The Media’s Distortion of Beauty

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French breast implant firm link to second company

From The Guardian UK:   http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/30/french-breast-implant-second-company

Jean-Claude Mas, head of firm at centre of implant scandal, was employed by a new prosthetics company set up by his children

in Paris
guardian.co.uk
, Friday 30 December 2011

The French head of the company at the centre of the international breast implant scare was employed by a second firm making medical prosthetics set up by two of his children.

Jean-Claude Mas, the founder of Poly Implant Protheses (PIP), the firm accused of using cheaper industrial silicone rather than approved medical material in its implants, is listed as a “technical and commercial consultant” to the new company, set up eight months after his own firm was closed down.

According to confidential documents leaked to the French newspaper Nice-Matin, the second company, France Implant Technologie (FIT), was registered in June to Nicolas Lucciardi, 27, and his 24-year-old sister Peggy and registered at the address of their mother, Dominique Lucciardi, Mas’s former partner.

Official company records lodged with the local authorities describe FIT as a “company making medical-surgical and dental material”, but Nice-Matin says the leaked documents it has show the firm’s “business plan” was to make breast implants.

The plan described Mas, 72, as a “creative genius” and says its collaborators have “30 years of experience in the field of quality, research and development, production and commercialisation of breast implants”.

It stated its aim was to produce 400 silicone gel implants every day at the former PIP production site in the south-east of France, to be sold to “the European, South American and Chinese market”. The manufacture of breast implants was due to start in June next year and reach a turnover of €6m (£5m) a year, according to the reports.

Continue reading at:    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/30/french-breast-implant-second-company

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Should the World of Toys Be Gender-Free?

From The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/30/opinion/does-stripping-gender-from-toys-really-make-sense.html?_r=1

By PEGGY ORENSTEIN
Published: December 29, 2011

Berkeley, Calif.

NOW that the wrapping paper and the infernal clamshell packaging have been relegated to the curb and the paying off of holiday bills has begun, the toy industry is gearing up — for Christmas 2012. And its early offerings have ignited a new debate over nature, nurture, toys and sex.

Hamleys, which is London’s 251-year-old version of F.A.O. Schwarz, recently dismantled its pink “girls” and blue “boys” sections in favor of a gender-neutral store with red-and-white signage. Rather than floors dedicated to Barbie dolls and action figures, merchandise is now organized by types (Soft Toys) and interests (Outdoor).

That free-to-be gesture was offset by Lego, whose Friends collection, aimed at girls, will hit stores this month with the goal of becoming a holiday must-have by the fall. Set in fictive Heartlake City (and supported by a $40 million marketing campaign), the line features new, pastel-colored, blocks that allow a budding Kardashian, among other things, to build herself a cafe or a beauty salon. Its tasty-sounding “ladyfig” characters are also taller and curvier than the typical Legoland denizen.

So who has it right? Should gender be systematically expunged from playthings? Or is Lego merely being realistic, earnestly meeting girls halfway in an attempt to stoke their interest in engineering?

Among the “10 characteristics for Lego” described in 1963 by a son of the founder was that it was “for girls and for boys,” as Bloomberg Businessweek reported. But the new Friends collection, Lego says, was based on months of anthropological research revealing that — gasp! — the sexes play differently.

While as toddlers they interact similarly with the company’s Duplo blocks, by preschool girls prefer playthings that are pretty, exude “harmony” and allow them to tell a story. They may enjoy building, but they favor role play. So it’s bye-bye Bionicles, hello princesses. In order to be gender-fair, today’s executives insist, they have to be gender-specific.

As any developmental psychologist will tell you, those observations are, to a degree, correct. Toy choice among young children is the Big Kahuna of sex differences, one of the largest across the life span. It transcends not only culture but species: in two separate studies of primates, in 2002 and 2008, researchers found that males gravitated toward stereotypically masculine toys (like cars and balls) while females went ape for dolls. Both sexes, incidentally, appreciated stuffed animals and books.

Continue reading at:   http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/30/opinion/does-stripping-gender-from-toys-really-make-sense.html?_r=1

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Norman Lear on fighting the good fight

From The Los Angeles Times:   http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-lear-occupy-the-new-year-20111230,0,4956520.story

The Occupy Wall Street movement has unleashed patriotic outrage. If you don’t want to camp out or protest in the street, find another way to let your voice be heard in the new year.

By Norman LearDecember 30, 2011

I was recently shown a picture from one of the Occupy protests taking place across the country. It featured a young woman surrounded by police. She was the only protester in the picture, but she didn’t seem intimidated. All by herself, up against the police barricade, she held a handwritten sign saying simply “I am a born again American.”

I’ve never met this woman, but I think I know exactly what she’s feeling.

I had my first “born again American” moment 30 years ago, when I was moved to outrage and action by a group of hate-preaching televangelists who were trying to claim sole ownership of patriotism, faith and flag for the far right. One of them asked his viewing congregation to pray for the removal of a Supreme Court justice.

I did what I knew how to do and produced a 60-second TV spot. It featured a factory worker whose family members, all Christians, held an array of political beliefs. He didn’t believe that anyone, not even a minister, had a right to judge whether people were good or bad Christians based on their political views. “That’s not the American way,” he wound up saying. I ran it on local TV, and it was picked up by the networks. People For the American Way grew out of the overwhelming response to that ad.

One of the most encouraging things to happen in 2011 was the birth of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is giving the entire country the chance for a “born again American” moment. In calling attention to the country’s widening chasm between rich and poor, the Occupiers have unleashed decades of pent-up patriotic outrage against the systematic violation of our nation’s core principles by the “say good-bye to the middle class” alliance of the neocons, theocons and corporate America.

Continue reading at:   http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-lear-occupy-the-new-year-20111230,0,4956520.story

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Utah Doctors Join “Occupy” Movement

From Common Dreams: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/27-3

by Brian Moench
Published on Tuesday, December 27, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

Taking inspiration from the Occupy Movement, last week a group of doctors and environmental groups in Salt Lake City, Utah announced a law suit against the third largest mining corporation in the world, Rio Tinto, for violating the Clean Air Act in Utah. This is likely the first time ever that physicians have sued industry for harming public health.

Air pollution causes between 1,000 and 2,000 premature deaths every year in Utah. Moreover, medical research in the last ten years has firmly established that air pollution causes the same broad array of diseases well known to result from first and second hand cigarette smoke–strokes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, virtually every kind of lung disease, neurologic diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, loss of intelligence, chromosomal damage, higher rates of diabetes, obesity, adverse birth outcomes and various cancers such as lung cancer, breast cancer and leukemia.

Most of Utah’s cities are in violation of many of the EPA’s national air quality standards, and for several days during a typical winter Utah is plagued by the worst air pollution in the country. The American Lung Association routinely gives Utah’s largest cities an “F” for our air quality. Last February, Forbes magazine, hardly a cheerleader for excessive environmental protection, rated Salt Lake City as the nineth most toxic city in the country, and the biggest contributor to that ranking was the mining and smelting operations at the Bingham Canyon mine, run by London-based mining conglomerate Rio Tinto/Kennecott (RTK).

This mine is the world’s largest man made excavation and has created the largest mining related water pollution problem in the world. The mine is located on the western doorstep of Salt Lake City, home to well over one million people. There is no comparable juxtaposition of an enormous mining operation this close to such a large urban center. RTK’s mine and smelter operations account for 30% of the particulate matter emitted into the atmosphere over Salt Lake County, making it by far the largest source of industrial pollution in the urban areas of Utah.

Continue reading at:    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/27-3

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Obama, Hillary ‘Most Admired’ Of 2011

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Major Ron Paul Supporter Favors Death Penalty for Gays

From Alternet:   http://www.alternet.org/teaparty/153607/major_ron_paul_supporter_favors_death_penalty_for_gays/

Paul’s endorsement from a pastor who wants the death penalty for gays exposes his links to radical Christian Reconstructionists.

By Adele M. Stan
December 29, 2011

At first it seemed like the moment of triumph for the Ron Paul for President campaign. The Texas congressman had won the endorsement of Rev. Phillip G. Kayser, a prominent right-wing Nebraska pastor, just as momentum built toward a possible big win for Paul in next week’s GOP caucuses in neighboring Iowa, where evangelicals comprise a majority of voters.

The campaign issued a press release on Wednesday, lauding Kayser and trumpeting his endorsement, citing “the enlightening statements he makes on how Ron Paul’s approach to government is consistent with Christian beliefs.” Then came word of Kayser’s “Christian belief” in applying the death penalty for gay male sex, and the Paulites got busy scrubbing their press release from the campaign Web site. (The text of the release and a screen shot can be seen on the Web site Outside the Beltway.)

What reporters Pema Levy and Benjy Sarlin of TPM uncovered when they scrolled through Kayser’s writings on his Web site, Biblical Blueprints, were not simply the rantings of a random fringe preacher, but a “blueprint” for the philosophy of Christian Reconstructionism, which seeks to make manifest biblical law as the law of the land. That would include the death penalty not only for the practice of sex between men, but also for adultery and insubordination by children.

Coming on the heels of recent revelations by a former aide that Ron Paul would not use the bathroom in a gay man’s home or shake the hand of a gay supporter, and the homophobic and racist utterances attributed to him in a series of newsletters published under his name in the 1980s and ’90s, news of Kayser’s death-to-the-gays theology was hardly a boon to the campaign.

In one of the many pamphlets authored by Kayser, the TPM reporters unearthed this from a tract on the biblical validity of the death penalty:

It is not just the sinfulness of homosexuality that is known, but also the justice of the death penalty for homosexuality. In verse 32 Paul says, “Who knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

The mere threat of the death penalty for the sin of gay sex, Kayser wrote elsewhere, can be “restorative” to those so threatened. When questioned by reporters Sarlin and Levy, Kayser confirmed his beliefs.

Continue reading at:     http://www.alternet.org/teaparty/153607/major_ron_paul_supporter_favors_death_penalty_for_gays/

Perry Pledges To Openly Defy A Supreme Court Decision Striking Down An Anti-Choice ‘Personhood’ Law

From Think Progress:    http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/12/28/395595/perry-pledges-to-openly-defy-a-supreme-court-decision-striking-down-an-anti-choice-personhood-law/

By Ian Millhiser
Dec 28, 2011

At a radio forum sponsored by the anti-abortion and anti-birth control group Personhood USA, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that he would refuse to obey a Supreme Court decisionstriking down the group’s signature anti-choice proposal:

QUESTION: You have agreed to “endorse legislation making clear that Fourteenth Amendment protections apply to unborn children” . . . . What happens if the U.S. Supreme Court attempts to strike down this legislation, and replace it with one of its own edict denying the inalienable right to life for all persons born or unborn? Would you enforce the inalienable right to life or the Court’s opinion as the law?

PERRY: Well, obviously you enforce the right to life opinion.

Perry’s promise to openly defy the Supreme Court is disturbing, but it is also far from original. Fellow candidates Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich have also pledged to treat binding Supreme Court opinions as if they were merely optional, and Gingrich even supports legitimizing his radical view of the Constitution through a campaign of intimidation against judges who disagree with him.

Complete article at:  http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/12/28/395595/perry-pledges-to-openly-defy-a-supreme-court-decision-striking-down-an-anti-choice-personhood-law/

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Chimpanzees seem to know what’s on other chimps’ minds

From The Guardian UK:   http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/dec/29/chimpanzee-chimps-minds

Humans may not be alone in having insight into the minds of others, a chimpanzee study suggests

, science correspondent
guardian.co.uk
, Thursday 29 December 2011

Chimpanzees moving through the forest take into account other chimps’ ignorance or knowledge of a threat when they raise the alarm.

The apes were more likely to make warning calls when they spotted a venomous snake if others in their troop had not seen the danger, researchers found. As chimps in the know arrived at the scene, they passed the warning on to others who lagged behind but were still within earshot.

Video footage of wild chimps foraging in Uganda’s Budongo forest show apes at the front of their groups jumping with surprise on spotting a model snake lying camouflaged in the undergrowth.

When the chimps regained their composure, they called out with repeated “hoos” to alert those behind them that a threat lay ahead. They made calls less often when other chimps already knew of the danger.

The behaviour suggests the animals knew what their fellow apes knew and made decisions over what warnings to give based on the information.

“Lots of animals give alarm calls and are more likely to do so if there’s an audience, but these chimps are more likely to call if the audience doesn’t know about the danger. It’s as if they’re picking up on differences in ignorance and knowledge in others,” said Dr Catherine Crockford, who studies ape communication and social interaction at the University of St Andrews.

Continue reading at:   http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/dec/29/chimpanzee-chimps-minds

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Cosmetic Animal Testing: The Horrifying Reality

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Leaving Animals Out of the Cosmetics Picture

From The New York Times:      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/29/fashion/expanding-efforts-to-keep-cosmetics-testing-from-animals.html

Even the ‘cruelty-free’ label doesn’t have a universal meaning.

By ABBY ELLIN
Published: December 28, 2011

THE actress Kristin Bauer, of “True Blood” fame, has an annual ritual when she visits her family home in Racine, Wis.: She takes a black marker and scribbles on the sides of specific products and cosmetics, “Tested on animals.”

“It’s so simple for me: we shouldn’t be torturing another living being for mascara when we don’t have to,” said Ms. Bauer, a vegetarian who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Abri van Straten, two dogs and two cats. “It seems so odd when you think of shaving cream and a bunny, or mascara and a guinea pig. We’re not saving a life.”

As a spokeswoman for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit health organization whose goals include promoting animal-free testing, Ms. Bauer has a mission: to get more people to use makeup and toiletries that have not been tested on rabbits, guinea pigs, mice or rats. And while “cruelty-free” has been a basic mantra of certain earthy lines like Aveda, the Body Shop and Kiss My Face, for decades, it’s increasingly been taken up by new and glamorous proponents.

The models Josie Maran (josiemarancosmetics.com) and Christie Brinkley (christiebrinkleyskincare.com) and the designer Stella McCartney (Care by Stella McCartney) are among those who have started cosmetics lines developed without animal testing.

Companies like Clinique, Tarte and Almay have stopped the practice. Other lesser-known brands, like Pixi, Organic Male OM4 (a skin-care line for men) and Dr.’s Remedy, an all-natural nail polish, never started it.

“It was important for us to know that there would not be any animals harmed in the development or testing of our product,” said the co-founder of Dr.’s Remedy, Adam Cirlincione, a podiatrist in New York.

Consumers seem to agree, said Nancy Beck, a former science and policy adviser for the physicians’ group, who conducted a report on the topic while working there. “Part of it is awareness about the issue in general,” said Dr. Beck, who has a doctorate in microbiology and immunology. “Science has evolved, and we have the technology now that maybe we didn’t have 30 or 40 years ago to do safety assessments without using animals. So having the methods in place, and companies bothering to take the time and making the investment into developing new methods, has a lot to do with it, too.”

Continue reading at:   http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/29/fashion/expanding-efforts-to-keep-cosmetics-testing-from-animals.html

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Has America’s Stolen Election Process Finally Hit Prime Time?

From Common Dreams:      https://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/30-2

by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
Published on Friday, December 30, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

It took two stolen US Presidential elections and the prospect of another one coming up in 2012.

For years the Democratic Party and even much of the left press has reacted with scorn for those who’ve reported on it.

But the imperial fraud that has utterly corrupted our electoral process seems finally to be dawning on a broadening core of the American electorate—if it can still be called that.

The shift is highlighted by three major developments:
1. The NAACP goes to the United Nations

In early December, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the largest civil rights organization in America, announced that it was petitioning the United Nations over the orchestrated GOP attack on black and Latino voters.

In its landmark report entitled Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America, the NAACP directly takes on the new Jim Crow tactics passed in fourteen states that are designed to keep minorities from voting in 2012.

The report analyzes 25 laws that target black, minority and poor voters “unfairly and unnecessarily restrict[ing] the right to vote.” It notes “…a coordinated assault on voting rights.”

Continue reading at:    https://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/30-2

Friday Night Fun and Culture: Laura Nyro

When I was first coming out I used to smoke weed with my friends at night and then go to my room and listen to Laura Nyro before I crashed.

Her music was a real friend those first few months when I felt alone and scared.

It’s about time she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Oh, Canada has Become a Home for Record Fracking

From Pro Publica: http://www.propublica.org/article/oh-canadas-become-a-home-for-record-fracking/

by Nicholas Kusnetz ProPublica,
Dec. 28, 2011, 11:09 a.m.

Posted under Creative Commons Permissions

Early last year, deep in the forests of northern British Columbia, workers for Apache Corp. performed what the company proclaimed was the biggest hydraulic fracturing operation ever.

The project used 259 million gallons of water and 50,000 tons of sand to frack 16 gas wells side by side. It was “nearly four times larger than any project of its nature in North America,” Apache boasted.

The record didn’t stand for long. By the end of the year, Apache and its partner, Encana, topped it by half at a neighboring site.

As furious debate over fracking continues in the United States, it is instructive to look at how a similar gas boom is unfolding for our neighbor to the north.

To a large extent, the same themes have emerged as Canada struggles to balance the economic benefits drilling has brought with the reports of water contamination and air pollution that have accompanied them.

The Canadian boom has differed in one regard: The western provinces’ exuberant embrace of large-scale fracking offers a vision of what could happen elsewhere if governments clear away at least some of the regulatory hurdles to growth.

Even as some officials have questioned the wisdom of doing so, Alberta and British Columbia have dueled to draw investment by offering financial incentives and loosening rules. The result has been some of the most intensive drilling anywhere.

“There definitely is concern on the part of people living in northeast B.C. on the scale of developments, which are quite significant already and are only in their infancy,”said Ben Parfitt, an analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a research institute that promotes environmental sustainability. “We are seeing some of the largest fracking operations anywhere on earth.”

Canada’s eastern regions have proceeded more cautiously. In March, Quebec placed a moratorium on shale development [1] pending further study. Protesters have taken to the streets in New Brunswick [2] demanding the same.

Public opposition, coupled with low gas prices, has slowed drilling over the past year. Still, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers expects production from shale and other unconventional sources to more than triple in the next decade.

The industry’s aggressive plan for growth has drawn an ambivalent response from the nation’s top environmental officials.

In March, Canada’s deputy minister of the environment sent an internal memo warning that more work was needed to assess the risks from shale gas drilling [3]. The memo, obtained by an Ottawa-based newspaper and addressed to Environment Minister Peter Kent, said water use and contamination top a list of environmental concerns including air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and the use of unknown toxic chemicals. Kent subsequently ordered two studies looking at the safety and environmental impacts of shale drilling.

Yet, in a written response to questions from ProPublica, the environment ministry affirmed its commitment to continued development.

“Our Government believes shale gas is an important strategic resource that could provide numerous economic benefits to Canada,” the ministry’s statement said. Gas is an important part of a clean energy future, the ministry added, saying that “a healthy environment and a strong economy go hand in hand.”

B.C., Alberta Lure Drillers

Canada’s current drilling boom dates to the late 1990s, when Encana began using fracking to extract gas from dense rock in northern British Columbia.

The second-largest gas driller in North America, Encana also started fracking shallow coal seams, or coalbed methane, in Alberta in the early 2000s, using nitrogen rather than water to free the gas. Coalbed methane drilling generally requires less fluid than fracking shale but occurs much closer to drinking water. In some cases, Encana and other companies have drilled wells directly into aquifers, injecting fracking fluids into groundwater suitable for drinking.

In the middle of the last decade, Encana and other operators started exploring northern British Columbia’s shale gas reserves. The formations were promising, holding at least 200 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to industry estimates.

But drillers faced formidable hurdles to get to it. Unlike the Barnett and Marcellus shales in the U.S., Canada’s best shale basins are far from most markets and existing infrastructure. Soggy ground slows drilling in the spring and summer, and the average high temperature hovers around zero degrees Fahrenheit in January.

To encourage development, British Columbia enacted a series of incentives, including reduced royalties for deep drilling and credits for building roads and pipelines in the remote regions.

These changes, combined with the area’s severe conditions, spurred companies to concentrate and scale up their operations in British Columbia in an effort to cut costs, industry experts say. The result: a string of record-breaking fracks.

In a written response to questions from ProPublica, Apache said this approach reduces surface disturbance. It also can heighten the risk of air and water pollution, said Bruce Kramer, an expert in oil and gas law with McGinnis, Lochridge and Kilgore, a Texas-based law firm.

In both western provinces, the regional authorities responsible for regulating drilling have passed rules to allow more intensive drilling.

In Alberta, drillers can now pack wells closer together and pump more water out of shallow coal seams to free gas more efficiently. British Columbia issued detailed regulations last year that limit where and when companies can drill and set rigorous environmental standards but also gave its Oil and Gas Commission the authority to exempt drillers from virtually all of these provisions.

The commission referred an inquiry from ProPublica to its parent organization, the Ministry of Energy and Mines. In written responses to questions, the Ministry said the new regulations adequately address environmental concerns over drilling activity in the province. Pointing to an upcoming health study and new rules that compel companies to disclose chemicals used in fracking, officials said they would continue to review and revise standards as necessary.

Still, the regulatory shifts have prompted environmental advocates in Alberta and British Columbia to question whether officials are prepared to cope with rising concerns about water use, contamination and unchecked development.

“We just don’t have a clue how big this issue is from a public policy perspective,”said Bob Simpson, a member of British Columbia’s legislative assembly and an outspoken critic. “We really don’t know what we’re doing.”

Jessica Ernst’s Water Problems

Over the last five years, there have been several prominent cases in which Alberta residents have said gas drilling contaminated their water.

There are no hard numbers. The government does not track such complaints. But in some instances, residents’ frustration has been exacerbated by their sense that regulators have not properly investigated their claims.

In 2005, Jessica Ernst noticed strange things happening to her water. The toilet fizzed. The faucets whistled. Black particles clogged her filter. Then she began getting rashes.

Ernst, a longtime environmental consultant for oil and gas companies, wondered whether the changes could be connected to drilling nearby. Encana had been drilling shallow coalbed methane wells near her home outside of Rosebud, about 50 miles northeast of Calgary.

She asked Alberta Environment and Water, the agency that oversees groundwater, to test her well. When the well was drilled in 1986, tests showed it had no methane [4]. The new tests, however, showed high levels of the gas, as well as a hydrocarbon called F2 and two other chemicals.

But in 2007, a government research agency concluded it was unlikely that drilling had affected her water [5]. The final report said the chemicals found were not typically used in coalbed methane drilling, and that one had probably come from a plastic tube used to test the water.

Ernst wasn’t satisfied with the province’s response, however. The government’s report concluded that the methane in her well might be occurring naturally because tests showed similar levels of gas in nearby wells. But the tests were conducted after Ernst noticed the changes in her water — she saw the results as an indication that the contamination might be more widespread.

The government’s report also ignored evidence provided by one of its own analysts, a professor of geochemistry at the University of Alberta. When Karlis Muehlenbachs analyzed the gas in Ernst’s well for Alberta Environment and Water, he found ethane, a gas often found with methane, with a chemical signature indicating that it had come from deep underground, below the depth of the well. Muehlenbachs told ProPublica that the ethane’s signature meant that it could not have been there naturally. He said he is convinced that it resulted from drilling.

As Ernst searched for answers to what happened to her water, she unearthed evidence of other problems related to drilling. She found an Alberta Environment and Water report that listed cases in which the fracking of shallow wells resulted in gas or fluid leaking [6] into nearby gas wells or spraying into the air. She also found government gas well records that said Encana had fracked into the aquifer that supplies her water well.

“The community was used as a test tube,”she said. “I was used as a test tube.”

Earlier this year, Ernst sued Encana, Alberta Environment and Water and the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board [7], which regulates drilling, alleging that Encana’s drilling was negligent and that the government agencies had covered up the company’s contamination and failed to enforce regulations.

Ernst, who is asking for about $33 million Canadian in damages and return of wrongful profits, has vowed she will not accept a settlement that includes a confidentiality agreement, as others have done.

“Somebody has to do this,”she said.

Alan Boras, a spokesman for Encana, said the company would not comment on the case.

The Energy Resources Conservation Board denied a request for an interview. In written responses to questions, spokesman Bob Curran said he could not comment on the specifics of Ernst’s case, but the agency is confident it has conducted itself appropriately.

Carrie Sancartier, a spokeswoman for Alberta Environment and Water, would not comment on Ernst’s allegations because of the lawsuit but said there have been no confirmed cases of gas drilling contaminating water wells in the province.

Muehlenbachs, whose work has been used in several government investigations, said that is “simply false.” He said he’s analyzed thousands of cases of gas leaking up well bores and knows of at least a dozen cases of water contamination.

Alberta has introduced several measures to safeguard water from shallow drilling. In 2006, it established a buffer zone between shallow gas wells and water wells [8] and required drillers to test nearby water wells before drilling into an aquifer [9].

Nevertheless, last January, as part of a review of drilling regulations, the Energy Resources Conservation Board [10] said shallow fracking poses a risk to groundwater.

Is ‘Communication’ a Risk?

There have been no reports of groundwater contamination related to new drilling in British Columbia.

Increasingly, however, there are reports of something called “communication” — events in which a fracture travels through the ground and connects two gas wells.

Ken Paulson, chief engineer at the province’s Oil and Gas Commission, said these events do not pose a contamination risk. Other experts say their principal impact is to undermine production.

But opponents of expanded shale drilling say instances of communication show that drillers lack a full understanding of what happens when wells are fracked closer together, increasing the risk of contamination. Anthony Ingraffea, an engineering professor at Cornell University, said that if a fracture hit a natural fault, it could allow contaminants to enter aquifers.

Communication has occurred in the U.S. as well: Regulators in Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan and Pennsylvania reported such events to Canadian officials as part of the Energy Resources Conservation Board’s regulatory review [10].

Documents provided to ProPublica show that energy companies have reported 25 cases of communication in British Columbia [11] since 2009. Companies are not required to report such events, so the list isn’t comprehensive, Paulson said.

In May 2010, the province’s Oil and Gas Commission issued a warning when a drilling company inadvertently shot sand from one fracking job into another well [12] being drilled more than 2,000 feet away.

The advisory said the operator contained the resulting jump in pressure within the well but warned of a “potential safety hazard.” When communication occurs, Paulson said, the biggest concern is that an operator could lose control of a well and cause a blowout.

Concerns Over Water Consumption

As the debate over communication continues, Parfitt and other Canadian environmentalists have raised more immediate concerns about water use. Fracking requires lots of water — on their biggest reported fracking job, Apache and Encana used an average of 28 million gallons of water per well.

While the oil and gas industry says it is responsible for 1 percent or less of British Columbia’s overall water use, environmental advocates say that may not reflect the full extent of the industry’s consumption or long-term needs.

Drillers use both surface and groundwater. Access to surface water is regulated by two agencies that issue long-term licenses or year-long permits. Overwhelmingly, energy companies have chosen to obtain permits, which require less regulatory review.

Most groundwater withdrawals aren’t regulated at all. Drillers need permits to sink water wells, but there are no limits on the amount of water that can be taken from them. They can also purchase water from other well owners, so there’s no way to track overall use.

“How much water is actually being used and, more importantly, how much water is projected to be used over next the 10 to 15 years? Because of the scattershot approach of regulation, this isn’t something we can actually answer right now,”said Matt Horne, acting director of the climate change program at the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank that published a report on the gas industry’s water use.

Last year, in a report focusing on province-wide groundwater oversight, British Columbia’s auditor general [13] said the province was not adequately protecting aquifers from overuse and potential contamination. Agencies lacked the basic data necessary to assess the risks, such as the number and extent of the province’s aquifers, the report said.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines, in a written response to questions, said the province is taking several steps to improve oversight of water use, including a research project studying aquifers. The agency said it can review large groundwater withdrawal projects and that pending changes to the province’s water law would regulate withdrawals.

Drillers themselves are also moving to address water concerns. Encana and Apache have started using saline water not suitable for drinking or irrigation in some of their projects. Alan Boras, the Encana spokesman, said the company uses non-potable water almost exclusively in its main operating area in the Horn River Basin, where the largest frack jobs were reported.

Environmentalists say they welcome the effort, but caution that these projects are tiny compared to the industry’s overall water use.

Governments, Industry Get Cozy

Public backlash to fracking has become such a concern for drillers and provincial governments in western Canada that last year they launched a joint effort to counter it.

In December 2010, the governments of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan signed a memorandum of understanding laying out a plan [14] to share information and develop standards for hydraulic fracturing and water use. The provinces invited only one non-governmental entity to participate in the project: the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

The memo, which was leaked in August and published by the Alberta Federation of Labour, a union group, said the provinces and petroleum producers would work together to develop “key messages” on shale drilling to persuade the public not to fear fracking.

“The project will help to demonstrate that shale gas extraction is viable, safe and environmentally sustainable,” the memo said.

The memo blamed environmental groups for spreading misleading information and stirring opposition to drilling.

“Environmental Non-Government organizations (ENGOs) are supporting a ill-informed [sic] campaign on hydraulic fracturing and water related issues in British Columbia and in other jurisdictions,” it said. “This is expected to grow as shale gas development expands into Alberta and Saskatchewan.”

In a separate memo [14], Alberta Environment and Water reported that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers had approached the province to work on a joint public relations campaign.

Ultimately, no campaign materialized.

Janet Annesley, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the group hadn’t wanted to join forces on PR but was just informing the province of plans to publish voluntary standards for shale gas drilling.

Still, critics saw the memo as proof of an overly cozy relationship between the government and the industry.

Bart Johnson, a spokesman for Alberta’s Energy Minister, said the petroleum producers had suggested a joint PR initiative but dropped the request. Such a collaboration, however, would not have been inappropriate, he said. The government works with industry groups all the time, he said, citing a campaign with education groups against bullying in schools.

“Oil and gas is huge in Alberta. It fuels our economy. Indeed it fuels the economy of Canada,” Johnson said. “Any suggestion that we shouldn’t meet with that industry is ridiculous.”

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Keeping Students From the Polls

From The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/27/opinion/keeping-college-students-from-the-polls.html

Editorial
Published: December 26, 2011
Next fall, thousands of students on college campuses will attempt to register to vote and be turned away. Sorry, they will hear, you have an out-of-state driver’s license. Sorry, your college ID is not valid here. Sorry, we found out that you paid out-of-state tuition, so even though you do have a state driver’s license, you still can’t vote.

Political leaders should be encouraging young adults to participate in civic life, but many Republican state lawmakers are doing everything they can instead to prevent students from voting in the 2012 presidential election. Some have openly acknowledged doing so because students tend to be liberal.

Seven states have already passed strict laws requiring a government-issued ID (like a driver’s license or a passport) to vote, which many students don’t have, and 27 others are considering such measures. Many of those laws have been interpreted as prohibiting out-of-state driver’s licenses from being used for voting.

It’s all part of a widespread Republican effort to restrict the voting rights of demographic groups that tend to vote Democratic. Blacks, Hispanics, the poor and the young, who are more likely to support President Obama, are disproportionately represented in the 21 million people without government IDs. On Friday, the Justice Department, finally taking action against these abuses, blocked the new voter ID law in South Carolina.

Continue reading at:   http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/27/opinion/keeping-college-students-from-the-polls.html

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Today’s GOP makes Mississippi look liberal

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2011/12/29/todays_gop_females_have_more_rights_before_theyre_born/

Most 2012 contenders back a personhood amendment too extreme for a red, red state, while Rick Perry hits a new low

By Joan Walsh
Thursday, Dec 29, 2011

The flailing Rick Perry is trying to revive his sinking campaign by histrionically announcing he’s changed his views on abortion and now opposes it even in cases of rape and incest. Apparently Perry met a young woman who’d been conceived as a result of rape, and that changed his mind.

“Looking in her eyes, I couldn’t come up with an answer to defend the exemptions for rape and incest,” he said at a “tele-town hall” sponsored by far-right Iowa radio host Steve Deace. “And over the course of the last few weeks, the Christmas holidays and reflecting on that … all I can say is that God was working on my heart.”

It’s just one more step toward society’s political margins for the GOP contenders. Perry has already announced his support for the “personhood” movement, which declares that life begins the moment an egg is fertilized, a measure that was rejected by the deep-red state of Mississippi as too extreme. But Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum also back the personhood crusade. That’s your modern Republican Party: It makes Mississippi look liberal. They’d like women to have more rights before they’re born than after.

It’s obvious the Tea Party is pulling the GOP even further to the right. While the movement’s fans used to insist it was about the economy, not social issues, in fact its House caucus has used its year in office working harder to stop all funding for Planned Parenthood than to reduce unemployment. The House even passed a bill that lets health providers “exercise their conscience” and refuse to perform an abortion even in cases where the woman would die without the procedure. (h/t Digby)

Continue reading at:   http://www.salon.com/2011/12/29/todays_gop_females_have_more_rights_before_theyre_born/

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The Power Media Can Have

#Liberate LEGO!

From Huffington Post:    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lyn-mikel-brown/legos-for-girls_b_1172876.html?ref=tw

Lyn Mikel Brown
Posted: 12/28/11

When LEGO announced that after four years of marketing research, the best they could come up with was a thinner, pinker version of their product, I admit, I laughed out loud. My first reaction wasn’t outrage, but incredulity. A billion dollars of marketing research bought you… LEGO Barbie? After marketers have carpet-bombed a pink, appearance-obsessed consumer version of girl power via every conceivable media outlet for the past decade, did you really expect to hear little girls express a desire for anything else?

Turns out I wasn’t the only one with a strong reaction to the new Ladyfig LEGOs. (“Ladyfigs”? Really, ask for your money back.) SPARK (Sexualization Protest: Action Resistance Knowledge) movement girl blogger, Stephanie Cole wrote, “the part of me that still fondly remembers epic LEGO vs. Playmobile battles with my sister and cousin, is pretty royally pissed off.” The new Ladyfigs, she notes, “are taller, skinnier and they have boobs. They will be marketed to girls five and up. Why?”

We know why. In truth, LEGO may very well get a larger market share if they have two separate lines of products. “Unisex” and “gender neutral” are blasphemy to a large percentage of parents, who are quick to point out that girls and boys play differently. But as neuroscientist Lise Eliot explains, “boy-girl differences are not as ‘hard-wired’ as many parents today, imbued with the Mars/Venus philosophy, believe.” The human brain is “fantastically plastic” and the best thing we can do for our children is to give them a full range of opportunities and experiences, especially in the early years. We don’t know at five how little Tierra’s or Tommy’s passions and talents will surface, so why pay good money to limit their options to the pink and blue aisles of toy stores?

SPARKTeam blogger, Bailey, promoting Stephanie’s post on Twitter, soon began an exchange with LEGO: “They thanked me…and respectfully disagreed, stating that four years of research had told them,” in so many words, “that the mini-skirt-wearing, hot-tub-bathing, beauty-shop-running LEGO ladies are what girls want now.” As if Bailey didn’t know the difference between market research, the goal of which is to figure out the best way to target and sell to children, and unbiased scientific research, the goal of which is to know what’s good or bad for developing children. Of course, the unbiased research finds that the path LEGO has chosen, narrowing girls’ options to a stereotypical version of femininity, is bad for girls.

Continue reading at:   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lyn-mikel-brown/legos-for-girls_b_1172876.html?ref=tw

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STUNNING – ‘I REMEMBER, SO I’M VOTING, AND NOT REPUBLICAN.’

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Tweeting the word ‘drill’ could mean your Twitter account is read by U.S. government spies

From The Daily Mail UK:   http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2079283/Tweeting-word-drill-mean-Twitter-account-read-government-spies.html

  • Fake profiles used by Department of Homeland Security, says privacy group
  • List of keywords flags ‘danger’ signal
  • DHS may attempt to identify users from their accounts
  • Keywords include ‘virus’, ‘drill’ and ‘illegal immigrant’

By Rob Waugh
28th December 2011

The Department of Homeland Security makes fake Twitter and Facebook profiles for the specific purpose of scanning the networks for ‘sensitive’ words – and tracking people who use them.

Simply using a word or phrase from the DHS’s ‘watch’ list could mean that spies from the government read your posts, investigate your account, and attempt to identify you from it, acccording to an online privacy group.

The words which attract attention range from ones seemingly related to diseases or bioweapons such as ‘human to animal’ and ‘outbreak’ to other, more obscure words such as ‘drill’ and ‘strain’.

The DHS also watches for words such as ‘illegal immigrant’.

The DHS outlined plans to scans blogs, Twitter and Facebook for words such as ‘illegal immigrant’, ‘outbreak’, ‘drill’, ‘strain’, ‘virus’, ‘recovery’, ‘deaths’, ‘collapse’, ‘human to animal’ and ‘trojan’, according to an ‘impact asssessment’ document filed by the agency.

When its search tools net an account using the phrases, they record personal information.

It’s still not clear how this information is used – and who the DHS shares it with.

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