Special thanks go to Magnifico for starting this venerable series.
Lead Off Story
UN Committee Blasts Vatican On Sex Abuse, Abortion
The Vatican "systematically" adopted policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, a U.N. human rights committee said Wednesday, urging the Holy See to open its files on pedophiles and bishops who concealed their crimes.
In a devastating report hailed by abuse victims, the U.N. committee severely criticized the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion and said it should change its own canon law to ensure children's rights and their access to health care are guaranteed.
The Vatican promptly objected and its U.N. ambassador accused the committee of having betrayed the international body's own objectives by allowing itself to be swayed by pro-gay ideologues. He said it appeared the committee simply hadn't listened when the Holy See outlined all the measures it has taken to protect children.
The report, which took the Vatican by surprise in its harsh tone, puts renewed pressure on Pope Francis to move decisively on the abuse front and make good on pledges to create a Vatican commission to study sex abuse and recommend best practices to fight it. The commission was announced in December, but few details have been released since then.
"The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by, and the impunity of, the perpetrators," the report said.Editor's Update:
Holy See Responds To UN Committee On Rights Of The Child
"According to the proper procedures forseen for the parties to the Convention, the Holy See takes note of the Concluding Observations on its Reports, which will be submitted to a thorough study and examination, in full respect of the Convention in the different areas presented by the Committee according to international law and practice, as well as taking into consideration the public interactive debate with the Committee, held on 16 January 2014.
The Holy See does, however, regret to see in some points of the Concluding Observations an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of human person and in the exercise of religious freedom. The Holy See reiterates its commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child, in line with the principles promoted by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and according to the moral and religious values offered by Catholic doctrine."
Special Report: Areva And Niger's Uranium Fight
When France began mining uranium ore in the desert of northern Niger in the early 1970s, Arlit was a cluster of miners' huts stranded between the sun-blasted rocks of the Air mountains and the sands of the Sahara. The 1973 OPEC oil embargo changed that. France embraced nuclear power to free itself from reliance on foreign oil and overnight this remote corner of Africa became crucial to its national interests.
Now Niger's government is demanding a better deal from Paris, and specifically from state-owned nuclear company Areva. The two sides began talking more than a year ago but failed to clinch an agreement before Areva's 10-year mining contracts expired on December 31.
Areva suspended production at its two sites in Niger in mid-December: the open-cut Somair mine at Arlit and giant underground Cominak pit nearby. The company says the closure was for maintenance but Synamin, a union that represents mining workers, called it a negotiating tactic. Production resumed at the start of February.
Areva and Niger's just-expired agreements have never been made public. But Reuters has reviewed documents which reveal that Areva's mines pay no export duties on uranium, no taxes on materials and equipment used in mining operations, and a royalty of just 5.5 percent on the uranium they produce. A spokesman for Areva declined to confirm the authenticity of the documents and did not comment on their contents.
US Warns France Over Its Trade Mission To Sanctioned Iran
America warned France on Wednesday that allowing over 100 business leaders to visit Iran on a trade mission risked undermining sanctions by giving the impression that Tehran was “open for business”.
The 116-strong French delegation - with representatives from companies including Peugeot, Renault, Total and Airbus - was the largest of its kind from Europe since Iran signed an interim agreement limiting its nuclear programme last November.
In return, America eased sanctions in what the Obama administration insisted was a “limited and reversible” way. But Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, predicted that any relaxation of sanctions would cause the entire embargo on Iran to crumble.
By sending a trade delegation to Iran so quickly, the US fears that France might be vindicating Mr Netanyahu’s criticism. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, told Laurent Fabius, his French counterpart, that the timing of the business mission was “not helpful”.
Fracking Is Depleting Water Supplies In America's Driest Areas, Report Shows
America's oil and gas rush is depleting water supplies in the driest and most drought-prone areas of the country, from Texas to California, new research has found. Of the nearly 40,000 oil and gas wells drilled since 2011, three-quarters were located in areas where water is scarce, and 55% were in areas experiencing drought, the report by the Ceres investor network found. Fracking those wells used 97bn gallons of water, raising new concerns about unforeseen costs of America's energy rush.
"Hydraulic fracturing is increasing competitive pressures for water in some of the country's most water-stressed and drought-ridden regions," said Mindy Lubber, president of the Ceres green investors' network. Without new tougher regulations on water use, she warned industry could be on a "collision course" with other water users.
"It's a wake-up call," said Prof James Famiglietti, a hydrologist at the University of California, Irvine. "We understand as a country that we need more energy but it is time to have a conversation about what impacts there are, and do our best to try to minimise any damage."
News Release From Duke Energy (4Feb14):
Work Continues At Dan River Steam Station
Work continues today at the Dan River Steam Station in Rockingham County, N.C., to manage the release of ash and ash basin water into the Dan River.
"We're working closely with local, state and federal authorities," said Keith Trent, executive vice president. "Company leaders, engineers, scientists, environmental specialists, industry experts and plant personnel assembled at the site have been working around the clock to safely devise both short- and long-term solutions, as well as to continually monitor the effects of the release."
On Sunday, a 48-inch stormwater pipe under the ash basin at the retired coal plant broke, allowing ash and water from the ash basin to flow into the river. The company estimates that approximately 50,000 to 82,000 tons of ash and 24 to 27 million gallons of basin water reached the river. The release slowed significantly overnight.
Duke Energy continues to work closely with downstream municipal water officials to monitor for potential effects from the release. Drinking water supplies remain unaffected.
Crews at the site are working to insert a camera into the broken stormwater pipe to help experts engineer a long-term solution. In addition, a team of ash basin experts have located the broken pipe and cleared the area around it, which will help facilitate the repair.
Duke Energy also continues to work with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, United States Environmental Protection Agency and other local and state authorities.
As reported yesterday, the ash basin dam along the river has not been affected and remains secure. Also, work continues to stabilize the bank erosion on the inside of the ash pond, closest to the retired power plant and away from the river.
Science and Technology
Designer Seed Thought To Be Latest Target By Chinese
The case of the missing corn seeds first broke in May 2011 when a manager at a DuPont research farm in east-central Iowa noticed a man on his knees, digging up the field. When confronted, the man, Mo Hailong, who was with his colleague Wang Lei, appeared flushed. Mr. Mo told the manager that he worked for the University of Iowa and was traveling to a conference nearby. When the manager paused to answered his cellphone, the two men sped off in a car, racing through a ditch to get away, federal authorities said.
What ensued was about a year of F.B.I. surveillance of Mr. Mo and his associates, all but one of whom worked for the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group or its subsidiary Kings Nower Seed. It resulted in the arrest of Mr. Mo last December and the indictment of five other Chinese citizens on charges of stealing trade secrets in what the authorities and agriculture experts have called an unusual and brazen scheme to undercut expensive, time-consuming research.
As seed technology has become more costly and time consuming to develop, “in some people’s eyes, it makes it more advantageous for them” to try to steal it because it “enables them to get a jump on three to five years of research on the back of somebody else’s time and effort that was put in,” said Andrew W. LaVigne, the president and chief executive of the American Seed Trade Association.
“Some seed trading companies just went to breeding bases to steal the seeds,” [said Guo Ming, a consultant specializing in corn breeds for a Beijing-based agribusiness firm]. “Some breeding companies would outsource breeding to farmers, but when the seeds were harvested, the farmers wouldn’t sell back to the breeding company because seed trading companies pay more.”
Those trading companies would then sell the seeds at a premium, Ms. Guo continued, making an exorbitant profit on a product that cost them nothing to develop.
First Evidence Of Common Brain Code For Space, Time, Distance
A new Dartmouth study provides the first evidence that people use the same brain circuitry to figure out space, time and social distances. The findings, which help reveal how our brains organize information and create our perspective of the world, appear in the Journal of Neuroscience.
The researchers looked at whether there is an overlap, or a common mechanism, in the brain areas used to represent time, space and social distances. They used fMRI to analyze the brain patterns of participants while they viewed objects photographed at different distances, viewed photos of friends or acquaintances and read phrases referring to the immediate or more remote future.
"The results showed that the same brain patterns that decide whether something is physically near to us versus far away also decide whether we are thinking about the near or distant future or seeing a friend versus an acquaintance," said senior author Thalia Wheatley, an associate professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences. "In other words, there is a common neural code for space, time and social distance. Near, now and dear (friends) activate one pattern and far, later and acquaintance activate a different pattern.
"There are interesting implications for this," she said. "For one, it suggests why we use distance metaphors to talk about time and friendship -- for example, close friends and distant relatives. These metaphors stick because they echo the very neural computations involved. Our brains use distance to understand time and social connectedness. This mapping function may have a particularly important benefit in determining whether we care enough to act: Is something happening here, now, to someone I love? Or over there, years from now, to a stranger?"
Society and Culture
Caste-Based Reservations Must Continue, Sonia Gandhi Says
Congress leader Janardan Dwivedi today got a snub from the party with Sonia Gandhi rejecting his suggestion for ending quota based on caste saying there should be "no doubt or ambiguity" over the party's stand of continuing the system of reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs. [Editor's Note: SC is the abbreviation for Scheduled Caste, ST for Scheduled Tribes, and OBC for Other Backward Class.]
"The empowerment of SCs, STs and OBCs has been an article of faith with the Congress.
"There should be no doubt or ambiguity on the stand of the Congress on the system of reservation for SC/ST and OBCs. They were introduced by Congress, they have been strengthened by the Congress and they will continue to be championed by the Congress," Gandhi said in a two-page statement.
Her statement was apparently aimed at damage control in the wake of Dwivedi's remarks stirring up a political row with Opposition as well as UPA's outside supporters SP and BSP condemning the AICC general secretary's views projecting the same as Congress policy.
The discomfiture in the party over Dwivedi's remarks coming months before the next Lok Sabha polls was palpable and Congress and the government were quick to distance themselves from the remark, saying it was his "personal" view.
In her statement, Gandhi said that Congress is of the "firm opinion" that the system of reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs must continue.
"This is essential to deal with the discrimination imposed by centuries of subjugation and oppression," she said.
Saudi Arabia Jails Palestinian Poet for ‘Atheism and Long Hair’
Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh is in a Saudi prison, allegedly for spreading atheism – and having long hair. The poet, raised in Saudi Arabia, was arrested five months ago, when a reader submitted a complaint against him saying that his poems contain atheist ideas. The accusations were not proven and he was released, only to be arrested again on the 1 January 2014.
Fayadh's case is making the rounds in media and on social networks, with condemnations coming from Arab writers from across the region. Some of his friends wrote online that the real reason behind his arrest might be due to the video he filmed five months ago of Abha's religious police lashing a young man in public.
Currently, the poet is still in jail with no evidence to the accusation or details of a coming trial. The following reactions clarify his case and express condemnations from Saudi writers, artists, and others standing in solidarity.#أشرففياض التحرش بالذات الإلهية وتطويل الشَعر…فقط عندما تتوقف هذه التهم المضحكة/المبكية يمكننا أن نبدأ الحديث عن الحقوق والحريات وووglobalvoicesonline
@reem_tayeb: Ashraf Fayadh is accused of ‘harrasing the Godly self and letting his hair grow long.. when these laughable-sad accusations stop, we can start talking about rights and freedoms.
#أشرففياض اعتقاله ليس الا اعلان اننا وصلنا الى ما وصلت اليه اوروبا في العصور المظلمة !!
@MohammdaLahamdl: Ashraf Fayadh's arrest is an announcement that we have reached what Europe faced in the Dark Ages.
Well, that's different...
Some Cops Allowed To Work After Drinking
Law enforcement officers in some area communities can strap on a gun and issue tickets for drivers who are more sober than they are, a Journal-News investigation found. The newspaper reviewed union contracts for local public safety offices, including the Ohio State Highway Patrol, and found that officers and firefighters are sometimes protected from discipline when they are at work with alcohol in their system.
In Lebanon, where officers and firefighters can work with a .04 blood alcohol level, Police Chief Jeff Mitchell said he’s actively pursued more stringent alcohol rules to be written into the city’s union contracts.
Mitchell, who’s been in charge for nearly two years, said he negotiated his first union contract this past summer. He got the unions to remove a clause that allowed officers to suck on a breath mint before they were tested for alcohol, but couldn’t get union representatives to reduce the .04 limit to zero.
“When I came across that, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s different,’ ” Mitchell said, adding that breath mints can distort breathalyzer readings.
Bill Moyers and Company:
David Simon: America As A Horror Show