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Edward Snowden, the man commonly called "the NSA leaker" for his role in publishing documents that exposed a secret U.S. surveillance program, would reportedly not receive special treatment from the United Nations if he applies for asylum. The AP says Snowden is in "informal talks" with Iceland about applying for asylum there.
Snowden's last known location was Hong Kong, where he was when revelations about the secret PRISM program first came out. At the time, Snowden told The Guardian, which published several stories based on the information he provided, that he would like "to seek asylum in a country with shared values." He named Iceland as a prime example.
But as Iceland's ambassador to China explained to the South China Morning Post, an applicant for asylum in Iceland must already be in the country. In an email to the newspaper, Ambassador Kristin Arnadottir also said that Iceland's Ministry of the Interior handles all asylum applications, reports the web site Ice News.
The Morning Post reports that U.N. official Nazneen Farooqi, of the High Commissioner for Refugees' office in Hong Kong, said they don't give special priority to certain cases.
"We prioritize older cases," she said at a press conference about World Refugee Day (which is today).
The newspaper says that means an application could take months or years to process. And it adds that Farooqi was speaking in hypothetical terms, as her office does not discuss — or affirm the existence of — specific asylum claims.
As The Two Way reported last week, Snowden isn't alone in feeling an affinity for Iceland. It has also served as a haven for WikiLeaks and U.S. expatriate Bobby Fischer, who died in Iceland in 2008.
Citing officials in Iceland, the AP says that a WikiLeaks spokesman "who claims to represent Edward Snowden has reached out to government officials in Iceland about the potential of the NSA leaker applying for asylum in the Nordic country."
The news agency says that WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson held informal talks with staff members working in the Interior Ministry and for the prime minister. According to Icelandic government official Johannes Skulason, WikiLeaks' Hrafnsson says he is in touch with Snowden and is exploring the asylum process.
We should note that in Fischer's case, the former chess champion was in legal limbo while in Japan, with the U.S. government wanting to speak with him about breaking a sanction against Yugoslavia. In that case, Iceland extended citizenship to Fischer outright, and Japan chose to send him to the country.
At the Pine Ridge Reservation just outside the town of Whiteclay, Neb., an upside-down American flag flies on a wooden pole next to a teepee. About 60 people gathered here Monday to protest as beer truck drivers unloaded cases into a Whiteclay liquor store a few hundred yards away.
Whiteclay has one paved street and four liquor stores. Alcohol is banned on Pine Ridge, but alcoholism is rampant here and the unemployment rate hovers around 80 percent. The town sells the equivalent of about 5 million cans of beer annually — mostly to impoverished tribal residents. Homeless Native Americans who drink and sleep in Whiteclay can outnumber town residents.
The protesters want to block further alcohol deliveries, and are using blockades and marches like this to try to curb beer sales.
A Protest Escalates
Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer is among the protesters. "As leaders we should be ahead of the people," he says. "We need to support our activists who are stepping up and confronting this issue."
Sheridan County Sheriff Terry Robbins confronts the blockade, and Brewer steps up. He says the beer trucks "are not going in today. ... Any other day, but not today."
"Yes, they are," the sheriff replies.
"I'm sorry, but they're not," Brewer says. "Don't argue with me."
Brewer is ultimately arrested. As the crowd resists, an officer puts a stun gun to a protester's neck, and the conflict quickly escalates into shouting and shoving.
Brewer remains calm and tries to pacify those around him. He is charged not for blocking traffic, but for an outstanding warrant on a bad check. Jamian Simmons, the county prosecutor, says the charges were dropped once Brewer made good on the check.
While Monday's conflict passed without major violence, Simmons says that wasn't the case during a similar blockade last month.
"[The protesters] used axes and sledgehammers to smash up the [delivery] trucks," she says. "There were threats made to the drivers that if they came back to Whiteclay, they would be killed. Individuals were flashing knives."
Protesters argue that attacking delivery trucks is not an act of violence. They also accuse a liquor store owner of arming local thugs with baseball bats to intimidate them. Store owners and beer distributors refused to comment for this story.
Putting Prohibition To A Vote
As the protest on the Whiteclay-Pine Ridge border continues, the tribal council approved a permanent checkpoint at the border to try to stem the flow of liquor onto the reservation.
But the council is also putting prohibition itself up for a referendum. Council member Robin Tapio backs efforts to legalize alcohol here. "Alcohol is a choice that we make," she says. "So I did not support the [protest] up there because I just don't feel it's right."
Protest leaders like Olowan Martinez harshly criticize council members who want to allow alcohol on the reservation. "They're cannibals because they want to profit," she says. "They want to gain something off of the misery of their own. To me that's a form of cannibalism."
Strong words that underscore the strong feeling here. Following council president Brewer's arrest, Martinez and others maintained the blockade and the beer trucks eventually turned away.
Protesters may have won the battle this week — but the beer trucks are likely to roll into Whiteclay again, and this conflict shows few signs of ending soon.
People who think they didn't get sick from a nationwide meningitis outbreak caused by contaminated steroid injections used to treat back pain may want to think again.
Doctors at hospitals in Michigan did MRI scans of people who had been given tainted injections but didn't report symptoms of meningitis afterwards.
About 20 percent of the 172 people tested had suspicious-looking MRIs, and 17 ended up needing surgery to treat fungal infections in or around the spine.
The patients had gotten steroid injections about three months before the MRI, in mid to late 2012.
Even though some of the people had increased back pain and other problems after the tainted injection, quite a few hadn't gone to the doctor to report the symptoms before the researchers contacted them about getting an MRI.
The researchers think that's partly because people weren't able to tell if the pain was caused by the back problems that led them to get the injection, or from something new.
It may also be because the first people who got sick from the contaminated shots came down with meningitis, an inflammation of the tissue that wraps the brain. It's the kind of life-threatening illness that's hard to ignore. At least 23 people died.
As the number of meningitis cases waned, and people started coming down with spinal infections instead. It's as if the meningitis cases were on a fast boil, and the spinal infections were simmering on a back burner.
This screening method isn't perfect: 17 percent of the patients screened had equivocal MRIs.
But screening with MRI may be a better option than treating all exposed people with high doses of antifungal medications, according to an accompanying editorial. Toxic effects of treatment include altered mental states, hallucinations, and liver damage.
The Food and Drug Administration has warned people who may have been exposed to medicines produced at the New England Compounding Center after May 21, 2012, to be alert for headaches fevers, chills, and other symptoms.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends MRIs for people who received contaminated injections and who had symptoms at or near the injection site. The company produced about 1,200 different drugs, most of which were injectables.
But the study authors, who work at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, the Veterans Affairs An Arbor Healthcare System, and the University of Michican Medical School, think that it would be better to screen all patients at risk, whether they've got symptoms or not.
The results were reported in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.
Across the New York region, people are still working to rebuild homes and businesses after the havoc wrought by Hurricane Sandy. But the storm also devastated the dunes and native flora of New York's beaches.
When the city replants grasses on those dunes, it will be able to draw on seeds from precisely the grasses that used to thrive there. That's because of a very special kind of bank: a seed bank run by the Greenbelt Native Plant Center on Staten Island.
Heather Lea Liljengren has been a seed collector and field taxonomist for the New York City Parks Department, which runs the Native Plant Center, for more than five years. She's been on the hunt for new deposits: plant seeds that might ensure the survival of the city's flora.
Traipsing through the swampy wetlands of Staten Island's Oakland Beach, Liljengren crashes through towering phragmites, the common reeds that have invaded the world's wetlands and compete with local grasses. When the grasses get this tall — taller than an adult human — "It's hard to remember where the trail used to be," Liljengren says.
She says she loves being in a swamp and is thrilled to be out in the wilds of New York City, hunting for seeds that are ripe for collecting. "When people walk around, they maybe just see green. But when I walk around I am drawn to every small flowering thing, from the ground all the way up into the trees."
"Well, what a treat," she says, peering at the blooms of the thin-leafed iris, iris prismatica. "[This is] one of the only spots, I believe, in the five boroughs where this species naturally still exists. ... The insects that will come and pollinate these irises love them."
That's why native flora is so important, Liljengren says: If these plants disappear, then so will the insects. In time, the loss of species will snowball.
Just Before Sandy, A Serendipitous Seed Hunt
Liljengren was on a routine mission last October, just a few days before Hurricane Sandy. She was collecting seeds from Ammophila breviligulata — the grasses that helped stabilize the dunes on the beaches at Far Rockaway, Queens.
"It was serendipitous for sure," she says. "I was in awe and in marvel of these beautiful large, rolling dunes across the beach." But when Liljengren returned a few weeks ago, all of the dunes were gone. Now, the seeds Liljengren collected that October day will likely be a part of the city's restoration of those very beaches.
Oakwood Beach, on the eastern edge of Staten Island, was also ravaged by Sandy. Rows of small houses with views of the Lower Bay and the Atlantic beyond were damaged — many beyond repair. Like the dunes of the Rockaways, these Staten Island wetlands are also in harm's away. The seeds Liljengren collects may help preserve them.
Liljengren and colleague Judith Van Bers range over the greater New York metropolitan area — 25 counties in three states — in search of native seeds. They've collected more than 500 species and hope to get to 700. "Every seed is a possible plant," Liljengren says.
Back at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center, Van Bers is separating seed from grass, Carex pensylvanica, recently collected on Sparta Mountain, N.J. It's primitive, tedious work.
"It's very, very labor intensive, this next step, which is bringing the seed in and cleaning it," says Ed Toth, the director of the center. "It's the biblical separating the wheat from the chaff."
A Bulwark Against The Impact Of Climate Change
Toth says the seeds that his center collects, stores, plants in a green house and then farms out to others all comprise a kind of plant-seed savings and loan — one that knows its local needs and environments.
"Populations have adapted to local conditions. Those adaptations are captured in their genes," Toth says. "You want to keep that basis healthy and vital."
Of course, threats like rising waters and temperatures may require further adaptation and new genes. "Many species are highly adaptable," he says. "Some may adapt very well if the temperature rises significantly."
But which species? Toth says scientists simply don't know yet. So the aim of his native plant center is to have a huge backup supply in store, before the city discovers its next need, whether that's seeding a landfill, replacing dune grasses on city beaches or planting trees in parks where old trees have fallen.
He figures the bank will be especially important if calamitous conditions become more common.
"It's a hugely complex story about how this is going to unfold, this man-made change that we're bringing upon the world," Toth says. "What we need is the raw genetic material that's contained in these healthy populations. It's like having a Library of Congress in seed, so that all of this tremendous diversity is available to us when we face these problems in the future."