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Sunday, Sep 23rd

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Afghanistan world’s top pot grower

Long the world’s largest producer of opium, the raw ingredient of heroin, Afghanistan has now become the top supplier of cannabis, with large-scale cultivation in half of its provinces, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Between 10,000 and 24,000 hectares of cannabis are grown every year in Afghanistan, with major cultivation in 17 out 34 provinces, the UN drug agency (UNODC) said in its first report on cannabis production in Afghanistan.

While some countries grow cannabis on more land, Afghanistan’s robust crop yields - 145 kg of resin per hectare compared to around 40 kg per hectare in Morocco—make it the world’s largest producer, estimated at 1,500-3,500 tonnes a year.

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US aid going to 'bribe' Afghanistan partners

The Pentagon is pouring millions of dollars into equipment and training for its smaller partner nations in the Afghanistan war, a new effort that could encourage some countries not to abandon the increasingly unpopular conflict.
The money comes from a $350 million Pentagon program designed to improve the counterterrorism operations of U.S. allies.

While the funding cannot be openly used as an enticement for NATO nations to either send troops to Afghanistan or keep them in the country, the budding initiative sends the message that those who commit to the counterinsurgency fight could be rewarded.

The U.S. is committing more troops to Afghanistan to beat back a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency — and watching in dismay as allies, including Canada and the Netherlands, look to pull troops out of the 8-year-old war or remove them from combat duties. Roughly 87,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan now, and about 100,000 are expected to be in place by late summer.

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Supreme Court: Bad advice on deportation can void guilty plea

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that defendants are entitled to know that the potential consequences of a guilty plea include deportation for noncitizens, a decision that could have broader significance for the more than 12.8 million legal immigrants who live in the U.S.

The case, Padilla v. Kentucky, focused on Jose Padilla, a Honduran-born immigrant who faces deportation after pleading guilty to felony marijuana trafficking. He isn't the U.S. citizen of the same name who was convicted in 2007 of conspiring to aid terrorists.

"It is our responsibility under the Constitution to ensure that no criminal defendant — whether a citizen or not — is left to the 'mercies of incompetent counsel,' " Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the majority opinion. "To satisfy this responsibility, we now hold that counsel must inform her client whether his plea carries a risk of deportation."

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1963 letter indicates former pope knew of abuse

The head of a Roman Catholic order that specialized in the treatment of pedophile priests visited with the then-pope nearly 50 years ago and followed up with a letter recommending the removal of pedophile priests from ministry, according to a copy of the letter released Wednesday.

In the Aug. 27, 1963 letter, the head of the New Mexico-based Servants of the Holy Paraclete tells the pope he recommends removing pedophile priests from active ministry and strongly urges defrocking repeat offenders.

The letter, written by the Rev. Gerald M.C. Fitzgerald, appears to have been drafted at the request of the pope and summarizes Fitzgerald's thoughts on problem priests after his Vatican visit.
A message left with the Paraclete order at one of their two existing facilities in Missouri was not returned. A number for the second facility was disconnected.

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Toads can 'predict earthquakes' and seismic activity

Common toads appear to be able to sense an impending earthquake and will flee their colony days before the seismic activity strikes. The evidence comes from a population of toads which left their breeding colony three days before an earthquake that struck L'Aquila in Italy in 2009.

How toads sensed the quake is unclear, but most breeding pairs and males fled. They reacted despite the colony being 74km from the quake's epicentre, say biologists in the Journal of Zoology. It is hard to objectively and quantifiably study how animals respond to seismic activity, in part because earthquakes are rare and unpredictable.

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Equally qualified women paid less than men, academic life sciences study finds

Women working in the life sciences at academic medical centers make less money than equally qualified men, according to a new survey published today that also finds that men and women take on different roles during their professional careers.

In 2008 Catherine DesRoches and colleagues from the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital mailed surveys to more than 3,000 life sciences faculty members at the top 50 universities receiving federal funding for research at their medical schools.

The more than 2,100 professors who responded reported how much research they had published and where; how many hours a week they worked in patient care, teaching, administration, or other professional activities such as editing journals; and how much money they made.

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Swiss say legal immunity protects Pakistani leader

Switzerland will not reopen a money-laundering case against the Pakistani president as long as he enjoys legal immunity — a welcome answer Wednesday for the U.S-allied leader after the Supreme Court forced his government to request the case resume.

The Swiss decision marked the latest development in a monthslong struggle between the government and the court since the latter revoked an amnesty that protected President Asif Ali Zardari and thousands of other politicians, bureaucrats and party workers from corruption charges.

Washington has watched the dispute with concern that it could distract Pakistan from its fight against Taliban and al-Qaida militants, some of whom stage cross-border attacks against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

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TVNL Comment: Another example of US support for corrupt leaders who play the game our way.

Inquiry: Climate data not manipulated

The first of several British investigations into the e-mails leaked from one of the world's leading climate research centers has largely vindicated the scientists involved.

The House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee said they had seen no evidence to support charges that the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit or its director, Phil Jones, had tampered with data or perverted the peer review process to exaggerate the threat of global warming — two of the most serious criticisms levied against the climatologist and his colleagues.

In their report released Wednesday, the committee said that, as far as it was able to ascertain, "the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact," adding that nothing in the more than 1,000 stolen e-mails, or the controversy kicked up by their publication, challenged scientific consensus that "global warming is happening and that it is induced by human activity."

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Palin Left Alaska With Debts Equal to 70 Percent of Its GDP

Less than a year after then-Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) quit the government to pursue other projects, Alaska leads the way in its debt-to-GDP ratio when its unfunded pension obligations are taken into account, followed by Rhode Island, New Mexico, Ohio and Mississippi. And although Alaska’s ratio is far lower than Greece’s, it does give the state a debt-to-GDP ratio similar to that of Jordan and Palin’s favorite health care resource, Canada, and a higher ratio than Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, India, the Philippines or Uruguay.

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