Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Worst Case Scenario: Can We Adapt to a World 2 to 4 Degrees Warmer?


ScienceDaily (Nov. 29, 2010) — Oxford scientists have contributed to a series of research papers about the impacts of global warming to coincide with the opening of the Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico.

One study, led by Niel Bowerman of the Oxford University's Department of Physics, warns that the conference will fail to meet its objectives unless it addresses not just how much the planet warms, but also how fast it warms. Potentially dangerous rates of global warming could outpace the ability of ecosystems and manmade infrastructure to adapt, it argues.

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Bowerman's study shows that to achieve their aims, negotiators must limit the maximum global emission rate as well as the total amount of carbon emitted through to 2200. He explains: 'Many people think that the reason why emissions need to peak soon is to save the climate of the 22nd century, but our research highlights a more immediate reason. We need to start cutting emissions soon to avoid potentially dangerous rates of warming within our lifetimes, and to avoid committing ourselves to potentially unfeasible rates of emission reduction in a couple of decade's time.'

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Another study, led by Dr Fai Fung from the School of Geography and the Environment, has analysed the extent of water scarcity in some of the world's largest river basins in the next 50 years, if global mean temperatures rise by two or four degrees Celsius.

Even if global warming is limited to two degrees Celsius, the study suggests water supplies will dwindle in most river basins because of the increased demands for water from the world's growing populations. In a four degree Celsius world, impacts of climate change would become the biggest threat. Projections suggest that in a world that is two degrees warmer, river basins will become drier and some wetter. An increase of four degrees will amplify the changes even more.


Charging for Plastic Bags Cut Bag Consumption by Half in China


ScienceDaily (Nov. 28, 2010) — Research from the University of Gothenburg (Sweden) shows that people in China -- the number one consumers of plastic bags in the world -- reduced their consumption of plastic bags by half when stores were forced to charge consumers for the bags.

Use of plastic bags is a growing global environmental problem. As a result, the bags are becoming subject to various regulations in an increasing number of countries, with mixed results. An environmental-economic evaluation of the Chinese ordinance against free plastic bags from June 2008 shows that people in China -- the number one consumers of plastic bags in the world -- reduced their consumption of plastic bags by half when stores were forced to charge consumers for the bags.

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'A general reflection based on studies in several countries is that if a country wants to reduce the consumption of plastic bags in the long term, it seems like repeated public information campaigns on environmental problems linked to plastic bags are very important,' says He.

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As competition is fierce in China, many stores choose not to comply with the new ordinance. Haoran He says that four months after the implementation of the ordinance, 60 percent of all plastic bags were still given away at no charge.

'One alternative would be for the government to price the shopping bags, convert the fee to a tax and then use the revenues to finance various environmental measures,' says He.

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Ireland is a country that has been remarkably successful at reducing people's consumption of plastic bags. In 2002 the country implemented a plastic bag tax in combination with long-term informational campaigns. When the Irish consumers were forced to pay 1.50 SEK per bag, they reduced their consumption by an astonishing 90 percent. Since they eventually got used to the price and the consumption consequently went up again, the government increased the price to 2.20 SEK/bag after five years. This clever move made the consumption fall back to a very low level again. People in Ireland now use about 20 bags per year as compared to 330 bags per year when they were given away for free.


Male Reproductive Problems May Add to Falling Fertility Rates


ScienceDaily (Nov. 26, 2010) — Reduced male fertility may be making it even harder for couples to conceive and be contributing to low birth rates in many countries, reveals a new European Science Foundation (ESF) report launching at the IPSEN meeting in Paris.

More than 10% of couples worldwide are infertile, contributing to the growing demand for assisted reproduction techniques such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) for which Robert G. Edwards won the Nobel Prize in Medicine last month.

Sperm counts have dropped significantly in the last 50 years in developed countries. Today, at least one in five 18-25 year old men in Europe have semen quality in the subfertile range. Testosterone levels are also declining. This is mirrored by increasing testicular cancer in most industrialised countries and more developmental abnormalities such as undescended testes. All of these factors are linked to reduced fertility and may have common origins during foetal development.

"The important impact of men's reproductive health on a couple's fertility is often overlooked," said Professor Niels Skakkebæk from the University of Copenhagen, who co-authored the report. "Women postponing motherhood have reduced fertility, and we now see that poor sperm may be making it even harder to conceive. While poor sperm may be part of the reason more couples are using IVF it may also be making those therapies less successful."

Skakkebæk continues: "We need a common strategy in Europe to target research so we can address the poor state of men's reproductive health. That this decrease in male reproductive health has occurred in just a few decades suggests it's caused by environmental and lifestyle factors rather than genetics. So it is preventable if we correctly identify the causes."

In men some lifestyle factors such as obesity and smoking can affect sperm counts, but the effects are small. In contrast, if women smoke heavily in pregnancy, a much larger fall in sperm count is likely in their sons when they grow up. Testosterone levels naturally drop as men age, which may predispose men to cardiovascular and metabolic health problems that pose large financial and healthcare issues for national governments. Low sperm counts and low testosterone levels are both associated with increased risk of early death for men.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Walking Slows Progression of Alzheimer's


ScienceDaily (Nov. 29, 2010) — Walking may slow cognitive decline in adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's disease, as well as in healthy adults, according to a study presented November 29 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

"We found that walking five miles per week protects the brain structure over 10 years in people with Alzheimer's and MCI, especially in areas of the brain's key memory and learning centers," said Cyrus Raji, Ph.D., from the Department of Radiology at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. "We also found that these people had a slower decline in memory loss over five years."

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Antibacterial Soaps: Being Too Clean Can Make People Sick


ScienceDaily (Nov. 29, 2010) — Young people who are overexposed to antibacterial soaps containing triclosan may suffer more allergies, and exposure to higher levels of Bisphenol A among adults may negatively influence the immune system, a new University of Michigan School of Public Health study suggests.

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"The triclosan findings in the younger age groups may support the 'hygiene hypothesis,' which maintains living in very clean and hygienic environments may impact our exposure to micro-organisms that are beneficial for development of the immune system," said Allison Aiello, associate professor at the U-M School of Public Health and principal investigator on the study.

As an antimicrobial agent found in many household products, triclosan may play a role in changing the micro-organisms to which we are exposed in such a way that our immune system development in childhood is affected.

"It is possible that a person can be too clean for their own good," said Aiello, who is also a visiting associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard.

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The Declining Labor Share of Income


United Nations Development Programme
Human Development Reports
Research Paper 2010/36
November 2010
Francisco Rodriguez and Arjun Jayadev

We use two distinct panel datasets to extract and examine data on the labor share of output. From the first, we examine trends in the economy-wide labor share and from the second, we examine trends in the labor share of the manufacturing sector over the last three decades. Both datasets show that labor shares have decreased, starting from about 1980, in most regions of the world.

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Too much of a good thing.

Some leaks are moral and patriotic, but some are immoral and treasonous. It sounds to me like Wikileaks might be in the 2nd category. But I haven't looked at the issue in detail.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Stay fit after 65 to live longer, better


By Janice Lloyd, USA TODAY
NEW ORLEANS — Baby Boomers better think again if they're longing for a sedentary old age.

Health experts at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America this weekend shed new light on exercise's value as a strong tool in combating diseases often associated with aging.

"How you live after age 65 is vitally important," says Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. "Up until then, a healthy life is dominated by your genes. After that, it's predominantly about lifestyle. Exercise and nutrition become more important."

Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease, sarcopenia, osteoporosis, obesity, arthritis, and certain cancers appear more often in later life.

To help fight dementia, play memory games if you want, but it might be better to "invest in a good pair of walking shoes," says Peggye Dilworth-Anderson, the gerontology society's president and a board member of the national Alzheimer's Association. That thinking is consistent with a study reported by University of Pittsburgh researchers in October showing older adults who walk 6 to 9 miles a week have a lower risk for cognitive decline later in life.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Retirement Reduces Tiredness and Depression,


ScienceDaily (Nov. 24, 2010) — Retirement leads to a substantial reduction in mental and physical fatigue and depressive symptoms, finds a study published on the British Medical Journal website. However, the research also concludes that retirement does not change the risk of major chronic illnesses such as respiratory disease, diabetes and heart disease.

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The results show that retirement is linked with a substantial decrease in both mental and physical fatigue, with a smaller but significant decrease in depressive symptoms. However, the research also shows there is no association between retirement and chronic disease. As expected, say the authors, these diseases gradually increased with age.

The authors believe there are a number of explanations for the findings: "if work is tiring for many older workers, the decrease in fatigue could simply reflect removal of the source of the problem ... furthermore, retirement may allow people more time to engage in stimulating and restorative activities, such as physical exercise," they write.

They conclude that their research results "indicate that fatigue may be an underlying reason for early exit from the labour market and decreased productivity, and redesign of work, healthcare interventions or both may be necessary to enable a larger proportion of older people to work in full health."

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Study links lower carbon emissions to recession


By Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
Worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide, widely blamed as the chief cause of global warming, dropped from 2008 to 2009, largely because of the global economic slowdown, according to a study released Sunday. It was the first decline since the late 1990s.

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Is the emissions drop entirely a result of the economic crisis? No, says Dan Lashof, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council climate center, who was not part of the study. "The decreases in emissions for the big countries were larger than their GDP decline," he says. "It's not just the recession."

Lashof says concerted efforts to limit and reduce carbon emissions and invest in clean energy in countries such as Germany and the U.K. could be paying dividends.

The fact that fewer trees are being cut down in some parts of the world is also good news. "We found global emissions from deforestation have decreased through the last decade by more than 25%, compared to the 1990s," says study co-author and Global Carbon Project executive director Pep Canadell. Cutting down trees and clearing forests — known as deforestation — releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as the trees rot and are burned.


Environmental Toxin May Play Important Role in Multiple Sclerosis: Hypertension Drug Possible Treatment


ScienceDaily (Nov. 23, 2010) — Researchers have found evidence that an environmental pollutant may play an important role in causing multiple sclerosis and that a hypertension drug might be used to treat the disease

The toxin acrolein was elevated by about 60 percent in the spinal cord tissues of mice with a disease similar to multiple sclerosis, said Riyi Shi, a medical doctor and a professor of neuroscience and biomedical engineering in Purdue University's Department of Basic Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, Center for Paralysis Research and Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering

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The compound is an environmental toxin found in air pollutants including tobacco smoke and auto exhaust. Acrolein also is produced within the body after nerve cells are damaged. Previous studies by this research team found that neuronal death caused by acrolein can be prevented by administering the drug hydralazine, an FDA-approved medication used to treat hypertension.

The new findings show that hydralazine also delays onset of multiple sclerosis in mice and reduces the severity of symptoms by neutralizing acrolein.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

A Brief Snapshot of Hardship in America


November 24, 2010 at 11:13 am

As we think about what we have to be thankful for this holiday season, it’s important to remember that millions of Americans are having trouble affording basic necessities. Below are the most current figures available in five important areas.

* 1.6 million people were homeless in 2009 and spent at least part of the year in a shelter; nearly 325,000 of them were children.
* 15 million people were unemployed as of October, 6 million of whom had been looking for work for more than half a year.
* 44 million people were poor in 2009, 19 million of whom had incomes below half of the poverty line (half of the poverty line corresponds to an income of $5,478 for an individual and $10,977 for a family of four).
* 50 million people lacked access to adequate food at some point in 2009 because they didn’t have enough money for groceries. Nearly 18 million people lived in households where one or more people had to skip meals or take other steps to reduce their food intake because of lack of resources.
* 51 million people lacked health coverage in 2009.

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Social Costs of School Success Are Highest for African Americans


ScienceDaily (Nov. 22, 2010) — African American and Native American teens who do well in school suffer from a higher "nerd penalty" than white, Asian, and Hispanic youth, according to a new analysis.

"The negative social consequences of getting good grades were particularly pronounced for black and Native American students in high-achieving schools with small proportions of students similar to themselves," said University of Michigan developmental psychologist Thomas Fuller-Rowell, the lead author of the study.

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They found considerable differences among ethnic groups in the social consequences of academic achievement. For whites, the link between GPA and social acceptance was strongly positive over time -- the better their GPA, the more likely that students were to feel accepted, and the less likely to report feeling lonely, feeling that others had been unfriendly, or that others disliked them.

For black students and for Native Americans, the relationship between GPA and social acceptance was reversed: the higher their GPA, the lonelier they were likely to report feeling, and the more they were likely to report that others had been unfriendly or disliked them.

While Hispanics overall displayed a pattern similar to whites and Asians, the researchers found significant differences between students of Mexican descent and those of Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Central and South American heritage.

The Mexican students showed patterns similar to blacks, particularly when they were a small proportion of the population in high-achieving schools.

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Binge Drinking May Lead to Higher Risk of Heart Disease


ScienceDaily (Nov. 23, 2010) — Belfast's binge drinking culture could be behind the country's high rates of heart disease, according to a paper published on the British Medical Journal website.

The study, which compares drinking patterns of middle aged men in France and Belfast, finds that the volume of alcohol consumed over a week in both countries is almost identical. However, in Belfast alcohol tends to be drunk over one or two days rather than regularly throughout the week as in France.

The research also finds that the average amount of alcohol consumed in Belfast over the weekend is around 2-3 times higher than in France.

The link between alcohol consumption and heart disease and premature death has already been established says the paper. What remains unclear, argue the authors, is the role of drinking patterns and the type of alcohol consumed.

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The Tuatara, a Still-Evolving Original


Published: November 22, 2010

As a femur-shaped island paradise that snapped away from the Gondwana supercontinent some 80 million years ago, New Zealand is famously home to eccentric forms of wildlife that look like pets for a Hobbit.

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the animal that may well be New Zealand’s most bizarrely instructive species at first glance looks surprisingly humdrum: the tuatara. A reptile about 16 inches long with bumpy, khaki-colored skin and a lizardly profile, the tuatara could easily be mistaken for an iguana. Appearances in this case are wildly deceptive. The tuatara — whose name comes from the Maori language and means “peaks on the back” — is not an iguana, is not a lizard, is not like any other reptile alive today.

In fact, as a series of recent studies suggest, it is not like any other vertebrate alive today. The tuatara, scientists have learned, is in some ways a so-called living fossil, its basic skeletal layout and skull shape almost identical to that of tuatara fossils dating back hundreds of millions of years, to before the rise of the dinosaurs. Certain tuatara organs and traits also display the hallmarks of being, if not quite primitive, at least closer to evolutionary baseline than comparable structures in other animals.

For example, the tuatara has a third eye at the top of its skull, the legendary if poorly understood pineal eye, which is found in only a sprinkling of reptile species and which vision researchers suspect harks back to nature’s original eye — pretty much a few light-sensitive cells on a stalk. A tuatara’s teeth likewise follow the no-nonsense design seen in dinosaur dentition, erupting directly from the jawbone and without the niceties of tooth sockets and periodontal ligaments that characterize the teeth of all mammals and many reptiles. Some researchers are looking at tuataras for clues to how dental implants, which are inserted directly into the jaw, might be improved.

Yet in a startling counterpoint to the notion of the tuatara as a holdover from Triassic Park, researchers lately have discovered that a few regions of tuatara DNA appear to be evolving at hyperspeed, possibly the fastest mutation rate yet clocked in a vertebrate genome. The quick-changing sequences are limited to so-called neutral regions of the tuatara’s DNA, affecting filler codes, rather than the molecular blueprints for how to build a tuatara. The researchers have yet to determine what the observed hypermutability is all about, but obviously, said David M. Lambert of Griffith University, in Brisbane, Australia, an author of the study, “the processes that govern skeletal morphology are decoupled from the biological processes that govern changes in DNA.”

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Weingarten is a face-to-face philanthropist


By Oren Dorell, USA TODAY
For Charlie Annenberg Weingarten, giving away money is personal.

Explore, his branch of the $1.6 billion Annenberg Foundation, gives away millions of dollars every year, but Weingarten doesn't accept grant proposals or give money from a distance. He spends time with people whose causes he believes in and films the visits to call attention to what they do.

"I can't understand giving if it's impersonal," Weingarten says. "I don't give grants by somebody sending a 20-page docket."

Weingarten, 43, a vice president and director of the foundation created by his media tycoon grandfather, Walter Annenberg, prayed with coal miners in West Virginia's Coal River Valley after an explosion killed 29 miners last spring. He swam in Hawaii with a group that takes disabled people to the beach. He hiked in Greenland to highlight changes facing people of the Arctic in a warming climate.

Explore's mission, he says, is to champion the selfless acts of others and inspire lifelong learning. It's also to tell stories.

"If you listen to the media, you'd think everyone in the Middle East is a terrorist, everyone in China is greedy, everyone in Africa is starving," Weingarten says. Explore shows, he says, "wherever you go in the world, people are doing good things."

His team chooses places in the news, researches the issues and identifies non-profits doing interesting work there. The ideal crew for a fact-finding mission, he says, fits in a rental car. The trips are documented in thousands of photographs and hundreds of videos on the website.

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Remember the laborers who put food on our plates


By J. Richard Cohen
This week, as we celebrate our nation's bounty and give thanks for the blessings in our lives, most of us probably won't think very much about the people who do the backbreaking labor that puts food on our plates. We should.

It's easy to take for granted the cornucopia of vegetables, fruits, meats, nuts, grains and other staples that shows up on our grocery store shelves like clockwork. But we shouldn't.

This Thanksgiving marks the 50th anniversary of Edward R. Murrow's Harvest of Shame, the CBS documentary that shocked the conscience of the nation with its depiction of the hardships and abuses faced by migrant farmworkers.

Sadly, not much has changed.

What has changed is that our nation's farmworkers are now overwhelmingly Latino — and the majority are undocumented immigrants. Slaughterhouses and other food-processing factories also rely heavily on these undocumented workers. Millions of them are women, and they are surely the most exploited laborers in our country.

Today, there are 4 million undocumented women living in the U.S. They fill, for the most part, the lowest-paying jobs in our country. They usually earn minimum wage or less, get no sick or vacation days and receive no health insurance. They are not eligible for most government programs that benefit the poor.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has just released a new study — Injustice on Our Plates — about the shameful but routine exploitation these women face. We conducted extensive interviews — we granted them anonymity to get their cooperation — with scores of immigrant women working in the fields and factories to produce our food.

What we found was heartbreaking. Despite their obvious contributions to our economy, these immigrants exist in a shadow world in which they are subject to abuses that most of us can't imagine. They live at the margins of society — subsisting on poverty wages and enduring wage theft, rampant sexual harassment, dangerous working conditions and other indignities.

One woman, named Maria, told us about going to work in South Florida's tomato fields, where she expected to earn 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes she picked. But when pay day arrived, the boss said there was no money. There was nothing she could do about it.

Why? Another woman, Yazmin, explains. "It's because of fear (that) we have to tolerate more," she said. "Sometimes they take advantage because we don't have papers. They mistreat us, and what can we do? Where would we go?"

Numerous women spoke of near-constant sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. Some had been brutally assaulted, but the women rarely report the crimes committed against them. They are too afraid of being fired and deported. "You have to let them humiliate you, harass the young girls just entering the field," said one veteran farmworker. "You allow it or they fire you."

Others told of being drenched in poisonous pesticides while working in the fields and of being disfigured by injuries while working on poultry-processing lines that run too fast.

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Holiday hunger


November 24, 2010

This Thanksgiving, 42.4 million Americans – 13.7% of the population -- are receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program, more commonly known as Food Stamps. The number is up from 36.2 million last year and has risen by 15 million since the start of the recession in December 2007.

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In addition to widened eligibility, the increase use of Food Stamps reflects a higher poverty rate and increased unemployment. Earlier this year, the Census Bureau reported that the poverty rate rose from 13.2% in 2008 to 14.3% in 2009. As EPI Economists noted in an analysis of that data, “When unemployment skyrockets and job seekers cannot find work, incomes fall and poverty rises.”


Upper-Class People Have Trouble Recognizing Others' Emotions


ScienceDaily (Nov. 22, 2010) — Upper-class people have more educational opportunities, greater financial security, and better job prospects than people from lower social classes, but that doesn't mean they're more skilled at everything. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds surprisingly, that lower-class people are better at reading the emotions of others.

The researchers were inspired by observing that, for lower-class people, success depends more on how much they can rely on other individuals. For example, if you can't afford to buy support services, such as daycare service for your children, you have to rely on your neighbors or relatives to watch the kids while you attend classes or run errands, says Michael W. Kraus of the University of California-San Francisco. He co-wrote the study with Stéphane Côté of the University of Toronto and Dacher Keltner of the University of California-Berkeley.

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A final experiment found that, when people were made to feel that they were at a lower social class than they actually were, they got better at reading emotions. This shows that "it's not something ingrained in the individual," Kraus says. "It's the cultural context leading to these differences." He says this work helps show that stereotypes about the classes are wrong. "It's not that a lower-class person, no matter what, is going to be less intelligent than an upper-class person. It's all about the social context the person lives in, and the specific challenges the person faces. If you can shift the context even temporarily, social class differences in any number of behaviors can be eliminated."


U.S. Jobless Claims Decline to 407,000, Lowest Since July 2008


By Shobhana Chandra - Nov 24, 2010 8:49 AM ET

Applications for unemployment benefits in the U.S. fell more than forecast last week to the lowest level since July 2008, reinforcing evidence the labor market is healing.

Jobless claims declined by 34,000 to 407,000 in the week ended Nov. 20, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median projection of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a drop to 435,000. The total number of people receiving unemployment insurance decreased to the lowest in two years, and those on extended payments also fell.

Fewer firings lay the groundwork for a pickup in job creation that will generate incomes and spur consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of the economy. Even with companies firing fewer workers, unemployment will be slow to decline, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest forecast in which policy makers also lowered their growth projections.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Saving energy and tax dollars


8:29 a.m. Monday, November 22, 2010

Officials in Gainesville say an energy-savings program is improving the financial picture for the city's schools.

David Shumake, assistant superintendent of instruction, says that in the last 22 months, the Gainesville school system has saved more than $800,000 on its utility bills.

Shumake says the money goes back into the district's general fund.

In 2008, the district began a campaign to cut energy costs and signed a four-year contract with Energy Education, a company that generally works with schools and churches to build a customized conservation program. Shumake predicts significant savings are ahead for Gainesville schools. He says that if the energy-savings program continues, the district projects to save about $5 million in utilities in the next 10 years.


Caffeine and Glucose Combined Improves the Efficiency of Brain Activity

This gave me an excuse to eat half a York peppermint patty this morning, with my morning white and green tea.

ScienceDaily (Nov. 23, 2010) — The combination of caffeine and glucose can improve the efficiency of brain activity, according to a recent study in which functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to identify the neural substrate for the combined effects of these two substances.

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Bacteria Help Infants Digest Milk More Effectively Than Adults


ScienceDaily (Nov. 24, 2010) — Infants are more efficient at digesting and utilizing nutritional components of milk than adults due to a difference in the strains of bacteria that dominate their digestive tracts.

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The results of this study suggest that B. longum has at least 2 distinct subspecies: B. longum subsp. infantis, adapted to ultilize milk carbon and found primarily in the digestive tract of children, and B. longum subsp. longum, specialized for plant-derived carbon metabolism and associated with the adult digestive tract.

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Lakes are heating up


By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein, Ap Science Writer – Tue Nov 23, 6:36 pm ET

WASHINGTON – A first-of-its-kind NASA study is finding nice cool lakes are heating up — even faster than air.

Two NASA scientists used satellite data to look at 104 large inland lakes around the world and found that on average they have warmed 2 degrees (1.1 degree Celsius) since 1985. That's about two-and-a-half times the increase in global temperatures in the same time period.

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Happy Thanksgiving for the top 1%

The median is the point at which half are below it, half are above it.


by: Mike Lux
Tue Nov 23, 2010 at 13:30

I came across these stunning statistics in a Matt Taibbi piece the other day: the top 1% in our country has had its percentage of the nation's wealth leap from 34.6% in 2007 to 37.1% in 2009, while the median net worth for an American household has gone from $102,500 in 2007 to $65,400 in 2009. Changes in numbers that dramatic in a two year period are astonishing, almost unfathomable. In the massive economic crisis we have just experienced, the home prices, savings, pensions/401(k) funds for the middle class took a beating like nothing most of us have seen in our lifetimes, while the top 1% have actually done okay after the initial hit on stock prices: corporate profits and stock prices are back up, corporate bonuses and dividends and executive compensation is in good shape, and the top 1% has more of the country's wealth in its back pocket than it did before. We still have high unemployment and stagnant wages and a terrible housing market, but the guys at the top are floating along pretty well right now.

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There Will Be Blood


Published: November 22, 2010

Former [Republican] Senator Alan Simpson is a Very Serious Person. He must be — after all, President Obama appointed him as co-chairman of a special commission on deficit reduction.

So here’s what the very serious Mr. Simpson said on Friday: “I can’t wait for the blood bath in April. ... When debt limit time comes, they’re going to look around and say, ‘What in the hell do we do now? We’ve got guys who will not approve the debt limit extension unless we give ’em a piece of meat, real meat,’ ” meaning spending cuts. “And boy, the blood bath will be extraordinary,” he continued.

Think of Mr. Simpson’s blood lust as one more piece of evidence that our nation is in much worse shape, much closer to a political breakdown, than most people realize.

Some explanation: There’s a legal limit to federal debt, which must be raised periodically if the government keeps running deficits; the limit will be reached again this spring. And since nobody, not even the hawkiest of deficit hawks, thinks the budget can be balanced immediately, the debt limit must be raised to avoid a government shutdown. But Republicans will probably try to blackmail the president into policy concessions by, in effect, holding the government hostage; they’ve done it before.

Now, you might think that the prospect of this kind of standoff, which might deny many Americans essential services, wreak havoc in financial markets and undermine America’s role in the world, would worry all men of good will. But no, Mr. Simpson “can’t wait.” And he’s what passes, these days, for a reasonable Republican.

The fact is that one of our two great political parties has made it clear that it has no interest in making America governable, unless it’s doing the governing. And that party now controls one house of Congress, which means that the country will not, in fact, be governable without that party’s cooperation — cooperation that won’t be forthcoming.

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On one side, Republicans oppose just about everything that might reduce structural deficits: they demand that the Bush tax cuts be made permanent while demagoguing efforts to limit the rise in Medicare costs, which are essential to any attempts to get the budget under control. On the other, the G.O.P. opposes anything that might help sustain demand in a depressed economy — even aid to small businesses, which the party claims to love.

Right now, in particular, Republicans are blocking an extension of unemployment benefits — an action that will both cause immense hardship and drain purchasing power from an already sputtering economy. But there’s no point appealing to the better angels of their nature; America just doesn’t work that way anymore.

And opposition for the sake of opposition isn’t limited to economic policy. Politics, they used to tell us, stops at the water’s edge — but that was then.

These days, national security experts are tearing their hair out over the decision of Senate Republicans to block a desperately needed new strategic arms treaty. And everyone knows that these Republicans oppose the treaty, not because of legitimate objections, but simply because it’s an Obama administration initiative; if sabotaging the president endangers the nation, so be it.

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My sense is that most Americans still don’t understand this reality. They still imagine that when push comes to shove, our politicians will come together to do what’s necessary. But that was another country.

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This is so funny. I used to hear it on the public radio when I lived in Huntsville, AL


Scientists glimpse universe before the Big Bang

Neat. My own feeling has been that the cyclic universe theory is probably true.


November 23, 2010 by Lisa Zyga

(PhysOrg.com) -- In general, asking what happened before the Big Bang is not really considered a science question. According to Big Bang theory, time did not even exist before this point roughly 13.7 billion years ago. But now, Oxford University physicist Roger Penrose and Vahe Gurzadyan from the Yerevan Physics Institute in Armenia have found an effect in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) that allows them to "see through" the Big Bang into what came before.

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However, Penrose and Gurzadyan have now discovered concentric circles within the CMB in which the temperature variation is much lower than expected, implying that CMB anisotropies are not completely random. The scientists think that these circles stem from the results of collisions between supermassive black holes that released huge, mostly isotropic bursts of energy. The bursts have much more energy than the normal local variations in temperature. The strange part is that the scientists calculated that some of the larger of these nearly isotropic circles must have occurred before the time of the Big Bang.

The discovery doesn't suggest that there wasn't a Big Bang - rather, it supports the idea that there could have been many of them. The scientists explain that the CMB circles support the possibility that we live in a cyclic universe, in which the end of one “aeon” or universe triggers another Big Bang that starts another aeon, and the process repeats indefinitely. The black hole encounters that caused the circles likely occurred within the later stages of the aeon right before ours, according to the scientists.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

High Alpha-Carotene Levels Associated With Longer Life


ScienceDaily (Nov. 22, 2010) — High blood levels of the antioxidant alpha-carotene appear to be associated with a reduced risk of dying over a 14-year period, according to a report posted online November 22 that will be published in the March 28 print issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

Oxygen-related damage to DNA, proteins and fats may play a role in the development of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer, according to background information in the article. Carotenoids -- including beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and lycopene -- are produced by plants and microorganisms and act as antioxidants, counteracting this damage. Carotenoids in the human body are obtained mainly through eating fruits and vegetables rich in the nutrients, or through antioxidant supplements.

Although studies suggest eating more fruits and vegetables is associated with lower risk of chronic diseases, randomized controlled trials have not shown any benefit for beta-carotene supplements, the authors note. "Therefore, carotenoids other than beta-carotene may contribute to the reduction in disease risk, and their effects on risk of disease merit investigation," the authors write.

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Fox News Refuses To Run Ad In Favor Of Ending DADT, Despite Public Support For Repeal

A big problem with this is that many people get most or all of their "news" from Fox.

Raw Story’s Sahil Kapur is reporting that Fox News is refusing to air an ad advocating for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The 30-second spot, produced by the Palm Center, “includes testimony from military leaders of NATO allies arguing that lifting the ban on gay soldiers is a ‘non-event’ and does not diminish combat effectiveness.”

“I am surprised that Fox News would reject an ad featuring allied Generals, given that host Bill O’Reilly and guest contributor Liz Cheney have both expressed support for open gay service,” Palm Center Director Aaron Belkin said in a statement. “This is an important time for input from all sides on this issue, and I hope Fox will reconsider.”

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On the other hand, this isn’t the first time Fox News has refused to air a progressive ad. In July, the network rejected an ad by VoteVets, which encouraged a “clean energy climate plan,” and before that turned down another spot advocating for ending America’s dependence on foreign oil because it deemed it “too confusing.” In December of 2007, the Fox also refused to air “an ad produced by the Center for Constitutional Rights that criticize[d] the Bush administration for ‘destroying the Constitution’ by the use of renditions, torture, and other tactics.”


Corporate Profits Were the Highest on Record Last Quarter


Published: November 23, 2010

The nation’s workers may be struggling, but American companies just had their best quarter ever.

American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter, according to a Commerce Department report released Tuesday. That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago, at least in nominal or noninflation-adjusted terms.

The government does not adjust the numbers for inflation, in part because these corporate profits can be affected by pricing changes from all over the world and because the government does not have a price index for individual companies. The next-highest annual corporate profits level on record was in the third quarter of 2006, when they were $1.655 trillion.

Corporate profits have been doing extremely well for a while. Since their cyclical low in the fourth quarter of 2008, profits have grown for seven consecutive quarters, at some of the fastest rates in history. As a share of gross domestic product, corporate profits also have been increasing, and they now represent 11.2 percent of total output. That is the highest share since the fourth quarter of 2006, when they accounted for 11.7 percent of output.

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Bolivia ties its all-time heat record


Posted by: JeffMasters, 1:25 PM GMT on November 23, 2010

Bolivia tied its all-time hottest temperature mark on October 29, when the mercury hit 46.7°C (116.1°F) at Villamontes. This ties the record set in Villamontes on three other dates: November 9, 2007, November 1980, and December 1980.

The year 2010 now has the most national extreme heat records for a single year--nineteen. These nations comprise 20% of the total land area of Earth. This is the largest area of Earth's surface to experience all-time record high temperatures in any single year in the historical record. Looking back at the past decade, which was the hottest decade in the historical record, seventy-five counties set extreme hottest temperature records (33% of all countries.) For comparison, fifteen countries set extreme coldest temperature records over the past ten years (6% of all countries).

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No nations set record for their coldest temperature in history in 2010.

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The period January - October was the warmest such 10-month period in the planet's history, and temperatures over Earth's land regions were at record highs in May, June, and July, according to the National Climatic Data Center. It is not a surprise that many all-time extreme heat records are being shattered when the planet as a whole is so warm. Global warming "loads the dice" to favor extreme heat events unprecedented in recorded history. In fact, it may be more appropriate to say that global warming adds more spots on the dice--it used to be possible to roll no higher than double sixes, and now it is possible to roll a thirteen.


Monday, November 22, 2010

When economists advise the government, who else are they working for?


By Robert Gavin
November 21, 2010

Two years after the economy careened to the brink of Armageddon, a key question remains: How did so many smart economists miss the financial crisis?

Was it too much math, and not enough focus on real-world problems, as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has argued? Or did economists simply put too much faith in the power and wisdom of markets, and ignore the flaws that ultimately led to them to crash?

Two University of Massachusetts researchers suggest another possibility: The vision of economists may have been clouded by their own financial interests.

The nation’s top academic economists — who advise policy makers, testify before Congress, and publish influential papers and articles — are also much sought after by the financial industry as speakers, consultants, and corporate board members. Though typically portrayed as independent experts, they can reap huge fees from financial firms, including those that profited during the housing and the credit bubbles.

In a new paper, Gerald Epstein, chairman of the UMass Amherst economics department, and Jessica Carrick-Hagenbarth, a graduate student, examined a group of influential economists, scoured publicly available resumes, biographies, articles, and interviews, and found that the majority had made money from financial institutions — but very few had disclosed these connections when writing, speaking, or giving interviews on public policy.

In doing so, the authors shed light on practices that have long existed in the ranks of academic economists, but are now beginning to gain widespread attention. A recently released documentary on the financial crisis, “Inside Job,” also raises the question of economists doing business with Wall Street while acting as independent experts on regulatory and other policies.

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Coaching With Compassion Can 'Light Up' Human Thoughts


ScienceDaily (Nov. 19, 2010) — Coaching happens just about everywhere, and every day, with learning as the goal.

Effective coaching can lead to smoothly functioning organizations, better productivity and potentially more profit. In classrooms, better student performance can occur. Doctors or nurses can connect more with patients. So, doing coaching right would seem to be a natural goal, and it has been a major topic of research at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management since 1990.

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Internally funded research at Case Western Reserve has documented reactions in the human brain to compassionate and critical coaching methods. The results start to reveal the mechanisms by which learning can be enhanced through coaching with compassion (a method that emphasizes the coached individual's own goals).

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Boyatzis, a faculty member at Weatherhead School of Management, and Jack, director of the university's Brain, Mind and Consciousness Lab, say coaches should seek to arouse a Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA), which causes positive emotion and arouses neuroendocrine systems that stimulate better cognitive functioning and increased perceptual accuracy and openness in the person being coached, taught or advised. Emphasizing weaknesses, flaws, or other shortcomings, or even trying to "fix" the problem for the coached person, has an opposite effect.

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Taking a Break from Osteoporosis Drugs Can Protect Bones


ScienceDaily (Nov. 19, 2010) — Taking time off from certain osteoporosis drugs may be beneficial to bone health, according to a study conducted at Loyola University Health System. Researchers found that bone density remained stable for three years in patients who took a drug holiday from bisphosphonates, a popular class of osteoporosis drugs that can cause fractures in the thigh bones and tissue decay in the jaw bone.

"These drugs are potentially harmful when taken for long durations, yet little has been known until now about the length of time osteoporosis patients should go without treatment for this debilitating condition," said Pauline Camacho, MD, study investigator and director of the Loyola University Osteoporosis and Metabolic Bone Disease Center. "Our study demonstrated that bones can remain stable for a number of years after these drugs are discontinued."

Doctors recommend that patients take drug holidays from bisphosphonates after four to five years. These drugs continue to stabilize bones and reduce the risk for bone loss after treatment ceases.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

GOP Judges Write Senators Asking Them To Stop Obstructing President Obama’s Judges

These judges are more patriotic than Republican politicians.


Earlier this week, seven Republican-appointed federal judges co-signed a letter warning of the consequences of the GOP’s systematic obstruction of President Obama’s judges. The letter from the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit, which includes Republican appointees Alex Kozinski, Ralph Beistline, Vaughn Walker, Irma Gonzales, Frances Marie Tydingco-Gatewood, Richard Frank Cebull, Lonny Ray Suko, explains:

In order to do our work, and serve the public as Congress expects us to serve it, we need the resources to carry out our mission. While there are many areas of serious need, we write today to emphasize our desperate need for judges. Our need in that regard has been amply documented (See attached March 2009 Judicial Conference Recommendations for Additional Judgeships). Courts cannot do their work if authorized judicial positions remain vacant.

While we could certainly use more judges, and hope that Congress will soon approve the additional judgeships requested by the Judicial Conference, we would be greatly assisted if our judicial vacancies–some of which have been open for several years and declared “judicial emergencies”–were to be filled promptly. We respectfully request that the Senate act on judicial nominees without delay.

Although the letter is written in the respectful tone that judges generally adopt when speaking to their colleagues, this kind of advocacy by judges is exceptionally rare. Indeed, judges so rarely speak out about the judicial confirmation process that when conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist spoke out against GOP obstructionism of President Clinton’s nominees in 1997, the event stunned senators into action. Judicial confirmations increased from only 36 in 1997 to 65 in 1998. GOP obstructionism has become so serious that only 41 judges have been confirmed during Obama’s entire presidency.

An op-ed co-authored by retired conservative Judge Timothy Lewis provides a grim accessment of what will happen if Republicans continue their “delay for delay’s sake” tactics: “They are creating an unprecedented shortfall of judicial confirmations and, ultimately, a shortage of judges available to hear cases. For many Americans, this means justice is likely to be unnecessarily delayed — and often denied.”

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Doomsday Messages About Global Warming Can Backfire

A helpful thing about this research is that it doesn't just look at what doesn't work in getting across the facts and problems of global warming, but also shows what does work.

It also explains the purpose of the interview NPR (National Polite Republicans, as I saw someone call it) did the day after it's pledge drive ended. The interview was with the author of a book, I think the name of the book was "Dont Vote". The interview was all about the author's assertion that there's no use trying to do something about global warming because China has so many people and "they all want a Ford". I noticed that the NPR interviewer did not at all question this assertion. There was absolutely no mention of the fact that China is developing green technologies, and closing some factories because of too much pollution. Nothing about how much energy we use per person, which we could greatly reduce with a little effort. And of course, nothing about how the oil company sponsors of NPR are waging a deliberate campaign to mislead the public about the issue, for the sake of their own profits.


ScienceDaily (Nov. 16, 2010) — Dire or emotionally charged warnings about the consequences of global warming can backfire if presented too negatively, making people less amenable to reducing their carbon footprint, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley.

"Our study indicates that the potentially devastating consequences of global warming threaten people's fundamental tendency to see the world as safe, stable and fair. As a result, people may respond by discounting evidence for global warming," said Robb Willer, UC Berkeley social psychologist and coauthor of a study to be published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science.

"The scarier the message, the more people who are committed to viewing the world as fundamentally stable and fair are motivated to deny it," agreed Matthew Feinberg, a doctoral student in psychology and coauthor of the study.

But if scientists and advocates can communicate their findings in less apocalyptic ways, and present solutions to global warming, Willer said, most people can get past their skepticism.

Recent decades have seen a growing scientific consensus on the existence of a warming of global land and ocean temperatures. A significant part of the warming trend has been attributed to human activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite the mounting evidence, a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year found that 48 percent of Americans believe that global warming concerns are exaggerated, and 19 percent think global warming will never happen. In 1997, 31 percent of those who were asked the same question in a Gallup poll felt the claims were overstated.

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Next, participants read a news article about global warming. The article started out with factual data provided by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change. But while half the participants received articles that ended with warnings about the apocalyptic consequences of global warming, the other half read ones that concluded with positive messages focused on potential solutions to global warming, such as technological innovations that could reduce carbon emissions.

Results showed that those who read the positive messages were more open to believing in the existence of global warming and had more faith in science's ability to solve the problem. Moreover, those who scored high on the just world scale were less skeptical about global warming when exposed to the positive message. By contrast, those exposed to doomsday messages became more skeptical about global warming, particularly those who scored high on the just world scale.


Celestial Regions - Instrumental


Importance of Exercise for Those at Special Risk for Alzheimer's


ScienceDaily (Nov. 19, 2010) — In a study that included healthy 65- to 85-years-old who carried a high-risk gene for Alzheimer's disease, those who exercised showed greater brain activity in memory-related regions than those who were sedentary. The results suggest that physical activity promotes changes in the brain that may protect high-risk individuals against cognitive decline.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Patriotic millionaires call for their tax cuts to expire


Thursday, Nov 18, 2010 17:30 ET
By Joe Conason

Dozens of America's wealthiest taxpayers -- including hedge fund legend Michael Steinhardt, super trial lawyer Guy Saperstein, and Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's fame -- have appealed to President Obama not to renew the Bush tax cuts for anyone earning more than $1 million a year. Calling themselves "Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength," the 40-plus signers today launched a website and a campaign that they hope will draw support from others who agree that fiscal responsibility should begin with those who can best afford it -- as their letter to Obama explains:

We are writing to urge you to stand firm against those who would put politics ahead of their country.

For the fiscal health of our nation and the well-being of our fellow citizens, we ask that you allow tax cuts on incomes over $1,000,000 to expire at the end of this year as scheduled.

We make this request as loyal citizens who now or in the past earned an income of $1,000,000 per year or more.

We have done very well over the last several years. Now, during our nation's moment of need, we are eager to do our fair share. We don't need more tax cuts, and we understand that cutting our taxes will increase the deficit and the debt burden carried by other taxpayers. The country needs to meet its financial obligations in a just and responsible way.

Letting tax cuts for incomes over $1,000,000 expire, is an important step in that direction.

The Patriotic Millionaires campaign, pulled together quickly by the Agenda Project in New York City, just happens to appear on the same day as a new study from the Center for Responsive Politics revealing that half of the members of the House and the Senate are millionaires. That contrasts sharply with the general population, of whom fewer than 1 percent can claim millionaire status.

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Boehner’s Home State Tea Party Slams His Secret Plot To Kill The Congressional Ethics Office


This November, the future House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) rode the Tea Party rhetoric to power, promising to gut “business as usual” on Capitol Hill. Touting an earmark ban and public access to bills as clear moves toward transparency, Boehner seemed demonstrably clear on another accountability issue – congressional ethics. “I think the American people expect that their members of Congress should be held to a high ethical standard,” he said in August.

In spite of that expectation, Boehner is threatening to axe the Office of Congressional ethics. Established in March of 2008 after the Jack Abramoff scandal, the Office of Congressional Ethics is responsible for “launching investigations of wrongdoings by House Members” in order to “stiffen the spine of the House ethics committee.” Operating as an inspector general of sorts, the OCE has “won praise for reviving the House’s notoriously moribund and secretive ethics process.”

Despite strong conservative support for OCE, “GOP leaders are gearing up to kill the fledgling” OCE. In doing so, Boehner is clashing head-on with the rhetoric of many newly-elected Republicans and the driving force behind them — the Tea Party. In Boehner’s home-state, the Tea Party has not only noticed this fact, but has issued him a warning:

The Ohio Liberty Council, the main umbrella organization for 58 Tea Party groups in the state, supports efforts to strengthen the OCE and is warning House GOP leaders that any attempt to weaken it will upset Tea Party activists.

“I[f] they move in the opposite direction of transparency that this office provides, I think we will be very upset about that,” said Chris Littleton, president of the Ohio Liberty Council and the Cincinnati Tea Party. “Symbolically, it’s a huge problem for them … they should be as transparent as they can be. Any opposition to that would be inappropriate on their part.”
Boehner’s antipathy for the OCE is no secret.
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Peace, Love, and Life


Care for Prisoners Will Improve Public Health


ScienceDaily (Nov. 18, 2010) — In a comprehensive global survey, researchers in Texas and England have concluded that improving the mental and physical health of inmates will improve public health.

In their article, "The health of prisoners," Seena Fazel of the University of Oxford and Jacques Baillargeon of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, write that caring for the mental and physical health of prisoners has a direct and important impact on public health that should be recognized. Their findings, to be published Online First in the British medical journal The Lancet on Nov. 19, are based on a survey of available literature on prisoner health across the world (with most data from high-income countries*).

"Prisoners act as reservoirs of infection and chronic disease, increasing the public health burden of poor communities," they write. "Most prisoners return to their communities with their physical and psychiatric morbidity occasionally untreated and sometimes worsened."

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"Scientists around the world have consistently observed a disproportionate burden of chronic and infectious disease among prisoners," said Baillargeon. "In many cases, incarceration presents a rare opportunity to receive disease screening and preventive health care, treatment and education.

He noted that many prisoners with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders cycle in and out of the prison system. For these individuals, linkage to appropriate community-based psychiatric care is critical if we are to remove them from this cycle of recurrent imprisonment..

While there may some resistance to spending money on prisoner care, Baillargeon said "the vast majority of offenders are incarcerated for a relatively short period of time and will be in the community eventually." And while most people understand the public health importance of treating infectious diseases, he added that "for most US inmates, who are without private health insurance upon release from prison, treatment of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, and congestive heart failure will ultimately require substantial use of public resources."

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Minimum wage is worth less than in 1968

There is a chart at this link showing the minimum wage 1960.


Allison Linn, senior business writer

If you’re one of the several million Americans earning minimum wage, here's a sobering fact: Your grandpa had more spending power earning minimum wage four decades ago.

Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage was worth $8.54 per hour in 1968, according to calculations by the Economic Policy Institute. The current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

The value of the minimum wage has risen in the last few years, following a three-year government effort to boost the lowest allowable hourly wage in the United States. The final stage, which took effect in July of 2009, brought the minimum wage up nearly 11 percent to its current rate.

In addition, some states have mandated that minimum wage be higher than the national rate.

Still, the data from EPI show that the value of minimum wage has not, in the long-term, kept up with rising inflation, which boosts what things cost and lowers the value of money. (For more fun with inflation, check out this inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

About 3.6 million workers earned wages at or below the minimum wage in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That equates to nearly 5 percent of all hourly paid workers.

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Raising retirement age may not lower social security costs


The Associated Press
updated 32 minutes ago 2010-11-18T22:44:36

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WASHINGTON — Raising the retirement age for Social Security would disproportionately hurt low-income workers and minorities, and increase disability claims by older people unable to work, government auditors told Congress.

The projected spike in disability claims could harm Social Security's finances because disability benefits typically are higher than early retirement payments, the General Accountability Office concluded.

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The report, obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its scheduled release Friday, provides fodder for those opposed to raising the eligibility age for benefits, as proposed by the leaders of President Barack Obama's deficit commission.

"There's more to consider than simply how much money the program would save by raising the retirement age," said Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. The report shows an unequal effect on certain groups of people, he said Thursday, and many of them "would have little choice but to turn to the broken disability program."

Under current law, people can start drawing reduced, early retirement benefits from Social Security at age 62. Full benefits are available at 66, a threshold gradually increasing to 67 for people who were born in 1960 or later.

The deficit commission's leaders, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, last week proposed a gradual increase in the full retirement age, to 69 in about 2075. The early retirement age would go to 64 the same year.

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High school seniors still have low reading scores


The Associated Press
updated 11/18/2010 1:03:17 PM ET 2010-11-18T18:03:17

MIAMI — A national education assessment released Thursday shows that high school seniors have made some improvement in reading, but remain below the achievement levels reached nearly two decades ago.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, referred to at the Nation's Report Card, tested 52,000 students in reading and 49,000 in math across 1,670 school districts in 2009.

Students scored an average of 288 out of 500 points in reading comprehension, two points above the 2005 score but still below the 1992 average of 292. Thirty-eight percent of 12th grade students were classified as at or above the "proficient" level, while 74 percent were considered at or above "basic."

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

House GOP blocks bill to extend jobless benefits

As expected.


The Associated Press
updated 11/18/2010 2:46:07 PM ET 2010-11-18T19:46:07

WASHINGTON — Republicans in the House Thursday blocked a bill that would have extended jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed beyond the holiday season.

An extension of jobless benefits enacted this summer expires Dec. 1, and unless they are renewed, two million people will lose benefits averaging $310 a week nationwide by the end of December.

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Every recession since 1950 has featured an extended federal benefits program financed with deficit dollars. That's a precedent Democrats refused to break when battling with Republicans for months earlier this year to extend the program.

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But allowing benefits to expire in the holiday season may draw negative attention to Republicans, especially when measured against their insistence that tax cuts for upper-income taxpayers not be allowed to expire.

"We have never cut off benefits for out-of-work Americans where the unemployment rates have been this high," said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. "Without this extension, temporary federal extended benefits will shut down ... denying benefits to two million of our fellow citizens over the holiday season."

Why the Lame Duck Congress Must Extend Jobless Benefits For Hard-hit Families But Not Tax Cuts For the Rich


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

America’s long-term unemployed — an estimated 4 million or more — constitute the single newest and biggest social problem facing America.

Now their unemployment benefits are about to run out, and the lame-duck Congress may not have the votes to extend them. (You can forget about the next Congress.)

The long-term unemployed can’t get work because there are still five people needing work for every job opening. And the long-term jobless are often at the end of the job line: Either they don’t have the right skills or enough eduction, or have been out of work so long prospective employers are nervous about hiring them.

They’re also a big problem for the economy. Without enough money in their pockets, they and their families can’t pay their mortgages, which keeps fueling the mortgage crisis. Nor can they replace worn-out cars and clothing, or buy muchof anything else, which is a drag on the economy.

Republicans and many blue-dog Dems say we can’t afford another extension.

But these are many of the same people who say we should extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy for at least another two years.

Extending the Bush tax cuts for the top 1 percent would cost an estimated $120 billion over the next two years. That’s more than another unemployment benefit extension would cost.

The unemployed need the money. The rich don’t.

Moreover, the top 1 percent spends a small fraction of their income. That’s what it means to be rich — you already have most of what you want. So extending the Bush tax cut to them won’t stimulate the economy.

Yet people without jobs, and their families, are likely to spend every penny of unemployment benefits they receive. That will go back into the economy and save or create jobs.

A Labor Department report shows that for every $1 spent on unemployment insurance, $2 are spent in the economy. If you don’t believe the Labor Department, maybe you’ll believe Goldman Sachs analyst Alec Phillips, who estimates that if unemployment benefits are allowed to expire, the American economy would slow by a half a percent.

Republicans are still spouting nutty Social Darwinism. Cutting taxes on the rich is better than helping the unemployed, they say, because the rich will create jobs with their extra money while giving money to the unemployed reduces their desire to look for work.

Rubbish. The Bush tax cuts on the top never trickled down. Between 2002 and 2007 the median wage dropped, adjusted for inflation. And job growth was pathetic.

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Global Warming Could Cool Down Northern Temperatures in Winter


ScienceDaily (Nov. 17, 2010) — The overall warming of Earth's northern half could result in cold winters, new research shows. The shrinking of sea-ice in the eastern Arctic causes some regional heating of the lower levels of air -- which may lead to strong anomalies in atmospheric airstreams, triggering an overall cooling of the northern continents, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

"These anomalies could triple the probability of cold winter extremes in Europe and northern Asia," says Vladimir Petoukhov, lead author of the study and climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. "Recent severe winters like last year's or the one of 2005-06 do not conflict with the global warming picture, but rather supplement it."

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Human Study Shows Greater Cognitive Deficits in Marijuana Users Who Start Young


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ScienceDaily (Nov. 17, 2010) — New research shows that people who start using marijuana at a young age and those who use the greatest amount of marijuana may be the most cognitively impaired.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Deadly late-season Atlantic hurricanes growing more frequent

Luckily for the Eastern U.S., many of the hurricanes that headed our way were deflected by weather fronts.

Posted by: JeffMasters, 1:40 PM GMT on November 17, 2010

it's been another remarkably active November in the tropics this year. The formation of Hurricane Tomas this month marks the fourth consecutive year in the Atlantic with a hurricane occurring November 1 or later. We had Category 1 Hurricane Noel in 2007, Category 4 Hurricane Paloma in 2008, Category 2 Hurricane Ida in 2009, and now Category 2 Tomas in 2010. This is the first time since beginning of reliable hurricane records in 1851 that there have been four consecutive years with a late-season November or December hurricane in the Atlantic. The previous record was three straight years, set in 1984 - 1986. It used to be that late-season hurricanes were a relative rarity--in the 140-year period from 1851 - 1990, only 30 hurricanes existed in the Atlantic on or after November 1, an average of one late-season hurricane every five years. Only four major Category 3 or stronger late-season hurricanes occurred in those 140 years, and only three Caribbean hurricanes. But in the past twenty years, late-season hurricanes have become 3.5 times more frequent--there have been fifteen late-season hurricanes, and five of those occurred in the Caribbean. Three of these were major hurricanes, and were the three strongest late-season hurricanes on record--Lenny of 1999 (155 mph winds), Paloma of 2008 (145 mph winds), and Michelle of 2001 (140 mph winds). Of course, the number of storms we are talking about is small, and one cannot say anything scientifically significant about late-season Atlantic tropical cyclone numbers, unless we include storms from late October as well. This was done, though, by Dr. Jim Kossin of the University of Wisconsin, who published a 2008 paper in Geophysical Research Letters titled, "Is the North Atlantic hurricane season getting longer?" He concluded that yes, there is an "apparent tendency toward more common early- and late-season storms that correlates with warming Sea Surface Temperature but the uncertainty in these relationships is high". The recent increase in powerful and deadly November hurricanes would seem to support this conclusion.

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17.4 million U.S. families went hungry at some point in 2009


By P.J. Huffstutter, Los Angeles Times
November 15, 2010|7:38 p.m.

About 15% of U.S. households — 17.4 million families — lacked enough money to feed themselves at some point last year, according to a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

Released Monday, the study also found that 6.8 million of these households — with as many as 1 million children — had ongoing financial problems that forced them to miss meals regularly.

The number of these "food insecure" homes, or households that had a tough time providing enough food for their members, stayed somewhat steady from 2008 to 2009. But that number was more than triple compared with 2006, before the recession brought double-digit unemployment.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Even short-term poverty can hurt kids' health


November 15th, 2010
04:32 PM ET

Being poor for even a short period of time can have lasting health implications for children, according to a new report by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. 15.5 million children are living in poverty in the United States, that's one in five children according to the Census Bureau.

Researchers looked at data surrounding four topics: Health, food security, housing stability and maltreatment. They examined each in relation to past and present recessions. During childhood, the body is growing quickly and researchers say even a brief period of poor nutrition could lead to lifelong issues.

21 percent of all households with children were estimated to be "food insecure," according to the report data. "Food insecure" is when a family doesn't have access to enough nutritionally adequate food to meet proper dietary needs. "The numbers illustrate that even a one-time recession can have lasting consequences," says Dr. David Rubin a co-senior author of the study.

Enrollment in programs such as food stamps has increased. "We had counties in the United States where 70 percent of all children in that county were receiving food stamps. It's shocking to me that we are at those numbers," says Rubin, who's also director of the PolicyLab at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia. Parents who are trying to trim food costs may turn to less-expensive meals, such as fast food, and this could have an impact on childhood obesity.

Affordable housing directly influences a child's health according the report. Unsafe living conditions, homelessness and frequent moves put children more at risk to suffer from a number of health issues including hypertension, heart disease, depression or anxiety, athsma, developmental delays and behavioral problems.

The maltreatment of children either physical or emotional has decreased according to the report, but the researchers note the government has downsized the number of programs focused on these issues. Researchers found child neglect incidents rose during previous recessions leading them to expect a rise following the current recession.

Researchers did find the number of children covered by health insurance is up. "Stability is very important to child well being," says Dr. Kathleen Noonan co-senior author of the study. "The planning that was done to create a safety net for children for insurance actually created a buffer," but she says, the subsidies families receive when it comes to other needs are usually a one-time benefit, yet these families continue to suffer year after year.

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In October, the economy added 159,000 private-sector jobs, far exceeding expectations. It's the best private-sector total since April, and the second strongest report since the start of the Great Recession in late 2007. It was also the tenth consecutive month of private-sector growth -- a streak unseen in more than three years.

All told, the economy has added more than 1.1 million private-sector jobs in 2010. For comparison purposes, note that the economy lost nearly 4.7 million private-sector jobs in 2009, and lost 3.8 million in 2008.

With that in mind, here is a different homemade chart, showing monthly job losses/gains in the private sector since the start of the Great Recession. The image makes a distinction -- red columns point to monthly job totals under the Bush administration, while blue columns point to job totals under the Obama administration. (Note: the chart reflects revised totals from August and September, per data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)


Who Will Stand Up to the Superrich?


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The wealthy Americans we should worry about instead are the ones who implicitly won the election — those who take far more from America than they give back. They were not on the ballot, and most of them are not household names. Unlike Whitman and the other defeated self-financing candidates, they are all but certain to cash in on the Nov. 2 results. There’s no one in Washington in either party with the fortitude to try to stop them from grabbing anything that’s not nailed down.

The Americans I’m talking about are not just those shadowy anonymous corporate campaign contributors who flooded this campaign. No less triumphant were those individuals at the apex of the economic pyramid — the superrich who have gotten spectacularly richer over the last four decades while their fellow citizens either treaded water or lost ground. The top 1 percent of American earners took in 23.5 percent of the nation’s pretax income in 2007 — up from less than 9 percent in 1976. During the boom years of 2002 to 2007, that top 1 percent’s pretax income increased an extraordinary 10 percent every year. But the boom proved an exclusive affair: in that same period, the median income for non-elderly American households went down and the poverty rate rose.

It’s the very top earners, not your garden variety, entrepreneurial multimillionaires, who will be by far the biggest beneficiaries if there’s an extension of the expiring Bush-era tax cuts for income over $200,000 a year (for individuals) and $250,000 (for couples). The resurgent G.O.P. has vowed to fight to the end to award this bonanza, but that may hardly be necessary given the timid opposition of President Obama and the lame-duck Democratic Congress.

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Incredibly, the top 1 percent of Americans now have tax rates a third lower than the same top percentile had in 1970.

“How can hedge-fund managers who are pulling down billions sometimes pay a lower tax rate than do their secretaries?” ask the political scientists Jacob S. Hacker (of Yale) and Paul Pierson (University of California, Berkeley) in their deservedly lauded new book, “Winner-Take-All Politics.”

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Their ample empirical evidence, some of which I’m citing here, proves that America’s ever-widening income inequality was not an inevitable by-product of the modern megacorporation, or of globalization, or of the advent of the new tech-driven economy, or of a growing education gap. (Yes, the very rich often have fancy degrees, but so do those in many income levels below them.) Inequality is instead the result of specific policies, including tax policies, championed by Washington Democrats and Republicans alike as they conducted a bidding war for high-rolling donors in election after election.

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Those in the higher reaches aren’t investing in creating new jobs even now, when the full Bush tax cuts remain in effect, so why would extending them change that equation? American companies seem intent on sitting on trillions in cash until the economy reboots. Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office ranks the extension of any Bush tax cuts, let alone those to the wealthiest Americans, as the least effective of 11 possible policy options for increasing employment.

Nor are the superrich helping to further the traditional American business culture that inspires and encourages those with big ideas and drive to believe they can climb to the top. Robert Frank, the writer who chronicled the superrich in the book “Richistan,” recently analyzed the new Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans for The Wall Street Journal and found a “hardening of the plutocracy” and scant mobility. Only 16 of the 400 were newcomers — as opposed to an average of 40 to 50 in recent years — and they tended to be in industries like coal, natural gas, chemicals and casinos rather than forward-looking businesses involving the Green Economy, tech or biotechnology. This is “not exactly the formula for America’s vaunted entrepreneurial wealth machine,” Frank wrote.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Beak deformities increase in Northwest


By DAN JOLING, Associated Press Dan Joling, Associated Press – Mon Nov 8, 11:28 pm ET

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Scientists have observed the highest rate of beak abnormalities ever recorded in wild bird populations in Alaska and the Northwest, a study by two federal scientists said.

The U.S. Geological Survey study on beak deformities in northwestern crows in Alaska, Washington and British Columbia follows a trend found earlier in Alaska's black-capped chickadees.

"The prevalence of these strange deformities is more than 10 times what is normally expected in a wild bird population," said research biologist Colleen Handel.

Handel and wildlife biologist Caroline Van Hemert published their findings in The Auk, a Quarterly Journal of Ornithology. They captured Alaska crows in six coastal locations and used documented reports and photographs for birds elsewhere.

The cause of the deformity — called "avian keratin disorder" — hasn't been determined, Handel said. An estimated 17 percent of adult northwestern crows are affected by the disorder in coastal Alaska.

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Van Hemert said the disorder first was noticed in significant numbers around 1999. It has increased dramatically over the past decade, affecting 6.5 percent of adult black-capped chickadees in Alaska annually.

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The scientists said beak deformities can be caused by environmental contaminants, nutritional deficiencies, and bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic infections.

In the past, large clusters of beak deformities have been associated with environmental pollutants such as organochlorines in the Great Lakes region and selenium from agricultural runoff in California.

The deformities affect birds' ability to feed, Van Hemert said, though many birds appear to cope by relying on food provided by humans at feeders rather than foraging.

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Parents Should Talk About Math Early and Often With Their Children -- Even Before Preschool


ScienceDaily (Nov. 9, 2010) — The amount of time parents spend talking about numbers has a much bigger impact on how young children learn mathematics than was previously known, researchers at the University of Chicago have found.

For example, children whose parents talked more about numbers were much more likely to understand the cardinal number principle -- which states that the size of a set of objects is determined by the last number reached when counting the set.

"By the time children enter preschool, there are marked individual differences in their mathematical knowledge, as shown by their performance on standardized tests," said University of Chicago psychologist Susan Levine, the leader of the study. Other studies have shown that the level of mathematics knowledge entering school predicts future success.

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Low Blood Levels of Vitamin D Linked to Chubbier Kids, Faster Weight Gain


ScienceDaily (Nov. 8, 2010) — Kids who are deficient in vitamin D accumulated fat around the waist and gained weight more rapidly than kids who got enough vitamin D, a new University of Michigan study suggests.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nearly 59 million lack health insurance


By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
updated 1 hour 11 minutes ago 2010-11-10T00:58:50

WASHINGTON — Nearly 59 million Americans went without health insurance coverage for at least part of 2010, many of them with conditions or diseases that needed treatment, federal health officials said on Tuesday.

They said 4 million more Americans went without insurance in the first part of 2010 than during the same time in 2008.

"Both adults and kids lost private coverage over the past decade," Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a news briefing.

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Frieden said more people also went for a year or more with no health insurance -- from 27.5 million in 2008 to 30.4 million in the first quarter of 2010. "That's an increase of 3 million in chronically uninsured adults," he said.

"Now, the data also allow us to debunk two myths about health care coverage," Frieden added.

"The first myth is that it's only the poor who are uninsured. In fact, half of the uninsured are over the poverty level and one in three adults under 65 in the middle income range — defined arbitrarily here between $44,000 and $65,000 a year for a family of four — were uninsured at some point in the year."

And Frieden said many people argue that only the healthy risk going without health insurance.

"In fact ... more than two out of five individuals who are uninsured at some point during the past year had one or more chronic diseases and this is based on just a partial list of chronic diseases," he said.

For example, 15 million of the people who went without health insurance had high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma.

People with such conditions often end up in emergency rooms and require treatment, paid for by hospitals or taxpayers, that is far more expensive than getting proper preventive care would have been.

"If you have diabetes and you don't get needed care in the short term you end up in the intensive care unit," Frieden said.