Thursday, March 31, 2011

Social Security and Life Expectancy

By: Dirk van Dijk, CFA
March 29, 2011

One of the key reasons cited for possibly raising the retirement age for Social Security is that life expectancy has gotten much longer than when the Program started back in 1936. While that is true, a longer life expectancy at birth does not mean the same thing as more years of retirement.

As the graph below shows (from this source), life expectancy at birth (bottom line), increased significantly over the course of the 20th century. For men it rose from just over 50 years to more than 80. For women the increase was only slightly less dramatic, from about 57 years to 85 years.

Most of that improvement came from lower infant mortality. In 1900, it was common for children to die from diseases that have now been more or less eliminated, at least in the developed world. Penicillin was not generally available until after WWII.

As far as Social Security is concerned, changes in infant mortality are totally irrelevant. Yes, if someone dies when they are 2 years old, they will never collect Social Security benefits. They will never pay into the system, either. As far as the Social Security system is concerned, it is as if the person never existed.

The improvement in life expectancy from age 20 has been less dramatic (very feint middle line), and about half of the improvement occurred before the Social Security program was started.

The reduction in youth mortality (between ages five and 20) has been very dramatic, to the point where life expectancy at age 20 is almost the same as life expectancy at birth. In addition to medical advances, things like safer cars and seat belts have played a big role in reducing the chance that one will die before age 20. That is the age when most people start to contribute to Social Security.

From the actuary’s point of view, the best thing a person can due to make the Social Security system solvent is to die shortly after your 65th birthday. Then you will have paid in for a lifetime, and collect nothing (other than a very nominal death benefit).

What really counts for the Social Security system is the change in life expectancy at age 65 (top line). That has increased much more modestly. The retirement age for Social Security is already rising gradually, from age 65 to age 67. This takes care of most of the increase in life expectancy at age 65 that has occurred since Social Security started 75 years ago.

Raising the retirement age is the equivalent of an across-the-board cut in benefits. Since the poor and working class tend to die earlier than the upper middle class and the wealthy, it is a cut that will hit the poor the hardest. They also tend to have jobs that are more physically demanding. It is one thing for a lawyer (or an equity strategist) to continue working until age 67 or even 75; it is quite another for a coal miner to continue working at that age.

Keep in mind that the Social Security system has its own dedicated revenue source: the payroll tax. That tax is applied to the very first dollar of income, but stops after you have earned about $105,000 for the year. Those who make claims about what percentage of taxes that the wealthy pay almost only talk about the income tax, and forget about the payroll tax.

These people tend to make statements like almost half of all Americans pay no taxes. That is simply not true. It is the equivalent of saying that practicing Mormons pay no taxes, which is true if the only taxes you are considering are excise taxes on booze and smokes.

Anticipating the demographic bulge from the retirement of the Baby Boomers, payroll taxes were increased significantly during the Reagan Administration. The idea was to “over pay” on taxes and build up a surplus. That surplus was then invested in the most conservative investment around, Treasury Notes. That surplus now stands at about $2.5 Trillion.

In building up that surplus and investing in T-notes, the Social Security system has been massively subsidizing the rest of the government, which is largely funded by income taxes. It is true that the relatively wealthy pay most of the income taxes.

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American Thought Police

Published: March 27, 2011

Recently William Cronon, a historian who teaches at the University of Wisconsin, decided to weigh in on his state’s political turmoil. He started a blog, “Scholar as Citizen,” devoting his first post to the role of the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council in pushing hard-line conservative legislation at the state level. Then he published an opinion piece in The Times, suggesting that Wisconsin’s Republican governor has turned his back on the state’s long tradition of “neighborliness, decency and mutual respect.”

So what was the G.O.P.’s response? A demand for copies of all e-mails sent to or from Mr. Cronon’s university mail account containing any of a wide range of terms, including the word “Republican” and the names of a number of Republican politicians.

If this action strikes you as no big deal, you’re missing the point. The hard right — which these days is more or less synonymous with the Republican Party — has a modus operandi when it comes to scholars expressing views it dislikes: never mind the substance, go for the smear. And that demand for copies of e-mails is obviously motivated by no more than a hope that it will provide something, anything, that can be used to subject Mr. Cronon to the usual treatment.

The Cronon affair, then, is one more indicator of just how reflexively vindictive, how un-American, one of our two great political parties has become.

The demand for Mr. Cronon’s correspondence has obvious parallels with the ongoing smear campaign against climate science and climate scientists, which has lately relied heavily on supposedly damaging quotations found in e-mail records.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Singing Lowers Patient's Blood Pressure Prior to Surgery

ScienceDaily (Mar. 30, 2011) — Doctors report that singing reduced the blood pressure of a 76-year-old woman who had experienced severe preoperative hypertension prior to total knee replacement surgery for osteoarthritis (OA). While the patient was unresponsive to aggressive pharmacologic interventions, the woman's blood pressure dropped dramatically when she sang several religious songs.

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Measurements of Winter Arctic Sea Ice Shows Continuing Ice Loss

ScienceDaily (Mar. 30, 2011) — The 2011 Arctic sea ice extent maximum that marks the beginning of the melt season appears to be tied for the lowest ever measured by satellites, say scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder's National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The CU-Boulder research team believes the lowest annual maximum ice extent of 5,650,000 square miles occurred on March 7. The maximum ice extent was 463,000 square miles below the 1979-2000 average, an area slightly larger than the states of Texas and California combined. The 2011 measurements were tied with those from 2006 as the lowest maximum sea ice extents measured since satellite record keeping began in 1979.

Virtually all climate scientists believe shrinking Arctic sea ice is tied to warming temperatures in the region caused by an increase in human-produced greenhouse gases being pumped into Earth's atmosphere. Because of the spiraling downward trend of Arctic sea ice extent in the last decade, some CU scientists are predicting the Arctic Ocean may be ice free in the summers within the next several decades.

The seven lowest maximum Arctic sea ice extents measured by satellites all have occurred in the last seven years, said CU-Boulder Research Scientist Walt Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, who participated the latest study. "I'm not surprised by the new data because we've seen a downward trend in winter sea ice extent for some time now."

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Warm Water Causes Extra-Cold Winters in Northeastern North America and Northeastern Asia

ScienceDaily (Mar. 30, 2011) — If you're sitting on a bench in New York City's Central Park in winter, you're probably freezing. After all, the average temperature in January is 32 degrees Fahrenheit. But if you were just across the pond in Porto, Portugal, which shares New York's latitude, you'd be much warmer -- the average temperature is a balmy 48 degrees Fahrenheit.

Throughout northern Europe, average winter temperatures are at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than similar latitudes on the northeastern coast of the United States and the eastern coast of Canada. The same phenomenon happens over the Pacific, where winters on the northeastern coast of Asia are colder than in the Pacific Northwest.

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have now found a mechanism that helps explain these chillier winters -- and the culprit is warm water off the eastern coasts of these continents.

"These warm ocean waters off the eastern coast actually make it cold in winter -- it's counterintuitive," says Tapio Schneider, the Frank J. Gilloon Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering.

Schneider and Yohai Kaspi, a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech, describe their work in a paper published in the March 31 issue of the journal Nature.

Using computer simulations of the atmosphere, the researchers found that the warm water off an eastern coast will heat the air above it and lead to the formation of atmospheric waves, drawing cold air from the northern polar region. The cold air forms a plume just to the west of the warm water. In the case of the Atlantic Ocean, this means the frigid air ends up right over the northeastern United States and eastern Canada.

For decades, the conventional explanation for the cross-oceanic temperature difference was that the Gulf Stream delivers warm water from the Gulf of Mexico to northern Europe. But in 2002, research showed that ocean currents aren't capable of transporting that much heat, instead contributing only up to 10 percent of the warming.

Kaspi's and Schneider's work reveals a mechanism that helps create a temperature contrast not by warming Europe, but by cooling the eastern United States. Surprisingly, it's the Gulf Stream that causes this cooling.
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Saturday, March 26, 2011

The megaquake connection: Are huge earthquakes linked?

16 March 2011 by Catherine Brahic

The recent cluster of huge quakes around the Pacific Ocean has fuelled speculation that they are seismically linked. New Scientist examines the evidence

AT 2.46 pm local time on Friday last week, Japan shook like never before. The magnitude 9.0 earthquake wrenched the main island of Honshu 2.5 metres closer to the US and nudged the tilt of Earth's axis by 16 centimetres. At the epicentre, 130 kilometres offshore, the Pacific tectonic plate lurched westwards, and a 10-metre-high tsunami sped towards the coastal city of Sendai and the surrounding region.

The devastation caused by the events is difficult to exaggerate - estimates suggest the number of fatalities could top 10,000. One of the few consolations is that quakes of magnitude 8.5 and above are rare: the Sendai earthquake is in the top 10 of the highest-magnitude quakes of the last 100 years.

Yet three of these - the December 2004 Sumatra quake, the February 2010 Chile quake, and now Sendai - have struck in just over six years. This presents a horrifying possibility: that there is a link between these megaquakes and that, as a result, more could strike.

Most geologists say that the number of megaquakes is too small to be able to make a statistically convincing case for a link. "You will get a lot of different answers from different people, but inevitably the ability of any one of those to convince everyone else that they're right is going to depend on the statistics of small numbers," says Ross Stein of the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Menlo Park, California, "and we're never going to get anywhere."

A handful, however, feel there must be a link between recent events. "What is clear is that for the 6.2 years since 2004, there have been more great earthquakes around the world than in any 6.2-year period throughout the 110-year history of seismic recordings," says Thorne Lay at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His colleague Emily Brodsky goes further: "The recent spurt of magnitude-8-plus earthquakes may be an extended aftershock sequence of the 2004 Sumatra earthquake."

While demonstrating a domino effect is a challenge, Lay does have a geological mechanism that can link some large quakes that occur several months apart. He cites doublets - pairs of comparably large quakes that happen on the same or neighbouring faults within months of each other. In November 2006, an 8.3-magnitude quake shook the Kuril Islands north of Japan as the Pacific plate pushed beneath them. Two months later, in January 2007, the islands felt the force of a second large quake, this time an 8.1-magnitude event. When the Pacific plate lunged beneath the islands in the first of those quakes, it left the oceanic crust under tension. The January quake was the result of a new rupture that allowed the plate to stretch and thin to compensate (Nature, vol 451, p 561; and see diagram).

Doublets like this show that large earthquakes months apart and on separate faults can be linked by a sound geological mechanism. It does not prove that this is also true of events separated by longer periods and greater distances. For this, Lay says you would want to show, for instance, that a region which has experienced a large quake recorded unusual seismic activity and perhaps even some small tremors during a previous large event elsewhere on the planet. This might suggest that the earlier event unsettled a fault, effectively priming it.

For an example, Lay cites the 7.9-magnitude event that hit Sichuan in China in May 2008. "The 2004 Sumatra earthquake increased seismicity in that area as the [shock] waves passed by," he says. "Was the 2008 earthquake a delayed, large aftershock, or a totally independent event?"

The trouble is that large earthquakes generate tectonic waves that ripple around the world's surface and routinely trigger smaller quakes on distant faults, so increased activity in China is hardly a surprise. "If you have a quake of, let's say, 6.2 or larger, every sand grain on the planet is moving to the music of that event," Stein says.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Earthquake activity is frozen by ice sheets

Can you put a freeze on earthquakes? It seems so, according to a computer model showing that earthquakes happen less often in areas covered by ice caps. Trouble is, quakes come back with a vengeance when the ice melts.

Andrea Hampel at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, and colleagues wondered why Scandinavia experienced a surge in tectonic activity around 9000 years ago, whereas few earthquakes occur there today. They realised that the earthquake flurry coincided with the melting of the Fennoscandian ice sheet, which blanketed the area in the last ice age.

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Indiana Prosecutor Encouraged 'False Flag' Assault On Walker To Discredit Wisconsin Unions

Eric Kleefeld | March 24, 2011, 6:26PM

A deputy prosecutor in Johnson County, Indiana, has resigned his job after it was revealed that in February, during the large protests in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker's anti-public employee union bill, he e-mailed Walker's office and recommended that they conduct a "false flag operation" -- to fake an assault or assassination attempt on Walker in order to discredit the unions and protesters.

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GE Reactor Flaws - Not New News

Published: March 25, 2011 at 9:24 am EDT

Dale Bridenbaugh was known as one of the "GE Three" a group of top engineers at General Electric that pointed out safety flaws in the Mark I reactor- the same model being used at the Fukushima site. He tells host Bruce Gellerman that more could have been done to prevent the crisis in Japan.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

'Knowing It in Your Gut': Cross-Talk Between Human Gut Bacteria and Brain

ScienceDaily (Mar. 23, 2011) — A lot of chatter goes on inside each one of us and not all of it happens between our ears. Researchers at McMaster University discovered that the "cross-talk" between bacteria in our gut and our brain plays an important role in the development of psychiatric illness, intestinal diseases and probably other health problems as well including obesity.

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Using germ-free mice, Foster's research shows gut bacteria influences how the brain is wired for learning and memory. The research paper has been published in the March issue of the science journal Neurogastroenterology and Motility.

The study's results show that genes linked to learning and memory are altered in germ-free mice and, in particular, they are altered in one of the key brain regions for learning and memory -- the hippocampus.

"The take-home message is that gut bacteria influences anxiety-like behavior through alterations in the way the brain is wired," said Foster.

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Social Security taxes paid for tax cuts for rich

Social security taxes are regressive. There is a cap on social security taxes, currently $106,800. So someone making $5 million a year ($5,000,000) will pay the same amount of social security tax as someone making $106,800.

For many years, social security taxes have been bringing in more money than was paid in social security. This was supposed to ensure that there would be enough when baby boomers started retiring.

This has allowed taxes to be lowered on the very rich for years.

So now that baby boomers are starting to retire, the very rich are fighting to cut social security benefits, so that they can continue to be subsidized by the rest of us.

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"Shut down" your pay first!

For months, Speaker John Boehner and his fellow Republicans have been threatening a government shutdown. They've been unwilling to compromise, instead choosing to follow the shrill, irrational calls of their base to take a slash and burn approach to government funding, regardless of the consequences. They've ignored the havoc such a shutdown would wreak upon our still fragile economy, and the hardships it would cause for millions of Americans, including the poor and the elderly.

The most unbelievable thing of all? In their version of a shutdown... where Congress would still get paid. We're not kidding. It's taking hypocrisy to an 11.

That's why we're making a simple request to Speaker Boehner:

"Speaker Boehner, if you and the Republicans in Congress really are foolish enough to threaten a government shut-down, then put your money where your mouth is, pass Senate bill 388, and make your members give up their own government salary too!"

Please join us by filling out the form to the right, sending a message to Speaker Boehner, and asking your friends and family to do the same. Time is short, and a shutdown may be imminent unless we take steps to push back, and push back hard.

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Stress Affects the Balance of Bacteria in the Gut and Immune Response

ScienceDaily (Mar. 22, 2011) — Stress can change the balance of bacteria that naturally live in the gut, according to research published this month in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

"These bacteria affect immune function, and may help explain why stress dysregulates the immune response," said lead researcher Michael Bailey.

Exposure to stress led to changes in composition, diversity and number of gut microorganisms, according to scientists from The Ohio State University. The bacterial communities in the intestine became less diverse, and had greater numbers of potentially harmful bacteria, such as Clostridium.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Load Up on Fiber Now, Avoid Heart Disease Later

ScienceDaily (Mar. 23, 2011) — A new study from Northwestern Medicine shows a high-fiber diet could be a critical heart-healthy lifestyle change young and middle-aged adults can make. The study found adults between 20 and 59 years old with the highest fiber intake had a significantly lower estimated lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease compared to those with the lowest fiber intake.

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Pre-Conception and Early Pregnancy Iron Deficiency Harms Brain

ScienceDaily (Mar. 23, 2011) — A mother's iron deficiency early in pregnancy may have a profound and long-lasting effect on the brain development of the child, even if the lack of iron is not enough to cause severe anemia, according to a University of Rochester Medical Center study published in the scientific journal PLoS One.

The results are important because obstetricians might not notice or treat mild or moderate iron deficiency, and therefore the study authors believe their research underscores the need for monitoring a pregnant woman's iron status beyond anemia.

Low iron is so common that an estimated 35 percent to 58 percent of all healthy women show some degree of deficiency. And among women of childbearing age, one in five has iron-deficient anemia, a more serious condition, according to the National Institutes of Health.

It is well established that iron-deficient babies develop more slowly and show brain abnormalities such as slow language learning and behavioral problems. But until now investigators did not know the degree to which iron deficiency in pregnancy is associated with these impairments, and when during gestation the deficiency has the most impact on the central nervous system.

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The most surprising aspect of the research, Mayer-Proschel said, was that the timing of the iron deficiency was much more important than the degree of deficiency. This observation also seems to argue against the common notion that the placenta can minimize the impact of the mother's deficiency on the baby.

"We refer to this as the window of vulnerability," she said, "and it seems to be at a very early stage of development." In previous studies of the cellular targets of iron deficiency, Mayer-Proschel found that lack of iron sets off an imbalance of neural precursor cells, which might ultimately be responsible for the defects sometimes experienced by children up to age two.


Why Are Religious People Happier?

By Emily Sohn
Tue Dec 7, 2010 07:00 AM ET

Religious people tend to report more life satisfaction, and a new study explains why.

It's not their spirituality, belief in heaven, or even the ritual act of praying or going to a house of worship that leads the pious to happiness. Rather, the study found, it's the close friends people gain through their religions that makes a difference.

The findings suggest that forging close bonds with people over mutually shared and meaningful interests might boost quality of life for anyone, religious or not. But there's something about being part of a congregation in particular that seems to build a sense of community and lead to fulfillment for many people.

"My co-author and I have found that religious people tend to volunteer more, care more about their community and do more good in their neighborhoods," said Chaeyoon Lim, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "All of that can be explained by friendships in the congregation that seem to make people not only happier, but also nicer people and better citizens."

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Koch And Native-American Reservation Oil Theft

By Dave Johnson
March 20, 2011 - 8:00pm ET

Just what is this Koch Industries? Should it be called a "company?" If so we need to re-think the idea of what a company and a business is supposed to be. Even the brother of Koch Industries owners David and Charles Koch called the company an "organized crime" operation.

Koch money is a key driver of the conservative movement. Almost every conservative-movement rock you turn over has Koch money crawling around under it. As the movement becomes more and more of a pay-to-play operation, conservatives of every stripe do more and more to protect and enrich the Koch operation. This has included blocking, disrupting and avoiding official investigations of accusations. It also includes funding front groups to advance the political and financial interests of the company and its owners.

Theft Of Oil From Reservations

Oppose The Future has the story of how Koch Oil was caught stealing oil from an Indian Reservation, reducing or removing the incomes of so many poor residents.

At some point in 1987, Thurmon Parton’s royalty checks for the three oil wells he inherited from his mother suddenly dropped from $3,000 a month to a little over $1,000. He and his sister, Arnita Gonzalez, members of the Caddo tribe, lived near Gracemont, Oklahoma, a town of a few hundred people on a small grid on the prairie.

Those modest royalties were the only source of income each of them had.

. . . What happened to Mr. Parton, Ms. Gonzales and Ms. Limpy had nothing to do with the wells or how they were producing. Their oil was being stolen. And all of the evidence pointed to the same culprit: Koch Oil, a division of Koch Industries.

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Pre-existing Condition? Now, a Health Policy May Not Be Impossible

Published: March 18, 2011

SIX years ago, Jerry Garner, 45, a real estate agent in Gowen, Mich., underwent a kidney transplant. He recovered nicely, and thanks to diligent adherence to his drug regimen and frequent checkups, he has been healthy ever since — “a miracle,” said his wife, Stephanie.

But last year, the Garners were starting to believe that their good fortune had run out.

Mr. Garner’s insurer asked that he fill out a survey, but somehow this piece of mail slipped through the cracks at the Garner household. As a result, he lost his health insurance. (Ms. Garner, 44, and three of the children — their oldest child is grown — were covered under a different policy.) But because of his pre-existing condition, Mr. Garner proved impossible to insure.

Transplant recipients must take expensive immunosuppressant medications. Without them, the new kidney will not survive. The couple paid Mr. Garner’s $2,000 monthly drug bill out of pocket and prayed nothing went wrong. Some months they had to choose between the medication and the mortgage.

Finally, after weeks of searching the Internet, making phone calls and praying, Ms. Garner saw a television ad for Michigan’s new pre-existing condition insurance plan. P.C.I.P.’s, as they are known, are state and federal programs for people previously deemed uninsurable because of pre-existing conditions. They offer a bridge to 2014, when the new health insurance exchanges, which must accept all comers, are to open.

Mr. Garner applied to Michigan’s plan and was accepted. Now he pays less in premiums than he did under his previous plan, and he receives more comprehensive coverage.

“It was definitely an answered prayer,” said Ms. Garner. “Two thousand dollars when you’re already struggling is just impossible.”

Plenty of people with pre-existing conditions like Mr. Garner are struggling to find affordable insurance. These plans offer a real alternative, but consumers are only now becoming aware of them. Plus, there are some tough restrictions. Here is what you need to know:

FINDING A PLAN Pre-existing condition insurance plans, required by the new health care law, opened for business in July. The new plans come in two flavors: 27 states run their own plans with federal money, while the rest rely on the federal Department of Health and Human Services to administer the plans within their borders.

The new plans did not replace state high-risk pools, which have long offered insurance to people with pre-existing conditions. But the premiums in the new plans are generally much lower. That is why experts had worried that the new plans could be overwhelmed by a deluge of desperate applicants.

In fact, the P.C.I.P.’s got off to a slow start, and many consumers still have no idea they exist. In January, premiums in the federally run plans were reduced nearly 20 percent. Since then, enrollment in all of the new plans has increased 50 percent to 12,000 members.

To find a plan in your state, start with the federal government’s Web site,, which offers lots of application information and details about each of the state plans the department administers. An interactive map at links to each federal- and state-run plan.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why the Chamber of Commerce Has Been Wrong on All the Issues -- For 99 Years and Counting

March 22, 2011 |

What if I told you I'd found a political group that for a hundred years had managed to be absolutely right on every crucial political issue? A political lodestone, reliably pointing toward true policy north at every moment.

Sorry. But I have something almost as good: a group that manages to always get it wrong. The ultimate pie-in-the-face brigade, the gang that couldn't lobby straight.

From the outside, you'd think the US Chamber of Commerce must know what it's doing. It's got a huge building right next to the White House. It spends more money on political campaigning than the Republican and Democratic National Committees combined. It spends more money on lobbying that the next five biggest lobbyists combined. And yet it has an unbroken record of error stretching back almost to its founding.

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As Brad Johnson, at the Center for American Progress, has detailed recently, the US Chamber has opposed virtually every attempt to rein in pollution, from stronger smog standards to a ban on the dumping of hazardous waste. (They're hard at work as well trying to relax restrictions on US corporations bribing foreign governments, not to mention opposing the Lily Leadbetter Fair Pay Act). If there's a modern equivalent of World War II, of course, it's the fight against global warming. Again a majority of Americans want firm action, because they understand the planet has never faced a bigger challenge--but that action's been completely blocked in Washington, and the US Chamber is a major reason why. They've lobbied against every effort to cut carbon, going so far as to insist that the EPA should stay out of the fight because, if the planet warmed, "populations can acclimatize via a range of range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations." That is to say, don't ask a handful of coal companies to adapt their business plans, ask all species everywhere to adapt their physiologies. Grow gills, I guess.


1999: Chamber of Commerce opposes reinstating Superfund taxes on toxic polluters.

1997: Chamber of Commerce fights stronger smog and soot standards.

1993: Chamber of Commerce opposes trade sanctions in NAFTA for failure to enforce environmental laws.

1992: Chamber of Commerce opposes binding global warming treaty.

1990: Chamber of Commerce attacks Clean Air Act revision.

1984: Chamber of Commerce opposes hazardous waste dumping ban.

1982: Chamber of Commerce petitions to weaken Clean Air Act


Friday, March 18, 2011

Police: Killer invoked Old Testament in 'stoning' death

Posted on Fri, Mar. 18, 2011

By Mari A. Schaefer

A Delaware County man has been arrested and charged with murder in the beating death of an elderly Landsdowne man who had befriended him and made him executor and sole beneficiary of his will.

John Joe Thomas, 28, of the first block of Sunshine Road in Upper Darby, allegedly told police he killed Murray Joseph Seidman, 70, because the older man had made sexual advances and that the Old Testament spelled out stoning as the punishment for homosexuality.

"I stoned Murray with a rock in a sock," Thomas said to police, according to court documents.

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So is it ok for women to kill men who make sexual advances?


Thursday, March 17, 2011

When cutting more ends up costing more

March 16, 2011

WHEN CUTTING MORE ENDS UP COSTING MORE.... We talked a couple of weeks ago about how misguided it is for congressional Republicans to cut funding for the Internal Revenue Service. The goals are fundamentally backwards -- the GOP intends to "save" money and lower the deficit by slashing the IRS budget, which would in turn end up costing more money and raising the deficit.

Why? Because for every dollar the IRS spends on audits, liens, and property seizures, the government brings in more than $10. If the goal is reducing the deficit, undermining the agency that collects revenue is counter-productive. Indeed, the Obama administration -- which may be more interested in fiscal responsibility than it should be -- wants to increase the IRS's budget precisely because it will reduce the budget shortfall Republicans pretend to care about.

In other words, in this case, the GOP plan to reduce the deficit is almost certain to increase the deficit.

Ezra Klein uses this as a launching pad to highlight the fact that cutting spending not only fails in some occasions to reduce the deficit, it even fails to actually reduce spending.

There are three categories of spending in which cuts lead to more, rather than less, spending down the line, says Alice Rivlin, former director of both the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget. Inspection, enforcement and maintenance. The GOP is trying to cut all three.

I can appreciate why some of this seems counter-intuitive. I can even imagine some Fox News personality telling viewers, "Those wacky liberals think it costs money to cut spending! What fools!"

But it just requires a little bit of thought. If we cut spending on volcano monitoring and tsunami warnings, we save a little money on maintenance, but pay a lot of money on damage repairs after disaster strikes. If we cut spending on food safety, we save a little money on inspection, but pay a lot of money on health care costs when consumers get sick. If we cut spending for the Securities and Exchange Commission, as Republicans are desperate to do, we save a little money on enforcement, but pay a lot of money to clean up financial catastrophes.

This comes up all the time. A couple of years ago, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) thought it was outrageous to spend $650,000 on "beaver management" in North Carolina and Mississippi, blissfully unaware of the fact that this funding ended up saving nearly $5 million in potential flood damage to farms, timber lands, and roadways. Spending a little money saved a lot of money.

Ezra summarized all of this nicely:

There are all sorts of reasons Republicans are being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Cutting $100 billion in spending in one year sounded good on the campaign trail but turned out to be tough in practice. Curtailing the IRS and cutting the Department of Health and Human Services -- and, particularly, its ability to implement health-care reform -- is a long-term ideological objective for Republicans.

Whatever the reason, the effect will be the same: a higher likelihood of pricey disasters, an easier time for fraudsters, and bigger price tags when we have to rebuild what we could've just repaired.

Just don't try to explain any of this to congressional Republicans. It seems to make their heads hurt.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Does Selenium Prevent Cancer? It May Depend on Which Form People Take
ScienceDaily (Mar. 16, 2011) — Scientists are reporting that the controversy surrounding whether selenium can fight cancer in humans might come down to which form of the essential micronutrient people take. It turns out that not all "seleniums" are the same -- the researchers found that one type of selenium supplement may produce a possible cancer-preventing substance more efficiently than another form of selenium in human cancer cells.

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The researchers found that MeSeCys killed more lung cancer cells than SeMet did. Also, lung cancer cells treated with MeSeCys processed the selenium differently than than cells treated with SeMet. They say that these findings could explain why studies on the health benefits of selenium sometimes have conflicting results.


Naval Sonar Exercises Linked to Whale Strandings

ScienceDaily (Mar. 16, 2011) — Scientists have long been aware of a link between naval sonar exercises and unusual mass strandings of beaked whales. Evidence of such a link triggered a series of lawsuits in which environmental groups sued the U.S. Navy to limit sonar exercises to reduce risk to whales. In 2008, this conflict rose to the level of the US Supreme Court which had to balance potential threat to whales from sonar against the military risk posed by naval forces inadequately trained to use sonar to detect enemy submarines. The court ruled that the Navy could continue training, but that it was essential for the Navy to develop better methods to protect the whales.

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Now, an international team of researchers reports in a paper led by Tyack the first data on how beaked whales respond to naval sonar exercises. Their results suggest that sonar indeed affects the behavior and movement of whales.

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"This suggests that beaked whales are particularly sensitive to sound. Their behavior tended to be disrupted at exposure levels around 140 decibels (dB), so they may require a lower threshold than many current regulations that anticipate disruption of behavior around 160 dB, " said Tyack. "But the observations on the naval range suggest that while sonar can disrupt the behavior of the whales, appropriate monitoring and management can reduce the risk of stranding."


Choosing Not to Lead by Example

February 7, 2011

The disconnect between congressional Republicans' rhetoric and the policies they impose on themselves is often hard to overlook. They like to complain, for example, about the size of the federal workforce and partisan perceptions about soaring public-sector wages, while at the same time, boosting the payroll of their own aides.

A similar problem is unfolding when it comes to spending on government agencies -- GOP officials want to slash budgets across the public sector, while choosing not to make big cuts to Congress' budget.

Republicans now running the House are barely touching Congress' own generous budget even as they take a cleaver to many domestic agencies.

A new GOP proposal would reduce domestic agencies' spending by 9 percent on average through September, when the current budget year ends.

If that plan becomes law, it could lead to layoffs of tens of thousands of federal employees, big cuts to heating and housing subsidies for the poor, reduced grants to schools and law enforcement agencies, and a major hit to the Internal Revenue Service's budget.

Congress, on the other hand, would get nicked by only 2 percent, or $94 million.

Under the plan shaped by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office, agencies across the government would face steep cuts, but would largely leave Congress unscathed.

"Charity begins at home, and Congress should lead the way with cuts to their own budget," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based watchdog group. "Instead they're protecting their bottom line while slashing everyone else's."

The cut to Congress gets a little deeper, to 3.5 percent, if it were imposed for a full calendar year instead of the seven months that will remain in the current budget year. But so, too, would the cuts to other agencies -- growing to 16 percent.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Study: Cheery, optimists die younger

RIVERSIDE, Calif., March 12 (UPI) -- Personality can affect longevity -- those with the most optimism and cheerfulness die younger than their less positive counterparts, U.S. researchers found.

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"Longevity Project participants who were the most cheerful and had the best sense of humor as kids lived shorter lives, on average, than those who were less cheerful and joking," Martin said in a statement. "It was the most prudent and persistent individuals who stayed healthiest and lived the longest."

Part of the explanation lies in studying the health behaviors of the study subject -- the cheerful, happy-go-lucky kids tended to take more risks with their health across the years, Friedman explained.

While an optimistic approach may be helpful in a crisis, "we found that as a general life-orientation, too much of a sense that 'everything will be just fine' can be dangerous because it can lead one to be careless about things that are important to health and long life," Friedman said.


U.S. Compares poorly with other advance economies

Thanks to a comment from RJS for the following link, which shows how the IMF (International Monetary Fund) ranks "advanced economy" countries on several categories. The U.S. ranks poorly on several categories.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

De-Funding Education

versus democracy
christinewoodman printable version print page Bookmark and Share
Sat Mar 05, 2011 at 04:00:36 PM EST
[ed - Is the Tea Party is predominantly dominionist? Yes, argues this author, and dominionism has an all-encompassing agenda that includes crushing labor unions, abolishing reproductive rights, and driving women from the workplace. For a treatment of Christian conservative ideological roots of the current war on unions, see part 3 of Rachel Tabachnick's extended series on "Biblical Capitalism", Two Decades of Christian Nationalist Education Paved Way for Today's War on Labor. For explanations of dominionism, see Political Research Associates Head Analyst Chip Berlet's The Christian Right, Dominionism, and Theocracy - Part One and also Tabachnick's The Rise of Charismatic Dominionism.]

Last night I watched Austan Goolsbee look into the camera with a doe-eyed look of shock as he talked about the Tea Party’s plan to strip state and federal budgets for education. He called it short-sighted and surprising.

Seriously? For starters, they told us that this was what they were going to do, so how surprising can it be? And it is not short-sighted; it is part of a long-term plan to de-equalize our society. To bastardize a quote from the Clinton campaigns: it is about the equality, dummy.

I am beginning to the think that the beauty of Christine O’Donnell’s performance in the last election was that it distracted people from what the Tea Party was actually promising. No one on the left or even in the center actually listened or believed them when they said that they wanted to do away with the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health and Human Services. And now some people are actually shocked when the Tea Party goes after labor, education and health services.

It is a safe bet that if you are looking at an elected official from the Tea Party, you are looking at a Dominionist. While some of the rank-and-file in the Tea Party are not hard-core members of the Christian Right, those who they elected to power are almost invariably from the school of thought which espouses dismantling the federal government and returning the power to patriarchal families and to states who will rule in accordance with Biblical law.

Dominionists are extreme free-market hawks. They believe it is sacred in the same way that they believe that the family is sacred. They believe that all programs which promote equality are immoral. Education and unions are two of the greatest instruments of equality.

The Tea Party will defund public education until it is nothing more than a lurching skeleton, and then they will point to its ineffectiveness as a reason to abolish it altogether. They don’t believe in public education; they believe in homeschooling. Not only does homeschooling keep our children from being exposed to dangerous ideas like evolution, civics, the true history of the United States and slavery, it also keeps their mothers in their place: the home.

Which brings us to women’s roles in the society of the Christian Right: they want to roll-back all gender-equality laws so that women will be forced back into the home. Dominionists do not want to take away just abortion; they want to end birth-control. I know most people think that Catholics are the only Christian group who oppose birth-control on religious grounds. But Domionists see a “population winter” looming on the horizon, a time when there will not be enough white people to push back the hordes of the Others.

So it really is theocracy versus democracy. Will we be led by those who want to create a nation ruled by Christian-sharia-law* and return to serfdom, or will we make the difficult journey through our own prejudices and fears and work towards social justice and a better future for our children?

This is not a choice between Christianity and secularism. It is a choice between a heartless, blood-sport capitalism and the heart of Christianity and every other world-religion: justice, care for oppressed, and hope for our children.

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Obesity May Increase Risk of Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

cienceDaily (Mar. 4, 2011) — New findings published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, confirm the risk of breast cancer among women who are obese and not physically active, and suggests additional mechanisms beyond estrogen.

Scientists from the Women's Health Initiative have found a relationship between obesity, physical activity and triple-negative breast cancer, a subtype of breast cancer characterized by a lack of estrogen, progesterone and HER2 expression. Triple-negative breast cancers account for about 10 to 20 percent of all breast cancers and are associated with an extremely poor prognosis due to a lack of targeted drug therapies.

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Results showed that women with the highest BMI had a 35 percent increased risk of triple-negative breast cancers and a 39 percent increased risk of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancers. Those who reported high rates of physical activity had a 23 percent decreased risk of triple-negative breast cancer and a 15 percent decreased risk of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.

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Exercise Can Curb Marijuana Use and Cravings

ScienceDaily (Mar. 5, 2011) — Vanderbilt researchers are studying heavy users of marijuana to help understand what exercise does for the brain, contributing to a field of research that uses exercise as a modality for prevention and treatment.

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Why Poor Diet During Pregnancy Negatively Affects Offspring's Long Term Health

ScienceDaily (Mar. 7, 2011) — Poor diet during pregnancy increases offspring's vulnerability to theeffects of aging, new research has shown for the first time.

The research, by scientists from the University of Cambridge, provides important insight into why children born to mothers who consumed an unhealthy diet during pregnancy have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes (a significant contributing factor to heart disease and cancer) later in life.

"What is most exciting about these findings is that we are now starting to really understand how nutrition during the first nine months of life spent in the womb shape our long term health by influencing how the cells in our body age," said Dr Susan Ozanne, the senior author on the paper and British Heart Foundation Senior Fellow from the Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge.

It is well established that environmental factors interact with genes throughout life, affecting the expression of those genes and, consequently, tissue function and disease risk. Diet during critical periods of development, such as during the nine months in the womb, has been cited as one such environmental factor. Epigenetics, which refers to modifications to the DNA that regulate how much of a gene is produced, has been suggested to underlie these effects.

However, until now, very little was understood about the underlying mechanisms that control the interaction between diet during gestation and gene expression in offspring throughout their adult life. Research, funded by the BBSRC and the British Heart Foundation, has now shown that the gene Hnf4a, which has been linked to type 2 diabetes, is regulated by maternal diet through epigenetic modifications to our DNA. Additionally, they found that poor diet exacerbates the rate at which these key epigenetic modifications accumulate during the aging process.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

We're not broke

March 7, 2011

WE'RE NOT 'BROKE,' AND BOEHNER SHOULDN'T SAY THAT WE ARE.... It's become one of House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) favorite phrases: "We're broke." The line has become a justification for everything Republicans have wanted to do for years.

Why would the House GOP want to make brutal cuts in areas like education, medical research, infrastructure, job training, and national security, all of which would cost the economy hundreds of thousands of jobs? That's easy -- "we're broke."

There's a nagging detail, though, that generally goes overlooked: Boehner has no idea what he's talking about. When the Speaker and other Republicans who are following his rhetorical lead repeat this little talking point, they're lying.

Boehner's assessment dominates a debate over the federal budget that could lead to a government shutdown. It is a widely shared view with just one flaw: It's wrong.

"The U.S. government is not broke," said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy for Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. in New York. "There's no evidence that the market is treating the U.S. government like it's broke."

The U.S. today is able to borrow at historically low interest rates, paying 0.68 percent on a two-year note that it had to offer at 5.1 percent before the financial crisis began in 2007. Financial products that pay off if Uncle Sam defaults aren't attracting unusual investor demand. And tax revenue as a percentage of the economy is at a 60-year low, meaning if the government needs to raise cash and can summon the political will, it could do so. [...]

A person, company or nation would be defined as "broke" if it couldn't pay its bills, and that is not the case with the U.S. Despite an annual budget deficit expected to reach $1.6 trillion this year, the government continues to meet its financial obligations, and investors say there is little concern that will change.

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But if Boehner or his office were ever serious about defending the lie, perhaps the Speaker could explain why we're "broke" now, and not when he was adding $5 trillion to the debt during the Bush era. Is it just a coincidence that we're "broke" because we have a Democratic president who inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit from his Republican predecessor?


In 22 Statehouses Across The Country, Conservatives Move To Disenfranchise Voters

In statehouses across the country, Republican lawmakers are raising the specter of “voter fraud” to push through legislation that would dramatically restrict the voting rights of college students, rural voters, senior citizens, the disabled and the homeless. As part of their larger effort to silence Main Street, conservatives are pushing through new photo identification laws that would exclude millions from voting, depress Hispanic voter turnout by as much as 10 percent, and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. In the next few months, a new set of election laws could make going to the polls and registering to vote significantly more difficult — in some cases even barring groups of citizens from voting in the communities where they live.

Conservative legislators across the country have said these laws are necessary to combat alleged mass voter fraud. But these fears are completely overblown and states already have tough voting laws on the books: fraudulent voters face felony charges, hefty fines, and even lengthy prison time. In Missouri, for example, voter fraud carries a penalty of no less than 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Yet conservatives have insisted on finding a legislative solution to a non-existent problem. In states like Indiana, where an ID law passed in 2005, both nuns and college students have found themselves turned away from the polls. Similar laws are on the books in eight other states and that number could expand dramatically in coming months. ThinkProgress examined these efforts in eight states:

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In regards to photo id - many poor, disabled, and elderly people don't drive.

As far as proof of citizenship, my father was in the army, and I don't even have my original birth certificate. Must have been lost in one of our many moves.


Sperm Quality and Counts Worsening in Finland

ScienceDaily (Mar. 7, 2011) — A new study published in the International Journal of Andrology reveals that semen quality has significantly deteriorated during the last ten years in Finland, a country that previously was a region with high sperm counts. At the same time, the incidence of testis cancer in the Finnish population showed a remarkable increase, following the worrying trends observed in several countries in Europe and the Americas.

Led by Jorma Toppari, MD, PhD, of the University of Turku, researchers examined three cohorts of 19 year old men between the years of 1998 and 2006. The men that were born in the late 1980s had lower sperm counts than those who were born in the beginning of the 1980s. The total sperm counts were 227 million, 202 and 165 for men born in 1979-81, 1982-83 and 1987, respectively. Less than 10 % of sperm are structurally normal, and the number of morphologically normal sperm declined from 18 million to 11.

At the same time, the younger and more recently born men also had higher incidences of testis cancer than the older generations. The incidence rate is many fold higher for Finns born around 1980 compared with men born around 1950.

The underlying cause for these simultaneously occurring adverse trends remains unknown. However, the rapid change strongly points to environmental reasons. Endocrine disrupting compounds acting during development have been hypothesized to be a cause.

"Our findings further necessitate the efforts to identify reasons for the adverse trends in reproductive health to make preventive measures possible," Toppari notes.


Web use doesn't encourage belief in political rumors, but e-mail does

Public release date: 7-Mar-2011
Contact: R. Kelly Garrett
Ohio State University

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Despite the fears of some, a new study suggests that use of the internet in general does not make people more likely to believe political rumors.

However, one form of internet communication – e-mail – does seem to have troubling consequences for the spread and belief of rumors.

"I think a lot of people will be surprised to learn that using the internet doesn't necessarily promote belief in rumors. Many people seem to think that's self-evident," said R. Kelly Garrett, author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University.

"The internet does make it easier to circulate rumors, but going online doesn't make us more gullible."

However, e-mail is a special case. People are much more likely to believe false rumors that they receive in e-mails from friends and family.

People seem to be wary about rumors they read on websites and blogs, Garrett said. They are more likely to check these rumors to see if they are correct.

"The problem is that we are more likely to let our defenses down when we're dealing with our friends, which is why e-mail can have such harmful consequences. We don't normally question what our friends tell us," he said.

His findings will appear in the April 2011 issue of the journal Human Communication Research.

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The use of e-mail led to a particularly vicious feedback loop of rumor-mongering, Garrett said.

The more political e-mails that participants received from friends and family during the 2008 election, the more rumors they were likely to believe. And the more rumors they believed, the more political e-mails they sent.

In addition, receiving e-mails only promoted belief in rumors about the candidate whom the person opposed, the study found. And people were more likely to share e-mails as belief in rumors about the opposed candidate increased.

"It is a self-reinforcing process that seems to amplify rumor beliefs through repetition," Garrett said. "We have people who are biased to accept the rumors they receive from friends, which leads them to forward the e-mail to other friends, who repeat the process over and over again."

All of this contributes to the survival of rumors, despite the overwhelming evidence against them, and helps fuel the partisan divide in the country, he said.

Garrett noted that this study didn't include specific investigation of Facebook and Twitter, which have exploded in popularity in recent years.

But he said both of these are social networks that allow us to communicate directly with friends, much like we do with e-mail.

"It seems reasonable to expect that the same characteristics that make e-mail so conducive to spreading rumors apply to both Facebook and Twitter, as well," he said.


Unemployed sleep worse

ScienceDaily (Mar. 7, 2011) — The employed and self-employed enjoy much better sleep than those out of work, according to Understanding Society, the world's largest longitudinal household study. Those who are unemployed are over 40% more likely to report difficulty staying asleep than those in employment (having controlled for age and gender differences). However, job satisfaction affects the quality of sleep with 33% of the most dissatisfied employees report poor sleep quality compared to only 18% of the most satisfied.

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Monday, March 07, 2011

Has Earth's Sixth Mass Extinction Already Arrived?

ScienceDaily (Mar. 5, 2011) — With the steep decline in populations of many animal species, from frogs and fish to tigers, some scientists have warned that Earth is on the brink of a mass extinction like those that occurred only five times before during the past 540 million years.

Each of these 'Big Five' saw three-quarters or more of all animal species go extinct.

In a study to be published in the March 3 issue of the journal Nature, University of California, Berkeley, paleobiologists assess where mammals and other species stand today in terms of possible extinction, compared with the past 540 million years, and they find cause for hope as well as alarm.

"If you look only at the critically endangered mammals -- those where the risk of extinction is at least 50 percent within three of their generations -- and assume that their time will run out, and they will be extinct in 1,000 years, that puts us clearly outside any range of normal, and tells us that we are moving into the mass extinction realm," said principal author Anthony D. Barnosky, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology, a curator in the Museum of Paleontology and a research paleontologist in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

"If currently threatened species -- those officially classed as critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable -- actually went extinct, and that rate of extinction continued, the sixth mass extinction could arrive within as little as 3 to 22 centuries," he said.

Nevertheless, Barnosky added, it's not too late to save these critically endangered mammals and other such species and stop short of the tipping point. That would require dealing with a perfect storm of threats, including habitat fragmentation, invasive species, disease and global warming,

"So far, only 1 to 2 percent of all species have gone extinct in the groups we can look at clearly, so by those numbers, it looks like we are not far down the road to extinction. We still have a lot of Earth's biota to save," Barnosky said. "It's very important to devote resources and legislation toward species conservation if we don't want to be the species whose activity caused a mass extinction."

Coauthor Charles Marshall, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and director of the campus's Museum of Paleontology, emphasized that the small number of recorded extinctions to date does not mean we are not in a crisis.

"Just because the magnitude is low compared to the biggest mass extinctions we've seen in a half a billion years doesn't mean to say that they aren't significant," he said. "Even though the magnitude is fairly low, pres

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State happiness ratings

1. Hawaii: 71.0 (happiest)

2. Wyoming: 69.2

3. North Dakota: 68.4

4. Alaska: 68.3

5. Colorado: 68.0

6. Minnesota: 68.0

7. South Dakota: 68.0

8. Utah: 67.9

9. Connecticut: 67.9

10. Massachusetts: 67.8

11. Nebraska: 67.8

12. Maryland: 67.5

13. Washington: 67.5

14. Montana: 67.3

15. Kansas: 67.2

16. New Hampshire: 67.2

17. Vermont: 67.1

18. California: 67.0

19. Iowa: 66.9

20. Idaho: 66.9

21. New Mexico: 66.7

22. Virginia: 66.7

23. Wisconsin: 66.7

24. New Jersey: 66.6

25. Maine: 66.4

26. Illinois: 66.3

27. Oregon: 66.3

28. Texas: 66.3

29. Arizona: 66.2

30. Pennsylvania: 66.1

31. Georgia: 66.1

32. New York: 65.9

33. Rhode Island: 65.7

34. Missouri: 65.6

35. South Carolina: 65.3

36. North Carolina: 65.1

37. Florida: 65.1

38. Oklahoma: 64.9

39. Indiana: 64.8

40. Tennessee: 64.8

41. Michigan: 64.6

42. Louisiana: 64.3

43. Delaware: 64.2

44. Nevada: 64.2

45. Ohio: 63.8

46. Alabama: 63.7

47. Arkansas: 63.7

48. Mississippi: 63.0

49. Kentucky: 61.9

50. West Virginia: 61.7

Read the full story.



It is so sad hearing about conditions in Libya, with Qaddafi bombing his own people. I hope something is done quickly.

On the other hand, I remember that we supplied arms to Afghanistan to free themselves from Russia, and when they succeeded, they used those arms against us.


Why employee pensions aren't bankrupting states

By Kevin G. Hall | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — From state legislatures to Congress to tea party rallies, a vocal backlash is rising against what are perceived as too-generous retirement benefits for state and local government workers. However, that widespread perception doesn't match reality.

A close look at state and local pension plans across the nation, and a comparison of them to those in the private sector, reveals a more complicated story. However, the short answer is that there's simply no evidence that state pensions are the current burden to public finances that their critics claim.

Pension contributions from state and local employers aren't blowing up budgets. They amount to just 2.9 percent of state spending, on average, according to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College puts the figure a bit higher at 3.8 percent.

Though there's no direct comparison, state and local pension contributions approximate the burden shouldered by private companies. The nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that retirement funding for private employers amounts to about 3.5 percent of employee compensation.

Nor are state and local government pension funds broke. They're underfunded, in large measure because — like the investments held in 401(k) plans by American private-sector employees — they sunk along with the entire stock market during the Great Recession of 2007-2009. And like 401(k) plans, the investments made by public-sector pension plans are increasingly on firmer footing as the rising tide on Wall Street lifts all boats.

Boston College researchers project that if the assets in state and local pension plans were frozen tomorrow and there was no more growth in investment returns, there'd still be enough money in most state plans to pay benefits for years to come.

"On average, with the assets on hand today, plans are able to pay annual benefits at their current level for another 13 years. This assumes, pessimistically, that plans make no future pension contributions and there is no growth in assets," said Jean-Pierre Aubry, a researcher specializing in state and local pensions for the nonpartisan Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

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Canada ditches bid to allow fake news

Gloria Galloway
Globe and Mail Update
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2011 4:43PM EST

Canada's broadcasting regulator has abandoned its attempt to change a regulation that prohibits the dissemination of false or misleading news.

The decision from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission followed a meeting last week of Parliament’s joint committee for the scrutiny of regulations, which ended its 10-year bid to get the regulation to comply with the law.

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The committee was concerned that the regulation violated a 1992 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, which found that the Charter of Rights provision protecting freedom of expression meant a person could not be charged for spreading false information.

After ignoring the committee's letters for years, CRTC finally relented and said in December it would consider changing the regulation to apply only in cases when broadcasters know the information they are sharing is untrue and when it “endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.”

But the CRTC's call for public input on the proposal resulted in a tidal wave of angry responses from Canadians who said they feared such a move would open the door to Fox TV-style news and reduce their ability to determine what is true and what is false.

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Degrees and Dollars

If educated kids are important, it doesn't make sense to cut back on heating assistance for the poor (LIHEAP), nutrition programs for pregnant women and infants (WIC), and Head Start.

Children who are cold and hungry aren't going to learn as well.

Inadequate nutrition before birth and in infancy can permanently decrease a person's intelligence. It can also cause epigenetic changes that can be passed on for several generations.

Published: March 6, 2011

It is a truth universally acknowledged that education is the key to economic success. Everyone knows that the jobs of the future will require ever higher levels of skill. That’s why, in an appearance Friday with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, President Obama declared that “If we want more good news on the jobs front then we’ve got to make more investments in education.”

But what everyone knows is wrong.

The day after the Obama-Bush event, The Times published an article about the growing use of software to perform legal research. Computers, it turns out, can quickly analyze millions of documents, cheaply performing a task that used to require armies of lawyers and paralegals. In this case, then, technological progress is actually reducing the demand for highly educated workers.

And legal research isn’t an isolated example. As the article points out, software has also been replacing engineers in such tasks as chip design. More broadly, the idea that modern technology eliminates only menial jobs, that well-educated workers are clear winners, may dominate popular discussion, but it’s actually decades out of date.

The fact is that since 1990 or so the U.S. job market has been characterized not by a general rise in the demand for skill, but by “hollowing out”: both high-wage and low-wage employment have grown rapidly, but medium-wage jobs — the kinds of jobs we count on to support a strong middle class — have lagged behind. And the hole in the middle has been getting wider: many of the high-wage occupations that grew rapidly in the 1990s have seen much slower growth recently, even as growth in low-wage employment has accelerated.

Why is this happening? The belief that education is becoming ever more important rests on the plausible-sounding notion that advances in technology increase job opportunities for those who work with information — loosely speaking, that computers help those who work with their minds, while hurting those who work with their hands.

Some years ago, however, the economists David Autor, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane argued that this was the wrong way to think about it. Computers, they pointed out, excel at routine tasks, “cognitive and manual tasks that can be accomplished by following explicit rules.” Therefore, any routine task — a category that includes many white-collar, nonmanual jobs — is in the firing line. Conversely, jobs that can’t be carried out by following explicit rules — a category that includes many kinds of manual labor, from truck drivers to janitors — will tend to grow even in the face of technological progress.

And here’s the thing: Most of the manual labor still being done in our economy seems to be of the kind that’s hard to automate.

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And research by my Princeton colleagues Alan Blinder and Alan Krueger suggests that high-wage jobs performed by highly educated workers are, if anything, more “offshorable” than jobs done by low-paid, less-educated workers.

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So if we want a society of broadly shared prosperity, education isn’t the answer — we’ll have to go about building that society directly. We need to restore the bargaining power that labor has lost over the last 30 years, so that ordinary workers as well as superstars have the power to bargain for good wages. We need to guarantee the essentials, above all health care, to every citizen.

What we can’t do is get where we need to go just by giving workers college degrees, which may be no more than tickets to jobs that don’t exist or don’t pay middle-class wages.


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

"Climategate" investigations find no improper research conduct

March 1, 2011

'CLIMATEGATE' AND EPISTEMIC CLOSURE.... David Roberts catches us up to date on the series of "Climategate" investigations, all of which came to the same conclusion. Not surprisingly, it's a conclusion the right doesn't want to hear.

[T]here have now been five -- count 'em, five -- inquiries into the matter. Penn State established an independent inquiry into the accusations against scientist Michael Mann and found "no credible evidence" [PDF] of improper research conduct. A British government investigation run by the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee found that while the CRU scientists could have been more transparent and responsive to freedom-of-information requests, there was no evidence of scientific misconduct. The U.K.'s Royal Society (its equivalent of the National Academies) ran an investigation that found "no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice." The University of East Anglia appointed respected civil servant Sir Muir Russell to run an exhaustive, six-month independent inquiry; he concluded that "the honesty and rigour of CRU as scientists are not in doubt ... We have not found any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments."

All those results are suggestive, but let's face it, they're mostly ... British. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) wanted an American investigation of all the American scientists involved in these purported dirty deeds. So he asked the Department of Commerce's inspector general to get to the bottom of it. On Feb. 18, the results of that investigation were released. "In our review of the CRU emails," the IG's office said in its letter to Inhofe [PDF], "we did not find any evidence that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data ... or failed to adhere to appropriate peer review procedures." (Oddly, you'll find no mention of this central result in Inhofe's tortured public response.)

Whatever legitimate issues there may be about the responsiveness or transparency of this particular group of scientists, there was nothing in this controversy -- nothing -- that cast even the slightest doubt on the basic findings of climate science.

And almost immediately after these latest findings were released, Fox News' Steve Doocy told his audience that "people aren't so big on" the climate crisis anymore "because of the 'Climategate' scandal."

Roberts points to a very real problem: "The modern right has created a closed epistemic loop containing millions of people. Within that loop, the implausibility or extremity of a claim itself counts as evidence. The more liberal elites reject it, the more it entrenches itself. Standards of evidence have nothing to do with it."

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GOP spending plan would cost 700,000 jobs

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 28, 2011; 5:27 PM

A Republican plan to sharply cut federal spending this year would destroy 700,000 jobs through 2012, according to an independent economic analysis set for release Monday.

The report, by Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi, offers fresh ammunition to Democrats seeking block the Republican plan, which would terminate dozens of programs and slash federal appropriations by $61 billion over the next seven months.

Zandi, an architect of the 2009 stimulus package who has advised both political parties, predicts that the GOP package would reduce economic growth by 0.5 percentage points this year, and by 0.2 percentage points in 2012, resulting in 700,000 fewer jobs by the end of next year.

His report comes on the heels of a similar analysis last week by the investment bank Goldman Sachs, which predicted that the Republican spending cuts would cause even greater damage to the economy, slowing growth by as much as 2 percentage points in the second and third quarters of this year.

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And of course the Republicans will blame an economic slowdown on Obama and the Democrats.

See the following link for discussion and links to several different analyses of the effects of the GOP proposed budget.