‘Legal highs are gateway drugs linked to crime’

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Police incidents in Hampshire involving legal highs – also called new psychoactive substances – have shot up from 63 to 403 in just three years, and that is expected to rise as they become more widespread and available to buy.

The message is loud and clear – people of all ages run the serious risk of death or causing permanent damage to their body and health if they buckle to peer pressure and continue to consume these ‘toxic cocktails’.

Doctor Jane Boskovic, who specialises in substance misuse at The Baytrees drink and drugs treatment unit, in Milton, Portsmouth, said: ‘Legal highs are incredibly dangerous and devastating. Having seen some of the devastating results of people taking legal highs, people should be absolutely terrified of taking these drugs. They are equally as dangerous as classic drugs, if not more.

‘Maybe it’s an exciting thing to try these drugs, but people really are playing Russian roulette with their lives.

‘The reason for that is …with legal highs, we don’t know the effect they all have on people’s bodies. They are very addictive in very vast quantities.’

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While some legal highs have been banned under the Misuse of Drugs Act – such as meow meow naphyrone, BZP and GBL – many alternatives are still legal to buy and we are seeking for a blanket ban to be rolled out by the government.

It comes as Portsmouth City Council launches a drive, supported by The News, aimed at increasing awareness of the risks associated with legal highs.

Packs containing posters and postcards are being sent to all secondary schools in the area and specialist training sessions are being held for staff and pupils. Pubs and clubs are also being sent posters, banners and leaflets.

And plans are moving forward to ban legal highs in Portsmouth’s public spaces.

Hampshire police and crime commissioner Simon Hayes, who has campaigned hard on the issue, said: ‘I am totally supportive of The News’ campaign against legal highs.

‘I hope it raises awareness of the very real danger they pose to the public and deters people from putting their lives at risk by using them.

‘For a long time, I have been calling for either a complete ban, or regulation, of all mind-altering substance.

‘Recently, I was very encouraged to hear the police minister say in parliament that he too would like to see a blanket ban on all new psychoactive substances and that we cannot – and should not – tolerate the open sale on our high streets and over the internet of these substances.

‘I intend to continue lobbying the government to do everything possible to prohibit the sale of these toxic cocktails and I look forward to collaborating with partners and the public to limit the harm they cause – particularly to our young people.’

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Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond, who has worked with affected families and campaigned against the rise of legal high ‘head shops’, said: ‘You are putting your life in the hands of a small drug – it could kill you the first time you take them.’

AIMS OF THE CAMPAIGN

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* To ensure the government delivers on its pledge to impose a complete ban on the production, distribution, supply and sale of legal highs by formerly adopting the Psychoactive Substances Bill.

* To raise awareness of the lethal dangers of legal highs, especially among teenagers.

* To ensure other authorities follow the efforts made by Portsmouth City Council to come up with a comprehensive action plan detailing how the ban will be enforced, and who people should contact if they think someone is under the influence or suffering from the effects of legal highs.

* To ensure the government delivers on its pledge to impose a complete ban on the use and sale of legal highs by formerly adopting the Psychoactive Substances Bill.

* To raise awareness of the lethal dangers of legal highs, especially among teenagers.

* To ensure other authorities follow the efforts made by Portsmouth City Council to come up with a comprehensive action plan detailing how the ban will be enforced, and who people should contact if they think someone is under the influence or suffering from the effects of legal highs.

Why Bother With A Psychoactive Drugs Bill?

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Decriminalising drugs is all the rage or so it would seem so I thought I’d tell this story from the angle of ‘Sonia The Cleaner’. Sonia is thirty six years old and is raising four children ages eleven, fourteen, fifteen and twenty one. Sonia lives on the Stonebridge Estate in London, her children attend a very good comprehensive school run by dedicated teachers and her two youngest children are doing very well at school.

Not so the oldest, her grades have suddenly dropped, school attendance has become sporadic and at home she suffers from mood swings. There is one other pretty significant problem, she can disappear for days at a time and when she reappears for any length of time a much older male teenager turns up with her.

Sonia is confused, she’s checked her daughter’s room and apart from tons of ‘bath salts’ there are no other unusual elements in her daughter’s room. There are also no smells which might indicate that her daughter has a drugs problem, she simply can’t put her finger on it. There is one other thing though, and that is her daughter’s new friends way of moving, there is what one might call a deftness to his physical movements which seem slowed down and almost disconcertingly hypnotic when he is around her daughter. In fact she notices that when he is around there is a distinct alteration to her daughters moods & behaviour.

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Now, I don’t doubt that taking legal highs can be tremendous fun, but I’ve watched people have seizures because of these drugs and wind up in serious debt because of these drugs, drugs which are supposedly harmless which is why they are currently legal. Drug dealers have moved themselves off the streets and now can run ‘head shops’ selling drugs like Spice & Black Mamba because there is currently no law preventing them from doing so. Because these drugs are legal there is plenty of money to be made by ‘professional’ men raising their own families whilst destroying & in quite a few cases prostituting & enslaving vulnerable members of other people’s families.

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Ambulance staff and police officers find their hands full of people who having taken these drugs have had serious seizures or wound up dead, and yet these drugs are legal. Then there is the issue of money.Spice has become infamous because of it’s highly addictive nature and the withdrawal effects which are not dissimilar to those of Crack. It takes a lot of money to maintain a drugs habit this addictive, and since these drugs are being aimed at and taken mainly by the youth where’s this money going to come from? Prostitution?

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Thieving? Drug dealing to other teenagers? A lot of youth are winding up homeless because of some of these ‘legal’ highs so, as in Poole, Dorset, I suspect many will wind up resorting to prostitution (initially) then once they get a bit of cash they’ll turn to dealing.

There’s a thing in Poole when it comes to trying to work out whether a young person has taken to prostitution, legal highs you see usually contain ‘hypnotic drug elements’ therefore once taken, a semi-trance-like state has been voluntarily entered into by the drug user. With frequent use it might be added, this state becomes a semi-permanent thing.This you can unscrupulously make use of, if you know a bit about hypnotic techniques such as ‘sleight of mouth’ or covert hypnosis. In Poole, if you want to work out whether a homeless young female is on the game try a little ‘covert hypnosis’ if it works then they’ve very likely found a means of supporting their drug habit.

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Back to Sonia the cleaner whose fifteen year old daughter wound up in hospital after having a severe seizure, happily the nurses who treated her discovered a half empty pack of ‘bath salts’ in her jacket and were able to make the connection and treat her condition successfully. With the help of Sonia’s brother (a London based stockbroker), Sonia and her family have since moved to Poole in Dorset ( not everyone in Poole is a junkie!), her daughter is currently studying for her ‘A’ Levels at Bournemouth & Poole College. Sonia raised her daughter (using the direct non-hypnotic technique of parenting) to become a doctor, and it seems very likely that that is what she will now become.

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Theresa May’s futile war on psychoactive drugs (an excerpt from the original article)

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The relationship between politics and science has never been easy, but there has rarely been a more embarrassing mismatch than in our drug laws. Supposedly a measure to protect the health of the nation, we have arrived at a situation where some of the most dangerous drugs are legal, some of the least dangerous are prohibited, and where many of the dangers from drug use arise from their illicit supply. But even by the standards of this self-imposed prohibition of science, the new Psychoactive Substances Bill is a work of monumental ignorance that has taken drug legislation beyond the point of farce into the realm of surreal fantasy.

The motivation behind the bill is the wave of new psychoactive substances or legal highs. Grey market labs have rifled the scientific literature to create substances that produce similar effects to popular street drugs like cannabis, ketamine and ecstasy, but are different enough to avoid existing bans and are often significantly worse for your health. To try to address this problem, the government is trying a radically new approach: pretending that one of the most difficult problems in neuroscience – and one of the deep mysteries of consciousness – doesn’t apply to them. It’s a bold move, to say the least.

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The bottom line is, the only way of knowing whether a mystery substance alters the mind is to take it. Rather than banning a specific list of drugs, the government wants to outlaw the supply and production of all psychoactive substances and have a minimal list of government-approved highs. Unsurprisingly, booze, nicotine, and caffeine are allowed, alongside, rather vaguely, “any substance which is ordinarily consumed as food” but isn’t already banned.

But the scientific K-hole here is the fact that the law relies on adequately defining a “psychoactive substance”, which turns out to be scientifically impossible at the current time. It’s not that you can’t come up with a definition; in fact, the bill says it’s something that “by stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system, affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state”. The problem is turning this into a law that unambiguously classifies substances as psychoactive or not.

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The bottom line is, the only way of knowing whether a mystery substance alters the mind is to take it. You simply can’t tell by chemical tests, because there is no direct mapping between molecular structure and mental experience. If you could solve the problem of working out whether a substance would affect the conscious mind purely from its chemistry, you would have done Nobel prize winning work on the the problem of consciousness. A second-rank approach is just to see whether a new substance is similar to a known family of mind-altering drugs, but even here there are no guarantees. A slight tweak can make a similar drug completely inactive and about as much fun as Theresa May at a techno night.

This is exactly the same problem that pharmaceutical companies face when developing psychiatric drugs, by the way. They can analyse molecules and give them to mice, but the true test – the acid test, if you will – only comes when a human swallows it. Labs that produce new legal highs use the simple expedient of giving them to their mates to test. But this liberty isn’t available to courts because “have a blast on this, your honour” turns out not to be a valid legal argument and giving mystery chemicals picked up by the police to human guinea pigs is a step too far even for the Home Office.

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This reliance on scientific impossibilities is really just a symptom of a wider neglect of an evidence-based drugs policy. You can see it throughout the process. At the end of October, May wrote to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs about the bill, as she is required to by law. In line with tradition, she rejected their scientific recommendations but she also wrote to assure them that homeopathy, a practice based entirely on pseudoscience involving sugar pills with no active ingredient, would be specifically excluded from any ban. It’s the scientific equivalent of writing to MI6 to guarantee that crystal balls won’t be restricted under new spying legislation. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

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Despite these recent examples, this is not a party political issue. The drug law charade was equally embarrassing under Labour, when the then home secretary, Alan Johnson, fired the head of his own drugs advisory committee for pointing out scientific evidence he didn’t want to hear. Previous governments fared no better.

Written by Vaughan Bell for The Guardian 2015

Mayor of Mexican city killed only one day after taking office

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The newly installed mayor of the Mexican city of Temixco was killed on Saturday, according to a tweet from Morelos state governor Graco Ramírez.

Gisela Mota formally took office with the new year on Friday. The Mexico City newspaper El Universal said she was attacked at her home by four armed gunmen.

Several mayors were killed last year in Mexico, where armed gangs financed by the drugs trade control many local communities.

Temixco, located some 60 miles south of Mexico City, has a population of about 100,000.

Mota, a former federal member of congress, belonged to the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution.

Officials with the Morelos attorney general’s office did not immediately return calls seeking additional information about her death.

The Guardian 2016

Prisoners’ use of legal highs ‘puts severe strain on ambulance services’

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Local ambulance services in some parts of the country are being put under severe strain because of the rising number of prisoners needing emergency medical help after using legal highs, a watchdog has revealed.

A major study by the chief inspector of prisons says the use of “new psychoactive substances”, such as the synthetic cannabis substitutes spice and black mamba, now represent the most serious threat to the safety and security of prisons across England and Wales.

Nick Hardwick says that evidence from 61 inspections of adult jails over the past 18 months and surveys of nearly 11,000 prisoners document the rapid spread of the use of legal highs behind bars fuelled by the fact they are cheap and undetected by current testing methods. He says they are now the main drug of choice in adult male prisons.

The low-risk, high-profit and large-scale nature of the illicit trade in legal highs in prisons means that increasingly organised crime has become involved with a rising tide of violence used to collect debts.

But the unknown composition and effects of many legal highs means the health consequences have been particularly severe, with 19 deaths in prisons linked to legal highs over the last two years.

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The chief inspector says he has credible accounts of prisoners being singled out as “spice pigs” to test out new batches of drugs, sometimes in exchange for free samples.

But Hardwick says there has also been a direct effect on the wider community: “Some prisons have required so many ambulance attendances that community resources were depleted.”

Ambulances and paramedics have been called out to attend to prisoners having fits, blackouts and other adverse symptoms. In some instances multiple ambulances have been dispatched when several prisoners needed treatment at the same time.

“This not only put individual prisoners at risk, but also placed excessive demand on resources that were required for the local community too,” says the inspectors’ report. They cite in particular one case at HMP Wealstun in Yorkshire.

“They were having so many health emergencies caused by the use of [new psychoactive substances] that basically all of the available ambulances in the community on one occasion were at the prison,” said Hardwick.

“So actually there wasn’t the resilience, if there had been something happening in the community they weren’t there to deal with that because they were in the prison. It is a big issue.”

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The chief inspector’s report suggests the trade is so lucrative because some synthetic cannabis is still legal in the community but banned in prisons.

He says there is evidence some released prisoners are deliberately breaching the terms of their licences so they can get recalled to jail to sell their smuggled legal highs. The drugs may get thrown over the prison wall in small packages, such as tennis balls, or in larger packages fired by catapults and increasingly dropped by drones.

The chief inspector says the prison service has found it hard to keep pace with the unprecedented and rapid growth of legal highs. New drug tests are being developed and legislation banning psychoactive substances is being introduced, but all these measures are not yet in place.

Ministers hope that new tests for legal highs to be introduced in the new year will prove a “game changer”. A prison service spokesperson responded to the report, saying: “We take a zero tolerance approach to drugs in prison and there are already a range of robust measures in place to detect drugs, including the use of sniffer dogs, searches of cells and mandatory drugs tests.

“We recently introduced tough new laws, which will see those who smuggle packages over prison walls, including drugs, face up to two years in prison. Those who involve themselves in the distribution of drugs in our prisons should know that they will face prosecution and extra time behind bars.”

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Guardian 2015

Keep Counting…..

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‘I vaguely remember hearing psychologists say that there was a preponderance of psychopaths at the top of the corporate and political worlds, could that really be true?’

  • Jon Ronson ‘The Psychopath test’

Question: How many wars has America engaged in during the twentieth century and the twenty-first century and why is this relevant to the current situation in Syria? It isn’t, but lets list the number of militarised punch ups they’ve been engaged in anyway.

  1. The Occupation of Nicaragua.
    (1912–1933)
  2. Occupation of Haiti.
    (1915–1934)
  3. Occupation of the Dominican Republic
    (1916–1924)
  4. World War I
    (1917–1918)
  5. Russian Civil War
    (1918–1920)
  6. World War II
    (1941–1945)
  7. Korean War
    (1950–1953)
  8. Lebanon Crisis
    (1958)
  9. Bay of Pigs Invasion
    (1961)
  10. Simba Rebellion
  11. (1964)
  12. Dominican Civil War
    (1965–1966)
  13. Vietnam War
    (1965–1973[a], 1975[b])
  14. Multinational Force in Lebanon
    (1982-1984)
  15. Invasion of Grenada
    (1983)
  16. Tanker War
    (1987–1988)
  17. Invasion of Panama
    (1989–1990)
  18. Gulf War
    (1990–1991)
  19. Iraqi No-Fly Zones
    (1991–2003)
  20. Somali Civil War
    (1992–1995)
  21. Intervention in Haiti
    (1994–1995)
  22. Bosnian War
    (1994–1995)
  23. Kosovo War
    (1998–1999)
  24. War in Afghanistan
    (2001–2014)
  25. War in Afghanistan
    (2015–present)

The list is as impressive and as notable as the many accolades psychopathic gang leaders award themselves. Because lets face it, when human beings within an ordered society pick fights, the way America as a military power picks its fights, our reaction as law abiding citizens is to call the police. We only look on in awe if we aspire to be like the psychopathic thug who prefers to beat his victims to a pulp, rather than choosing to engage in some intelligent peaceful discourse.

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Folks who consider self-control to be an indication of character, intelligence and moral integrity don’t get excited at the notion of engaging in any social interaction with folks who don’t. The bottom line? I choose like most folks not to court the association of the blood thirsty, the amoral and the plain psychopathic. Would that the government I did not vote for would choose the same.

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Granted Americans are an intelligent people and an intelligent nation, but other equally intelligent nations like Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan have been left literally in pieces after America has finished waging their wars in them. As for the morality of extensive capitalising on the destruction of other nation states, by bringing in American companies to rebuild the infrastructure, if this was happening in Africa we would cry Kalebule (corruption) very loudly.

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But the whole point of these wars some would say, is to keep America safe. Well then, have all these conflicts created this result? Will the conflict in Syria create this result? The French are finding that there’s a personal cost associated with their involvement in the war in Syria that neither they nor anyone else could have anticipated. Will the Americans who inadvertently created ISIS and the British Prime Minister who wishes to partake of the ‘fun’ find any different?

How to feed nine billion within the planet’s boundaries: the need for an agroecological approach

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Global agriculture is challenged by a combination of climate change, biodiversity loss, and the growing demand for food, feed, fibre and energy. The research and development community has been looking into various ways of making agriculture more sustainable, and agro-ecological approach gives high expectations.

Agro-ecology is a scientific approach to sustainable agriculture which follows ecological principles such as diversity and regeneration. This “nothing wasted, everything transformed” approach preaches for low input, nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration. Agro-ecology is also a system approach, and has a strong social focus, paying attention to public health, cultural values, and community resilience as well as to social and economic justice.

There are Seven steps for an agro-ecological transformation of farming to feed the world within the planet’s limits:

1. Raise awareness among policy-makers and extension agents of the benefits of agro-ecological farming, focusing on its contributions to rural livelihoods, ecological sustainability, climate change adaptation and the resilience of food systems.

2. Provide a new perspective on agriculture – particularly what is a ‘productive’ and ‘efficient’ system – among financial partners, governments and farmers. Instead of a short-term focus on maximising production (and profits), they should consider the benefits of farming practices that support ecosystem services and resilience and use fewer resources.

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3. Provide economic incentives to adopt agro-ecological practices on a landscape level, e.g. subsidies for actions that support ecosystem services, and taxation of actions that reduce them. Other helpful measures include integrating agro-ecological farming in public food procurement schemes (e.g. for schools, hospitals or public catering); supporting agro-ecological extension services; and supporting local business development and markets for agro-ecological products.

4. Sharpen environmental laws and regulations (and their enforcement on a landscape level) to better protect ecosystem services. Revise trade regulations and agreements so that they support markets for environmentally friendly agricultural products. Amend regulations that distort local markets for agricultural products.

5. Build strong farmer-led, bottom-up knowledge and research systems. Farmers should be at the centre of the agricultural innovation system, setting the agenda for research and extension services and shaping policies and investments.

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6. Mainstream agro-ecology in agricultural education at all levels (from pre-schools to universities) and encourage interdisciplinary research on the social, environmental and economic aspects of food production.

7. Provide incentives for more sustainable diets and consumption patterns. Rising meat and dairy products consumption, as well as food waste, are increasing pressures on the land; these trends need to be reversed as part of an agro-ecological transformation of our food systems.

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Courtesy of Ecosystem Based Adaptation conference in Kenya, July 2015.

 

A Terrorism Case in Britain Ends in Acquittal, but No One Can Say Why

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LONDON — Ian Cobain, a reporter with The Guardian, is one of very few people who know why a student arrested by armed British police officers in 2013 was finally acquitted this year of terrorism charges.

Problem is, he cannot report what he knows. He was allowed to observe much of the trial, but only under strict conditions intended to keep classified material secret. His notebooks are being held by Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. And if he writes — or even talks — about the reason that the student, Erol Incedal, 27, was acquitted, Mr. Cobain faces prosecution and possibly jail.

“I know the essence of what was happening,” Mr. Cobain said, “but I can’t tell, I can’t even talk to my editor about this.”

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Having initially gone along reluctantly with the reporting restrictions, a number of British news organizations are now challenging them in court. And yes, the challenge itself is being heard under secrecy rules that leave the public mostly excluded. Were Mr. Cobain to break the law and disclose what he knows publicly, his prosecution would also take place in secret.

“Not even the Russians do that to journalists,” Mr. Cobain said, speaking recently in the cafe of the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

The case is among the latest to highlight the growing debate about the proper balance between civil liberties and national security in the age of terrorism. That debate has intensified this year in the United States and across much of Europe, with nations reflecting on decisions they have made since the Sept. 11 attacks and reacting to more recent developments, from the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris to disclosures in Germany about eavesdropping by the United States National Security Agency.

In Britain, which recently lost 30 citizens to a terrorist attack in Tunisia, public support for the intelligence and security agencies is high, according to opinion surveys, and Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to expand their resources and their ability to monitor electronic communications.

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But the Incedal case has focused attention on whether governments are cloaking too many of their activities in national security classifications, insulating themselves from public debate and accountability for mistakes or collusion with suspects.

“It’s hard to know quite who is being protected in all this,” said David Davis, a lawmaker from the governing Conservative Party and a former minister.

“The implication is that this is more about the embarrassment of the agencies than it is about real questions of national security,” he added.

Sean O’Neill, a reporter with The Times of London who also attended the secret hearings, said he believes that the government’s desire to keep some of the trial evidence secret was legitimate, but that this could have been done under normal rules allowing parts of trials to be held behind closed doors.

Instead, the conduct of the Incedal case demonstrated an “obsession with secrecy” at a time when there is growing debate on the oversight of intelligence agencies, Mr. O’Neill said.

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The result is that, as things stand, public knowledge about one of Britain’s biggest recent terrorism trials is a patchwork of partial truths and unanswered questions.

In the parts of the proceedings that were open, jurors heard that Mr. Incedal traveled to Syria, met a fighter known as Ahmed and discussed terrorist attacks.

In September 2013, Mr. Incedal, who was born in Turkey but lived in London, was stopped by the police for speeding, and his car was searched. A slip of paper found in a glasses case contained the address of a property owned by Tony Blair, a former prime minister.

While he was detained, Mr. Incedal’s car was bugged, and a listening device recorded him talking about buying a gun.

Then came the dramatic arrest by armed police officers when Mr. Incedal was stopped while driving with a friend, Mounir Rarmoul-Bouhadjar, near Tower Bridge in central London, and the tires of his Mercedes were shot out. The police found a memory card with instructions on assembling a bomb in Mr. Incedal’s phone case.

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After his first trial last year, Mr. Incedal was convicted of possessing the bomb-making guide, and was sentenced to 42 months in jail. Mr. Rarmoul-Bouhadjar was jailed, too, after admitting to having a similar manual. But a jury could not agree on whether to convict Mr. Incedal of broader terrorism offenses.

After a retrial, Mr. Incedal was acquitted in March, but the reasons remain unknown to the public.

Mr. Incedal argued in open court that he wanted a gun to protect himself as he was planning to deal in drugs, and that he had a “reasonable excuse” for having the bomb-making manual. Again, what that excuse was is not clear.

Even these scraps of information are more than the authorities wanted made public. Initially, prosecutors argued that they might not be able to bring the case to court unless it was held in complete secrecy.

But after an appeal by news organizations last year, a strange middle way emerged: Some of the trial was held in public, some in secret, and the rest in a kind of no man’s land.

Ten reporters, including Mr. Cobain and Mr. O’Neill, were admitted to these segments of the trial on the condition that they published nothing from the semi-secret sessions and that, at the end of each day, their reporters’ notebooks were locked in a safe.

The notebooks are now being held by MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service — a fact that has been reported by the British news media and is not denied by the government, although it will not comment officially.

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In going along with the reporting restrictions a year ago, the 10 news organizations accredited to the trial may have believed — incorrectly as it proved — that the secrecy would be lifted at the end of proceedings. Although not all of the news organizations covered every phase of the trial, no media group refused to attend on principle. Mr. Cobain says he now has “real reservations” about having gone along with the process, but, of course, cannot explain why.

In a statement, the Crown Prosecution Service said that the case “touched on important issues which related to national security.”

“Some evidence has already been made public as it was dealt with in open court,” the statement said. “We are working to identify evidence heard during the closed proceedings which could be placed in the public domain.”

“The extent to which further evidence can go into the public domain will ultimately be a decision for the judge.”

Many are not convinced. “How is the public to evaluate the state’s actions if the media cannot report on it?” said Cian C. Murphy, a legal expert at King’s College London.

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“In constitutional terms, secrecy is anathema to the rule of law because legal and political accountability is impossible without transparency,” he said. “If errors are made, they must be brought to light — but there is little incentive for the prosecution, intelligence agencies or government departments to acquiesce when they can invoke national security to ensure secrecy.”

Critics contend that such secrecy risks eroding not only civil liberties, but ultimately the effectiveness of the intelligence agencies, too.

“The more secret the organization is, the more inefficient it tends to be,” Mr. Davis said. “It’s unwise to think of them as a bunch of hyperefficient James Bonds. They probably aren’t.”

“The truth is,” he added, “that there is no such thing as secret justice. If it’s secret, it’s not justice.”

The appeal against the reporting restrictions has now been adjourned until the autumn, but in one public session this month, Lord Chief Justice John Thomas acknowledged that there were “really difficult constitutional issues” at stake.

A few minutes later, those reporters without special permission to attend were politely asked to leave.

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Detroit water shutoffs began in May 2015 again this year….

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The Detroit water department has delivered about 3,000 shutoff notices to households with delinquent bills since May 11, giving those customers 10 business days to make arrangements to pay their bill or have their service cut off. More notices will be delivered as the shutoffs are carried out this week.

Detroit’s number of delinquent accounts — those owing $150 or more in bills that are at least two months late — remains a significant problem. There are 64,769 delinquent residential accounts owing $48.9 million, according to the water department. As of last June, there were more than 79,000 delinquent accounts owing $42 million.

The department, under the leadership of Mayor Mike Duggan, is proceeding with shutoffs against the wishes of the City Council, which passed a resolution May 12 for a shutoff moratorium until the current financial assistance programs are evaluated and a subsidy plan is pursued to lower water bills for poor people before they fall behind.

The latest crackdown is raising fears of a growing public health crisis. Thousands already are living in southeast Michigan without running water, according to the Sierra Club.

Greg Eno, a spokesman for the water department, declined to comment on the water shutoffs.

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The seemingly never-ending problem of Detroit’s unpaid water bills comes as city and county officials work to craft a new strategy to fight the problem under the Great Lakes Water Authority, a regional operation created during Detroit’s bankruptcy case. The regional authority is expected to have $4.5 million available to help water customers in the tri-county area pay their bills.

There are two fundamentally different ways to design the strategy.

The water department’s current model is known as an assistance-based plan, which provides discounts to qualified residents with overdue bills.

An alternative is an affordability-based plan, which would reduce bills for poor people while adding fees to other customers. Supporters argue this approach is more pro-active.

The City Council supported an affordability plan in 2006 that proposed to set rates at between 2% and 3% of residents’ income. The plan was never implemented.

The city’s law department said then that the plan was not possible — an opinion to which the department still clings.

Nevertheless, the City Council and other groups, including the Sierra Club and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, continue to encourage the city water department and those developing the new regional authority to pursue an affordability plan.

So far they have not been successful. In fact, the Sierra Club resigned last week from its position among stakeholders developing the regional water assistance plan once it became clear an affordability strategy was not on the table.

“It’s so unfortunate that in the crisis that the region faces with water shutoffs that the GLWA is not seeing this as an opportunity to address a major problem.” said Melissa Damaschke, Great Lakes program director for the Sierra Club. “This is a public health threat.”

mad-max-fury-road

PS 
As an a-side it’s a shame to see that people who post comments like those below,  don’t get that this issue may well be presenting itself in a city or town near them or with them resident in it, in the ever looming future….
  • John Lesko · Top Commenter

    The “deeper problem” here is the entitlement mentality that has created a permanent underclass in Detroit. When you teach people that they don’t have to work and pay their bills, they’ll stop working and paying their bills. And then become outraged when others stop working for them free of charge.
  • Damidwesterner Indamidwest

    No other city has this problem of people who don’t pay getting their water turned off and it’s a federal case. Even those cities that are down on their luck enforce non-payment and people pay up. Does anybody realize that 70% of the nonpayers in Detroit have up to date Cell Phone and Cable accounts? If they didn’t pay those, they’d be shut off. They get gas shut off if they don’t pay.
    Because Detroit Water and Sewage hasn’t turned off the water until now, everybody thinks they can skate. Just like the 47% of the city residents who don’t pay their property taxes. Nothing happens in the end. So, why pay.
    Well, the free ride is over. Get in line and cough up some cash and work out a payment plan. That’s what everybody else everywhere else does. Detroiters shouldn’t be any different.

Across The Globe, Wildfire Season Is Lasting Longer

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With 35 active large fires currently burning up and down the West Coast — and with dry, hot conditions sparking an unprecedented number of fires throughout Western Canada — the 2015 wildfire season has started strong, and shows no sign of slowing down.

Now, a new report out in Nature Communications has a some more bad news for the West, and wildfire-prone regions around the world: In the last 35 years, wildfire season has gotten longer, and the global area affected by wildfire has doubled.

Though several studies have looked at the relationship between climate change and regional wildfire patterns, scientists lacked a comprehensive assessment of how climate change might be influencing wildfire seasons on a global scale. Using a combination of fire danger indices and surface weather data, a group of American and Australian scientists looked at how “fire weather” — weather conditions that are especially conducive to fire — has changed around the world over the last three and a half decades.

They found that as global temperatures have increased (by about .2 degrees Celsius per decade since 1979), the length of wildfire season has also increased by 18.7 percent around the world. Across nearly a quarter of the world’s vegetated areas, the length of fire season increased. Only 10 percent of vegetated areas saw a decrease in the length of fire season — Australia was the only vegetated continent that did not exhibit a significant increase in both fire season length and affected area.

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Over the last several decades, the report notes, the United States has seen a particularly marked increase in the frequency and duration of large wildfires, especially in the Northern Rocky Mountains. The report links this increase to earlier snowmelt, which creates drier conditions earlier in the summer. In general, the report found, areas with the greatest changes in local weather are the most likely to see changes in their wildfire season:

Our results extend these findings by demonstrating that areas with the most significant change in fire weather season length occur where not only temperature but also changes in humidity, length of rain-free intervals and wind speeds are most pronounced. In 2012, for example, longer-than-normal fire weather seasons across an unprecedented 47.4% of the vegetated area of the US culminated in a near-record setting ~3.8 MHa of burned area.

The tropical and subtropical forests of South America have also experienced what the report refers to as a “tremendous fire weather season length changes,” with a median 33 day increase over the last 35 years.

The average length of fire season, the report notes, does not perfectly equate with fire activity — even if the conditions are right for fires to occur, wildfires still need some sort of ignition spark and ample fuel. But the researchers warn that “if these fire weather changes are coupled with ignition sources and available fuel, they could markedly impact global ecosystems, societies, economies and climate.”

GOLETA, CA - JULY 06:  U.S. Forest Service Hot Shots set a backfire to try to contain the Gap fire, officially the top priority fire in the state, on July 6, 2008 near Goleta, California. The 6,860-acre Gap fire is spreading across the chaparral-covered Santa Ynez Mountains of the Los Padres National Forest, drawing closer to many houses that were rebuilt after the1990 Painted Cave fire destroyed 400 homes. An estimated 4,000 people have evacuated from about 1,700 homes in the path of the fire.  President Bush has declared a state of emergency for all of California in response to more than 1,400 fires that were mostly started by dry lightning storms crossing the state on June 20. More than 300 continue to burn. Making matters worse for the more than 19,000 firefighters from 42 states battling the California wildfires, drought is wicking moisture from the vegetation which leads fire experts to fear a possible repeat of the firestorms of 2003 and 2007 that destroyed thousands of homes in southern California.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

An increase in fire activity could impact everything from public health to the economy. When fires burn, they emit smoke that can travel hundreds of miles, impacting air quality and exposing residents in places removed from the direct dangers of wildfire to harmful particles that can exacerbate existing health conditions, especially in the very young and very old. Fighting wildfires is also expensive, costing the U.S. government an average of $1.13 billion a year in the last decade. As climate change exacerbates wildfires, one study estimates that fighting wildfires could cost as much as $62.5 billion annually by 2050.

An increase in wildfires can also lead to an increase in climate change. As wildfires last longer, and cover a greater area, more trees burn, releasing carbon into the atmosphere and turning some forests from carbon sinks into carbon sources. And as places like Alaska experience longer wildfire seasons, carbon-rich permafrost could melt more quickly, releasing even more carbon into the atmosphere.

Article from Climate Progress: Natasha Geiling