Tuesday, March 30, 2010



China: thousands suspected executed by injection and shooting

Iran: more than 388 executions, by hanging or stoning

Iraq: more than 120 executions by hanging

Saudi Arabia: at least 69 executions by beheading or crucifixion

US: 52 executions by lethal injection or electrocution

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Child Receives Trachea Grown From Own Stem Cells


March 23rd, 2010 by Aaron Saenz
Filed under 4, medical, stem cells.

A 10 year old boy received a new trachea grown from his own stem cells attached to a colagen scaffold.

Doctors at the Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) along with colleagues at the University College London, the Royal Free Hospital, and Careggi University Hospital in Florence have successfully transplanted a trachea into a 10 year old boy using his own stem cells. A donor trachea was taken, stripped of its cells into a collagen-like scaffold, and then infused with the boy’s stem cells. The trachea was surgically placed into the boy and allowed to develop in place. Because his own cells were used, there was little to no risk of rejection. This was the first time a child had received such a stem cell augmented transplant and the first time that a complete trachea had been used. This also marks only the second time that an organ has been transplanted into a person while stem cells were still forming the new body part. Previous attempts required the donor organ to be infused with stem cells and incubated for weeks before transplantation. This surgery is an amazing step forward for regenerative medicine and organ transplants, and could be a sign of a new direction in these kinds of surgeries.

We reported earlier about the first person to ever receive a stem cell grown windpipe. Claudio Castillo was around 30 when her stem cells were used to grow a new bronchea on a donated trachea scaffold in 2008. That windpipe was incubated in a lab for weeks before she was operated upon. In 2009, Dr. Macchiarini (leader of the team responsible for the earlier procedure) operated on a 53 year old Italian woman, replacing a portion of her trachea with a scaffold covered in her stem cells. As with the recent 10 year old boy, this operation did not require weeks of incubation. In fact, the stem cells were applied just hours before the scaffold was placed inside the patient. In just two years time, then, Dr. Macchiarini (and his colleagues in the EU and UK) has gone from producing the first stem cell organ transplant, to streamlining that procedure so that the organ is mostly reformed while still in the body. That’s simply incredible. Following this trend forward several iterations, and it may be possible to completely renew an organ, or replace it, simply through the correct application of stem cells.

Compared to the newest non-stem cell surgical options, this procedure was considerably faster and less expensive. The unnamed 10 year old boy had Long Segment Tracheal Stenosis, a condition which narrows the trachea and makes the patient feel as if they are breathing through a straw. It is a potentially fatal condition. Typical treatments (which are still relatively new) involve a conventional transplant. The boy had received such a treatment but a metal stent used in that procedure damaged his aorta several years later. Rather than face the uncertainties of another transplant, with the risk of rejection, GOSH doctors requested Dr. Macchiarini’s help in transplanting a stem cell covered scaffold. Letting the trachea develop in the patient may eventually make this process cost just tens of thousands of pounds rather than hundreds of thousands.

The procedure can be seen in a simulation developed by Dr. Macchiarini. The video can be found on the UCL News site by clicking the photo below. There is no sound.

To further the development of the stem cells on the trachea scaffold, Dr. Macchiarini used various cytokine drugs (shown as injections in the video). These drugs help signal to the stem cells where and how to develop. While not directly stated in the press releases or news segments about this procedure, I suspect that such drug augmentation may become a more integral part of stem cell therapies in the future. As multipotent cells are directed to replace a wide variety of different organs and tissues, proteins and other chemicals may be necessary to speed stem cell specialization and keep it focused on the type of cell that is desired.

When Claudio Castillo received her stem cell scaffold windpipe the procedure was basically just a lab test. It had never been tried before and was likely years from being developed to a point of clinical use. Now, with two more patients having undergone a new (and improved) version of the transplant, we can cautiously pronounce this a developing trend in treatment. Oh, we’re still years from seeing transplants of this kind from becoming commonplace, but every successful case is a step in the right direction. Also, with every new patient there are more doctors that gain experience in the procedure. I think that we are very likely to see more of these transplants (at the rare, lab-based level) in the near future. Hopefully we’re all a little closer to being able to use stem cells and scaffolds to grow new organs when we need them. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: medicine is cool.

First Anti-Cancer Nanoparticle Trial on Humans a Success


Look close. You may be staring at the end of cancer. Those tiny black dots are nanobots delivering a lethal blow to a cancerous cell, effectively killing it. The first trial on humans have been a success, with no side-effects:

It sneaks in, evades the immune system, delivers the siRNA, and the disassembled components exit out.

Those are the words of Mark Davis, head of the research team that created the nanobot anti-cancer army at the California Institute of Technology. According to a study to be published in Nature, Davis' team has discovered a clean, safe way to deliver RNAi sequences to cancerous cells. RNAi (Ribonucleic acid interference) is a technique that attacks specific genes in malign cells, disabling functions inside and killing them.

This Is the Future of the Fight Against Cancer

The 70-nanometer attack bots—made with two polymers and a protein that attaches to the cancerous cell's surface—carry a piece of RNA called small-interfering RNA (siRNA), which deactivates the production of a protein, starving the malign cell to death. Once it has delivered its lethal blow, the nanoparticle breaks down into tiny pieces that get eliminated by the body in the urine.

The most amazing thing is that you can send as many of these soldiers as you want, and they will keep attaching to the bad guys, killing them left, right, and center, and stopping tumors. According to Davis, "the more [they] put in, the more ends up where they are supposed to be, in tumour cells." While they will have to finish the trials to make sure that there are no side-effects whatsoever, the team is very happy with the successful results and it's excited about what's coming:

What's so exciting is that virtually any gene can be targeted now. Every protein now is druggable. My hope is to make tumours melt away while maintaining a high quality of life for the patients. We're moving another step closer to being able to do that now.

Hopefully, they will be right.

Saudi Arabia detains dozens of 'al-Qaeda militants'


Saudi Arabia detains dozens of 'al-Qaeda militants'

Oil plant Haradh, about 280 kms (170 miles) southwest of the eastern Saudi oil city of Dhahran. File photo - 22 March 2006
Officials did not say which oil installations were being targeted

More than 100 suspected militants linked to al-Qaeda have been arrested in Saudi Arabia, officials have said

The interior ministry said 58 Saudis and 55 foreigners in three independent groups were planning to target oil facilities and security forces.

The groups had links to an al-Qaeda affiliate based in neighbouring Yemen, an interior ministry spokesman said.

Analysts say the group, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has exploited instability in Yemen to set up bases.

A large group of 101 suspects, described as a network, was composed of 47 Saudis and others from Yemen, Somalia, Eritrea and Bangladesh, interior ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki said.

The network "specialised in targeting security personnel," he said.

Map of Saudi Arabia

Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula

Two other groups totalling 12 suspects, described as terrorist cells, were also arrested, he said.

Weapons, cameras, documents and computers were seized with the suspects.

"The network and the two cells were targeting the oil facilities in the Eastern Province and they had plans that were about to be implemented," Mansour al-Turki said.

"Each cell did not know about the other or their plans," he added.

'Yemen link'

There was no news on when the arrests were made or on which oil installations were being targeted and whether they were foreign- or Saudi-owned and operated.

Spokesman Mansour al-Turki said the investigation so far revealed "correspondence between this organisation and al-Qaeda's organisation in Yemen".

BBC correspondent Christian Fraser
Christian Fraser, BBC News, Cairo

The recent merging of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia with al-Qaeda in Yemen - as well as the group's relocation to Yemen's northern border - is now of major concern to Riyadh.

For some months the Saudis have been battling Shia Houthi separatists on the northern Yemeni border.

It is believed al-Qaeda has benefited from that instability to set up its training camps in the remote mountainous regions.

Yemen is the ancestral home of Osama Bin Laden's family. It is practically impossible to police the 1,450km (900 miles) Yemeni-Saudi border because of the rough terrain and tribal opposition.

There are plenty of Saudis and Yemenis opposed to the close Saudi association with the rich oil-producing companies of the West.

The capacity of these Yemeni-based al-Qaeda militants to launch attacks beyond the border was underlined in August 2009 by the assassination attempt on Saudi Arabia's top counter-terrorism official.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was formed in January 2009 by a merger between two regional offshoots of the Islamist militant network in neighbouring Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Led by a former aide to Osama Bin Laden, the group has vowed to attack oil facilities, foreigners and security forces as it seeks to topple the Saudi monarchy and Yemeni government, and establish an Islamic caliphate.

Saudi Arabian security forces have managed to prevent large-scale attacks in Saudi Arabia in recent years, with hundreds of suspects arrested.

But AQAP's first operation outside Yemen targeted Saudi Arabia's security chief, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, last August.

A suicide bomber managed to detonate his explosives close to the prince, giving him minor injuries.

In May 2003, suicide bombers suspected of having links with al-Qaeda killed 35 people in the capital, Riyadh. The victims included a number of foreigners. Later that year, 17 people were killed in another suicide attack on Riyadh.

In May 2004, at least 30 people were killed in Khobar when gunmen stormed a residential compound for oil workers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Robert Osborne's 2010 Classic Film Festival this Week!

Hosted by Robert Osborne

March 25-28, 2010, at the Classic Center

$8/Students, $10 General Admission
Special full festival rates available - Get full details online:

Purchase tickets:
ticket info 1-800-864-4160

Opening Reception at Hotel Indigo
500 College Avenue Athens, GA 30601
March 25, 6:00pm - 7:30pm

Festival Film Schedule and Special Guests:

Thursday, March 25th

8:00 p.m. "To Catch A Thief" (1955)
Special Guest, Tom Brown, Vice President of Turner Classic Movies


Friday, March 26th

1:00 p.m. "Double Indemnity" (1944)
Special Guest, writer, Eddie Muller

4:00 p.m. "All About Eve" (1950)
Special Guest, writer, Eddie Muller

8:00 p.m. "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" (1969)
Special Guest, actress Cloris Leachman

Midnight Screening "The Shining" (1980)
Special Guest, Leon Vitali, Producer, Actor & Stanley Kubrick's long-time collaborator
Guest Host, Patterson Hood
Special performance by The Deaf Judges


Saturday, March 27

10:00 am Panel Discussion: – FREE & OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

1:00 p.m. "Steamboat Bill Jr." (1928)
Special Guest, John Bengtson, Author & Film Historian
Live orchestration with original score by Kenosha Kid

4:00 p.m. "Stand By Me" (1986)
Special Guest, actor Corey Feldman

8:00 p.m. "The Godfather Part II" (1974)
Special Guests, Producers Fred Roos and Gray Frederickson


Sunday, March 28th

2:00 p.m. "The Wizard of Oz" (1939)
Special Guest, Caren Marsh-Doll, Actor / Judy Garland's Stand-In


"Official Festival After Movies Hangout"
Hotel Indigo (ROCFF Official Hotel)*
500 College Avenue
Athens, GA 30601
Special drinks and bar snacks will be available until 1 a.m.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Scientists Use 3D Printer to Create First “Printed” Human Vein


by Brit Liggett, 03/22/10

3D Printing technology has recently leapt into a new realm — we’ve seen printers that can create entire buildings out of stone, delicious meals out of simple ingredients, and now — perhaps weirdest and coolest of them all — a printer that can build body parts from cells! Scientists working on the Organovo NovoGen printer recently created the first “printed” human vein. This technology could replace other toxic and carbon-heavy medicinal practices like using artificial parts in the human body.

The printer is meant to be used in regenerative medicine. Instead of borrowing body parts from someone else — or yourself — the printer will just make a new part for you. The printer is loaded with cartridges of “bio-ink” a substance that acts as a kind of scaffolding for the cells to retain their shape. A sophisticated computer is linked to the printer that is pre-programmed with the 3D blueprint of whatever is being made. The computer instructs the printer to lay down two dimensional layers of bio ink and cells that eventually form into the 3D body part.

With the successful printing of a human vein, the scientists are looking forward to moving on to larger organs. Though the printing of an entire lung or heart is far off, the technology has been proven to be viable. In the near future instead of using plastics or metals to fix small arteries and heart defects, doctors could use real human tissue. Instead of borrowing skin or veins from other parts of the body to fix injuries they could just print some out. Instead of borrowing a liver or heart from a cadaver they could just whip one up. All they need are some healthy organ cells and they’ve got a replacement.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Update on British Couple Held by Pirates


Skeletal and terrified: British yacht couple reveal cruelty of their Somali pirate captors

By Mail Foreign Service
Last updated at 7:41 PM on 05th February 2010

Her face is gaunt and drawn, her frame skeletal and weak.

The shocking effects of captivity are all too clear in this picture of Rachel Chandler, who has been held by Somali pirates for the last three months.

The image was taken by a French news agency that was allowed to accompany a doctor who examined Mrs Chandler and her husband Paul, who are being held separately.
Rachel Chandler

Disorientated: Rachel Chandler looked frail and weak in the video footage. She and her husband have been held for three months

The strain on 56-year-old Mrs Chandler’s face is clearly visible as she sits with her dress hanging loosely from her thin shoulders.

Yesterday she renewed her plea for urgent help, saying: ‘We have not much time left and are being badly treated. Please help us – these people are not treating us well.’

She went on: ‘I’m old, I’m 56, and my husband is 60 years old. We need to be together because we have not much time left. These people are treating us so cruelly.’

This is only the second time Mrs Chandler, an economist, has been seen since she and her husband were kidnapped in October at gunpoint as they sailed in their yacht towards Tanzania.

The last time was in November, when a video taken by the kidnappers – who are demanding a £1.9million ransom.

They have made other pleas for help in desperate phone calls, most recently on January 21, but the physical deterioration in yesterday’s new images are clear.

The Somalian doctor who examined Mrs Chandler said she was suffering a heavy ‘mental’ toll as well, which was manifested in ‘insomnia’.

Surgeon Mohamed Helmi Hangul, who spent three weeks securing permission to visit the couple, said: 'She's very confused, she's always asking about her husband - "Where's my husband, where's my husband?" - and she seems completely disorientated.'

'If I was with my husband I would feel a lot better,' Mrs Chandler told the medic.

'It's because I am not with my husband that I am feeling so lonely and desperate and finding it difficult to sleep.

'I need to be with Paul. We are husband and wife. We have always been together and we look after one another.'
Paul Chandler

Mr Chandler is examined by the doctor who visited with the video journalist: He and his wife are being held in separate locations in rugged countryside between the coastal village of Elhur and the small town of Amara
Enlarge Paul Chandler

Mr Chandler, 60, pleaded for help and said conditions they were being held in were 'difficult'

Mr Chandler also appeared gaunt in the video taken last Thursday but released last night.

His ribs could be seen as he lifted his shirt to be checked by the doctor, who reported he had a cough and a fever.

In the video, filmed by the AFP photographer, Mr Chandler, a retired quantity surveyor, called on the British Government to intervene.

'I just want to say please to my government, get me and my wife out of here. We are innocent we have done nothing wrong.
Sequence of events that led to the Chandlers being captured

How events unfolded after the Chandlers were captured aboard their yacht

'We have no money and can’t pay a ransom. We just need the Government to help, anyone who can get us out of here.

‘Day after day and this is 98 days of solitary confinement, no exercise. I don’t know what to do.’

Mr Chandler finally pleaded: ‘Will somebody please help? The government or somebody else.’

One of the Somali pirate crews that operate off the country's coast and regularly attack shipping. This particular group seized 29 ships in 2008 and earned £6million in ransom money

With guns pointed at their backs, Paul and Rachel Chandler are forced to beg for mercy in a video released by their Somali kidnappers three months ago

Dr Hangul added he had not been allowed to bring any drugs with him but left a prescription-with the pirates.

‘I gave them some advice and told them, “Your hostages can die. All you want is money so treat them well, let them reunite”,’ he said.

Mrs Chandler’s brother, Stephen Collett, was too distressed to comment last night.

A family friend said: ‘This is a highly distressing time for the family. They know the stakes are high and they are in an impossible position.

'The pirates want an unaffordable ransom and the Government won’t pay it.’

There has been sporadic communication with the Chandlers since they were captured, although this was the first time a journalist had been able to meet them.

Eleven days ago Mr Chandler spoke to ITV news, explaining their captives had ‘set a deadline of three or four days’, after which they expected to them to ‘kill us and abandon us in the desert’.

In a separate call, Mrs Chandler said she had been hit with an object she believed was a gun.

A gang member told the Daily Mail last month that the couple, from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, would be shot by the end of February if they were not paid a $3million ransom.

The Chandlers are being held in rugged areas between the coastal village of Elhur and the small inland town of Amara but are moved every 48 hours.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has already insisted the Government will not become involved in any ransom payments.

A Foreign Office spokesman last night said: ‘We are doing everything we can to help secure their release.

'We remain in regular contact with the family and are providing support. We call for the safe and swift release of Paul and Rachel.'

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1247482/Paul-Rachel-Chandler-British-couple-kidnapped-Somali-pirates-fresh-plea-help.html#ixzz0iL9o9Td3

Monday, March 15, 2010

China To Connect Its High-Speed Rail To Europe


by Bridgette Meinhold, 03/15/10

China already has the most advanced and extensive high speed rail line in the world, and soon that network will be connected all the way to Europe and the UK! With initial negotiations and surveys already complete, China is now making plans to connect its high speed rail line through 17 other countries in Asia and Eastern Europe in order to connect to the existing infrastructure in the EU. Additional rail lines will also be built into South East Asia as well as Russia, in what will likely become the largest infrastructure project in history.

China hopes to complete this massive infrastructure project within 10 years, which will include three major rail lines running at speeds of 320 km/hour. The first will go from King’s Cross Station in London all the way to Beijing (8,100 km as the crow flies) and will take approximately two days. This line will also then extend down to Singapore. A second HSR line will connect into Vietnam, Thailand, Burma and Malaysia. The last line to be built will connect Germany to Russia, cross Siberia and then back into China. The exact routes have yet to be determined.

Financing and planning for this monstrous project is actually being provided by China, who is already in serious negotiations with 17 countries to develop the project. China states that other countries, like India, came to them first to get the project rolling, because of their experience in designing and building their own HSR network. Financing for the infrastructure will be provided by China and in return the partnering nation will provide natural resources to China. For instance, Burma, which is about to build its link, will exchange lithium (used in batteries), in order for China to build the line.

China benefits because it will be able to transport materials cheaply into manufacturing centers inside its borders and the Eastern Hemisphere benefits by getting a fast, efficient, low carbon transportation system. Considering China has already become the global leader in HSR, their leadership in this new venture could reasonably shift the balance of power in their direction. Also, get ready for a huge influx of HSR station designs in the coming years.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Aquatic Life of Dennis Chamberland: One Man's Quest to Colonize the Sea

Watch the video on undersea colonization.


Dennis Chamberland's blog:

From the article:

Posted by Motherboard on Wednesday, Mar 10, 2010

Dennis Chamberland doesn’t just want to live underwater: he wants anyone to join him. And he’s determined to make that a reality within a decade.

Chamberland joined NASA as a bioengineer in the mid ‘80s, just as the manned space program was starting to thunder forward. But rather than looking up to the stars, he began looking down – deep down. As a developer of the agency’s Advanced Space Life Support Systems, which monitors the safety for all off-planet habitation pursuits, Chamberland soon became a lead proponent of research on an idea being floated by NASA at the time: using the sea as a testbed for space exploration. Before long, this homegrown explorer would become one of the country’s leading proponents of undersea habitation, and an advocate for what he calls the “space-ocean analog.”

An aquanaut and Mission Commander on seven NASA underwater missions, Chamberland has also pursued landmark research in bioengineering and become a prolific writer of science books and sci-fi novels. But it was his work for NASA that resulted in his harvesting of the first agricultural crop in a manned habitat on the sea floor, and led to his designing and construction of the Scott Carpenter Space Analog Station, a two man undersea habitat off Key Largo. The little permanent submarine has been visited by a range of curious futurist explorers, including James Cameron and TV producer Rod Roddenberry, Jr.

Chamberland’s next goal, he explains in this episode of Motherboard: colonizing the sea. To move humans to an underwater “Aquatica,” as he calls the habitable regions of the ocean, he launched the Atlantica Expeditions, which are attempting to build the first underwater settlement for permanent human colonization. This isn’t a glossy sci-architectural lark or a toe-dip. Starting with the premise that nearly three quarters of our planet’s largest biome have long remained invisible – and are increasingly endangered – the Atlantica project seeks

“a human colony whose primary purpose it is to monitor and protect this most essential of all the earth’s biomes. Soon, beneath the sea, families will live and work. Children will go to school. A new generation of children will be born there – the first citizens of a new ocean civilization whose most important purpose will be to continuously monitor and protect the global ocean environment.”

Set to commence by next year, the first expedition will be initiated by the submersion of the Leviathan, a small underwater habitat that can house up to four people. He’s not only certain that the colonization of the ocean floor is imminent; he’s making it happen.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mobile Phones Convert Silent Mouth Movements into Speech

From the 2nd article: "The Institute is presenting its research at this year's CeBIT show in Hanover, so don't expect to see this technology in a handset any time soon. But that just gives you plenty of time to come up with even more inventive uses for soundless calling, should it ever hit the mainstream."


Researchers at Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have developed a method for mobile phones to convert silent mouth movements into speech. The technology is based on the principle of electromyography, that is the acquisition and recording of electrical potentials generated by muscle activity. This muscle activity is measured in the face and converted into speech.

An example is soundless calling.

The user can speak into the phone soundlessly, but is still understood by the conversation partner on the other end of the line. As a result, it is possible to communicate in silent environments, at the cinema or theater, without disturbing others. Another field of use is the transmission of confidential information.

For the transmission of passwords and PINs, for example, users can change seamlessly to soundless language and, hence, transmit confidential information in a tap-proof manner.



Soundless calling: The possibilities are endless

By Kate Solomon on Wednesday, 3rd March 2010

We love to speculate about future mobile phone features, and this is one that's got our imaginations racing. German researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have been beavering away on a project that converts mouth movements into speech. Rather than making any sounds, your handset would decipher the movements your mouth makes by measuring muscle activity, then convert this into speech that the person on the other end of the call can hear. So, basically, it reads your lips.

The potential for secret conversations just got huge. If it's a particularly dull film, you could pass the time by making phone calls from the cinema without disturbing anyone. In noisy places like bars and clubs you could feasibly make yourself heard without having to shout. The technology would be particularly handy if you've been taken hostage but managed to work your bound hands free enough to retrieve your secret mobile, dial and get your face close enough for the technology to work. In a more every-day sense, people who insist on calling everyone they know while travelling on public transport can do so without the rest of the train carriage hearing about "our Tina's troubles" and the associated unpleasantness.

The Institute is presenting its research at this year's CeBIT show in Hanover, so don't expect to see this technology in a handset any time soon. But that just gives you plenty of time to come up with even more inventive uses for soundless calling, should it ever hit the mainstream.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mexican cartels running pot farms in U.S. national forest


SEQUOIA NATIONAL FOREST, California (CNN) -- Beyond the towering trees that have stood here for thousands of years, an intense drug war is being waged.

Authorities uncovered more than $1 billion worth of pot plants in Sequoia National Forest this week.

Illegal immigrants connected to Mexico's drug cartels are growing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of marijuana in the heart of one of America's national treasures, authorities say. It's a booming business that, federal officials say, feeds Mexico's most violent drug traffickers.

"These aren't Cheech and Chong plants," said John Walters, director of the National Drug Control Policy. "People who farm now are not doing this for laughs, despite the fact Hollywood still thinks that. They're doing it to make a lot of money."

Walters spoke from a "marijuana garden" tucked deep into the Sequoia National Forest, a two- to four-hour hike from the nearest road, far removed from the giant sequoias the region is best known for. Video Watch Hollywood needs to chill out, get serious about pot »

Ten thousand marijuana plants, some 5 feet tall, dotted the mountainside's steep terrain amid thick brush, often near streams. This garden's street value is an estimated $40 million, authorities said.

Walters clutched three plants he said were worth $12,000 on the streets.

"This is about serious criminal organizations," Walters said. "They're willing to kill anybody who gets in their way. They're taking money back to those who kill prosecutors, judges and law enforcement." Photo See photos of pot farm sweep in heart of U.S. national treasure »

Over the past eight days, a federal, state and county law enforcement initiative called Operation LOCCUST has eradicated 420,000 marijuana plants here worth more than $1 billion on the street. By comparison, authorities eradicated 330,000 plants over the six-month growing season last month, said Lt. Mike Boudreaux of the Tulare County Sheriff's Department.

Authorities have arrested 38 people and seized 29 automatic weapons, high-powered rifles and other guns, Boudreaux said.

For years, Mexican drug cartels have used the remote forest to conduct and conceal their business. But the pot production has intensified because it has become harder and harder to smuggle marijuana across the U.S.-Mexico border, Walters said.

"They come into our own national parks and risk the lives of sheriffs and others," Walters said. Video Watch Mexican pot farms in U.S. forest »

Sequoia National Forest is more than 350 miles from the border, named in honor of its 38 groves of giant sequoia trees dating back thousands of years. The forest covers 1.2 million acres in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Some of the workers have established residency in the United States, Boudreaux said. Most are in the country illegally, he said, many brought for the sole purpose of growing pot, maintaining production and protecting the camp.

"They're using family or very trusted family friends. They don't just use anybody," he said.

Authorities arrested nine people in one bust recently, all of them brothers or cousins ranging in age from 20 to 27, Boudreaux said.

Boudreaux described a sophisticated web in which workers and supplies are delivered to the camps by separate groups of people who don't know all the details about the marijuana operation.

"You're recruited in for that purpose as long as you're trusted. ... Each person has his function."

Once at the national forest, the growers carry with them everything they need: tents, food, guns, fertilizer, irrigation hose and marijuana seeds. Armed men keep watch over the gardens day and night during planting season, officials say.

They dam mountain creeks to create pools and then siphon the water into miles of gravity-fed hoses that lead to smaller tubing to irrigate the plants. Nearly all of the marijuana plants have individual drip lines.

"The people that are growing this are good at what they do," said Boudreaux.

The battle is being waged by a coalition of local, state and federal agencies. They rip up and remove the intricate irrigation systems, eradicate the plants and develop intelligence on the workers.

"The goal is not just to eradicate the plants but to go after the organizations," Walters said.

What's different this year from years past, officials say, is that they're working to destroy the entire infrastructure of the marijuana grown in this region, from the irrigation systems to capturing the growers to ripping up the plants. And they're trying to get at the heart of the cartels.

Walters said they have a "unique relationship" with Mexican law enforcement to go after organized crime -- that they will take names of those arrested here and try to work back to the crime families.

"In the past, all we've been able to do is what we call 'whack and stack,' " said Bill Wittman, sheriff of Tulare County.

Wittman says he has had "well over 200 people in the field every day" eradicating the plants and removing the irrigation systems as part of the operation.

"We're not just pulling the plants, we're targeting mid-level and upper-management of these trafficking organizations," Boudreaux said.

How do they find the gardens in such remote areas? They use aerial surveillance, human intelligence and other means. "Often times, we have people who will lead us to these gardens," Boudreaux said.

Allen Ishida, a member of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, said the illegal activity is alarming.

"I want to state that the guys growing the marijuana are not the guys I went to college with," he said. "These are organized drug cartels out of Mexico."

Boudreaux says authorities are furious that cartels are operating in a U.S. forest.

"It's something that's troubling for many of us in law enforcement," he said. "You have illegal criminal activity in the mountain regions not only destroying the natural beauty of the landscape but as well as the potential for this product to reach the children of this community."

Official: Mexican drug gangs have 'supersized' pot farms on public lands


By Alicia Caldwell and Manuel Valdes

Associated Press
Posted: 03/01/2010 12:44:16 PM PST
Updated: 03/01/2010 12:44:17 PM PST

SEQUOIA NATIONAL FOREST — Not far from Yosemite's waterfalls and in the middle of California's redwood forests, Mexican drug gangs are quietly commandeering U.S. public land to grow millions of marijuana plants and using smuggled immigrants to cultivate them.

Pot has been grown on public lands for decades, but Mexican traffickers have taken it to a whole new level: using armed guards and trip wires to safeguard sprawling plots that in some cases contain tens of thousands of plants offering a potential yield of more than 30 tons of pot a year.

"Just like the Mexicans took over the methamphetamine trade, they've gone to mega, monster gardens," said Brent Wood, a supervisor for the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. He said Mexican traffickers have "supersized" the marijuana trade.

Interviews conducted by The Associated Press with law enforcement officials across the country showed that Mexican gangs are largely responsible for a spike in large-scale marijuana farms over the last several years.

Local, state and federal agents found about a million more pot plants each year between 2004 and 2008, and authorities say an estimated 75 percent to 90 percent of the new marijuana farms can be linked to Mexican gangs.

In 2008 alone, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, police across the country confiscated or destroyed 7.6 million plants from about 20,000 outdoor plots.

Growing marijuana in the U.S. saves traffickers the risk and expense of smuggling their product across the border and allows gangs to produce their crops closer to local markets.

Distribution also becomes less risky. Once the marijuana is harvested and dried on the hidden farms, drug gangs can drive it to major cities, where it is distributed to street dealers and sold along with pot that was grown in Mexico.

About the only risk to the Mexican growers, experts say, is that a stray hiker or hunter could stumble onto a hidden field.

The remote plots are nestled under the cover of thick forest canopies in places such as Sequoia National Park, or hidden high in the rugged-yet-fertile Sierra Nevada Mountains. Others are secretly planted on remote stretches of Texas ranch land.

All of the sites are far from the eyes of law enforcement, where growers can take the time needed to grow far more potent marijuana. Farmers of these fields use illegal fertilizers to help the plants along, and use cloned female plants to reduce the amount of seed in the bud that is dried and eventually sold.

Mexican gang plots can often be distinguished from those of domestic-based growers, who usually cultivate much smaller fields with perhaps 100 plants and no security measures.

Some of the fields tied to the drug gangs have as many as 75,000 plants, each of which can yield at least a pound of pot annually, according to federal data reviewed by the AP.

The Sequoia National Forest in central California is covered in a patchwork of pot fields, most of which are hidden along mountain creeks and streams, far from hiking trails. It's the same situation in the nearby Yosemite, Sequoia and Redwood national parks.

Even if they had the manpower to police the vast wilderness, authorities say terrain and weather conditions often keep them from finding the farms, except accidentally.

Many of the plots are encircled with crude explosives and are patrolled by guards armed with AK-47s who survey the perimeter from the ground and from perches high in the trees.

The farms are growing in sophistication and are increasingly cultivated by illegal immigrants, many of whom have been brought to the U.S. from Michoacan.

Growers once slept among their plants, but many of them now have campsites up to a mile away equipped with separate living and cooking areas.

"It's amazing how they have changed the way they do business," Wood said. "It's their domain."

Drug gangs have also imported marijuana experts and unskilled labor to help find the best land or build irrigation systems, Wood said.

Moyses Mesa Barajas had just arrived in eastern Washington state from the Mexican state of Michoacan when he was approached to work in a pot field. He was taken almost immediately to a massive crop hidden in the Wenatchee National Forest, where he managed the watering of the plants.

He was arrested in 2008 in a raid and sentenced to more than six years in federal prison. Several other men wearing camouflage fled before police could stop them.

"I thought it would be easy," he told the AP in a jailhouse interview. "I didn't think it would be a big crime."

Stewart said recruiters look for people who still have family in Mexico, so they can use them as leverage to keep the farmers working — and to keep them quiet.

"If they send Jose from the hometown and Jose rips them off, they are going to go after Jose's family," Stewart said. "It's big money."

When the harvest is complete, investigators say, pot farm workers haul the product in garbage bags to dropoff points that are usually the same places where they get resupplied with food and fuel.

Agents routinely find the discarded remnants of camp life when they discover marijuana fields. It's not uncommon to discover pots and pans, playing cards and books, half-eaten bags of food, and empty beer cans and liquor bottles.

But the growers leave more than litter to worry about. They often use animal poisons that can pollute mountain streams and groundwater meant for legitimate farmers and ranchers.

Because of the tree cover, armed pot farmers can often take aim at law enforcement before agents ever see them.

"They know the terrain better than we do," said Lt. Rick Ko, a drug investigator with the sheriff's office in Fresno, Calif. "Before we even see them, they can shoot us."

In Wisconsin, the number of confiscated plants grew sixfold between 2003 and 2008, to more than 32,000 found in 2008.

Wisconsin agents used to find a few dozen marijuana plants on national forest land. Now they discover hundreds or even thousands.

"If we are getting 40 to 50 percent (of fields), I think we are doing well," said Michigan State Police 1st Lt. Dave Peltomaa. "I really don't think we are close to 50 percent. We don't have the resources."

Vast amounts of pot are still smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico. Federal officials report nearly daily hauls of several hundred to several thousand pounds seized along the border. But drug agents say the boom in domestic growing is a sign of diversification by traffickers.

Officials say arrests of farmers are rare, though the sheriff's office in Fresno did nab more than 100 suspects during two weeks of raids last summer. But when field hands are arrested, most only tell authorities about their specific job.

When asked who hired him, Mesa repeatedly told an AP reporter, "I can't tell you."

Washington State Patrol Lt. Richard Wiley said hired hands either do not know who the boss is or are too frightened to give details.

"They are fearful of what may happen to them if they were to snitch on these coyote people," Wiley said of the recruiters and smugglers who bring marijuana farmers into the U.S. "That's organized crime of a different fashion. There's nothing to gain from (talking), but there's a lot to lose."


Valdes reported from Pasco, Wash.

Opiate the Masses

Opiate the masses =
National debt (divided by)
Medical marijuana legalization + marijuana cash crop + pot for pleasure legalization + insurance coverage for medicinal marijuana

Rancho Cordova-based insurer launches medical marijuana coverage


By Mark Glover
Published: Tuesday, Mar. 2, 2010 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Mar. 2, 2010 - 10:50 pm

A Rancho Cordova-based insurer Monday launched what it calls the first nationally available insurance coverage designed specifically for the medical marijuana industry.

Only 14 states allow use of medical marijuana today, but Statewide Insurance Services is nonetheless offering coverage in all 50 states.

"Given the growth in the industry, I think it's only a matter of time" before other states allow medical marijuana, said Mike Aberle, a commercial insurance agent with the local firm and national director of its Medical Marijuana Specialty Division.

He added: "Now that we can offer (services) in all 50 states, we can start the minute they go legal, without delay."

Aberle said the nationwide program covers "all aspects of the industry," including medical marijuana dispensaries (MMDs for short), workers' compensation, general liability, auto insurance (motor vehicles used to transport product), equipment breakdown/damage, property/product loss (including pot spoilage) and operations related to marijuana growing.

The door for dispensaries and commercial insurers opened in 1996, when California voters approved Proposition 215, which allows physicians to recommend cannabis for treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraines or "any other illness for which marijuana provides relief."

The number of dispensaries started to spike dramatically last year when the Obama administration said it would not arrest marijuana growers and sellers who abide by state laws. Previously, federal officials prosecuted them.

Some in the medical marijuana industry estimate there are now more than 2,000 dispensaries statewide.

Aberle began the process of forming Statewide's MMD unit in 2007. Since then, the Rancho Cordova company has provided insurance to clients in California, Colorado, New Mexico and Rhode Island.

Aberle said he started ramping up the national program last year.

He said premiums range from about $650 annually up to $25,000 a year, with numerous variables affecting price. Typical policies have annual premiums in the $1,000- to-$4,000 range.

Max Del Real, a lobbyist with California Capitol Solutions in Sacramento, characterized Statewide's national program as a milestone in an industry that needs insurance protections for everyone in the distribution chain, from growers of medical marijuana to those who use it.

"It's very big, especially right now with public safety. Safety protocols need to be put into place," he said.

Del Real has represented dispensaries and other segments of the medical marijuana industry throughout California, and he said growers remain the most unprotected group.

"How do we move out of residential areas and into commercial and industrial space?" he asked. "A lot of people are trying to get their minds around the cultivation of medical marijuana."

Del Real said governments throughout California have to decide numerous issues, such as whether they will require insurance for dispensaries.

"There is a big thing of catching up going on," he said. "Each community is passing its own laws, and that becomes problematic."

The growth of MMDs came so fast that some California cities – including Placerville and Los Angeles – have drafted ordinances and moratoriums to halt new openings.

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