Friday, October 31, 2008

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer

The results are even more, much more, lopsided when figures for the top 0.1% are looked at.

The median income is the point where half the people make less, have make more.

By David Lightman | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — The gap between rich and poor in America has grown bigger in recent years than any time since the 1920s, and there are no easy ways for the presidential candidates to close it.

The nation's top 1 percent of earners, those making more than $603,402 in 2008, had a 22.9 percent share of all pretax income in 2006, according to a March study by University of California-Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez.

The top 1 percent's share of the national income pie had hovered around 9 to 10 percent from the 1950s through the 1970s, then began climbing in the 1980s. While Americans at all income levels saw their wealth increase during the 1990s, the top 1 percent's income exploded. Since George W. Bush became president, their share kept growing while everyone else's income barely rose.

Obama's tax plan aims to close the income gap a bit. A Tax Policy Center analysis found that those in the lowest 20 percent of income earners, making below $18,981 a year, would see a 5.5 percent boost in after-tax income next year. Those in the top 5 percent, making above $226,918, would see after-tax income drop by 0.1 percent.

Under McCain's plan, the lowest 20 percent would see a 0.2 percent increase in after-tax income next year, while the top earners would gain 3.3 percent. Once McCain's plan is fully phased in, during 2012, the top earners would gain 5.3 percent and the lowest 0.9 percent.

After-inflation median household income last year was $50,233, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The top 1 percent earned above $603,402, and the top 10 percent earned above $160,972, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Both candidates want to shrink an income gap between classes that widened in the early part of this decade, as the Bush administration implemented multi-trillion-dollar tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.

Saez found that from the mid-1920s to 1940, the top 10 percent of income earners had about a 45 percent share of national income. That declined to about 32.5 percent during World War II, and as government maintained its highly progressive tax structure, remained around 33 percent through the 1970s.

During the past 25 years, however, Saez said "the top (10 percent) share has increased dramatically . . . and has now regained its prewar level."

The gap closed a bit from 1993 to 2000, when Bill Clinton was president, the top two tax rates went up and the economy boomed. Saez found that real incomes grew by 2.4 percent a year for the bottom 99 percent, while the top 1 percent saw a 10.1 percent annual increase then.

Only the rich gained much during the Bush years of 2002 to 2006, however. The top 1 percent saw their real annual pretax incomes grow at an 11 percent clip, while everyone else's income grew at an annual rate of only 0.9 percent growth.

During those years, "the top 1 percent captured almost three-quarters of income growth" Saez wrote.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


copyright Patricia M. Shannon 1996

They say that they are patriots because they love to wave the flag,
but they throw their trash along the road, and pour used oil down the drain.
They say that they are patriots because the pledge they love to say,
but they never bother to turn out the lights when they go home for the day.

How can we be patriots and not do all we can
to protect the earth upon which all our lives depend?
How can we be patriots and not help our fellow men?
What else is a country, but its people and its land?

They say that they are patriots because, they will always choose
to vote to build more prisons, while cutting funding for our schools.
They say that they are patriots, Star Spangled Banner they do sing,
but to their big gas-guzzlers they selfishly do cling.

How can we be patriots and not do all we can
to prevent the earth from turning into barren sands?
How can we be patriots and not lend a helping hand?
What else is a country, but its people and its land?

They say that they are patriots, because it fills them with such glee
to send our young folks overseas to be killed by enemies.
They say that they are patriots, but they would never think
to tutor some poor kids to help them stay out of the clink.

A country's not a piece of cloth, or words we say by rote;
a country's not a song we sing before we watch a sport.
And love's not just a feeling, it's something that we do,
every day, in every way, in everything we choose.

Darned if we do, darned if we don't (spend)

We're told the economic crisis is all the fault of people borrowing too much money, that they should live within their means. Since median incomes have been falling for years, as the wealth has been redistributed upward to the ultra-rich, that means that people should spend less. But when they do spend less, we have a recession. Does anybody remember that Bush told us it was our patriotic duty to continue spending after 9/11/2001? Of course, that didn't include companies spending on salaries for the people that do the work.

October 30, 2008, 8:51 am
Economy Shrinks as Consumers Cut Back
By David Leonhardt

Updated at 11:30 a.m.

The longest American shopping spree on record is over.

The Commerce Department reported this morning that consumers sharply cut their spending this summer, causing the United States economy to shrink at an annual rate of 0.3 percent. By almost all accounts, the economy is now in recession.

The last quarter in which consumers reduced their spending came in 1991. Since then, neither the recession of 2001 nor the slow income growth of the past seven years has kept households from increasing their consumption. They often relied on debt — in the form of home-equity loans, mortgage refinancings and credit-card loans — to continue spending.

But the housing bust, the resulting credit crunch and the deteriorating job market have forced many people to cut back. Personal consumption fell at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the third quarter of this year, its biggest drop since 1980, when the economy was in a deep recession.
But the report nonetheless pointed to the serious problems facing the United States economy: consumer spending is falling, and no engine of growth seems likely to replace it in the near future.

Many economists expect consumer spending to continue falling in 2009 — although probably not at such a steep rate — and the current downturn to continue for months. Employers are now cutting jobs, and the pay of most workers is lagging well behind inflation.
Consumer spending makes up a little more than two-thirds of economic activity in the United States, more than it did in past decades. The rest is a combination of business spending, government spending and the net difference between exports and imports.;_ylt=AtUfLuPUoE3g281V2bXqtdCs0NUE
Consumer cut in spending the most since 1980
By JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer Jeannine Aversa, Ap Economics Writer – 14 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Scared and out of money, Americans stopped buying everything from cars to corn flakes in the July-September quarter, ratcheting back spending by the largest amount in 28 years and jolting the national economy into what could be the most painful recession in decades.

With retailers bracing for a grim holiday buying season, the economy isn't just slowing; it's actually shrinking, the government confirmed Thursday. It reported that the nation's gross domestic product declined at an annual rate of 0.3 percent in the year's third quarter and consumers' disposable income took its biggest drop on record.
Clobbered by pink slips, shrinking nest eggs and falling home values — consumers are holding ever tighter to their wallets. The new report said Americans' disposable income fell at an annual rate of 8.7 percent in the quarter, the largest in records dating back to 1947.

Our tax money at work

Banks to Continue Paying Dividends
Bailout Money Is for Lending, Critics Say
By Binyamin Appelbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 30, 2008; Page A01

U.S. banks getting more than $163 billion from the Treasury Department for new lending are on pace to pay more than half of that sum to their shareholders, with government permission, over the next three years.

The government said it was giving banks more money so they could make more loans. Dollars paid to shareholders don't serve that purpose, but Treasury officials say that suspending quarterly dividend payments would have deterred banks from participating in the voluntary program.

Critics, including economists and members of Congress, question why banks should get government money if they already have enough money to pay dividends -- or conversely, why banks that need government money are still spending so much on dividends.

"The whole purpose of the program is to increase lending and inject capital into Main Street. If the money is used for dividends, it defeats the purpose of the program," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has called for the government to require a suspension of dividend payments.

The Treasury plans to invest up to $250 billion in a wide swath of U.S. banks in return for ownership stakes, which the government will relinquish when it is repaid.

Among other restrictions, participating institutions cannot increase dividend payments without government permission. They also are barred from repurchasing stock, which increases the value of outstanding shares.

The 33 banks signed up so far plan to pay shareholders about $7 billion this quarter. Companies generally try to pay consistent dividends and, at the present pace, those dividends will consume 52 percent of the Treasury's investment over the initial three-year term.

"The terms of our capital purchase program were set to encourage participation by a broad array of financial institutions so they strengthen their financial positions," Treasury spokeswoman Michele Davis said.

The Treasury's approach contrasts with decisions by foreign governments, including Britain and Germany, to require banks that accept public investments to suspend dividend payments until the government is repaid. The U.S. government similarly required Chrysler to suspend its dividend payments as a condition of the government's 1979 bailout.

The legislation passed by Congress authorizing the Treasury's current bailout program is silent on the issue.

The first nine participants were major banks, some running short on capital, that were told by Treasury officials earlier this month to sign on to the program for the good of the country. Their major shareholders are primarily institutional investors, such as pension funds and mutual funds, although a few wealthy individuals hold large stakes, such as Warren Buffett in Wells Fargo and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal in Citigroup.

Several banks are on pace to pay more in dividends than they get from the government. The Bank of New York Mellon got $3 billion from the government on Tuesday. It will pay out $275 million to shareholders this quarter, and a projected $3.3 billion over the next three years. A spokesman declined to comment.

At least a few banks have committed to reduce dividend payments at the same time they accepted government investments. SunTrust of Atlanta, which accepted $3.5 billion from the government, cut its quarterly dividend payments to about $188 million each quarter from about $272 million. The company described the cut in a statement as "the responsible thing to do."
I'm happy about that. I bank at Suntrust.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

With time short, Bush pushes EPA to relax power-plant rule

A friend of mine said he thinks we should tie Bush to his chair for the rest of his term. I think we should lock him in his room :)

By Renee Schoof | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — At the Bush administration's direction, the Environmental Protection Agency is working on a new rule that would weaken pollution regulations for power plants, allowing them to increase emissions without adding controls.

EPA officials have been working on a fast track to meet a Saturday deadline, but many of them are arguing against changing the rule, said former EPA attorney John Walke and an EPA career official who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the official wasn't authorized to make statements.

They said that the EPA was expected to decide in November on another eleventh-hour rule that would allow more power plants to be built near national parks and wilderness areas.

Power companies have sought the rule about power plant emissions for many years, and it was part of Vice President Dick Cheney's 2001 energy plan. Rules finalized more than 60 days before the administration leaves office are harder for the next administration to undo.

The Clean Air Act requires older plants that have their lives extended with new equipment to install pollution-control technology if their emissions increase. The rule change would allow plants to measure emissions on an hourly basis, rather than their total yearly output. This way, plants could run for more hours and increase overall emissions without exceeding the threshold that would require additional pollution controls.

The Edison Electric Institute, an association of shareholder-owned electric companies that represents about 70 percent of the U.S. electric-power industry, told the EPA that it supports changing the rule because improvements at plants would allow them to produce more energy with less fuel and in this way reduce emissions per unit of electrical output.

The EPA official said that concerns in the agency were that the analysis justifying the rule change was weak and the administration didn't plan to make the analysis public for a comment period, as is customary.

The EPA originally argued that changing the rule wouldn't seriously harm the environment because another law, the Clean Air Interstate Rule, reduced power plant emissions, offsetting any increase under the new rule. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the interstate rule, however, and the EPA was stuck with having to develop a new analysis to justify the change.

Walke, who's now the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's clean air program, said that EPA officials in two departments told him that they'd been instructed to finalize the rule by Saturday. When such rules are made, it's common practice for the White House and the vice president's office to give the EPA their views before the EPA chief makes a decision.

Walke said that two EPA officials told him that EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and Robert Meyers, the assistant administrator in charge of air issues, didn't agree with the new rule. EPA spokesman Jonathan Schradar said they hadn't made a decision yet and that he had no comment about their views.

Schradar said the EPA was committed to finalizing the rule by the time Bush left office in January. He said work was continuing on it and that "rumors are exaggerated" about a Saturday deadline.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the administration was moving to adopt the changes to the power-plant emissions rule.

The EPA is under no obligation to reveal internal deliberations, so in many cases the public never knows what objections may have been raised.

The White House wouldn't comment on its views about changing the rule, Kristen Hellmer, a spokeswoman for the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, said Monday.

Walke charged in a comment to the EPA that the rule would amount to a "parting gift to the utility industry."

The rule change applies to old plants that are expanded or upgraded to prolong their lives. The changes can make them more efficient but not as clean as they'd be with modern pollution controls.

The emissions bring smog, acid rain and particulates. The Bush administration argues that carbon dioxide, which power plants also emit, shouldn't be regulated under the Clean Air Act. staff and news service reports
updated 5:56 p.m. ET, Wed., June. 9, 2004

WASHINGTON - Health problems linked to aging coal-fired power plants shorten nearly 24,000 lives a year, including 2,800 from lung cancer, and nearly all those early deaths could be prevented if the U.S. government adopted stricter rules, according to a study released Wednesday.

Commissioned by environmental groups and undertaken by a consultant often used by the Environmental Protection Agency, the study concluded that 22,000 of those deaths are preventable with currently available technology.

The groups criticized the Bush administration for trying to change existing clean air laws, which the report said would result in nearly 4,000 more annual deaths from asthma, heart attacks and other ailments linked to coal plant emissions.
The activists' report also found that:

* People dying prematurely from problems associated with exposure to fine particle pollution, or soot, lost an average of 14 years.
* Power plant pollution is responsible for 38,200 nonfatal heart attacks and 554,000 asthma attacks each year.
* Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida had the highest overall mortality rates each year, and West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee — states with a large number of coal-fired plants — had the highest per capita mortality risk.

Turning your clock back Sunday may help your heart

I don't know anybody who like "daily saving time". It hasn't been shown to save energy (utilities). I suspect its real purpose is to encourage people to shop and drive more, and therefore spend more money!;_ylt=Ao2.luvV5PYi5A1ucijOLSys0NUE

NEW YORK – Turning your clock back on Sunday may be good for your heart. Swedish researchers looked at 20 years of records and discovered that the number of heart attacks dipped on the Monday after clocks were set back an hour, possibly because people got an extra hour of sleep.

But moving clocks forward in the spring appeared to have the opposite effect. There were more heart attacks during the week after the start of daylight saving time, particularly on the first three days of the week.

"Sleep — through a variety of mechanisms — affects our cardiovascular health," said Dr. Lori Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, who was not involved in the research. The findings show that "sleep not only impacts how we feel, but it may also affect whether we develop heart disease or not."

The study was described in a letter published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Imre Janszky of the Karolinska Institute and Dr. Rickard Ljung of Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare.

Janszky said he came up with the idea for the study after last spring's time change, when he was having problems adjusting.

"I was on the bus, quite sleepy, and I thought of this," said Janszky, who has done other research on sleep and health.

They took advantage of Sweden's comprehensive registry of heart attacks to see if the disruptions to sleep and the body's internal clock caused by a time change had any effect on heart attacks from 1987 to 2006. They compared the number of heart attacks on each of the seven days after the time shift with the corresponding day two weeks earlier and two weeks later.

Overall, in the week after "spring forward," there was a 5 percent increase in heart attacks, with a 6 percent bump on Monday and Wednesday and a 10 percent increase on Tuesday. In the week after "fall back," the number of heart attacks was about the same, except on Monday, which had a 5 percent decrease.

"The finding that the possibility of additional sleep seems to be protective on the first workday after the autumn shift is intriguing," the authors wrote.

Doctors have long known that Monday in general is the worst day for heart attacks, and they usually blame the stress of a new work week and increased activity. The Swedish researchers said their findings suggest that the minor loss of sleep that occurs at the end of ordinary weekends — with people going to bed later on Sunday and getting up early on Monday — might also be a contributing factor.

Last year, a study by American researchers found there were more pedestrian deaths during the evening rush hour in November than October as drivers and pedestrians adjust to the earlier darkness. They said the risk for pedestrians drops in the spring when clocks are set back and daylight comes earlier.

Daylight saving time in the United States ends this year at 2 a.m. Sunday. All states except Arizona and Hawaii will make the switch. Sweden and the rest of Europe turned back their clocks last weekend. More than 1.5 billion people worldwide live in countries that use daylight saving time, the researchers said.

Sweden has a moderate rate of heart attacks and is at a high latitude, but Janszky said he would expect roughly the same results elsewhere.

Sleep can affect the heart through changes in blood pressure, inflammation, blood clotting, blood sugar, cholesterol and blood vessels, Mosca said. She suggested that anxiety from changes in routine may also be a factor, in addition to loss of sleep.

Dr. Ronald Chervin, director of the University of Michigan's Sleep Disorders Center, said this is a "sleep-deprived society," and he advises taking advantage of Sunday's time change and getting an extra hour of sleep.

In the spring, he suggests gradually adjusting to the one-hour loss by going to bed and getting up 15 minutes earlier for a few days before the time change.

"We spend a third of our lives sleeping and people forget how much effect it has on overall health," he said.

What is a recession

I have long been aggravated that the official definition of a "recession" does include unemployment. If companies sell enough big ticket things that cost enough to the very rich, we're not in a recession, even if the unemployment rate is 90%. The official definition looks only at effects on those at the top of the financial pyramid. "The United States has been shedding jobs every month this year, for a total decline of more than 700,000 jobs so far", and there is argument about whether or not we're already in a recession? I feel like I'm living in cloud cuckoo land.

The United States has been shedding jobs every month this year, for a total decline of more than 700,000 jobs so far. What makes that alarming to many analysts is that the job losses have come so early in the downturn.

Traditionally, companies have been cautious about laying off workers at the start of a downturn and equally cautious about adding workers after a recovery begins.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Conservatives Have Reshaped Appeals Courts

October 29, 2008
Earlier this month, Mr. Bush pointed with pride to his record at a conference sponsored by the Cincinnati chapter of the Federalist Society, the elite network for the conservative legal movement. He noted that he had appointed more than a third of the federal judiciary expected to be serving when he leaves office, a lifetime-tenured force that will influence society for decades and represents one of his most enduring accomplishments. While a two-term president typically leaves his stamp on the appeals courts — Bill Clinton appointed 65 judges, Mr. Bush 61 — Mr. Bush’s judges were among the youngest ever nominated and are poised to have an unusually strong impact.

They have arrived at a time when the appeals courts, which decide tens of thousands of cases a year, are increasingly getting the last word. While the Supreme Court gets far more attention, in recent terms it has reviewed only about 75 cases a year—half what it considered a generation ago. And Mr. Bush’s appointees have found allies in likeminded judges named by Mr. Bush’s father and Mr. Reagan.

Republican-appointed judges, most conservatives, are projected to make up about 62 percent of the bench next Inauguration Day, up from 50 percent when Mr. Bush took office. They control 10 of the 13 circuits, while Democrat-appointed judges have a dwindling majority on just one circuit.

David M. McIntosh, a co-founder and vice-chairman of the Federalist Society, said the nation’s appeals courts are now more in line with a conservative judicial ideology than at any other time in memory.
The Eighth Circuit, with headquarters in St. Louis, now has the highest Republican-appointed proportion — 9 of its 11 judges — in the nation. But while other circuits have also grown more conservative, none has yet produced a comparably startling outcome.

Appeals courts tend to change the law incrementally rather than in rapid shifts. They are constrained to follow Supreme Court precedent, and most of their work consists of unanimously disposing of routine cases.

Still, every year courts encounter some controversial cases in which they have greater discretion. In such circumstances, several studies have shown that judges appointed by Republican presidents since Mr. Reagan have ruled for conservative outcomes more often than peers.

They have been more likely than colleagues to favor corporations over regulators and people alleging discrimination, and government over people who said their rights had been violated. They have also been more likely to throw out cases on technical grounds, like rejecting plaintiffs’ standing to sue.

Mr. McIntosh defended that record, saying the conservative judges are bringing a neutral application of the law to a judiciary that liberals had politicized. But Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice, a liberal legal group, said that Mr. Bush had “packed the courts” with “extremists” who share an agenda of hostility to regulations and the rights of women, minorities and workers.

“George W. Bush has made great strides in cementing the ultraconservative hold on the federal courts which began with Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, when he set out to impose his agenda on the country through his court appointments,” Ms. Aron said.

Mr. Bush’s commitment to moving the courts rightward has been important not only to elite conservative thinkers, but also to the social conservatives who have constituted his base of support.

His judicial selections set off fierce clashes with Senate Democrats. Until a compromise was brokered in 2005, Democrats blocked votes on several nominees for years. More recently, the Senate has not voted on Peter Keisler, a former Justice Department official who defended Mr. Bush's detainee policies. Still, most of Mr. Bush's nominees became judges. He is set to leave 15 vacancies, while Mr. Clinton left 27.

Conservative and liberal legal activists alike are trying to motivate voters to view the balance of the judiciary as a major issue in the coming election. Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, has promised to appoint judges in the same ideological mold as Mr. Bush did, while Senator Barack Obama, a Democrat, has said he will instead select judges with greater “empathy” for the disadvantaged.

An Obama victory could roll back the Republican advantage on the appeals courts and even create a Democratic majority by 2013, according to a study of potential upcoming vacancies by Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution. But if Mr. McCain wins, Republicans could achieve commanding majorities on all 13 circuits.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Skin Creams Can Make Skin Drier

It would be helpful to know more those "complex cream compounds" that "resulted in more resistant skin with no signs of dryness."

ScienceDaily (Oct. 23, 2008) — Many people have noticed that as soon as you start using a skin cream, you have to continue with it; if you stop lubricating, your skin becomes drier than when you started. And now there is research to confirm for the first time that normal skin can become drier from creams.

Different oils were also studied in a seven-week treatment period, but no difference was established between mineral oil and a vegetable oil. Both oils resulted in the skin being less able to cope with external stresses. Treatment with a more complex cream compound, however, resulted in more resistant skin with no signs of dryness

Fetal Alcohol-related Defects: A Life Sentence

ScienceDaily (Oct. 24, 2008) — Every year, almost 4000 babies in Germany are born with alcohol-related defects. The mothers of these children have often drunk alcohol regularly during the pregnancy. The consequences are often devastating and commonly persist into adulthood.

Despite intensive research the precise pathogenetic mechanism of intrauterine alcohol damage remains to be clearly established. Affected neonates are too small and underweight, with craniofacial deformities. A narrowed palpebral fissure and a thin upper lip are typical manifestations.

The children’s physical and mental development is delayed. Many of them are poor learners or display conspicuous behavior. Psychiatric and neurological disorders such as depression and epileptic seizures occur with increased frequency. In adulthood, patients are often not able to live independently and require long-term care. Thus the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are a diagnosis for life.

The various forms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are presented by the pediatricians Hans-Ludwig Spohr and Hans-Christoph Steinhausen in the latest issue of Deutsches Ärzteblatt International (Dtsch Arztebl Int 2008; 105[41]: 693-8).

Race And Insurance Status Associated With Death From Trauma

ScienceDaily (Oct. 24, 2008) — African American and Hispanic patients are more likely to die following trauma than white patients, and uninsured patients have a higher death risk when compared with those who have health insurance, according to a new report.

Health disparities based on race, income and insurance status have previously been documented in patients with cancer and those undergoing surgery, among other treatments and conditions, according to background information in the article.

Adil H. Haider, M.D., M.P.H., of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and colleagues reviewed data from the National Trauma Data Bank for 429,751 patients age 18 to 64 years treated at approximately 700 trauma centers nationwide between 2001 and 2005. Of these, 72,249 were African American, 41,770 were Hispanic and 262,878 were white; 47 percent had health insurance.

Overall, death rates were higher among African American (8.2 percent) and Hispanic (9.1 percent) patients than among white patients (5.7 percent). Uninsured patients were also more likely to die than insured patients (8.6 percent vs. 4.4 percent). "Mortality rates were substantially higher for all uninsured patients, almost doubling for African American (4.9 percent to 11.4 percent) and Hispanic patients (6.3 percent to 11.3 percent) compared with white patients (4.2 percent to 7.9 percent)," the authors write. "The absence of health insurance increased a trauma patient's adjusted odds of death by almost 50 percent."

Patients in minority groups were much more likely to be uninsured than white patients—about one-third of white patients, two-thirds of African American patients and two-thirds of Hispanic patients lacked insurance. Lack of insurance is associated with poorer baseline health status; because pre-existing conditions are known to affect trauma outcomes, this could partially account for the higher death rates in the uninsured, the authors note.

However, insurance status alone could not explain all racial disparities in trauma death rates. "Of the insured patients, both Hispanic and African American patients had significantly higher odds of mortality compared with white patients," the authors note. Other issues that may contribute to racial differences include mistrust, subconscious bias and stereotyping, but further study is needed to explore these possibilities, they continue.
This study was supported by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Department of Surgery New Faculty Academic Support Group.
Journal reference:
Adil H. Haider; David C. Chang; David T. Efron; Elliott R. Haut; Marie Crandall; Edward E. Cornwell, III. Race and Insurance Status as Risk Factors for Trauma Mortality. Arch Surg., 2008;143(10):945-949 [link]
Adapted from materials provided by JAMA and Archives Journals.

Spirituality Protects Against Depression Better Than Church Attendance

ScienceDaily (Oct. 26, 2008) — Those who worship a higher power often do so in different ways. Whether they are active in their religious community, or prefer to simply pray or meditate, new research out of Temple University suggests that a person's religiousness – also called religiosity – can offer insight into their risk for depression.

Lead researcher Joanna Maselko, Sc.D., characterized the religiosity of 918 study participants in terms of three domains of religiosity: religious service attendance, which refers to being involved with a church; religious well-being, which refers to the quality of a person's relationship with a higher power; and existential well-being, which refers to a person's sense of meaning and their purpose in life.

In a study published on-line this month in Psychological Medicine, Maselko and fellow researchers compared each domain of religiosity to their risk of depression, and were surprised to find that the group with higher levels of religious well-being were 1.5 times more likely to have had depression than those with lower levels of religious well-being.

Maselko theorizes this is because people with depression tend to use religion as a coping mechanism. As a result, they're more closely relating to God and praying more.
Maybe a factor is the type of religion. I would expect that a religion which encourages people to be intolerant and judgemental might make people more prone to depression.

Researchers also found that those who attended religious services were 30 percent less likely to have had depression in their lifetime, and those who had high levels of existential well-being were 70 percent less likely to have had depression than those who had low levels of existential well-being.

Maselko says involvement in the church provides the opportunity for community interaction, which could help forge attachments to others, an important factor in preventing depression. She added that those with higher levels of existential-well being have a strong sense of their place in the world.

"People with high levels of existential well-being tend to have a good base, which makes them very centered emotionally," said Maselko. "People who don't have those things are at greater risk for depression, and those same people might also turn to religion to cope."

Maselko admits that researchers have yet to determine which comes first: depression or being religious, but is currently investigating the time sequence of this over people's lives to figure out the answer.
Other authors on this study are Stephen Gilman, Sc.D., and Stephen Buka, Sc.D., from the department of Public Health at Harvard University and Brown University Medical School. This research was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health and by the Jack Shand Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.
Adapted from materials provided by Temple University, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Alternative Medicine And Heavy Metal Poisoning

ScienceDaily (Oct. 26, 2008) — Many Ayurvedic medicines can contain dangerous quantities of heavy metals, including lead, mercury, thallium and arsenic, according to clinical toxicology specialists in London writing in the International Journal of Environment and Health.
The use of Ayurvedic medicines has become popular in North America, Europe and Australasia and has spread beyond the cultural and ethnic populations from which the traditional medicine practices originated. Dargan and colleagues point out that there have been numerous reports of clinically significant heavy metal poisoning related to its use.

Practitioners may use individual herbal extracts or a mixture of herbal extracts with vegetable, animal and mineral products. It is a basic principle of Ayurveda that practitioners can use anything as a drug. Heavy metals are generally not present as contaminants but practitioners add them intentionally. In Ayurveda a balance of the metals, including lead, copper, gold, iron, mercury, silver, tin, zinc are considered to be essential for normal functioning of the human body and an important component of good health.

Stress During Pregnancy Has Detrimental Effect On Offspring

ScienceDaily (Oct. 27, 2008) — Stress during pregnancy may have unfortunate consequences for children born under those conditions – slower development, learning and attention difficulties, anxiety and depressive symptoms and possibly even autism.

That such stress during a mother's pregnancy can cause developmental and emotional problems for offspring has long been observed by behavioral and biological researchers, but the objective measuring and timing of that stress and its results are difficult to prove objectively in humans, since the evidence is based to a large extent on anecdotal recollections and is also strongly influenced by genetic and other factors.

One researcher who has long wrestled with the problem of how to prove the connection between prenatal stress and its effects on offspring is Prof. Marta Weinstock-Rosin of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem School of Pharmacy, who in her experimental work with rats has been able to demonstrate that relationship in a conclusive, laboratory-tested manner.

"There is an enormous advantage in working with rats," says Weinstock-Rosen, "since we are able to eliminate the genetic and subjective element." The researchers were able to compare the behavior of the offspring of stressed rat mothers with those whose mothers were not stressed. They also were able to compare the results of administering various types of stress at different periods during the gestation process to see which period is the most sensitive for the production of different behavioral alterations.

Weinstock-Rosin has been able to show through her laboratory experiments that when rat mothers were subject to stressful situations (irritating sounds at alternating times, for example), their offspring were later shown to have impaired learning and memory abilities, less capacity to cope with adverse situations (such as food deprivation), and symptoms of anxiety and depressive-like behavior, as compared to those rats in control groups that were born to unstressed mothers. All of these symptoms parallel the impairments that have been observed in children born to mothers who were stressed in pregnancy, she points out.

Further experiments by Weinstock-Rosin and her students have shown the crucial effect of excessive levels of the hormone cortisol that is released by the adrenal gland during stress and reaches the fetal brain during critical stages of brain development. Under normal conditions, this hormone has a beneficial function in supplying instant energy, but it has to be in small amounts and for a short period of time. Under conditions of excessive stress, however, the large amount of this hormone reaching the fetal brain can cause structural and functional changes. In humans, above-normal levels of cortisol can also stimulate the release of another hormone from the placenta that will cause premature birth, another factor that can affect normal development.

Pregnant Women Consuming Flaxseed Oil Have High Risk Of Premature Birth

ScienceDaily (Oct. 27, 2008) — A study has found that the risks of a premature birth quadruple if flaxseed oil is consumed in the last two trimesters of pregnancy. The research was conducted by Professor Anick Bérard of the Université de Montréal's Faculty of Pharmacy and the Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Center and Master's student Krystel Moussally.
The most consumed natural health products by pregnant women are chamomile (19 percent), green tea (17 percent), peppered mint (12 percent), and flaxseed oil (12 percent). Bérard and Moussally correlated these products to premature births and only one product had a very strong correlation: flaxseed oil.

"In the general population, the average rate of premature births is 2 to 3 percent. But for women consuming flaxseed oil in their last two trimesters that number jumps up to 12 percent," says Bérard. "It's an enormous risk."

The correlation existed only with flaxseed oil, yet women consuming the actual seed were unaffected. Even if more studies must be undertaken to verify these results, Bérard recommends caution when it comes to consuming flaxseed oil.
Adapted from materials provided by University of Montreal, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Another side of McCain

(This shocking account was written by Ana Dubey, who has a PhD in psychology and has a private practice in San Francisco. Ana's husband is currently a Managing Director of a private equity firm in the Bay Area. Ana and her husband are not political activists and don't have any personal ax to grind. In fact, in writing this account of her experience with John McCain, Ana is acting outside of her own economic self-interest as she and her husband are among the top 3-5% of our population who would benefit from the McCain tax/economic policies.)

It was just before John McCain's last run at the presidential nomination in 2000 that my husband and I vacationed in Turtle Island in Fiji with John McCain, Cindy, and their children, including Bridget (their adopted Bangladeshi child).

It was not our intention, but it was our misfortune to be in close quarters with John McCain for almost a week, since Turtle Island has a small number of bungalows and their focus on communal meals force all vacationers who are there at the same time to get to know each other intimately. He arrived at our first group meal and started reading quotes from a pile of William Faulkner books with a forest of Post-Its sticking out of them. As an English Literature major myself, my first thought was "if he likes this so much, why hasn't he memorized any of this yet?" I soon realized that McCain actually thought we had come on vacation to be a volunteer audience for his "readings" which then became a regular part of each meal. Out of politeness, none of the vacationers initially protested at this intrusion into their blissful holiday, but people's buttons definitely got pushed as the readings continued day after day.

Unfortunately this was not his only contribution to our mealtime entertainment. He waxed on during one meal about how Indo-Chine women had the best figures and that our American corn-fed women just couldn't meet up to this standard. He also made it a point that all of us should stop Cindy from having dessert as her weight was too high and made a few comments to Amy, the 25 year old wife of the honeymooning couple from Nebraska that she should eat less as she needed to lose weight. McCain's appreciation of the beauty of Asian women was so great that David the American economist had to move his Thai wife to the other side of the table from McCain as McCain kept aggressively flirting with and touching her.

Needless to say I was irritated at his large ego and his rude behavior towards his wife and other women, but decided he must have some redeeming qualities as he had adopted a handicapped child from Bangladesh. I asked him about this one day, and his response was shocking: "Oh, that was Cindy's idea - I didn't have anything to do with it. She just went and adopted this thing without even asking me. You can't imagine how people stare when I wheel this ugly, black thing around in a shopping cart in Arizona. No, it wasn't my idea at all."

I actively avoided McCain after that, but unfortunately one day he engaged me in a political discussion which soon got us on the topic of the active US bombing of Iraq at that time. I was shocked when he said, "If I was in charge, I would nuke Iraq to teach them a lesson." Given McCain's personal experience with the horrors of war, I had expected a more balanced point of view. I commented on the tragic consequences of the nuclear attacks on Japan during WWII - but no, he was not to be dissuaded. He went on to say that if it was up to him he would have dropped many more nuclear bombs on Japan. I rapidly extricated myself from this conversation as I could tell that his experience being tortured as a POW didn't seem to have mellowed out his perspective, but rather had made him more aggressive and vengeful towards the world.

My final encounter with McCain was on the morning that he was leaving Turtle Island. Amy and I were happily eating pancakes when McCain arrived and told Amy that she shouldn't be having pancakes because she needed to lose weight. Amy burst into tears at this abusive comment. I felt fiercely protective of Amy and immediately turned to McCain and told him to leave her alone. He became very angry and abusive towards me, and said, "Don't you know who I am." I looked him in the face and said, "Yes, you are the biggest asshole I have ever met" and headed back to my cabin. I am happy to say that later that day when I arrived at lunch I was given a standing ovation by all the guests for having stood up to McCain's bullying.

Although I have shared my McCain story informally with friends, this is the first time I am making this public. I almost did so in 2000, when McCain first announced his bid for the Republican nomination, but it soon became apparent that George Bush was the shoo-in candidate and so I did not act then. However, now that there is a very real possibility that McCain could be elected as our next president, I feel it is my duty as an American citizen to share this story. I can't imagine a more scary outcome for America than that this abusive, aggressive man should lead our nation. I have observed him in intimate surroundings as he really is, not how the media portrays him to be. If his attitudes toward women and his treatment of his own family are even a small indicator of his real personality, then I shudder to think what will happen to America were he to be elected as our President.

EPA weakens new lead rule after White House objects

By Renee Schoof | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — After the White House intervened, the Environmental Protection Agency last week weakened a rule on airborne lead standards at the last minute so that fewer polluters would have their emissions monitored.

The EPA on Oct. 16 announced that it would dramatically reduce the highest acceptable amount of airborne lead from 1.5 micrograms of lead per cubic meter to 0.15 micrograms. It was the first revision of the standard since EPA set it 30 years ago.

However, a close look at documents publicly available, including e-mails from the EPA to the White House Office of Management and Budget, reveal that the OMB objected to the way the EPA had determined which lead-emitting battery recycling plants and other facilities would have to be monitored.

EPA documents show that until the afternoon of Oct. 15, a court-imposed deadline for issuing the revised standard, the EPA proposed to require a monitor for any facility that emitted half a ton of lead or more a year.

The e-mails indicate that the White House objected, and in the early evening of Oct. 15 the EPA set the level at 1 ton a year instead.

According to EPA documents, 346 sites have emissions of half a ton a year or more. Raising the threshold to a ton reduced the number of monitored sites by 211, or more than 60 percent.

The EPA also required states to place monitors in areas with populations of 500,000 or more. But the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that pushed for tougher lead standards to protect public health, said that a single monitor in a large city was different from a monitor placed near a plant.

"We don't expect the urban monitors to be effective to get the hot spots that the site-specific monitors can get," said Gina Solomon, an NRDC scientist and a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. "The monitoring network has a lot of gaps in it."

Airborne lead can be inhaled, but the main way people are exposed is when they ingest it from contaminated soil — for example, when children play in a contaminated area and put dirty hands to their mouths.

The EPA originally estimated that at the half-ton annual emissions cutoff, it would need from 150 to 600 monitors, said EPA spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn.

Under the final rule with the 1-ton cutoff, the requirement will be 135 site-specific monitors and 101 urban monitors in areas of 500,000 or more people, she said. There are 133 monitors now.

Milbourn said that EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson set the requirement for monitoring at sites that emit 1 ton or more of lead a year because it was "an approach that would reduce the burden to states but would still assure monitoring around those sources" that might violate the air-quality standard.

The Battery Council International, a trade group that represents U.S. lead battery makers and recyclers, told the EPA in public comments in August that the proposed half-ton threshold was "unjustifiably low."

Milbourn said that state and local officials should monitor any site they think might violate the new EPA standard.

"In other words, states may go beyond the minimum monitoring requirements," and EPA will help them identify sources that emit less than a ton per year but still might produce amounts of lead in the air that are higher than the rule allows, she said.

Lead in the air was greatly reduced three decades ago when the government ordered it removed from gasoline, but it is still emitted by lead smelters, cement plants and steel mills.

Scientific studies have found that lead is dangerous at much lower levels in the human body than previously thought. The studies show that children's nervous systems are especially vulnerable, and that lead exposure can result in IQ loss and damage to many internal systems.

The new standard was in line with what EPA staff scientists and an independent body of science advisers said was necessary.

"Despite the dramatic decrease in environmental lead exposure, lead toxicity remains a major public health problem," the science advisory panel reported.

Emissions of lead into the air dropped by 97 percent since 1978, mainly because the government banned it in gasoline, Johnson said. But today more than 16,000 facilities such as smelters, cement factories and steel plants emit an estimated 1,300 tons of lead into the air annually.

"The new stronger standards address these remaining emissions and offer a shield to protect the health of our nation's children," Johnson said.

"They did a great job," said Gina Solomon of the Natural Resources Defense Council and a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, who pushed for the new lower standard.

But, she added, EPA must "greatly expand the lead monitoring network if they hope to enforce this new standard."

The new rule requires a monitor in areas with populations of 500,000 or more. The agency estimated it would need to add or relocate 236 monitors.

Solomon said more monitors were needed and that they should be placed downwind of the plants that emit large amounts of lead. She said that with fewer than 200 air lead monitors now in operation, "scientists don't even know how much lead is in the air in most communities."
The scientists advising EPA listed more of the health costs of low-level exposure to lead in children, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, delinquency and criminal behavior. In adults, it's a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and kidney disease, and there's "compelling evidence" that it could increase the risk of death from stroke and heart attacks, it added.

About 310,000 children ages 1 to 5 in America have lead levels that require medical attention, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lead poisoning can harm nearly every system in the body, but it often goes unrecognized because it can occur with no symptoms.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ex-GOP operative tells cautionary tale about 'how to rig an election'
By Jim Acosta and Ronni Berke
CNN "American Morning"

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Allen Raymond is living proof that political dirty tricksters do exist.

The former Republican political operative went to federal prison after he pleaded guilty to charges of phone harassment. He jammed the phone lines of New Hampshire's Democratic Party on Election Day six years ago [2002].

"The concept was to disrupt lines of communication. That's a fancy way of saying, 'make it so the phones didn't work,' " Raymond said recently. "No calls going out. No calls going in."

We're not going to give away exactly how Raymond did it. According to federal prosecutors, two top Republican Party officials tapped Raymond's Virginia-based telemarketing firm for the operation. Raymond then contracted out the job to a private phone bank in Idaho.

Former New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan remembers the ensuing flood of hang-up calls that created havoc in her office.

"At first, people had various impressions about what was going on," Sullivan recalled. "For example, at the Manchester field office, the young man who opened the office thought, 'The phones are all ringing off the hook. Nobody's here. I've broken the phone system. What did I do wrong?' And he was on the verge of tears."

The operation also jammed the lines inside a firefighter's union hall in Manchester, New Hampshire, where Jeff Duval and other local firefighters were lining up car rides to help senior citizens get to the polls.

"It almost felt to me like an election might have been stolen," Duval said. "I know for a fact that we received calls a few days later from people saying 'we tried to call you.' And I say 'did you get out and vote?' And they said 'no.'

Looking back, Raymond said, he thinks the scheme was ingenious in an "evil genius sort of way."

In his book, "How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative," Raymond details how he got caught. An hour and a half into the jamming operation he received an e-mail from a Republican official, frantically telling him to shut down the calls. The e-mail read: "Chairman wishes not to proceed with this project ... insists it violates federal law."

Federal agents eventually paid a visit to Raymond's office.

Raymond decided to come clean about his role in the operation and cooperate with investigators.

"I felt like I had an obligation, and not obligation to my country or obligation to the people in New Hampshire, nothing like that," Raymond said. "I had a responsibility to my family."

One of Raymond's alleged co-conspirators, James Tobin, was a top official with the National Republican Senatorial Committee that year. He went on to serve as George W. Bush's Northeastern regional re-election chairman in 2004. Tobin was initially convicted. But he succeeded in having that decision overturned by an appellate court. Just last week, Tobin was again indicted in the case on two counts of making false statements to a federal agent. His lawyer had no comment.

Another co-conspirator and former chairman of New Hampshire's Republican Party, Charles McGee, pleaded guilty to phone harassment in the case and served seven months in prison.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Earth In Midst Of Sixth Mass Extinction

As I said in an earlier post - I will admit, it wouldn't bother me if dodder (which I found in my garden once, with its suckers in my flowers) became extinct, although I also don't have a wish for it to become extinct, because I have only ever seen it that once, and I used to hike regularly in the woods.
Fleas, definitely on the please go extinct list! Not cockroaches, because they might be needed to help higher life continue, and re-evolve, and that's not a joke, at least not entirely.
Earth In Midst Of Sixth Mass Extinction: 50% Of All Species Disappearing

ScienceDaily (Oct. 21, 2008) — The Earth is in the midst of the sixth mass extinction of both plants and animals, with nearly 50 percent of all species disappearing, scientists say.

Because of the current crisis, biologists at UC Santa Barbara are working day and night to determine which species must be saved. Their international study of grassland ecosystems, with flowering plants, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The current extinction event is due to human activity, paving the planet, creating pollution, many of the things that we are doing today," said co-author Bradley J. Cardinale, assistant professor of ecology, evolution and marine biology (EEMB) at UC Santa Barbara. "The Earth might well lose half of its species in our lifetime. We want to know which ones deserve the highest priority for conservation."

He explained that the last mass extinction near the current level was 65 million years ago, called the Cretaceous Tertiary extinction event, and was probably the result of a meteor hitting the Earth. It is best known for the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, but massive amounts of plant species became extinct at that time as well.

According to the current study, the most genetically unique species are the ones that have the greatest importance in an ecosystem. These are the ones that the scientists recommend be listed as top priority for conservation.
"These 40 studies are showing the same thing for all plants around the world," said Cardinale. "It is not a willy-nilly conclusion. This study is very robust. It includes studies of plants that are found throughout the U.S., Europe, and Asia. We can have a high degree of confidence in the results. And the results show that genetic diversity predicts whether or not species matter."

The quest to cut social security

The quest to cut social security
Advocates of cutting social security and Medicare in the US are using the financial crisis as a pretext to further their agenda

Wall Street investment banker Peter Peterson has been on long quest to gut social security and Medicare, the core social insurance programmes on which American workers depend. He recently endowed a new foundation with $1bn to pursue this end.

Peterson and his crew are hoping that the financial crisis will help him accomplish his goal. His foundation has lately taken to arguing that because of the money spent bailing out the banks, we must make cut backs in social security, Medicare and elsewhere. In reality this is just bad economics. The Peterson crew is either badly confused or deliberately trying to mislead the public to promote its agenda.

Before dealing with this issue, it is worth noting that Peterson has a long history of being wrong in a big way about major economic issues. For example, in the 1990s he argued for partially privatising social security as a way to increase benefits. If Congress had taken his advice, beneficiaries today would be receiving much lower benefits.

Gap growing between rich and poor

Finally the mainstream media is paying attention to this problem, which is at least a contributor to the problems in the fiscal sector.
Associated Press updated 2 hours, 14 minutes ago

PARIS - The gap between rich and poor is getting bigger in the world's richest countries — and particularly the United States — as top earners' incomes soar while others' stagnate, according to a 30-nation report released Tuesday.

In a 20-year study of its member countries, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said wealthy households are not only widening the gap with the poor, but in countries such as the U.S., Canada and Germany they are also leaving middle-income earners further behind, with potentially ominous consequences if the global financial crisis sparks a long recession.

Inequality threatens the "American Dream" of social mobility — children doing better than their parents, the poor improving their lot through hard work — which is lower in the U.S. than countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Australia, the report found.

The two decades covered in the study — 1985-2005 — saw the development of global trade and the Internet, and a period of overall strong economic growth. The countries covered are mostly developed nations, especially in Europe.

The United States has the highest inequality and poverty in the OECD after Mexico and Turkey, and the gap has increased rapidly since 2000, the report said. France, meanwhile, has seen inequalities fall in the past 20 years as poorer workers are better paid.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria said that the study, which took three years to complete, would be useful to policymakers because it is coming out just as the world is undergoing "the worst crisis in decades."

With several OECD countries already in recession, the "key question" raised by the report is whether governments can prevent a possible drop in top earners' incomes from sparking "a second wave" hit to the lowest-income households, Martin Hirsch, France's high commissioner for fighting poverty, said at a news conference.

Also speaking at the report's presentation, Oxford University economist Anthony Atkinson noted that the widening inequality gap had coincided with a period of strong economic growth.

"What will happen if the next decade is not one of world growth but of world recession? If a rising tide didn't lift all boats, how will they be affected by an ebbing tide?" Atkinson said.

With governments around the globe announcing trillions of dollars in rescue financing to shore up banks, "I think that citizens of OECD countries are going to expect that if you can find funds to rescue banks, then governments can fund an effective unemployment insurance scheme, and they can fund employment subsidies," Atkinson said.

Atkinson said governments need to act to support employment as a response to widening inequality and faltering economies.

"If the government can take on the role of lender of last resort, then we should think about the government taking on the role of employer of last resort. Put bluntly, governments have to step up. Step up to the plate as Roosevelt did in the Great Depression," Atkinson said.

The OECD's Gurria urged governments to address the "divisive" issue of growing inequality. He said they should do more to educate the whole work force — and not just the elite — while helping people get jobs and increasing incomes for working families, rather than relying on social benefits.

"Greater income inequality stifles upward mobility between generations, making it harder for talented and hardworking people to get the rewards they deserve," he said in a statement. "It polarizes societies, it divides regions within countries, and it carves up the world between rich and poor."

In the United States, the richest 10 percent earn an average of $93,000 — the highest level in the OECD. The poorest 10 percent earn an average of $5,800 — about 20 percent lower than the OECD average.

Social mobility is lowest in countries with high inequality such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Italy, the report said.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sensitive to what - updated 10/21

I found the research in my previous blog entry particularly interesting because I am easily startled, but I do not identify myself as a conservative, and I don't hold the views that the researchers considered conservative.

Perhaps one reason I don't fit the profile is that I have a high degree of empathy. So I am sensitive to other people, as well as myself. Also, besides being highly sensitive, I am also highly analytical, so I think about my reactions, and whether they are what I think are right, and work at being the kind of person I think I should be. (Certainly far from achieving that goal!) If I am afraid of something I feel it is irrational to be afraid of, I make a point of doing it. Of course, it is rational to be afraid of some things. Because of things that have happened in my own life, causing dark feelings, I can understand others who do not have the same analytical ability to transform their own experiences.

I find this article helps me to understand better people whose views I find repulsive and immoral. I hope I can translate that into a better way of communicating with them. I have to admit, that is not one of strong suits.

As you can see, I rarely post comments about my personal life. When I do, it's because I think/hope it might be useful to help some people understand some other people.

On the way to work this morning I realized that I might not really be such an exception to the research (which like all such, won't apply all the time, anyway).
"The scientists explained that these political positions were protective of the volunteers' social groups."
I feel part of the group of all humanity, and indeed, of all life. So that affects my views of what is a threat, and who/what I feel protective toward. Since different individuals and different groups have different needs, I am forced to see the world in what I would consider a more balanced way, and see more than one side to many issues. I think this is what I share with other progressives & humanists.

I will admit, it wouldn't bother me if dodder (which I found in my garden once, with its suckers in my flowers) became extinct, although I also don't have a wish for it to become extinct, because I have only ever seen it that once, and I used to hike regularly in the woods.

Political views 'all in the mind'?

By Matt McGrath
Science reporter, BBC World Service

Scientists studying US voters say our political views may be an integral part of our physiological makeup.

Their research, published in the journal Science, indicates that people who are sensitive to fear or threat are likely to support a right wing agenda.

Those who perceived less danger in a series of images and sounds were more inclined to support liberal policies.

The authors believe their findings may help to explain why voters' minds are so hard to change.

In the study, conducted in Nebraska, 46 volunteers were first asked about their political views on issues ranging from foreign aid and the Iraq war to capital punishment and patriotism.

Those with strong opinions were invited to take part in the second part of the experiment, which involved recording their physiological responses to a series of images and sounds.

The images included pictures of a frightened man with a large spider on his face and an open wound with maggots in it. The subjects were also startled with loud noises on occasion.

By measuring the electrical conductance of the volunteers' skin and their blink responses, the scientists were able to work out the degree of fear they were experiencing - how sensitive they were to the images and sounds.

They found that subjects who were more easily startled tended to have political views that would be classified as more right wing, being more in favour of capital punishment and higher defence spending, but opposed to abortion rights.

The scientists explained that these political positions were protective of the volunteers' social groups.

"We focused primarily on things that we call 'protecting the social unit'," said John Hibbing from the University of Nebraska.

"So the idea is we have this unit - maybe it's the US - and we want to protect this from outsiders; so we might be opposed to immigration, we might advocate patriotism, and we like leaders who are strong and clear who are able to protect us from those outsiders.

"We might even be opposed to pornography or any kind of corrosive element that we see threatening the social unit.

"On the other hand, you have people who are more supportive of pacifism and who advocate gun control - and there are lots of areas where people who are less sensitive to threat would project those kinds of feelings into the political arena."

The researchers say there is no political relevance to their research - but Dr Hibbing feels it may help explain why it is so hard to change someone's mind in a political debate.

Different people, he said, started from a different psychological point.

"You have people who are experiencing the world, who are experiencing threat, differently.

"It's just that we have these very different physiological orientations. We're not sure where they came from, they may be genetic, they may be something from childhood; we do know, though, that they run deep because it's a reflex, it's not something you can change tomorrow, the depth of that may be something of an asset in figuring out why people are so stubborn in their political beliefs," he said.

"I even have the hope that this might facilitate understanding a little bit. Instead of political opponents thinking the opposite party are being wilfully bull-headed, you can say 'well ok, they see the world differently than I do'.

"People haven't just thought about things differently, they feel things differently."

Inmates conduct ecological research on slow-growing mosses

Public release date: 20-Oct-2008
[ Print Article | E-mail Article | Close Window ]

Contact: Lily Whiteman
National Science Foundation
Inmates conduct ecological research on slow-growing mosses
Moss-in-Prisons project helps promote sustainable living

Nalini Nadkarni of Evergreen State College currently advises a team of researchers who sport shaved heads, tattooed biceps and prison-issued garb rather than the lab coats and khakis typically worn by researchers. Why is Nadkarni's team composed of such apparently iconoclastic researchers? Because all of her researchers are inmates at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, a medium security prison in Littlerock, Washington.

With partial funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Nadkarni has guided her unlikely but productive team of researchers since 2004, as they conduct experiments to identify the best ways to cultivate slow-growing mosses. Nadkarni's so-called Moss-in-Prisons project is designed to help ecologists replace large quantities of ecologically important mosses that are regularly illegally stripped from Pacific Northwest forests by horticulturalists.

Why did Nadkarni recruit inmates into her research team? "Because," she explains, "I need help from people who have long periods of time available to observe and measure the growing mosses; access to extensive space to lay out flats of plants; and fresh minds to put forward innovative solutions."

In addition to managing the Moss-in-Prisons research at Cedar Creek, Nadkarni helps the facility's inmates run various projects that promote sustainable living--including an organic garden that produces 15,000 pounds of fresh vegetables every summer, a bee-keeping operation and a composting operation that processes one ton of food per month.

One member of Nadkarni's research team, who was released from Cedar Creek, enrolled in a Ph.D. program in microbiology at the University of Nevada and presented his Cedar Creek research at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in August 2008.

Nadkarni started the Moss-in-Prisons project with a type of NSF award that is specially designed to help scientists reach out to public audiences. More recently, she has received additional funding from the Washington State Department of Corrections.

In addition, Nadkarni has creatively stretched project resources by recruiting other NSF-funded researchers to contribute to a popular lecture series that she started at Cedar Creek. By giving such lectures, these scientists fulfill requirements for conducting public outreach that accompany NSF awards.


A recent TV news report about the Moss-in-Prisons and the sustainability projects at Cedar Creek is posted at

Fructose Sets Table For Weight Gain Without Warning

Fructose -- Found In High-fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar -- Sets Table For Weight Gain Without Warning
ScienceDaily (Oct. 19, 2008) — Eating too much fructose can induce leptin resistance, a condition that can easily lead to becoming overweight when combined with a high-fat, high-calorie diet, according to a new study with rats.

Although previous studies have shown that being leptin resistant can lead to rapid weight gain on a high-fat, high-calorie diet, this is the first study to show that leptin resistance can develop as a result of high fructose consumption. The study also showed for the first time that leptin resistance can develop silently, that is, with little indication that it is happening.
Fructose is the sugar found in fruit, but it’s not the normal consumption of fruit that is the problem. Table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are about 50% fructose and these ingredients have become increasingly common in many foods and beverages. With sugar and high-fructose corn syrup being added to many foods, people now eat much more fructose than ever before.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

U.S. easing rule on mine waste near streams

updated 6:22 p.m. ET, Fri., Oct. 17, 2008

WASHINGTON - The Interior Department has advanced a proposal that would ease restrictions on dumping mountaintop mining waste near rivers and streams, modifying protections that have been in place — though often circumvented by mining companies — for a quarter-century.

The department's Office of Surface Mining issued a final environmental impact analysis Friday on the proposed rule change, which has been under consideration for four years. It has been a top priority of the surface mining industry.

It sets the stage for a final regulation, one of the last major environmental [I would call it anti-environmental] initiatives of the Bush administration, after 30 days of additional public comment and interagency review.

The proposed rule would rewrite a regulation enacted in 1983 by the Reagan administration that bars mining companies from dumping huge waste piles — known as "valley fills" — from surface mining within 100 feet of any intermittent or perennial stream if the disposal adversely impacts water quality or quantity.

The revisions would require mining companies to minimize the debris they dump as much as possible, but also would let them skirt the 100-foot protective buffer requirement if compliance is determined to be impossible.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Our psychology helps politicians bend the truth
10 October 2008 Jim Giles

HOW do politicians get away with bending the truth? The answer may lie with a fundamental psychological tool that we use to make sense of the world.

The current US presidential campaigns have featured untruths on both sides that have been notable for their durability. Politicians have been exposed for misrepresenting their position and then kept at it anyway, making the same misleading statements again and again.
How do politicians get away with this? Ignorance is part of the answer. Many voters will never read the newspaper article or watch the news broadcasts that reveal the true situation. But psychology is also at work. The short cuts that we use to make sense of the world shape our perception of it. When it comes to politics, this can lead voters to reach the wrong conclusions about candidates, even when they have been exposed to the truth. Could it be that politicians and their strategists are harnessing this phenomenon?

The origin of this is a seemingly mundane psychological finding: we tend to arrange the world into categories. This saves thinking time. Even the least-engaged voter knows that McCain is a Republican, for example. When the voter places him in that category, their brain automatically links McCain to attributes shared by other Republicans. The voter might not recall McCain's position on the 2003 invasion of Iraq, for example, but they would assume that as a Republican he supported it - which he did.

Problems arise when we try to recall something that does not fit with the categories we use. Experiments conducted in the 1980s by Milton Lodge and Ruth Hamill at the State University of New York at Stony Brook examined how beliefs and stereotypes, such as those associated with gender or race, affect the way that voters analyse candidates. They found that correct information about a candidate was often forgotten or misinterpreted if it conflicted with the way voters categorised that politician.
The categorising process, which has been shown to help explain how we learn and remember things, has now been modelled for political beliefs by Nathan Collins, a political scientist at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. In a paper being considered for publication by The Journal of Politics, he finds that voters are more likely to misremember a candidate's position if it conflicts with the party line. And that, says Collins, opens the door to deceptive campaigning., it seems, should be compulsory reading for any American with a vote.

Bankruptcy and Medical Costs

ABC News report
Thursday, February 03, 2005
Half of all U.S. bankruptcies are caused by soaring medical bills and most people sent into debt by illness are middle-class workers with health insurance, researchers said on Wednesday.

Racial Disparities In Cardiovascular Health Linked To Birth Weight, Slavery
ScienceDaily (Oct. 17, 2008) — Two new articles examine the theory of "fetal programming" and their effect on racial health disparities. The studies, published in American Journal of Human Biology, suggest that the higher rates of hypertension and cardiovascular disease present in African Americans may be a consequence of low birth weights, and that these low birth weights may be a result of social rather than genetic factors.

It is well-established that the nutritional and psychological state of a pregnant mother can influence whether her child will later develop cardiovascular disease as an adult. Nutrients and hormones present in the womb shape a fetus's development, in part by silencing certain genes in the body. These influences can persist into later life to impact adult health. Researchers from Northwestern University argue that such intergenerational impacts of environmental factors could help explain black-white differences in cardiovascular health in the U.S.

10 Years On, High-school Social Skills Predict Better Earnings Than Test Scores

ScienceDaily (Oct. 16, 2008) — Ten years after graduation, high-school students who had been rated as conscientious and cooperative by their teachers were earning more than classmates who had similar test scores but fewer social skills, said a new University of Illinois study.
"It's important to note that good schools do more than teach reading, writing, and math. They socialize students and provide the kinds of learning opportunities that help them to become good citizens and to be successful in the labor market," she said.

"Unless we address the differences in school climates and curriculum that foster good work habits and other social skills, we're doing a huge disservice to low-income kids who may be entering the labor market right after high school, especially in our increasingly service-oriented economy," Lleras added.

She cited responses to employer surveys that stress the need for workers who can get along well with each other and get along well with the public.
...Participation in sports and school organizations also had strong effects on a student's future educational and occupational success.

"For African American and Hispanic students only, participation in fine arts led to significantly better earnings compared to whites. This suggests that different activities teach kids different kinds of skills and learned behaviors," she said.

Lleras also emphasized the importance of improving school quality.

"Low-income and racial minority students continue to be concentrated in lower-quality schools with fewer opportunities for extracurricular participation, larger class sizes, and lower teacher quality, all factors that are correlated with poorer school-related attitudes and behavior," she said.

"If the few resources that low-performing schools have are used solely for testing and preparing students for tests, which is what many schools are doing to meet the requirements set forth in No Child Left Behind, these schools will continue to face challenges," she said.

Cookies recalled due to possible melamine
Associated Press updated 13 minutes ago

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. - A company is recalling Koala’s March creme-filled cookies from U.S. shelves because they were made in China and may be contaminated with melamine.

Lotte USA Inc. says Friday that it initiated the recall on Sept. 29. The Michigan-based company says it’s not aware of any illnesses associated with the products.

The recall covers king-size chocolate, white chocolate and strawberry flavors. It also includes family pack-size chocolate, white chocolate, strawberry, chestnut, Hawaii chocolate and Hawaii pineapple flavors.

Cookies were distributed nationwide and to Canada.

Melamine is the industrial chemical blamed for killing four infants and sickening 54,000 children in China. It’s used to make plastics and fertilizers.

Budget deficit in 2008 surges to all-time high

Note: the budget deficit (or surplus) is the amount we add (or subtract) from the national debt, in a year.
updated 8:56 p.m. ET, Tues., Oct. 14, 2008

WASHINGTON - The federal budget deficit soared to $454.8 billion in 2008 as a housing collapse and efforts to combat the economic slowdown pushed the tide of government red ink to the highest level in history.
$454.8 billion is about $1516/person

The Bush administration said Tuesday the deficit for the budget year that ended Sept. 30 was more than double the $161.5 billion recorded in 2007.

It surpassed the previous record of $413 billion set in 2004. Economists predicted a far worse number next year as the costs of the government's rescue of the financial system and the economic hard times hit the nation's balance sheet.
Some analysts believe that next year's deficit could easily top $700 billion, giving the next president a formidable challenge.
when Bush took office in 2001, the budget was in surplus with projections that total surpluses over the next decade would reach $5.6 trillion.
"The eight years of this administration will include the five biggest budget deficits in history," said House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, D-S.C. "The resulting debt will be passed to our children and grandchildren."

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said the national debt had climbed by more than $1 trillion while Bush was in office and "the next president will inheriting a fiscal and economic mess of historic proportions."
Responded on October 17, 2008 1:54 AM
James K. Galbraith, Professor of Economics, University of Texas

(To see the part I have copied below, you have to click "Read More" at the end of Galbraith's comment)

I was at the Peterson Institute the other day. There I heard a very good panel discussion of the financial crisis, featuring Fred Bergsten, Adam Posen, Morris Goldstein and others. All agreed that the deficit would exceed one trillion dollars next year.
one trillion dollars = $1,000,000,000,000
which is $3,333/person


Our national debt is about $34,000 per person.

See my earlier post at

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What liberal media?

Am I the only one in the country that heard McCain refer to President Kennedy’s assassination, or does everybody else forget where it happened?
“Any place, any time,” the way Barry Goldwater and Jack Kennedy agreed to do, before the intervention of the tragedy at Dallas.”

When Hillary said something similar, some people jumped all over her, with a lot of news coverage. In that case, it might well have been an innocent comment, like when I mention that the last time a saw John Denver in concert was a few months before his death. But after all the controversy there was over Clinton’s statement, and in the context of the topic of Palin supporters shouting racist threats against Obama at Palin rally’s, the comment shows McCain to be really vile and evil, or else mentally incompetent. As I remember, he paused briefly before he said it, so it did not give me the appearance of something that just came out naturally w/o thinking, as part of the context.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More Bush signing statements

October 15, 2008
Bush Declares Exceptions to Sections of Two Bills He Signed Into Law

WASHINGTON — President Bush asserted on Tuesday that he had the executive power to bypass several parts of two bills: a military authorization act and a measure giving inspectors general greater independence from White House control.

Mr. Bush signed the two measures into law. But he then issued a so-called signing statement in which he instructed the executive branch to view parts of each as unconstitutional constraints on presidential power.

In the authorization bill, Mr. Bush challenged four sections. One forbid the money from being used “to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq”; another required negotiations for an agreement by which Iraq would share some of the costs of the American military operations there.

The sections “purport to impose requirements that could inhibit the president’s ability to carry out his constitutional obligations,” including as commander in chief, Mr. Bush wrote.

In the other bill, he raised concerns about two sections that strengthen legal protections against political interference with the internal watchdog officials at each executive agency.

One section gives the inspectors general a right to counsels who report directly to them. But Mr. Bush wrote in his signing statement that such lawyers would be bound to follow the legal interpretations of the politically appointed counsels at each agency.

The other section requires the White House to tell Congress what each inspector general said about the administration’s budget proposal for their offices. Such a requirement, Mr. Bush wrote, would infringe on “the president’s constitutional authority” to decide what to recommend to Congress.
The White House has defended Mr. Bush’s use of signing statements as lawful and appropriate. But in 2006, the American Bar Association called the device “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers.”

Mr. Bush has used the signing statements to assert a right to bypass more than 1,100 sections of laws. By comparison, all previous presidents combined challenged about 600 sections of bills.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Aid agencies: world's poor will be biggest victims;_ylt=AoZDz7LK.C4pKF4JYoZqdhas0NUE

Aid agencies: world's poor will be biggest victims

By ALEXANDER G. HIGGINS, Associated Press WriterTue Oct 14, 5:30 PM ET

The world's poorest people will be hungrier, sicker and have fewer jobs as a result of the global financial crisis, and cash-strapped aid agencies will be less able to help, aid groups are warning.

The charities that provide food, medicine and other relief on the ground say cutbacks have already started, but it will take months or more before the full impact is felt in the poorest countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Aid agencies face more than just the prospect of plummeting donations. The economic conditions themselves — higher food prices and more joblessness — are greatly increasing the number of people who need assistance.

Philippe Guiton of World Vision told The Associated Press that his agency plans to cut back hiring, which will have implications for delivering aid to the needy overseas.

"What we are going to do now is to issue an order to reduce spending, to delay recruitment, delay purchases of capital assets, etc., until we can see clearer how much our income has dropped," he said.

Robert Glasser, secretary-general of CARE International, said the agency has "a number of major donors who have invested heavily in the markets and have now seen their portfolios take a big hit."

What that will mean on the ground could take months or more to gauge — and perhaps years for a complete recovery, aid groups say.

In impoverished Haiti, funding for projects to rebuild from tropical storms that killed nearly 800 people and destroyed more than half the nation's agriculture hangs in the balance.

"It's too soon to tell yet because we haven't heard back positively or negatively from our major donors," Greg Elder, deputy head of programming for U.S-based Catholic Relief Services, said by telephone from the battered southern port of Les Cayes.

The group is waiting for word from the U.S. Agency for International Development on whether it will get $2 million for 10 new food-for-work projects, which provide Haitians with rations in exchange for building roads, irrigation systems and environmental projects.

An additional $500,000 is needed to repair 12 existing projects whose work was wiped out by the storms. "It's just we can't start these new projects, these rehabilitation projects, until we get the go-ahead," Elder said.

During global recessions in the 1970s and 1990s, aid spending dropped sharply and took years to recover, said Matt Grainger of the British-based charity Oxfam International.

That means problems across the board, said CARE's Glasser. Wealthy countries will stop investing in developing countries, and cut back on imports from poorer countries, leaving their governments with less money to pay for health care and schools, he said.

In Zimbabwe, a Red Cross food program for 260,000 orphans and HIV-infected people began last month to make sure AIDS victims have sufficient nourishment in a nation where millions are going hungry because of drought and land-seizures that have devastated agriculture.

HIV-infected people are especially vulnerable because without food they cannot tolerate their medicine.

"The farmers' food stores are depleted. There is no food available," said Peter Lundberg, country representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

"I spoke to a family a few days ago and I said, 'How are you coping?' Basically this was a poor farmer family. And they said, 'We used to have three, maybe four, meals a day and now we're down to one meal.'"

Medecins Sans Frontieres, which runs AIDS clinics in the Cape Town township of Khayelitsha in South Africa, said it's "far too early" to determine the impact the crisis would have on donations.

"The money we're spending now was collected some time ago," said Henrik Glette, a South Africa-based spokesman for the group.

But Neil Tobin, an employee of UNAIDS in Sierra Leone, warned: "It is well documented that AIDS is a problem compounded by poverty. Thus the concern is that any sharp economic downturn may present increased challenges, particularly for developing nations in responding to the epidemic."

Top scientists meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, said they feared the financial turmoil would curb research into a new AIDS vaccine.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said "the increases in the budget we had hoped for will not be forthcoming."

Alan Bernstein, head of Global Vaccine Enterprise, said the financial meltdown is "not good news for research in general and vaccine research in particular."


Associated Press writers Jonathan M. Katz in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Michelle Faul and Donna Bryson in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Clare Nullis in Cape Town, South Africa contributed to this report.