Sunday, July 31, 2011

U.S. Public Lands and Health at Risk from Proposed Republican bill

See the links for maps.

Jul 07, 2011

H.R. 1505 was introduced on April 13, 2011, by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, and would apply to an area that encompasses 10 whole states, including Florida and Hawaii. Environmental and other laws this proposed legislation would waive include the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Wilderness Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National Park Service Organic Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act.

Jul 07, 2011

Jane Danowitz, Pew Environment Group’s director of U.S. public lands, issued the following statement in response to today’s House Natural Resources Committee hearing on H.R. 1505, the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act. The proposed legislation would waive 36 environmental and other laws for Department of Homeland Security activities on federal, state-owned and private lands within 100 miles of U.S. borders and coastline.

“While we strongly support making America’s borders more secure, this sweeping waiver of the nation’s bedrock environmental and land management laws has little to do with accomplishing that goal.

“Instead, the proposed legislation would give unprecedented authority to a single federal agency to destroy wildlife habitat and wetlands, impair downstream water quality and restrict activities such as hunting, fishing and grazing. It would leave Congress and the public without a voice, even though at stake are hundreds of popular destinations including Glacier National Park, the Florida Everglades and beaches along Cape Cod, the Great Lakes and the California coastline.


Don’t Fall for the GOP Lie: There is No Budget Crisis. There’s a Job and Growth Crisis.

Don’t Fall for the GOP Lie: There is No Budget Crisis. There’s a Job and Growth Crisis.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A friend who’s been watching the absurd machinations in Congress asked me “what happens if we don’t solve the budget crisis and we run out of money to pay the nation’s bills?”

It was only then I realized how effective Republicans lies have been. That we’re calling it a “budget crisis” and worrying that if we don’t “solve” it we can’t pay our nation’s bills is testament to how successful Republicans have been distorting the truth.

The federal budget deficit has no economic relationship to the debt limit. Republicans have linked the two, and the Administration has played along, but they are entirely separate. Republicans are using what would otherwise be a routine, legally technical vote to raise the debt limit as a means of holding the nation hostage to their own political goal of shrinking the size of the federal government.

In economic terms, we will not “run out of money” next week. We’re still the richest nation in the world, and the Federal Reserve has unlimited capacity to print money.

Nor is there any economic imperative to reach an agreement on how to fix the budget deficit by Tuesday. It’s not even clear the federal budget needs that much fixing anyway.

Yes, the ratio of the national debt to the total economy is high relative to what it’s been. But it’s not nearly as high as it was after World War II – when it reached 120 percent of the economy’s total output.

If and when the economy begins to grow faster – if more Americans get jobs, and we move toward a full recovery – the debt/GDP ratio will fall, as it did in the 1950s, and as it does in every solid recovery. Revenues will pour into the Treasury, and much of the current “budget crisis” will evaporate.


The GOP has manufactured a budget crisis out of the Republicans’ extortionate demands over raising the debt limit. They have succeeded in hoodwinking the public


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Restoring Happiness in People with Depression
Researchers from UC Riverside and Duke University propose a new and less expensive approach to treating depression.

July 28, 2011

Name: Bettye Miller
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Practicing positive activities may serve as an effective, low-cost treatment for people suffering from depression, according to researchers at the University of California, Riverside and Duke University Medical Center.

In “Delivering Happiness: Translating Positive Psychology Intervention Research for Treating Major and Minor Depressive Disorders,” a paper that appears in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, the team of UCR and Duke psychology, neuroscience and psychopharmacology researchers proposed a new approach for treating depression – Positive Activity Interventions (PAI).

PAIs are intentional activities such as performing acts of kindness, practicing optimism, and counting one’s blessing gleaned from decades of research into how happy and unhappy people are different. This new approach has the potential to benefit depressed individuals who don’t respond to pharmacotherapy or are not able or willing to obtain treatment, is less expensive to administer, is relatively less time-consuming and promises to yield rapid improvement of mood symptoms, holds little to no stigma, and carries no side effects.


Although the paper found that positive activity interventions are effective in teaching individuals ways to increase their positive thinking, positive affect and positive behaviors, only two studies specifically tested these activities in individuals with mild depression.

In one of these studies, lasting improvements were found for six months. Effective PAIs used in the study included writing letters of gratitude, counting one’s blessings, practicing optimism, performing acts of kindness, meditating on positive feelings toward others, and using one’s signature strengths, all of which can be easily implemented into a daily routine at low cost.

People often underestimate the long-term impact of practicing brief, positive activities, Lyubomirsky said. For example, if a person gets 15 minutes of positive emotions from counting her blessings, she may muster the energy to attend the art class she’d long considered attending, and, while in class, might meet a friend who becomes a companion and confidant for years to come. In this way, even momentary positive feelings can build long-term social, psychological, intellectual, and physical skills and reserves.

The researchers’ review of brain imaging studies also led them to theorize that PAIs may act to boost the dampened reward/pleasure circuit mechanisms and reverse apathy – a key benefit that does not usually arise from treatment with medication alone.


While PAIs appear to be a potentially promising therapy for mild forms of depression,” Doraiswamy cautioned, “they have not yet been fully studied in people with moderate to severe forms of depression. We need further studies before they can be applied to help such patients."



Averting bridge disasters: New technology could save hundreds of lives

Public release date: 29-Jul-2011
Contact: Neil Tickner
University of Maryland
Averting bridge disasters: New technology could save hundreds of lives
UMD sensors offer instant, affordable warnings

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Millions of U.S. drivers cross faulty or obsolete bridges every day, highway statistics show, but it's too costly to fix all these spans or adequately monitor their safety, says a University of Maryland researcher who's developed a new, affordable early warning system.

This wireless technology could avert the kind of bridge collapse that killed 13 and injured 145 along Minneapolis' I-35W on Aug. 1, 2007, he says - and do so at one-one-hundredth the cost of current wired systems.

"Potentially hundreds of lives could be saved," says University of Maryland electrical engineering researcher Mehdi Kalantari. "One of every four U.S. highway bridges has known structural problems or exceeded its intended life-span. Most only get inspected once every one or two years. That's a bad mix."

Kalantari has created tiny wireless sensors that monitor and transmit minute-by-minute data on a bridge's structural integrity. A central computer analyzes the data and instantly warns officials of possible trouble. He plans to scale-up manufacture in the fall.

"If this kind of technology had been available in Minnesota four years ago, there's a good chance the fatal bridge collapse could have been avoided," Kalantari adds. "This new approach makes preventive maintenance affordable - even at a time when budgets are tight. Officials will be able to catch problems early and will have weeks or month to fix a problem."

More than one-in-four U.S. bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, according to a 2009 estimate by the U.S. Society of Civil Engineers.

72,000-plus U.S. bridges are listed by the U.S. Department of Transportation as "structurally deficient" and require extra surveillance.
79,000 others are functionally obsolete, exceeding their life-span and carrying loads greater than they were designed to handle.



Economists: Now is wrong time for Congress to cut spending

Posted on Friday, July 29, 2011

Posted on Friday, July 29, 2011

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Economists: Now is wrong time for Congress to cut spending
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Story | Commentary: Will Congress do what's right after exhausting the alternatives on debt ceiling?
Story | S.C. Republicans resist GOP arm-twisting on debt plan
Story | House finally passes GOP debt plan, but Senate votes it down
Story | McConnell's debt-ceiling work mixes pragmatism, politics
Story | White House to Boehner: Your debt plan makes you the Grinch
On the Web | More McClatchy coverage of the nation's economic pain

By Kevin G. Hall | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers trying to reach a deal on spending cuts in order to raise the nation's debt ceiling risk causing serious economic harm if they cut government programs too much in the near term, economists warn.

The U.S. economy grew at an anemic 1.3 percent rate from April to June, the Commerce Department reported Friday. It also revised downward the growth rate over the first three months of 2011 to just 0.4 percent.

Despite the weak growth, politicians aren't arguing about stimulating the economy; rather they're debating how quickly and how much to cut spending, thus shaving economic growth in the process.

Read more:

Some House Republicans backed by tea party groups demand even deeper front-end cuts, perhaps as much as $100 billion, arguing that politicians can't be trusted to keep their promises further out.

That'd be dangerous, warned Mark Zandi, chief economist for forecaster Moody's Analytics.

"I think the idea is a very serious policy error," he said. "This would be the fodder for another recession. The economy may be able to digest $25-30 billion more (in federal spending cuts) ... but $100 billion, I don't think it could digest that."

Zandi, who's frequently cited by Republicans and Democrats alike, favors spending cuts "when the economy is off and running," but he cautions that "to add more fiscal restraint in the latter part of 2011 and 2012 would be a mistake."


The Pell Grants sticking point

July 29, 2011 10:05 AM
By Steve Benen

Congressional Republicans who oppose Speaker Boehner’s budget plan have more than one complaint, but it’s fascinating to see one of the main sticking points GOP leaders ran into last night.

House conservatives who have stalled legislation to raise the national debt limit are angry that it includes $17 billion in supplemental spending for Pell Grants, which some compare to welfare. Legislation crafted by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to raise the debt limit by $900 billion would directly appropriate $9 billion for Pell Grants in 2012 and another $8 billion in 2013. This has shocked some conservative House freshmen who say they were elected to cut spending, not increase it. Some House Republicans think of it as being akin to welfare.

This isn’t a joke. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) said of the Pell Grant provision, “I really don’t understand why we’re increasing spending in a bill supposed to be cutting spending.” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) conceded the Pell Grants have “been part of the discussion” among conservatives who were debating whether they could support the bill.

About a month ago, during a different debate, John Cole noted, “If these guys were comic book villains, no one would buy it because it’s just too over the top.”


Little income, little to tax

And this is from the conservative "The Economist"

Jul 28th 2011, 18:10 by M.S.

ONE argument often deployed against tax hikes for the rich is that the burden of taxation is already unfairly skewed, since roughly half of Americans pay no federal income tax at all. Sometimes, the line is incorrectly adumbrated to a claim that half of Americans pay no taxes, which isn't true; all Americans pay some mix of payroll taxes, state taxes, capital-gains taxes, sales taxes and so forth. The overall burden of taxation is pretty even across income groups: the total effective tax rate ranges from 16% for the bottom quintile to 31% for the top quintile, and in fact it stays at 31% right up through the top 1% of earners. But the point that about half of American tax units pay no federal income tax is correct. Why not? Aaron Carroll and Donald Marron point us to a new report by the Tax Policy Center (a joint project of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution), which explains that there are two basic reasons why people don't pay federal income tax: either they're very poor, or they're covered by tax expenditures, mainly the ones that benefit the elderly and children. Mr Marron:


American society is becoming more unequal. Incomes at the bottom level are stagnant or declining, while incomes at the top are rising. This is why a large number of people at the bottom levels of the income tier don't make enough money to pay any federal income tax. At the same time, we're not collecting enough overall revenue to pay for our government spending. We could try to raise the money we need by repealing tax breaks for poor children and the elderly, if we were sort of mean and determined to hurt people who don't have the political strength to resist, but I think it makes more sense to raise the taxes we need by increasing rates on relatively well-off people whose incomes have risen dramatically over the past couple of decades and can thus afford to pay them.


Friday, July 29, 2011

After Promising To Drive Disenfranchised Voters To The DMV, Gov. Nikki Haley Won’t Give Ride To 76-Year-Old Veteran

By Alex Seitz-Wald on Jul 29, 2011 at 3:40 pm

As ThinkProgress reported earlier this month, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (Republican) promised to drive residents whose right to vote will be jeopordized by her new voter ID law to the DMV to help them obtain a photo license. “Find the people who say this is invading their rights and I will go take them to the DMV myself and help them,” Haley said in a local TV interview.

This week, 76-year-old Army veteran Robert Tucker, who lacks an accurate birth certificate and thus ID, tried to take up Haley on her offer. Tucker’s cousin, Edith Cunningham, caught wind of Haley’s promise and decided to ask the governor for a ride on Tucker’s behalf, only to be turned down:

“When I saw that I thought ‘well maybe they’ll help the plight that we’re in,’” said Cunningham.

Cunningham called Gov. Haley’s office. “They told me the best that they can do is tell me to go to legal aid,” she said. [...] “They talked about how it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, but they couldn’t do anything for the person whose disenfranchised.”

When a reporter from WISTV asked the governor’s office about tucker’s request, a Haley spokesperson said, “We’ll work to assist anyone who is having trouble getting state services,” but offered no ride.



Why People Phone Hack: A Look Into the Psyche of Wrongdoing

ScienceDaily (July 28, 2011) — Phone hacking. It doesn't even sound ethical. Neither does phone spying nor so called, 'phreaking.' So how does management at a best-selling newspaper approve this and everyone else play along?


There is a lot more to this scandal than we know or may ever know. We know phone hacking went on for years. We know a lot of people knew, yet nobody stopped the behavior. "People can become convinced that something is okay as a result of watching others," Wright says. "Consider a boy watching an uncle sell drugs. If the uncle is admired, the kid could come to believe that selling drugs is in fact okay and ethical."

"Life is complicated and people are not always right just because they think they are right," says Wright. "Wise people tend to have a strong measure of modesty about the conclusions that they draw, including ones relevant to ethics."


Increased Muscle Mass May Lower Risk of Pre-Diabetes

ScienceDaily (July 28, 2011) — A recent study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM) found that the greater an individual's total muscle mass, the lower the person's risk of having insulin resistance, the major precursor of type 2 diabetes.

With recent dramatic increases in obesity worldwide, the prevalence of diabetes, a major source of cardiovascular morbidity, is expected to accelerate. Insulin resistance, which can raise blood glucose levels above the normal range, is a major factor that contributes to the development of diabetes. Previous studies have shown that very low muscle mass is a risk factor for insulin resistance, but until now, no study has examined whether increasing muscle mass to average and above average levels, independent of obesity levels, would lead to improved blood glucose regulation.

"Our findings represent a departure from the usual focus of clinicians, and their patients, on just losing weight to improve metabolic health," said the study's senior author, Preethi Srikanthan, MD, of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). "Instead, this research suggests a role for maintaining fitness and building muscle. This is a welcome message for many overweight patients who experience difficulty in achieving weight loss, as any effort to get moving and keep fit should be seen as laudable and contributing to metabolic change."



Support Tim DeChristopher

The site at the link has a button labeled "Pay Pal", but if you click it, you go to a page that can also accept credit cards. This is on, so I expect it is legitimate. I think it is outrageous that Tim got a 2 year sentence for this.

Tim DeChristopher was just sentenced to 2 years in prison for disrupting an illegal auction of oil leases in Salt Lake City. His sentence was meant to intimidate the climate movement – to make us sit down and shut up.

We’re not going to do that.

Tim is appealing his sentence and needs about $50,000 for legal fees. That’s a lot for a young activist to take on, so folks are pitching in to make sure Tim can handle his legal costs.



Why Does Massey Energy Get Away With Murder While Environmentalists Are Sent to Prison?

By Sandra Diaz

July 29, 2011 |

True community exists when neighbors respect each other. Good neighbors are mindful of the impacts that their actions have on the whole. When a powerful neighbor, like a corporation, does not respect their neighbors, communities can become literally endangered.

The corporation is Massey Energy, and this time around, the community is Rawl, West Virginia.

Over 700 people from Rawl and surrounding communities are suing Massey Energy in a class-action lawsuit claiming that Massey Energy is responsible for poisoning hundreds of southern wells with coal slurry. Water pollution is one of the most severe and life-threatening impacts of coal mining and processing. The trial is set to begin August 1.

UPDATE: According to an AP report, Massey Energy has settled the coal slurry lawsuit. The deal was struck earlier after a three day long mediation. The terms are confidential and all parties remain under a gag order.

Jennifer Massey-Hall, who is featured in the movie The Last Mountain, walks us through her neighborhood in Prenter, about 50 miles away from Rawl as the crow flies. Six people have brain tumors, with most of them now deceased. The national average for brain tumors is 6.5 per 100,000 men and women per year.

The culprit behind the brain tumors, as well as other illnesses, is believed to be heavy metals from nearby coal slurry impoundments and injections of the slurry into old underground mines that has leaked into the community’s well water. Coal slurry is a dangerous byproduct of the coal life cycle, when coal is “washed” and processed before it is shipped off by train or barge to power plants across the country.

There are over 600 coal slurry ponds dotting the Appalachian landscape.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of the overwhelming damage Massey Energy has caused to communities across southern West Virginia and beyond. They have been the biggest perpetrator of mountaintop removal coal mining, which has destroyed over 500 mountains and buried and polluted over 2000 miles of headwater streams. They violated the Clean Water Act over 4500 times in a six year time period and only paid $20 million dollars, which is less than 1% of the maximum fine. They are responsible for the deadliest coal mining accident in over 40 years. What right do they have to continue to do business?

Why does former CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship walk free today, while climate activist Tim DeChristopher goes to jail? Tim DeChristopher illegally bid on oil and gas leases in Utah in 2008 in order to stop climate change and demonstrate how the federal government was giving away public lands to corporations for next to nothing. (Read more here about this case). In his eloquent pre-sentencing statement, DeChristopher says of Massey,

A West Virginia state investigation found that Massey Energy had been cited with 62,923 violations of the law in the ten years preceding the disaster that killed 29 people last year. The investigation also revealed that Massey paid for almost none of those violations because the company provided millions of dollars worth of campaign contributions that elected most of the appeals court judges in the state… Those crimes committed by Massey Energy led not only to the deaths of their own workers, but to the deaths of countless local residents, such as Joshua McCormick, who died of kidney cancer at age 22 because he was unlucky enough to live downstream from a coal mine.


by Howard Berkes
June 29, 2011

Federal mine disaster investigators disclosed a few pieces of new information Tuesday night from their year-long look at the April 2010 deadly Upper Big Branch mine explosion. They said that:

— Mine owner Massey Energy kept two sets of records that chronicled safety problems. One internal set of production reports detailed those problems and how they delayed coal production. But the other records, which are reviewed by federal mine safety inspectors and required by federal law, failed to mention the same safety hazards. Some of the hazards that were not disclosed are identical to those believed to have contributed to the explosion.



Obama Announces New Fuel Economy Standards

I have a 2007 Toyoto Yaris, and get more than 36 mpg.

First Posted: 7/29/11 01:30 PM ET Updated: 7/29/11 06:47 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ushering in the largest decrease in auto fuel consumption since the 1970s, President Barack Obama and automobile manufacturers Friday announced a deal that will save drivers money at the pump and dramatically cut heat-trapping gases coming from tailpipes.

The agreement pledges to double overall fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, bringing major under-the-hood changes for the nation's automobiles starting in model year 2017. Cars and trucks on the road today average 27 miles per gallon.

"This agreement on fuel standards represents the single most important step we have taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil," Obama said, sharing the stage with top executives of the major auto makers before a backdrop of some of the most cutting-edge cars on the road.

"Just as cars will go further on a gallon of gas, our economy will go further on a barrel of oil," Obama said.

When achieved, the 54.5 mile-per-gallon target will reduce U.S. oil consumption from vehicles by 40 percent and halve the amount of greenhouse gas pollution coming out of exhausts.

For American families, the president said the agreement - which will be subject to a mid-course review - means filling up the car every two weeks, instead of every week. That would save $8,000 in fuel costs over the life of a vehicle, he said.

The deal was less than what environmentalists and public health advocates wanted, but more than the Detroit Three automakers desired. In a letter to the president last week, Michigan lawmakers called the higher proposal "overly aggressive," after automakers had said they'd work to get vehicles averaging 42.6 to 46.7 miles per gallon. Green groups, meanwhile, had pushed for a 62 miles-per-gallon target by 2025.

For Obama, who watched his campaign promise on this issue die when Republicans retook control of the House, the compromise provides a way around political roadblocks and offers an opportunity to affect climate change.

The deal also provides an answer on the issue of oil dependency. It promises reduced demand at a time when Republicans in Congress have criticized Obama for being too slow to drill and not opening up more areas to oil and gas exploration after the massive Gulf oil spill last year.



Out-Of-The-Blue Panic Attacks Aren't Without Warning: Body Sends Signals for Hour Before

ScienceDaily (July 29, 2011) — Panic attacks that seem to strike sufferers out-of-the-blue are not without warning after all, according to new research.

A study based on 24-hour monitoring of panic sufferers while they went about their daily activities captured panic attacks as they happened and discovered waves of significant physiological instability for at least 60 minutes before patients' awareness of the panic attacks, said psychologist Alicia E. Meuret at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

In a rare study in which patients were monitored around-the-clock, portable recorders captured changes in respiration, heart rate and other bodily functions, said Meuret, lead researcher on the study.

The new findings suggest sufferers of panic attacks may be highly sensitive to -- but unaware of -- an accumulating pattern of subtle physiological instabilities that occur before an attack, Meuret said. Monitoring data also showed patients were hyperventilating on a chronic basis.

"The results were just amazing," Meuret said. "We found that in this hour preceding naturally occurring panic attacks, there was a lot of physiological instability. These significant physiological instabilities were not present during other times when the patient wasn't about to have a panic attack."

It is notable that patients reported the attacks as unexpected, lacking awareness of either the coming attack or their changing physiology.

"The changes don't seem to enter the patient's awareness," Meuret said. "What they report is what happens at the end of the 60 minutes -- that they're having an out-of-the blue panic attack with a lot of intense physical sensations. We had expected the majority of the physiological activation would occur during and following the onset of the panic attack. But what we actually found was very little additional physiological change at that time."


People with panic disorder probably won't be surprised by the results, Meuret said.

By definition, the majority of the 13 symptoms of panic attack are physiological: shortness of breath, heart racing, dizziness, chest pain, sweating, hot flashes, trembling, choking, nausea and numbness. Only three are psychological: feeling of unreality, fear of losing control and fear of dying.

"Most patients obviously feel that there must be something going on physically," Meuret said. "They worry they're having a heart attack, suffocating or going to pass out. Our data doesn't indicate there's something inherently wrong with them physically, neither when they are at rest nor during panic. The fluctuations that we discovered are not extreme; they are subtle. But they seem to build up and may result in a notion that something catastrophic is going on."

Notably, the researchers found that patients' carbon dioxide, or C02, levels were in an abnormally low range, indicating the patients were chronically hyperventilating. These levels rose significantly shortly before panic onset and correlated with reports of anxiety, fear of dying and chest pain.

"It has been speculated, but never verified with data recordings in daily life, that increases in CO2 cause feelings of suffocation and can be panic triggers," Meuret said.



Researchers Explain Conditions Under Which People Are Prepared to Behave Fairly

ScienceDaily (July 27, 2011) — Why do people behave selfishly and accept that their behaviour may have negative consequences for others? Astrid Matthey and Tobias Regner from the Max Planck Institute of Economics in Jena investigated this question in a laboratory experiment. They found that such behaviour often depends on whether information about the consequences for others can be ignored. Based on their findings, the researchers believe that conclusions can be drawn on, for instance, how the marketing of fair trade products could be improved.

The researchers had 90 test subjects divide sums of money between themselves and anonymous co-players in the course of four different rounds of a game. During some of the rounds, the subjects received precise information about how their decisions would affect the payments made to their unknown co-players. In other rounds, the subjects themselves could decide whether they would like to find out about the consequences of their distribution decisions or whether they would prefer to conceal this information. "We found that although there are people who act either selfishly ("convinced pro-self") or fairly ("genuine pro-socials")," explains Tobias Regner, "many individuals move in the grey area between these extremes. They act fairly if the consequences of their action for others are clear to them. However, if they have the opportunity to ignore these consequences, they do just that and act in their own interests."

What is the motivation behind this ignorance? The experimental economists from Jena found a possible explanation for this behaviour in the concept of "cognitive dissonance." According to this concept, people tend to make decisions on the basis of their self-image. If they believe themselves to be "fair" or "generous," for example, they avoid actions that are clearly egoistic in nature, so as to avoid contradicting their own self-image. However, if, as was possible in the experiment described here, they are able to ignore the consequences for other people, they find it easier to maintain a positive self-image, even if they their behaviour is selfish. "If the consequences are clearly visible, many participants decide to act fairly," reports Astrid Matthey: "However, if it is possible to ignore the consequences, it is clearly more difficult to opt for a 'generous' decision, and many change their behaviour and select the egoistic alternative."



The Centrist Cop-Out

Monday, after Boehner wouldn't budge on insisting the debt limit be extended only 6 months, NPR started off their report on the matter by saying the debt negotiations failed because Democrats wanted the limit extended beyond next year. No pretense of centrism there!

Published: July 28, 2011

The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats — who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether — have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.

As I said, it’s not complicated. Yet many people in the news media apparently can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this simple reality. News reports portray the parties as equally intransigent; pundits fantasize about some kind of “centrist” uprising, as if the problem was too much partisanship on both sides.

Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. And this is no laughing matter: The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. As you may know, President Obama initially tried to strike a “Grand Bargain” with Republicans over taxes and spending. To do so, he not only chose not to make an issue of G.O.P. extortion, he offered extraordinary concessions on Democratic priorities: an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility, sharp spending cuts and only small revenue increases. As The Times’s Nate Silver pointed out, Mr. Obama effectively staked out a position that was not only far to the right of the average voter’s preferences, it was if anything a bit to the right of the average Republican voter’s preferences.

But Republicans rejected the deal. So what was the headline on an Associated Press analysis of that breakdown in negotiations? “Obama, Republicans Trapped by Inflexible Rhetoric.” A Democratic president who bends over backward to accommodate the other side — or, if you prefer, who leans so far to the right that he’s in danger of falling over — is treated as being just the same as his utterly intransigent opponents. Balance!

Which brings me to those “centrist” fantasies.


Many pundits view taking a position in the middle of the political spectrum as a virtue in itself. I don’t. Wisdom doesn’t necessarily reside in the middle of the road, and I want leaders who do the right thing, not the centrist thing.




Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dynasty Trusts Let Wealthy Families Duck U.S. Estate, Gift Taxes Forever

By Elizabeth Ody - Jul 28, 2011 12:32 PM ET

Jeffrey Thomasson, 52, may pass on more than $100 million to heirs using an estate-planning strategy for avoiding gift and estate taxes.

Thomasson, who lives in Indianapolis, said he’s funding a so-called dynasty trust set up in Delaware with $8 million of equity from the expanding financial advisory business he owns, Oxford Financial Group. Putting the assets in a trust, which he figures could be worth more than $100 million by the time he dies, means the money should go to his heirs without triggering federal gift, estate or generation-skipping transfer taxes.

“Why would I want to pay estate taxes on some really, really big number 30 years from now, if the IRS is giving me this opportunity?” Thomasson said.

A dynasty trust is used to pass money on to multiple generations of descendants while paying as little in taxes as possible. The trusts have no expiration date and there are no required minimum distributions, meaning their assets may grow for an unlimited number of future generations. While the trusts can be set up in many states, Delaware offers extra breaks, including stronger protection from creditors and potential exclusion of assets in divorce proceedings.

“It’s an astoundingly powerful vehicle for generating long-term family wealth,” said Neal Howard, chief fiduciary counsel for Philadelphia-based Glenmede, which manages more than $20 billion on behalf of individuals, families, endowments and foundations.



Wisconsin: After signing Voter ID, Republican Walker makes it harder to get IDs

Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 12:58 PM PDT
Wisconsin: After signing Voter ID, Walker makes it harder to get IDs

by Steve Singiser

Earlier this year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker became one of the many GOP governors to sign a law disenfranchising voters who do not have a photo ID — a law that disproportionately affects elderly voters, young voters, students, minorities and low-income voters. Having disenfranchised tens of thousands of Wisconsin voters, Walker is now making it harder for many of these voters to obtain the ID they need to regain their right to participate in the next election.

How is Walker doing so? By shuttering over a dozen DMV offices in the state, the very site at which voters would have to travel in order to comply with the new law.

What's more, there may be a bit of a pattern to where the closures are taking place:

One Democratic lawmaker said Friday it appeared the decisions were based on politics, with the department targeting offices for closure in Democratic areas and expanding hours for those in Republican districts.

The DMV offered some pushback on that particular charge, saying that economics instead of politics played a role in the decision. Still, given that less than half of the state's counties currently comply with the law that all 72 counties must have ID services available for at least 20 hours a week, it is hard to fathom how closing more than 10 percent of state DMV offices won't be seen as an effort to put undue strain on folks trying to comply with the new law.



5 cheap ways to save 1,000 gallons of water

By Chris BaskindMon, Mar 15 2010 at 1:59 PM EST

It's been said so many times, it has become a bit of a cliche: water is our most precious resource. The world's population tripled during the 20th century — and water use increased at twice that rate. The general trend toward urbanization has stressed groundwater supplies to the breaking point.

Closer to home, municipalities from the Southeastern United States to East Africa to Australia are dealing with unprecedented drought conditions. Whether you chalk it up to global warming or a run of bad luck, water shortages are becoming a vexing and increasingly familiar fact of life.

There is some good news. Most of us are so wasteful with our everyday water use that basic conservation methods can really make a difference. And they needn't mean replacing your appliances or undergoing expensive home renovations.

We've rounded up five free (or very inexpensive) ways to save water. Each should save at least a thousand gallons of water per year. That's a little bit more change in your pocket — and water in the tap.

1) Reduce your current shower time by one minute.

2) Locate and repair silent toilet leaks.

3) Water lawns on demand, not on schedule. ... Here's a quick test: step on a patch of grass. If it springs back, it doesn't need watering. And consider hardy native plants and low-water garden design the next time you landscape.

4) Turn off the tap while you brush your teeth.

5) Be smart about dishwashing. If you're doing dishes by hand, don't rinse under an open faucet. Buy an in-sink rack, load your soapy dishes, and rinse by pouring hot water over the top or using a handheld spray nozzle. Have a dishwasher? Use the short cycle for all but the dirtiest dishes. EnergyStar suggests skipping a pre-rinse before loading your dishwasher: it can use up to 20 extra gallons per load. Just scrape and go.

[This wouldn't work for me, because most of my dirty dishes are pans, not things like plates. Actually, I keep my bowl and silverware in the refrig and use it several days, so I have a lot fewer dishes to wash]

At a drop a second, a worn tap or outdoor faucet is losing about 20 gallons a day — more than 7,000 gallons per year.


Another slain girl's mom targeted by UK tabloid's detective

In the U.S., Rupert Murdoch's ownings include Fox "News", New York Post, and the Wall Street Journal


The mother of a murdered British schoolgirl was targeted by a private investigator working for Rupert Murdoch's News of the World, her charity said on Thursday, reigniting a phone-hacking scandal that has shaken his global media empire.

The Phoenix Foundation, a children's charity that Sara Payne co-founded after her daughter was killed by a pedophile in 2000, said her details were found in notes kept by investigator Glenn Mulcaire, employed by the top-selling tabloid.


Brooks said the tabloid had supplied Sara Payne with a mobile phone to help her with her "Sarah's Law" campaign, which sought reforms to allow parents to discover whether convicted pedophiles were living in their area.



Tea Party freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) owes $117,437 in child support to his ex-wife and three children

By Marie Diamond on Jul 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm

iamond on Jul 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Last night the Chicago Sun-Times broke the story that Tea Party freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), who has spent months lecturing President Obama and Democrats on fiscal responsibility, owes $117,437 in child support to his ex-wife and three children. Laura Walsh has asked a judge to suspend his driver’s license until he pays his child support. Despite loaning his own campaign $35,000 — and paying himself back at least $14,200 for the loans — Walsh claims he failed to make the payments because he “had no money.”

The tax-bashing congressman campaigned on a pledge to reject the Washington “status quo” and has bragged about his own frugality, claiming he even sleeps in his congressional office to save money. Walsh, who’s been described as “the biggest media hound in the freshman class,” has been a prominent voice in the debt ceiling showdown in recent weeks, making television appearances almost every day to denounce President Obama’s “reckless spending,” which he says has “bankrupted this country.”


When questions about his personal finances dogged his congressional campaign, Walsh once again claimed he wasn’t a rich man, despite managing to pay $3,300 per month for a house in upscale Winnetka.


(Walsh’s Wikipedia page excludes his first marriage.)



There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats. ~Albert Schweitzer


Worrying can impact interpersonal relationships, study finds

News Release: July 26, 2011

Most people worry from time to time. A new research study, led by a Case Western Reserve University faculty member in psychology, also shows that worrying can be so intrusive and obsessive that it interferes in the person’s life and endangers the health of social relationships.

These people suffer from what’s called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), says Case Western Reserve psychologist Amy Przeworski.

Individuals with GAD frequently put social relationships with family, friends, or coworkers at the top of their lists of worries, but the negative methods they use to cope—from over nurturing to extreme detachment—may be destructive.

Przeworski and colleagues at Penn State University observed that people in therapy for GAD manifested their worries in different ways based on how they interact with other people.

In two studies the researchers found four distinct interactive styles prominent among people with GAD—intrusive, cold, nonassertive and exploitable.

Both studies supported the presence of these four interpersonal styles and their significant role in how people with GAD manifested their worrying.

“All individuals with these styles worried to the same extent and extreme, but manifested those worries in different ways,” Przeworski said.

Take the examples of two people with similar worries about someone’s health and safety.

One person may exhibit that worry through frequent intrusive expressions of concern for the other person. Think of the parent or spouse who calls every five minutes to get an update on what’s happening.

Another person may exhibit the worry by criticizing the behaviors that the person believes to be careless or reckless.

“The worry may be similar, but the impact of the worry on their interpersonal relationships would be extremely different. This suggests that interpersonal problems and worry may be intertwined,” Przeworski says.

She suggests that therapies to treat GAD should target both the worry and the related interpersonal problems.

Most treatments for GAD rely on cognitive behavioral therapy, a treatment that is usually successful for about 60 percent of people, a percentage considered successful in therapy. However, one way to improve therapy for worriers may be to integrate techniques that target the interpersonal relationship problems.



Republican Rep. King Says Obama Will Be Impeached If Government Defaults

By Scott Keyes on Jul 25, 2011 at 12:06 pm

As Republican refusal to negotiate on the debt ceiling pushes the country ever closer to the brink of default, one Iowa congressman sees the impending financial collapse as cause for impeaching President Obama.

This morning, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) sent out a tweet imploring followers to “STOP talking about default. [...] Obama would be impeached if he blocked debt payments.”

King has apparently forgotten why the nation is on the brink of default in the first place: Republican hostage-taking. During President Bush’s tenure, GOP leaders voted to raise the debt ceiling 19 times — by a total of $4 trillion — without demanding draconian cuts to the social safety net in return, and 130 current House and Senate Republicans have voted to raise the debt ceiling under Bush. In fact, the entire debate right now ignores the fact that Bush’s policies added over three times the amount of debt than have Obama’s policies.

Still, as Congress figures out what it will take to get Republicans to agree to raise the debt ceiling and avoid “financial collapse and calamity,” King exemplifies how extreme GOP intransigence has become. When ThinkProgress spoke with King recently and asked him if he could accept a debt ceiling deal that included $3 trillion in cuts and just $8 in revenue increases, the Iowa congressman refused, declaring, “I’m not for raising taxes.”

This is not the first time House Republicans have floated impeaching Obama, nor will it likely be the last. Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) confirmed to ThinkProgress this month that Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) and other House GOPers were exploring impeachment over the debt ceiling. In the spring, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) called for impeachment if the president refused to support the Defense of Marriage Act. Last year, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) hinted at impeaching President Obama if he didn’t do more to stop illegal immigration. Even the birthers have gotten in on the action, with Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) last year saying he may force President Obama to release his birth certificate under the threat of impeachment.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Endangered Species Act Restored In House Revolt By Democrats


By a 224-204 vote, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) successfully led a revolt against the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives, stripping a provision in the FY 2012 Interior and Environment appropriations bill that would have blocked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing new species under the Endangered Species Act.

“This rider would have been a death sentence for our nation’s most endangered species,” Natural Resources Defense Council Lands and Wildlife program director Andrew Wetzler responds. “It is refreshing to see Congress make clear that the Endangered Species Act remains essential today. But other riders are looming in this appropriations bill that would pollute our air, foul our water, and remove wildlife protections.”



New study shows Transcendental Meditation improves brain functioning in ADHD students

Public release date: 26-Jul-2011
Contact: Ken Chawkin
Maharishi University of Management
New study shows Transcendental Meditation improves brain functioning in ADHD students
A non-drug approach to enhance students' ability to learn

A random-assignment controlled study published today in Mind & Brain, The Journal of Psychiatry (Vol 2, No 1) found improved brain functioning and decreased symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, in students practicing the Transcendental Meditation® (TM) technique. The paper, ADHD, Brain Functioning, and Transcendental Meditation Practice, is the second published study demonstrating TM's ability to help students with attention-related difficulties.



GOP Congressman: If We Take The Senate And White House In 2012, The EPA Will Be ‘Discontinued’

By Lee Fang on Jul 27, 2011 at 4:00 pm

As ThinkProgress has extensively reported, the new Republican Congress, elected with tens of millions in polluter-funded attack ads, campaign contributions, and shadowy front groups, has made weakening environmental safeguards, particularly from the EPA, a top priority. Now, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) is making it even more explicit: if Americans elect more Republicans to office in the 2012 elections, the GOP will get rid of the EPA.

Speaking on an Internet radio program yesterday, Rogers explained that a Republican-controlled House, Senate, and White House would make “dramatic changes,” not only in gutting Medicare and Social Security, but discontinuing the EPA:

ROGERS: You know the fact is, if in fact I think the American people do next November what they started last November, that is, cleaning house, and we do get a Republican-controlled Senate and a Republican president, I think you going to see some dramatic structural changes in this country because we can’t continue to suppor this infrastructure we have. And I’m not talking about just changes to the trust funds and the entitlement programs. You know, we gotta look at what we really need to be doing, and what we don’t need to be doing. For example, we didn’t have an EPA under Jimmy Carter. Who says the federal government has to have an EPA. Every state has their own environmental protection agency.


Rogers’ claim that President Carter “didn’t have” an EPA is peculiar. The EPA was started by President Nixon in 1970, and Carter had his own administrator, Douglas Costle, who used the agency to start spurring innovation in renewable energy. Despite Rogers’ insistence on state-based environmental, pollution affecting the water table, rivers, streams, and the atmosphere are not bound by state borders.


While Rogers’ statements may seem comically ignorant, he is deadly serious about the GOP’s intentions. Republicans presidential hopefuls from Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN) to Newt Gingrich have called for abolishing the agency, and Senate Republicans actually have a bill to make that hope a reality. Meanwhile, House Republicans have defunded the EPA, while tacking riders onto spending bills to bar it from enforcing regulations on clean air and clean water. A clean GOP sweep in 2012 would make an outright repeal of the EPA easy.



Yoga boosts stress-busting hormone, reduces pain: York U study

TORONTO, July 27, 2011 – A new study by York University researchers finds that practicing yoga reduces the physical and psychological symptoms of chronic pain in women with fibromyalgia.

The study is the first to look at the effects of yoga on cortisol levels in women with fibromyalgia. The condition, which predominantly affects women, is characterized by chronic pain and fatigue; common symptoms include muscle stiffness, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal discomfort, anxiety and depression.

Previous research has found that women with fibromyalgia have lower-than-average cortisol levels, which contribute to pain, fatigue and stress sensitivity. According to the study, participants’ saliva revealed elevated levels of total cortisol following a program of 75 minutes of hatha yoga twice weekly over the course of eight weeks.

“Ideally, our cortisol levels peak about 30-40 minutes after we get up in the morning and decline throughout the day until we’re ready to go to sleep,” says the study’s lead author, Kathryn Curtis, a PhD student in York’s Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health. “The secretion of the hormone, cortisol, is dysregulated in women with fibromyalgia” she says.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is produced and released by the adrenal gland and functions as a component of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in response to stress.

“Hatha yoga promotes physical relaxation by decreasing activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which lowers heart rate and increases breath volume. We believe this in turn has a positive effect on the HPA axis,” says Curtis.



As unhealthy food outlets multiply, teens eat more junk

Public release date: 27-Jul-2011
Contact: Gwen Driscoll
University of California - Los Angeles
As unhealthy food outlets multiply, teens eat more junk

Got lots of fast food restaurants and other outlets that sell junk food in your neighborhood? Then your teen is more likely to nosh regularly on burgers and fries and wash them down with a soda.

That is the unpalatable finding of a new study from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research that examined the effect of higher concentrations of less healthy food outlets on adolescent junk food consumption.

The upshot? Nearly three-quarters of California teenagers live or go to school in neighborhoods that are crowded with fast food restaurants and other outlets that sell unhealthy food — convenience stores, liquor stores, dollar stores and pharmacies — relative to the number of healthier food outlets, such as grocery stores, produce vendors and farmers markets. And unsurprisingly, teens who live or go to school in such neighborhoods are more likely to drink soda and eat fast food.

Research has shown that the consumption of fast food and soda has been linked to taking in excess calories and can contribute to diabetes and obesity.



Bizarre insect inbreeding signals an end to stand-alone males

Public release date: 27-Jul-2011
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Contact: Kevin Stacey
University of Chicago Press Journals
Bizarre insect inbreeding signals an end to males: News tips from the American Naturalist

IMAGE: An Icerya purchasi (cottony cushion scale) mother and babies
Click here for more information.

Bizarre insect inbreeding signals an end to males

A bizarre form of inbreeding could spell the end of males in one insect species, according to researchers from Oxford University. The research focused on cottony cushion scales, a hermaphroditic bug species in which females appear to fertilize their own eggs. "It turns out that females are not really fertilizing their eggs themselves, but instead are having this done by a parasitic tissue that infects them at birth," said Laura Ross, one of the study's authors. "It seems that this infectious tissue derives from leftover sperm from their fathers." In effect, the tissue enables males to father offspring with both their mates and then their daughters. According to a mathematical model developed by Ross and her co-author Andy Gardner, this odd reproductive tactic could eliminate the need for males in the species. Once the parasitic fathers become widespread in a population, females will be inclined to reproduce with them instead of regular males. Regular males, as a result, become very rare because they have a hard time finding willing mates.


DOJ: Wells Fargo Intentionally Steered African-American Borrowers Into Expensive Subprime Loans

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is preparing to file a lawsuit against Well Fargo bank for allegedly shunting thousands of African-American borrowers into subprime mortgages when they should have qualified for less expensive loans. News of DOJ’s probe comes just one week after Wells Fargo agreed to pay an $85 million settlement after a similar lawsuit was brought by the Federal Reserve alleging that the bank preyed upon over 10,000 borrowers.


First Solar Shatters Previous Record for Cadmium-Telluride Thin Film Efficiency

By Stephen Lacey on Jul 27, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Doubters continually claim that renewable energy needs “dramatic breakthroughs” in the lab to succeed. What they fail to recognize is steady technology advances are already underway with existing technologies — and cumulatively they add up to game changers.

Leading thin-film producer First Solar announced yesterday that it had achieved a world-record efficiency of 17.3 percent for its cadmium-telluride cells, dramatically surpassing the previous record set in a government lab by .5 percent.

This is a major step for First Solar’s technology, which will help the company continue to drive down manufacturing costs. It currently produces modules for 75 cents a watt (almost 25 cents lower than the lowest conventional panel producers) at an efficiency of 11.7 percent. These improvements in cost and efficiency come during a very competitive time for solar manufacturers, which are seeing intense downward pressure on prices. First Solar is currently constructing more than 1,300 MW of solar PV projects in the U.S. The company says that it could be producing modules more than 14 percent efficient in the next few years.

A few other companies have made similar announcements in recent months: California-based SunPower, a leading manufacturer and installer of silicon-based solar PV, said it had created a 20-percent efficient module from 22.4 percent efficient cells; leading Chinese producer Suntech said it developed a new 15.2 percent high-efficiency module using 18-percent efficient cells; and Georgia-based Suniva announced a 16-percent efficiency for its new panel.


It’s a Record-Setting Heat Wave, but the Conservative Media Deny Even That

See this link for a detailed discussion of how the media is misrepresenting the statistics. I wrote in this blog of how the Atlanta Journal-Constitution printed an article claiming it was no hotter than "average" by ignoring more the first two months of the heat wave, and using invalid statistical arguments to try to "prove" this.

By Joe Romm on Jul 27, 2011 at 5:31 pm

One way to tell if a nationwide heat wave is truly record-breaking is, well, to look at the total number of records that it breaks. Even better is to compare the high records with the low records, since we have very good historical data and analysis on that — and it covers the whole nation.

Steve Scolnik at Capital Climate analyzed the data from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and found, “U.S. Summer Heat Records Continue Overwhelming Cold Records By Over 8:1.” These large ratios for the summer and the first 23 days of July are a big deal compared to, for instance, the average over the last decade of about 2-to-1 (see “Mother Nature is Just Getting Warmed Up” and below).



Whistleblowers Say Nuclear Regulatory Commission Watchdog Is Losing Its Bite

by John Sullivan and Cameron Hickey, Special to ProPublica July 27, 2011, 2:04 p.m.

When he retired after 26 years as an investigator with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Office of the Inspector General, George Mulley thought his final report was one of his best.

Mulley had spent months looking into why a pipe carrying cooling water at the Byron nuclear plant in Illinois had rusted so badly that it burst. His report cited lapses by a parade of NRC inspectors over six years and systemic weaknesses in the way the NRC monitors corrosion.

But rather than accept Mulley's findings, the inspector general's office rewrote them. The revised report shifted much of the blame to the plant's owner, Exelon, instead of NRC procedures. And instead of designating it a public report and delivering it to Congress, as is the norm, the office put it off-limits. A reporter obtained it only after filing a Freedom of Information Act request.


Now, Mulley and one other former OIG employee have come forth with allegations that the inspector general's office buried the critical Byron report and dropped an investigation into whether the NRC is relying on outdated methods to predict damage from an aircraft crashing into a plant.

The inspector general's office, they assert, has shied away from challenging the NRC at exactly the wrong time, with many of the country's 104 nuclear power plants aging beyond their 40-year design life and with reactor meltdowns at Fukushima rewriting the definition of a catastrophic accident.

"We're in the nuclear power business. It's not a trivial business; it's public health and safety," said Mulley, who won the agency's top awards and reviewed nearly every major investigation the office conducted before he retired as the chief investigator three years ago.


In the office's history, Mulley has left a big mark.

For years, he documented how the NRC dropped the ball on the handling of nuclear fuel and security in nuclear plants. His reports on defective fire barriers led to congressional hearings and ultimately to a complete overhaul of the agency's fire protection regulations.

He retired in 2008 as a senior-level assistant for investigations but continued work as an OIG consultant for two more years. Before he retired, Bell and a deputy wrote that Mulley was "so thorough and knowledgeable of all aspects of investigations, that even NRC management recognizes the value added to having Mr. Mulley's expertise on all cases."

Mulley is not alone in his concerns about the inspector general's office. Another former employee told ProPublica that the office has become reluctant to probe anything that could become controversial or raise difficult questions for the NRC.

"They don't want to do anything," said the ex-employee, who left out of dissatisfaction with the direction of the office and asked not to be named to protect his current job. "Everything just seems to die."

The former employee told ProPublica that the OIG's office had dropped an inquiry into whether the NRC could accurately predict the damage to a plant from an airplane crash, and Mulley confirmed his account, saying the office received a tip in 2007 that the NRC was using an outdated method.

Because a wrong prediction could lead to insufficient protection for the plants, the inspector general's office opened an investigation, Mulley said. "We went to several experts who said that thing is antiquated, you can't use it," he said.


His team interviewed workers and NRC inspectors assigned to the Byron plant since the early 1990s. They concentrated heavily on the inspectors' actions in 2007, when Byron engineers began scrutinizing pipe sections, called risers, that were partly buried in concrete in a below-ground vault.

Plant engineers performed ultrasonic tests on the thickness of the risers. Originally, the pipe walls were three-eighths of an inch thick, but over the span of three tests, engineers stepped the acceptable thickness down to three-hundredths of an inch -- equivalent to seven sheets of paper.

Mulley's team found that the NRC's on-site inspectors had not checked the Byron engineers' work even though repeated drops in safety margin should have been a red flag. Corrosion in Byron's essential water system had been discussed in plant meetings, and because testing the risers required repeated use of a crane to gain access, inspectors should have suspected something.

"The NRC is supposed to -- if they're overseeing this thing -- take a look at it and say, 'Oh, wait a minute, what's going on?'" Mulley said. "But obviously, they didn't look at that one."

Mulley found that NRC's on-site inspectors had repeated opportunities to check the pipes over the years but had not done so. In interviews, the inspectors told Mulley's investigators that they had been busy with other work. Although inspectors had preformed a required number of equipment checks, Mulley's report found that their inability to set priorities was a weakness in the inspection program.

The NRC, it turns out, had received a warning about a similar pipe break at the Vendellos nuclear plant in Spain, Mulley's team discovered. Peter B. Lyons, then an NRC commissioner, had even mentioned the Vendellos break in a speech, saying the agency was on top of the problem. But the word was never sent to NRC inspectors in the field, Mulley found.

"I don't think anybody up there was purposely saying, 'Hey, this is not so important,'" Mulley said of the Vendellos information. "I think they knew it was important. I think they intended to. I don't think anybody followed up on it, and then it falls into the cracks."



Heritage Tries to Mislead Us on How Swell Poverty Is

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Yglesias: The Heritage Foundation is out with the latest version of its annual poor people aren't poor because electronics are cheap report.....A serious person would follow this up with a discussion of relative prices. Over the past 50 years, televisions have gotten a lot cheaper and college has gotten a lot more expensive. Consequently, even a low income person can reliably obtain a level of television-based entertainment that would blow the mind of a millionaire from 1961. At the same time, if you’re looking to live in a safe neighborhood with good public schools in a metropolitan area with decent job opportunities you’re going to find that this is quite expensive. Health care has become incredibly expensive.

How much more expensive? For higher education costs, the College Board presents this table of how far above the general inflation rate college costs have grown. Remember, these are tacked on top of the general inflation rate. Thus, over the 30-year period public four-year universities have gotten 3 1/2 times as expensive in real (inflation-adjusted) terms, for example.

Let's now compare overall inflation with health care inflation (inflation tables are at: The CPI-U (consumer price index – urban) for all items was 225.722 in June 2011, compared to 37.8 in January 1970 (1982-84=100), meaning that urban prices were 5.97 times as high as 41 years earlier. By contrast, the CPI-U for medical care rose to more than 12 times as high over the same period, from 32.7 to 399.552. No wonder health care costs have caused problems for so many people.

To sum up, the economic problems facing poor or middle-class people aren't related to spending on frivolities, which are largely low-cost. Instead, they come from what one's health insurance company will or won't pay for, whether you have a job or not, and whether you can afford the housing and education to give your children a better life. The Heritage folks, while giddily pointing out that the poor in America see doctors, also support deep cuts (“entitlement reform”) to the programs that make that possible in the first place. Have they no shame?


The Heritage Foundation are shameless liars in general.


The Terrible People

The Terrible People
by Ogden Nash

People who have what they want are very fond of telling people who haven't what they want that they really don't want it,
And I wish I could afford to gather all such people into a gloomy castle on the Danube and hire half a dozen capable Draculas to haunt it.
I dont' mind their having a lot of money, and I don't care how they employ it,
But I do think that they damn well ought to admit they enjoy it.
But no, they insist on being stealthy
About the pleasures of being wealthy,
And the possession of a handsome annuity
Makes them think that to say how hard it is to make both ends meet is their bounden duity.
You cannot conceive of an occasion
Which will find them without some suitable evasion.
Yes indeed, with arguments they are very fecund;
Their first point is that money isn't everything, and that they have no money anyhow is their second.
Some people's money is merited,
And other people's is inherited,
But wherever it comes from,
They talk about it as if it were something you got pink gums from.
Perhaps indeed the possession of wealth is constantly distressing,
But I should be quite willing to assume every curse of wealth if I could at the same time assume every blessing.
The only incurable troubles of the rich are the troubles that money can't cure,
Which is a kind of trouble that is even more troublesome if you are poor.
Certainly there are lots of things in life that money won't buy, but it's very funny --
Have you ever tried to buy them without money?

Melting Arctic Ice Releases Stored Toxic Chemicals

by Stephen Messenger, Porto Alegre, Brazil on 07.25.11

As if the threat of rising sea-levels due to rising global temperatures weren't enough cause for concern, new research suggests that as arctic ice melts, it may be releasing much more than just water. According to researchers studying the melting polar caps, as snow cover dwindles as a result of climate change, toxic chemicals stored in the ice from decades of pollution are being 'remobilized' back into the atmosphere -- potentially exposing humans and wildlife to substances known to cause illness and death, for decades to come.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which include such nasty compounds as DTD, lindane, and chlordane, were once commonly used in the agriculture industry as pesticides -- though scientists soon learned that these chemicals have grave consequences on human and environmental health. Ten years ago, POPs were largely banned worldwide, but the chemicals proved resilient and capable of long-range transport, which is why POPs can be detected even in places where they've never been used.

Ultimately, a significant amount of the POPs ended up in the cold, arctic regions where icy temperatures effectively 'trapped' the chemicals -- preventing them from being spread into the environment. But now, say researcher from Canada, Norway, and China, as that regions of the world experiences warming associated with climate change, those toxins are being released.

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Melting Arctic Ice Releases Stored Toxic Chemicals
by Stephen Messenger, Porto Alegre, Brazil on 07.25.11
Travel & Nature

toxins-in-ice.jpg Photo: Andy Tinkham / cc

As if the threat of rising sea-levels due to rising global temperatures weren't enough cause for concern, new research suggests that as arctic ice melts, it may be releasing much more than just water. According to researchers studying the melting polar caps, as snow cover dwindles as a result of climate change, toxic chemicals stored in the ice from decades of pollution are being 'remobilized' back into the atmosphere -- potentially exposing humans and wildlife to substances known to cause illness and death, for decades to come.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which include such nasty compounds as DTD, lindane, and chlordane, were once commonly used in the agriculture industry as pesticides -- though scientists soon learned that these chemicals have grave consequences on human and environmental health. Ten years ago, POPs were largely banned worldwide, but the chemicals proved resilient and capable of long-range transport, which is why POPs can be detected even in places where they've never been used.

Ultimately, a significant amount of the POPs ended up in the cold, arctic regions where icy temperatures effectively 'trapped' the chemicals -- preventing them from being spread into the environment. But now, say researcher from Canada, Norway, and China, as that regions of the world experiences warming associated with climate change, those toxins are being released.

"Our results indicate that a wide range of POPs have been remobilized into the Arctic atmosphere over the past two decades as a result of climate change, confirming that Arctic warming could undermine global efforts to reduce environmental and human exposure to these toxic chemicals," write the team of scientists, as reported by The New York Times.


Eventually, Dachs said, atmospheric circulation patterns could carry the newly liberated POPs to other parts of the globe.


Make your landscaping butterfly-friendly

Attract beautiful and beneficial butterflies to your yard and garden!

By Networx.comTue, Jul 26 2011 at 2:58 PM EST

There is something magical about butterflies as they flit from flower to flower in the garden. These winged beauties are not only stunning to watch but they also serve an important role as pollinators, spreading pollen from flower to flower, leading to fertilization and ultimately seed production. The activities of butterflies and other pollinators, like hummingbirds and bees, help to ensure that various plant species multiply and persist.

By growing certain combinations of plants and providing the right setting, you can attract butterflies and other welcome pollinators to your garden. Here are some tips for attracting butterflies.

[See the link for tips and list of plants.]



The Question Conservatives Can't Answer

Published on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 by
The Question Conservatives Can't Answer
by Paul Buchheit

The following fact was sent to numerous conservative pundits, politicians, and profitseekers:

Based on Tax Foundation figures, the richest 1% has TRIPLED its share of America's income over the past 30 years. Much of the gain came from tax cuts and minimally taxed financial instruments. If their income had increased only at the pace of American productivity (80%), they would be taking about a TRILLION DOLLARS LESS out of our economy.

And a question was posed:

In what way do the richest 1% deserve these extraordinary gains?

This question was not posed in sarcasm. A factual answer is genuinely sought. It seems unlikely that 1% of the population worked three times harder than the rest of us, or contributed three times as much to American productivity. Money earned from tax cuts and minimally taxed financial instruments is not productive income. And while some big earners have developed innovative ideas and leading-edge businesses, it seems fair to say that taxpayer-funded research at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (the Internet), the National Institute of Health (pharmaceuticals), and the National Science Foundation (the Digital Library Initiative) has laid a half-century foundation for their idea-building.

So I asked anyone out there to explain, defend, or justify the fact that over 20% of our country's income (it was 7% in 1980) now goes to the richest 1% of Americans.


But based on 1980 dollars and IRS data, this is how U.S. income has been redistributed since that time:

Incomes for the top 1% have gone from $148,000 to $450,000
Incomes for the next 9% have gone from $46,000 to $50,000
Incomes for the next 40% have gone from $17,500 to $15,000
Incomes for the bottom 50% have gone from $5,400 to $3,750


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hiding Vegetables in Kids' Foods Can Increase Vegetable Intake

ScienceDaily (July 25, 2011) — Preschool children consumed nearly twice as many vegetables and 11 percent fewer calories over the course of a day when researchers at Penn State added pureed vegetables to the children's favorite foods.

"Childhood obesity rates are on the rise, and at the same time children are not eating the recommended amount of vegetables," said Barbara Rolls, holder of the Helen A. Guthrie Chair in Nutritional Sciences. "Vegetables have been shown to help lower calorie intake. The problem is getting kids to eat enough vegetables."


"We incorporated several vegetables into the dishes, including broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, tomatoes and squash," said Maureen Spill, a post-doctoral fellow in nutritional sciences and the study's lead author. "We were pleased to find that the children found the vegetable-enhanced versions to be equally acceptable to the standard recipes."

According to Spill, the children ate the same weight of food regardless of the vegetable content of the entrées. And when they ate the vegetable-enhanced entrées as opposed to the standard-recipe entrées, their daily vegetable intake nearly doubled while their calorie intake decreased by 11 percent. The team's findings are online July 25 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.



Key Early Skills for Later Math Learning Discovered

ScienceDaily (July 25, 2011) — Psychologists at the University of Missouri have identified the beginning of first grade math skills that teachers and parents should target to effectively improve children's later math learning.

A long-term psychology study indicates that beginning first graders that understand numbers, the quantities those numbers represent, and low-level arithmetic will have better success in learning mathematics through the end of fifth grade, and other studies suggest throughout the rest of their lives.

"Math is critical for success in many fields, and the United States is not doing a great job of teaching math," said David Geary, Curator's Professor of Psychological Sciences. "Once students fall behind, it's almost impossible to get them back on track. We wanted to identify the beginning of school knowledge needed to learn math over the next five years. We found that understanding numbers and quantity is a necessary foundation for success as the student progresses to more complex math topics. In order to improve basic instruction, we have to know what to instruct. These are the factors that make a difference in the first grade above and beyond intelligence and other abilities."


"This study reinforces the idea that math knowledge is incremental, and without a good foundation, a student won't do well because the math gets more complex," Geary said. "The kids that can go back and forth easily and quickly in translating numerals, the number five, for example, into quantities and in breaking complex problems into smaller parts had a very good head start."

The researchers also found that first graders who understood the number line and how to place numbers on the line and who knew some basic facts showed faster growth in math skills than their counterparts over the next five years. However, the researchers found that these early math skills had no impact on future reading ability.


Risky pelvic mesh highlights worries about FDA process

By Rita Rubin contributor
updated 7/26/2011 9:48:19 AM ET

Janet Holt figured she simply had an infection “down there.”

But instead of a prescription, her doctor told her she’d need a procedure. Her bladder had slipped out of place, creating an uncomfortable condition known as pelvic organ prolapse, which affects many women as they age.

Her doctor said he could fix it, building a kind of nest or cradle to prop up her insides. Holt doesn’t remember him ever mentioning that he was going to use something called surgical mesh to do the job. But he was the doctor, so Holt, a 50-year-old from San Antonio, Texas, agreed to the operation.

Four years later, however, the medical device that was supposed to fix Holt’s problem has caused a host of new ones, sparking constant pain and requiring seven more operations as other surgeons tried to remove the mesh, which had eroded into her vagina, bit by bit.

Holt has become a poster child for growing concerns about the government process that allows devices such as surgical mesh — made of the same material as Rubbermaid storage containers — to be used with no testing on patients before they’re allowed on the market.


Unlike prescription drugs, which must be proven safe and effective before they’re marketed, most medical devices have no such requirement. Only about 10 percent of devices, those deemed the riskiest, such as breast implants and implantable pacemakers, fall into that category. Surgical mesh, used to support organs that have slipped over time, does not.
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That may soon change.

Exercise Has Numerous Beneficial Effects On Brain Health and Cognition, Review Suggests

ScienceDaily (July 25, 2011) — It's no secret that exercise has numerous beneficial effects on the body. However, a bevy of recent research suggests that these positive effects also extend to the brain, influencing cognition. In a new review article highlighting the results of more than a hundred recent human and animal studies on this topic, Michelle W. Voss, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her colleagues show that both aerobic exercise and strength training play a vital role in maintaining brain and cognitive health throughout life.


The review suggests that aerobic exercise is important for getting a head start during childhood on cognitive abilities that are important throughout life. For example, physical inactivity is associated with poorer academic performance and results on standard neuropsychological tests, while exercise programs appear to improve memory, attention, and decision-making. These effects also extend to young and elderly adults, with solid evidence for aerobic training benefiting executive functions, including multi-tasking, planning, and inhibition, and increasing the volume of brain structures important for memory. Although few studies have evaluated the effects of strength training on brain health in children, studies in older adults suggest that high-intensity and high-load training can improve memory.

Animal studies, primarily models that test the influence of aerobic exercise, suggest a variety of mechanisms responsible for these effects. For example, exercise appears to change brain structure, prompting the growth of new nerve cells and blood vessels. It also increases the production of neurochemicals, such as BDNF and IGF-1, that promote growth, differentiation, survival, and repair of brain cells.


A clue to why irrational ideas can take hold. Rational people tend to be less dogmatic about their ideas, leaving them at a disadvantage with irrational people.

Public release date: 25-Jul-2011
Contact: Gabrielle DeMarco
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Minority rules: Scientists discover tipping point for the spread of ideas

Troy, N.Y. –Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists, who are members of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer, used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. The finding has implications for the study and influence of societal interactions ranging from the spread of innovations to the movement of political ideals.

"When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority," said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. "Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame."

As an example, the ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt appear to exhibit a similar process, according to Szymanski. "In those countries, dictators who were in power for decades were suddenly overthrown in just a few weeks."

The findings were published in the July 22, 2011, early online edition of the journal Physical Review E in an article titled "Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities."



Corporal Punishment May Have Long-Term Negative Effects On Children's Intelligence

ScienceDaily (July 26, 2011) — Children in a school that uses corporal punishment performed significantly worse in tasks involving "executive functioning" -- psychological processes such as planning, abstract thinking, and delaying gratification -- than those in a school relying on milder disciplinary measures such as time-outs, according to a new study involving two private schools in a West African country.

The findings, published by the journal Social Development, suggest that a harshly punitive environment may have long-term detrimental effects on children's verbal intelligence and their executive-functioning ability. As a result, children exposed to a harshly punitive environment may be at risk for behavioral problems related to deficits in executive-functioning, the study indicates.



Republican Senator Admits That He Wants To Bring America Down

July 26, 2011
By Stephen D. Foster Jr.

In a Monday evening interview on Hardball With Chris Matthews on MSNBC, Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah admitted that he wants to bring America to its knees if an amendment is not passed in Congress that would force Americans to live under conservative governance despite which party the people elects. Here is the transcript.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: How many days do you think we have, on the outside, to get this debt ceiling through before we have a problem? How many days?

LEE: I don’t know, maybe ten days.⁠

MATTHEWS: Okay, in ten days you want to change the United States Constitution by two-thirds vote in both houses? That’s what you’re demanding.

LEE: Yes. If possible we can’t change the Constitution just in Congress but we can submit it to the states. Let the states fight it out.

MATTHEWS: And you think you’re being reasonable by saying you want a two-thirds vote in the House, which is Republican, and in the Senate which is Democrat. You want the Democratic Senate, by a two-thirds vote, to pass a constitutional amendment or you want the house to come down?

LEE: Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying and I’ve been saying this for six months.

Lee’s amendment would require all tax increases by passed by a super majority of Congress, two-thirds of each house, which makes it virtually impossible to raise taxes. This is especially of interest to the wealthy and corporations. That particular provision is similar to the anti-tax amendment passed in California which killed that state’s finances. Lee’s amendment would also require spending levels to drop to the 1966 level, which would be catastrophic to all Americans. The 1966 level was $134.4 billion, compared to $3.5 trillion in 2010. To get back to 1966 levels, Social Security and Medicare would be cut by 25% and many other programs and departments would be wiped out or watered down to the brink of uselessness, even national security. The nightmare gets worse actually. Because Lee would be writing these cuts and requirements into the Constitution, the American people would lose the power to overrule them by electing different people. In other words, even if America voted to give 100% of government control to Democrats, we would be forced to always live under conservative rule.



The Help-Wanted Sign Comes With a Frustrating Asterisk

Published: July 25, 2011

The unemployed need not apply.

That is the message being broadcast by many of the nation’s employers, making it even more difficult for 14 million jobless Americans to get back to work.

A recent review of job vacancy postings on popular sites like, CareerBuilder and Craigslist revealed hundreds that said employers would consider (or at least “strongly prefer”) only people currently employed or just recently laid off.


“I feel like I am being shunned by our entire society,” said Kelly Wiedemer, 45, an information technology operations analyst who said a recruiter had told her that despite her skill set she would be a “hard sell” because she had been out of work for more than six months.

Legal experts say that the practice probably does not violate discrimination laws because unemployment is not a protected status, like age or race. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently held a hearing, though, on whether discriminating against the jobless might be illegal because it disproportionately hurts older people and blacks.

The practice is common enough that New Jersey recently passed a law outlawing job ads that bar unemployed workers from applying. New York and Michigan are considering the idea, and similar legislation has been introduced in Congress. The National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit organization that studies the labor market and helps the unemployed apply for benefits, has been reviewing the issue, and last week issued a report that has nudged more politicians to condemn these ads.

Given that the average duration of unemployment today is nine months — a record high — limiting a search to the “recently employed,” much less the currently employed, disqualifies millions.


Even if Congress passed a measure forbidding companies from making current employment a requirement for job applicants, companies could still simply decide not to hire people who are out of work. Discrimination would be difficult to prove.


Employers receive so many applications for each opening that some may use current employment status as an easy filter. In some cases — as with Ms. Wiedemer, of Westminster, Colo. — recruiters merely assume employers do not want jobless workers.

“Clients don’t always tell us ‘we don’t want to see résumés from unemployed workers,’ but we can sense from what people have interested them in the past that they’re probably looking for somebody who’s gainfully employed, who’s closer to the action,” said Dennis Pradarelli, a talent acquisition manager for Marbl, a recruiting firm in Brookfield, Wis. Many of the job ads posted by his firm seek workers who are “currently employed or only recently unemployed.”

Many firms that are not intentionally screening out the unemployed may still disqualify such applicants for having bad credit histories after having fallen behind on the bills — which they of course need a job to pay.


“I worry that unemployment may eventually come down, not because older workers who have been unemployed for a year or two find jobs,” Professor Shimer said, “but because older workers finally give up and drop out of the labor force.”