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Saturday, Apr 19th

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Alex Baer: Learning the Kind of 'Out' We Are

OUTThe ability to learn is Nature's way of keeping us from dying from the same thing, over and over again.  Except that it works only for the species, not individuals, and only some of the time at that.  Individuals are as free as ever, Nature says, to perish or be punished by almost any lame-brained, bone-headed thing we'd care to do.

The ability to learn may be fickle, appearing to pick and choose its candidates by invisible lot, or by some other means we mortals cannot detect.  However much we ponder, mull over, and squint, in mid-thought, Nature still retains the ability to surprise.

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Suspended Connecticut priest Paul Gotta charged with sexual assault

Paul GottaA suspended Roman Catholic priest who is accused of giving guns and explosives to a juvenile has been arrested on allegations he sexually assaulted a minor.

East Windsor police arrested the Rev Paul Gotta on Monday on seven sexual assault charges, including two felony counts and five misdemeanor counts. Police say the assaults occurred over the span of about a year beginning in January 2012. No other details of the allegations were released.

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Audio: Captains of vessels that collided in Houston Ship Channel knew they were on a collision course

Oil spill galvestonThe captains of the two vessels that collided in the Houston Ship Channel were aware they were perilously close to one another but still failed to avert a spill that dumped 168,000 gallons of oil into the water, according to a U.S. Coast Guard audio recording.

The recording, obtained by the Houston Chronicle in a Freedom of Information Act request, indicates the captains spoke in a frantic radio exchange beginning about five minutes before the March 22 collision. But the exchange apparently came too late for the captains to avoid making contact in the crowded waterway, trafficked daily by massive, oceangoing container ships.

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Huge Earthquake Strikes Off Coast of Chile

chile earthquakeA magnitude-8.2 earthquake off the coast of Chile has sparked tsunami warnings and watches in countries throughout the Pacific, including Peru and Ecuador. Potential threats to Hawaii are currently being evaluated

A magnitude 8.2 earthquake struck off the coast of Chile Tuesday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says a tsunami has been generated as a result of the earthquake, but it remains uncertain if a tsunami will reach land.

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Japan Ends Half-Century Ban on Weapons Exports

Shinzo AbeTaking his nation another step away from its postwar pacifism, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discarded a half-century ban on the export of weapons and military hardware on Tuesday, a move aimed at helping Japan assume a larger regional security role to offset China’s growing military might.

The decision, which had been under consideration for years before Mr. Abe took office, replaced the self-imposed ban dating back to the late 1960s with new, still-restrictive guidelines that permit the export of weapons only to allies and partners that agree not to sell them to third nations without Japanese approval. The new guidelines will also make it easier for Japan to join multinational development projects for expensive new weapons systems, like the American-led effort to build the F-35 stealth fighter jet.

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Senate CIA torture report could throw Gitmo hearings into chaos

Gitmo hearingsThe possible declassification and release of a Senate report into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program — begun in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks — could have a huge impact on the controversial military tribunals happening at Guantánamo Bay, experts and lawyers believe.

The proceedings have been moving at a snail’s pace at the U.S.-held military base on the island of Cuba, amid widespread condemnation that they are being held in a legal limbo and outside the U.S. criminal justice system.

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Hobby Lobby invests in contraception manufacturers

Hobby LobbyWhen Obamacare compelled businesses to include emergency contraception in employee health care plans, Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores, fought the law all the way to the Supreme Court. The Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, the company's owners argued, forced them to violate their religious beliefs.

But while it was suing the government, Hobby Lobby spent millions of dollars on an employee retirement plan that invested in the manufacturers of the same contraceptive products the firm's owners cite in their lawsuit.

Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company's owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).

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NSA performed warrantless searches on Americans' calls and emails – Clapper

ClapperUS intelligence chiefs have confirmed that the National Security Agency has used a "back door" in surveillance law to perform warrantless searches on Americans’ communications.

The NSA's collection programs are ostensibly targeted at foreigners, but in August the Guardian revealed a secret rule change allowing NSA analysts to search for Americans' details within the databases.

Now, in a letter to Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the intelligence committee, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has confirmed for the first time the use of this legal authority to search for data related to “US persons”.

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U.S. Intel Committee Chiefs Blast Deal for Israeli Spy

Jonathan PollardBoth the Democratic and Republican heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee are staunchly opposed to a proposal floated by the Obama administration to release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard from prison as part of a deal for continued Israeli participation in ongoing Mideast peace talks.

Obama administration officials confirmed Monday to The Daily Beast that Pollard’s release after three decades of incarceration was being discussed between Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a carrot to entice Netanyahu to agree to an extension of negotiations with the Palestinians.

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