ECM WORLD WATCH: GLOBAL AND NATIONAL NEWS

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February 21, 2013 (San Diego’s East County)--ECM World Watch helps you be an informed citizen about important issues globally and nationally. As part of our commitment to reflect all voices and views, we include links to a wide variety of news sources representing a broad spectrum of political, religious, and social views. Top world and U.S. headlines include:

NATIONAL

WORLD

Read more for excerpts and links to full stories.

NATIONAL

States join battle over drone fights (The Hill)

February 17, 2013--The nascent drone industry is coming under threat from lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures who are weighing restrictions on their use in the United States.

Eighteen states have considered bills that would limit the use of unmanned aerial systems, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and more are likely to follow suit.

In Washington, meanwhile, lawmakers are pushing for new civil liberties and privacy protections to ease fears about invasive surveillance from the skies.

The Voting Rights Act: Under fire (Ebony)

February 20, 2013--Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) is being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court and next week, the nine justices will hear oral arguments for and against the landmark legislation.  Their decision could change the course of political history. 

Section 5 of the VRA requires that many state and local governments, mostly in the South, to obtain permission from the Justice Department or from a federal court in Washington before making changes that affect voting. The act was most recently reauthorized by Congress in 2006, and after a 2012 election cycle rife with voter suppression efforts, that the Supreme Court took up the challenge at all is alarming for civil rights advocates.

Sequestration could mean across the board pain (CBS)

February 20, 2013--The entire economy is headed for trouble in just eight days -- when massive across-the-board cuts in the federal budget are scheduled to kick in automatically. The cuts were designed to be so deep and harmful, that they would force the president and Congress to find a better way. But they haven't. Just for example, there would be $46 billion cut from the Defense Department and benefit cuts for 4.7 million long-term unemployed.

The FBI says the budget cuts would require all employees, including special agents, to be furloughed for up to 14 days.

FTC advises consumers to keep eye out for unauthorized charges on credit card bills (ABC)

February 20, 2013--The Federal Trade Commission is warning consumers today of a new type of “cramming,” unauthorized fees that were once buried in phone bills but are now showing up on credit card statements.

According to an FTC complaint, Ideal Financial Solutions hit tens of thousands of Americans with fake fees mostly for vague financial services like Debt2Wealth — for close to $30 at a time.

In total, the complaint says the company billed consumers for more than $24 million without their consents.

Kerry comes out swinging on climate change (The Hill)

February 20, 2013--John Kerry used his first major speech as secretary of State to make that case that failing to confront climate change means missing big economic opportunities — and worse.



“If we waste this opportunity, it may be the only thing our generation — generations — are remembered for. We need to find the courage to leave a far different legacy,” Kerry said in a wide-ranging address Wednesday at the University of Virginia.



Pentagon informs Congress of plans to furlough 800K civilian workers (The Hill)

February 20, 2013--The Pentagon notified Congress on Wednesday it will be furloughing its civilian workforce of 800,000 employees if sequestration goes into effect March 1.

Defense officials have warned lawmakers that sequestration will devastate the military and lead to a hollow force, but the civilian furloughs will be one of the first major impacts felt by the across-the-board cuts.

The Pentagon furloughs will affect civilians across the country. Pentagon officials have said that civilians could face up to 22 days of furloughs, one per week, through the end of the fiscal year in September. The employees would receive 30 days' notice before being furloughed.

In US, big strides in reducing domestic violence (CS Monitor)

February 13, 2013--A bruised cheek. A broken bone. Verbal battering. A window shattered in an effort to intimidate. The rate of such violence or abuse between husband and wife – or any two intimate partners – has been on the wane in America, falling by a stunning 64 percent between 1994 and 2010.

That finding, from a recent report by the US Department of Justice on intimate partner violence (IPV), parallels the overall drop in violent crime during that period. Many in the field cite a broad shift in attitudes that began in the 1980s and '90s, crediting public awareness campaigns, national legislation protecting victims, and subsequent training of police and prosecutors to recognize intimate partner violence as a crime, rather than as a private matter.

Farmer's Fight With Monsanto Reaches The Supreme Court (NPR)

February 18, 2012--This week, the Supreme Court will take up a classic David-and-Goliath case. On one side, there's a 75-year-old farmer in Indiana named Vernon Hugh Bowman; on the other, the agribusiness giant Monsanto.

The farmer is fighting the long reach of Monsanto's patents on seeds — but he's up against more than just Monsanto. The biotech and computer software industries are taking Monsanto's side.

Bowman also is battling a historic shift that's transformed the nation's seed business over the past 20 years.

Who will clean up after the nuclear plants? (Christian Science Monitor)

February 20, 2013--Many of the civilian nuclear power plants built in the US. and Western Europe during the halcyon days of the Eisenhower administration are coming to the end of their operational lives as their operating licenses expire.

The looming deadlines leave their operators with two stark choices – apply for a license extension beyond the original forty years, or decommission.

A bad choice, however you look at it. For a license extension, aging NPPs must upgrade, while decommissioning raises the primordial question sidestepped since the dawn of the civilian nuclear age – what to do with the radioactive debris?

Alaska brewery plans to use beer as source of green energy (Fox)

February 4, The Alaskan Brewing Co. is going green, but instead of looking to solar and wind energy, it has turned to a very familiar source: beer.

The Juneau-based beer maker has installed a unique boiler system in order to cut its fuel costs. It purchased a $1.8 million furnace that burns the company's spent grain -- the waste accumulated from the brewing process -- into steam which powers the majority of the brewery's operations.

Company officials now joke they are now serving "beer-powered beer."

WORLD

Meteor blast injures 1,000 in Russia (CNN)

February 15, 2013--A meteor streaked through the skies above Russia's Urals region Friday morning before exploding with a flash and boom that shattered glass in buildings and left about 1,000 people hurt, authorities said.

Described by NASA as a "tiny asteroid," the meteor's explosion created a blast in central Russia equivalent to 300,000 tons of TNT, the space agency's officials said Friday, adding that the incident was a once-in-100-years event.

The injured included more than 200 children. Most of those hurt are in the Chelyabinsk region, though the vast majority of injuries are not thought to be serious.

Ozone hole shrinks to new low (Christian Science Monitor)

February 13, 2013--Good news from Antarctica: The hole in the ozone layer is shrinking, new measurements reveal.

Ozone is a molecule made of three oxygen atoms. It's relatively highly concentrated in a particular layer of the stratosphere about 12 miles to 19 miles (20 to 30 kilometers) above Earth's surface. This ozone layer prevents ultraviolet light from reaching Earth's surface — a good thing, given that UV light causes sunburn and skin cancer.

Ever since the early 1980s, though, a hole in this layer has developed over Antarctica during September to November, decreasing ozone concentration by as much as 70 percent. The cause is human-produced chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were once heavily used in aerosols and refrigeration.

Journalist rips ‘pro-life’ Republicans for seeking to cut infant nutrition program (Raw Story)

February 18, 2013--While discussing the looming sequestration on MSNBC, journalist David Cay Boyle Johnston slammed Republicans for supporting cuts to a federal program that provides food to the infants of poor mothers.

“Six hundred thousand pregnant women and mothers of small children will be cut from the [Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program],” he said. “The Republicans are always telling us about their reverence for life. Really? They are going to have 600,000 poor women and children not have proper food.”

GOP lawmakers propose $30 million a year to fund cops in schools program (The Hill)

February 18, 2013--Freshman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and six other House Republicans have proposed legislation that would spend $30 million a year on federal grants to help put police officers in schools across the country.

The Protect America's Schools Act is a reaction to the December shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that left 20 children dead. After that shooting, National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre suggested that children in schools be protected by armed guards, and Meadows's bill would appear to be a step in that direction.

India farmers’ rice revolution (UK Guardian)

February 16, 2013--Sumant Kumar was overjoyed when he harvested his rice last year. There had been good rains in his village of Darveshpura in north-eastIndia and he knew he could improve on the four or five tonnes per hectare that he usually managed. But every stalk he cut on his paddy field near the bank of the Sakri river seemed to weigh heavier than usual, every grain of rice was bigger and when his crop was weighed on the old village scales, even Kumar was shocked.

U.K. Slaughterhouses Raided As Europe's Horse Meat Scandal Widens (NPR)

February   13, 2013--British police raided a slaughterhouse and meat firm in two different corners of Britain on Tuesday in connection with the growing horse meat scandal.

Britons had just sat down to their evening meal when the latest revelation broke: The Tesco supermarket chain acknowledged that its low-cost beef lasagna, pulled off the shelves last week after testing positive for horse DNA, had in fact been 60 percent horsemeat.

Officials insist the adulterated meat poses no threat to human health. Food-safety campaigners aren't so sure. Some horses are given a powerful and dangerous veterinary drug called phenylbutazone, or bute. The fear is that unscrupulous processors prepared to adulterate beef with horse might also be prepared to buy horses without valid health certificates.

A glimpse of Mexico's new crime fighting strategy (Christian Science Monitor)

February 13, 2013--Mexico’s government on Tuesday launched a comprehensive crime prevention plan aimed at strengthening communities hard-hit by the violence of an ongoing drug war. The details of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s security strategy have been trickling out since he took office in December. Unlike former President Felipe Calderón’s government, which publicly announced troop deployments and paraded suspected criminals before television cameras, Peña Nieto has so far been quiet on the details of his security strategy.

Chernobyl hit by roof collapse (BBC)

February 13, 2013--A section of the roof at Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear plant has collapsed - but there has been no increase in radiation at the site, authorities say.

No-one was hurt when the roof over a turbine hall gave way under heavy snow.

The "sarcophagus" used to seal off the failed reactor was unaffected, officials said, but around 80 construction workers were moved away.

The Afghan Battle Over A Law To Protect Women (NPR)

February 20, 2013--Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a decree in 2009 banning violence against women. But the parliament, which is currently on its winter recess, has been unable to pass it and give it permanence as a law.

There's major disagreement on key provisions where Islamic and secular law come into conflict. And activists say the gains made in women's rights since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 are slipping away.

Masooda Karokhi, a female member of parliament, has been pushing to get the proposal through the male-dominated legislature.

Foreigners arrested for trying to spread Christianity in Libya (Reuters)

February 16, 2013--Four foreigners have been arrested in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on suspicion of being Christian missionaries and printing books about Christianity, a security official said on Saturday.

"They were arrested on Tuesday at a publishing house where they were printing thousands of books that called for conversion to Christianity," security official Hussein Bin Hmeid said.

"Proselytizing is forbidden in Libya. We are a 100 percent Muslim country and this kind of action affects our national security."