Dispatches > News
Associated Press photo by John Minchillo

Getting old

and other news briefs

Issue: "Border bandits," Dec. 3, 2011

Police decked in riot gear moved into Zuccotti Park in the pre-dawn hours Nov. 15 after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg authorized the eviction of protesters-two months after they began camping out there round-the-clock, launching a national phenomenon protesting economic disparity and unemployment, among other things. Police arrested about 200 who were unwilling to leave the park, and another 175 or more the next day, when thousands took to occupying New York's streets and subways, shutting off entrances to the New York Stock Exchange. Though they promised to continue citywide action, public frustration with blocked streets-making it difficult for those working instead of protesting to get to work-made tough police enforcement more likely. As violence and frustration with the movement grew, Kalle Lasn, co-founder of Adbusters, the Canadian magazine that issued the initial call to "occupy," admitted, "Somehow we lost the high ground, we lost the narrative."

Not a jobs bill

In a move analysts say will cost about 20,000 jobs and billions in lost revenue, the Obama administration announced that it will delay construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,700-mile project designed to bring oil from Canada to Gulf Coast ports in Texas.

The U.S. State Department on Nov. 10 delayed for at least a year granting a license to TransCanada Corp., the company funding the project, to allow the EPA and Nebraska environmental authorities time to study an "environmentally sensitive" area of the pipeline crossing. Environmental groups have long protested the project, citing the risk of an oil spill contaminating a large aquifer in Nebraska. But TransCanada already has improved safety standards in that region to alleviate the risk.

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper quickly responded to the decision, saying the oil that was to be delivered to the United States via the pipeline would instead go to China and other parts of Asia. Ironically, points out Douglas Gregory of the Cornwall Institute, the diverted oil to China faces lower safety requirements there, "resulting in greater risk of spills in transport and greater CO2 and other emissions from the less efficient and less regulated uses in those countries."

Big kill

Colombian soldiers killed Alfonso Cano, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in a gunfight Nov. 4 that followed a bomb attack. FARC is the oldest and largest insurgency in Latin America, and has waged war on successive governments since 1964. Colombians hope Cano's death deals a fatal blow to the communist guerrilla group, which has kidnapped and killed citizens also, including three U.S. missionaries killed in 1999.

Bombing runs

For South Sudanese citizens fleeing violence along the country's northern border with Sudan, finding safety is growing more difficult: As UN workers unloaded food at a camp for more than 20,000 refugees in South Sudan on Nov. 10, a military plane swooped overhead, dropping an estimated four bombs. Local officials reported at least 12 deaths.

Aid group Samaritan's Purse reported that its workers in the camp were safe after the attack. The relief agency manages distribution of food and other supplies in the sprawling refugee settlement, and reports severe shortages.

Three days earlier, Sudanese military planes bombed the South Sudanese town of Queffa, killing at least seven. South Sudanese President Salva Kiir said he fears Sudan's government is planning an invasion of South Sudan less than five months after the country declared its independence from its northern counterpart and won international recognition. An estimated 230,000 residents have fled violence along the country's disputed north-south border since July.

Covertly conscious

Three hospitalized, brain-damaged men who were unresponsive and apparently unconscious of their surroundings caught observers by surprise when they repeatedly responded to commands by researchers. Although the men, diagnosed as vegetative, couldn't physically move or speak, a headset of electrodes measured their brain activity after neurologists asked them to imagine wiggling their toes or clenching a fist. One of the patients responded over 100 times, the researchers reported in The Lancet, a British medical journal. Roughly 20,000 Americans are living in a persistent vegetative state-a condition of being awake but presumably unaware. That condition led to a national outcry over the late Terri Schiavo, whose feeding tube was removed in 2005. The results of the new study suggest one-fifth of these patients might actually retain consciousness. A brain scanning system could enable them to communicate with their families.

Mandate challenge

The Supreme Court on Nov. 14 picked its biggest case of the coming year in agreeing to hear several challenges to the healthcare overhaul this spring, meaning the court will render some kind of decision before the 2012 presidential elections. The court, scheduling a modern record of 5½ hours for the case, will focus on the law's mandate that individuals buy health insurance, potentially deciding the extent of the federal government's power in such areas. The justices also agreed to hear a challenge from states that objected to the law's Medicaid requirements, another potentially watershed issue that could determine the requirements the federal government can impose on state spending.

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