in humans or animals in order to establish food safety.”

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Oil Spill Hearing to Focus on Sickness and Other Claims BP Wants to Dismiss

courthousenews.com | May 27, 2011


     NEW ORLEANS (CN) – A Thursday hearing will focus on motions to dismiss claims in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including claims from cleanup workers who say they are sick from exposure to toxic chemicals.

     Thousands of plaintiffs have filed hundreds of claims for personal injuries, property damages and other causes stemming from the April 20, 2010 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drill rig that killed 11 people and dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Almost all of the claims have been consolidated in New Orleans Federal Court under U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier.

Because the issues vary widely, the lawsuits have been divided into pleading bundles. The Thursday hearing will concern bundles B1, B3 and D1.

BP, Transocean, Halliburton, Cameron International, Nalco – the manufacturer of the dispersant Corexit – and numerous other defendants filed motions over the past months challenging claims in the three pleading bundles.

Bundle B1 concerns economic damages, B3 health issues related to oil exposure and oil spill cleanup, and D1 is from plaintiffs challenging regulatory actions under the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Restoration, Cleanup and Liability Act, and maritime and state laws.

A motion filed by the plaintiff steering committee states that B3 bundle plaintiffs “are individuals who worked in the Vessels of Opportunity (‘VoO’) program, other vessel captains and crew not involved in the VoO program who were nonetheless assisting in clean-up efforts and were exposed to the oil’s and/or chemical dispersants’ harmful effects, and beach clean-up workers and residents who live in close proximity to the shore. …

“The chemicals to which they were exposed – hydrocarbons from oil and in situ burning and chemical dispersant, including Corexit – can cause a wide array of health problems, such as respiratory ailments, disruption of the nervous system, impairment of liver and kidney function, and interference with the reproductive system.”

The steering committee says “the defendants had the means, ability and opportunity to protect people who participated in the clean-up effort, as well as shoreline residents, from toxic exposure. Consequently, the defendants could have prevented their illnesses and diseases. But, instead, the defendants cavalierly failed to take even the minimum of safety measures to ensure the health and welfare of workers and the community at risk of exposure to the chemicals. As a result, thousands of people are ill and/or have been exposed to chemicals in a manner that puts them at risk of becoming ill in the future.”

The plaintiffs want BP and the other oil spill defendants to pay for medical monitoring – the defendants say they don’t have to.

Nalco, which made Corexit, which was dumped in quantity onto the Gulf to sink and disperse the oil slicks, “moves to dismiss the B3 Master Complaint on the grounds that plaintiffs’ products liability claims are ‘conflict preempted’ because the federal government has approved the use of dispersants, including Corexit, for oil spill response generally and specifically for the BP oil spill response,” the plaintiffs’ document states.

“To prevail on its motion, defendant Nalco would have to show as a matter of law that plaintiffs’ injuries stem from defendants’ compliance with federal law and that it was physically impossible to use a less toxic dispersant,” the motion states.
Cleanup workers say they were not given appropriate gear to shield them from contact with the oil and dispersants. They say that at times dispersants were sprayed onto them from planes as they worked.

In a complaint filed a week ago, Paul Hebert says he worked aboard a boat for a company that BP hired to help contain the oil spill at the site of the Macondo well. Hebert’s complaint says the job put him in constant exposure to oil and other toxic chemicals, but he was not provided a respirator. He says he “developed a seizure disorder, memory problems, toxic poisoning, respiratory problems, skin rashes, stomach complications, and other long term health effects not yet known.” Hebert seeks $25 million in damages.

The plaintiffs’ motion in opposition to dismissing the B3 bundle says the defendants have claimed immunity to lawsuits under the federal Clean Water Act.

The plaintiffs say that reasoning is erroneous: “Congress expressly immunized the federal government from liability for ‘any damages arising from its actions or omissions relating to any response plan required by’ the Clean Water Act. 33 U.S.C. 1321 (j) (8). This limitation on liability inures only to the benefit of the federal government for the specified activity. Defendants are not the federal government; they are private entities. Nothing in the language of the Act suggests that this provision extends to any other party or entity. …

“The statutory and regulatory sections cited to by plaintiffs in the B3 bundle master complaint are not a mysterious web of laws existing in the ether – they are the very heart of the laws that prohibit water pollution, in particular from spills, and set forth the clean-up responses and obligations to workers required in the unfortunate instances in which such a spill occurs.”

The defendants’ objections to claims filed under the B1 master complaint focus on the Oil Pollution Act.

BP claims that none of the plaintiffs in the B1 master complaint are eligible for the claims they make under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) because the plaintiffs must file an OPA claim through the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) and wait to either be denied or for the 90-day negotiation period to pass before they may file suit against BP.

BP says that “every court considering the issue has held that dismissal is mandatory for a plaintiff who failed to comply with OPA’s claim presentment requirement.”

Attorneys for defendants did not immediately return phone calls.

Coldest May in 41 years for Sydney Australia

With five days of this month left, Sydney is already on track to record its coldest May in 41 years.

southern-courier | May 26, 11

“Yesterday was Sydney’s coldest day since July 2010 with maximum temperatures only reaching 14°C due to thick cloud and strong, southerly winds. It was also our coldest May day in 11 years, which was five degrees below average,” says Tom Saunders, Meteorologist at The Weather Channel.

“Lighter winds and less cloud will bring a slightly warmer day today. However, a southerly wind will persist until at least the end of the month, keeping temperatures below average and ensuring the city records its coldest May in 41 years,” he continues.

“So far this month Sydney’s minimum temperatures have averaged just 10.7°C which is below the long term average of 11.5°C and our lowest in May since 1970. The maximum temperatures have actually averaged a touch warmer than normal at 19.7°C, but are still the lowest since 1992 due to warm weather over recent decades,” says Saunders.

In good news for Sydneysiders, the recent cold spell does not indicate an upcoming severe winter.

“Despite the cold May most seasonal forecasts predict a warmer than normal winter over most of southern Australia. This is due to favourable sea surface temperatures surrounding the country. Historical records also show little relationship between autumn and winter temperatures,” he concludes.

Amid health fears, Diet Coke sweetener in safety spotlight

The concern about artificial sweeteners such as aspartame relates to the fact that they contain methanol, a nerve toxin which can be metabolised in the body to form two more nerve toxins: formic acid and formaldehyde, the chemical used to preserve dead bodies.

Daily Mail | May 27, 2011

By Sean Poulter

A sweetener used in Diet Coke is to undergo a safety review over fears that it has harmful effects on human health

An artificial sweetener used in Diet Coke is to undergo an urgent EU safety review.

Aspartame is ingested every day by millions of people around the world in more than 6,000 well-known brands of food, drink  and medicine.

However, it has been the subject of a number of studies that appear to show harmful effects on human health.

One recent study linked diet drinks containing aspartame to premature births, while another suggested it could cause cancer.

To date, health watchdogs, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), have ruled out any link to ill-health.

But after several MEPs asked for a new investigation following pressure from European health campaigners, EU Commission officials have now asked the EFSA to bring forward a review that had been planned for 2020.

The concern about artificial sweeteners such as aspartame relates to the fact that they contain methanol, a nerve toxin which can be metabolised in the body to form two more nerve toxins: formic acid and formaldehyde, the chemical used to preserve dead bodies.

Earlier this year, experts on Britain’s Committee on Toxicity(CoT) ruled that ‘long-term exposure to methanol consumed through food, including from aspartame, is unlikely to be harmful to health’.

The committee pointed out that methanol is also found in fruit and vegetables.

As a result of the experts’ conclusions, the FSA ruled the consumption of aspartame ‘is not of concern at the current levels of use’.

Despite this verdict, the FSA is currently recruiting volunteers for an investigation into anecdotal reports of ill health, including headaches and stomach upsets, associated with aspartame.

The watchdog announced the research project in 2009, however it has had difficulties recruiting volunteers who claim to suffer problems.

EFSA spokesman, Lucia De Luca, said: ‘Aspartame is one of hundreds of flavourings. It is on the market because it has been assessed in the past and considered safe.

‘We have received an official request for a complete re-evaluation of the safety of aspartame.

‘The re-evaluation is scheduled for 2020 but the Commission asked us to do this re-evaluation now in the light of recent events.

‘In the past year, there have been a couple of studies looking at aspartame and concerns expressed by consumer groups and others.’

In July last year, EU-funded research by Danish scientists, which looked at almost 60,000 mothers-to-be, found a correlation between the amount of diet drink consumed and an early birth.

Previously, the Independent Ramazzini Foundation in Italy has published research suggesting aspartame caused several types of cancer in rats at doses very close to the current acceptable daily intake for humans.

Both of these have been evaluated by EFSA experts, who have rejected any risk to human health.

Aspartame is manufactured by Ajinomoto Sweeteners Europe. The firm said it welcomes the decision to bring forward the safety evaluation.

A spokesman said: ‘EFSA reaffirmed the safety of aspartame in 2006, 2009 and 2010. In addition, recent allegations about the safety of aspartame made in France and by a handful of MEPs have already been dismissed by EFSA.

‘This review of the extensive body of science on aspartame will provide additional confirmation of the ingredient’s safety.

‘By providing an excellent sweet taste, aspartame makes a useful contribution to a healthy, calorie-controlled diet and can help people to avoid overweight and obesity, and their associated diseases.’

Immigration to the UK is ‘out of control’

Turnaround: More people are coming to settle in Britain than quitting for abroad

Immigration increased the fastest since Britain joined the EU seven years ago.

Daily Mail | May 27, 2011

By Steve Doughty

Immigration rose to near-record levels last year, official  figures have revealed.

Net migration increased at the  fastest rate since Labour opened Britain’s doors to workers from the Eastern European states that joined the EU seven years ago.

In the year up to September 2010, the figure for net migration – the difference between immigration and emigration – was 242,000, the third highest on record.

Some 586,000 people arrived to live in Britain and 344,000 emigrated.

The net migration of 242,000 was nearly 100,000 higher than the previous year.

It means that David Cameron must more than halve immigration if he is to get anywhere close to the Coalition ‘aspiration’ of bringing net migration down to tens of thousands a year.

A raft of figures published yesterday delivered a series of blows to the Government’s hopes of curbing the levels of immigration that critics say have distorted the economy and deepened poverty and benefit dependency over the past 14 years.

Migration from Eastern Europe is back up again after falling in 2009.

The numbers of Poles and other Eastern Europeans in the UK rose by 43,000.

Immigration from Eastern Europe rose by some 50 per cent to 72,000 while the numbers of Eastern Europeans leaving to go home dropped by nearly half to 29,000.

Labour put no restrictions on the rights of Eastern Europeans to work in the UK when their countries joined the EU in 2004. As a result, the Coalition cannot close the doors or tighten the rules.

Ministers did succeed in cutting the numbers of student visas issued to those from outside Europe in the 12 months to March this year.

‘Whites suffer more racism than blacks’: Study shows white American people believe they are more discriminated against

Whites believe that discrimination against them has increased from an average of 1.8 in the 1950’s to 4.7 in the 2000s.

Daily Mail | May 24, 2011

White Americans feel they are more discriminated against than blacks, a new study reveals.

Sociologists from Harvard and Tufts universities asked 209 white and 208 black men and women to rate ‘racism’ against both ethnic groups since the 1950s on a scale of one to 10.

The results showed that while both blacks and whites saw anti-black racism decreasing over the decades, whites saw race relations as a ‘zero sum game’ where they were losing out as blacks ‘gained’ the advantage.

The results, published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, showed that on average blacks saw anti-white bias rising slightly from 1.4 in the 1950s to 1.8 today.

Blacks also perceived that racism against themselves had steeply declined from 9.7 in the 1950s to 6.1 in the 90s.

White respondents, however, saw a very different picture.

For the 2000s, 11 per cent of whites gave anti-white bias the maximum 10 out of 10 rating, compared with only two per cent of whites who did so for anti-black bias.

Whites believed that discrimination against them had increased from an average of 1.8 in the 1950s to 4.7 in the 2000s.

All those surveyed were asked: ‘Indicate how much you think blacks/whites were/are the victims of discrimination in the United States in each of the following decades.’

Responding to the results, researchers Michael Norton and Samuel Sommers said that despite predictions that Barack Obama’s election in 2008 would herald a ‘post racial’ America, this had not in fact occurred.

They concluded: ‘A flurry of legal and cultural disputes over the past decade has revealed a new race-related controversy gaining traction: an emerging belief in anti-white prejudice.

‘Whites believe…the pendulum has now swung beyond equality in the direction of anti-white discrimination.’

‘Whites think more progress has been made toward equality than do blacks, but whites also now believe that this progress is linked to a new inequality—at their expense.’

Citing several studies, researchers speculated that white people tended to see any focus on ethnic minorities as an ‘attack’ on white values.