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Thursday, August 29, 2013

DOJ to Refrain from Interference with Legalized Pot

The U.S. Justice Department said today that it will not interfere with plans to begin the sale and taxation of marijuana for recreational use in Washington and Colorado next year. Under federal law, all marijuana sales remain illegal, as pot is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance like heroin and cocaine. White House Spokesperson Josh Earnest said last week that President Barack Obama doesn’t “at this point advocate a change in the law.”

But earlier today, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sent a memo to all federal prosecutors asking them to limit their activities to eight enforcement priorities, including preventing marijuana distribution to minors, preventing drugged driving, stopping drug trafficking by gangs and cartels and forbidding the cultivation of marijuana on public lands.

U.S. Fast Food Workers’ Strike

Fast food workers nationwide went on strike, demonstrating at fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King in support of an effort to raise wages in the industry. Trade groups representing the fast food chains say such strikes are unwarranted as the companies proved competitive pay and opportunities to rise through the ranks, but according to an analysis of government data by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) the median wage for front-line fast-food workers is $8.94 per hour. The average employee is only able to obtain 20-25 hours of work, which amounts to less than $10,000 a year.

Last month, a sample budget created by McDonald’s and Visa for McDonald’s employees surfaced to a clamor of ridicule. The budget, featuring a nearly impossible $20 dollars a month expenditure for health care, gamely illustrated just how dire the straits truly are for those in the service industry.

Peace Talks in Colombia

The 13th round of peace talks between Marxist—Leninist rebels Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government concluded today after nine months. While the talks were designed to reintegrate the rebel group into the political process, the talks had a pall cast over them when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos proposed that any such deal would be subject to a popular referendum. The FARC’s political wing has been violently repressed for some time and as such the group asked that a constituent assembly be formed to incorporate the content of the peace deals into the country´s constitution.

While publicly the two sides have maintained adversarial stances, according to a source at the peace talks, “Each side has a public face and another at the talks, where they are very serious and working hard. They have a long ways to go but are making progress and appear committed to the process.” Santos’ administration has also signaled it is willing to start peace talks with the smaller leftist Catholic rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), now that the ELN has released its last hostage. Gernot Wober, an executive at Braeval Mining Corp, was released to the Red Cross earlier this week. A statement by Santos suggested his government would initiate peace talks as soon as possible and said that Wober’s release was a “gesture that I celebrate and appreciate“.

Power Outage in Brazil

Nine states in Brazil suffered a three-hour power loss, plunging tens of millions of people into the dark. A fire in Piaui damaged a number of transmission lines, according to Edson Lobao the minister of mines and energy, this disconnected the entire north-east of the country. Brazil’s energy regulator ONS said they focused on resorting power first but will begin an investigation into the cause of the blaze presently.

This power outage is the latest in several serious outages in the last year like the October 2012 fire that caused four hours of blackout, which calls into question Brazil’s ability to host the coming 2014 World Cup and 2016 2016 Olympic Games. A combination of aging infrastructure, bureaucratic obstacles, and droughts have plagued the massive country’s energy grid.

Vaccine for Swine Flu Assists Other Strains

Researchers published a study in Science Translational Medicine which found that immunizing pig to one type of influenza put them at increased risk for contracting another type. Piglets given a vaccine for H1N2 successfully produced antibodies which blocked that virus, but those same antibodies aided the H1N1 virus, the virus responsible for the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic.

James Crowe, an immunologist at Vanderbilt suggested that while this study gives him pause, he does not believe researchers should cease developing novel vaccines, but just that “we should be very careful.” Sarah Gilbert, a vaccine researcher at the University of Oxford, notes that differences between pigs and humans make it problematic to generalize results from this study to humans. Author of the study Hana Golding, agrees saying “This has no relevance to the regular vaccinations. We think that people should definitely take them.”

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