In less than two years, the United States will open its commercial airspace to drones, allowing these "unmanned aerial vehicles" to zip over American cities along with planes and helicopters. Tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, and law enforcement agencies are intrigued by the possibilities—burrito drones! And the roughly $6-billion-a-year drone industry has launched a lobbying offensive to ensure Federal Aviation Administration regulations are as broad and permissive as possible. But lawmakers and civil liberties groups are concerned about the privacy implications and potential safety issues, and at least nine states have passed laws restricting drone use by law enforcement, private citizens, or both.
While drones were never banned in the United States, up until now their use has been strictly limited, with the FAA distributing a few hundred permits to researchers and law enforcement. But Congress has ordered the agency to open commercial airspace to a wide variety of unmanned vehicles by late 2015. And when it does, drones are bound to proliferate. The FAA anticipates there could be as many as 30,000 drones hurtling through US airspace by 2020.
Krokodil, a highly addictive designer drug that aggressively eats through flesh, has reportedly arrived in the United States. A Phoenix CBS affiliate revealed this week that two cases involving krokodil had been phoned into a local poison control center and quoted one of the center's medical directors, Dr. Frank LoVecchio, saying he and his colleagues were "extremely frightened." While the US Drug Enforcement Administration has not yet received a sample of the drug for analysis, and thus cannot confirm it was krokodil, Barbara Carreno of the DEA told Mother Jones that the agency often learns about new synthetic drugs (including the infamous bath salts) through local poison-control centers. "We've been scrambling to see what we know about the cases in Arizona," she added. "This concerns us very much."
Krokodil, technically known as Desomorphine, has a similar effect to heroin, but is significantly cheaper and easier to make. In the last few years, it's been wreaking severe havoc on the bodies and lives of Russian youth. The drug earned its nickname—the Russian word for crocodile—because of the ghastly side effects it has on the human body. Wherever the drug is injected, the skin turns green and scaly, showing symptoms of gangrene. In severe cases, the skin rots away completely revealing the bone beneath. Other permanent effects of the drug include speech impediments and erratic movement. Rotting flesh, jerky movements, and speech troubles have prompted media outlets to tag krokodil the "zombie drug." According to Time, the average user of krokodil only lives two or three years, and "the few who manage to quit usually come away disfigured." Quitting is its own nasty business. Heroin withdrawal symptoms last about a week; symptoms for krokodil withdrawal can last over a month.
Krokodil use has skyrocketed in poor rural communities in Russia in the last few years, despite the troubling side effects. The Federal Drug Control Service in Russia told Time that in the first three months of 2011, it confiscated 65 million doses of the drug. Desomorphine didn't originate in Russia; the potent painkiller was patented in the United States in 1934. It only became a recreational drug about 10 years ago, when it surfaced in Siberia. The Independent reported in 2011 that up to 5 percent of Russian drug users have used krokodil—as many as 100,000 people. Zhenya, a former user in Russia, told the Independent that when she used to inject krokodil, she was "dreaming of heroin, of something that feels clean and not like poison. But you can't afford it, so you keep doing the krokodil. Until you die."
The main ingredients in krokodil are codeine, iodine, and red phosphorous. The latter is the stuff that's used to make the striking part on matchboxes. Sometimes paint thinner, gasoline, and hydrochloric acid are thrown into the mix. Like meth, it's fairly easy to cook up in a home kitchen. You need a stove, a pan, and about 30 minutes. The drug is then injected directly into the vein, producing a high that lasts about an hour and a half. According to the Week, each injection costs about $6 to $8, while heroin is up to $25.
Carreno of the DEA says that krokodil isn't a controlled substance yet because the agency has to have more evidence that it's a public health problem. "You don't want a federal agency going around making things illegal willy-nilly…We'd have to see more than two cases before we control it," she notes. "But people are mixing codeine and gasoline, and shooting it into their veins. What do they expect?"
In the mean time, if you want to feel disgusted and never eat lunch again, look at the graphic picture below of a krokodil user. For more gruesome images, go here.
Chipotle Mexican Grill, the popular burrito chain that has more than 1,500 restaurants worldwide, hit the advertising jackpot earlier this month when it released a Pixar-style commercialthat went viral and turned the restaurant into an overnight poster child for sustainable food. The advertisement, set to a mournful Fiona Apple song, depicts an animated scarecrow discovering the truth about factory farms—and then deciding to start his own farm instead (the scarecrow's farm is apparently vegetarian, because the animals magically disappear).
The restaurant chain has pushed hard to separate its image from McDonald's, a former investor in the company, and revamp itself as a sustainable-food choice for Americans who are against global warming and antibiotics, and in favor of fresh, locally sourced food. In its advertisements, the company throws around the word "natural" a lot—but unlike "organic," that doesn't have an actual USDA definition. So how well does Chipotle actually stack up? In an email, Chris Arnold, a spokesman for Chipotle, tells Mother Jones that "Chipotle is probably more transparent about the ingredients we use than any other national restaurant company. We have never professed to being perfect. Rather, the commitment we have made is to constant improvement, and we are always working to find better, more sustainable sources for all of the ingredients we use."
Here are five questions raised in Chipotle advertisements:
1. Does Chipotle support genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?
One of the main characters in Chipotle's scarecrow video is a creepy bird that flies around the factory farm and appears to be some kind of hybrid between a crow and a robot. In another scene, bird-robots are pumping mysterious chemicals into a chicken, inflating it like a beach ball. The video clearly implies that messing with Mother Nature is bad news—and Chipotle doesn't do it. Arnold says that "the film is about a host of issues in agriculture and industrial food production—the overuse of antibiotics, harsh crowding of animals, and the high degree to which so much food is processed. But there are no GMO references, either literal or symbolic."
According to its website, most of Chipotle's products contain genetically modified organisms (GMO), which accelerate the pesticides arms race and have not been adequately tested for long-term health effects. Chipotle has taken the laudable step of publicly backing GMO labeling and aiming to "eliminate GMOs from Chipotle's ingredients"—but the restaurant isn't there yet. According to Chipotle's website, all soy bean oil and corn products contain GMOs. That doesn't sound so bad, except that Chipotle chicken, steak, fajita vegetables, rice, tortilla chips, and tortillas all contain one or both of these items. (Restaurants in the New York City metropolitan area are an exception; they don't use soy bean oil.) Additionally, Arnold tells Mother Jones that the feed given to cows and pigs "very well could be GMO, given the prevalence of GMO crops in this country. Non-GMO feed is not part of our protocol."
2. Do Chipotle pigs, chickens, and cows frolic in big grassy fields?
The scarecrow ad wasn't the first time Chipotle has pushed the message that its animals frolic in fields (to pop music.) In 2011, it released the animated commercial above, set to a Coldplay song. Arnold, the Chipotle spokesman, says, "I think the way we portray our suppliers is very consistent with how they operate in reality" and that Chipotle uses "a number of naturally raised meat suppliers." Pork suppliers that fall under "naturally raised meat" are Niman Ranch Pork Company and Du Breton (you can see a Chipotle video with the founder of Niman Ranch here). Niman Ranch's website says the farm takes many admirable steps to ensure its pigs are ethically raised, such as giving them a 100 percent vegetarian diet, veterinarian care, and allowing sows to have 64 square feet to share with their young. But the image in the commercial, that all the pigs are hanging out in a pasture, might not be accurate. Pigs at Niman Ranch aren't required to have outdoor access. They can be housed in hoop buildings with sunlight, instead. "Growing and finishing hogs"—the kind that you eat—are only required to have 8 to 18 square feet of space each, depending on weight, if they are housed in a structure that permits outdoor access. In cases where pigs are housed in hoop buildings, they only get 5 to 14 square feet. Access to to pasture or fields is "recommended" but not required. Drew Calvert, Niman Ranch's director of communications, tells Mother Jones that "we cannot speak to Chipotle's advertising, claims or videos" and "the number of farmers who raise hogs for Niman Ranch fluctuates, but a majority of the farmers raise animals outdoors."
The New Yorker also reports that some of Chipotle's beef is bought from Meyer Natural Foods, which finishes feeding cows in feedlots—so the beef isn't 100 percent grass-fed. (Arnold said over the phone that most of Chipotle's beef is "raised on pasture" but not 100-percent grass fed.) Meyer's website doesn't list a requirement for square feet of space for cattle, instead it says its farms must meet the more subjective, "adequate space for comfort" standard. (Meyer did not immediately respond to request for comment.) Arnold also noted that "chickens are raised in chicken houses, but with more space per bird than conventionally raised chicken [in factory farms.]"
3. Are most Chipotle ingredients locally sourced?
This clever billboard implies that if Chipotle were to talk about all of its "locally sourced" ingredients, it wouldn't fit on a snappy advertisement (again, "natural" has no federally regulated definition and can mean virtually anything). Chipotle's definition for "locally sourced" means that an ingredient was grown no more than 350 miles from a restaurant—which is 50 miles closer than the USDA recommendation—a worthy goal. But right now, the only locally sourced ingredients at Chipotle are onions, avocados, peppers, tomatoes, jalapenos, and cilantro—all of which are mixed with nonlocal items to produce the items you see on the menu. And all of which could probably fit on a billboard, with plenty of room. Arnold says using "local" in its advertisements is not misleading, because "when we advertise programs like this (whether our local produce program or our naturally raised meat program), we do it only when those things are available. Unfortunately, we can't get local produce year-round." He does note that Chipotle will have used more than 15 million pounds of local produce this year.
4. Does Chipotle ever use animals that are given antibiotics ?
Factory farms use antibiotics on animals to promote growth, even in the face of terrible health conditions. The resulting "superbugs" can even have harmful effects on humans—for example, women have started getting urinary tract infections that are resistant to antibiotics, a problem that is being attributed to chicken factory farming. Steve Ells, Chipotle founder, chairman and co-CEO, said in an August statement, "We decided to start serving meat from animals that have never been given antibiotics or added hormones more than a decade ago…And we continue to be committed to the elimination of antibiotics that are used to promote growth in livestock being raised in confinement operations." Right now, Chipotle allows animals that are sick to be given antibiotics, but they are not permitted to return to Chipotle's supply and are instead sold as conventional meat. Ells said the company is "willing to consider" allowing animals to rejoin after they've been treated with antibiotics. Only about 80 percent of Chipotle beef is raised without antibiotics (or growth hormones) because of supply shortages—the rest is sourced from conventional farms, although Chipotle tries to notify customers when that is the case.
5. Is most Chipotle food organic?
Chipotle regularly brags about its organic cilantro, its cotton products, and how it's doing more than the rest of the industry to promote organic food. And that may be true—but organic pickings at Chipotle are still slim. (Chipotle's Arnold says, "Twitter is somewhat limited for communications like that because of the 140-character limit, but I don’t think they ever imply that our food is 'organic.'") According to the Chipotle website, the only organic items—unlike the word "natural," organic has a strict USDA definition—are beans, oregano, avocado, and cilantro, and potentially jalapenos and rice. And judging by Chipotle's Twitter account, Chipotle isn't revealing on its website that ingredients, like beans, labeled "organic" are not entirely organic. (Arnold argues, "We are quite careful in labeling these things so our customers know what we have and where.")
So if you're headed off to lunch after reading this article, and you want to eat organic, avoid GMOs, and get food that's locally sourced—your best best is to go to a grocery store, read the labels very carefully, and make a sandwich. But if that's not an option, you're far better off going to Chipotle than McDonald's, where if you order a burger—literally just a bun, meat, and Big Mac sauce—you're eating more than 60 ingredients. Good luck, America.
Kenyan soldiers and policemen prepare for the next operation near Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi.
Update: Tuesday, September 24, 1:30 PM EST. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta says security forces have ousted the terrorists from the mall after four days of fighting, killing five terrorists and taking 11 into custody. He also said that three floors of the mall collapsed this morning, trapping people in the rubble, and bringing the death toll to at least 72, according to the Associated Press.
On Saturday, a popular mall in Nairobi, Kenya, turned into a bloody battleground when a Somali terrorist group seized hostages and killed more than 60 people. As Kenyan troops continue to fight the gunmen and shaken locals attempt to make sense of Kenya's worst terrorist attack since 1998, Republican lawmakers are insisting the attack is proof that Al Qaeda is growing stronger, contrary to what the Obama administration's contends. Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) went so far as to argue that the Nairobi assault shows that Al Qaeda is still "extremely powerful." But is al-Shabaab—the Al Qaeda-affiliated group claiming responsibility for the attacks on the upscale Westgate Mall—as dangerous as the GOP claims? Here's everything you need to know about the group, its strength, and its motives:
What is al-Shabaab, and what is its relationship with Al Qaeda? Al-Shabaab, also known as "The Youth," is a designated foreign terrorist group based in Somalia that has been publicly affiliated with Al Qaeda since 2012, according to the US State Department. The group told Al Jazeera on Monday that it considers Al Qaeda a partner in the Nairobi attack and is taking orders directly from their leadership. It's widely believed that the group's senior leaders trained with Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan in the late 1990s and received funding from Osama bin Laden. Al-Shabaab was originally the military workhorse for a political group called the Islamic Courts Union, which in 2006 seized control of most of southern Somalia before the organization was swiftly ousted by Ethiopian troops backing Somalia's then-transitional federal government. Most of the original ICU members headed to Somalia's neighboring countries, but al-Shabaab forces stayed in the south of Somalia, where they radicalized and instated Shariah law across the areas they controlled. Since then, they have been engaged in guerilla warfare against the Federal Government of Somalia, which took over from the transitional government in 2012 and is backed by an African peacekeeping alliance that includes Kenya and Ethiopia, plus the United Nations and the United States. The green areas on this Somalia map are currently under al-Shabaab control, according to the BBC:
Why did al-Shabaab attack a mall in Kenya? In October 2011, Kenya sent hundreds of troops into Somalia with the designated purpose of kicking out al-Shabaab. The Kenyan government had become concerned that Kenya could be a target for terrorism after al-Shabaab killed more than 70 civilians in Uganda in 2010. Kenyan forces bombed key al-Shabaab strongholds in Somalia, including a major airport, and cut off al-Shabaab's economic resources in the port city of Kismayo in 2012. The mall attack in Nairobi reportedly occurred because al-Shabaab wants Kenyan troops out of Somalia. Sheikh Abulaziz Abu Muscab, a spokesman for the terrorist group, told Al Jazeerathat the mall is "a place where Kenya's decision-makers go to relax and enjoy themselves [and] a place where there are Jewish and American shops. So we have to attack them."
What does al-Shabaab want? The different factions of al-Shabaab have splintered goals. However, the most vocal members are against the Somali government, any country that backs the Somali government (like Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya), Israel, Christians, and the West. In a 2007 statement, the group said it is "seeking to establish an Islamic state along the lines of the Taliban-ruled, by-the-law-of-Allah in the land of Somalia…[and] seeks to expand the jihad to Somalia's Christian neighbours, with the intent of driving the infidels out of the Horn of Africa, along the same lines as al-Qaeda has been striving to do under the slogan, 'expelling the infidels out of the Arabian Peninsula.'"
How big is al-Shabaab? Are there any Americans in it?! There are at least several thousand members of al-Shabaab, as well as a few hundred foreigners, according to NBC News. In 2011, US officials reported that at least 40 Muslim Americans—some of whom were recruited from the vibrant Somali American community in Minnesota—as well as 20 Canadians, were fighting for al-Shabaab. One of the terrorist group's top leaders, who was killed this summer, was a "rapping Jihadist" from Alabama named Omar Hammami. Al-Shabaab also claims that three of the gunmen who stormed the Nairobi mall over the weekend were Americans, but the FBI is still investigating.
Wait…Somalia? Are members of al-Shabaab the infamous Somali pirates?
Somali pirates. Not al-Shabaab.
No. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, there is no direct connection between al-Shabaab and the Somali pirates, who in the last eight years have hijacked boats from more than 100 countries, held at least 3,740 crewmembers hostage, and thwarted climate change research. In general, the pirates are primarily focused on money, not jihadist ideology. However, as al-Shabaab has become increasingly desperate for funding, it has entered into financial agreements with the pirates.
So where does the group get its money? In 2011, the United Nations reported that al-Shabaab was getting between $70-$100 million per year by collecting taxes from the areas it controls. Until 2012, for example, al-Shabaab ran the port city of Kismayo, and it made a bunch of money from a racketeering business that exploited the city's thriving coal industry. But after foreign forces kicked the group out of Somalia's capital and Kismayo, it lost much of this revenue. The BBC says that Eritrea is now the group's only ally in the region, although the country's government has denied sending arms to al-Shabaab. (Google: Where is Eritrea?) According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the group also gets funding from kidnapping operations and allied terrorist groups.
What damage has al-Shabaab done in Somalia? In the areas al-Shabaab controls, the government stones women who commit adultery, cuts off the limbs of people who steal, and forces young boys to fight in battle. Somalia is home to one of the world's most dire food crises, but al-Shabaab has "denied the existence of the famine, diverted water from poor villages, and kept food away from the people who need it most," according to The New Republic. The group has launched a wave of deadly suicide bombing attacks across Somalia over the last few years—including one earlier this month that killed 15 people in a crowded restaurant. The US State Department notes that al-Shabaab is responsible for the assassination of Somali peace activists, international aid workers, numerous civil society figures, and journalists.
When else has al-Shabaab launched terrorist attacks abroad? Outside of the attack in Nairobi, the group's biggest terrorist incident abroad occurred in 2010, when al-Shabaab mounted a coordinated wave of suicide bombs that killed more than 70 people in Uganda during the World Cup. Al-Shabaab has been blamed for attacking a bus station and a bar in Nairobi in 2011—injuring more than 20 people—and using grenades to kill at least six people in March at a Nairobi bus station, according to Reuters.
Is al-Shabaab a danger to the United States? The group's leader, Ahmed AbdiGodane, has threatened to attack the United States—but whether it can is debatable. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, told CBS's Face the Nation that Al Qaeda is "on the rise, as you can see from Nairobi." The American Enterprise Institute's Katherine Zimmerman testified that "any strategy to counter the Al Qaeda network must recognize the role of these local groups in strengthening the network."
But foreign policy experts point out that in many ways al-Shabaab is on the decline. The group has been pounded by the Kenyan and Ethiopian militaries and suffers from internal feuding. According to the Combating Terrorism Center at West, "the militant group has transformed from a Sharia-enforcing body to a weakened band of insurgents…It has ceased to be a viable political alternative to the Somali government." Slate notes that this could mean the group will start turning its focus to foreign targets, rather than attempting to govern a failed state. But for now, the Obama administration is not proposing any further US military action against the group (it's already doing drone strikes). "It's not a question of either direct action or playing a supporting role," National Security Council spokesman Jonathan Lalley told CBC. "Our approach has been to work to enable and support African partners."
It seems that not a week goes by without a friendly reminder from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the government has found a new way to spy on us. From allegedly cracking online encryption, to paying US tech companies to build backdoors in their security systems, to spying on international bank transactions—it's tempting to wonder whether there is any such thing as electronic privacy anymore. But in the last few months, Congress has introduced a spate of bills aimed at reining in the NSA's vast surveillance powers.
These pending bills seek to keep the NSA from sweeping up phone records en masse, take the rubber stamp away from the top-secret spy court that approves surveillance requests, and allow tech companies to tell the public more about the government requests they receive for user data, among other things. (At present, no lawmakers are actually trying to defund the NSA, although GOP Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan gave it a good shot.) Here's a guide to 12 pending bills that target US government spying (collected with help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation).