Friday, December 30, 2011

Growing wealth widens distance between lawmakers and constituents

By Peter Whoriskey, Published: December 26

The median net worth of a member of the House in 2009 was more than 2 1 / 2 times greater than it was in 1984 — $725,00 vs. $280,000 — when adjusted for inflation, according to an analysis of financial disclosures. Meanwhile, the median net worth of Americans, as a whole, actually declined slightly over the same period.

BUTLER, Pa. — One day after his shift at the steel mill, Gary Myers drove home in his 10-year-old Pontiac and told his wife he was going to run for Congress.

The odds were long. At 34, ­Myers was the shift foreman at the “hot mill” of the Armco plant here. He had no political experience and little or no money, and he was a Republican in a district that tilted Democratic.


When Myers entered Congress, in 1975, it wasn’t nearly so unusual for a person with few assets besides a home to win and serve in Congress. Though lawmakers on Capitol Hill have long been more prosperous than other Americans, others of that time included a barber, a pipe fitter and a house painter. A handful had even organized into what was called the “Blue Collar Caucus.”

But the financial gap between Americans and their representatives in Congress has widened considerably since then, according to an analysis of financial disclosures by The Washington Post.

Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled, according to the analysis of financial disclosures, from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars, excluding home ­equity.

Over the same period, the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the comparable median figure sliding from $20,600 to $20,500, according to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan.

The comparisons exclude home equity because it is not included in congressional reporting, and 1984 was chosen because it is the earliest year for which consistent wealth statistics are available.



Farming the Sun

Walton County is in Georgia, in the metro Atlanta area.

County’s second solar farm set to go online in 2015

By Robbie Schwartz | Posted: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 12:00 am

Land used in the 1930s for growing cotton is getting ready for the new age of farming — solar.

At a meeting earlier this month, the Walton County Board of Commissioners approved the county’s second solar farm, this one 205 acres located at 916 Social Circle Fairplay Road.

“I have picked up where my grandfather left off and am farming again on our family land,” said Steve Ivey, of the project’s developer Simon Solar Farm. “It is the exact same concept — using the sun to make a crop. His crop was cotton and my crop is clean energy.”


Having been in the music industry for 20 years, with a studio in Nashville, Tenn., this is all new to Ivey. It all began with trying to find alternative ways to heat water and thus was born an interest in solar power. He then began to flush the idea out on his website,


“This particular region of the U.S. ranks high in solar energy potential and very low in solar energy development, so Georgia is a prime location for this booming industry both on large scale solar like Simon Solar Farm and all the way down to small scale home implementation,” Ivey said. “Large projects like mine will help drive down solar panel production costs and make it feasible for the average homeowner to soon have their own solar array on their house or carport and be in control of their own power needs. Not only do I see solar energy as a trend for the future, I see it as the smartest way to source power. Solar is 100 percent safe and clean as proven by the EPA and there are no safety concerns with meltdowns or earthquakes or pollution. Solar panels sit quietly, collect the suns rays and turn it in to the light in your refrigerator.

“Simon Solar Farm will have numerous benefits to the local community and our state by creating jobs, education and trailblazing, putting energy creation in the homeowners control. My motto for the farm is ‘jobs for present, education for future, power forever.’”

[What a contrast to people like the Koch brothers and many others in the fossil fuel industry.]



Butterball turkey farm raided after abuse claims

If these allegations are true, the management can not excuse themselves by claiming they were unaware of conditions. It is well known that when a person or group of persons have power over other conscious beings, there is a potential for abuse. There should be careful supervision, education, recording devices in these environments.

updated 12/30/2011 12:50:47 PM ET

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Authorities on Friday were investigating whether workers at a Butterball farm had abused turkeys there. The investigation follows a raid there prompted by allegations from an animal rights group.

The raid Thursday came after the nonprofit Mercy For Animals provided law enforcement with secretly recorded video footage that showed live turkeys being kicked, thrown, dragged by the neck and wings, and hit with some sort of stick or bar.

The video was collected during several weeks in November and December by an activist who got a job at the company's turkey semen collection facility in Shannon, N.C., said Nathan Runkle, the organization's executive director.


In a statement Thursday, the company said it was taking the allegations seriously. In addition to working with authorities, Butterball said it was performing its own internal and third-party audits.

"Butterball has a zero tolerance policy for any mistreatment of our birds or the failure to immediately report mistreatment of our birds by any associates," the company said. "Employees found in violation of Butterball's animal welfare policies will be subject to immediate termination."



The Fat Trap

Published: December 28, 2011

For 15 years, Joseph Proietto has been helping people lose weight. When these obese patients arrive at his weight-loss clinic in Australia, they are determined to slim down. And most of the time, he says, they do just that, sticking to the clinic’s program and dropping excess pounds. But then, almost without exception, the weight begins to creep back. In a matter of months or years, the entire effort has come undone, and the patient is fat again. “It has always seemed strange to me,” says Proietto, who is a physician at the University of Melbourne. “These are people who are very motivated to lose weight, who achieve weight loss most of the time without too much trouble and yet, inevitably, gradually, they regain the weight.”

Anyone who has ever dieted knows that lost pounds often return, and most of us assume the reason is a lack of discipline or a failure of willpower. But Proietto suspected that there was more to it, and he decided to take a closer look at the biological state of the body after weight loss.


While researchers have known for decades that the body undergoes various metabolic and hormonal changes while it’s losing weight, the Australian team detected something new. A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost. For instance, a gastric hormone called ghrelin, often dubbed the “hunger hormone,” was about 20 percent higher than at the start of the study. Another hormone associated with suppressing hunger, peptide YY, was also abnormally low. Levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses hunger and increases metabolism, also remained lower than expected. A cocktail of other hormones associated with hunger and metabolism all remained significantly changed compared to pre-dieting levels. It was almost as if weight loss had put their bodies into a unique metabolic state, a sort of post-dieting syndrome that set them apart from people who hadn’t tried to lose weight in the first place.


How One City Achieved a Solar Surge

Sarah Hodgdon
December 16, 2011

Germany. Italy. Spain. Gainesville. Stumped?

These are among the worldwide leaders in solar power. That's right -- Gainesville, Florida, has surpassed the state of California, a solar giant, in solar installations per capita, with more than seven megawatts of new solar-power capacity added during the past three years. How did this medium-sized city of 125,000 in the middle of Florida do it?

Gainesville was one of the first cities in the U.S. to adopt a feed-in tariff, which pays owners of solar-power systems who feed energy back into the grid. Homeowners with solar panels receive 32 cents for each extra kilowatt-hour they generate -- a rate that is more economical for the utility than an upfront rebate program. And because feed-in tariffs offer long-term stability, solar projects are easier to finance.


Today, Gainesville's solar-power adoption rate outshines that of France, Japan, and the rest of the U.S. by a wide margin. By the end of the year, the city's solar capacity is expected to reach 1.5 million kilowatt-hours per month.



What liberal media? Fox News holds top 10 cable news spots of 2011

Robert Sobel, Orlando Liberal Examiner
December 29, 2011

We often hear claims of "liberal media" by those on the far right to describe any news reporting that doesn't hold extreme conservative views. The problem with these claims are that they aren't valid. Whether it's Rush Limbaugh on the radio or Bill O'Reilly on television, the conservative viewpoint grabs the attention of the majority of Americans. Does that mean that the country is shifting further to the right? The answer is simply no. Just like radio shock jock Howard Stern, people watch and listen to conservatives not because they always agree with them, but because they want to see what they will say next.

The ratings are in for the top rated cable news shows of 2011 and Fox News has dominated once again. Bill O'Reilly is at the top of the list with the number one rated cable news show of the year and the replay is listed at number eight. Sean Hannity follows O'Reilly with the number two show followed by Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox Report with Shepard Smith and On the Record with Greta van Susteren to round out the top five. The highest rated show that is not on the Fox News channel is The Rachel Maddow Show at number fourteen, which is followed by The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell and The Ed Show.

One can only wonder how a news channel that has been caught exaggerating facts and often making up information could be watched by millions of people. Though Fox News has dominated the cable news rating over the years, their numbers have started to fall. The Fox News ratings for 2011 dipped from previous years while MSNBC shows like Rachel Maddow, The Ed Show and the Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell have seen an increase in ratings.



Wrongly convicted of murder, man is rebuilding his life in New Orleans

A very common thread in cases of wrongful conviction - police and prosecutors hiding evidence of innocence.

Published: Sunday, December 25, 2011, 7:00 AM Updated: Sunday, December 25, 2011, 8:59 AM
By Jake Clapp, The Times-Picayune

In the past, when Greg Bright bought a vehicle, he took size into consideration. "I always went for bigger cars," Bright said. "Just because I wasn't sure if I would have to sleep in it at some point."

Now at 56, Bright is looking for a house in his native New Orleans. It will be his first permanent home in the eight years since being released from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, where he and his co-defendant, Earl Truvia, spent 27 years for a murder they did not commit.

Bright and Truvia, 53, recently were awarded $190,000 each by the state under a Louisiana law that grants compensation to those wrongfully convicted. The compensation -- $150,000 in standard compensation and $40,000 in loss of life claims -- came after a four-year struggle with the state that ended in May.

"The compensation was much needed, to pay bills, debts, things I needed," Bright said. "But I've been frugal. I know that amount of money can go quickly if I don't use it wisely."

Bright and Truvia were given mandatory life sentences on July 29, 1976, for the second-degree murder of 15-year-old Eliot Porter. Porter's body was found underneath a building in New Orleans' Calliope public housing complex on Oct. 31, 1975. He had been shot twice in the head.

The two men were arrested at their homes on Nov. 15 after a witness claimed to have seen Bright and Truvia with Porter on the night of the killing, although there was no witness to the actual shooting. Bright said he had did not know the victim, the witness, nor his co-defendant beyond seeing them in the neighborhood.

The prosecution's case centered on the testimony of the single witness, while Bright and Truvia's defense never called witnesses that could have provided both men with alibis. The jury deliberated just 12 minutes before reaching a guilty verdict.

In the years after, Bright and Truvia tried to piece together a case for their innocence, but ran into a sea of red tape, until the Innocence Project New Orleans took their cases in 2001.

It came out that the original witness was unreliable and further evidence was not presented to the jury, including a coroner's report that placed the time of Porter's death significantly later than the time the witness heard gunshots. And there was an undisclosed police report that indicated two other likely suspects.

In February 2003, the Innocence Project helped Bright and Truvia present their cases and their convictions were overturned. The men walked out of prison free men on June 24, 2003. But the better part of their lives were lost and they were without money or jobs.



8 Things Your Pet Shouldn’t Eat

The slide show tells the problems caused, symptoms, and what species is/are affected.
The amount also matters. Onions are used in a lot of pet foods, for flavoring.

By Ashley Tate and Sharon Tanenbaum

Foods and drinks, from avocados to alcohol, that can make your dog, cat, or bird sick.


Listed here, from most (1) to least (8) dangerous, are common foods and drinks that make pets sick. If you think your dog, cat, or bird has consumed one of these items and you are concerned, contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435).

1. Chocolste

2. Grapes, raisins

3. Garlic, onions

4. Xylitol

5. Alcohol

6. Raw yeast, bread dough

7. Macadamia nuts

8. Avocados


Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Best of CBPP Graphs

This site shows several graphs showing various economic trends over the years.

Dec 29, 2011


#1: A look at which income group reap the benefits of most of the growth in recent years

#2: The international dimension to the inequality picture.

#3: Yes, it’s true-compared to others, the US is a low tax country.

#4: And those at the top of the wealth scale have seen a much reduced tax burden as a share of their income.

#6: Probably one of the most circulated of all this year, this one makes essential points about the actual sources of the growth in the budget deficit.

#9: You can’t emphasize this point enough: health care spending grows faster in the private than in the public sector.

#12: This one clearly shows just what a lost decade the 2000s have been for the middle class–it’s not just a Great Recession story–they were squeezed well before that. And note the stark contrast with the 1990s.


Living Wage Calculator

Go to this site to choose the places you want info on.

Introduction to the Living Wage Calculator

In many American communities, families working in low-wage jobs make insufficient income to live locally given the local cost of living. Recently, in a number of high-cost communities, community organizers and citizens have successfully argued that the prevailing wage offered by the public sector and key businesses should reflect a wage rate required to meet minimum standards of living. Therefore we have developed a living wage calculator to estimate the cost of living in your community or region. The calculator lists typical expenses, the living wage and typical wages for the selected location.
Select a Location

To get started, enter a location into the search box above, or browse to a location using the list below.


Our tool is designed to provide a minimum estimate of the cost of living for low wage families. The estimates do not reflect a middle class standard of living. The realism of the estimates depend on the type of community under study. Metropolitan counties are typically locations of high cost. In such cases, the calculator is likely to underestimate costs such as housing and child care. Consider the results a minimum cost threshold that serves as a benchmark, but only that.



The Real Job Creator: Obama Has Created 2.3 Million Jobs Since 2010

December 29, 2011
By Rmuse


One of the biggest lies Romney told is that President Obama has not created any jobs during his three years as president. Romney’s lying is to cover the truth that his former company, Bain Capital, eliminated jobs while Romney raked in millions of dollars a year even during his retirement.


Since March 2010, the private sector added 2.3 million new jobs and “it took the Obama economy one year to create more jobs” than during George W. Bush’s presidency did in eight years. The new jobs created during the Obama Administration are due in part to the stimulus, unemployment benefit extension and payroll tax cut from December 2010. There have been public sector job losses due to state budget deficits caused by the Bush-Republican Great Recession, but Romney has promised to cut more public sector jobs by slashing government programs that will make government employees face what Romney did to employees while at Bain Capital. During Romney’s tenure as governor of Massachusetts, from 2003-2007 before the recession hit the economy, the state ranked 47th in job creation.



South Pole Records Warmest Temperature on Record

By Christopher C. Burt
Published: 9:14 PM GMT on December 29, 2011
South Pole Records Warmest Temperature on Record

On Christmas Day, December 25th, the temperature at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole site soared to an all-time record high of 9.9°F (-12.3°C) eclipsing the former record of 7.5°F (-13.6°C) set on December 27, 1978. The low temperature on December 25th was a mild (relatively!) 4°F (-15.5°C). Records at the site began in January 1957. Its elevation is 9,301 feet (2,835 meters).



Preventive care: It's free, except when it's not

Yahoo News

By CARLA K. JOHNSON | AP – Wed, Dec 28, 2011

CHICAGO (AP) — Bill Dunphy thought his colonoscopy would be free.

His insurance company told him it would be covered 100 percent, with no copayment from him and no charge against his deductible. The nation's 1-year-old health law requires most insurance plans to cover all costs for preventive care including colon cancer screening. So Dunphy had the procedure in April.

Then the bill arrived: $1,100.

Dunphy, a 61-year-old Phoenix small business owner, angrily paid it out of his own pocket because of what some prevention advocates call a loophole. His doctor removed two noncancerous polyps during the colonoscopy. So while Dunphy was sedated, his preventive screening turned into a diagnostic procedure. That allowed his insurance company to bill him.

Like many Americans, Dunphy has a high-deductible insurance plan. He hadn't spent his deductible yet. So, on top of his $400 monthly premium, he had to pay the bill.


Breast cancer screenings can cause confusion too. In Florida, Tampa Bay-area small business owner Dawn Thomas, 50, went for a screening mammogram. But she was told by hospital staff that her mammogram would be a diagnostic test — not preventive screening — because a previous mammogram had found something suspicious. (It turned out to be nothing.)

Knowing that would cost her $700, and knowing her doctor had ordered a screening mammogram, Thomas stood her ground.

"Either I get a screening today or I'm putting my clothes back on and I'm leaving," she remembers telling the hospital staff. It worked. Her mammogram was counted as preventive and she got it for free.

"A lot of women ... are getting labeled with that diagnostic code and having to pay year after year for that," Thomas said. "It's a loophole so insurance companies don't have to pay for it."


Cindy Holtzman, an insurance agent in Marietta, Ga., is telling clients to check with their insurance plans before a colonoscopy so they know what to expect.

"You could wake up with a $2,000 bill because they find that little bitty polyp," Holtzman said.

Doctors and prevention advocates are asking Congress to revise the law to waive patient costs — including Medicare copays, which can run up to $230 — for a screening colonoscopy where polyps are removed. The American Gastroenterological Association and the American Cancer Society are pushing Congress fix the problem because of the confusion it's causing for patients and doctors.

At least one state is taking action. After complaints piled up in Oregon, insurance regulators now are working with doctors and insurers to make sure patients aren't getting surprise charges when polyps are removed.



Internet slow

The internet has sure been slow the last few days. It's hard to get much done on this blog.


Senior moment - or just mulling a response?

Dec. 29, 2011
By Linda Carroll

Seniors may be just as mentally agile as younger people. The reason their thinking appears sluggish is they mull things over longer, a new study shows.

Researchers have found that when people aged 60 and older are asked to make quick decisions, they respond as slowly as young children. And both groups react much more slowly than young adults, according to the study published in Child Development.

The slow response times in children are the sign of brains that are still maturing, said Roger Ratcliff, a study co-author and professor of behavioral and social sciences at Ohio State University. But the apparent sluggish thinking in the elderly may simply be the result of seniors emphasizing accuracy over speed when they deliberate.


Of course, in some cases, early dementia or the effects of medication may be the cause of slowing mental agility, but in healthy seniors, slow reaction times among the elderly can often be improved, Ratcliff said. In another set of experiments, he and his colleagues coached older volunteers to obsess less about accuracy and to focus more on speed. In the end, his seniors were able to react just as quickly as college students.

Ratcliff suspects that other age related deficits, such as declining memories, make seniors less sure of themselves and that makes them want to deliberate longer so they won’t make mistakes.

“Older people don’t want to make errors, so what they do is adopt a more conservative decision criteria and that slows them down,” he explained.


Also, older people have had time to discover that their first reaction is not always the best.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book examines America's turn from science, warns of danger for democracy

Posted on Monday, December 26, 2011
By Renee Schoof

Americans have trouble dealing with science, and one place that's especially obvious is in presidential campaigns, says Shawn Lawrence Otto, who tried, with limited success, to get the candidates to debate scientific questions in the 2008 presidential election. Otto is the author of a new book, "Fool me twice: Fighting the assault on science in America," which opens with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: "Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government." And if the people and their leaders aren't well informed and don't use scientific information to solve modern problems, Otto suggests, the United States could soon skid into decline. "Without the mooring provided by the well-informed opinion of the people, governments may become paralyzed or, worse, corrupted by powerful interests seeking to oppress and enslave," he writes. Today, he adds, Congress seems paralyzed and "ideology and rhetoric increasingly guide policy discussion, often bearing little relationship to factual reality."


Reporters play a role in whether science is discussed in campaigns. A League of Conservation Voters analysis in early 2008 found that prime-time TV journalists asked 2,975 questions in 171 interviews. Only six questions were about climate change, "and the same could be said of any one of several major policy topoics surrounding science," Otto writes in the book. Today's policymakers "are increasingly unwilling to pursue many of the remedies science presents," he argues. They "take one of two routes: Deny the science, or pretend the problems don't exist."


"Science does two things that we don't love. It does lots of things that we do love, but the two things we don't love are: Whenever we extend our knowledge, we have to parse that new knowledge morally and ethically . . . . The other thing is that it either confirms or vexes somebody's vested interested."


What makes dealing with climate change so difficult? "Nobody wants to feel bad about the future. Everybody wants to be hopeful." The nation was settled by "insanely hopeful immigrants," Otto said, and Americans still have a strong sense of opportunity, including the idea that hard work pays off and that people get what they deserve. "It doesn't mean that we're bad or stupid. It just means that it's just hard. It's hard to get our minds around and embrace, because it means maybe we've screwed up somehow and nobody wants to feel that way. But the great thing about Americans is that because of that hopefulness, once we get through this painful process of self-reflection ... then we really kick it in and we can solve problems like nobody else."


Teens aren't too old to boost their IQ, study finds Read more here:

By Karen Kaplan
Posted on Wednesday, December 28

If your teenager could use a few more IQ points, Norwegian scientists have some good news: It may not be too late for junior to get them. LOS ANGELES - Many researchers now agree that mental stimulation in one's early years helps IQ to develop, but there is no such consensus that education - or anything else - can boost the IQ of older kids. Studies have seen correlations between a person's total years of schooling and his or her IQ, but there's no good way to tease out the cause and effect. It could be that extra school raises IQ, but it's just as likely that those with higher IQs to start with are inclined to stay in school longer. It's also possible that some other trait, such as family income, influences both IQ and length of education at the same time.

In an ideal world, researchers would divide students into groups, give some of those groups a few extra years in the classroom and then measure everyone's IQ. If additional education was indeed an intelligence booster, then the students who spent more time in school would have higher IQs, on average, than the students who spent less time in school. It turns out that the government of Norway conducted just such an experiment - albeit unwittingly. From 1955 to 1972, the Norwegian government required schools to increase the number of years of mandatory schooling from seven to nine. This meant that students who used to be done at age 14 now remained in the classroom until age 16. School districts didn't implement the change all at once but rolled it out over many years. This resulted in a data set that allowed researchers to slice and dice the figures in many ways - to check their work, in other words. The other helpful thing about Norway is that the military there measured the IQ of all 19-year-old men as part of the universal draft. Researchers from the University of Oslo and Statistics Norway (the government's bureau of statistics) matched up IQ and years of schooling and IQ for men born in 1950 through 1958. They found that each of the additional years of education raised the men's IQ by an average of 3.7 points - an increase that was deemed statistically significant. For these men, the school reform meant that they got about two additional months of education, resulting in an additional 0.6 IQ points.



2011: Year of the Tornado

Increasing amounts of severe weather have been predicted because of global warming, and has been occurring.

Posted by: JeffMasters, 7:25 PM GMT on December 27, 2011 +33
The year 2011 will forever be known as Year of the Tornado in the U.S. A series of violent severe storms swept across the Plains and Southeast U.S., bringing an astonishing six billion-dollar disasters in a three-month period. The epic tornado onslaught killed 552 people and caused $25 billion in damage. Three of the five largest tornado outbreaks on record hit in a six-week period, including the largest and most expensive tornado outbreak in U.S. history--the $10.2 billion dollar Southeast U.S. Super Outbreak, April 25 - 28. Even more stunning was the $9 billion late-May tornado outbreak that brought an EF-5 tornado to Joplin, Missouri. The Joplin tornado did $3 billion in damage and killed 158 people--the largest death toll from a U.S. tornado since 1947, seventh deadliest tornado in U.S. history, and the most expensive tornado in world history. In a year of amazing weather extremes, this year's tornado season ranks as the top U.S. weather story of 2011.

Six top-end EF-5 tornadoes hit the U.S. in 2011, tying this year with 1974 for the greatest number of these most destructive tornadoes. The EF-5 tornadoes of 2011:

1) The April 27, 2011 Neshoba/Kemper/Winston/Noxubee Counties, Mississippi tornado (3 killed, 29 mile path length.)

2) The April 27, 2011 Smithville, Mississippi tornado (22 killed, 15 mile path length.)

3) The April 27, 2011 Hackleburg, Alabama tornado (71 killed, 25 mile path length.)

4) The April 27, 2011 Rainsville/Dekalb County, Alabama tornado (26 killed, 34 mile path length.)

5) The May 22, 2011 Joplin Missouri tornado (158 killed, 14 mile path length.)

6) The May 24, 2011 Binger-El Reno-Peidmont-Guthrie, Oklahoma tornado. (9 killed, 75 mile path length.)

A few other remarkable statistics on the tornado season of 2011, compiled from NOAA's official press release, the NOAA Extreme Weather 2011 page, and Wikipedia's excellent tornado pages:

- The tornado death toll of 552 in 2011 ties 1936 as the second deadliest year for tornadoes in U.S. history. Only 1925, with 794 fatalities, was deadlier. In 1936, violent tornadoes hit Tupelo Mississippi (216 killed), and Gainesville, Georgia (203 killed.) During the 1930s, the tornado death rate per million people was 60 - 70 times as great as in the year 2000 (Figure 4), implying that this year's tornadoes may have killed tens of thousands of people if we did not have our modern tornado modern warning system.



Paul Krugman: Springtime for Toxics

has a link to the following:

Springtime for Toxics, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times:

Here’s what I wanted for Christmas: something that would make us both healthier and richer. And since I was just making a wish, why not ask that Americans get smarter, too?

Surprise: I got my wish, in the form of new Environmental Protection Agency standards on mercury and air toxics for power plants. ...

As far as I can tell, even opponents of environmental regulation admit that mercury is nasty stuff. It’s a potent neurotoxicant... The E.P.A. explains: “Methylmercury exposure is a particular concern for women of childbearing age, unborn babies and young children, because studies have linked high levels of methylmercury to damage to the developing nervous system, which can impair children’s ability to think and learn.”

That sort of sounds like something we should regulate, doesn’t it?

The new rules would also have the effect of reducing fine particle pollution, which is a known source of many health problems... The ... payoff to the new rules is huge: up to $90 billion a year in benefits compared with around $10 billion a year of costs in the form of slightly higher electricity prices. ...

And it’s a deal Republicans very much want to kill.

With everything else that has been going on in U.S. politics recently, the G.O.P.’s radical anti-environmental turn hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. ... And I’m not exaggerating: during the fight over the debt ceiling, Republicans tried to attach riders that ... would essentially have blocked the E.P.A. and the Interior Department from doing their jobs.


More generally, whenever you hear dire predictions about the effects of pollution regulation, you should know that special interests always make such predictions, and are always wrong. For example, power companies claimed that rules on acid rain would disrupt electricity supply and lead to soaring rates; none of that happened, and the acid rain program has become a shining example of how environmentalism and economic growth can go hand in hand.



TOP 10 GOOD NEWS of 2011

By Good News Network Monday, December 26, 2011

Here it is, the annual Top 10 best good news stories of the year. From this list, you get the sense that 2011 has been an amazing year! Here's hoping we have an even better one in 2012.


10) Bystanders Lift Burning Car to Save Trapped Biker - Caught on Video

9) Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' Triumphant Recovery From Assassin's Bullet

8) Thousands of Muslims Form "Human Shield" Protecting Christians

7) U.S. Auto Industry Surges Back From Oblivion

6) Number of Starving People in Somalia Drops by Half Million

The crisis of famine in Somalia has been substantially mitigated, said the United Nations in November. The number of people facing imminent starvation dropped by two-thirds thanks to the onset of rainfall and increase of food aid deliveries. (NY Times)

5) Leukemia Breakthrough Cures 2 of 3, Could Target Other Cancers

4) Tens of Thousands Honor 9 Year-old's Memory, Giving $1.2 Million to her Charity

3) End of the Iraq War Sends U.S. Soldiers Home

2) U.S. Violent Crime Fell 6% Last Year, Extending a 4-Year Decline

[Possibly due to reduced lead levels in our environment.

1) The Arab Spring Topples Dictators Like Dominos


Congress Really Is As Bad As You Think, Scholars Say

So scholars from both liberal and conservative think tanks agree on this issue.

by Scott Neuman
December 27, 2011

Congressional approval ratings are on the rocks, hovering in or near single digits for the first time since pollsters started measuring them. But just how bad is the current congressional stalemate?

Thomas Mann, senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, is working on a book about Congress with a title that provides a succinct answer: It's Even Worse Than It Looks.

In modern history, Mann says, "there have been battles, delays, brinkmanship — but nothing quite like this."

The book, written with co-author Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, is a follow-up to a 2006 book by the pair called The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track.

Mann acknowledges there have been worse times for Congress, but he reaches back a very long way for a comparison.

"There were a few really bruising periods in American congressional history, not only the run-up to the Civil War, but also around the War of 1812," he says.

A Gallup poll published earlier this month found that just 11 percent of Americans approve of Congress' performance. A whopping 86 percent gave a thumbs-down. That's the lowest rating since Gallup started taking the public pulse on this issue in 1974. A similar poll conducted by The Associated Press registered a 12 percent approval rating, and a CBS/New York Times poll in October placed Congress' approval rating at 9 percent.



A Petition to Support the Saving American Democracy Amendment

There is a petition you can sign asking for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling by the supreme court, that ruled that corporations are persons, and their campaign contributions can not be limited.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court decision in a case called Citizens United vs. FEC.

The Saving American Democracy Amendment states that:

Corporations are not persons with constitutional rights equal to real people.
Corporations are subject to regulation by the people.
Corporations may not make campaign contributions or any election expenditures.
Congress and states have the power to regulate campaign finances.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Keeping Students From the Polls

Published: December 26, 2011

Next fall, thousands of students on college campuses will attempt to register to vote and be turned away. Sorry, they will hear, you have an out-of-state driver’s license. Sorry, your college ID is not valid here. Sorry, we found out that you paid out-of-state tuition, so even though you do have a state driver’s license, you still can’t vote.

Political leaders should be encouraging young adults to participate in civic life, but many Republican state lawmakers are doing everything they can instead to prevent students from voting in the 2012 presidential election. Some have openly acknowledged doing so because students tend to be liberal.

Seven states have already passed strict laws requiring a government-issued ID (like a driver’s license or a passport) to vote, which many students don’t have, and 27 others are considering such measures. Many of those laws have been interpreted as prohibiting out-of-state driver’s licenses from being used for voting.

It’s all part of a widespread Republican effort to restrict the voting rights of demographic groups that tend to vote Democratic. Blacks, Hispanics, the poor and the young, who are more likely to support President Obama, are disproportionately represented in the 21 million people without government IDs. On Friday, the Justice Department, finally taking action against these abuses, blocked the new voter ID law in South Carolina.

Republicans usually don’t want to acknowledge that their purpose is to turn away voters, especially when race is involved, so they invented an explanation, claiming that stricter ID laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud. In fact, there is almost no voter fraud in America to prevent.

William O’Brien, the speaker of the New Hampshire State House, told a Tea Party group earlier this year that students are “foolish” and tend to “vote their feelings” because they lack life experience. “Voting as a liberal,” he said, “that’s what kids do.” And that’s why, he said, he supported measures to prohibit students from voting from their college addresses and to end same-day registration. New Hampshire Republicans even tried to pass a bill that would have kept students who previously lived elsewhere from voting in the state; fortunately, the measure failed, as did the others Mr. O’Brien favored.



War Crimes?

What is happening in Syria very sad and horrible. How does it make us so much better people to allow peaceful protesters to be killed than to do it ourselves?

The U.N. called for an investigation of Gadaffi's death, saying it might be a war crime. But the U.N. did not protect Libya's people from brutality by Gadaffi for more than 40 years. So I would say they have no right to be calling for an investigation now.

07:42 21/12/2011
MOSCOW, December 21 (RIA Novosti)

UN war-crimes prosecutors rejected a request to probe the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, but said an investigation is possible in the future, CNN said on Wednesday.

Gaddafi's daughter Aisha and her lawyer Nick Kaufman requested the prosecution office of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to look into the October death of her father and brother Mutassim, who "were captured alive at a time when they posed no threat to anyone," only to be "murdered in the most horrific fashion."

ICC prosecutors said in a response that they will review Libya's investigation into alleged war crimes, including Gaddafi's death, and make a report on the issue in May 2012.


93-Year-Old Tennessee Woman Who Cleaned State Capitol For 30 Years Denied Voter ID

By Marie Diamond on Dec 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm

A 93-year-old Tennessee woman who cleaned the state Capitol for 30 years, including the governor’s office, says she won’t be able to vote for the first time in decades after being told this week that her old state ID failed to meet new voter ID regulations.

Thelma Mitchell was even accused of being an undocumented immigrant because she couldn’t produce a birth certificate:

Mitchell, who was delivered by a midwife in Alabama in 1918, has never had a birth certificate. But when she told that to a drivers’ license clerk, he suggested she might be an illegal immigrant.

Thelma Mitchell told WSMV-TV that she went to a state drivers’ license center last week after being told that her old state ID from her cleaning job would not meet new regulations for voter identification.

A spokesman for the House Republican Caucus insisted that Mitchell was given bad information and should’ve been allowed to vote, even with an expired state ID. But even if that’s the case, her ordeal illustrates the inevitable disenfranchisements that result when confusing voting laws enable state officials to apply the law inconsistently.

The incident is the just latest in a series of reports of senior citizens being denied their constitutional right to vote under restrictive new voter ID laws pushed by Republican governors and legislatures. These laws are a transparent attempt to target Democrat constituencies who are less likely to have photo ID’s, and disproportionately affect seniors, college students, the poor and minorities.

As ThinkProgress reported, one 96-year-old Tennessee woman was denied a voter ID because she didn’t have her marriage license. Another senior citizen in Tennessee, 91-year-old Virginia Lasater, couldn’t get the ID she needed to vote because she wasn’t able to stand in a long line at the DMV. A Tennessee agency even told a 86-year-old World War II veteran that he had to pay an unconstitutional poll tax if he wanted to obtain an ID.



11 Year Old Grows Veggies to Feed Homeless

"And a little child shall lead them."

by Becky Striepe on July 27, 2010

Don't you just love hearing about kids who are making a difference? A couple of weeks ago, we ran across 9-year-old Hannah knitting Hats for Hunger, and just the other day I stumbled upon the story of Katie Stagliano, a South Carolina girl who's been growing veggies to feed the homeless in her area since third grade.

In May, Walt Disney World Resort honored Katie with a VIP Tour of The Land at Epcot. For folks unfamiliar with The Land, it's an educational ride that talks about agriculture and was probably my favorite thing at Epcot when I was little. While touring The Land, the Disney folks also interviewed Katie about what she was doing:



Saturday, December 24, 2011

Living long or existing long?

“Some people die at 25 and aren't buried until 75.”
Benjamin Franklin.....


Hard Workers

“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”
Ben Franklin....


And some people really work hard at it.


What is a criminal

A criminal is a person with predatory instincts without sufficient capital to form a corporation. - Clarence Darrow


Simplification, but much truth.


Friday, December 23, 2011

No easy solutions

from Dec. 2011
In an article about Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D. in physics
The first Africa-American woman to receive a Ph.D.

p. 98 : "There are no easy solutions, and we are addicted to easy solutions.


Activists Fight Back With ‘Occucopter’ Drone

Posted on Dec 21, 2011

The worldwide uprisings of 2011 have seen ordinary people use surveillance and communication technology to protect themselves against oppressive governments. Now, New York City’s Occupiers are taking such tactics to the skies with the “occucopter,” a lightweight, camera-mounted helicopter that can be controlled with an iPhone.

OWS activist Tim Pool brought the technology to the movement. He’s modified the recording software to make it livestream ready and is busy making further adjustments that would enable multiple long distance operators to take control of the device in the event authorities shut down any number of them.


He told us that the reason he is doing this “comes back to giving ordinary people the same tools that these multimillion-dollar news corporations have. It provides a clever loophole around certain restrictions such as when the police block press from taking shots of an incident.”



WISE Says 'Merry Christmas' With a Nebulous Wreath

Dec. 23, 2011 -- NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is getting into a festive mood this Christmas after imaging a beautiful nebula called Barnard 3, or IRAS Ring G159.6-18.5. Nicknamed the "Wreath Nebula" by mission scientists, Bernard 3 does have some familiarity with the green and red wreath hanging peacefully on your neighbor's door. But looks can be deceiving.

From 1,000 light years away, this nebula looks peaceful and serene, but it is actually the site of savage stellar winds blasting from the central bright star called HD 278942. These blizzard-esque winds have shaped the warm dust into a wreath-like ring, while the luminous star is likely the only energy source causing the ring to glow in infrared wavelengths (green).

The central red glow is most likely metal-rich gases being heated by HD 278942 -- if you use your imagination, this could resemble the red bow in the center of the wreath.

After adding a sprinkling of stars around the ring -- or, as mission scientists call them "silver bells" -- and you get a positively festive cosmic scene. Merry Christmas!


LED cube


New public study: Watching Fox News makes you more ignorant


Mon Nov 21, 2011

We've had similar studies before, but here's a new one to add to the pile:

A new Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind Poll finds that the Sunday morning political shows on television "do the most to help people learn about current events, while some outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who they don't watch any news at all."

Now that is an impressive accomplishment. You could literally turn your television off and you'd learn more through news osmosis via other means (reading, listening to the radio, overhearing random conversations on the street, talking with your plants) than you would by watching Fox News. Let's just savor that: Listening to Fox "News" makes you less informed than not watching news at all.

Among other topics, New Jerseyans were asked about the outcome of the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East this past year. While 53% of New Jerseyans know that Egyptians were successful in overthrowing the government of Hosni Mubarak, 21% say that the uprisings were unsuccessful, and 26% admit they don’t know. Also, 48% know that the Syrian uprising has thus far been unsuccessful, while 36% say they don’t know, and 16% say the Syrians have already toppled their government.

But the real finding is that the results depend on what media sources people turn to for their news. For example, people who watch Fox News, the most popular of the 24-hour cable news networks, are 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those who watch no news at all (after controlling for other news sources, partisanship, education and other demographic factors). Fox News watchers are also 6-points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government than those who watch no news.

"Because of the controls for partisanship, we know these results are not just driven by Republicans or other groups being more likely to watch Fox News," said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and an analyst for the PublicMind Poll. "Rather, the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all."



Austin's Musicians Caught In Conundrum

by John Burnett
December 23, 2011

Sixth Street in downtown Austin, Texas, is one of the city's premiere live music districts. Guitar-shaped Christmas decorations hang on light poles, and the street is alive with bands and bars. Tonight you can hear ­­­­­­­­Austin Heat at the Thirsty Nickel, Mike Milligan and the Altar Boys at Maggie Mae's, or you could catch Misbehavin' at the Dizzy Rooster.

Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. Young people are moving there in search of its plentiful sunshine, freewheeling lifestyle, hi-tech jobs and vibrant music scene. However, more and more musicians find they cannot afford to live in the self-styled "Live Music Capital of the World."

In Austin, music seems to bubble up like an artesian spring. Yet many musicians cannot make a reasonable living wage in this town, which is why they need cheap rent. Hence the moment of silence last week when the Wilson Street Cottages were boarded shut.


Despite the high cost of living, more than 170 new people move to Austin every day. Consequently, Austin has become the most expensive city in Texas to buy or rent a home in.


So here's the kill-the-golden-goose paradox: The music scene is one of the biggest reasons why people are flocking to Austin, and all those new people are crowding out the musicians who make the music.

One of Austin's greatest creative success stories is South by Southwest, or SXSW. In a modern downtown office building, a staff of 83 annually produces an interactive media festival and a film festival as well as the storied music festival. In March, 2,000 acts will play in 80 clubs across the city over the course of the festival.

"I feel like at this point there's so much momentum behind the idea of Austin being a place for artists and musicians to gather, that it's going be really hard to stamp that out," says Roland Swensen, the founder of SXSW.

Swensen agrees that high-priced real estate is pushing starving artists further out into the periphery suburbs of Austin.

"But there's give and take here. I mean, yeah, it's more expensive, it's harder, but there's also more opportunities now than there were before. There are many more places to play than there used to be," says Swensen.

So, what can be done?

In the past five years, the city of Austin has committed $55 million to affordable housing. In fact, the developer of the new Wilson Street apartments says 10 percent of his units will be designated "affordable." Councilman Mike Martinez, who often speaks up for musicians, suggests taking the conversation in a different direction.

"It's very difficult to talk about because venue owners and promoters tend to be more resistant to this conversation, but it's paying our musicians a living wage," he says.

That's a hard argument to make, especially in a town bursting with guitar players, all elbowing each other aside to become the next Stevie Ray Vaughan.


Bush Spent 5 Times More On Flights To Texas Than Obama‘s Christmas Vacation Costs

By Jason Easley December 23, 2011

Those who criticize the cost of Obama’s Christmas vacation don’t want you to know that George W. Bush spent at least $20 million taxpayer dollars just on flights to his ranch in Crawford.

The right wing has been outraged at the four million dollar plus price tag for Obama’s family Christmas vacation, and they constantly hold George W. Bush up as an example of how thrifty a president should be when going on vacation.

The problem is that W. wasn’t thrifty. He was the most expensive vacation president in US history. Not only did Bush spend more days on vacation than any other president, but he used Air Force One more often while on vacation than any other president.

During Bush’s two terms, the cost of operating Air Force One ranged from $56,800 to $68,000 an hour. Bush used Air Force One 77 times to go to his ranch in Crawford, TX. Using the low end cost of $56,800, Media Matters calculated that each trip to Crawford cost taxpayers $259,687 each time, and $20 million total for Bush’s ranch flights.

If cost of the flight was the only expense involved to taxpayers Bush’s vacations would still seem rather economical, but there is more, much more. Unlike the Obama’s $4 million Christmas vacation price tag, which includes the cost of everything from transportation to accommodations for the First Family, the White House staff, and the White House press corps, Bush’s numbers only include the cost of flying the president to Crawford. The cost of transporting and accommodating staff, media, friends and family is not included in Bush’s vacation numbers.

In response to growing criticism that the president was on vacation too much, the Bush administration adopted the Rovian tactic of scheduling, “work events,” while the president was in Crawford so that they could claim that President Bush’s vacations were working vacations. During his infamous pre-9/11 August vacation, the AP reported that, “Using the ranch as a base, he will promote White House initiatives in Rocky Mountain National Park, Denver, Albuquerque, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and San Antonio.”

Bush’s “working vacations” cost taxpayers a small fortune in travel costs because President Bush and his staff would make day trips on Air Force One all across the country in order to counter the criticism that he was on vacation too often. For eight years, Bush essentially used Air Force One as his personal vacation taxi service.

What was also not counted in Bush’s Air Force One mileage total were the vacations where Bush flew to Crawford from Camp David such as the following via Media Matters:

[...] was writing about the anonymous chain emails about Obama’s travel costs and noted in July that the stories about Obama’s travel expenses are, “part of continuing pattern of false and misleading claims about the travels of the president and the first lady,” and that Obama used Air Force One less in his first two years in office than George W. Bush did.

That same pattern of false information about Obama’s travel costs relative to Bush’s is also rampant on right wing blogs, websites, and Fox News. The cost of Obama’s Christmas vacation is a good example of how right wing media can take a small fact like vacation costs or the number of Americans paying taxes in a single year and build an entire misinformation campaign around it.


By not including the cost of everything, the Obama bashers distorted the numbers to make it appear that Obama was lavishly spending taxpayer dollars on vacations, but a look inside the numbers reveals that nobody knows how to waste taxpayer dollars quite like the GOP.



Heroes Of The Taj Hotel: Why They Risked Their Lives

I suspect the example and behaviour of the owners, who are so interested in social justice, also help set the tone for the company culture.

by Alix Spiegel
December 23, 2011

On Nov. 26, 2008, terrorists simultaneously attacked about a dozen locations in Mumbai, India, including one of the most iconic buildings in the city, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

For two nights and three days, the Taj was under siege, held by men with automatic weapons who took some people hostage, killed others and set fire to the famous dome of the hotel.

The siege of the Taj quickly became an international story. Lots of people covered it, including CNN's Fareed Zakaria, who grew up in Mumbai. In a report that aired the day after the attacks, Zakaria spoke eloquently about the horror of what had happened in Mumbai, and then pointed to a silver lining: the behavior of the employees at the Taj.

Apparently, something extraordinary had happened during the siege. According to hotel managers, none of the Taj employees had fled the scene to protect themselves during the attack: They all stayed at the hotel to help the guests.

"I was told many stories of Taj hotel employees who made sure that every guest they could find was safely ferreted out of the hotel, at grave risk to their own lives," Zakaria said on his program.

There was the story of the kitchen employees who formed a human shield to assist guests who were evacuating, and lost their lives as a result. Of the telephone operators who, after being evacuated, chose to return to the hotel so they could call guests and tell them what to do. Of Karambir Singh Kang, the general manager of the Taj, who worked to save people even after his wife and two sons, who lived on the sixth floor of the hotel, died in the fire set by the terrorists.

Often during a crisis, a single hero or small group of heroes who take action and risk their lives will emerge. But what happened at the Taj was much broader.

During the crisis, dozens of workers — waiters and busboys, and room cleaners who knew back exits and paths through the hotel — chose to stay in a building under siege until their customers were safe. They were the very model of ethical, selfless behavior.

What could possibly explain it?

Earlier this month, a study in the Harvard Business Review proposed an answer to that question.

The study was done by Rohit Deshpande, a Harvard business professor who researches both business ethics and global branding.


Now, because this is a case study and not a double-blind research study, it's impossible to draw definitive conclusions. But this is what Deshpande thinks:

"It perhaps has something to do with the kinds of people that they recruit to become employees at the Taj, and then the manner that they train them and reward them," he says.

First, recruitment. In their search to find maids and bellhops, the Taj avoids big cities and instead turns to small towns and semi-urban areas. There the Taj develops relationships with local schools, asking the leaders of those schools to hand-select people who have the qualifications they want.

"They don't look for students who have the highest grades. They're actually recruiting for personal characteristics," Deshpande says, "most specifically, respect and empathy."

Taj managers explained to Deshpande that they recruited for traits like empathy because that kind of underlying value is hard to teach. This, he says, is also why recruiters avoid hiring managers for the hotel from the top business schools in India. They deliberately go to second-tier business schools, on the theory that the people there will be less motivated by money.

And this strategy, as Deshpande points out, is highly unusual in India.

"Let me put this into a little cultural context for you," he says.

"India is a country where people are almost obsessed about grades. In order to get ahead, you have to have really high grades. But here is an organization that is doing just the opposite — they're recruiting not for grades, they're recruiting for character."

Part of this focus on character is ideological, he says.

The Taj is owned by a corporation called the Tata group, which for the past hundred years has been run by an extremely religious family that's interested in social justice: The company typically channels about two-thirds of its profits into a charitable trust.

But Deshpande says there are also practical reasons for this focus on character. The Taj hotel has made its name on customer service, and they are near maniacal about it, treating it almost like a science.


So everything — everything — about the training and rewards systems set up by the Taj is designed to encourage kindness.

Deshpande gives one example. "If guests say something or write something very complimentary about an employee, within 48 hours of [the] recording of that compliment, there is some sort of reward that is made."

Rewards range from gifts to job promotions.

This system — of immediately rewarding desired behavior — will likely sound familiar to people interested in psychology.



Three-Quarters of Climate Change Is Man-Made

By Quirin Schiermeier and Nature magazine | December 5, 2011

Natural climate variability is extremely unlikely to have contributed more than about one-quarter of the temperature rise observed in the past 60 years, reports a pair of Swiss climate modelers in a paper published online December 4. Most of the observed warming—at least 74 percent—is almost certainly due to human activity, they write in Nature Geoscience.

Since 1950, the average global surface air temperature has increased by more than 0.5 degree Celsius. To separate human and natural causes of warming, the researchers analyzed changes in the balance of heat energy entering and leaving Earth—a new "attribution" method for understanding the physical causes of climate change.

Their findings, which are strikingly similar to results produced by other attribution methods, provide an alternative line of evidence that greenhouse gases, and in particular carbon dioxide, are by far the main culprit of recent global warming. The massive increase of atmospheric CO2 concentrations since pre-industrial times would, in fact, have caused substantially more surface warming were it not for the cooling effects of atmospheric aerosols such as black carbon, they report.



Thursday, December 22, 2011

How Germany Builds Twice as Many Cars as the U.S. While Paying Its Workers Twice as Much

It has been noted by those who study different cultures that the U.S. has one of the highest rate of competitiveness, defined as the belief that everything is a contest, with (at most) one winner, and everybody else a loser. In M. Scott Peck's book "A World Waiting to be Born", he describes the U.S. as very adversarial.

Frederick E. Allen

In 2010, Germany produced more than 5.5 million automobiles; the U.S produced 2.7 million. At the same time, the average auto worker in Germany made $67.14 per hour in salary in benefits; the average one in the U.S. made $33.77 per hour. Yet Germany’s big three car companies—BMW, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), and Volkswagen—are very profitable.

How can that be? The question is explored in a new article from Remapping Debate, a public policy e-journal. Its author, Kevin C. Brown, writes that “the salient difference is that, in Germany, the automakers operate within an environment that precludes a race to the bottom; in the U.S., they operate within an environment that encourages such a race.”

There are “two overlapping sets of institutions” in Germany that guarantee high wages and good working conditions for autoworkers. The first is IG Metall, the country’s equivalent of the United Automobile Workers. Virtually all Germany’s car workers are members, and though they have the right to strike, they “hardly use it, because there is an elaborate system of conflict resolution that regularly is used to come to some sort of compromise that is acceptable to all parties,” according to Horst Mund, an IG Metall executive. The second institution is the German constitution, which allows for “works councils” in every factory, where management and employees work together on matters like shop floor conditions and work life. Mund says this guarantees cooperation, “where you don’t always wear your management pin or your union pin.”



The cycle of life

“Older generations are living proof that younger generations can survive their lunacy.”

— Cullen Hightower


Notre Dame researchers develop paint-on solar cells

Public release date: 21-Dec-2011
Contact: Prashant Kamat
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame researchers develop paint-on solar cells

Imagine if the next coat of paint you put on the outside of your home generates electricity from light—electricity that can be used to power the appliances and equipment on the inside.

A team of researchers at the University of Notre Dame have made a major advance toward this vision by creating an inexpensive "solar paint" that uses semiconducting nanoparticles to produce energy.

"We want to do something transformative, to move beyond current silicon-based solar technology," says Prashant Kamat, John A. Zahm Professor of Science in Chemistry and Biochemistry and an investigator in Notre Dame's Center for Nano Science and Technology (NDnano), who leads the research.

"By incorporating power-producing nanoparticles, called quantum dots, into a spreadable compound, we've made a one-coat solar paint that can be applied to any conductive surface without special equipment."



Teens who express own views with mom resist peer pressures best

Speaking from experience, I would say that part of this dynamic is that power-freak parents who punish a child for expressing their own views can damage the child's self-esteem, and make it hard for them to stick up for themselves.

Public release date: 22-Dec-2011
Contact: Sarah Hutcheon
Society for Research in Child Development
Teens who express own views with mom resist peer pressures best

Teens who more openly express their own viewpoints in discussions with their moms, even if their viewpoints disagree, are more likely than others to resist peer pressure to use drugs or drink.

That's one of the findings of a new longitudinal study by researchers at the University of Virginia. The study appears in the journal Child Development.

The researchers looked at more than 150 teens and their parents, a group that was racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse. The teens were studied at ages 13, 15, and 16 to gather information on substance use, interactions with moms, social skills, and close friendships. Researchers used not just the youths' own reports, but information from parents and peers. They also observed teens' social interactions with family members and peers.

They found that teens who hold their own in family discussions were better at standing up to peer influences to use drugs or alcohol. Among the best protected were teens who had learned to argue well with their moms about such topics as grades, money, household rules, and friends. Arguing well was defined as trying to persuade their mothers with reasoned arguments, rather than with pressure, whining, or insults.

"The healthy autonomy they'd established at home seemed to carry over into their relationships with peers," suggests Joseph P. Allen, Hugh P. Kelly Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, who led the study.

The study also found that teens who had formed good relationships with their parents and their peers were more likely to resist peer influences related to substance use.

"It may be that teens who are secure in their ability to turn to their mothers under stress are less likely to end up feeling overly dependent upon their close friends, and thus less likely to be influenced by their friend's behavior when it's negative," notes Allen.


Virgin Olive Oil & Fish Fatty Acids Help Prevent Acute Pancreatitis

Dec. 15, 2011

Scientists at the University of Granada have shown that oleic acid and hydroxytyrosol –present in a particularly high concentration in virgin olive oil– and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids –found in fish– relieve the symptoms of pancreatitis.



Over half of the total fat in avocado is provided in the form of oleic acid—a situation very similar to the fat composition of olives and olive oil. Oleic acid helps our digestive tract form transport molecules for fat that can increase our absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like carotenoids. As a monounsaturated fatty acid, it has also been shown to help lower our risk of heart disease. So don't be fooled by avocado's bad rap as a high-fat food. Like other high-fat plant foods (for example, walnuts and flaxseeds), avocado can provide us with unique health benefits precisely because of its unusual fat composition.



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pennsylvania farmers warn North Carolina farmers of shale gas drilling

Posted on Friday, November 11, 2011
By John Murawski | Raleigh News & Observer John Murawski McClatchy Newspapers

Two Pennsylvania farmers who leased land to shale gas drillers in their state and dreamed of a big payoff painted a bleak picture of the gas industry Thursday. Carolyn Knapp and Carol French warned that if North Carolina permits drillers to explore here, residents can expect conflicts with neighbors, lawsuits with gas companies, health complaints, a spike in crime and ruined property values.The two farmers were hosted in Raleigh by two advocacy groups - N.C. Policy Watch and Clean Water for North Carolina - at a time that North Carolina is emerging as the nation's next battleground over shale gas exploration. The pair also planned to speak in Durham and Southern Pines. "We're seeing farms losing 80 percent to 90 percent of their property value," Knapp said. "The amount of noise that comes from these operations is unbelievable. ... It's probably worse than living on an expressway."Neither farmer is collecting royalties from leases on their farms, because the companies haven't drilled yet or are not currently producing gas.



Deadliest weather disaster of 2011: the East African drought

The deadliest storm of 2011 is Tropical Storm Washi, which is now being blamed for 957 deaths in the Philippines. Washi's heavy rains triggered devastating flash flooding on the island of Mindanao last Friday. However, the deadliest weather disaster of 2011 is a quiet one that has gotten few headlines--the East African drought in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. On July 20, the United Nations officially declared famine in two regions of southern Somalia, the first time a famine has been declared by the UN in nearly thirty years. Almost 30,000 children under the age of five were believed to have died of malnutrition in Somalia this summer, and the total death toll of this great drought is doubtless much higher. At least thirteen million people in East Africa are in need of food aid. However, conditions are improving. Food aid has lifted three of six provinces in Somalia out of famine. The "short rains" of the October - November rainy season were plentiful this year--too much so, since heavy rains killed 15 people in Kenya and left 80,000 homeless in early December. The flooding was worsened by the preceding drought, which killed much of the vegetation that ordinarily would have stabilized the soil and absorbed rainwater before it could run off and create destructive floods. The rains have allowed a good harvest to be planted this fall, and with continued food aid, the Somalia famine should ease by spring 2012. ReliefWeb reports that in the three Somalian provinces still experiencing famine, nearly 250,000 people face imminent starvation, though.


Weather Underground has partnered with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to help the Horn of Africa region during the ongoing famine. With the help of the Weather Underground community, we hope to raise $10,000 that will go toward helping the refugees survive the crisis. Weather Underground will match the community's donation dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000 for a total donation of $20,000. Please visit the East Africa famine donation page to help out. Ninety cents of every dollar donated goes directly to the people in need.


Speaker Cuts Off C-SPAN Cameras When Dems Attempt To Bring Vote On Payroll Tax Cut

By Alex Seitz-Wald on Dec 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm

During a quick pro-forma session of the House this morning, Republicans rebuffed a Democratic attempt to force an up-or-down vote on the Senate-passed payroll tax holiday extension, which Republicans have thus far refused to allow. Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), who was serving as the speaker pro-temp, ignored shouts of “Mr. Speaker!” from Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), quickly adjourning the House.

Hoyer continued talking undeterred, saying, “You’re walking away, just as so many Republicans have walked away from middle-class taxpayers [and] the unemployed.” “We regret, Mr. Speaker, that you have walked off the platform without addressing this issue of critical importance to this country,” Hoyer added.

Moments later, the mic appeared to cut out. A few seconds after that, the video feed switched away from the House floor to a still image of the Capitol Dome. It appears someone in House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) office cut the feed, as C-SPAN tweeted afterwards: “C-SPAN has no control over the U.S. House TV cameras – the Speaker of the House does.”

December 21, 2011

Why House Republicans Won't Win

With the Wall Street Journal editorial page already calling on House Republicans to surrender in their fight over a payroll tax cut extension, First Read gives three reasons why the House GOP is unlikely to win this fight:

"Reason #1: House Republicans allowed the Senate to break for the Christmas holiday without explicit orders it would need to come back. In fact, Politico notes that the silence from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is deafening.

Reason #2: The Senate passed its legislation by a bipartisan 89-10 vote, raising the question whether a conference committee could produce a deal that could get 60-plus Senate votes.
Reason #3: The House GOP didn't allow an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill, suggesting that it could have passed if they did. Those three reasons will be hard for the House GOP to explain away if the tax cut expires after Dec. 31."


And so this is Christmas

Official video for John Lennon singing "And so this is Christmas"


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Vaclav Havel has died

Vaclav Havel, the former president of Czechoslovakia, playwright, and pro-democracy activist, passed away this morning. "I would be glad if it was felt that I have done something generally useful," he said. "I don't care much about personal fame or popularity. I would be satisfied with the feeling that I had a chance to help with something in general, something good. That history gave me that chance."

Easier to fight

It is always easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them. ~Alfred Adler


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ability to Love Takes Root in Earliest Infancy

ScienceDaily (Dec. 14, 2011) — The ability to trust, love, and resolve conflict with loved ones starts in childhood -- way earlier than you may think. That is one message of a new review of the literature in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science.

"Your interpersonal experiences with your mother during the first 12 to 18 months of life predict your behavior in romantic relationships 20 years later," says psychologist Jeffry A. Simpson, the author, with University of Minnesota colleagues W. Andrew Collins and Jessica E. Salvatore. "Before you can remember, before you have language to describe it, and in ways you aren't aware of, implicit attitudes get encoded into the mind," about how you'll be treated or how worthy you are of love and affection.

While those attitudes can change with new relationships, introspection, and therapy, in times of stress old patterns often reassert themselves. The mistreated infant becomes the defensive arguer; the baby whose mom was attentive and supportive works through problems, secure in the goodwill of the other person.


Through multiple analyses, the research has yielded evidence of that early encoding -- confirming earlier psychological theories. But their findings depart from their predecessors' ideas, too. "Psychologists started off thinking there was a lot of continuity in a person's traits and behavior over time," says Simpson. "We find a weak but important thread" between the infant in the mother's arms and the 20-year-old in his lover's. But "one thing has struck us over the years: It's often harder to find evidence for stable continuity than for change on many measures."

The good news: "If you can figure out what those old models are and verbalize them," and if you get involved with a committed, trustworthy partner, says Simpson, "you may be able to revise your models and calibrate your behavior differently." Old patterns can be overcome. A betrayed baby can become loyal. An unloved infant can learn to love.


Can Science Predict a Hit Song?

ScienceDaily (Dec. 16, 2011) — Most people remember listening to the official UK top 40 singles chart and watching the countdown on Top of the Pops, but can science work out which songs are more likely to 'make it' in the chart?


The team found they could classify a song into a 'hit' or 'not hit' based on its score, with an accuracy rate of 60 per cent as to whether a song will make it to top five, or if it will never reach above position 30 on the UK top 40 singles chart.

Dr Tijl De Bie, Senior Lecturer in Artificial Intelligence, said: "Musical tastes evolve, which means our 'hit potential equation' needs to evolve as well. Indeed, we have found the hit potential of a song depends on the era. This may be due to the varying dominant music style, culture and environment."


On average all songs on the chart are becoming louder. Additionally, the hits are relatively louder than the songs that dangle at the bottom of the charts, reflected by a strong weight for the loudness feature.


Lead Levels in Drinking Water Spike When Copper and Lead Pipes Joined

ScienceDaily (Dec. 15, 2011) — Lead pipes once used routinely in municipal water distribution systems are a well-recognized source of dangerous lead contamination, but new research from Washington University in St. Louis suggests that the partial replacement of these pipes can make the problem worse.

The research shows that joining old lead pipes with new copper lines using brass fittings spurs galvanic corrosion that can dramatically increase the amount of lead released into drinking water supplies.

"Work done in our laboratory shows galvanic corrosion in joined service lines is significant and lasts for a long time," says Dan Giammar, PhD, the Harold D. Jolley Career Development Associate Professor in the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis.


His experiment reveals that instead, it could be far worse. The joined lead-copper pipe in his lab releases five times more lead than did the original lead pipe.

The lead is released by galvanic corrosion, a process set up whenever two dissimilar metals are immersed in a conducting liquid.

The same thing happens if lasagna or another acidic dish is made in a stainless steel pan, covered with aluminum foil, and placed in a refrigerator. The two metals and the lasagna act as a galvanic cell, and some of the aluminum may migrate out of the foil and plate out on the surface of the lasagna.



Less Knowledge, More Power: Uninformed Can Be Vital to Democracy, Study Finds

Interesting and thought-provoking.

ScienceDaily (Dec. 15, 2011) — Contrary to the ideal of a completely engaged electorate, individuals who have the least interest in a specific outcome can actually be vital to achieving a democratic consensus. These individuals dilute the influence of powerful minority factions who would otherwise dominate everyone else, according to new research published in the journal Science.


"We show that when the uninformed participate, the group can come to a majority decision even in the face of a powerful minority," Couzin said. "They prevent deadlock and fragmentation because the strength of an opinion no longer matters -- it comes down to numbers. You can imagine this being a good or bad thing. Either way, a certain number of uninformed individuals keep that minority from dictating or complicating the behavior of the group."

Of course this effect has its limits, Couzin said. He and his co-authors also found that if the number of uninformed becomes too high, a group ceases to function coherently, with neither the majority nor the minority taking the lead. "Eventually, noise dominates because there just aren't enough informed individuals to guide the group," he said.



Our extreme weather: Arctic changes to blame?

Posted by: JeffMasters, 9:50 PM GMT on December 16, 2011

"The question is not whether sea ice loss is affecting the large-scale atmospheric's how can it not?" That was the take-home message from Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, in her talk "Does Arctic Amplification Fuel Extreme Weather in Mid-Latitudes?", presented at last week's American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. Dr. Francis presented new research in review for publication, which shows that Arctic sea ice loss may significantly affect the upper-level atmospheric circulation, slowing its winds and increasing its tendency to make contorted high-amplitude loops. High-amplitude loops in the upper level wind pattern (and associated jet stream) increases the probability of persistent weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, potentially leading to extreme weather due to longer-duration cold spells, snow events, heat waves, flooding events, and drought conditions.


The Arctic has seen a stunning amount of sea ice loss in recent years, due to melting and unfavorable winds that have pushed large amounts of ice out of the region. Forty percent of the sea ice was missing in September 2007, compared to September of 1980. This is an area equivalent to about 44% of the contiguous U.S., or 71% of the non-Russian portion of Europe. Such a large area of open water is bound to cause significant impacts on weather patterns, due to the huge amount of heat and moisture that escapes from the exposed ocean into the atmosphere over a multi-month period following the summer melt.



Five Things to Remember in Life

From Facebook:

1. Money cannot buy happiness but its more comfortable to cry in a Mercedes than on a bicycle. (Actually, it does, up to a certain point)

2. Forgive your enemy but remember the jerk's name.

3. Help someone when they are in trouble and they will remember you when they're in trouble again.

4. Many people are alive only because its illegal to shoot them.

5. Alcohol does not solve any problems, but then again, neither does milk..


How to be a successful demagogue,_greedy_nation?page=entire


A demagogue, in addition to hypnotic glibness, must also be intellectually inconsistent, sometimes boldly so. This eliminates challenges to authority by weeding out clear-thinking young people from the flock.



Friday, December 16, 2011

For 34 Straight Months, There Have Been More Than Four Unemployed Job Seekers For Every Job Opening

As some commenters pointed out, this is probably an understatement, because many supposed job openings really aren't, and many are for the same job.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the month of October saw 4.1 unemployed job seekers for every one available job, as the number of job openings decreased by 110,000 to 3.3 million. That month, the total of unemployed workers reached 13.9 million. As the Economic Policy Institute noted, “the fact that we have had a job-seekers ratio above 4-to-1 for 147 weeks underscores the crucial need for extended unemployment insurance benefits.”



Pay For American CEOs Rose 27 To 40 Percent Last Year

According to a new survey by the corporate governance group GMI Ratings, “America’s top bosses enjoyed pay hikes of between 27 and 40% last year.” The top ten CEOs in the country took home a combined $770 million. Meanwhile, workers saw their average wage go up just two percent in the same year.