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Wanna know what’s happened to the Gulf Coast since the BP spill? Read this blog, now

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Danny E HooksThe oil-spattered Gulf Coast in 2010. How’s it faring now?On the fourth anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, the big question is whether the oil spill recovery is finally over. According to BP, yes it is. Or at least BP is wrapping up “active cleanup” and headed home to get its life back, only further available if the Coast Guard calls it. But to many of the people living along the Gulf Coast, who still have to endure the aftereffects of BP’s blunder, hell naw it ain’t over. Given the tarballs and the oil that’s still drawing a ring of eyeliner along the coast, not to mention all the devastated dolphins and oysters, it’s an insult to even suggest it. “Today should not have to be about reminding the nation that thousands of Gulf Coast residents continue to be impacted by the environmental and economic damage created by the BP oil disaster,” said Colette Pichon Battle, executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy. “The request by coastal residents four years later is the same as in 2010. Clean up the oil. Pay for the damage. And ensure that this never happens again.” There are hundreds of unresolved issues on the Gulf Coast, many of them predating the oil spill. With stories spilling in from all over the place, it’s going to be tough sussing out the true grit from the bullshit. Fortunately the good folks over at the Bridge the Gulf blog got you covered. The blog was created in response to the BP oil spill by Gulf Coast residents and activists who have a direct stake in their communities’ recovery. Many of them have struggled under prior Gulf disasters, like hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, Gustav, and the most recent, Isaac. It’s where you can read about Turkey Creek, Miss., the historically troubled black community that’s the subject of the new documentary Come Hell or High Water. It’s also where you can read about a bunch of other places across the Gulf that have been pricked by storms of both the political and ecological variety. Disclaimer: I served as an editor of the blog in 2012, so I’m biased. But as someone who’s a relentless consumer of news from media sources across the Gulf — and who’s written for many of them — I can assure you that you won’t find a grander assembly of authentic voices and primary sources from the Gulf anywhere else on the web. Among the Bridge the Gulf writer corps are people like Kindra Arnesen, who was a first responder when the BP rig initially broke, and also voices from the Gulf’s top community organizations like Gulf Restoration Network, t.e.j.a.s., Women With a Vision, and the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights. Bridge the Gulf just relaunched with a new website design, but with the same strong repertoire of Gulf renewal narratives. Below are a few examples of blog’s best content over the years: “On the Road With Cherri Foytlin”: You may have read about Foytlin in Rolling Stone, where she was named as one of “The New Green Heroes” of the fossil fuel resistance — she’s the “Angry Mom.” She walked from New Orleans to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about health problems along the Gulf believed to be the result of the BP oil spill. She’s been a contributor to Bridge the Gulf since the beginning, as a writer, photographer, and videographer, but here is a rare glimpse of her in front of the camera. “Gulf Coast Residents Appalled by Lack of Concern for Safety After EPA Drops BP’s Ban on Federal Contracts”: The whole BP Deepwater Horizon saga is summarized in this nugget from long-time Bridge the Gulf contributor Karen Savage: “The EPA banned BP from obtaining new federal contracts and oil leases from November 2012 until the ban was lifted on March 16th. Last year, the oil giant pled guilty to illegal conduct leading to and following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, including 11 counts of felony manslaughter, one count of felony obstruction of US Congress and violations of both the Clean Water Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Acts. Through their guilty plea, BP admitted to obstructing an inquiry by the US Congress, providing ‘false and misleading’ information regarding flow rate and manipulating internal flow-rate estimates.” On Friday, the Public Citizen, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and dozens of other environmental groups demanded that EPA against suspend BP from receiving for federal leases and contracts. “What you missed last week at the BOEM …”: People want to know what the federal government has been doing since the BP oil spill to tighten safety regulations around offshore drilling — especially since it has allowed BP back out to drill in the Gulf. Those safety questions have been handled by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management mainly through a series of nauseatingly boring public meetings. Fortunately, Bridge the Gulf editor Ada McMahon made it unboring for us by attending one and then reporting back in the form of a comic strip: Ada McMahonFiled under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics

Continue reading Wanna know what’s happened to the Gulf Coast since the BP spill? Read this blog, now

The Search for General Tso

A new documentary premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival explores how and why General Tso’s chicken became a cultural touchstone.

Continue reading The Search for General Tso

Three Gulf Coast victories scored since the BP spill

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You will hear a lot of gloomy reports about the state of the Gulf Coast as we approach the fourth-year commemoration of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster on April 20. And that’s fair. BP deserves little cheer in the face of widespread health problems across the Gulf, for both humans and marine animals, and the disappearance of entire fishing communities. Despite what BP is telling us, it ain’t all good. But it ain’t all bad, either. Gulf Coast communities from the Florida Panhandle to Texas’s right shoulder had been through a few disaster rodeos before the BP spill. They’ve survived hurricanes named for just about every letter of the alphabet. And they’ve endured careless and reckless decisions from every level of government, way more than one time too many. Given those past experiences, residents and activists along the Gulf corralled together after the BP disaster to make sure their most immediate concerns would be heard this time around. Region-wide networks like the Gulf Future Coalition and the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health were formed immediately after the spill to harness the expertise of Gulf citizens who often historically were excluded from recovery processes. Through guiding documents like the Unified Action Plan for a Healthy Gulf and media projects like Bridge the Gulf, community members were able to voice their concerns and demands, free of bureaucratic or political filters. These projects gave Gulf residents the opportunity not only to frame the Gulf recovery narrative, but also to influence government-led recovery plans. The result has been three demonstrable victories: 1. The Gulf Coast gets to keep the money: The current civil trial against BP to determine how much the company will pay in Clean Water Act fines won’t conclude until next year, but scientists and legal experts expect fines to total upwards of $20 billion, which normally would be great news … for the U.S. Treasury. Under the Oil Spill Liability Act, such fines are directed to a special Treasury account to be used to cope with future oil tragedies. But Gulf Coast communities said, “Wayment, y’alls oil and gas drillers been foulin’ up our waters for decades. We deserve that money for the tragedies y’all been causin’ today.” The community groups wrote up a new law called the RESTORE Act, which would keep 80 percent of the BP fine money right there in the Gulf, and out of reach of D.C.’s balanced-budget stalkers. Inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom says no one’s been able to get anything passed through Congress the past few years. Well, the RESTORE Act passed, and it’s now law. The Gulf Coast keeps the money. Derrick Evans, director of the Gulf Coast Fund, explains it better in this video. 2. Gulf Coast residents get some health care (even as they’re denied the full benefits of Obamacare): Unexplained illnesses have become prevalent in the wake of the spill, particularly among those involved in the emergency cleanup response immediately after. Despite an untold number of Gulf residents complaining of respiratory problems, rashes, and nausea, BP stated it would not hear any health-related grievances through its claims process. In fact, BP publicly doubted that any of the reported illnesses were connected to the oil spill. But Gulf advocates did not let BP off that easy. When the company settled part of its civil case with a party of commercial fishermen and oil workers for $7.8 billion in 2012, activists were able to finagle a $105 million carve-out for health centers to be built in every Gulf state. These new health facilities will provide services to all Gulf residents, not just those directly impacted by the oil spill, and also epidemiological training for doctors so they can better monitor for spill-related illnesses as they surface over time. “These communities gave input early on that helped to shape the program that is now coming back to provide health services to them,” says Steve Bradberry, executive director of The Alliance Institute, which helped facilitate the community input. Another silver lining here is that the new health centers, some of which are just now coming online, are being built in states where the governors have turned down federal funding to expand Medicaid. 3. You don’t have to rely on Anderson Cooper for your Gulf news anymore: When disaster strikes the Gulf, national media forces like CNN and The New York Times drone in to capture the melee, then disperse at the first sign of another news story elsewhere in the world. And then Spike Lee comes and shoots a documentary, and it’s a wrap. But that’s not the whole picture anymore. Gulf residents have taken their stories into their own hands, eyes, and voices, mainly through documentaries. The result is what film scholars will hopefully one day recognize as the definitive canon of cinematic Gulf tales of survival. I’ve written about a couple of them, such as Leah Mahan’s Come Hell or High Water and Nailah Jefferson’s Vanishing Pearls. Add to that list Monique Verdin’s My Louisiana Love and Margaret Brown’s The Great Invisible. Then offscreen there’s Cry You One, a play that takes its audience directly to the bayous and wetlands of Louisiana for its narrative — literally. These stories — along with those told in the hundreds of local blogs, news outlets, and books that have sprouted in the past few years — will give future historians a view from the ground of what restoration looked like, who benefited, and who was excluded.Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics

Continue reading Three Gulf Coast victories scored since the BP spill

Obama delays Keystone decision — again

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Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before: The Obama administration is delaying a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. But this is different from all those past delays. This is a brand new delay — and it might push the final determination past the midterm elections. As Politico notes, “A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult choice on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats such as [Sen. Mary] Landrieu, who represents oil-rich Louisiana.” The Washington Post explains the reasoning behind this latest delay: The Obama administration has — again — postponed a decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline by giving eight different agencies more time to submit their views on whether the pipeline from Canada’s oil sands to the Texas gulf coast is in the national interest. The 90-day period for interagency comments was supposed to end May 7, but the State Department extended that deadline, citing “uncertainty” created by a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that could lead to changes in the pipeline route. The State Department, which must make the final decision on the permit because it crosses an international boundary, said it would use the additional time to consider the “unprecedented number” — 2.5 million — of public comments that were submitted by March 7. Queue the predictable outcry from pipeline supporters. That includes not just Republicans (though outcrying is their specialty) but also the 11 Democratic senators from red and swing states who recently wrote Obama a letter calling on him to quickly approve the project. “This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable,” said Landrieu, who organized the letter writers. She vowed to use her new position as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to force approval. (Good luck with that.) Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski from the oil-loving state of Alaska called the delay “a stunning act of political cowardice” and said that “the timing of this announcement — waiting until a Friday afternoon during the holy Passover holiday in the hope that most Americans would be too busy with their families to notice — only adds further insult.” Keystone opponents are of two minds. Billionaire climate hawk and campaign funder Tom Steyer called it “good news on Good Friday.” The League of Conservation Voters went further and called it “great news.” The Natural Resources Defense Council seems to agree: The State Department is taking the most prudent course of action possible. … Getting this decision right includes being able to evaluate the yet-to-be determined route through Nebraska and continuing to listen to the many voices that have raised concerns about Keystone XL. The newly extended comment period will show what we already know: the more Americans learn about this project, the more they see that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest. But 350.org slammed the administration for its procrastination. “It’s disappointing President Obama doesn’t have the courage to reject Keystone XL right now,” the group said in a release. “It’s as if our leaders simply don’t understand that climate change is happening in real time — that it would require strong, fast action to do anything about it.” Still, the group claimed a partial victory: “this is clearly another win for pipeline opponents.” Anti-Keystoners will, of course, keep fighting the proposal. On Earth Day, April 22, they’ll kick off a Reject and Protect protest on the National Mall. “The encampment will feature 15 tipis and a covered wagon, and begins on Tuesday with a 40-person ceremonial horseback ride from the Capitol down the National Mall,” says 350. “Ranchers from Nebraska, tribal leaders from Nebraska, Minnesota and the Dakotas, actor Daryl Hannah, the Indigo Girls, environmental and social justice leaders, and others will take part at the encampment over the week.” And Steyer has promised to help fund political candidates who oppose the pipeline. Politico reports that he “pledged Thursday to leverage his largely self-funded super PAC to support members of Congress who come under attack for their opposition to the proposed Canada-to-Texas pipeline.”Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics

Continue reading Obama delays Keystone decision — again

Ex-BP official got rich on Deepwater Horizon spill, gets busted

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When Keith Seilhan was called in to coordinate BP’s oil spill cleanup after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the senior company official and experienced crisis manager looked at the situation and thought, “Fuck this.” He dumped his family’s $1 million worth of BP stock, earning a profit and saving $100,000 in potential losses after the share price tanked even further. But Seilhan knew something that other investors did not know when he made that trade. The company was lying to the government and the public about the amount of oil that was leaking from the ruptured well — by a factor of more than ten. And the feds say that doesn’t just make Seilhan an awful person — it means he was engaging in insider trading. Charges and a settlement were announced Thursday. “The complaint alleges that within days, Seilhan received nonpublic information on the extent of the evolving disaster, including oil flow estimates and data on the volume of oil floating on the surface of the Gulf,” the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said in its announcement. Without admitting or denying guilt, the Texan, who has since left BP, agreed to pay the government a penalty equivalent to double the $105,409 that he allegedly gained through the trade.Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy

Continue reading Ex-BP official got rich on Deepwater Horizon spill, gets busted

This velomobile is basically an electric car without the hassle

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If the words “recumbent trike” make your lip curl, we understand. Weird bikes often seem to perpetuate the myth that cyclists are fringey oddballs disconnected from reality. But the ELF deserves a second glance: A team from Durham, N.C., designed the semi-enclosed, three-wheeled contraption to marry the best aspect of bikes and cars. The result is a low-impact EV that gives you some protection from the elements and plenty of room for groceries. Pedal when you can, but let the solar-powered battery kick in if you’re hauling bags of kitty litter uphill. The ELF can go up to 30 mph and carry up to 350 pounds, but doesn’t need any of that pesky car stuff like a license plate, insurance, or actual gasoline. The battery’ll charge in 90 minutes when plugged in, carrying you up to 14 miles — farther if you put your thighs to work. The ELF’s main problem is its $5,495 price tag. Then again, if you’re basically getting 1,800 mpg, it could be worth it — more than 300 ELF owners seem to think so. If, like moi, your wimpiness forever prevents you from turning cyclist, velomobiles like the ELF just might be the gateway drug.Filed under: Business & Technology, Living

Continue reading This velomobile is basically an electric car without the hassle

“Years of Living Dangerously” host on the climate change stories we need to tell

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If you thought the title of Showtime’s new series, Years of Living Dangerously, was just a reference to the perils of climate change, think again: “I almost died on that show,” one of its hosts, M. Sanjayan, told us when he came into the Grist office earlier this month. Sanjayan helps tell the story of climate change by journeying to exotic places like the Andes and Christmas Island. But when he’s not swashbuckling around the world in the name of the environment and science, he’s still vouching for it: previously, as the head scientist at the Nature Conservancy, and now as the executive vice president of Conservation International. He also keeps the conversation going through media outlets like the Huffington Post and CBS News. We talked with Sanjayan about his brush with death, finding the face of climate change (hint: It’s not a polar bear’s), and coming to grips with the fact that, at this point, we’re going to have to adapt to the hot new conditions we’ve created. And, in our lightning round video at the top of the post, we asked him what we really wanted to know: Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye? Here’s an edited and condensed version of our conversation. Q. We wanted to start by asking you about Years of Living Dangerously and any notable, meaningful moments. A. I almost died on that show. Yeah. I was actually ready to quit pretty early on – literally almost died. Q. Wow – what happened? A. They sent me to the Tupungatito glacier in the Andes, on the Chile-Argentine border. It’s a pretty big mountain. And we were going to the top of it and then cresting it and then going into sort of a caldera to look for very old ice, with an ice scientist by the name of Paul Mayewski. He’s a University of Maine professor. The problem is, we were doing this really fast. And so we base-camped at like 10,000 feet and then in a day we went to 20,000. And it’s very steep, it’s very loose, and there were boulders the size of basketballs coming down the mountain. We started with a crew of 12 people total. Four of them didn’t summit, which gives you an idea. There was a lot of attrition. The main camera guy we brought from New York got deathly ill on day two. He had to be evacuated out. So we flew in by helicopter a Chilean cameraman to replace him. He got kicked in the head by a horse, so he was out. So the [assistant producer] took the camera and started shooting. The director couldn’t get out on the glacier; she was just sort of throwing up. And I was like, “I’m going to die. I literally could die here.” Q. Science! A. Exactly. It gave me a real sense that the scientists we were following on the show were going to the ends of the Earth to get data. Quite literally. And they were risking a lot, in very physical terms, to get what they thought was necessary to learn about the future of the planet. Another journey I did was to Christmas Island, the Pacific atoll, with a woman named Kim Cobb. Kim studies coral because coral grows in a really unique way that’s very tightly linked to temperature. So you can drill into the coral head and figure out what the ocean temperature was very precisely. I can tell you November 1972, this was the temperature. Really amazing. And then she uses fossilized coral to go back 7,000 years. Kim was probably in her late 30s, a mom of three, and she’s underwater with a giant, 100-pound drill, drilling cores out of coral. There’s one flight in every week from Fiji and Hawaii. That’s it. M. Sanjayan.Q. Did you walk away from that project with a different perspective on climate change? A. Without a doubt. Look, I’ve gotta tell you, I’ve felt a bit like a fake when I’ve gone out and talked about climate, because I only understood it intellectually. I study it. I read the papers. It was an intellectual argument — it wasn’t a story that I could tell. I didn’t feel it in my bones. I went on Lettermen a few years ago, and he hammered me on climate. He’s really passionate about climate, and he just came at it really hard. And I zigged and zagged and parodied and joked, and kind of got myself out of there. But I knew how I dodged it – he was asking me something really serious that I couldn’t talk about in any personal way. It seemed distant. And so part of this was actually going out with these guys and seeing it on the ground myself. And I came away with the sense that these stories now are real. Q. So would you tell the story of climate change differently now? A. Yeah. I mean it’s here, it’s now, it’s us. Michael Mann recently had a great quote: “We are the polar bear.” And he’s right — I think this show shifts the focus squarely on the human faces; a preacher’s daughter in the Southeast, a rancher in Texas, Indonesian foresters. Real people who are dealing with real issues right now. Q. It seems like the conversation has really changed recently from mitigating climate change to adapting to it? A. I don’t want to give the impression that we’re giving up on mitigation. I think emissions control, a price on carbon, and things like reforestation schemes are all hugely important. But I think focusing on adaptation makes [sense]. It makes the argument much more present. And it’s what people are worrying about — if you’re a Texas rancher, the here and now is way more important to your life than something in the future. And by dealing with the here and now, I think it provides a brilliant entry point to dealing with the long-term challenge. Think about what it was like when, during President Garfield’s time, we realized that there were these things called microbes. They were invisible and tiny and they could really fuck you up. And no one would believe you that [they were] there. Lister in Europe had already figured this out, and it was sort of trickling into America, but not really getting accepted. But when Garfield got shot, he died of an infection — not because of the bullet wound, but because doctors didn’t know about [microbes], and they stuck their finger in the wound. What’s interesting about that anecdote is we didn’t say we’re going to get rid of microbes. Now that we know they’re there, our goal isn’t to get rid of microbes; it’s adaptation. And that provides a much better entry point to then deal with bigger questions of sanitation and public health. You almost see an analogy today with climate change. By focusing on adaptation and here and now, I think it allows you to have the bigger discussion about what’s happening to the planet. Q. I think there’s a thirst now for scientists to become communicators. Where in your evolution did you decide, “I’m a scientist but I’m also going to embrace this role as a communicator.” A. I grew up in West Africa in a very insulated family very far away from any kind of city. And so as a small family, we told stories. I think the storytelling was always within me. It just got married to my passion of science. I think you’re right, though, that more scientists are understanding it. Maybe 10 years ago, 20 years ago, as a scientist your responsibility was to publish a paper. That was it. I think people generally understand now that there’s so many more venues to communicate outside of peer-reviewed publications. And that’s just how the world has evolved. Corporate CEOs are being more communicative now, too, it’s just what it demands. I mean Darwin did that, right? Darwin went and did this big experiment and then sat on his work for a decade plus. And then he communicated it. And then he went on the road with it — literally did a road trip. Q. Still, there’s so much uncertainty about how climate change is going to play out. We can’t even predict what the weather is going to do tomorrow. That’s hard for people to deal with – even folks who know that climate change is a real threat. A. You could look at people and say, “Without a doubt, you’re very likely to die of heart disease. That’s what’s going to kill you.” And they will say, “Great, I understand what you’re saying. I will start my diet tomorrow. I will start exercising this weekend.” Clearly. But I am more optimistic, I think more recently there has been a movement — I do sense that things are changing, and quite dramatically. And this Showtime series will do part of it. I think we’re at a real tipping point, and it kind of depends whether it’s the next two years or the next 10 years. And I’m hoping it’s the next two years. Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy

Continue reading “Years of Living Dangerously” host on the climate change stories we need to tell

District councillors slam plan to rezone Stanley sites for luxury flats

<!– google_ad_section_start –> District councillors have criticised the government’s plan to rezone two green-belt sites in Stanley for luxury flats as selling public resources to the wealthy. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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‘Baby hatches’ are no substitute for a social welfare system

<!– google_ad_section_start –> A controversy is raging over the growing phenomenon of “baby hatches” on the mainland amid Guangzhou’s abrupt suspension of its new facility after being overwhelmed by abandoned babies. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Insider trading suspect Xiao Hui wants extradition case delayed

<!– google_ad_section_start –> A mainland businessman accused of 104 insider-trading offences in Australia yesterday urged a court to adjourn his extradition hearing to allow him to pursue a claim for asylum in Hong Kong. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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A ‘wake-up call’ on global warming

<!– google_ad_section_start –> The hail and rain on Sunday was a wake-up call for Hongkongers about the fast-changing climate that could disrupt lives and businesses within moments, a veteran meteorologist says. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Black rainstorm leaves Festival Walk soaked and reeling from losses

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Rain-soaked stores at a glitzy Kowloon Tong shopping centre have been left counting their losses after Sunday’s freak downpour, uncertain whether insurers will compensate them. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Justice chief eyes quick deal with Macau over transfer of fugitives

<!– google_ad_section_start –> The government will act “expeditiously” to make arrangements for the transfer of fugitives between Hong Kong and Macau, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Bids invited to operate schools at five sites

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Two vacant schools and three new sites are being offered for the development of non-profit international schools. Bids are being invited for use of the sites as part of government measures to boost the number of international school places in Hong Kong. The Education Bureau estimates that the exercise could provide more than 3,300 extra places. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Doubts cast on doctor’s ability to manage celebrity couple’s baby

<!– google_ad_section_start –> A paediatrician whose newborn charge, the son of a celebrity couple, died a day after birth in 2005 was incapable of handling the baby, the chairwoman of a medical disciplinary panel said. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Baoding ready for Beijing overflow

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Baoding, a city just outside Beijing, in Hebei province will create 34 districts to absorb branches of institutes and companies based in the overcrowded capital, authorities say. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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America, Inc. at it’s Finest

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Chocolate Artisan Truffles by Just Chocolate

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New July 2013