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Undernews For May 3, 2008

Undernews For May 3, 2008

Washington's Most Unofficial Source
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Editor: Sam Smith

2 MAY 2008


I let my mind wander and it didn't come back. - Calvin



ABC NEWS The $6 billion reading program at the center of President Bush's signature education law has failed to make a difference in how well children understand what they read, according to a study by the program's own champion - the U.S. Department of Education.The program, Reading First, was designed to help boost student performance in low-income elementary schools, but failed to improve reading comprehension, says the study from the Institute of Education Sciences, part of the Education Department. There was no difference in comprehension scores between students who participated in Reading First and those who did not, the study found. The findings threw the program's future into doubt.


NATIONAL SECURITY NETWORK It has been five years since the President declared victory in the battle for Iraq. Since that day, more than 3,900 American troops have been killed - bringing the total to more than 4,000. There are still 150,000 American troops in Iraq, just as in May 2003 - but the number of soldiers from other countries fighting alongside them has fallen by more than half, to just 9,800. Under the strain of repeated deployments, two-thirds of Army brigades are rated "not combat ready." The cost to the American economy has reached $1.3 trillion ($16,500 per family of four) and in the end will likely rise to $3 trillion ($35,000 per family of four). Iraqi civilian casualties are in the hundreds of thousands, and four and a half million Iraqis have been forced from their homes. The Iraqi economy is stagnant with oil production and electricity below prewar levels.

The Iraq War has lasted longer than World War II. It has been 61 months since military operations in Iraq began. As of May 1, 2008 American troops have been in Iraq for 1,870 days, 267 weeks. World War II lasted 45 months.

The direct cost of the war in Iraq is more than 10 times what the Bush Administration said it would be. Roughly $525 billion have been allocated to fight the war in Iraq, with no end in sight. Once the fiscal year 2008 funding process is complete, the cost will go above $600 billion.

The war has cost the overall economy $1.3 trillion ($16,500 per family of four) thus far and Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that it could rise to $3 trillion ($35,000 per family of four

Last year was the deadliest yet for American troops in Iraq. 901 Americans were killed in Iraq in 2007, the most of any year of the war.

Civilian casualties appear to be well over 200,000 - roughly one percent of Iraq's population. The World Health Organization concludes that 150,000 Iraqi civilians were killed between April 2003 and the summer of 2006.

4.7 Million Iraqis have been forced from their homes. 2 million have fled the country. 2.7 million are displaced inside of Iraq.

Five years later, Iraqi oil production remains below prewar levels. Despite the assertion that Iraqi oil production would pay for the war, production is at 2.23 million barrels per day compared to 2.5 before the war.

Baghdad is getting only 9.7 hours of electricity per day - a fraction of what it was getting before the war. Without a steady supply of power businesses have suffered.

The U.S. military is overstretched, understaffed and under-equipped.


One of the over 75 pundits revealed by the New York Times as being part of the Pentagon military analyst program was Robert H. Scales Jr. In 2003, Scales founded a defense consulting firm, Colgen, which lists both National Public Radio and and Fox News as clients. NPR's Ombudsman, Alicia C. Shepard, wrote on her blog that since February 2003 Scales "has been on NPR 67 times, most often (28 appearances) on All Things Considered. The latest was March 28, when he gave ATC listeners an assessment of the fifth anniversary of the war. ... Only once in December 2006 was Scales' relationship to Colgen mentioned." While 40 NPR listeners protested against any further use of Scales, Shepard disagreed. "Rather than toss Scales off the air and lose his practical and scholarly knowledge of the Army, in the future NPR should always be transparent and identify him as a defense consultant with Colgen," she wrote. NPR also developed new guidelines for "vetting guests" which state, "Ask the guest if he/she has any conflicts of interest." Meanwhile, Editor & Publisher notes "the news chiefs and on-air hosts at CNN, FOX, ABC, NBC, and CBS, have had little reaction," apparently hoping it all blows over. PR Watch


MARTY NEMKO, CHRONICLES OF HIGHER EDUCATION Among my saddest moments as a career counselor is when I hear a story like this: "I wasn't a good student in high school, but I wanted to prove that I can get a college diploma. I'd be the first one in my family to do it. But it's been five years and $80,000, and I still have 45 credits to go."

I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later. . . Yet four-year colleges admit and take money from hundreds of thousands of such students each year!

Even worse, most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education. So it's not surprising that when you hop into a cab or walk into a restaurant, you're likely to meet workers who spent years and their family's life savings on college, only to end up with a job they could have done as a high-school dropout.

Such students are not aberrations. Today, amazingly, a majority of the students whom colleges admit are grossly underprepared. Only 23 percent of the 1.3 million high-school graduates of 2007 who took the ACT examination were ready for college-level work in the core subjects of English, math, reading, and science.

Perhaps more surprising, even those high-school students who are fully qualified to attend college are increasingly unlikely to derive enough benefit to justify the often six-figure cost and four to six years (or more) it takes to graduate. Research suggests that more than 40 percent of freshmen at four-year institutions do not graduate in six years. Colleges trumpet the statistic that, over their lifetimes, college graduates earn more than nongraduates, but that's terribly misleading. You could lock the collegebound in a closet for four years, and they'd still go on to earn more than the pool of non-collegebound - they're brighter, more motivated, and have better family connections.


VOICES OF SAN DIEGO Five years ago, suspensions abounded at Webster Elementary. Fights regularly erupted during recess and teachers feared violent outbursts from gang-involved 6th graders. New principal Jennifer White was shocked to learn that Webster had 70 suspensions the year before she arrived, and 80 the year before that.. . . Fast forward to 2008. Students cheerfully greet their teachers by name, line up quickly, and listen respectfully to each other in class. The endless procession of kids to the principal's office has stopped. White now spends her mornings ranging freely between classrooms to observe teachers and videotaping their best lessons to share.

Teachers chalk up the turnaround to a homegrown program that explicitly teaches students how to behave in class. Building on Buguey's initial efforts to improve discipline, Jennifer White and her teachers crafted the Webster Way, which teaches "scholarly behaviors" such as eye contact, cleaning up your trash, and greeting teachers by name. Such skills are usually expected but not actively taught, White said.

Teachers at Webster devote 10 to 20 minutes daily to role-playing those behaviors and discussing why they matter. Throughout the day, they invoke the Webster Way. Related Links

"Schools assume that a student will come in, and just know what to do," school psychologist Steve Franklin said. "At Webster, teaching a student how to be a student is really important. We don't expect them to already know how to read, to do math or write. So why aren't we teaching these things, too?". . .

Students now flock to the science-themed school. Magnet schools like Webster center their curriculum on a theme and pull students from across the city. In 2003, few students came to Webster from elsewhere; today, half its students have chosen Webster over their neighborhood schools. Educators from Visalia and Los Angeles and even Michigan have visited to see Webster's transformation.


SF CHRONICLE Two parched years - punctuated by the driest spring in at least 150 years - could force districts across California to ration water this summer as policymakers and scientists grow increasingly concerned that the state is on the verge of a long-term drought. State water officials reported Thursday that the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the source of a huge portion of California's water supply, was only 67 percent of normal, due in part to historically low rainfall in March and April.

With many reservoirs at well-below-average levels from the previous winter and a federal ruling limiting water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the new data added a dimension to a crisis already complicated by crumbling infrastructure, surging population and environmental concerns.

"We're in a dry spell if not a drought," said California Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman. "We're in the second year, and if we're looking at a third year, we're talking about a serious problem."

Chrisman stopped short of saying the state would issue mandatory water rationing, which appears possible only if the governor declares a state of emergency. Rather, the burden will fall on local water agencies. Many, such as San Francisco and Marin County, have asked residents and businesses over the past year to cut water usage voluntarily by 10 to 20 percent.

Others have taken more drastic steps.

In Southern California, the water district serving about 330,000 people in Orange County enacted water rationing last year, due in part to a ruling by U.S. Judge Oliver Wanger reducing water pumped from the delta by about a third to protect an endangered fish.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District announced in April that it was considering water rationing, price increases and other measures in response to critically low reservoirs. The district, which serves 1.3 million customers in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, will vote on the measures this month.


NANCY TREJOS WASHINGTON POST The Federal Reserve and two other banking regulators are set to unveil today one of the most aggressive efforts in decades to crack down on the credit card industry, prohibiting practices such as arbitrarily raising interest rates on outstanding balances.
The proposed regulations, which could be finalized by year's end, would label as "unfair or deceptive" practices that consumers have long complained about. That includes charging interest on debt that has been repaid and assessing late fees when consumers are not given a reasonable amount of time to make a payment. When different interest rates apply to different balances on one card, companies would be prohibited from applying a payment first to the balance with the lowest rate. . .

The proposal also seeks to regulate overdraft protection, banning companies from assessing a fee unless the customer chooses not to opt out of that service.


RICHARD SILVERSTEIN, TIKUN OLAM In the Jewish community, the mud [against Obama] has been slung fast and furiously for months now. The latest comes from a major leader in the Los Angeles Jewish community who is a Clinton "bundler" (in the words of Variety's political blog), Daphna Ziman. She attended a fundraising event addressed by the local director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (and also a black minister). Ziman accused the minister of blaming Jews for the negative portrayal of blacks in Hollywood films. In a subsequent e-mail sent to 50,000 of her "closest" Jewish confidants by way of the mailing list of the pro-Israel group, Stand With Us, Ziman called him an anti-Semite and linked him to Rev. Wright. In a separate e-mail, she claimed that Obama's "movement is out to destroy us [Jews]." This incident was further amplified by the right-wing online news outlet, Pajamas Media and the Republican Jewish Coalition. Clinton's campaign hasn't said a word about Ziman's outburst (which wasn't the first time she expressed what I call Jewish Obamaphobia). When the Clinton campaign winks at such hysteria, aided and abetted by Republican groups and conservative media outlets, it makes you wonder just whose side is she on (and just who is on her side)?


MADDY SAUER, ABC NEWS Yesterday's suicide of so-called D.C. Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey has again shown the great discrepancy between men and women when it comes to how the crime of prostitution is punished.

Palfrey, who was to be sentenced in July on federal charges stemming from operating a prostitution service, was found dead yesterday in a shed outside a mobile home owned by her mother. Police say she hanged herself with a nylon rope. Meanwhile, some of her best-known male clients continue to hold powerful and highly paid jobs and have not faced criminal charges.

Ambassador Randall Tobias, who resigned from the State Department after admitting he had been a customer of Palfrey's service, recently accepted a high-profile job as the head of the Indianapolis Airport Authority. . .

"For that guy to have a landed in that kind of job is just ridiculous," Janice Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America told "That is the perfect example of the inequity," said Crouse who runs a think tank at CWFA, the Beverly LaHaye Institute. Crouse says the contrast between Palfrey and Tobias is not unique.

Crouse says the more successful a "john" is, the less likely he is to be punished. Indeed, another one of Palfrey's former clients is a sitting United States senator. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., admitted to having been a customer of Palfrey's service and apologized. No criminal charges were ever filed against him.

Madams, however, are even more likely to be punished the more glamorous and successful they are, says Crouse. The infamous "Hollywood Madam" Heidi Fleiss was sentenced to three years in prison. She served a little under two years. She catered to numerous celebrity clients, including actor Charlie Sheen, who testified at her trial that he spent as much as $50,000 on her call girls.

Sheen was not criminally charged and today stars in the CBS sitcom "Two and a Half Men." In stark contrast, Fleiss today reportedly runs a coin-operated laundromat, called Dirty Laundry, and was recently arrested for illegal possession of prescription drugs.

"Our government and community should think about the ultimate goal here," Juhu Thukral, the director of the Sex Workers Project, which engages in legal advocacy for sex workers, told "This prosecution has caused the death of two women and untold unhappiness for a lot of families including those of the customers whose names came out."

"What did this prosecution accomplish?" asks Thukral. "Look at the lives destroyed."


POLITICO The nation's top Democrats are suddenly rushing to appear on the Fox News Channel, which they once had shunned as enemy territory as the nemesis of liberal bloggers. The detente with Fox has provoked a backlash from progressive bloggers, who contend the party's leaders are turning their backs on the base - and lending credibility and legitimacy to the network liberals love to hate - in a quest for a few swing votes. In a span of eight days, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY.) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean are all taking their seats with the network that calls itself "fair and balanced" but is widely viewed as skewing conservative. Markos Moulitsas, founder of the leading liberal site Daily Kos, told Politico's Michael Calderone: "Democrats are being idiotic by going on that network." Ari Melber, the Net movement correspondent for The Nation, told Politico by phone that progressive activists and the Netroots are "not happy about it."

SAM SMITH: A more useful approach, albeit alien to the contemporary liberal mind, is that politics is about convincing other people and not merely associating with those with whom you agree. As Brazilian Archbishop Helder Pessoa Camara once put it:

"Let no one be scandalized if I frequent those who are considered unworthy or sinful. Who is not a sinner? Let no one be alarmed if I am seen with compromised and dangerous people, on the left or the right. Let no one bind me to a group. My door, my heart, must open to everyone, absolutely everyone."

I have made it practice, and encourage others, to engage cordially with the other side. It's how you actually win votes. Far from everyone who watches Fox has the same perspective as Bill O'Reilly, In fact, in my one appearance on the O'Reilly show I didn't do all that badly. According to my post-show analysis, I managed 104 more words than O'Reilly and was actually allowed two answers of 78 and 84 words. I was restricted to five or less words in only 31.11% of my replies.


RAW STORY In two states where US attorneys are already under fire for serious allegations of political prosecutions, seven people associated with three federal cases have experienced 10 suspicious incidents including break-ins and arson. These crimes raise serious questions about possible use of deliberate intimidation tactics not only because of who the victims are and the already wide criticism of the prosecutions to begin with, but also because of the suspicious nature of each incident individually as well as the pattern collectively. Typically burglars do not break-into an office or private residence only to rummage through documents, for example, as is the case with most of the burglaries in these two federal cases.

In Alabama, for instance, the home of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman was burglarized twice during the period of his first indictment. Nothing of value was taken, however, and according to the Siegelman family, the only items of interest to the burglars were the files in Siegelman's home office.Siegelman's attorney experienced the same type of break-in at her office.

In neighboring Mississippi, a case brought against a trial lawyer and three judges raises even more disturbing questions. Of the four individuals in the same case, three of the US Attorney's targets were the victims of crimes during their indictment or trial. This case, like that of Governor Siegelman, has been widely criticized as a politically motivated prosecution by a Bush US Attorney.

The main target of the indictment, attorney Paul Minor, had his office broken into, while Mississippi Supreme Court Justice, Oliver E. Diaz Jr., had his home burglarized. According to police reports and statements from Diaz and from individuals close to Minor, nothing of value was taken and the burglars only rummaged through documents and in Minor's case, also took a single computer from an office full of expensive office equipment.

The incidents are not limited to burglaries. In Mississippi, former Judge John Whitfield was the victim of arson at his office. In Alabama, the whistleblower in the Don Siegelman case, Dana Jill Simpson, had her home burned down, and shortly thereafter her car was allegedly forced off the road.

While there is no direct evidence linking these crimes to the US Attorneys' office targeting these individuals, or to the Bush administration, there is a distinct pattern that makes it highly unlikely that these incidents are isolated and unrelated.


TRUDY LIEBERMAN, COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW John McCain finally came forth this week with what his campaign dubbed a major policy speech, laying out his to do list for health care reform. . . Let's start with McCain's overarching reform-altering the tax code to begin weaning the public off of employer-provided health coverage, currently the bedrock of the U.S. health insurance system. His plan would give workers the option of leaving their employers' plans and getting a federal tax credit-$2500 for individuals and $5000 for families-to buy their own insurance in the commercial market. Leaving aside the merits of a plan that could eventually lead to the demise of our employer-based system, a question: How would McCain pay for that tax credit? Now here comes the confusion. The AP ran a somewhat muddled story Tuesday that said:

"To pay for the tax credit, McCain would eliminate the tax exemption for people whose employers pay a portion of their coverage, raising an estimated $3.6 trillion in revenues, [McCain adviser] Holtz-Eakin said. Companies that provide coverage to workers still would get tax breaks. McCain would also cut costs by limiting health care lawsuits."

By that account. . . McCain means that if your boss pays for part of your health insurance, you will begin to pay taxes on some part of it, the way people pay taxes on employer-provided life insurance already. Apparently, the insurance would be counted as income subject to income taxes.

Meanwhile, would employers-who now can deduct health- insurance costs as a business expense-still get to do that, as the AP reported? Or not, as The New York Times suggested yesterday. The Times reported that Holtz-Eakin said the government would save that $3.6 trillion over the next decade by eliminating the tax break that currently goes to encourage employer-based health coverage. That sounds like eliminating the tax break that employers currently get.

But did Holtz-Eakin mean the break to employers, employees, or both? It wasn't really clear to the casual reader. Thursday's Times reported that McCain proposed eliminating the exclusion of health benefits from taxable income for workers. So maybe that's it. But to get further clarity, we called the McCain campaign press office (three times). No one called us back. We looked at McCain's speech, posted on his Web site. No help there-gobbledygook to most people. Here's what it said about the tax breaks:

Under current law, the federal government gives a tax benefit when employers provide health-insurance coverage to American workers and their families. This benefit doesn't cover the total cost of the health plan, and in reality each worker and family absorbs the rest of the cost in lower wages and diminished benefits. But it provides essential support for insurance coverage. . .

The important thing to know about McCain's plan at the moment is that either way-by making employees pay taxes on employer- provided coverage or by no longer allowing employers to deduct health insurance as a business expense, or by doing both-it's the proverbial nose under the camel's tent. It's the beginning of the end of health insurance as we know it, so what he proposes as a replacement should be very carefully reported and considered. In McCain's plan, under the banner of consumer choice, everyone will eventually need to find insurance on their own in the private market. In his speech, McCain himself said: 'Millions of Americans would be making their own health-care choices again.'

This reminds me a lot of what's happening to Medicare. The push to entice beneficiaries to buy certain kinds of private-market policies and opt out of traditional Medicare is a wedge that begins to privatize the program. Encouraging people to opt out of their employer health coverage does the same thing-it makes people fly solo when it comes to their health insurance. Is that what American workers want?


We have heard much about Barack Obama's eloquence this campaign season. Here is some more eloquence - sent our way by Jim McCusker - that illustrates that eloquence only takes you so far. . .

The simple things are the ones most needed today if we are to surmount what divides us, and cement what unites us.

In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading.
We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices

Click here for the source of these fine words


JOE SMYDO, PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE Richardo Grimsley, a sophomore at Pittsburgh Westinghouse High School in Homewood, said he sometimes thought about writing poetry but didn't put pen to paper until a new after-school program debuted in October. So far, he's authored 20 poems, including "Fantasy," about his childhood dreams, and "Get Up," about his struggles with adversity. He's also refurbishing a bicycle through the program.

Called the Lighthouse Project, the program represents the Pittsburgh Public Schools' first efforts to create "community" or "full-service" schools that go beyond education to focus on students' health and welfare.

Many community schools serve adults, too.

They often stay open well into the evening, providing a range of social services to lift individuals, mend families and revitalize neighborhoods. "Get Up" could be the schools' theme. . .

With a contract of about $300,000, the Homewood-Brushton YMCA launched the project with classes in poetry, dance, music production and visual arts, all designed to broaden Westinghouse students' horizons.

While Richardo worked on poetry, other students printed T-shirts with a Lighthouse Project logo, painted murals and practiced "stepping," the dance style highlighted in the movie "Stomp the Yard."

The program also includes guest speakers and field trips. . .

The Lighthouse Project operates from 3 to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Attendance fluctuates; about 30 students were present Wednesday.

Community schools are modeled after the 19th-century settlement houses that provided education, health care and other services to immigrants in New York and Chicago. The philosopher John Dewey advanced the concept in a 1902 address titled "The School as Social Center," and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation funded some of the nation's earliest community schools in Flint, Mich., during the 1930s.

Interest has waxed and waned, with the Coalition for Community Schools in Washington, D.C., trying to build numbers and secure federal funding for the schools. . .



PHIL LEGGIERE, DON'T TASE ME BRO' A federal appeals court has rejected a constitutional challenge to a federal law that restricts, and in some cases bars, students with drug convictions from participation in federal college aid programs.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, in St. Louis, ruled in Students for Sensible Drug Policy Foundation v. Spellings that the controversial sanctions do not violate the double-jeopardy clause of the 5th Amendment.

The student group argued that the primary purpose of the law is deterrence of criminal action, so the secondary sanction on those convicted of drug crimes is form of double jeopardy. But the court noted that, under the law, a student may restore his or her eligibility for federal student aid by completing a drug-rehabilitation program.


DC EXAMINER When Deborah Jeane Palfrey. . . sat down in May 2007 for an interview with Carol Joynt, host of the Q&A Cafe interview series, most everything was up in the air: Palfrey faced a criminal indictment on prostitution charges and was fighting courts over how to handle thirteen years of phone records which contained the phone numbers of many clients of her escort service. But, for Palfrey, one thing was crystal clear during that interview: She would never end her life by hanging herself. Joynt brought up the subject of Brandy Britton, a Baltimore prostitute whom had occasionally worked for Palfrey and whom had hanged herself in January 2007, only days away from facing prostitution charges. Palfrey told Joynt in no uncertain terms: "I don't want to be like her. I don't want to end up like her."

SMOKING GUN Deborah Palfrey, the so-called D.C. Madam who today committed suicide at her mother's Florida home, once told a California judge that she "seriously considered" killing herself following her arrest in a felony pimping case in the early-1990s. The 52-year-old Palfrey, whose body was found hanging in a shed near her mother Blanche's Tarpon Springs home, was convicted last month of racketeering and money laundering in connection with her operation of an escort service that catered to Washington insiders, including Republican Senator David Vitter. Palfrey's federal collar came 16 years after she took her first pimping conviction in San Diego Superior Court. Before her sentencing in that case, Palfrey filed a court memorandum claiming that she had "thoughts of suicide" and experienced "Vietnam-like flashbacks" as a result of persecution at the hands of San Diego police. Suicide, she noted, was a "viable option." An excerpt from Palfrey's June 1992 court filing can be found below, while the entire document, which details her personal history, is here. In arguing that she deserved probation and not incarceration, Palfrey stated that she was "not a criminal" and "not prison material." She also promised, "I will not re-enter the escort business." Though she claimed to have "suffered enough," Palfrey was eventually sentenced to 18 months in state prison.


Nostalgic moments from the Clinton years

PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, 1999 - Retired police chief SA Rhoads has been teaching a cop course on "subconscious communications" since 1978 to hundreds of police officers, most recently including some 500 from DC. Among the model liars he uses to illustrate his course: Timothy McVeigh, OJ Simpson, and W.J. Clinton, the last having made than 120 gestures of "textbook deception" during his deposition.



MARC ABRAHAMS, GUARDIAN Doctors have to suffer jokes about their supposedly horrendous, illegible handwriting. But several studies bolster their reputation for scratchy scribbling.

There is illegible handwriting in Australia. We know this from a 1976 study in the Medical Journal of Australia, which tells how the handwriting of "a large number of" doctors and non-doctors was tested and compared. The handwriting was graded, and four different statistical tests were performed on the results. The study's author, H Goldsmith, reports that "in all of these tests the doctors' handwriting came out significantly worse. Thus the only conclusion which could be established from these results was that doctors' handwriting is indeed less legible than others."

On the other hand, so to speak, there may be moderately legible handwriting in some parts of America. A 1994 report by five researchers in Indiana, Michigan and Virginia compared the time it took to read internists' handwritten notes with the time needed to read typed versions of those same notes. The handwritten versions, they report, took only 46% more time to read, and just 11% more time to comprehend. From this they conclude, somehow, that "The legibility of physician handwriting is not as dismal as assumed; physicians can effectively communicate on paper".

Researchers in Texas reached an opposite conclusion. In a 1997 study published in the journal Heart and Lung, they asked experienced nurses to assess doctors' handwritten orders for medication. The results: "20% of the medication orders and 78% of the signatures were illegible or legible with effort." In 1998, four doctors in Swansea, Wales - Ronan Lyons, Christopher Payne, Michael McCabe and Colin Fielder - used computer technology to compare their fellow physicians' handwriting with that of administrative staff and other healthcare professionals. The results, published in the British Medical Journal, are dismal. Lyons, Payne, McCabe and Fielder write (or, more likely, type) that "doctors, even when asked to be as neat as possible, produce handwriting that is worse than that of other professions".

However, in that gloom they do see one ray of light: "A surprising finding of our study is that the poor legibility was confined to letters of the alphabet rather than numbers. This may reflect the importance attached by doctors to the legibility of drug doses."

GA Cheeseman and N Boon of the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh published a report called "Reputation and the Legibility of Doctors' Handwriting in Situ," in the Scottish Medical Journal in 2001. They compared the handwriting of doctors with that of nurses, and found that the doctors write "significantly quicker" and that their handwriting is "significantly less legible". Cheeseman and Boon express optimism, because they see unexpected clarity amid the confusion. The sunny part of the story, they say, is that only "a small minority of the doctors was responsible for the majority of illegible words written by that group".


NEW SCIENTIST The Milanese are partial to a line or two of cocaine. The same goes for many drug users in London, although they dabble in heroin more than their Italian counterparts. Both cities like ecstasy at the weekends and cannabis pretty much every day. Welcome to the results from a new branch of public health: sewage epidemiology. . .

The team, headed by Ettore Zuccato and based at the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, looked at samples collected from sewage works in London, Lugano and their hometown. They showed that the results are reproducible - samples taken on the same day in different weeks give similar results - and roughly in line with other estimates of drug use.

The data also provide a level of detail that other methods may miss. Official figures for Italy show that 1.2% of the population, or 10,000 people in Milan, use cocaine. If every one of those was what researchers call a "light" user - someone who consumes around 16 grams annually - 160 kilograms of the drug would disappear up Milanese noses every year.



THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Timothy E. Caudill, 21, could lose his probation over the infraction at a community corrections program. He slept through a fire drill, had loose tobacco in his possession and didn't show up for kitchen duty.Then Timothy E. Caudill shared a Little Debbie snack cake with another inmate at a correctional facility in southeastern Ohio. That was the last straw.

The 21-year-old was kicked out of the residential community corrections program that was a requirement of his probation. And he could go to prison. That is absurd, said Caudill's attorney, Claire "Buzz" Ball. "Everybody talks about prison overcrowding. My God, you have to send some guy to prison for sharing a snack?" Ball said.

Vinton County Prosecutor Timothy P. Gleeson has asked Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Simmons to revoke Caudill's probation and put him in prison. . . The prosecutor wants Caudill put in prison for nine months. With credit for 105 days served at the SEPTA Correctional Facility, he would serve nearly six more months. . .

"My God, over a 50-cent cake, the state would spend $12,600 for six months," Ball said.

Caudill bought the Little Debbie from the vending machine and then knowingly shared it with a fellow inmate who was on restriction and wasn't allowed access to the vending-machine snacks, said Bob Eaton, operations manager at SEPTA. Caudill was kicked out the next day.

"Admittedly, some of the rules seem a little strange, but the guys come to us because they made bad choices," he said.

Caudill racked up a string of about eight misdemeanor offenses before breaking into Krazy Katie's and getting his first felony conviction, Gleeson said, and his behavior at SEPTA shows that he still fails to follow the rules.

"It's more complicated than a Little Debbie snack cake," he said.

Caudill said he bought a Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie to share with someone who was allowed snack privileges, but a "boy who was always messing with" Caudill and was restricted from snacks swiped part of it.

"I don't think I deserve prison time," Caudill said. "Maybe 30 days (in jail) and extended probation."



In a sign that the economic downturn is hitting hard among Latino immigrants, more than three million of them stopped sending money to families in their home countries during the last two years, the Inter-American Development Bank said on Wednesday. Growing numbers of Latino immigrants are also considering giving up their foothold in the United States and returning home in response to a slump in low-wage jobs and the crackdown on illegal immigration, the bank reported in a survey of 5,000 immigrants from Latin America. The survey found that only half of the 18.9 million Latino immigrants in this country now send money regularly to relatives in their home countries, compared with 73 percent two years ago. NY Times

Thousands of dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, took the day off work in what their union called a protest of the war in Iraq, effectively shutting down operations at the busy complexes. The show of force by the union came two months before the contract expires between the dockworkers, represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and the Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents port operators and large shippers, many of them foreign-owned. "We are supporting the troops and telling politicians in Washington that it's time to end the war in Iraq," said union President Bob McEllrath. - LA Times

It is hard to determine just how much people are cutting back on tipping. But the stakes are huge. The restaurant industry in the U.S. employs 13.1 million people, making it the nation's third-largest employer, behind the federal government and the healthcare industry, according to the National Restaurant Assn., a trade organization. About 1.1 million Californians work at food service and drinking establishments, many in jobs where tips make up a significant portion of their pay. Thousands more work for car washes, nail salons, taxi companies and in other jobs in which tips play a role in their wages. . . Michael Lynn, professor of consumer behavior at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, estimated that Americans tip $30 billion annually, although he said there have been no good studies on the issue. "But the testimony is that tips go down in bad times.". . . On a typical Saturday night, Brian Best once earned as much as $200 in tips as a server at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. at Universal CityWalk. Since the fall, Best's tip take has slid to about $120 on a weekend night. "People just don't have the money. They will go out to eat, but won't tip as much," Best said. LA Times
The Home Depot is closing 15 of its namesake stores, affecting 1,300 employees. It is the first time the home improvement retailer has ever closed a flagship store for performance reasons. The Atlanta-based company said that the underperforming U.S. stores being closed represent less than 1 percent of its existing stores. They will be shuttered within the next two months. AP


Fewer caribou calves are being born and more of them are dying in West Greenland as a result of a warming climate, according to Eric Post, a Penn State associate professor of biology. Post, who believes that caribou may serve as an indicator species for climate changes including global warming, based his conclusions on data showing that the timing of peak food availability no longer corresponds to the timing of caribou births. Caribou -- which are closely related to wild reindeer -- are dependent on plants for all their energy and nutrients. Throughout the long Arctic winter, when there is no plant growth, they dig through snow to find lichens; however, in spring they rapidly switch to grazing on the new growth of willows, sedges, and flowering tundra herbs. As the birth season approaches, they are cued by increasing day length to migrate into areas where this newly-emergent food is plentiful. But this routine, which has worked for millennia, is faltering because caribou are unable to keep pace with certain changes that have occurred as a result of global warming. When the animals arrive at their calving grounds now, pregnant females find that the plants on which they depend already have reached peak productivity and have begun to decline in nutritional value. - Scientific Blogging




False identifications based on a terrorist no-fly list have for years prevented some federal air marshals from boarding flights they are assigned to protect, according to officials with the agency, which is finally taking steps to address the problem. Federal Air Marshals familiar with the situation say the mix-ups, in which marshals are mistaken for terrorism suspects who share the same names, have gone on for years - just as they have for thousands of members of the traveling public. One air marshal said it has been "a major problem, where guys are denied boarding by the airline.". . . "In some cases, planes have departed without any coverage because the airline employees were adamant they would not fly," said the air marshal, who asked not to be named because the job requires anonymity. "I've seen guys actually being denied boarding." Washington Times


New York State Governor David Paterson signed a bill into law that will make it harder for "libel tourists" to threaten authors and publishers with foreign libel suits. The Libel Terrorism Protection Act prohibits the enforcement of a foreign libel judgment unless a New York court determines that it satisfies the free speech and free press protections guaranteed by the First Amendment and the New York State Constitution. It also allows New York courts, under certain circumstances, to exercise jurisdiction over non-residents who obtain foreign libel judgments against New Yorkers. Publishers Weekly


The Greens are celebrating a historic result after leapfrogging the Liberal Democrats to become the second largest party in Norwich, UK. With just a handful of councils still to declare, the Greens were set for a net election gain of five extra council seats, bringing their total to 116. They won nine additional seats across the country, including in Cambridge, Liverpool and Camden. But they lost four, including their toehold seat in Manchester and one of eight councilors in Oxford. Their biggest win was in Norwich, where the Greens are now the main challenger to Labor on the city council, with 13 councillors to Labor's 15. The Lib Dems lost five seats, reducing their total to six, while the Conservatives were up two, bringing their tally to five.

The chads on those ballots in Florida hung for a reason. As seven former employees of Sequoia Voting Systems, the company which produced FL's paper ballots in 2000 attest, they were forced by company superiors to use inferior paper for those ballots, only the ones going to Florida, and were further ordered to misalign the chads on those paper ballots, but only for those going to Dem stronghold, Palm Beach County.


More than 80 percent of high blood pressure disease occurs in the developing world, and mostly among younger adults, researchers said in a report that belies the image of hypertension as a disease of harried, overfed rich people. They estimated that 7.6 million people died prematurely because of high blood pressure in 2001, with just over half of all strokes caused by the condition - Reuters

According to the FBI, in 2006 there were 17,000 murders and non-negligent manslaughters in the United States. According to the Institute of Medicine, "Lack of health insurance causes roughly 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year." - Same Facts


The largest study of its kind has unexpectedly concluded that smoking marijuana, even regularly and heavily, does not lead to lung cancer. The new findings "were against our expectations," said Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles, a pulmonologist who has studied marijuana for 30 years. "We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use," he said. "What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect." Federal health and drug enforcement officials have widely used Tashkin's previous work on marijuana to make the case that the drug is dangerous. Tashkin said that while he still believes marijuana is potentially harmful, its cancer-causing effects appear to be of less concern than previously thought. - Washington Post


Newly released figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the nation's Latino population grew by 1.4 million in 2007 to reach 45.5 million people, or 15.1% of the total U.S. population of 301.6 million. Blacks ranked as the second-largest minority group, at 40.7 million. . . Four states and the District of Columbia were regarded as "majority minority," meaning that more than 50% of their population consists of nonwhites. Hawaii led the nation, with a population that was 75% minority in 2007, followed by the District of Columbia (68%), New Mexico (58%), California (57%) and Texas (52%). . . * California had the largest Latino population of any state last year, with 13.2 million accounting for 36% of the total population. Texas was next, with 8.6 million (also 36% of the population), followed by Florida, with 3.8 million (21%). . . Nationally, Latinos were the fastest-growing minority group, with a 3.3% population increase. Asians were the second-fastest-growing group, with a 2.9% increase. The black population grew by 1.3%, and the white population grew by 0.3%. Native Americans grew by 1%, and native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders grew by 1.6%. LA Times


Of the myriad losers in a [Florida] budget that cuts a record $4 billion in spending, public education will lose the most -- with Miami-Dade and Broward schools getting hit hardest of all. The two biggest counties together will shoulder more than a third of the $332 million in cuts to K-12 classroom spending in the proposed budget lawmakers will approve when the legislative session ends. . . The biggest budget winner: prison builders. They'll get $305 million to build one private and two public lockups. By the end of the budget year on June 30, 2009, the prison population is anticipated to swell to 107,000. Miami Herald




SSRI STORIES is a collection of 2200 news stories with full media articles, mainly criminal in nature, that have appeared or that were part of FDA testimony in either 1991, 2004 or 2006, in which antidepressants are mentioned. Antidepressants have been recognized as potential inducers of mania and psychosis since their introduction in the 1950s. Since the introduction of Prozac in December, 1987, there has been a massive increase in the number of people taking antidepressants. Preda and Bowers reported that over 200,000 people a year enter a hospital with antidepressant-associated mania and/or psychosis.


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