Saturday, April 30, 2011

Top Climate Scientist On The Monster Tornadoes: ‘It Is Irresponsible Not To Mention Climate Change’

In an email interview with ThinkProgress, Dr. Kevin Trenberth, one of the world’s top climate scientists, who has been exploring for years how greenhouse pollution influences extreme weather, said he believes that it is “irresponsible not to mention climate change” in the context of these extreme tornadoes. Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, added that the scientific understanding of how polluting our atmosphere with billions of tons of greenhouse gases affects tornadic activity is still ongoing:

It is irresponsible not to mention climate change. … The environment in which all of these storms and the tornadoes are occurring has changed from human influences (global warming). Tornadoes come from thunderstorms in a wind shear environment. This occurs east of the Rockies more than anywhere else in the world. The wind shear is from southerly (SE, S or SW) flow from the Gulf overlaid by westerlies aloft that have come over the Rockies. That wind shear can be converted to rotation. The basic driver of thunderstorms is the instability in the atmosphere: warm moist air at low levels with drier air aloft. With global warming the low level air is warm and moister and there is more energy available to fuel all of these storms and increase the buoyancy of the air so that thunderstorms are strong. There is no clear research on changes in shear related to global warming. On average the low level air is 1 deg F and 4 percent moister than in the 1970s.

Climate scientist Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, explains further that “climate change is present in every single meteorological event”:

The fact remains that there is 4 percent more water vapor–and associated additional moist energy–available both to power individual storms and to produce intense rainfall from them. Climate change is present in every single meteorological event, in that these events are occurring within a baseline atmospheric environment that has shifted in favor of more intense weather events.

Climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, climate modeller at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, concurred:

It is a truism to say that everything has been affected by climate change so far and therefore this latest outbreak must in some sense have been affected, but attribution is hard and the further down the chain the causality is supposed to go, the harder this is. For heat waves it is easier, for statistics on precipitation intensity it easier – there are multiple levels of good modelling, theory and observations to back it up. But we have much less to go on with tornadoes.

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death toll from Wednesday's storms keeps rising.

This is so sad. It is also upsetting because climate scientists warned decades ago that rising greenhouse gases would lead to global warming/climate change, resulting in more episodes of severe weather.

updated 1 hour 21 minutes ago

PRATT CITY, Ala. — Church groups, students and other volunteers worked aggressively Saturday to bring food, water and other necessities to communities ravaged by the second-deadliest day of tornadoes in U.S. history.

Across the South, volunteers have been pitching in as the death toll from Wednesday's storms keeps rising.

At least 340 people were killed across seven states, including at least 249 in Alabama, as the storm system spawned tornadoes through several states. It was the largest death toll since March 18, 1925, when 747 people were killed in storms that raged through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

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This week's tornadoes devastated the infrastructure of emergency safety workers. Emergency buildings were wiped out, bodies were being stored in refrigerated trucks, and authorities were left to beg for such basics as flashlights. In one neighborhood, the storms even left firefighters to work without a truck.

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Volunteers stepped in to help almost as soon as the storms passed through. They ditched their jobs, shelled out their paychecks, donated blood and even sneaked past police blockades to get aid to some of the hardest-hit communities. Students from universities elsewhere in Alabama, and even from as far away as South Carolina and Pennsylvania, have offered to pitch inwith supply drives and other aid.

Still, others said the government wasn't doing enough.
Eighty-two-year-old Eugene Starks was working with a tow truck driver to pull a blown-out car from what remained of his garage on Saturday morning. He was hoping the government would provide more help so he could recover what was left from his wrecked house.
"I'm trying to do what I can myself," he said. "I hope the government steps in, but I'm not holding my breath."

Of course, this is in a state which votes Republican, where people are against "big government". Where do they think the extra government workers are going to come from in a disaster this big?

NBC News and news services
updated 4/30/2011 12:52:11 PM ET
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The death toll from this week's storms rose to 344 Saturday, according to an NBC News count, making the tornado outbreak the second deadliest in U.S. history.

With some estimates putting the number of homes and buildings destroyed close to 10,000, state and federal authorities in the U.S. South were still coming to terms with the scale of the devastation from the country's worst natural catastrophe since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In Tuscaloosa, Ala., alone, up to 446 people were still unaccounted for in the city, though Mayor Walt Maddox said many of those reports probably were from people who have since found their loved ones but have not notified authorities.

The number of deaths has now surpassed that of a twister outbreak that hit Alabama in March 1932, killing 332 people.

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Forecasters have said residents were told the latest tornadoes were coming, but they were just too wide and powerful and in populated areas to avoid a horrifying body count.

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Catastrophe risk modeling company EQECAT said that with initial reports of nearly 10,000 destroyed buildings, property insurance losses were expected to range from $2 to $5 Billion.
"Tornado activity in April is putting 2011 into the record books," it said, adding that the recent tornado outbreak had involved "hundreds of touchdowns, some tornado tracks reported to be almost a mile wide and tens of miles long causing hundreds of fatalities."

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In Rainsville, a northeast Alabama town devastated by the storms, people in cars stopped to offer bread, water and crackers to residents picking through what was left of their belongings. A radio station broadcast offers of help, a store gave away air mattresses and an Italian restaurant served free hot meals.

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The article included several heart-warming accounts of people helping the storm victims, as well as sad episodes of looting.


Chemical Found in Crude Oil Linked to Congenital Heart Disease

ScienceDaily (Apr. 30, 2011) — While it may be years before the health effects of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are known, a new study shows that fetal exposure to a chemical found in crude oil is associated with an increased risk of congenital heart disease (CHD).

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Warmer oceans release CO2 faster than thought

19:02 25 April 2011 by Wendy Zukerman

As the world's oceans warm, their massive stores of dissolved carbon dioxide may be quick to bubble back out into the atmosphere and amplify the greenhouse effect, according to a new study.

The oceans capture around 30 per cent of human carbon dioxide emissions and hide it in their depths. This slows the march of global warming somewhat. But climate records from the end of the last ice age show that as temperatures climb, the trend reverses and the oceans emit CO2, which exacerbates warming.

Previous studies have suggested that it takes between 400 and 1300 years for this to happen. But now the most precise analysis to date has whittled that figure down.

"We now think the delay is more like 200 years, possibly even less," says Tas van Ommen from the Australian Antarctic Division, in Hobart, who led the study.

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The Choice

The Choice
copyright 1993 Patricia M. Shannon
(can be sung to the tune of "Holy, Holy, Holy"

As I go out a-walking in the forest peaceful,
climbing up the mountain trail until I reach the top,
looking o'er the valley I feel a sense of wonder
rising within me, filling all my soul.

How wonderful is nature, tiny lifeless atoms
bring forth the multitude forms of all life.
We are one of many, sharing genes with one-celled beings,
dependent upon the interwoven web of life.

We have developed powers of terrible destruction,
wiping out whole species that used to roam the earth,
Threatening the whole earth with utter devastation,
blithely ignoring what we don't want to know.

It is our own choice which path we choose to follow;
do we love our children enough to change our ways?
Will we change our pattern of long-term self-destruction?
History says "No", but we can prove it wrong.


Texas Gov. Rick Perry officially proclaimed 3 “days of prayer for rain” — starting on Earth day

Climate scientists warned us decades ago that humans are causing an increase in greenhouse gases, and that it would lead to droughts in some places, floods at other times, more episodes of extreme weather. But few listened. Now we are reaping what we have sowed. We shouldn't expect that God will save us from our own actions.

April 22, 2011

Perry issued an official proclamation drawing on his constitutional authority designating three days as Days of Prayer for Rain:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RICK PERRY, Governor of Texas, under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas. I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal and robust way of life.


Matthew 4

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”


Rick Perry: I Don’t Want Federal Funds Until I Need Federal Funds

And of course, Texas is Republican, and their former Governor, former President Bush, denies global warming, which dries out soil faster and worsens droughts. And Republicans in Congress are trying to remove the ability of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases.


Texas is on fire, literally. At least two million acres of land are burning, and have been for weeks. Texas Republican governor, Rick Perry, who has a history of refusing help from the federal government, only to beg for it later, is doing exactly that again.

In 2009, Rick Perry refused stimulus money, on the grounds that he thought there were too many strings attached. He then turned around and asked for a loan to cover the very expenses that would have been paid for by…the stimulus money. Also in 2009, Governor Perry hinted that Texas would remove itself from the Union if necessary, also known as secession.

Fast forward to this last Wednesday. Unbeknownst to most, Texas has received 16 fire assistance grants that provide financial support for the specific purpose of fighting fires, and 6 more are on the way. Hence that “Fire Assistance Grant” title. The most recent of these grants was approved last Wednesday. Governor Perry has been blasting President Obama for not helping Texas. I guess those grants don’t count?

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Beaked Whales Can't Stand Sonar

Interesting that the title of the article is different on the print and web versions.

Being sensitive to loud sound myself, I sympathize with them.

By Rachel Ehrenberg April 23rd, 2011; Vol.179 #9 (p. 16)

Navy sonar unquestionably disturbs beaked whales, concludes a new analysis investigating how underwater sound affects these elusive deep-divers. The results, published online March 14 in PLoS ONE, suggest that the current noise levels deemed risky for beaked whales need to be lowered.

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Our Own Status Affects the Way Our Brains Respond to Others

ScienceDaily (Apr. 28, 2011) — Our own social status influences the way our brains respond to others of higher or lower rank, according to a new study reported online on April 28 in Current Biology. People of higher subjective socioeconomic status show greater brain activity in response to other high-ranked individuals, while those with lower status have a greater response to other low-status individuals.

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U.S. House of Representatives v. Modern Science

Dan Farber, professor of law | 3/29/11

"Nature", one of the two leading scientific journals in the world, has a strongly worded editorial about the recent House hearings on climate change:

At a subcommittee hearing on 14 March, anger and distrust were directed at scientists and respected scientific societies. Misinformation was presented as fact, truth was twisted and nobody showed any inclination to listen to scientists, let alone learn from them. It has been an embarrassing display, not just for the Republican Party but also for Congress and the US citizens it represents. . .

One lawmaker last week described scientists as “elitist” and “arrogant” creatures who hide behind “discredited” institutions.. . . Several scientists were on hand — at the behest of Democrats on the subcommittee — to answer questions and clear things up, but many lawmakers weren’t interested in answers, only in prejudice.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the US Congress has entered the intellectual wilderness, a sad state of affairs in a country that has led the world in many scientific arenas for so long. Global warming is a thorny problem, and disagreement about how to deal with it is understandable. It is not always clear how to interpret data or address legitimate questions. Nor is the scientific process, or any given scientist, perfect. But to deny that there is reason to be concerned, given the decades of work by countless scientists, is irresponsible.

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Climate meddling dates back 8,000 years,000_years

By Alexandra Witze April 23rd, 2011; Vol.179 #9 (p. 17

SANTA FE, N.M. — People started influencing their home planet’s climate millennia before the industrial revolution’s fossil fuel–burning machines began spewing carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, a new study suggests.

Clearing land — first to hunt and gather, and then to farm — removed trees that otherwise would have soaked up carbon dioxide. The new work suggests that humans working the land put nearly 350 billion metric tons of carbon — many times other estimates — into the atmosphere by the year 1850. (For comparison, between 1850 and 2000 people added 440 billion tons of carbon, mostly from burning fossil fuels — surpassing in a century and a half what had previously taken humankind eight millennia.)

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Environmental justice and adaptation to climate change

Dan Farber, professor of law | 4/4/11

’m beginning to wonder whether we need an “Endangered People Act” to ensure that the most vulnerable get the protection they need from climate change impacts. Climate change will disproportionately affect vulnerable individuals and poorer regions and countries, as I discuss in a recent paper comparing adaptation efforts in China, England, and the U.S.

For example, by the end of the century, the number of heat wave days in Los Angeles could double, while the number in Chicago could quadruple, with corresponding increases in deaths. Elderly poor people are more vulnerable to heat stress; they are especially at risk when they are socially isolated. Another example is provided by coastal fishing communities around the world, such as Louisiana’s Cajuns, who will be swamped by rising sea levels. Internationally, millions of inhabitants of river deltas like the Mekong are at high risk from climate change.

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How Beliefs Shape Effort and Learning

ScienceDaily (Apr. 26, 2011) — If it was easy to learn, it will be easy to remember. Psychological scientists have maintained that nearly everyone uses this simple rule to assess their own learning.

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And which theory of intelligence is correct? "The truth lies somewhere in between," he says. "We have to be sensitive to personal limitations" -- say, a learning disability -- "and at the same time not feel those limitations are the end all-be all. Effort can always lead to some amount of improvement, but you also need to be aware of the law of diminishing returns."


Medical Evidence of Torture Neglected in Guantánamo Bay Detainees, Suggests Review of Records

ScienceDaily (Apr. 26, 2011) — Inspection of medical records, case files, and legal affidavits provides compelling evidence that medical personnel who treated detainees at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO) failed to inquire and/or document causes of physical injuries and psychological symptoms they observed in the detainees, according to a paper published this week in PLoS Medicine. Vincent Iacopino, Senior Medical Advisor for Physician for Human Rights, and Brigadier General (Ret) Stephen Xenakis, U.S. Army, reviewed GTMO medical records and relevant case files of nine individuals, looking for evidence of torture and ill treatment and its documentation by medical personnel.

In each of the nine cases, GTMO detainees reported abusive interrogation methods that are consistent with torture as defined by the UN Convention Against Torture, as well as the more restrictive US definition of torture (known as "enhanced interrogation techniques") that was operational at the time. Examples of torture the detainees endured included severe beatings resulting in bone fractures, sexual assault and/or the threat of rape, mock execution, mock disappearance, and near asphyxiation from water. Detainees were also subject to enhanced interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation, exposure to temperature extremes, serious threats, forced positions, beatings, and forced nudity.
The medical evaluations by non-governmental forensic experts in each of the nine cases revealed that the specific allegations of torture made by the detainees and ill treatment were highly consistent with physical and psychological evidence documented in the medical records. However, despite recording the physical injuries and psychological symptoms, the medical personnel from the Department of Defense (DoD) who treated the detainees at GTMO failed to inquire about the causes of these injuries or symptoms. Moreover, psychological symptoms following interrogations were commonly attributed to ''personality disorders'' and ''routine stressors of confinement" and not reasonably attributed to the circumstances and pressures imposed during the interview sessions. Medical information was allegedly available to interrogators, as one detainee observed that his medical records and "his chronic back pain was exploited by interrogators with the use of prolonged, painful stress positions."

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Motivation Plays a Critical Role in Determining IQ Test Scores

ScienceDaily (Apr. 27, 2011) — New psychology research at the University of Pennsylvania demonstrates a correlation between a test-taker's motivation and performance on an IQ test and, more important, between that performance and a person's future success.

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Microsleep: Brain Regions Can Take Short Naps During Wakefulness, Leading to Errors

ScienceDaily (Apr. 27, 2011) — If you've ever lost your keys or stuck the milk in the cupboard and the cereal in the refrigerator, you may have been the victim of a tired brain region that was taking a quick nap.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

'Vanity Fair' wants proof Donald Trump's hair is real

April 28, 2011, 4:25 pm by Christina Wilkie

"Vanity Fair" magazine is turning the tables on billionaire and potential presidential candidate Donald Trump, cheekily questioning the authenticity of his hair.

A mock "proclamation" Friday on the magazine's website declared, "If Trump intends to declare his candidacy for the presidency, as he has so often threatened, the issue of his comb-over could become a Constitutional matter.

"In the interest of putting this controversy to rest, Vanity Fair demands that Trump release a notarized certificate from a barber proving the veracity of his hair."

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Wall Street Tames Washington

Wednesday 27 April 2011
by: Jim Hightower, Truthout
They came, they saw, they conquered. This line pretty well sums up a little-reported but important story about the new tea partiers in the U.S. House of Representatives.

No sooner had they arrived than the corporate lobbying corps came to visit, saw what these supposed rebels were made of and quickly conquered them without a fight. The forces of big business needed only to lay out some campaign cash -- and quicker than you can say, "Business as usual," the budding lawmakers snatched up the money and immediately began carrying the lobbyists' corporate agenda.

Check out the financial services subcommittee, which handles legislation affecting Wall Street bankers. Five tea partiers got coveted slots on this panel, and all five were suddenly showered with big donations from such financial lobbying interests as Goldman Sachs. Now, all five are sponsoring bills to undo parts of the recent reforms to reign in Wall Street excesses.

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The Sacred and the Dead

I read recently that third-world countries, where people are more in touch with what is happening with the weather, are aware of and concerned about global warming/climate change because their lives are noticeably adversely affected by it.

Published on Thursday, April 28, 2011

by Robert C. Koehler
How do values enter politics?

The Bolivian national legislature, pressured by a movement of indigenous people and small farmers, may be about to birth a stunning global precedent in the creation of an environmentally sane future: establishing legal rights for Mother Earth.

On the one hand, huh? How can we reduce nature itself — the entirety of the universe beyond humanity’s small outpost of self-importance — to an entity that requires bureaucratic recognition? On the other hand, Mother Earth — Pachamama, in indigenous Andean parlance — is humanity’s vulnerable context, without which, though the universe will go on, we will not. As Bron Taylor, author of Dark Green Religion: Nature, Spirituality and the Planetary Future, put it: “Ecologically maladaptive cultural systems . . . eventually kill their hosts.”

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The law’s specific requirements, Buxton writes, include: a transition from non-renewable to renewable energy; the regulation and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; research and investment of resources in energy efficiency, ecological practices and organic agriculture; and the development of new economic indicators that would assess the environmental impact of economic activities. Under the law, companies and individuals would be held accountable for any environmental contamination they cause and be required to repair the damage.

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Beyond places such as Bolivia and Ecuador — which two years ago incorporated the rights of nature into its new constitution

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Men Tend to Leap to Judgement Where Women See More Shades of Grey

ScienceDaily (Apr. 26, 2011) — An experiment by researchers at the University of Warwick has found the first real evidence that men tend to make black-or-white judgements when women are more prone to see shades of grey in choices and decisions.

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"Of course, simply because we have found a significant sex difference in how men and women categorize does not mean that one method is intrinsically better than the other. For instance, male doctors may be more likely to quickly and confidently diagnose a set of symptoms as a disease. Although this brings great advantages in treating diseases early, it obviously has massive disadvantages if the diagnosis is actually wrong. In many cases, a more open approach to categorizing or diagnosing would be more effective."


Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus

By Phil Zuckerman

This article was co-authored by Dan Cady is an assistant professor of history at California State University, Fresno. He publishes on the history of the American West, music, and religion.

The results from a recent poll published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life ( reveal what social scientists have known for a long time: White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It is perhaps one of the strangest, most dumb-founding ironies in contemporary American culture. Evangelical Christians, who most fiercely proclaim to have a personal relationship with Christ, who most confidently declare their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, who go to church on a regular basis, pray daily, listen to Christian music, and place God and His Only Begotten Son at the center of their lives, are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message.

Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture. Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world. Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one’s money to the poor. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation’s poor — especially poor children. They hate anything that smacks of “socialism,” even though that is essentially what their Savior preached. They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training — anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do. In short, Evangelicals are that segment of America which is the most pro-militaristic, pro-gun, and pro-corporate, while simultaneously claiming to be most ardent lovers of the Prince of Peace.

What’s the deal?

Before attempting an answer, allow a quick clarification. Evangelicals don’t exactly hate Jesus — as we’ve provocatively asserted in the title of this piece. They do love him dearly. But not because of what he tried to teach humanity. Rather, Evangelicals love Jesus for what he does for them. Through his magical grace, and by shedding his precious blood, Jesus saves Evangelicals from everlasting torture in hell, and guarantees them a premium, luxury villa in heaven. For this, and this only, they love him. They can’t stop thanking him. And yet, as for Jesus himself — his core values of peace, his core teachings of social justice, his core commandments of goodwill — most Evangelicals seem to have nothing but disdain.

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In addition to such historical developments, there may very well simply be an underlying, all-too-human social-psychological process at root, one that probably plays itself out among all religious individuals: they see in their religion what they want to see, and deny or despise the rest. That is, religion is one big Rorschach test. People look at the content of their religious tradition — its teachings, its creeds, its prophet’s proclamations — and they basically pick and choose what suits their own secular outlook. They see in their faith what they want to see as they live their daily lives, and simultaneously ignore the rest. And as is the case for most White Evangelical Christians, what they are ignoring is actually the very heart and soul of Jesus’s message — a message that emphasizes sharing, not greed. Peace-making, not war-mongering. Love, not violence.

Of course, conservative Americans have every right to support corporate greed, militarism, gun possession, and the death penalty, and to oppose welfare, food stamps, health care for those in need, etc. — it is just strange and contradictory when they claim these positions as somehow “Christian.” They aren’t.


Advice Vs. Experience: Genes Predict Learning Style

ScienceDaily (Apr. 27, 2011) — Researchers at Brown University have found that specific genetic variations can predict how persistently people will believe advice they are given, even when it is contradicted by experience.

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"People will distort what they experience to be perceived as more consistent with what they thought already," said Frank, who is also affiliated with the Brown Institute for Brain Science.

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It may seem like having the genes for a strong-willed prefrontal cortex and an overly obsequious striatum could make people dangerously oblivious to reality, but Frank said there's a good reason for brains to be hardwired to believe in advice: Advice is often right and convenient.

People inclined to follow instructions from others, albeit to varying degrees based on their genes, can make sensible decisions much more quickly than if they had to learn the right thing to do from experience. In some cases (e.g., "Danger: high voltage") experience is a very dangerous way to learn. But in other cases (e.g. "The cable guy should be there at 1 p.m." or "This slot machine pays off"), believing in advice for too long is just foolish.

"It's funny because we are telling a story about how these genes lead to maladaptive performance, but that's actually reflective of a system that evolved to be that way for an adaptive reason," Frank said. "This phenomenon of confirmation bias might actually just be a byproduct of a system that tries to be more efficient with the learning process."


Collective Conservation Efforts Boosted Rhino Population in Nepal

Some good news.

ScienceDaily (Apr. 27, 2011) — After three rigorous weeks of conducting the National Rhino Census in Nepal, new data on the population of greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) have been formally released.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Green Environments Essential for Human Health, Research Shows

ScienceDaily (Apr. 26, 2011) — Research shows that a walk in the park is more than just a nice way to spend an afternoon. It's an essential component for good health, according to University of Illinois environment and behavior researcher Frances "Ming" Kuo.

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Access to nature and green environments yields better cognitive functioning, more self-discipline and impulse control, and greater mental health overall.

Less access to nature is linked to exacerbated attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms, higher rates of anxiety disorders, and higher rates of clinical depression.

If that isn't convincing enough, Kuo says the impacts of parks and green environments on human health extend beyond social and psychological health outcomes to include physical health outcomes.

Greener environments enhance recovery from surgery, enable and support higher levels of physical activity, improve immune system functioning, help diabetics achieve healthier blood glucose levels, and improve functional health status and independent living skills among older adults.

By contrast, environments with less green space are associated with greater rates of childhood obesity; higher rates of 15 out of 24 categories of physician-diagnosed diseases, including cardiovascular diseases; and higher rates of mortality in younger and older adults.

"While it is true that richer people tend to have both greater access to nature and better physical health outcomes, the comparisons here show that even among people of the same socioeconomic status, those who have greater access to nature, have better physical health outcomes. Rarely do the scientific findings on any question align so clearly."

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Vitamin D May Help Explain Racial Differences in Blood Pressure

ScienceDaily (Apr. 27, 2011) — High blood pressure, or hypertension, is more common and often more deadly in blacks than in whites, and a new University of Rochester study shows that low vitamin D levels among black people might be a powerful factor that contributes to the racial differences in hypertension.

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However, Fiscella noted some limitations to the study, and said that vitamin D did not fully explain the racial differences in blood pressure. "It is likely that other factors beyond vitamin D, such as psychological stress, medication adherence, and discrimination could contribute to this disparity," he wrote in the JGIM article


Men's and Women's Immune Systems Respond Differently to PTSD

ScienceDaily (Apr. 26, 2011) — Men and women had starkly different immune system responses to chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, with men showing no response and women showing a strong response, in two studies by researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco.

While a robust immune response protects the body from foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, an over-activated response causes inflammation, which can lead to such conditions as cardiovascular disease and arthritis.

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The researchers found no evidence of increased immune activation among the men with PTSD compared to those without PTSD. In contrast, the women with PTSD showed significant evidence of immune activation compared to women without PTSD.

"Previous gene microarray studies on PTSD grouped men and women together, which gave inconclusive results," said senior investigator Lynn Pulliam, MS, PhD, chief of microbiology at SFVAMC and professor of laboratory medicine and medicine at UCSF. "This is the first time that it's been shown that men and women respond differently to PTSD on a very basic biological level."

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Music Changes Perception

ScienceDaily (Apr. 27, 2011) — Music is not only able to affect your mood -- listening to particularly happy or sad music can even change the way we perceive the world, according to researchers from the University of Groningen.

Music and mood are closely interrelated -- listening to a sad or happy song on the radio can make you feel more sad or happy. However, such mood changes not only affect how you feel, they also change your perception. For example, people will recognize happy faces if they are feeling happy themselves.

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And even when no smiley at all was shown, the subjects often thought they recognized a happy smiley when listening to happy music and a sad one when listening to sad music.

The latter finding is particularly interesting according to the researchers. Jolij: 'Seeing things that are not there is the result of top-down processes in the brain. Conscious perception is largely based on these top-down processes: your brain continuously compares the information that comes in through your eyes with what it expects on the basis of what you know about the world. The final result of this comparison process is what we eventually experience as reality. Our research results suggest that the brain builds up expectations not just on the basis of experience but on your mood as well.'

Mercury Converted to Its Most Toxic Form in Ocean Waters

ScienceDaily (Apr. 27, 2011) — University of Alberta-led research has confirmed that a relatively harmless inorganic form of mercury found worldwide in ocean water is transformed into a potent neurotoxin in the seawater itself.

After two years of testing water samples across the Arctic Ocean, the researchers found that relatively harmless inorganic mercury, released from human activities like industry and coal burning, undergoes a process called methylation and becomes deadly monomethylmercury.
Unlike inorganic mercury, monomethylmercury is bio-accumulative, meaning its toxic effects are amplified as it progresses through the food chain from small sea creatures to humans. The greatest exposure for humans to monomethylmercury is through seafood. The researchers believe the methylation process happens in oceans all over the world and that the conversion is carried out by microbial life forms in the ocean.

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Increased Metabolic Rate May Lead to Accelerated Aging

When I read the recent articles on short sleepers, who appear to also have higher metabolisms, I noticed that none of the articles considered that there might be negative effects. Since such a small percentage of people are short sleepers, it seems likely that there are negative aspect.

ScienceDaily (Apr. 27, 2011) — A recent study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM) found that higher metabolic rates predict early natural mortality, indicating that higher energy turnover may accelerate aging in humans.

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"We found that higher endogenous metabolic rate, that is how much energy the body uses for normal body functions, is a risk factor for earlier mortality," said Reiner Jumpertz, MD, of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Phoenix, Ariz., and lead author of the study. "This increased metabolic rate may lead to earlier organ damage (in effect accelerated aging) possibly by accumulation of toxic substances produced with the increase in energy turnover."
"It is important to note that these data do not apply to exercise-related energy expenditure," added Jumpertz. "This activity clearly has beneficial effects on human health."


Advocates: Consumers 'betrayed' by high court ruling on class-action suits

Another decision giving more power to big corporations over individuals by the Republican dominated supreme court.

By Bob Sullivan
Fine print in everyday consumer contracts can include provisions that require Americans to surrender their rights to file class-action lawsuits, the U.S Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, overturning a lower court ruling.
The ruling could have immediate impact on consumers' ability to fight against companies when they feel their rights have been violated. It also raises questions about the future of class-action cases.

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When consumers sign up for everything from cell phone service to rental cars, terms of the contracts signed often compel them to forgo traditional legal mechanisms when a dispute arises, forcing them to mandatory binding arbitration instead. Such provisions have been struck down in many state cases as "unconscionable," with various courts deciding consumers could not be compelled to surrender basic legal rights granted by the state. That is especially true in what are known as "contracts of adhesion" -- standard form contracts offered on a "take it or leave it" basis, where consumers have little bargaining power, the courts have said.
Last year the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a case filed in a California federal court in which AT&T's arbitration clause had been voided, a decision that was later upheld by a federal appeals court.

By a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court overturned the appeals court ruling on Wednesday, with the majority essentially saying that federal law encouraging use of arbitration trumps state laws aimed at preserving consumer rights.

“Because it stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress ... the judgment of the Ninth Circuit is reversed," wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in his opinion.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the dissent for the divided court.

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China-bashing Trump's clothing line made in China

Donald Trump has emerged in recent years as the nation's foremost China basher, going after the Asian superpower for undervaluing its currency and for taking American manufacturing and jobs. So it's at least ironic -- and at most an example of gross hypocrisy -- that Trump's own line of men's wear, the Donald J. Trump Signature Collection, is manufactured in China.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Minor Detail Scarborough Overlooked

April 26, 2011

THE MINOR DETAIL SCARBOROUGH OVERLOOKED.... In keeping with his partisan allies, Republican media personality Joe Scarborough devotes his latest column to praising British Prime Minister David Cameron for his willingness to challenge "the British cradle-to-grave welfare state that has grown uninterrupted since Winston Churchill was kicked out of office after World War II."

Cameron has taken the hatchet to defense spending and proposed raising the age for retirement benefits. It has been a death-defying act for a British politician whose chance of survival seems unlikely at best.

Cameron was elected because he promised to make tough choices and, a year after the formation of his government, he has been true to his word. In a nation conditioned to believe in an all-encompassing welfare state, Cameron looks to raise the retirement age to 66 by the end of the decade, lay off hundreds of thousands of public workers, raise taxes and slash the costs of government programs by an average of 19 percent. He's even willing to transform the National Health Service, for generations seen as the third rail of British politics, in a move that even members of his own party are blasting as "the greatest upheaval in the organization's history."

Those radical reforms have been met with large-scale protests that have occasionally descended into violence, but to their credit the prime minister and Clegg stood firm over the past several months. A budget presented in March by George Osborne, Cameron's Chancellor of the Exchequer, doubled-down on the spending cuts despite increasing public resistance.
It goes on (and on) from there -- nearly a thousand words on how impressed Scarborough is with Cameron, his similarities to Thatcher, his willingness to support a conservative agenda, how the United States will soon have to go in a similar directions, etc.

The one thing Scarborough neglected to mention? Cameron's agenda isn't working and austerity is a failure. The British economy is contracting and household incomes are shrinking. Richard Portes, an economist at the London Business School recently said Cameron's failures are likely to be "a cautionary tale" to others thinking about following his lead.

The Cameron government believes the path to prosperity runs though fewer public services, less public investment, and counting on low interest rates to save the day. This experiment isn't working at all, and yet, Joe Scarborough somehow neglected to mention this minor detail.

Inequality and Democratic Responsiveness

“Abstract: By allowing voters to choose among candidates with competing policy orientations and by providing incentives for incumbents to shape policy in direction the public desires, elections are thought to provide the foundation that links government policy to the preferences of the governed. In this article I examine the extent to which the preference/policy link is biased toward the preferences of high-income Americans. Using an original data set of almost two thousand survey questions on proposed policy changes between 1981 and 2002, I find a moderately strong relationship between what the public wants and what the government does, albeit with a strong bias toward the status quo. But I also find that when Americans with different income levels differ in their policy preferences, actual policy outcomes strongly reflect the preferences of the most affluent but bear virtually no relationship to the preferences of the poor or middle-income Americans. The vast discrepancy I find in government responsiveness to citizens with different incomes stands in stark contrast to the ideal of political equality that Americans hold dear. Although perfect political equality is an unrealistic goal, representational biases of this magnitude call into question the very democratic character of our society.


“If government policy is uniquely responsive to the preferences of affluent Americans, as the evidence above suggests, by what mechanisms do the affluent exert their influence? My data are not well suited to answering this question, and space constraints preclude even an adequate account of the possible mechanisms at work. But the most obvious source of influence over policy that distinguishes high-income Americans is money and the willingness to donate to parties, candidates, and interest organizations. For example, a study of donations to congressional candidates in 1996 finds that four-fifths of donors who gave $200 or more had incomes in the top 10 percent of all Americans. [Citation omitted.] Since not only the propensity to donate but also the size of donations increase with income level, this figure understates—probably to a very large degree—the extent to which political donations come from the most affluent Americans. . . . .”

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Obama demands Congress slash oil subsidies now

y Sahil Kapur
Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 -- 1:52 pm

WASHINGTON – A consensus appears to be building in favor of stripping $4 billion in giveaways to multi-billion dollar oil companies, as the specter of rising oil prices amid high unemployment and soaring debt pressures Congress to act.

In a letter Tuesday afternoon, President Barack Obama urged House and Senate leaders to "take immediate action to eliminate unwarranted tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, and to use those dollars to invest in clean energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

"While there is no silver bullet to address rising gas prices in the short term, there are steps we can take to ensure the American people don't fall victim to skyrocketing gas prices over the long term," he added.

The president's sternly-worded letter came less than one day after Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that cutting oil subsidies is "certainly something we should be looking at," invoking the deficit and declaring that oil companies "ought to be paying their fair share."

"Everybody wants to go after the oil companies and frankly, they've got some part of this to blame," he said, adding that he'd like to "see all the facts" first.

The remarks reflected a reversal of the traditional Republican opposition to such an idea, which Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), who helms policy and messaging for Democrats, gleefully seized upon.

"It is almost too good to be true, but gas hitting four dollars per gallon seems to have finally caused Speaker Boehner to see the light on the insanity of providing subsidies to profit-soaked big oil companies," Schumer said Tuesday.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Treasury: Federal greening saves taxpayer dollars

By Bernie Becker - 04/22/11 06:23 PM ET

On this Earth Day, the Treasury Department is touting its ability to go green as a win for taxpayers as well.

Dan Tangherlini, an assistant Treasury secretary, noted the department had received green ratings across-the-board on an administration-developed scorecard on clean energy – and cited data from the Office of Management and Budget and the White House Council on Economic Quality that says those sorts of efforts can save the public money.

“OMB and CEQ estimate that keeping federal agencies on track to meet the scorecard’s energy and greenhouse gas performance standards should reduce the cost of government by a cumulative total of $8 to $11 Billion by 2020,” Tangherlini wrote on the department’s blog.

(For the record, Treasury especially touted, among other things, its ability to reduce petroleum and potable water use.)

The department’s comments came as President Obama called for the U.S. to be a leader on clean energy and climate change.

But a push for major climate-change legislation fizzled last year, and Republicans on Capitol Hill have targeted the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases in recent months.


For Family Violence Among Adolescents, Mattering Matters

ScienceDaily (Apr. 23, 2011) — Adolescents who believe they matter to their families are less likely to threaten or engage in violence against family members, according to a new study led by Brown University sociologist Gregory Elliott.

The research s published in the Journal of Family Issues.
A relatively new concept, "mattering" is the belief persons make a difference in the world around them. Mattering is composed of three facets -- awareness, importance, and reliance. Do others know you exist? Do they invest time and resources in you? Do they look to you as a resource? Elliott asserts that mattering is the fundamental motivation in human beings. "Above all else, there's a need to matter," he says.

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Study Adds Weight to Link Between Calcium Supplements and Heart Problems

And a broken bone due to insufficient calcium can lead to inactivity, leading to heart disease. Kind of between a rock and a hard place.

ScienceDaily (Apr. 23, 2011) — New research published online in the British Medical Journal adds to mounting evidence that calcium supplements increase the risk of cardiovascular events, particularly heart attacks, in older women.

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hey analysed data from 16,718 women who were not taking personal calcium supplements at the start of the trial and found that those allocated to combined calcium and vitamin D supplements were at an increased risk of cardiovascular events, especially heart attack.
By contrast, in women who were taking personal calcium supplements at the start of the trial, combined calcium and vitamin D supplements did not alter their cardiovascular risk.
The authors suspect that the abrupt change in blood calcium levels after taking a supplement causes the adverse effect, rather than it being related to the total amount of calcium consumed. High blood calcium levels are linked to calcification (hardening) of the arteries, which may also help to explain these results.
Further analyses -- adding data from 13 other trials, involving 29,000 people altogether -- also found consistent increases in the risk of heart attack and stroke associated with taking calcium supplements, with or without vitamin D, leading the authors to conclude that these data justify a reassessment of the use of calcium supplements in older people.
But in an accompanying editorial, Professors Bo Abrahamsen and Opinder Sahota argue that there is insufficient evidence available to support or refute the association.
Because of study limitations, they say "it is not possible to provide reassurance that calcium supplements given with vitamin D do not cause adverse cardiovascular events or to link them with certainty to increased cardiovascular risk. Clearly further studies are needed and the debate remains ongoing."


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Madness: Right-Wingers Are Serious About Trying to Undermine Child Labor Laws

April 23, 2011 |

The fact that we're debating the social benefits of child labor laws in the second decade of the 21st century casts the madness that's gripped our right-wing in sharp relief. It took a hard-fought, century-long battle to get compliant kids working for slave-wages out of American workplaces, and that battle was supposedly won 73 years ago during the New Deal.

But according to Ian Milhiser, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has “called for a return to a discredited theory of the Constitution that early twentieth century justices used to declare federal child labor laws unconstitutional” in three separate decisions. In January, Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, said that children's employment was a states' rights issue, and their regulation by the federal government is unconstitutional. Milhiser noted that “many GOP elected officials have embraced rhetoric suggesting” that they agree, but have stopped short of coming out and saying as much.
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) announced this week that it is diverting attention from its primary task of advocating for the 14 million Americans without jobs to run ads in Maine against two measures that would significantly undermine the state's limits on child labor. A NELP spokesperson told AlterNet that the organization is spending “significant resources” to run the ads on local CNN and Fox affiliates in an effort to educate Mainers about what their new Tea Party-endorsed governor and his GOP-controlled legislature are trying to enact.

The state senate is considering two bills that would weaken existing workplace protections for minors. L.D. 1346 would allow employers to pay anyone under 20 a six-month “training wage” that falls more than $2 per hour below the minimum wage, eliminate rules establishing a maximum number of hours kids 16 and over can work during school days, allow those under 16 to work up to four hours per school day, allow home-schooled kids to work during school hours and eliminate any limit on how many hours kids of any age can work in agriculture (with a signature from their parents or legal guardians). L.D. 516 would allow teens to work longer hours and later into the night than is allowed under current law.

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Brown Recluse Spider: Range Could Expand in N. America With Changing Climate

ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2011) — One of the most feared spiders in North America is the subject a new study that aims to predict its distribution and how that distribution may be affected by climate changes.

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To address the issue of brown recluse distribution, Saupe and other researchers used a predictive mapping technique called ecological niche modeling. They applied future climate change scenarios to the spider's known distribution in the Midwest and southern United States. The researchers concluded that the range may expand northward, potentially invading previously unaffected regions. Newly influenced areas may include parts of Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, South Dakota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
"These results illustrate a potential negative consequence of climate change on humans and will aid medical professionals in proper bite identification and treatment, potentially reducing bite misdiagnoses," Saupe said.


Mixed Message

It is interesting that those who say the ultr-rich deserve so much because they are so useful, and low-income people just are not important enough to be paid decently, also say we need massive immigration of low-income people because they are needed as workers for bunsiness.


Would This Video Make You Stop Eating Beef? Futures Traders Think So

Posted by Martha Rosenberg at 6:32 am
April 22, 2011

Once again a farm randomly chosen for investigation by Chicago-based Mercy for Animals has revealed stomach-turning cruelty.

Once again Big Food is “appalled” by the video — which shows sick and injured calves killed with hammers, workers standing on calves’ necks and barely alive calves on “dead piles” — while working to make publicizing such videos illegal.

And once again farm owners blame employees and play innocent, while video clearly shows them sanctioning the violence and verifying that the suffering crossbreed calves depicted should get no medical care.

Like most factory farm owners whose operations have been investigated by Mercy For Animals, Kirt Espenson, owner of the 10,000 calf E-6 Cattle Company in Hart, TX, both denies condoning the abuse and defends it.

The animals denied medical care for their open sores, swollen joints and severed hooves are actually E-6 Cattle Company’s wholesome meat initiative he says: they were not given medicine so that people wouldn’t get drug residues! (And the ones not going to be eaten by people are given drug$? Right!)

Many others were sick from the cold weather and had to be eliminated, says Espenson — as if cold weather were an untreatable disease and sentient mammals are a walnut crop.

While Big Food, law enforcement officials and government regulators continue to view videos like E-6 as isolated events, no farm that Mercy For Animals has investigated has lacked such atrocities. From the DeCoster egg farms, finally investigated by Congress, to the Hy-Line Hatchery in Spencer, Iowa where newborn male chicks are ground up alive, to the Conklin Dairy Farms in Plain City, Ohio where cows are stabbed with pitchforks, Mercy For Animals continues to show that abuse is the order of the day when animals are nothing but economic units.

Nor do perpetrators pay. No charges were filed against the Conklin Dairy owner, Gary Conklin, for example, because “in context, Mr. Conklin’s actions were entirely appropriate,” said Union County prosecuting attorney David Phillips.

While condemning animal cruelty depicted in videos like this week’s and stressing that welfare guidelines exist, Big Food is also currently trying to make such videos, shot by undercover employees, illegal. After the E-6 video broke, June delivery for live cattle at the Chicago Mercantile exchange fell to $1.15 per pound, down over one percent. That’s real money.

Long-Term Poverty but Not Family Instability Affects Children's Cognitive Development, Study Finds

ScienceDaily (Apr. 20, 2011) — Children from homes that experience persistent poverty are more likely to have their cognitive development affected than children in better off homes, reveals research published ahead of print in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Family instability, however, makes no additional difference to how a child's cognitive abilities have progressed by the age of five, after taking into account family poverty, family demographics (e.g. parental education and mother's age) and early child characteristics, UK researchers found.
There is much evidence of the negative effects of both poverty and family structure on child development, particularly persistent poverty and adverse living conditions. Poverty and family instability are linked as poverty affects families economically and socially and can increase the risk of relationship break-ups.

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Children growing up in stable two-parent families showed higher levels of cognitive ability than those in one-parent families or those who experienced a change in living arrangements.
By contrast, children exposed to ongoing poverty scored seven points less in the naming vocabulary test (part of the cognitive assessments) than those who had never experienced poverty.
Analysis showed that there was no significant association between family structure/family instability and cognitive ability after allowing for child characteristics, family poverty and family demographics.
Overall, the researchers found there was a strong and significant negative effect of persistent income poverty on a child's cognitive functioning at the age of five.
They conclude: "Persistent poverty is a crucial risk factor undermining children's cognitive development -- more so than family instability."


Saturday, April 23, 2011

How Peppermint Helps to Relieve Irritable Bowel Syndrome

ScienceDaily (Apr. 20, 2011) — University of Adelaide researchers have shown for the first time how peppermint helps to relieve Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which affects up to 20% of the population.

In a paper published in the journal Pain, researchers from the University's Nerve-Gut Research Laboratory explain how peppermint activates an "anti-pain" channel in the colon, soothing inflammatory pain in the gastrointestinal tract.
Dr Stuart Brierley says while peppermint has been commonly prescribed by naturopaths for many years, there has been no clinical evidence until now to demonstrate why it is so effective in relieving pain.
"Our research shows that peppermint acts through a specific anti-pain channel called TRPM8 to reduce pain sensing fibres, particularly those activated by mustard and chilli. This is potentially the first step in determining a new type of mainstream clinical treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)," he says.
IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder, causing abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation. It affects about 20% of Australians and costs millions of dollars each year in lost productivity, work absenteeism and health care.
"This is a debilitating condition and affects many people on a daily basis, particularly women who are twice as likely to experience Irritable Bowel Syndrome," Dr Brierley says.
"Some people find their symptoms appear after consuming fatty and spicy foods, coffee and alcohol, but it is more complex than that. There appears to be a definite link between IBS and a former bout of gastroenteritis, which leaves nerve pain fibres in a heightened state, altering mechanisms in the gut wall and resulting in ongoing pain."

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Satisfied People Are More Likely to Vote

ScienceDaily (Apr. 20, 2011) — Contented people are more likely to vote than unhappy ones, according to a study co-authored by a Baylor University researcher.

Dr. Patrick Flavin, an assistant professor of political science at Baylor, also found that discontented individuals are no more likely to take part in political protests.
That came as a surprise to Flavin and fellow researcher Michael Keane, a former graduate student at the University of Notre Dame, who originally theorized that satisfied people might be less likely to vote or participate in other political activities because they would not feel much of a desire for change compared to dissatisfied people.

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Biological Links Found Between Childhood Abuse and Adolescent Depression

ScienceDaily (Apr. 20, 2011) — Kate Harkness has found that a history of physical, sexual or emotional abuse in childhood substantially increases the risk of depression in adolescence by altering a person's neuroendocrine response to stress.

Adolescents with a history of maltreatment and a mild level of depression were found to release much more of the stress hormone cortisol than is normal in response to psychological stressors such as giving a speech or solving a difficult arithmetic test.
"This kind of reaction is a problem because cortisol kills cells in areas of the brain that control memory and emotion regulation," explains Dr. Harkness, a professor in the Department of Psychology and an expert in the role of stress and trauma in adolescent depression. "Over time cortisol levels can build up and increase a person's risk for more severe endocrine impairment and more severe depression."
At severe levels of depression, Dr. Harkness' team saw that the youths with a history of maltreatment had a total blunting of the endocrine response to stress. These findings suggest that the normal operation of the stress response system can breakdown in severely depressed adolescents.
These results are important because they show that environmental stress in childhood changes the function of the brain in ways that may cause and/or maintain severe psychiatric disorders such as depression.

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Childhood Music Lessons May Provide Lifelong Boost in Brain Functioning

ScienceDaily (Apr. 20, 2011) — Those childhood music lessons could pay off decades later -- even for those who no longer play an instrument -- by keeping the mind sharper as people age, according to a preliminary study published by the American Psychological Association.

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Half of the high-level musicians still played an instrument at the time of the study, but they didn't perform better on the cognitive tests than the other advanced musicians who had stopped playing years earlier. This suggests that the duration of musical study was more important than whether musicians continued playing at an advanced age, Hanna-Pladdy says.
"Based on previous research and our study results, we believe that both the years of musical participation and the age of acquisition are critical," Hanna-Pladdy says. "There are crucial periods in brain plasticity that enhance learning, which may make it easier to learn a musical instrument before a certain age and thus may have a larger impact on brain development."


Air Pollution Exposure Affects Chances of Developing Premenopausal Breast Cancer

ScienceDaily (Apr. 20, 2011) — Exposure to air pollution early in life and when a woman gives birth to her first child may alter her DNA and may be associated with premenopausal breast cancer later in life, researchers at the University at Buffalo have shown.

The findings indicated that higher air pollution exposure at birth may alter DNA methylation, which may increase levels of E-cadherin, a protein important to the adhesion of cells, a function that plays an essential role in maintaining a stable cellular environment and assuring healthy tissues.
Methylation is a chemical process that has been implicated in determining which genes in a cell are active, a process essential to normal cellular function.
Women with breast cancer who lived in a region with more air pollution were more likely to have the alteration in the DNA in their tumor than those who lived in a less-polluted region, results showed.
Higher air pollution concentration at the time of first child birth also was associated with changes in p16, a gene involved in tumor suppression, according to findings.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Jon Kyl Expunges Remark That Was 'Not Intended To Be A Factual Statement' From Congressional Record

First Posted: 04/21/11 05:37 PM ET Updated: 04/21/11 10:50 PM ET

I missed this when it was reported a couple days ago, but apparently, a few days after Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) stood on the Senate floor and misled America about what proportion of Planned Parenthood's activities were related to abortion -- which begat his famous "not intended to be a factual statement" excuse that brought a torrent of ridicule down upon him -- Kyl had his false statement stricken from the Congressional Record. You can do that? Apparently so!

Senators enjoy a neat perk: the right to "revise" and "extend" their remarks.

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Mercury on the Rise in Endangered Pacific Seabirds

ScienceDaily (Apr. 20, 2011) — Using 120 years of feathers from natural history museums in the United States, Harvard University researchers have been able to track increases in the neurotoxin methylmercury in the black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes), an endangered seabird that forages extensively throughout the Pacific.

The study shows that the observed increase in methylmercury levels, most likely from human-generated emissions, can be observed and tracked over broad time periods in organisms that live in the Pacific Ocean.

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Lawn of Native Grasses Beats Traditional Lawn for Lushness, Weed Resistance

My lawn is an example of the survival of the fittest :)

ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2011) — A lawn of regionally native grasses would take less resources to maintain while providing as lush a carpet as a common turfgrass used in the South, according to a study by ecologists at The University of Texas at Austin's Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

"We created a lawn that needs less mowing and keeps weeds out better than a common American lawn option," said Dr. Mark Simmons, director of the center's Ecosystem Design Group, noting that this new approach could have a huge impact on pocketbooks and the environment.

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Development in Fog Harvesting Process May Make Water Available to the World’s Poor

ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2011) — In the arid Namib Desert on the west coast of Africa, one type of beetle has found a distinctive way of surviving. When the morning fog rolls in, the Stenocara gracilipes species, also known as the Namib Beetle, collects water droplets on its bumpy back, then lets the moisture roll down into its mouth, allowing it to drink in an area devoid of flowing water.

What nature has developed, Shreerang Chhatre wants to refine, to help the world's poor. Chhatre is an engineer and aspiring entrepreneur at MIT who works on fog harvesting, the deployment of devices that, like the beetle, attract water droplets and corral the runoff. This way, poor villagers could collect clean water near their homes, instead of spending hours carrying water from distant wells or streams. In pursuing the technical and financial sides of his project, Chhatre is simultaneously a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering at MIT; an MBA student at the MIT Sloan School of Management; and a fellow at MIT's Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship.
Access to water is a pressing global issue: the World Health Organization and UNICEF estimate that nearly 900 million people worldwide live without safe drinking water. The burden of finding and transporting that water falls heavily on women and children. "As a middle-class person, I think it's terrible that the poor have to spend hours a day walking just to obtain a basic necessity," Chhatre says.
A fog-harvesting device consists of a fence-like mesh panel, which attracts droplets, connected to receptacles into which water drips. Chhatre has co-authored published papers on the materials used in these devices, and believes he has improved their efficacy. "The technical component of my research is done," Chhatre says. He is pursuing his work at MIT Sloan and the Legatum Center in order to develop a workable business plan for implementing fog-harvesting devices.

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Routine Rotavirus Vaccination in Brazil Has Reduced Diarrhea Deaths in Children

ScienceDaily (Apr. 19, 2011) — Rotavirus vaccination in all areas of Brazil is associated with reduced diarrhea-related deaths and hospital admissions in children aged under five years, reports a study in PLoS Medicine.

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Gold Prices Spur Six-Fold Spike in Amazon Deforestation

ScienceDaily (Apr. 19, 2011) — Deforestation in parts of the Peruvian Amazon has increased six-fold in recent years as small-scale miners, driven by record gold prices, blast and clear more of the lowland rainforest, according to a new Duke University-led study.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why Do Hopeful Consumers Make Healthier Choices Than Happy Ones?

ScienceDaily (Apr. 20, 2011) — Happy people are more likely to eat candy bars, whereas hopeful people choose fruit, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. That's because when people feel hope, they're thinking about the future.

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Major fracking spill happening now in Pennsylvania

20 APR 2011 2:14 PM

We have the makings of an environmental disaster in northern Pennsylvania at the moment. According to local Pennsylvania television station WNEP, a natural-gas well blew out in the middle of the night while crews were engaged in "fracking" activities:

Bradford County's director of public safety said a Chesapeake well went out of control late Tuesday night. That means the well blew near the surface, spilling thousands and thousands of gallons of frack fluid over containment walls, through fields, personal property and farms, even where cattle continue to graze.

DEP is taking ground water and stream samples to determine the extent of the spill.

Officials said fluids from the well have, in fact, contaminated Towanda Creek which feeds into the Susquehanna River.

No injuries have been reported, but officials have evacuated the surrounding area as a precaution. A "major operation" is under way to kill the well and stop the flow, which, as of 1:50 p.m. ET, was still uncontrolled.

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Are Dietary Supplements Encouraging Bad Habits?

ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2011) — Do you belong to the one-half of the population that frequently uses dietary supplements with the hope that it might be good for you? Well, according to a study published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, there seems to be an interesting asymmetrical relationship between the frequency of dietary supplement use and the health status of individuals. Wen-Bin Chiou of National Sun Yat-Sen University decided to test if frequent use of dietary supplements had ironic consequences for subsequent health-related behaviors after observing a colleague chose an unhealthy meal over an organic meal simply because the colleague had taken a multivitamin earlier in the day.

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Two different experiments were conducted using a diverse set of behavioral measures to determine whether the use of dietary supplements would license subsequent health-related behaviors. Participants in Group A were instructed to take a multivitamin and participants in the control group were assigned to take a placebo. However, all the participants actually took placebo pills. The results from the experiments and survey demonstrated that participants who believed they had taken dietary supplements felt invulnerable to health hazards, thus leading them to engage in health-risk behaviors. Specifically, participants in the perceived supplement use group expressed less desire to engage in exercise and more desire to engage in hedonic activities, preferred a buffet over an organic meal (Experiment 1), and walked less to benefit their health (Experiment 2) than the control group.
What does this all mean? Per the results of the study, Chiou says, "People who rely on dietary supplement use for health protection may pay a hidden price, the curse of licensed self-indulgence.

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Republicans can’t meet their own deficit and spending targets

Posted at 10:53 AM ET, 04/21/2011
By Ezra Klein

House Republicans voted to make the Ryan budget law. But the Ryan budget includes $6 trillion in new debt over the next 10 years, which means that to become law, the Ryan budget would require a substantial increase in the debt ceiling. But before the Republicans agree to increase the debt ceiling so that the budget they passed can become law, Republicans are demanding the passage of either a balanced budget amendment that would make the Ryan budget unconstitutional or a spending cap that the Ryan budget would, in certain years (and if you’re using more realistic numbers, in all years), exceed.

The point? Republicans have done a lot more thinking about how to run against spending, debt and deficits than thinking about how to handle them going forward. The specific plan they voted for blows through both their spending and debt caps, and that’s if you grant a series of assumptions it makes about health-care spending that even conservative wonks agree are “magical.” You simply can’t run the government under the sorts of targets Republicans are endorsing, and if you look at their budget, you’ll realize that some of them, at least, know that.

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Studies Link Pesticide Exposure to Kids' IQ

By Todd Neale, Staff Writer, MedPage Today
Published: April 21, 2011

The relationship between prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides and impaired cognition in children has received support from three observational studies conducted in primarily low-income populations.

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"While the three studies are somewhat different in design, the range of specific data obtained, timing of data collection, and populations examined, they provide strikingly similar conclusions relative to the prenatal vulnerability of children for adverse neurological outcomes from exposure to organophosphate pesticides," Rodney Dietert, PhD, an immunotoxicologist at Cornell University, commented in an email to ABC News and MedPage Today.

He noted that the levels of pesticide exposure "were not excessive."

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For each standard deviation increase in exposure (4.61 picograms per gram plasma), full-scale IQ declined by 1.4% (0.94 to 1.8 points) and working memory declined by 2.8% (1.6 to 3.7 points).

The associations appeared to be linear, with no evidence of a threshold effect.

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Suicide Rates Spike During Recessions

APRIL 18, 2011, 4:00 PM ET

By Sara Murray

Suicide rates tend to rise in a bad economy and decline in periods of economic expansion, new research shows.

From the Great Depression to the double-dip recession of the 1980s, suicide rates have shown a spike in economic downturns, according to a study the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last week. And early data suggest that’s likely to be the case in the most recent economic shock as well.

In 11 of the 13 recessions that occurred between 1928 and 2007, the rate of suicides ticked up, according to the study. Meanwhile, as the economy improved, the suicide rate usually dropped, falling in 10 of the 13 expansions.

The largest jump in the suicide rate took place during the Great Depression, when it soared to an all-time high of 22.1 suicides per 100,000 individuals. That was a 22.8% increase in 1932 from 1928.

“Economic problems can impact how people feel about themselves and their futures as well as their relationships with family and friends. Economic downturns can also disrupt entire communities,” Feijun Luo, the study’s lead author, said in a release. “We know suicide is not caused by any one factor – it is often a combination of many that lead to suicide.”

Relatively few studies have been conducted to show the link between economic downturns and suicide, and the CDC’s study is the first to study how suicide rates varied among age groups. It found that recessions had the greatest impact on suicide rates among working-age individuals, those 25 to 64-years-old.

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Big Bank Ignored Warnings That It Was Being Used To Launder Money By Mexican Drug Cartels

By Andrea Nill on Apr 20th, 2011 at 5:31 pm

One year ago, Bloomberg News reported that Wachovia Corp. — one of the biggest banks in the U.S. — “had made a habit of helping move money for Mexican drug smugglers.” Wells Fargo & Co., which acquired Wachovia a couple of years ago, admitted in 2010 that it “failed to monitor and report suspected money laundering by narcotics traffickers — including the cash used to buy four planes that shipped a total of 22 tons of cocaine.” The case was later settled for about $110 million and Wachovia paid another $50 million in fines for failing to properly monitor the transfer of $378.4 billion from currency exchange houses in Mexico. The charges were dismissed.

It turns out, Wachovia had been receiving warnings for years from a senior anti-money laundering officer in its own London office, Martin Woods. Yet, Woods’ words of caution weren’t only met with indifference. Wachovia reportedly retaliated against Woods and essentially drove him out of his job. The Observer recently reported:

Rather than launch an internal investigation into Woods’s alerts over Mexico, Woods claims Wachovia hung its own money-laundering expert out to dry. [...] On 16 June Woods was told by Wachovia’s head of compliance that his latest SAR [suspicious activity report] need not have been filed, that he had no legal requirement to investigate an overseas case and no right of access to documents held overseas from Britain, even if they were held by Wachovia. [...]

“Wachovia had my résumé, they knew who I was,” says Woods. “But they did not want to know – their attitude was, ‘Why are you doing this?’ They should have been on my side, because they were compliance people, not commercial people. But really they were commercial people all along. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. This is the biggest money-laundering scandal of our time.

At some point, Woods received a letter from the bank’s compliance managing director which accused him of failing “to perform at an acceptable standard.” In 2008, Woods sued Wachovia for bullying and detrimental treatment of a whistleblower. Wachovia settled that case too and agreed to pay an undisclosed amount under the condition that Woods leave the bank.

To this day, not a single bank has been indicted for violating the anti-money-laundering Bank Secrecy Act. Meanwhile, foreign government agencies in the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Colombia, along with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have all reportedly documented money laundering by the banking industry. According to Al Día, financial institutions such as Bank of America, American Express, Western Union, the Mexican offices of Citigroup, the European HSBC and Banco Santander have all “helped move money for Mexican cartels.”

Meanwhile, the drug war has claimed the lives of at least 35,000 people since 2006 in Mexico alone. Senior U.S. commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that Mexico and Central America make up one of the most dangerous regions in the world, rivaling the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. And as the U.S. continues to pour millions of dollars into fighting the drug war in Mexico, U.S. drug users contribute approximately $40 billion a year to Latin American cartels — money which apparently often ends up passing through U.S. banks.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Refuse to learn from experience? Thank your genes

It has always astounded me how people can believe things that are directly contrary to their own experience.

Of course, our experience is sometimes misleading. Eg., we don't see the roundness of the earth, unless we go to a high altitude.

By Katherine Harmon | Apr 19, 2011 07:15 PM

Some people are incurable contrarians or imperturbable logicians. But most of us, whether we like it or not, allow other people's opinions and advice to color our own experiences and opinions. Have you found that restaurant to really be as good as people say it is?

New findings suggests that a person's willingness to coolly consider the facts gleaned from their own experience—apart from others' previous verbal suggestions—might be based in large part on genetics.

It has been known and frequently demonstrated that "people will distort what they experience to be perceived as more consistent with what they thought already," Michael Frank, of the Brown Institute for Brain Science at Brown University, and a collaborator in the new research, said in a prepared statement. Even researchers can fall prey to confirmation bias, thinking they have discovered what they actually had expected to find in the noise of data.

So, why do we often struggle to accept our own impressions if they contradict what we've been told to expect? The disconnect occurs in part because these two types of information, the abstract and the experiential, are processed in different parts of the brain. Advice ("go to that Italian restaurant") is filtered, along with other higher-level cognition, in the prefrontal cortex. Experience ("that Italian restaurant is usually mediocre"), on the other hand, is lodged in a more primitive region of the brain, the striatum.

Although perhaps we should be more inclined to stick with what our gut (or tastebuds) has learned from personal experience, most people tend to lean on what their prefrontal cortex—i.e. outside instruction—has to say for more time than they rationally should.

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Of course, it's certainly easier—and less painful—to learn to avoid a hot plate by being told to do so, and we've likely evolved to take this into account, prizing the prefrontal cortex's retained instructions. "This phenomenon of confirmation bias might actually just be a byproduct of a system that tries to be more efficient with the learning process," Frank said.


Climate Change: Doing Nothing Will Cost More Than Preventative Measures

First Posted: 04/19/11 04:39 PM ET Updated: 04/20/11 10:06 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Everyone will have to pay more for the effects of climate change than we would have to pay to prevent climate change.

This is the alarming message revealed in the American Security Project’s 50 new reports, “Pay Now, Pay Later” (PNPL), revealing the costs of unchecked climate change.

Why 50 reports? Because every single state in the U.S. will have to pay for its own specific problems.

Former EPA Administrator and former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman (R) is on the board of directors for the American Security Project, a nonprofit, bipartisan public policy and research organization. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Whitman spoke about the organization’s recent findings.

“The exciting thing for me about this report is it’s the first time I have seen a reasoned breakdown, state by state, as to the cost of doing nothing relative to climate change,” she said.

Climate change is not just an issue affecting the environment. It is an issue affecting health, economics, and both national and global security. PNPL shows how tourism, agriculture, and the defense industry will all be hurt by climate change.

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“We are seeing a change in our climate. You’re seeing more devastating and frequent storms. You’re seeing more droughts, you’re seeing more floods," Whitman said. "Overall you’re seeing changes in weather patterns, and if there’s anything we can do to help slow that down, we’ll be better off.”

PNPL isn’t the only report to suggest that the costs of climate change will be high. A study last year found that the Gulf Coast could face cumulative losses of $350 billion if it fails to address the issues surrounding climate change.

The American Security Project reports show that for every state, the cost of transitioning to alternative energy sources is less than the costs that would be incurred from maintaining dependence on dirty energy sources.

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All PNPL state reports can be found online at through an interactive map of the U.S.

According to Whitman, “To do something is a choice, but to do nothing is a choice. And I believe the American people make good decisions -- I know they do -- when they have the facts in front of them. And the facts are, there are going to be costs.”


Big Brothers: Thought Control at Koch

April 20, 2011

On the eve of the November midterm elections, Koch Industries sent an urgent letter to most of its 50,000 employees advising them on whom to vote for and warning them about the dire consequences to their families, their jobs and their country should they choose to vote otherwise.

The Nation obtained the Koch Industries election packet for Washington State—which included a cover letter from its president and COO, David Robertson; a list of Koch-endorsed state and federal candidates; and an issue of the company newsletter, Discovery, full of alarmist right-wing propaganda.

Legal experts interviewed for this story called the blatant corporate politicking highly unusual, although no longer skirting the edge of legality, thanks to last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which granted free speech rights to corporations.

“Before Citizens United, federal election law allowed a company like Koch Industries to talk to officers and shareholders about whom to vote for, but not to talk with employees about whom to vote for,” explains Paul M. Secunda, associate professor of law at Marquette University. But according to Secunda, who recently wrote in The Yale Law Journal Online about the effects of Citizens United on political coercion in the workplace, the decision knocked down those regulations. “Now, companies like Koch Industries are free to send out newsletters persuading their employees how to vote. They can even intimidate their employees into voting for their candidates.” Secunda adds, “It’s a very troubling situation.”

The Kochs were major supporters of the Citizens United case; they were also chief sponsors of the Tea Party and major backers of the anti-“Obamacare” campaign. Through their network of libertarian think tanks and policy institutes, they have been major drivers of unionbusting campaigns in Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.

“This sort of election propaganda seems like a new development,” says UCLA law professor Katherine Stone, who specializes in labor law and who reviewed the Koch Industries election packet for The Nation. “Until Citizens United, this sort of political propaganda was probably not permitted. But after the Citizens United decision, I can imagine it’ll be a lot more common, with restrictions on corporations now lifted.”

The election packet starts with a letter from Robertson dated October 4, 2010. It read: “As Koch company employees, we have a lot at stake in the upcoming election. Each of us is likely to be affected by the outcome on Nov. 2. That is why, for the first time ever, we are mailing our newest edition of Discovery and several other helpful items to the home address of every U.S. employee” [emphasis added].

For most Koch employees, the “helpful items” included a list of Koch-approved candidates, which was presented on a separate page labeled “Elect to Prosper.” A brief introduction to the list reads: “The following candidates in your state are supported by Koch companies and KOCHPAC, the political action committee for Koch companies. We believe these candidates will best advance policies supporting economic freedom.”

What the Kochs mean by “economic freedom” is explained on the next page. As the mailer makes clear, Koch Industries tailored its election propaganda to the state level, rather than focusing on national elections. Of the nineteen candidates that Koch Industries recommended in its Washington State list, sixteen were Republicans. The three Democratic candidates approved by the Kochs included two members of the “Roadkill Caucus,” Washington’s version of the conservative Blue Dogs.

Only two of the nineteen races on the list were for national office, and in both cases Koch Industries backed Tea Party–friendly Republicans: Dino Rossi, an antilabor candidate, who lost to incumbent Democratic Senator Patty Murray; and Jaime Herrera-Beutler, who ran in the Republican primary as a moderate, but who came out recently as a Tea Party radical, much to her constituency’s surprise.

After guiding employees on how they should vote, the mailer devoted the rest of the material to the sort of indoctrination one would expect from an old John Birch Society pamphlet (the Koch Brothers’ father, Fred Koch, was a founding member of the JBS). It offers an apocalyptic vision of the company’s free-market struggle for liberty against the totalitarian forces of European Union bureaucrats and deficit-spending statists.

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According to UCLA’s Stone, although Citizens United frees Koch Industries and other corporations to propagandize their employees with their political preferences, the same doesn’t hold true for unions—at least not in the workplace. “If a union wanted to hand out political materials in the workplace not directly relevant to the workers’ interests—such as providing a list of candidates to support in the elections—the employer has the right to ban that material,” says Stone. “They could even prohibit its distribution on lunch breaks or after shifts, because by law it’s the company’s private property.”