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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Syria Conflict Still Confusing Mess

The U.N. Security Council meeting ended without voting on the U.K. resolution to use “all necessary force to protect civilians” in response to the nerve gas strike that reportedly killed 1,000 people. The U.S., U.K. and France are continuing talks and NATO has vowed to ‘answer’ the attacks. The U.N. chemical weapons team has yet to weigh in on who used the sarin gas in the attack. Meanwhile, Damascus residents stockpiled supplies as the likelihood of multinational air strikes against Syria increases. Over 6,000 Syrians fled to Lebanon today alone. Ever helpful, Iran announced that any attack on Syria would lead to retaliation against Israel, leaving Israelis scrambling for gas masks in case of reprisals by either Syria or Iran.

The U.S. government’s belief that the Assad regime is responsible is based on intercepted calls between the Syrian Ministry of Defense and the leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers about the sarin gas attack. The calls, however, don’t clear up who is culpable – was it a rogue soldier? Are officers given carte-blanche to use chemical weapons at their discretion or was it a direct order from the Assad regime? Adding to the confusion, Syria’s ambassador to the U.N. claimed today that he has proof the rebels used chemical weapons in three previously unreported incidents. He asked that the U.N. team stay beyond its official deadline.

US Welfare & Poverty: ‘Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t’

A new census released today showed that there was a striking rise in homes with at least one unemployed parent since 2005, before the recession officially began. Between 2005 and 2011, the number soared by 33%. There was also a 15% decline in homeownership among households with children. Since the start of the recession, the number of SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) recipients has nearly doubled to 47 million people.

Neither SNAP nor TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) adjust eligibility levels based on local costs of living and neither takes into account additional living costs, such as child support. Some caseworkers resort to recommending welfare fraud so their clients will qualify for assistance and be able to eat. The average annual income of people convicted of welfare fraud – taking into account all public assistance and unreported earnings – was $13,356.

NYPD Secretly Labels Mosques ‘Terror Groups’

New documents reveal more details on the NYPD’s covert surveillance of thousands of innocent Muslims. It secretly labeled entire mosques “terrorism enterprises,” which lets them use informants to record sermons and spy on imams without any evidence of criminal wrongdoings. It also means that anyone who has simply attended prayer services there is fair game for surveillance.

The NYPD has opened at least a dozen “terrorism enterprise investigations” (TEIs) since 9/11. TEIs can last for years, allowing police to continue surveillance even though it has never criminally charged any mosque or Islamic organization with being a “terrorism enterprise.”

Bombings Across Iraq and Afghanistan

A series of bomb attacks throughout Afghanistan have killed at least 26 people and wounded dozens more. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks, the deadliest of which was against a base jointly operated by Polish and Afghan forces. A suicide bombing wiped out the security posts and gunfire continued to ring long into the night.

In a horrifying day of violence for Iraq, car bombs and other explosions tore through mainly Shiite districts around Baghdad, killing at least 80 people. It seems to be definitive proof that sectarian violence has completely spiraled out of control. A Western strike on Syria would likely only exacerbate the wave of killing that has left thousands dead since April.

Cool Science News

Scientists successfully completed the first human-to-human ‘mind meld’: one researcher sent a brain signal via the internet to control the hand motion of a colleague sitting across the University of Washington campus.

There is now new evidence for a previously unconfirmed periodic table element with atomic number 115.

Scientists have grown miniature human brains in test tubes, which allows them to watch the organs develop and will hopefully shed light on neurological and mental problems.

Acupuncture helps an alligator’s back problems in Brazil.

There’s a movement to name hurricanes after global warming-denying politicians.

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