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Toon: When will it ever end?

replace Tucson with Oregon.

Duke Energy 'Settlement' Slashes Fine, Grants Amnesty for Coal Ash Pollution

Environmental organizations condemned deal as a steal for the corporation—and a bad deal for the North Carolina's environment and people
by Sarah Lazare

North Carolina regulators on Tuesday agreed to dramatically slash a fine initially imposed on Duke Energy for its coal ash pollution at a site in the west of the state—and grant the company amnesty for dumps at all of its 14 locations—prompting outcry from communities and environmental organizations.

"In another typical move, DEQ [Department of Environmental Quality] is cutting Duke Energy a break and failing to demand action," said Amy Adams of the advocacy organization Appalachian Voices. "Apparently, they missed the state motto, Esse quam videri, 'To be rather than to seem,' because seeming to be environmental protectors is about all they have done with this settlement."

The deal was struck during a court hearing between Duke Energy and DEQ, which changed its name from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources due to an apparent reorganization of state departments earlier this month. It stipulates that DEQ will abandon charges over pollution at the L.V. Sutton power plant, where high levels of boron were found in groundwater.

Going further, the deal will settle groundwater contamination cases at all of Duke's 14 coal ash dump locations across the state.



Anti-gay marriage Oregon bakery defies state order to pay damages to couple

The owners of a Portland-area bakery are refusing to pay $135,000 in state-ordered damages to a same-sex couple who were denied service, despite a crowdfunding effort on their behalf having raised more than $500,000.

Melissa and Aaron Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, cited religious beliefs when they refused to bake a wedding cake for Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer more than two years ago.

State labor commissioner Brad Avakian awarded the damages in July for emotional suffering, saying the owners had violated the women’s civil rights by discriminating on the basis of their sexual orientation.

The Kleins have filed an appeal of the ruling and are defying the order to pay. They are claiming financial hardship despite the crowdfunding efforts on their behalf, the Oregonian newspaper reported.

The couple closed the Gresham store in 2013 and now operate the business from home.


Crows May Learn Lessons From Death

In recent years, a peculiar sort of public performance has taken place periodically on the sidewalks of Seattle.

It begins with a woman named Kaeli N. Swift sprinkling peanuts and cheese puffs on the ground. Crows swoop in to feed on the snacks. While Ms. Swift observes the birds from a distance, notebook in hand, another person walks up to the birds, wearing a latex mask and a sign that reads “UW CROW STUDY.” In the accomplice’s hands is a taxidermied crow, presented like a tray of hors d’oeuvres.

This performance is not surreal street theater, but an experiment designed to explore a deep biological question: What do crows understand about death?

Ms. Swift has been running this experiment as part of her doctoral research at the University of Washington, under the guidance of John M. Marzluff, a biologist. Dr. Marzluff and other experts on crow behavior have long been intrigued by the way the birds seem to congregate noisily around dead comrades. Dr. Marzluff has witnessed these gatherings many times himself, and has heard similar stories from other people.

“Whenever I give a talk about crows, there’s always someone who says, ‘Well, what about this?’ ” he said.


Scientists find worms can safely eat the plastic in our garbage


Garbage is a big problem. Even with so many of us doing our bit to help out with recycling, the amount of unrecyclable and discarded plastics in the US alone comes close to 30 million tonnes annually, thanks to things like disposable coffee cups (2.5 billion of which are thrown away by Americans every year). We’re looking at you, Starbucks.

Now, for the first time, researchers have found detailed evidence that bacteria in an animal’s gut can safely biodegrade plastic and potentially help reduce the environmental impact of plastic in landfill and elsewhere. The animal in question? The humble mealworm – which turns out to be not so humble after all.

Researchers led by Stanford University in US and Beihang University in China found that the mealworm – the larval form of the darkling beetle – can safely subsist on a diet of Styrofoam and other kinds of polystyrene, with bacteria in the worm’s gut biodegrading the plastic as part of its digestive process. The findings are significant because it was previously thought that these substances were non-biodegradable – meaning they ended up in landfill (or worse, our oceans, where they’d accumulate for decades).

“Our findings have opened a new door to solve the global plastic pollution problem,” co-author Wei-Min Wu, a senior research engineer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford, said in a statement.



Something Strange Is Happening Inside Saturn

Unusual ripples in Saturn's rings are revealing the mysterious inner workings of the great gas giant. Planetary scientists and modelers are slowly picking apart that mystery.

Billions of particles race around Saturn's 170,000-mile-wide (273,600 kilometers) set of rings, which are mostly water ice with a smattering of rock. The rings are full of activity, including waves that ricochet outward in spiral patterns, most caused by the gravitational pull of Saturn's 62 moons. Waves caused by the moons, which orbit outside the rings' sphere, always travel outward.

But then there's a set of waves heading inward. That means there's something moving inside, too. [Video: Fly Through Space 'In Saturn's Rings']

Most scientists' models of Saturn and other gas giants assume the planet is pretty uniform — just a large gas envelope surrounding a small, dense core that's perhaps the size of Earth. But by studying the rings' waves, researchers are finding the picture much more complicated.

"The one thing that might produce this [series of waves] is that some sort of disturbance inside Saturn itself is spinning around with a period that's less than 7 hours," Phillip Nicholson, a planetary scientist at Cornell University in New York, told Space.com. Researchers first noticed hints of that disturbance in the 1990s, and Nicholson's team used more precise measurements to fully document the ring waves' structures, which reflect the oscillations of the planet within — sort of like recurring Saturn quakes.


New clay tablet adds 20 lines to Epic of Gilgamesh

A newly discovered clay tablet in the Sulaymaniah Museum in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has corrected the order of chapters, filled in blanks and added 20 lines to the Epic of Gilgamesh. Since the invasion of Iraq and subsequent orgy of looting, the museum has a matter of policy paid smugglers to keep artifacts from leaving the country, no questions asked. The tablet was acquired by the museum in late 2011 as part of a collection of 80-90 tablets sold by an unnamed shady character. Professor Farouk Al-Rawi examined the collection while the seller haggled with museum official Abdullah Hashim. When Al-Rawi he saw this tablet, he told Hashim to pay whatever the seller wanted: $800.

Even caked in mud the tablet’s importance was instantly recognizable to the expert. Once it was clean, Al-Rawi identified it as a fragment of Tablet V of the Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh.

The tablet is the left half of a six-column tablet written in Neo-Babylonian. It’s composed of three fragments that have been glued together, oddly enough, probably either by the original excavators or the seller. It is 11 centimeters (4.3 inches) high, 9.5 cm (3.7 inchs) wide and three cm (1.2 inches) thick.

The tablet adds new verses to the story of how Gilgamesh and Enkidu slew the forest demigod Humbaba. Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, gets the idea to kill the giant Humbaba, guardian of the Cedar Forest, home of the gods, in Tablet II. He thinks accomplishing such a feat of strength will gain him eternal fame. His wise companion (and former wild man) Enkidu tries to talk him out of it — Humbaba was set to his task by the god Enlil — but stubborn Gilgamesh won’t budge, so Enkidu agrees to go with him on this quest. Together they overpower the giant. When the defeated Humbaba begs for mercy, offering to serve Gilgamesh forever and give him every sacred tree in the forest, Gilgamesh is moved to pity, but Enkidu’s blood is up now and he exhorts his friend to go through with the original plan to kill the giant and get that eternal renown he craves. Gilgamesh cuts Humbaba’s head off and then cuts down the sacred forest. The companions return to Uruk with the trophy head and lots of aromatic timber.



Elizabeth Warren is on the hunt again

Elizabeth Warren, collector of corporate hides, is on the hunt again.

Fresh from her triumph Tuesday over the Brookings Institution in which she forced the ouster of a corporate-backed scholar, the populist Democratic senator from Massachusetts was at Lutheran Church of the Reformation on Capitol Hill, firing up a crowd of housing activists Wednesday afternoon.

Facing the pews, with a large brass cross behind her, Warren blasted the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, both run by Obama appointees, for selling troubled mortgages to hedge fund investors at a discount.

“These Wall Street investors made money by crashing the economy, got bailed out and now they’re back to feed at the trough again,” she said, “scooping up these loans at rock-bottom prices so that they profit off them a second time — and it is up to us to stop that!”

The activists cheered.



Biden's Abortion Record Could Cause Him Problems in a Presidential Bid

As Democrats fret about Hillary Clinton's electoral prospects, Vice President Joe Biden has emerged as a viable alternative and steadily risen in the polls. Unlike the outright socialist Bernie Sanders, Biden and Clinton have largely fallen into the Democratic consensus on policy issues over their decades in politics. (Their one noted area of divergence, on how aggressive America's foreign policy should be, has not been a dominant topic so far in the presidential election.)

But there's one domestic issue on which Biden has occasionally strayed from the Democratic mainstream during his more than 40 years in politics. Biden has been an inconsistent supporter of reproductive rights, sometimes backing the legal right of women to choose how to handle a pregnancy, while often hewing to his Catholic faith and moralizing against all abortions. Even today, when he and Clinton would most likely agree on most of the policy substance of ensuring access to abortion clinics, Biden sticks to a pro-life view in his personal politics.

During the early part of his career, abortion rights groups griped about Biden as an unreliable ally. "Joe Biden moans a lot and then usually votes against us," a Planned Parenthood official said in 1986.

When he first entered national politics, Biden was willing to stand alongside politicians who wanted to make abortion illegal. In a Washingtonian profile published the year after the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision established a nationwide right to abortion, Biden unequivocally criticized the ruling. "I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion," he said. "I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body."


Insanity- Half the USA thinks the government poses an ‘immediate threat’ to them....

By Chris Cillizza October 1 at 7:30 AM
I've spent an inordinate time of late trying to understand the rise of Donald Trump and what it tells us about how Americans view politicians, politics and the state of the country more generally. I came across this chart, which was released recently by Gallup, and thought it told the "why" of Trump as well as anything I've seen.

Half of the country believes that the federal government "poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. HALF! The party breakdown is even more remarkable. Two-thirds (65 percent) of self-identified Republicans believe their government poses an immediate threat to their rights and freedoms. (Worth noting: Just 32 percent of Democrats feel that way.)

That is a startling number -- and speaks not only to the massive disgust and disenchantment among Republicans toward the government, but also the urgency of the perceived threat that it poses. The idea of the government swooping in to restrict your rights is not an abstract discussion for many people -- especially those who identify as Republicans. It is a real and present danger.

The chart above also suggests the idea of the government as an active threat to personal liberties is rapidly rising. A decade ago, only 37 percent of the public called the federal government an immediate threat, and as recently as 2003, only three in 10 people viewed the government that way. Explains Gallup head honcho Frank Newport: "Republican agreement with the 'immediate threat' statement has been higher during the Obama administration than was Democratic agreement during the Bush administration, thus accounting for the overall rise in agreement across all national adults."


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