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Thursday, June 13, 2013

U.S. Sure of Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

The White House announced this afternoon that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used chemical weapons against rebel fighters in Syria’s civil war. According to Benjamin Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, “the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year.” Rhodes added that at least 100 people have died from chemical weapons use. Though this is a small number of people compared to the 93,000 confirmed deaths in the Syrian civil war, the Obama administration has several times reiterated that the use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” across which the U.S. would not let Syria move. Earlier today, the U.S. military offered the White House a proposal for arming Syrian rebels and creating a no-fly zone near the Jordanian border. Military planners suggested that the creation of an area to train and equip Syrian rebel forces would require assurance of safety for U.S. agents. To that end, the military suggested creating a no-fly zone stretching up to 25 miles into Syria which would be enforced using aircraft flying solely in Jordanian airspace. This proposal is one of a number of options currently being considered. Rhodes noted, “The United States and the international community have a number of other legal, financial, diplomatic, and military responses available. We are prepared for all contingencies, and we will make decisions on our own timeline.”

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Natural Human Gene Patents

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that naturally occurring human gene sequences may not be patented. “A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court. The SCOTUS did however find that so-called “complementary DNA,” which is synthetic, is “patent eligible because it is not naturally occurring.” Today’s decision rejects several patents filed by Myriad Genetics, a company that had with those patents established an near monopoly on detecting proclivity for developing certain types of ovarian and breast cancer. Both parties reacted positively to the decision. Myriad’s CEO Peter D. Meldrum, said in a statement, “We believe the court appropriately upheld our claims on cDNA, and underscored the patent eligibility of our method claims, ensuring strong intellectual property protection for our (gene) test moving forward.” Sandra S. Park, the ACLU lawyer who argued the case against Myriad [was likewise cheered](Dr. Harry Ostrer, a medical geneticist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine who challenged Myriad’s patents), “we are thrilled. The question before the court was a simple one, but it had profound consequences.” Dr. Harry Ostrer, the geneticist who challenged Myriad’s patents agreed, “As a result of this, the cost of genetic testing should come down significantly. I think we will see a much more level playing field. It will drive down costs and improve quality.”

Blaze at Another Bangladeshi Garment Factory

A fire sparked in Bangladesh, in the Ashulia industrial district of to the north of Dhaka, at around 9:30 this morning on the ground floor of the Arva Textile garment factory. Heavy smoke obscured the escape of workers and some workers were injured in the chaos. No fatalities were reported and firefighters doused the flames within about two hours. Director general of Bangladesh’s Fire Service Ali Ahmed Khan, said the two factories in the building had conditional fire safety licenses through July. Inspectors had found several shortcomings, including a lack of on-site water resources in case of fire. Firefighters were forced to import water from other areas, causing delays in extinguishing the blaze. “If these factories do not improve their shortcomings within a month, we won’t renew their fire licenses,” said Khan. Many hundreds of workers have died in factory fires over the past decade in Bangladesh. Less than a year ago, more than 100 people were killed when Tarzeen Fashions went up in flames. According to the Solidarity Center, an AFL-CIO office in Dhaka, as of mid-April at least 41 have taken place in Bangladesh since the blaze at Tazreen.

Fatal Train Crash in Argentina

A train crashed during rush hour in Buenos Aires this morning; three people have been killed and at least 190 wounded. The accident happened near the suburban Castelar station, when a commuter train hit another empty stationary train. “I heard a loud noise and everyone started falling down, and people were shocked and crying,” said one passenger. Transport and Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo said the cause was still being investigated and that he was unsure “whether it was an accident or an attack.” He did note that the train “had new brakes”. Both train divers had been taken into custody. Security images show the train had braked normally at the previous station, and then rolled past four warning signals without stopping, according to Randazzo. “Before a warning signal, the conductor should completely stop the formation, a situation that did not happen.” Rather, the train accelerated continually from the moment it left the previous station, reaching a speed of 38.5 mph on impact, thrice as fast as the train that crashed into Once station on the same line last year, killing 51 passengers and injuring more than 700. Argentina’s auditor general, Leandro Despouy suggested the problems were systemic. “We’ve been warning that this tragedy could happen again. Today it’s a courageous move to travel by train.”

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