Saturday, November 22, 2014

How to get rich - cheat your clients

Banks Fined Billions for Rigging Currency Markets
LONDON — Nov 12, 2014, 7:20 PM ET

Traders with nicknames like the "Three Musketeers" and the "A-Team" plotted over Internet chat rooms to manipulate currency markets for years, profiting at the expense of clients — and then congratulating themselves for their brilliance — regulators said Wednesday, as they fined five banks $3.4 billion.

Using profanity-laced banter, the traders coordinated their financial positions in the multi-trillion dollar currency market, securing profits for those inside their circles. "YESsssssssssss," one of them wrote in a chat message. "Yeah baby" and "nice work gents....I don my hat," wrote others, according to documents of their exchanges.

Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC Bank and UBS agreed to settlements totaling almost $3.4 billion with the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, U.K. Financial Conduct Authority and Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority. The British regulator said Barclays remains under investigation.


Manipulation of the exchange rates has "a profound effect on the economy," CFTC Enforcement Director Aitan Goelman said. That's because a host of financial investments bought and sold by major investors like pension funds are based on benchmark rates for pairs of currencies that are fixed daily by the banks.


In one example, RBS had net client orders to sell British pounds for dollars. This meant the bank would profit if it were able to push the price of pounds lower. An RBS trader used an online chat room to share information with traders at three other firms, allowing him to increase RBS's net sell orders to 399 million pounds from 202 million pounds and to push the price on the spot market as low as $1.6213 from $1.6276. The fix was eventually set at $1.6218.

As a result, RBS made a profit of $615,000.


Toddlers Copy Their Peers to Fit In, but Apes Don’t

October 30, 2014

From the playground to the board room, people often follow, or conform, to the behavior of those around them as a way of fitting in. New research shows that this behavioral conformity appears early in human children, but isn’t evidenced by apes like chimpanzees and orangutans.

“Conformity is a very basic feature of human sociality. It retains in- and out-groups, it helps groups coordinate and it stabilizes cultural diversity, one of the hallmark characteristics of the human species,” says psychological scientist and lead researcher Daniel Haun of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the University of Jena.

“This does not mean that conforming is the right thing to do under all circumstances — conformity can be good or bad, helpful or unhelpful, appropriate or inappropriate both for individuals and the groups they live in. But the fact is that we conform often and that human sociality would look very differently without it,” Haun explains. “Our research shows that children as young as 2 years of age conform to others, while chimpanzees and orangutans instead prefer to stick with what they know.”

The research, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, is novel in that it provides a direct comparison between apes and humans indicating that the tendency to abandon one’s own preferences just in to fit in appears to be particularly pronounced in humans.

In previous research, Haun and colleagues had found that both human children and chimpanzees rely on the majority opinion when they are trying to learn something new, which makes sense if the group has knowledge that the individual doesn’t. But other research has shown that human adults sometimes follow the majority even when they already have the relevant knowledge, just so that they don’t stand out from the group.

To find out whether very young children and apes would also show this so-called “normative” conformity, Haun and co-authors Michael Tomasello and Yvonne Rekers presented 18 2-year-old children, 12 chimpanzees, and 12 orangutans with a similar reward-based task.


The results revealed that children were more likely to adjust their behavior to match that of their peers than were the apes. Whereas the human children conformed more than half of the time, the apes and orangutans almost always ignored their peers, opting instead to stick with the original strategy they had learned.

A second study with a group of 72 2-year-olds showed that children tended to switch their choice more when they made the choice in front of their peers than when they made the choice privately.

Interestingly, the number of peers didn’t seem to make a difference in whether children conformed — children were equally likely to switch their choice whether it was demonstrated by one peer or by three peers.


Oklahoma Ignores Link Between Record Number of Earthquakes and Fracking Wastewater Disposal Wells

Oklahomans voted Republican a few weeks ago. Only to be expected that the profits of the rich are considered more important than the health of everybody else.

Julie Dermansky
Nov. 19, 2014

As Oklahoma continues to experience more earthquakes than California this year, residents are questioning why regulators haven’t taken any meaningful action to guard against increased seismic activity.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says that wastewater injection into deep geologic formations, a part of the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, is a likely contributing factor to this increase in quakes. The phenomenon, known as “injection-induced seismicity,” has been documented for nearly half a century, according to the USGS.

“The rate of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased remarkably since October 2013 — by about 50 per cent — significantly increasing the chance for a damaging magnitude 5.5 or greater quake in central Oklahoma,” says the USGS report.

Angela Spotts is one of many Oklahoma residents who is wondering why no meaningful action has been taken to safeguard residents.

“It is kind of like an assault. You feel like you are being sacrificed for this gold they are pulling out of the ground. And you start meeting people that are getting sick,” Spotts, a member of Stop Fracking Payne County, told DeSmogBlog. “It is the tobacco industry all over again.”

When oil and gas companies use a method called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” they blast a high-pressure chemical concoction underground to break apart rock to release oil and gas. This process results in high volumes of toxic wastewater that is disposed of by injecting it at high pressures deep under ground into what are known as wastewater injection wells. These disposal wells can lubricate subterranean faults, causing earthquakes.

There have been more than 400 magnitude 3.0 or greater earthquakes in Oklahoma this year, coinciding with a fracking boom in Central and Northern Oklahoma, and across the state line in southern Kansas. Stop Fracking Payne County counts 480 earthquakes over magnitude 3.0 as of today. The group's figures are derived by following Oklahoma's USGS site.

“This isn’t new science,” Oklahoma State University geology professor Todd Halihan told DeSmogBlog.

What is new is how we deal with science that is coupled with uncertainty, he says. Though scientists can link injection well use to earthquakes, linking a specific well to a specific quake is not possible.


Drinking age laws have a significant effect on collisions among young drivers

Nov. 19, 2014

Minimum legal drinking age legislation in Canada can have a major impact on young drivers, according to a new study from the Northern Medical Program at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC). Drivers just older than the legal age had a significant increase in motor vehicle crashes compared to those immediately under the restriction.


Don't get hacked! New study shows people ignore online warnings

Say you ignored one of those “this website is not trusted” warnings and it led to your computer being hacked. How would you react? Would you:

A. Quickly shut down your computer?

B. Yank out the cables?

C. Scream in cyber terror?

For a group of college students participating in a research experiment, all of the above were true. These gut reactions (and more) happened when a trio of Brigham Young University researchers simulated hacking into study participants’ personal laptops.


Fortunately for the students, nothing bad had really happened. What they saw—a message from an “Algerian hacker” with a laughing skull and crossbones, a 10-second countdown timer and the words “Say goodbye to your computer”—wasn’t real. What was real was that all of the participants got the message by ignoring web security warnings.

Vance and BYU colleagues Bonnie Anderson and Brock Kirwan carried out the experiment to better understand how people deal with online security risks, such as malware. They found that people say they care about keeping their computers secure, but behave otherwise—in this case, they plowed through malware warnings.

“We see these messages so much that we stop thinking about them,” Vance said. “In a sense, we don’t even see them anymore, and so we often ignore them and proceed anyway.”


You're your own worst enemy when it comes to online security

Say you ignored one of those “this website is not trusted” warnings and it led to your computer being hacked. How would you react? Would you:

A. Quickly shut down your computer?

B. Yank out the cables?

C. Scream in cyber terror?

For a group of college students participating in a research experiment, all of the above were true. These gut reactions (and more) happened when a trio of Brigham Young University researchers simulated hacking into study participants’ personal laptops.

“A lot of them freaked out—you could hear them audibly make noises from our observation rooms,” said Anthony Vance, assistant professor of Information Systems. “Several rushed in to say something bad had happened.”

Fortunately for the students, nothing bad had really happened. What they saw—a message from an “Algerian hacker” with a laughing skull and crossbones, a 10-second countdown timer and the words “Say goodbye to your computer”—wasn’t real. What was real was that all of the participants got the message by ignoring web security warnings.

Vance and BYU colleagues Bonnie Anderson and Brock Kirwan carried out the experiment to better understand how people deal with online security risks, such as malware. They found that people say they care about keeping their computers secure, but behave otherwise—in this case, they plowed through malware warnings.

“We see these messages so much that we stop thinking about them,” Vance said. “In a sense, we don’t even see them anymore, and so we often ignore them and proceed anyway.”

For the study, researchers first asked participants how they felt about online security. Then, in a seemingly unrelated task, participants were told to use their own laptops to log on to a website to categorize pictures of Batman as animated or photographed. (Students were told their image classification project was being used to check the accuracy of a computer algorithm to do the same task.)

As participants clicked through the image pages, warning signs would randomly pop up indicating malware issues with the site they were accessing. If they ignored the message enough times, they were “hacked.”

“A lot of people don’t realize that they are the weakest link in their computer security,” said Kirwan, assistant professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at BYU. “The operating systems we use have a lot of built-in security and the way for a hacker to get control of your computer is to get you to do something.”

Kirwan’s role in the research added another fascinating layer: Using his expertise in neuroscience, Kirwan carried out an additional experiment on subjects using EEG machines to measure brain responses to risk.

While results showed that people say they care about web security but behave like they don’t; they do behave in-line with what their brains say. In other words, people’s brainwaves better predict how risky they are with online security.


Permanent stress can cause mental disorders

The team focused mainly on a certain type of phagocytes, namely microglia. Under normal circumstances, they repair synapses between nerves cells in the brain and stimulate their growth. Once activated, however, microglia may damage nerve cells and trigger inflammation processes. The studies carried out in Bochum have shown that the more frequently microglia get triggered due to stress, the more they are inclined to remain in the destructive mode – a risk factor for mental diseases such as schizophrenia.

Not every individual who is under permanent stress will develop a mental disorder. Prof Juckel’s team suspects the cause to go back to the embryonic stage. US researchers demonstrated as far back as the 1950s that children born of mothers who contracted true viral influenza during pregnancy were seven times as likely to suffer schizophrenia later in life. The researchers from Bochum confirmed this hypothesis in animal models. Now, they a striving to research into the mechanism that makes people susceptible to this disease. “The embryo undergoes some kind of immune response which has far-reaching consequences and presumably shapes the future immune system,” says Dr Astrid Friebe from the LWL clinic.


Self-regulation intervention boosts school readiness of at-risk children, study shows


CORVALLIS, Ore. – An intervention that uses music and games to help preschoolers learn self-regulation skills is helping prepare at-risk children for kindergarten, a new study from Oregon State University shows.

Self-regulation skills – the skills that help children pay attention, follow directions, stay on task and persist through difficulty – are critical to a child’s success in kindergarten and beyond, said OSU’s Megan McClelland, a nationally recognized expert in child development and a co-author of the new study.

“Most children do just fine in the transition to kindergarten, but 20 to 25 percent of them experience difficulties – t hose difficulties have a lot to do with self-regulation,” McClelland said. “Any intervention you can develop to make that transition easier can be beneficial.”

The results of the new study are notable because positive effects of an intervention, especially one that aims to improve self-regulation and academic achievement, can be difficult for researchers to find, said McClelland, the Katherine E. Smith Healthy Children and Families Professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.


That indicates that children were more likely to integrate the self-regulation skills they’ve learned into their everyday lives, McClelland said. It also supports previous research finding strong links between self-regulation and math skills.


Study finds that rejecting unsuitable suitors is easier said than done

by Jessica Lewis — Friday, Nov 21, 2014

You’re at a slumber party with your friends. One friend asks “if a guy at school asked you out, but you weren’t really attracted to him, would you go?” You laugh and shake your head no: “Why would I, if he’s not my type?”

Or imagine you’re at school, sitting in the cafeteria. A guy who you think is attractive but who has some unsuitable personality traits comes up and asks you out. You say yes, even though what you really meant to say was no. “Why did I do that?” you wonder.

According to new research from the University of Toronto and Yale University, rejecting unsuitable romantic partners is easy in hypothetical situations, but not so when considering a face-to-face proposition.

“When actually faced with a potential date, we don't like to reject a person and make them feel bad, which is not necessarily something that people anticipate when they imagine making these choices,” says the study’s lead researcher, psychology PhD candidate Samantha Joel. “The fact that we underestimate how concerned we’ll feel about hurting the other person’s feelings may help to explain why people's dating decisions often don't match up with their stated dating preferences.”


October 2014: Earth's Third Consecutive Warmest Month on Record

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 12:42 PM GMT on November 21, 2014

October 2014 was the warmest October on record, and the year-to-date-period January - October was Earth's warmest such period since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) on Thursday. NOAA also rated the past 12 months--November 2013 through October 2014--as the warmest consecutive 12-month period among all months since records began in 1880. "It is becoming pretty clear that 2014 will end up as the warmest year on record," said Deke Arndt, climate monitoring chief for NCDC in an interview with Associated Press. NASA also rated October 2014 as the warmest October on record, tied with 2005. October is the fifth month of 2014 ranked by NOAA as the warmest on record; May, June, August and September 2014 were also the warmest such months on record, and April 2014 was the second warmest April on record. Global ocean temperatures during October 2014 were the warmest on record. This marks the sixth month in a row (beginning in May 2014) that the global ocean temperature broke its monthly temperature record. Global land temperatures in October 2014 were the 5th warmest on record.


Remarkably, the record-warm global sea surface temperatures over the past six months have occurred in the absence of El Niño, a large-scale warming of the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean that historically has been present whenever record global ocean temperatures have occurred.


Arctic sea ice extent during October 2014 was the 6th lowest in the 36-year satellite record and was similar to October 2013 levels, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).


Earth's temperature so far in 2014 has been the warmest ever recorded. This comes despite the absence of an El Niño event, which is usually required in order for a new temperature record to be set. If NOAA's predicted 58% chance of an El Niño event this winter verifies, we could easily have two consecutive warmest years on record--2014 and 2015. Opponents of climate action have pushed the idea that Earth's climate has not warmed since 1998, but that is false assertion that uses a cherry-picked year in an attempt to confuse people about the long-term climate warming that is occurring. Earth's climate is warming, and based on the evidence, more than 97% of climate scientists have concluded that humans are responsible. Climate change is already causing significant impacts to people and ecosystems, and these impacts will grow much more severe in the coming years. We can choose to take economically sensible steps to lessen the damage of climate change, and the cost of inaction is much higher than the cost of action.


The Pandora Effect On Music Sales

A study by Pandora earlier this year has found that the more a song is streamed on the service, the more actual sales it will generate. If that's the case, it turns out that Pandora is a radio-like service in more ways than one, as radio plays have always lead to sales as well.

The study, which was outlined in a Billboard article, found that the average positive effect resulted in a 2.31% increase in music sales for new music, and 2.66% for catalog in something they called "track equivalent albums," which is a metric that counts 10 tracks as an album.

This ratio really changed between music released by major and indie labels. New music from the major labels played on Pandora resulted in a 2.82% positive effect, but only 0.62% for indies, who fared much better on catalog at 3.85% compared to the major's 2.36%.


Algorithms Are Great and All, But They Can Also Ruin Lives

I recommend reading the whole article at the following link. This could happen to any of us.

By Luke Dormehl
Nov. 19, 2014

On April 5, 2011, 41-year-old John Gass received a letter from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. The letter informed Gass that his driver’s license had been revoked and that he should stop driving, effective immediately. The only problem was that, as a conscientious driver who had not received so much as a traffic violation in years, Gass had no idea why it had been sent.

After several frantic phone calls, followed up by a hearing with Registry officials, he learned the reason: his image had been automatically flagged by a facial-recognition algorithm designed to scan through a database of millions of state driver’s licenses looking for potential criminal false identities. The algorithm had determined that Gass looked sufficiently like another Massachusetts driver that foul play was likely involved—and the automated letter from the Registry of Motor Vehicles was the end result.

The RMV itself was unsympathetic, claiming that it was the accused individual’s “burden” to clear his or her name in the event of any mistakes, and arguing that the pros of protecting the public far outweighed the inconvenience to the wrongly targeted few.

John Gass is hardly alone in being a victim of algorithms gone awry. In 2007, a glitch in the California Department of Health Services’ new automated computer system terminated the benefits of thousands of low-income seniors and people with disabilities. Without their premiums paid, Medicare canceled those citizens’ health care coverage.

Where the previous system had notified people considered no longer eligible for benefits by sending them a letter through the mail, the replacement CalWIN software was designed to cut them off without notice, unless they manually logged in and prevented this from happening. As a result, a large number of those whose premiums were discontinued did not realize what had happened until they started receiving expensive medical bills through the mail.


Similar faults have seen voters expunged from electoral rolls without notice, small businesses labeled as ineligible for government contracts, and individuals mistakenly identified as “deadbeat” parents.


Equally alarming is the possibility that an algorithm may falsely profile an individual as a terrorist: a fate that befalls roughly 1,500 unlucky airline travelers each week. Those fingered in the past as the result of data-matching errors include former Army majors, a four-year-old boy, and an American Airlines pilot—who was detained 80 times over the course of a single year.

Many of these problems are the result of the new roles algorithms play in law enforcement. As slashed budgets lead to increased staff cuts, automated systems have moved from simple administrative tools to become primary decision-makers.
In a number of cases, the problem is about more than simply finding the right algorithm for the job, but about the problematic nature of believing that any and all tasks can be automated to begin with.


7 Solutions to Climate Change Happening Now

November 17, 2014 |By David Biello

A man who once flew all the way to Copenhagen from Washington, D.C., just to tell journalists that climate change wasn't that big a deal is likely now to return to lead (or at least strongly influence) the environment committee of the U.S. Senate. As Sen. James Inhofe (R–Okla.) said at that time, in December 2009, he came to Copenhagen to "make sure that nobody is laboring under the misconception that the U.S. Senate is going to do something" about climate change. His thinking likely will not change by 2015; in fact, Inhofe has already decried the new U.S.–China climate agreement as a "nonbinding charade."

Even though the U.S. is responsible for the largest share of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the country will not be able to take national legislative action on climate change anytime soon. Despite a president who avers that "those who are already feeling the effects of climate change don't have time to deny it —they're busy dealing with it," the U.S. Congress seems content to let climate change languish as a priority.


But, believe it or not, action on climate change is taking place in the U.S. “We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society," Pres. Barack Obama noted back in June 2013. So his administration has moved forward without Congress as a result, through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan and the new agreement to reduce pollution with China.

Here are seven solutions to global warming that are advancing and gathering steam in the U.S.—and around the world.

1. Clean Power Plants •••

2. Local Action •••

3. Control of Methane Leaks •••

4. Tougher Emissions and Efficiency Standards •••

5. Greener Farming •••

6. Private Sector Action ••• It's the fact that—outside of coal companies, a few coal-burning utilities and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—it's hard to find businesses that do not accept the science on global warming or have plans to deal with it. •••

7. New Kinds of Geopolitical Consensus •••

House Benghazi Report Finds Evidence Doesn't Back Rumors

Nov. 21, 2014

The Republican-led House Select Committee on Intelligence on Friday released its report on the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and it found that the military and the Central Intelligence Agency responded appropriately during the attacks.

The investigation, which took nearly two years and thousands of hours of work, found the CIA had "ensured sufficient security" and "bravely assisted" on the night of attacks that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The panel also found no intelligence failure prior to the attacks.

The committee said it found no evidence that the military was ordered to "stand down" during the attacks in Benghazi, as some had claimed, and that "appropriate U.S. personnel made reasonable tactical decisions that night." It also found no evidence of similar claims that the CIA was involved in arms shipments or other unauthorized activities.

The report did say that the initial narrative by the White House that the attack stemmed from a protest was not accurate, but it blamed that on contradictory intelligence assessments in the attack’s aftermath rather than an effort to obscure the truth. The committee said it found "no evidence that any officer present during the attacks was intimidated" to prevent them from addressing Congress or revealing what they witnessed.

Record North Pacific temperatures threatening B.C. marine species

B.C. : British Columbia, Canada
CBS : Canadian Broadcasting Company

CBC News Posted: Nov 21

The North Pacific Ocean is setting record high temperatures this year and raising concerns about the potential impact on cold water marine species along the B.C. coast, including salmon.

Ocean surface temperatures around the world this year reached the highest temperature ever recorded, due in large part to the normally chilly North Pacific, which was three to four degrees above average — far beyond any recorded value.

Bill Peterson, an oceanographer with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the warmth along the North Pacific coast is very unusual.

"We've never seen this before. It's beyond anyone's experience and this is why it's puzzling," he said.

To further complicate the picture, Peterson says an El Niño warm water ocean current should arrive in about a month.

"We'll have what we call a double whammy," he said. "It's already very warm up north, up here. If we get an extra push of super warm water from the tropics, we could possibly have a big disaster on our hands, ecologically speaking."


Meet the Fortune 500 Companies Funding the Political Resegregation of America

By Andy Kroll | Fri Nov. 21, 2014

Over the past four to five years, the United States has been resegregated—politically. In states where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans and presidential races can be nail-biters, skillful Republican operatives have mounted racially-minded gerrymandering efforts—the redrawing of congressional and state legislative districts—that have led to congressional delegations stacked with GOP members and yielded Republican majorities in the state legislatures.

In North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, to name just three, GOPers have recast state and congressional districts to consolidate black voters into what the political pros call "majority-minority districts" to diminish the influence of these voters. North Carolina is an especially glaring example: GOP-redistricting after the 2010 elections led to half the state's black population—1.1 million people—being corralled into one-fifth of the state legislative and congressional districts. "The districts here take us back to a day of segregation that most of us thought we'd moved away from," State Sen. Dan Blue Jr., who was previously North Carolina's first black House speaker, told the Nation in 2012.

A major driving force behind this political resegregation is the Republican State Leadership Committee, a deep-pocketed yet under-the-radar group that calls itself the "lead Republican redistricting organization." The RSLC is funded largely by Fortune 500 corporations, including Reynolds American, Las Vegas Sands, Walmart, Devon Energy, Citigroup, AT&T, Pfizer, Altria Group, Honeywell International, Hewlett-Packard. Other heavyweight donors not on the Fortune 500 list include Koch Industries, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the US Chamber of Commerce. At the same time these big-name firms underwrite the RSLC's efforts to dilute the power of black voters, many of them preach the values of diversity and inclusion on their websites and in corporate reports.

Here is a partial list of RSLC donors—how much they donated to the group in the past four years

Altria Group $2,682,350
AT&T $922,993
Blue Cross/Blue Shield $4,655,322
Citigroup $764,328
Comcast $598,053
Devon Energy $1,450,000
Reynolds American $3,419,781
US Chamber of Commerce $9,077,760
Walmart $979,429

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hottest October And Year To Date On Record Globally, NOAA Reports

by Joe Romm Posted on November 20, 2014

It has been the warmest January-October on record and last month was the hottest October on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported Thursday.

And while you wouldn’t know it from the cold temperatures in large parts of this country, NOAA’s “State of the Climate: Global Analysis,” projects that 2014 is almost certainly going to be the hottest year on record worldwide — probably by far.

As the map shows, the oceans were especially warm. NOAA explains that ocean warming continues to blow records out of the water:

The global oceans were the warmest on record for October, with a temperature that averaged 0.62°C (1.12°F) higher than the 20th century average. This marks the sixth month in a row (beginning in May 2014) that the global ocean temperature broke its monthly temperature record.


A key point, as NOAA notes, is that of the record warm years depicted on that chart, “The years 2013 and 2014 are the only years on this list not to begin during a mature El Niño event.” It’s usually the combination of the long-term manmade warming trend and the regional El Niño warming pattern that leads to new global temperature records.

Having the hottest October, and hottest January-to-October, and probably the hottest year on record — even though we’re still waiting for the start of El Niño — reveals just how strong the underlying trend of human-caused warming is.


Bronx Man Jailed for 18 Years Despite 13 Alibi Witnesses

Unfortunately, not a unique situation. Some years ago a man was African-American man was convicted despite his Caucasian boss & co-workers testifying he was at work at the time of the crime (I think murder). Later, another it was proven that another man had committed the crime.

By Dan Slepian
Nov. 21, 2014

Richard Rosario sat down in the visiting room of an upstate New York prison and began to recount the same story he’s been telling since a summer evening nearly two decades ago.

“I turned myself in when I heard police were looking for me,” says Rosario, now 39. “I gave detectives everything they needed that first night to prove my innocence. They never investigated any of it.”

Rosario is now serving the 18th year of a 25-to-life sentence for a 1996 Bronx murder, even though he insists he was 1,000 miles away in Florida on the day of the crime -- and at least 13 alibi witnesses swear Rosario is telling the truth. Among the witnesses who can vouch for him are a sheriff’s deputy, a pastor, and a federal correctional officer.


While in Florida, he explained, he’d been staying with his friend John Torres and John’s wife Jeannine, who was pregnant. In fact, said Rosario, he was with them on June 19 when Jeannine went into labor. He’d celebrated with the couple and their friends the next day when the baby was born. If true, there was no way he could have pulled a trigger in the South Bronx on June 19. More than a dozen people could confirm his story.


Detectives, however, did not follow up with any of the alibi witnesses. With no evidence other than two stranger eyewitness identifications linking him to the murder, Rosario -- the 21-year-old father of a two- year-old boy and a four-year-old girl -- was arrested for murder.


After his arrest for murder, Rosario was sent to Riker’s Island, New York City’s mammoth detention center, to await trial. He met with his first court-appointed attorney while at Riker’s and begged for someone to speak with his alibi witnesses in Florida. The attorney asked a judge for money to send an investigator to Florida, and the request was granted.

But the lawyer never sent an investigator to Florida, and soon handed over the case to another lawyer. Due to an apparent miscommunication between the attorneys, the new lawyer believed that the judge had denied the request to pay for an investigator.

Either way, no investigator was sent to Florida, and the witnesses were never interviewed. Even so, two alibi witnesses -- John Torres and his wife Jeannine – did testify at Rosario's 1998 trial, saying Rosario had been in their home on the day of the murder, and that they remembered the day well because of the birth of their first child the next day. But the prosecution convinced the jury that those witnesses were not credible because they were Rosario's close friends. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life.


Reporters from NBC’s “Dateline” recently tracked down nine of the alibi witnesses that Rosario named the night he turned himself in. All of those reached said they had never been contacted by anyone from the NYPD or the Bronx District Attorney’s office, which has also been confirmed in court documents.

Today, John Torres is a sheriff’s deputy in Florida. In an interview with “Dateline,” he said “if it was just a random date, I wouldn’t be able to know. My son was born on the 20th of June. I am 100 percent sure Richard was in my living room when my wife went into labor the day before, on June 19th. He was staying in my house.”


Mike Serrano, a federal correctional officer, says he also remembers seeing Rosario at the Torres home when the baby came.

Dateline also tracked down retired NYPD detective Irwin Silverman, the officer who interviewed Rosario the night of his arrest in New York and took his statement detailing the 13 alibi witnesses. Silverman was not the lead detective and retired just a few months after the interview. Silverman told “Dateline”’s Lester Holt that he had no idea no one from the NYPD or Bronx DA’s office ever followed up with the alibi witnesses, and called it “disgraceful.”


But Rosario’s new lawyers at the Exoneration Initiative say they have now found new information that no judge or jury ever heard: a police report, which had been redacted 18 years ago at trial, in which the main eyewitness told someone he actually had not seen the shooter's face.


Canadian couple will be charged nearly $1 million in medical bills because they gave birth in the U.S.

They would not have had this problem in Canada, which has universal health coverage.

Joanna Rothkopf
Nov. 19, 2014

Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel, a Saskatchewan resident and Canadian citizen, was six months pregnant when she and her husband, Darren, decided to travel to Hawaii on vacation. She checked with her doctor, who said it would be fine to take the trip, and bought travel insurance just in case. When her water broke and she had to be airlifted to a Honolulu hospital, she should have been able to take advantage of her six weeks of mandatory bed rest, reassured that she had taken the right steps to ensure proper healthcare coverage. Right?


After about a week in the hospital, Blue Cross contacted the couple to let them know that their coverage had been denied because of a preexisting condition — a bladder infection that had not threatened the pregnancy. The insurance company maintained its stance, despite the company receiving a letter from Huculak-Kimmel’s Canadian doctor ensuring them that the pregnancy was not high-risk. They would be responsible for the hospital bill, which, due to the baby’s premature birth and critical condition (the baby had to stay in a neonatal intensive care unit, which cost more than $10,000 per day) had risen to $950,000.


Now, the couple, along with their healthy 10-month-old baby, Reece, are at a devastating crossroads. “We don’t know what to do,” said Huculak-Kimmel. “We can’t afford to pay a million-dollar medical bill. We can go deeper into debt and try to fight Blue Cross. We can wait and declare bankruptcy on the bill, which is no good for anybody. But we don’t have very many options.”


Health care in Canada is delivered through a publicly funded health care system, which is mostly free at the point of use and has most services provided by private entities.[2] It is guided by the provisions of the Canada Health Act of 1984.[3] The government assures the quality of care through federal standards. The government does not participate in day-to-day care or collect any information about an individual's health, which remains confidential between a person and his or her physician.[4] Canada's provincially based Medicare systems are cost-effective partly because of their administrative simplicity. In each province, each doctor handles the insurance claim against the provincial insurer. There is no need for the person who accesses health care to be involved in billing and reclaim. Private health expenditure accounts for 30% of health care financing.[5] The Canada Health Act does not cover prescription drugs, home care or long-term care, prescription glasses or dental care, which means most Canadians pay out-of-pocket for these services or rely on private insurance.[4] Provinces provide partial coverage for some of these items for vulnerable populations (children, those living in poverty and seniors)

Most Muslim Americans See No Justification for Violence

August 2, 2011

Muslim Americans are the staunchest opponents of military attacks on civilians, compared with members of other major religious groups Gallup has studied in the United States. Seventy-eight percent of Muslim Americans say military attacks on civilians are never justified.

In sharp contrast with Americans who identify themselves with other faith groups, Muslim Americans are more likely to say military attacks on civilians are never justified (78%) than sometimes justified (21%). Respondents from other faith groups, particularly Mormon Americans, are more likely to say military attacks are sometimes justified than never justified. The opinions of Americans who don't identify themselves with any religion are more in line with those of Muslim Americans, but they are also more divided.


In line with their high disapproval of the targeting and killing of civilians by individuals or small groups, 92% of Muslim Americans think that Muslims living in the U.S. do not sympathize with the al Qaeda terrorist organization.


18 Immigration Executive Orders Issued by Recent Republican Presidents

I'm not a fan of allowing huge amounts of immigration when so many people in our own country can't find a job, but I am a big fan of truth and fairness.

Jon Ponder | Nov 17, 2014

Republicans claim that that Pres. Obama’s plan to establish temporary legal status for undocumented immigrants by executive order is illegal. They have issued a series of threats against the president if he signs the order to stand up the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, including blocking the nomination of attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, shutting down the government again and/or impeaching him.

According to a detailed report from the American Immigration Council, however, presidents have routinely altered immigration policies by executive order, including 18 such changes by five recent Republican presidents — Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II. None of these presidents was threatened with political reprisal for signing the orders, of course.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Texas Chemical Plant Where 4 Died Cited for Dozens of Safety Violations

Republicans will be happy to see the lack of regulation there.

By Mike Brunker
Nov. 19, 2014

The Texas chemical plant where four workers died over the weekend after a leak of a toxic chemical used in insecticides has been cited dozens of times by state and federal regulators since 2007 -- the last time federal inspectors visited the plant.

The workers at the DuPont plant in La Porte, about 30 miles southeast of Houston, died early Saturday after an estimated 100 pounds of methyl mercaptan leaked because of a faulty valve, company representatives said. A fifth worker was hospitalized but is expected to recover, the company said.

Methyl mercaptan is a main component of the popular insecticide Lannate, and exposure to even small amounts of the chemical can be fatal.

State records show that the plant in La Porte has been cited for violating state law more than two dozen times by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since Sept. 1, 2009. Most of the violations appear to be relatively minor record-keeping and signage infractions, but on at least four occasions the plant was cited for failing to prevent hazardous emissions from spewing into the air.

One of those was a seven-hour, six-minute “event” on Oct. 14, 2009, when the plant emitted 3,700 pounds of methylene choride -– a “hazardous air pollutant” used in the manufacture of Lannate.

The Texas Tribune reported Monday that DuPont was initially fined about $10,300 for failing to prevent the release and for reporting the incident five days late. The company ultimately paid $8,269, with the rest deferred "upon timely and satisfactory compliance," records show.

Inspectors from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also cited the plant for four “serious” safety violations when they last inspected it on Jan. 25, 2007. The company was ultimately fined a total of $3,400 for two other violations of standards for safe management of highly hazardous chemicals. The other two violations were informally settled.

The plant is also out of compliance with hazardous waste management and air emissions standards from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to records reviewed by the Wall Street Journal. The agency brought formal enforcement actions against it for violations in 2012 and 2014, resulting in $117,375 in penalties, it said.


Poll results, what public wants

I'm posting this so we can look back and see how our well our new Congress does the will of the voters.

By Mark Murray

The recently concluded midterm elections cost billions of dollars, generated thousands of different headlines and resulted in Republicans winning control of the U.S. Senate.

But they didn’t change much else – especially the public’s attitudes about politics in Washington, D.C., according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Consider:

More than three-quarters of Americans say the election won’t substantially change the nation’s direction;
More say they have less confidence that elected leaders in Washington will start working together to solve problems;
And Americans are split almost evenly between positive (41 percent) and negative (39 percent) reactions to Republicans controlling both the House and Senate next year.


What should the next Congress do?

The NBC/WSJ poll also lists several actions the next Congress might take beginning in 2015. From most popular to least popular:

82 percent support Congress providing access to lower the costs of student loans;
75 percent support increasing spending on infrastructure, roads and highways;
65 percent support Congress raising the minimum wage;
60 percent support approving emergency funding to deal with Ebola in West Africa;
59 percent support addressing climate change by limiting carbon emissions;
54 percent support building the Keystone XL pipeline;
49 percent support eliminating most tax deductions in return for lower tax rates;
49 percent support authorizing the use of U.S. troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria;
44 percent support reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits for wealthier retirees;
44 percent support making new trade agreements with select Asian nations;
41 percent support cutting funding for the health-care law;
39 percent support creating legal status for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally;
34 percent support gradually raising Social Security’s retirement age to 69 by 2075.

The NBC/WSJ was conducted Nov. 14-17 of 1,000 adults, including 350 cell phone-only respondents and another 25 reached on a cell phone but who also have a landline. The poll’s overall margin of error is plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

Are Some Professions Less Honest Than Others? Bank On It, Researchers Find

Nov. 19, 2014

As banking scandals have mounted over the past decade, some critics have suggested that the industry simply harbors a dishonest culture. Now, three economists from the University of Zurich have tested the idea.

They found that bankers were about as honest as anyone else — until they were reminded that they were bankers.


The group that hadn’t been asked about their profession was largely honest, reporting a winning toss 51.6 percent of the time. The other group reported 58.2 percent winning tosses. The researchers calculated that 26 percent of the bankers in the latter group had cheated, compared with almost none of the first group.

To confirm their findings, the researchers performed the study again with people from other professions. Those people did not become more dishonest when asked about their work.

The findings, which were published in the journal Nature, suggest that bankers behave dishonestly only when they feel that is what is expected of them, said Alain Cohn, who is now with the University of Chicago. Perhaps, he said, banks should take a page from medicine and require their own version of the Hippocratic oath.

“It is very important to let employees know exactly what desired and undesired behaviors are,” he said in a conference call. “Then we could use a professional oath to activate these norms.”

Witness recants, freeing Ohio man after 39 years

Nov. 19, 2014

CLEVELAND (AP) — A man who spent nearly four decades in prison after being convicted of murder is expected to be freed Friday after a witness confessed he lied as a boy when he told jurors he saw the deadly attack.

Ricky Jackson had been seeking a new trial and sobbed loudly with his face in his hands as prosecutors dismissed his case Tuesday, The Plain Dealer ( ) reported.

"I can't believe this is over," Jackson, 57, said, thanking his supporters and his attorneys from the Ohio Innocence Project.

Jackson has been imprisoned for 39 years, serving a life sentence for aggravated murder and other charges, according to state prison records. He is expected to be released as soon as the paperwork is finished.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said the case fell apart after witness Eddie Vernon recanted. Vernon said he had been fed details of the crime by police and kept quiet about his lies because investigators had threatened to imprison his parents.

Vernon was 12 when he accused Jackson and two brothers in the May 1975 killing of a money-order collector who authorities said was beaten, shot and attacked with acid as he walked near a grocery store. No evidence connected the defendants to the crime, but all three were convicted by juries.

This week, Vernon told a judge he was trying to please others when he provided a false story based on information from a friend and police who fed him details, creating a web of lies that helped convict Jackson and the other men. He said he gave authorities the names of the three men because he thought he was doing the right thing.

"All the information was fed to me," said Vernon, who came forward to change his story after speaking with a pastor. "I don't have any knowledge about what happened at the scene of the crime."

He said he had been nearby on a bus when he heard two pops, but couldn't see what occurred. Others who were on the bus also testified that he wasn't in position to see the slaying.

Prosecutors had been skeptical of Vernon but acknowledged after the hearing that the case didn't hold up.

"You made the right choice," Judge Richard McMonagle told McGinty.

Attorneys for the two convicted brothers, Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman, also sought a new trial based on Vernon's information and are expected to ask prosecutors to drop that case, too, the newspaper reported.

Ronnie Bridgeman spent more than 25 years in prison, and his brother remains incarcerated.

Israel begins demolishing homes over attacks

How primitive. And counter-productive & stupid, showing a total lack of empathy. Do they think people who did not participate in the killings, but whose homes are destroyed, are going to feel more kindly to the Jewish state? Is that really how they would feel if the situation were reversed?

Israeli security forces have destroyed the East Jerusalem home of a Palestinian who carried out a suicide car attack in October that left two people dead, the military said, as pitched street battles raged in the aftermath of an attack on a synagogue in West Jerusalem that killed five Israelis.


Four families who lived in the building - including that of the attacker Abdel Rahman al-Shaludi, who was shot and killed shortly after the October assault - had to evacuate, said Al Jazeera's Dalia Hatuqa, reporting from East Jerusalem.

The whole neighbourhood was closed off by the Israeli police, she said.

Al Jazeera's Stefanie Dekker, reporting from outside the demolished house in East Jerusalem, said that people in area say that this is a form of "collective punishment" even though the man responsible has been dealt with, and that it is being seen as "a wider way to punish ... even the extended family".


Netanyahu has vowed to revive the controversial policy of home demolitions, which Israel halted in 2005 after determining it was not an effective deterrent for attacks.


Former Republican Committeemen Claim Election Judges Coerced Into Voting GOP

November 5, 2014
Pam Zekman, Pulitzer-prize winning reporter

A day after the election, officials are still counting ballots and the investigation into who made robocalls that allegedly persuaded many judges not to show up Tuesday is heating up.

Two former Republican committeemen are telling 2 Investigator Pam Zekman they were removed because they objected to those tactics.

Judges of election are appointed by their respective parties and they look at a judge’s primary voting records as part of the vetting process. But in these cases the former committeemen we talked to said that vetting crossed a line when judges were told who they had to vote for in the Tuesdays’ election.


“If you don’t vote Republican you will not be an Republican judge, which pays $170,” she said.

The Board of Elections is now investigating whether calls to judges assigned citywide resulted in a shortage that infuriated the mayor.

“What happened with the robocalls was intentional. As far as we can tell somebody got a list, a list with names and numbers, called them, not to educate, not to promote the democratic process, but to sew confusion,” Emanuel said.



That was the official closing time for all polling locations, but several places got off to a rough start. Polling locations for six precincts opened late, and stayed open until 8 p.m. to make up for the late start.


"One of the judges came out and said there are only two of them. Three of them did not show up. And then the one lady inside had a meltdown," Edward Sung said.


A number of city election judges received "intimidating" phone calls over the weekend that led some of them to quit the post, according to officials at the Chicago Board of Elections. More than 2,000 judges didn't show up on Tuesday, Jim Allen said.

"Sometimes all it takes is a call like that to convince them not to show up," Langdon Neal, Chicago Board of Elections chairman, said.

Neal said dozens of party-affiliated judges who help oversee polling places received calls instructing them to attend additional training sessions. The callers also told them to only vote for the party for which they serve as judges.

"We faced a problem with a malicious attempt yesterday, reaching out to our judges telling them (that) unless they served another three hour session at the training facility they could not serve today. Many of our judges resigned immediately," Neal said.

Neal says city officials sent an email to approximately 6,000 judges Sunday urging them to ignore the calls. He says judges who have already undergone training do not have to take part in more training. He emphasized that their votes are secret.

Allen said the calls came from one party, but that information would not be released on Election Day. Officials are seeking an investigation. [we now know it was Republicans that did this]


What are Judges of Election?

Judges of election are the officials who are responsible for the conduct of the election in the precinct polling place. The judges of election are the backbone of the electoral process. Their jobs are challenging, interesting and personally rewarding.

In each precinct, the judges share in responsibilities, duties and authorities that include:

(1) Opening the polling place and setting up voting equipment at 5 a.m. on Election Day;
(2) Conducting a fair, impartial and secure election in the precinct polling place, allowing voting from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
(3) Tabulating the vote totals for the precinct and transmitting the results to Election Central after the polls close at 7 p.m.

Band Aid makes a new single, 30 years later

By Mark Phillips November 18, 2014

LONDON - If it sounds familiar, it is. A collection of rock stars gathers to record a charity single in aid of another crisis in Africa.

It's Ebola this time. But this is an idea that goes back thirty-years. Back to the famine in Ethiopia that killed hundreds of thousands and that led to the first Band Aid charity appeal in 1984.

The man behind the original Band Aid is the man behind the latest one, former rocker turned rock-activist, Bob Geldof.

Play Video
Artists bring back classic charity song "Do They Know It's Christmas?"

"The only similarity between '84 and now is that it is the poorest, as ever, that are getting attacked," said Geldof. "And that makes me enraged."

But it has made others wonder whether charity music singles have lost their novelty appeal and their usefulness as money earners.


The new single shot to the top of the download site charts almost immediately after its release. But in the age of instant music, it may actually be harder now to raise the kind of money that's been raised in the past. The original Band Aid pulled in well over $10 million. But music's cheaper now.

"Originally, it was £3.50 to buy a single," said Geldof. "Now it's 99p."

About a buck-fifty-five. That's a lot of singles to make a difference.


Global Warming Is Probably Boosting Lake-Effect Snows

Since global warming has resulted in an increase of the amount of moisture in the air, resulting in an increase of extreme rain and snow falls, it would be surprising if it did not boost lake-effect snows.

By Eric Holthaus

In the aftermath of a massive lake-effect snowfall event in western New York state on Tuesday, it’s worth asking: Is climate change playing a role here? Because, I mean, come on. Seventy—seven zero—inches, people. And another huge round is forecast for Thursday, by the way. Buffalo deserves answers.

The short answer is: yes. Global warming is probably juicing lake-effect snows, and we’ve had the data to prove it for quite some time.

Here are the details:

Truly extreme lake-effect snows gather their energy from a wide temperature differential between the lake temperature and the air temperature. That temperature contrast produces atmospheric instability—the warm air immediately over the lake wants to surge upward through the colder air on top, bringing with it heaps of evaporated moisture. That moisture is quickly converted to snowfall in massive quantities, and deposited squarely on the hills and towns at the far end of the lake. As the Great Lakes warm due to climate change, there’s now more evaporation, and more of an opportunity for that drastic water-air temperature difference to manifest itself, especially during the kinds of intense cold air outbreaks that we’ve been seeing seemingly more of over the last few years.

In Tuesday’s storm, that difference approached a whopping 50 degrees Fahrenheit—with a pool of warmer-than-average water in Lake Erie joining forces with near-record-low temperatures in the lower part of the atmosphere.


Lake Erie is warming (along with the rest of the planet) by a steady but measurable amount. Since 1960 that trend has been about a half of a degree Fahrenheit per decade. More important than this, though, Lake Erie has been losing its ability to freeze over in the winter, with a decline of about one sub-freezing day per year in recent decades.

In places such as Syracuse (downwind of Lake Ontario) and Buffalo, for the time being, that’s translated into more total snow each year. But it won’t always be this way. Several decades from now, the warming part of global warming will catch up, and total snowfall should begin a permanent decline. But for now, extreme snowfall events are winning out.

During our lifetimes, that means big lake-effect snowfall events like Tuesday’s are becoming more common, at least as a fraction of total snowfall.


Earlier this year, New York state updated its assessment of statewide climate change impacts, essentially giving a forecast of the future of lake-effect snowfall in the state:

Annual ice cover has decreased 71 percent on the Great Lakes since 1973; models suggest this decrease will lead to increased lake-effect snow in the next couple of decades through greater moisture availability (Burnett et al. 2003). By mid-century, lake-effect snow will generally decrease as temperatures below freezing become less frequent (Kunkel et al. 2002). The high ice extent of the 2013-2014 winter highlights the fact that natural variability is expected to continue, even as long-term trends gradually shift the statistics in favor of low-ice winters.


Suffering from constipation? Self-acupressure can help

Eat more veggies. That will aid health in several ways.


Contact: Enrique Rivero
University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences
Suffering from constipation? Self-acupressure can help
UCLA Center for East-West Medicine research shows how Eastern and Western medicine can blend to find solutions to this common problem

About 19 percent of North Americans suffer from constipation, with the digestive condition being more common among women, non-whites, people older than 60, those who are not physically active and the poor.

The costs are significant. Hospital costs to treat the condition were estimated at $4.25 billion in 2010 alone. Constipation can also lead to depression, lower quality of life and a drop in work productivity. Treatments include use of laxatives, increased intake of dietary fiber and fluid, and exercise.

But new research from the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine shows how Eastern and Western medicine can blend to find solutions to this common medical problem. In a randomized clinical trial, 72 percent of participants said that perineal self-acupressure, a simple technique involving the application of external pressure to the perineum -- the area between the anus and genitals -- helped them have a bowel movement.


Many older brains have plasticity, but in a different place


Contact: David Orenstein
Brown University
Many older brains have plasticity, but in a different place

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] -- A widely presumed problem of aging is that the brain becomes less flexible -- less plastic -- and that learning may therefore become more difficult. A new study led by Brown University researchers contradicts that notion with a finding that plasticity did occur in seniors who learned a task well, but it occurred in a different part of the brain than in younger people.

When many older subjects learned a new visual task, the researchers found, they unexpectedly showed a significantly associated change in the white matter of the brain. White matter is the the brain's "wiring," or axons, sheathed in a material called myelin that can make transmission of signals more efficient. Younger learners, meanwhile, showed plasticity in the cortex, where neuroscientists expected to see it.


As CO2 acidifies oceans, scientists develop a way to measure effect on marine ecosystems


Contact: Dov Smith
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
As CO2 acidifies oceans, scientists develop a way to measure effect on marine ecosystems
Hebrew University researchers surveyed a 5,000 km long strip of the sea and measured the calcification rates of coral reefs and open sea plankton over the whole Red Sea area

Following a 5,000 km long ocean survey, research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presents a new way to measure how the acidification of water is affecting marine ecosystems over an entire oceanic basin.

As a result of man-made emissions, the content of CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans has increased dramatically during recent decades. In the ocean, the accumulating CO2 is gradually acidifying the surface waters, making it harder for shelled organisms like corals (Figure 1) and certain open sea plankton to build their calcium carbonate skeletons.


It pays to have an eye for emotions


Contact: Gerhard Blickle
University of Bonn
It pays to have an eye for emotions
Researchers from the University of Bonn found that people who are good at recognizing the emotions of others earn more money in their jobs


"Although managing employees and dealing with people often involves reading their emotions and determining their moods, not everyone is good at it," Blickle says. "It's the same as foreign languages or athletics: some people are good at it, while others aren't. Most people can do a sit-up. But not everyone is an Olympic champion." In order to compare and measure how well someone can recognize the emotions of other people, the researchers used a validated collection of images and recordings of actors and children - that is, of people who have learned to clearly express their feelings or who do not want to hide their feelings in an "adult" manner. These emotion expressions (24 pictures of faces and 24 voice recordings) were then shown to 142 working adults who were recruited to participate in this research study. The participants were asked to recognize the emotion expression - whether it was angry or sad, happy or scared, for example. "On average, the participants succeeded in 77 percent of the cases," Blickle reports. "People who succeeded in 87 percent of the cases were considered to be good, and people who succeeded in more than 90 percent of the cases were considered really good. Those below 60 percent, in contrast, were seen as not so good in recognizing emotions."

Once the emotion recognition task was completed, the researchers asked the participants' colleagues and supervisors to assess the political skills of the participants (for example, whether participants socially well attuned, influential, apparently sincere, and good as networkers). According to Blickle, the result indicated that people with a good ability to recognize emotions "are considered more socially and politically skilled than others by their colleagues. Their supervisors also attribute better social and political skills to these people. And, most notably, their income is significantly higher."

The "special strength" of the study is "that we were able to exclude alternative explanations," Blickle adds. Numerous factors affect the income of an employee: biological sex, age, training, weekly working hours, and hierarchical position in the company. "We controlled for all these variants," Blickle reports. "The effect of the ability to recognize emotions on income still remained." And, the researchers replicated their own findings in an independent second study with 156 participants, thus underpinning the robustness of their results.


'Aquatic osteoporosis" jellifying lakes

Also human activity is adding CO2 to the lakes and oceans, increasing the acidity of the water.

Rosie Hales
Nov. 19, 2014

A plague of “aquatic osteoporosis” is spreading throughout many North American soft-water lakes due to declining calcium levels in the water and hindering the survival of some organisms, says new research from Queen’s University.

Researchers from Queen’s, working with colleagues from York University and the University of Cambridge, as well as other collaborators, have identified a biological shift in many temperate, soft-water lakes in response to declining calcium levels after prolonged periods of acid rain and timber harvesting. The reduced calcium availability is hindering the survival of aquatic organisms with high calcium requirements and promoting the growth of nutrient-poor, jelly-clad animals.


Tiny fossils from lake sediments were studied to determine the pre-impact conditions of the lakes as the calcium decline began before monitoring programs were in place. Using this technique, the team was able to examine the environmental trends from the past approximately 150 years.

“Lake sediments act like a history book of past changes in a lake, recording what happened before the problem was identified,” says John Smol (Biology), Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change. “Jelly-clad invertebrates have been increasing in an alarming number of lakes. This is likely a long-term effect of acid rain on forest soils, logging and forest regrowth.”

The increase in jelly-clad invertebrates can have important implications for lake biology, altering food webs, but can also clog water intakes.

“Many lakes we investigated have passed critical thresholds,” says Dr. Smol. “We have been reduced to the role of spectator as these changes continue to unfold. Once again we see there are many unexpected consequences of our actions, most of which are negative.”

Mindfulness techniques can help protect pregnant women against depression


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Contact: Sona Dimidjian
University of Colorado at Boulder
Mindfulness techniques can help protect pregnant women against depression

Pregnant women with histories of major depression are about 40 percent less likely to relapse into depression if they practice mindfulness techniques--such as meditation, breathing exercises and yoga--along with cognitive therapy, according to a new study led by the University of Colorado Boulder.

About 30 percent of pregnant women who have struggled with depression in the past will again become depressed in the months before and after birth, according to past research. In the new study, published in the journal Archives of Women's Mental Health, the research team found that participation in a Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy program reduced the relapse rate to 18 percent.

"It's important for pregnant women who are at high risk of depression to have options for treatment and prevention," said Sona Dimidjian, an associate professor in CU-Boulder's Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and lead author of the study. "For some women, anti-depressant medication is truly a lifesaver, but for others, concerns about side effects and possible impacts to fetal development may cause them to prefer a non-pharmacological intervention."

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy--which combines mindfulness practice with more traditional cognitive therapy--has been shown to be effective at preventing recurrent episodes of depression in the general population. But few studies of any kind have looked at the effect of non-drug therapies and interventions among pregnant women, in part because it's difficult to recruit participants for the study within the relatively short time period of pregnancy.

For the current study, funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health, 42 women in Colorado and Georgia with at least one prior episode of major depression took an eight-session class during their pregnancies. During class and in homework assignments, the women worked to develop mindfulness skills.

"Mindfulness is about how to pay attention to your own moment-to-moment experience in a way that is suffused with an openness, curiosity, gentleness and kindness towards oneself," Dimidjian said.

The standard mindfulness practices used in class were tweaked to be more valuable to pregnant women. Lessons included prenatal yoga, walking meditation exercises that could be done later while soothing a baby, and shorter practices that could be easily integrated into the busy lives of new moms. The lessons also specifically addressed worry, which can be an overwhelming emotion during pregnancy, and put particular focus on love and kindness for oneself and one's baby.

The research team--which included CU-Boulder doctoral student Jennifer Felder; Sheryl Goodman and Amanda Brown of Emory University in Atlanta; and Robert Gallop of West Chester University in Pennsylvania--surveyed the women for symptoms of depression during their pregnancy and through six months postpartum.

A high percentage of the women who began the courses--86 percent--completed the study, a sign that the women found the sessions valuable, Dimidjian said. The researchers also were struck by the number of pregnant wome


House Republicans just passed a bill forbidding scientists from advising the EPA on their own research

Lindsay Abrams
Nov. 19, 2014


While all that was happening, and largely unnoticed, the House was busy doing what it does best: attacking science.

H.R. 1422, which passed 229-191, would shake up the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, placing restrictions on those pesky scientists and creating room for experts with overt financial ties to the industries affected by EPA regulations.

The bill is being framed as a play for transparency: Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) argued that the board’s current structure is problematic because it “excludes industry experts, but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.” The inclusion of industry experts, he said, would right this injustice.

But the White House, which threatened to veto the bill, said it would “negatively affect the appointment of experts and would weaken the scientific independence and integrity of the SAB.”

In what might be the most ridiculous aspect of the whole thing, the bill forbids scientific experts from participating in an “advisory activities” that either directly or indirectly involve their own work. In case that wasn’t clear: experts would be forbidden from sharing their expertise in their own research — the bizarre assumption, apparently, being that having conducted peer-reviewed studies on a topic would constitute a conflict of interest. “In other words,” wrote Union of Concerned Scientists director Andrew A. Rosenberg in an editorial for RollCall, “academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.”

As winter approaches, switching to cleaner heating oils could prevent health problems


Contact: Michael Bernstein
American Chemical Society
As winter approaches, switching to cleaner heating oils could prevent health problems

With temperatures dipping, homeowners are firing up their heaters. But systems that require heating oil release fine particles outside that could have harmful health effects. Regulations to curb these emissions in New York City, however, could save hundreds of lives, a new study has found. The report in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology may have ramifications for the entire northeast, the country's largest consumer of heating oil.

Iyad Kheirbek and colleagues note that when some people breathe in fine particulate matter from the air, they suffer from increased airway inflammation, reduced lung function and changes in heart rhythm and blood pressure. In New York City alone, this type of air pollution has been linked to more than 2,000 premature deaths, close to 5,000 emergency room visits for asthma and 1,500 hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiovascular disease each year. To address the problem, the city and New York state have put in place a multi-year plan to dramatically lower fine particulate matter from heating oil emissions by mandating a switch to cleaner oils. Other northeast states are set to follow suit.


There's a Suicide Epidemic in Utah — And One Neuroscientist Thinks He Knows Why

Theresa Fisher
Nov. 18, 2014

This partner story is part of BrainMic, a collaboration with GE to share the latest advances in brain research and technology.

Living in Utah means packed powder in April, canyoneering in the clouds, snow-capped vistas so vivid they look Photoshopped — and the shortest average work week in the country. So it's not surprising that surveys show how much Utah residents love their outdoorsy, adventure-filled state.

But there's another side to Utah that isn't shown in surveys. Despite ranking as America's happiest state, Utah has disproportionately high rates of suicide and associated mood disorders compared to the rest of the country. In fact, it's the No. 1 state for antidepressant use. These polarized feelings of despondency and delight underlie a confusing phenomenon that Perry Renshaw, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah investigating the strange juxtaposition, calls the "Utah paradox."

Utah residents and experts are aware of the paradox, often attributing gun use, low population density and the area's heavy Mormon influence as potential factors. But Renshaw thinks he's identified a more likely cause for the Utah blues: altitude.

Renshaw believes that altitude has an impact on our brain chemistry, specifically that it changes the levels of serotonin and dopamine, two key chemicals in the brain that help regulate our feelings of happiness. America's favorite antidepressants (and party drugs) work by controlling the level of these chemicals in the brain.


In a 2011 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, a group of researchers, including Renshaw, analyzed state suicide rates with respect to gun ownership, population density, poverty, health insurance quality and availability of psychiatric care. Of all the factors, altitude had the strongest link to suicide — even the group of states with the least available psychiatric care had fewer suicides than the highest-altitude states, where psychiatric care was easier to find.

In a follow-up study, Renshaw looked at instances of suicide that involved guns and those that didn't. Again, he found a positive correlation between suicide and altitude across the board.

Renshaw also used CDC violent death data to examine the relationship between altitude and mental illness. The elevation at which people live, he found, is a strong predictor of their mental health status.

Renshaw discovered research supporting his theory. Doctors from Case Western University, it turned out, were crunching numbers based on a similar hunch about altitude and suicide. In a 2010 study published in High Altitude Medicine and Biology, the Case Western group analyzed suicide rates across 2,584 counties in 16 states and found that suicides start increasing between 2,000 and 3,000 feet in all U.S. regions. The U.S. isn't a special case — analysis of suicide rates in other countries, including South Korea and Austria, bore similar results.

Psychology research has also made a connection between mental health and elevation. In a 2005 study, the Naval Health Research Center measured mood changes in Marines who left seaside San Diego for 30 days of strenuous training in the Northern California mountains. Before training, the Marines completed a self-evaluation of their levels of anxiety, dejection, fatigue and bewilderment, among other mood symptoms. They completed the same evaluation after training ended, and then again 90 days later. While their physical fitness improved during training, their mental health disintegrated. Before training, the Marines reported more balanced mood levels than average college-aged men. By the time they finished, they described mood symptoms comparable to those of psychiatric patients. Ninety days later, they were just as sad and agitated.


Still, a host of evidence spoke to the other side of the paradox — the positive feelings associated with living in America's "happiest" state. Clinical trial participants who grew up in Utah and moved away, for example, often told Renshaw they returned home to the "call of the mountains." He spoke to researchers in Colorado who reported the same trend: People born and raised in the mountains moved to lower land and found themselves longing for their home state.


As anyone who saw Gravity knows, oxygen density decreases as altitude rises. Oxygen deprivation from high altitude induces a condition called hypobaric hypoxia, which ranges in severity based on how little oxygen is available. Some hypoxic effects are well known — nausea and headaches from altitude sickness, nosebleeds and lower alcohol tolerance, for example. But while physical afflictions associated with hypoxia have gained academic and mainstream attention, scientists have largely ignored its potential impact on mental health.

Renshaw believes that oxygen-poor air tampers with brain chemistry, leading to a drop in serotonin and an uptick in dopamine. Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that relay signals between neurons and other cells.


"Nevada and Colorado also have high suicide rates," Gray said, reflecting on theories ventured over the years. "You tell me how Salt Lake City and Las Vegas have the same culture."


Renshaw, too, is confident his findings are beyond the realm of a fluke, but he isn't willing to dismiss other explanations for the suicide-altitude connection, including studies on gun access. Multiple overlapping factors, he says, are likely in play.

Nevertheless, some environmental factors we commonly accept as relevant to our mental welfare seemed absurd less than a generation ago. In the 1980s, for example, experts were skeptical that depression could stem from seasonal shifts in sunlight exposure. But 30 years after seasonal affective disorder got its name, SAD sufferers plant themselves in front of light boxes to combat the winter doldrums without anyone raising any eyebrows.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Air pollution associated with higher rates of chronic kidney disease


Contact: Kurtis Pivert
American Society of Nephrology
Air pollution associated with higher rates of chronic kidney disease

Philadelphia, PA (November 15, 2014) -- Air pollution may play a role in the development of kidney disease, according to a study that will be presented at ASN Kidney Week 2014 November 11¬-16 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, PA.

There are wide variances in the prevalence of chronic kidney disease (CKD) across the United States, only part of which is explained by differences in individuals' risk factors. To see if air quality may also play a role, Jennifer Bragg-Gresham, PhD (University of Michigan) and her colleagues looked at 2010 Medicare information on 1.1 million persons as well as air-quality data for all US counties provide by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The investigators found a link between the prevalence of CKD and the county level of particulate matter, even after taking into account patient risk factors for CKD including age, diabetes, and hypertension. An elevated prevalence of CKD was observed when particulate matter levels were as low as 8.4 μg/m3, which is much lower than levels typically considered unhealthy for sensitive groups such as the elderly (~40 μg/m3).

"If air pollution is a risk factor for CKD, the impact is likely to be even greater in countries where pollution levels are much higher than in the U.S.


Secondhand marijuana smoke may damage blood vessels as much as tobacco smoke

No surprise. Air pollution in general is bad for our health.


Contact: Darcy Spitz
American Heart Association
Secondhand marijuana smoke may damage blood vessels as much as tobacco smoke
American Heart Association Meeting Report Abstract 19538

Breathing secondhand marijuana smoke could damage your heart and blood vessels as much as secondhand cigarette smoke, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2014.

In the study, blood vessel function in lab rats dropped 70 percent after 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke. Even when the marijuana contained no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) -- a compound in marijuana that produces intoxication -- blood vessel function was still impaired.

Reduced blood vessel function may raise the chances of developing atherosclerosis and could lead to a heart attack. Atherosclerosis is the disease process that causes plaque build-up in the arteries which narrows them and restricts blood flow.

"Most people know secondhand cigarette smoke is bad for you, but many don't realize that secondhand marijuana smoke may also be harmful," said Matthew Springer, Ph.D., senior author of the study and cardiovascular researcher and associate professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco's Cardiology Division.

Marijuana and tobacco smoke are chemically and physically alike, aside from their active ingredients.

The drop in blood vessel function from THC-free marijuana suggests that the compound isn't responsible for the effect. Similarly, this study confirms that nicotine is not required for smoke to interfere with blood vessel function.


Most people would rather harm themselves than others for profit


Contact: Harry Dayantis
University College London
Most people would rather harm themselves than others for profit

A UCL-led experiment on 80 pairs of adults found that people were willing to sacrifice on average twice as much money to spare a stranger pain than to spare themselves, despite the decision being secret.

The study, conducted by researchers from UCL (University College London) and Oxford University and funded by the Wellcome Trust, was the first to experimentally compare how much pain people were willing to anonymously inflict on themselves or strangers in exchange for money. The research is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


The research also provides insight into clinical disorders characterised by a lack of empathy, such as psychopathy. People with more psychopathic traits were more likely to harm both others and themselves, suggesting antisocial behaviour could result from a general insensitivity to harm. A better understanding of how people evaluate the suffering of others relative to themselves, and how that differs in people with antisocial tendencies, could lead to more effective treatments.


At the end of the study, volunteers could donate a proportion of their winnings to charity. Although the people in this study were highly altruistic in terms of sparing others from pain, they only donated an average 20% of their winnings to charity, consistent with past research. This comparatively selfish behaviour shows that altruism is highly context-dependent.

"These results contradict not just classical assumptions of human self-interest, but also more modern views of altruism," says lead author Dr Molly Crockett, who conducted the study at UCL and is now at Oxford University. "Recent theories claim people value others' interests to some extent, but never more than their own. We have shown that when it comes to harm, most people put others before themselves. People would rather profit from their own pain than from someone else's.

"We also timed volunteers' decisions, and found that they hesitated longer when the decision involved harming another person. The most altruistic subjects in our study took the longest to decide for others, suggesting that they may have been making moral calculations. The more selfish subjects decided the fate of others more quickly, which may indicate a lack of thought about moral responsibility. These findings suggest that the speed of people's decisions, as well as decisions themselves, can reveal how moral people are. This logic is reflected in our everyday language - we describe morally praiseworthy people as 'thoughtful' and 'considerate,' whereas more selfish people are described as 'thoughtless' and 'inconsiderate'.

"Although people in this study were highly altruistic in terms of sparing others from pain, they were much more selfish when given the chance to donate money to charity. Exchanging money seems to bring out the worst in people who might otherwise selflessly help others avoid suffering, if given the opportunity."