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Undernews For July 20, 2008

Undernews For July 20, 2008

FROM THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW
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Editor: Sam Smith

20 JULY 2008

SWAMPOODLE REPORT: WHEN SCIENCE, POLITICS, RELIGION & JOURNALISM MEET

Sam Smith

Several months ago, Suzan Mazur wrote of an important upcoming conference of scientists who did not reject the theory Darwin's beliefs about evolution but who thought things that had been learned in the succeeding century and a half might expand or alter some of the underlying assumptions.

A reasonable, unsurprising, yet important project, one that one naturally expects of scientists. And newsworthy. In fact, however, only the New Zealand online journal Scoop and the Progressive Review, so far as we can tell, told the story.

Now another journal has finally published a report on the conference (for paid subscribers only): Science Magazine, the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Admittedly, Science takes a number of slaps at what it considers Mazur's hyperbole, such as her calling the Altenberg Conference the "Woodstock" of evolution science that "promises to be far more transforming for the world" than was the 1969 music festival. But without Mazur's article, Science might have just let this important meeting remain in the obscurity it had been otherwise awarded.

The popular view of science - which the profession is careful not to discourage - is of brilliant, earnest and honest sorts plumbing the inner recesses of reality for new truths. In fact, scientists tend to be like other human beings, in that they can also be petty, jealous, cautious and suspicious (albeit expressing these ordinary foibles with particular erudition).

And, if they are on campus, they are also subject to that most pernicious of academic temptations: the desires and biases of their funders. Mazur believes this is a factor key to the way evolution has been handled of late. Certainly it would not be the first time in science, witness the distorting role of the Defense Department, agribusiness and pharmaceutical corporations in supposedly objective science.

At the very least, it can easily become a matter of what fiscally correct questions one feels comfortable asking and which are best left to someone else. And it may explain why the Altenberg 16 conference was not public.

Evolutionary scientists are also particularly on guard these days because of the craziness of creationism. Mention the possibility that Darwin may not have told the whole story and the reaction in some quarters is to consider the mere question to be aid and comfort to the enemy. To understand how complicated this can get, consider on the other hand the born again corporate executive who simultaneously believes his salary and bonus to be the logical product of both intelligent design and the survival of the fittest.

In any case, scientists, like the rest of us mortals, don't work in a vacuum. If there is anything we should have learned from Hiroshima and climate change it is that what goes on in the research lab doesn't necessarily stay in the research lab.

This is where journalism can help. What Suzan Mazur did is what journalists find themselves doing from time to time: snooping around the lab before they're invited. It is an effort often unappreciated by scientists, who typically feel they should control the amount, character, timing and wording of the knowledge they possess. But the reporter's point is not to provide a final or complete explanation, or to overturn existing ones, but simply to shine some light in the dark, in this case without fear of either funders or fundamentalists.

THE BACK STORY

Suzan Mazur, Scoop, NZ, July 10 It's not Yasgur's Farm, but what happens at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria this July promises to be far more transforming for the world than Woodstock. What it amounts to is a gathering of 16 biologists and philosophers of rock star stature - let's call them "the Altenberg 16" - who recognize that the theory of evolution which most practicing biologists accept and which is taught in classrooms today, is inadequate in explaining our existence. It's pre the discovery of DNA, lacks a theory for body form and does not accommodate other new phenomena. So the theory Charles Darwin gave us, which was dusted off and repackaged 70 years ago, seems about to be reborn as the "Extended Evolutionary Synthesis".

Papers are in. MIT will publish the findings in 2009 - the 150th anniversary of Darwin's publication of the Origin of Species. And despite the fact that organizers are downplaying the Altenberg meeting as a discussion about whether there should be a new theory, it already appears a done deal. Some kind of shift away from the population genetic-centered view of evolution is afoot. . .

When I asked esteemed Harvard evolutionary geneticist Richard Lewontin in a phone conversation what role natural selection plays in evolution, he said, "Natural selection occurs."

Lewontin thinks it's important to view the living world holistically. He says natural selection is not the only biological force operating on the composition of populations. And whatever the mechanism of passage of information from parent to offspring contributing to your formation, what natural selection addresses is "do you survive?"

In an aside, Lewontin noted natural selection's tie-in to capitalism, saying, "Well, that's where Darwin got the idea from, that's for sure. . . He read the stock market every day . . . How do you think he made a living?". . .

[An] article by Rutgers University philosopher Jerry Fodor in the London Review of Books called "Why Pigs Don't Have Wings" . . . essentially argues that biologists increasingly see the central story of Darwin as wrong in a way that can't be repaired. When I called Fodor to discuss the article, he joked that he was now in the Witness Protection Program because he'd been so besieged following the LRB piece. But we met for coffee anyway, on Darwin's birthday, as frothy snowflakes floated to ground around Lincoln Center. After a cappuccino or two, Fodor summed things up saying we've got to build a new theory and "all I'm wanted to argue is that whatever the story turns out to be, it's not going to be the selectionist story".

Fodor also told me that "you can't put this stuff in the press because it's an attack on the theory of natural selection" and besides "99.99% of the population have no idea what the theory of natural selection is". . .

Richard Lewontin told me he resents evolutionary biology being "invaded by people like Jerry Fodor and others" as well as by some from within the field who don't really know the "mechanical details down to the last".

Evolutionary biologist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci is also critical of Fodor for not seeing "the big picture". Pigliucci is a principal architect of the Altenberg 16 meeting as well as a participant. .

But while he thinks Fodor is "dead wrong" about natural selection becoming irrelevant to the theory of evolution, he does recognize the value philosophers, in general, bring to science. Several of the Altenberg 16 participants are, in fact, philosophers - including, of course, Pigliucci.

Pigliucci says philosophers have two roles to play in science. One is to keep scientists - who are focused on the details - honest by looking from a distance and asking the big questions: "Well, is the paradigm that you're working with, in fact, working? Is it useful? Could it be better?"

The second is as public intellectuals. He thinks some of the best responses he's seen against Intelligent Design and Creationism, for instance, have been by philosophers. . .

So what are those other engines of evolution that threaten to decommission natural selection - those "endogenous variables" - of which Jerry Fodor speaks . . . in his article?

Pigliucci cites epigenetic inheritance [something that affects a cell, organ or individual without directly affecting its DNA] as one of the mechanisms that Darwin knew nothing about. He says there is mounting empirical evidence to "suspect" there's a whole additional layer chemically on top of the genes that is inherited but is not DNA. Darwin, of course, did not even know of the existence of DNA.

Nevertheless, these kinds of phenomena are part of what's loosely being called self-organization, in short a spontaneous organization of systems. Snowflakes, a drop of water, a hurricane are all such spontaneously organized examples. These systems grow more complex in form as a result of a process of attraction and repulsion.

So, coming up with a "sound" theory for form is one of the big challenges for the Altenberg 16.

Developmental biologist Stuart Kauffman is clearly one who thinks we must expand evolutionary theory. . . He reminded me in our phone conversation that Darwin doesn't explain how life begins, "Darwin starts with life. He doesn't get you to life." . . . Kauffman also describes genes as "utterly dead". However, he says there are some genes that turn the rest of the genes and one another on and off. Certain chemical reactions happen. Enzymes are produced, etc. . . . "

Kauffman presents some of this in his new book Reinventing the Sacred. And natural selection is back in the equation. In his book Investigations, Kauffman wrote that "self-organization mingles with natural selection in barely understood ways to yield the magnificence of our teeming biosphere". He said he's still there, but now thinks natural selection exists throughout the universe.

Curiously, when I called Kevin Padian, president of [National Center for Science Education's] board of directors and a witness at the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover trial on Intelligent Design, to ask him about the evolution debate among scientists - he said, "On some things there is not a debate." He then hung up. . .

I also spoke with evolutionary biologist Michael Lynch at his lab at Indiana University to get his perspective on the evolution debate.

Lynch is the author of the recent book The Origins of Genome Architecture. He says it's hard enough just to be a molecular biologist or a cell biologist and that reaching out to communicate to other fields is a "daunting task". He doesn't know why there's a push for an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis and says, "Everyone's bantering around these terms complexity, evolvability, robustness, and arguing that we need a new theory to explain these; I don't see it."

Altenberg 16 Invitation - We are writing to invite you to what we hope will be a major event to be hosted by the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Evolution and Cognition Research, in Altenberg, Austria on 10-13 July 2008. Our idea is nothing less than getting together a high-level group of biologists and philosophers to have a frank exchange of ideas about what, if anything, might a new Extended Evolutionary Synthesis look like. .

The challenge seems clear to us: how do we make sense, conceptually, of the astounding advances in biology since the 1940s?. . . Not only we have witnessed the molecular revolution, from the discovery of the structure of DNA to the genomic era, we are also grappling with the increasing . . . that we just don't have the theoretical and analytical tools necessary to make sense of the bewildering diversity and complexity of living organisms.

What is less clear is how much talk of an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis is actually going to coalesce into an organic conceptual structure capable of significantly augmenting the existing synthesis, while at the same time retaining the many key advances of Darwinism and neo-Darwinism - from population genetics theory to our still evolving understanding of the nature of species, to mention just two. . .

The central idea for the symposium is to have contributed papers on a range of conceptual issues that have not been addressed. . . with the authors attempting not as much to give the latest technical update, but rather to provide an organic view of in what sense the new ideas can be said to extend the current scope of evolutionary theory. . .

From an interview with Stuart Kauffman

Suzan Mazur: Are there alternatives to natural selection?

Stuart Kauffman: I think self-organization is part of an alternative to natural selection. . . In fact, it's a huge debate. The truth is that we don't know how to think about it.

Suzan Mazur: You said in your forward to Investigations: "Self organization mingles with natural selection in barely understood ways to yield the magnificence of our teeming biosphere. We must, therefore, expand evolutionary theory."

Stuart Kauffman: I'm still there. . . .

Suzan Mazur: You've said: "The snowflake's delicate six-fold symmetry tells us that order can arise without the benefit of natural selection." So it can arise without natural selection, but it's not living.

Stuart Kauffman: But it's not living. Right. There are all sorts of signatures of self-organization. I'll give you one that very few would doubt. . . If you take lipids like cholesterol and you put them in water, they fall into a structure - a liposome, which is called a bilipid membrane, that forms a hollow vesicle. . . . Now if you look at the structure of this bilipid membrane, it's virtually identical to the bilipid membrane in your cells. So this is a self-organized property of lipids. That's physics and chemistry. . . . And evolution has made use of it to make lipid membranes that balance cells. So that's a snowflake. It's hard to look at that and doubt it. Nothing mysterious or mystical. . .

Suzan Mazur: No genes in the mix.

Stuart Kauffman: Genes by themselves are utterly dead. They're just DNA molecules. It takes a whole cell in the case of a fertilized egg to grow into an adult. So there's a lot of physics and chemistry. . . . And somehow the right answer is that this is a whole integrated system in which matter, energy, information, whatever that means - it turns out to be a very slippery concept - and the control of process is all organized in some way. . .
Suzan Mazur: So natural selection exists throughout the universe?

Stuart Kauffman: Well, yes, wherever there's life. But notice that there's self-organization too. . .

There are people who are spouting off as if we know the answer. We don't know the answer.

Suzan Mazur: So you're saying we should enjoy life.

Stuart Kauffman: Well, we should enjoy life. But we have to rethink evolutionary theory. It's not just natural selection. Self-organization is real.

Altenberg 2008, Final Statement - Below is the final statement emerging from the Altenberg workshop, agreed upon by all 16 participants. . . . MIT Press will publish the full proceedings by the end of 2009.

A group of 16 evolutionary biologists and philosophers of science convened at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research in Altenberg (Austria) on July 11-13 to discuss the current status of evolutionary theory, and in particular a series of exciting empirical and conceptual advances that have marked the field in recent times.

The new information includes findings from the continuing molecular biology revolution, as well as a large body of empirical knowledge on genetic variation in natural populations, phenotypic plasticity, phylogenetics, species-level stasis and punctuational evolution, and developmental biology, among others.

The new concepts include (but are not limited to): evolvability, developmental plasticity, phenotypic and genetic accommodation, punctuated evolution, phenotypic innovation, facilitated variation, epigenetic inheritance, and multi-level selection.

By incorporating these new results and insights into our understanding of evolution, we believe that the explanatory power of evolutionary theory is greatly expanded within biology and beyond. As is the nature of science, some of the new ideas will stand the test of time, while others will be significantly modified. Nonetheless, there is much justified excitement in evolutionary biology these days. This is a propitious time to engage the scientific community in a vast interdisciplinary effort to further our understanding of how life evolves.

PAGE ONE MUST

OBAMA'S STRANGE AFFECTION FOR REAGAN

David Paul Kuhn, Politico - During his bid for the presidency, Obama has repeatedly praised the political gifts of Reagan, the modern president most revered by Republicans, and whose policies are still held in contempt by many leading liberals. A year ago Obama compared Reagan favorably to President Bush in a primary debate while defending his pledge to meet directly with the leaders of hostile nations without preconditions. "Ronald Reagan called [Russia] an evil empire," said Obama, but he also "spoke to the Soviet Union."

In January, Obama came under fire from within his party after casting himself as an emotive heir to Reagan. "Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America," Obama told a Nevada newspaper in January, noting that Reagan "tapped into what people were already feeling, which is: We want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing."

David Bonior, then John Edwards' campaign manager, charged that Obama was "wrong, frightfully so, in using Ronald Reagan as an example of voters reaching for change. The breadth of change Ronald Reagan brought was crippling for millions of Americans.". . .

"The idea that Ronald Reagan was a unifying figure, that the nation rallied around him, that politics were not divisive in that time, is wrong," said Peter Robinson, who drafted the "tear down this wall" speech. "Ronald Reagan was denounced again and again and again from the beginning of his presidency through to the very end.". . .

Looking back earlier this week on Obama’s previous praise of Reagan, Mario Cuomo asked, rhetorically, "What did Reagan transform?" He answered: "It wasn’t morning in America. If you are saying he transformed Americans toward a new hopefulness, hopefulness doesn’t buy peace, it doesn’t buy jobs."

WHAT OUR PRISON POLICIES HAVE COST US

Bruce Western, Boston Review Those coming home from prison, now about 700,000 each year, face an narrowed array of life chances. Mostly returning to urban neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, men with prison records are often out of work. The jobs they do find pay little and offer only a fraction of the earnings growth that usually supports the socially valuable roles of husband and breadwinner. Ex-prisoners are often in poor health, sometimes struggling with mental illness or chronic disease. A University of California, Berkeley study attributes most of the black-white difference in AIDS infection to racial disparities in incarceration. In many cases people with felony records are denied housing, education, and welfare benefits. In eleven states they are permanently denied the right to vote.

The social penalties of imprisonment also spread through families. Though formerly incarcerated men are just as likely to have children as other men of the same age, they are less likely to get married. Those who are married will most likely divorce or separate. The family instability surrounding incarceration persists across generations. Among children born since 1990, 4 percent of whites and 25 percent of blacks will witness their father being sent to prison by their fourteenth birthday. Those children, too, are to some extent drawn into the prison nexus, riding the bus to far-flung correctional facilities and passing through metal detectors and pat-downs on visiting day. In short those with prison records and their families are something less than full members of society. To be young, black, and unschooled today is to risk a felony conviction, prison time, and a life of second-class citizenship. In this sense, the prison boom has produced mass incarceration--a level of imprisonment so vast and concentrated that it forges the collective experience of an entire social group.

Viewed in historical context, mass incarceration takes on even greater significance. The prison boom took off in the 1970s, immediately following the great gains to citizenship hard won by the civil rights movement. Growing rates of incarceration mean that, in the experience of African-Americans in poor neighborhoods, the advancement of voting rights, school desegregation, and protection from discrimination was substantially halted. Mass incarceration undermined the project for full African-American citizenship and revealed the obstacles to political equality presented by acute social disparity.

Skeptics may concede that mass incarceration injured social justice, but surely, they would contend, it contributed to the tremendous decline in crime through the 1990s. Indeed, the crime decline of the '90s produced a great improvement in public safety. From 1993 to 2001, the violent crime rate fell considerably, murder rates in big cities like New York and Los Angeles dropped by half or more, and this progress in social wellbeing was recorded by rich and poor alike. Yet, when I analyzed crime rates in this period, I found that rising prison populations did not reduce crime by much. The growth in state imprisonment accounted for 2-5 percent of the decline in serious crime--one-tenth of the crime drop from 1993 to 2001. The remaining nine-tenths was due to factors like the increasing size of local police forces, the pacification of the drug trade following the crack epidemic of the early 1990s, and the role of local circumstances that resist a general explanation.

So a modest decline in serious crime over an eight year period was purchased for $53 billion in additional correctional spending and half a million new prison inmates: a large price to pay for a small reduction. If we add the lost earnings of prisoners to the family disruption and community instability produced by mass incarceration, we cannot but acknowledge that a steep price was paid for a small improvement in public safety. Several examples further demonstrate that the boom may have been a waste because crime can be controlled without large increases in imprisonment. Violent crime in Canada, for example, also declined greatly through the 1990s, but Canadian incarceration rates actually fell from 1991 to 1999. New York maintained particularly low crime rates through the 2000s, but has been one of the few states to cut its prison population in recent years.

More importantly, perhaps, the reduction in crime was accompanied by an array of new problems associated with mass incarceration. Those states that have sought reduced crime through mass incarceration find themselves faced with an array of problems associated with overreliance on imprisonment. How can poor communities with few resources absorb the return of 700,000 prisoners each year? How can states pay for their prisons while responding to the competing demands of higher education, Medicaid, and K-12 schools? How can we address the social costs--the broken homes, unemployment, and crime--that can follow from imprisonment? Questions such as these lead us to a more fundamental concern: how can mass imprisonment be reversed and American citizenship repaired?
BROWN JOINS OBAMA ON 16 MONTH IRAQ TROOP REDUCTION

Jane Merrick, Independent, Uk Gordon Brown prepared the ground for a historic realignment in the "war on terror" by setting out a four-point plan for withdrawal of British troops from Iraq by the end of next year.
Although he is refusing to set a detailed timetable for withdrawal, it is clear Mr Brown is in agreement with the US presidential candidate Barack Obama on the need for military action in Afghanistan to take priority. Both appear to be working to a 16-month timetable. . .

Their approach is a marked departure from the policies of Tony Blair and President George Bush. But it nonetheless carries echoes of the "shoulder-to-shoulder" relationship between Britain and the US – if Mr Obama defeats his Republican rival John McCain in the November election.

Mr Brown, who will detail his plans to the Commons on Tuesday, laid out four conditions for withdrawal: the successful training of the Iraqi army; provincial elections to take place; the economic reconstruction of the country; and finally handing over sole responsibility of Basra airport to the Iraqis. . .

Note: Despite the impression given by the media and the Obama campaign, Obama's plan only calls for a major troop reduction not a full withdrawal. Or, to put it more precisely, a troop transferal, as Obama has announced he wants to expand the war in Afghanistan

DC RESUMES ILLEGAL CHECKPOINTS

After a spate of shootings in DC's Trinidad neighborhood, the police have reestablished illegal checkpoints through which drivers must pass before entering the area. One will have to convince police officers of a "liegitimate reason" before you can enter the neighborhood. he checkpoints are similar to those used during South African apartheid and by various fascist regimes and, should they be found legal by the courts, would amount to one of the greatest assaults on the Constitution in American history as it would effectively end free travel in the country. In addition, as a police matter, they are replication of an enforcement technique that helped to triple the number of murders in DC during the early days of the drug wars. Since Washington's crime is not mob controlled, chasing criminals out of one neighborhood simply sends them to another where they infringe on someone else's territory with the inevitable violence in its wake.

FORMER ISRAELI SPY CHIEF SAYS LAY OFF IRAN ATTACK

Press TV, Iran The former head of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad has warned Tel Aviv against waging an air strike on Iran over its nuclear program. Efraim Halevy, former Mossad chief, says any Israeli attack on Iran would be met with an Iranian counterattack. "I don't think they're bluffing," Efraim Halevy said of Iranian threats to return fire.

Iranian counterattacks "might not be a last word in the game," said Halevy. "We would be entering an entirely new area of estimate and counter-estimate," Seattle Post-Intelligencer quoted former spy chief as saying.

Israeli transportation minister Shaul Mofaz has declared that Israel will attack Iran unless it suspends its enrichment program. Iran has declared that it would respond strongly to any act of military adventure.

OHIO ELECTION CASE COULD TARGET GOP BIGGIES

Op Ed News At a press conference this morning in Columbus, Ohio, Cliff Arnebeck, lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the case of King Lincoln Bronzeville v. Blackwell, announced that he is filing a motion to "lift the stay in the case [and] proceed with targeted discovery in order to help protect the integrity of the 2008 election." . . . This case has the potential to put some of the most powerful people in the country in jail, according to Arnebeck, as he was joined by a well-respected, life-long Republican computer security expert who charged that the red flags seen during Ohio's 2004 Presidential Election would have been cause for "a fraud investigation in a bank, but it doesn't when it comes to our vote."

"This entire system is being programmed in secret by programmers who have no oversight by anybody," the expert charged, as Arnebeck detailed allegations of complicity by a number of powerful GOP operatives and companies who had unique access both to the election results as reported in 2004, as well as to U.S. House and Senate computer networks even today. . .

One of the more delightful and interesting quotes comes from Arnebeck, concerning what he expects to discover as the stay is lifted: "We anticipate Mr. Rove will be identified as having engaged in a corrupt, ongoing pattern of corrupt activities specifically affecting the situation here in Ohio."

According to Arnebeck, his expert witness, Stephen Spoonamore, "works for credit card companies chasing data thieves, identity thieves around the globe, and also consults with government agencies including the Secret Service, the Pentagon, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in criminal matters. [He's] really one of the top, and in fact the top private cop in the world on the subject of data security.

BUSH CAPOS TAKING WAR CRIMES TALK SERIOUSLY

Frank Rich, The New York Times Top Bush hands are starting to get sweaty about where they left their fingerprints. Scapegoating the rotten apples at the bottom of the military's barrel may not be a slam-dunk escape route from accountability anymore.

No wonder the former Rumsfeld capo, Douglas Feith, is trying to discredit a damaging interview he gave to the British lawyer Philippe Sands for another recent and essential book on what happened, "Torture Team." After Mr. Sands previewed his findings in the May issue of Vanity Fair, Mr. Feith protested he had been misquoted -- apparently forgetting that Mr. Sands had taped the interview. . .

So hot is the speculation that war-crimes trials will eventually follow in foreign or international courts that Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, has publicly advised Mr. Feith, Mr. Addington and Alberto Gonzales, among others, to "never travel outside the U.S., except perhaps to Saudi Arabia and Israel."

OTHER NEWS

CODE ENFORCER CALLS INFLATABLE POOLS A "SILENT MENACE"

WWNYTV,NY Scott Banker always keeps a watchful eye on his 7 year old son, Ian, and his 8 year old niece, Miesha, when they play in their blue inflatable pool. But he acknowledges he has yet to comply with state and local building code laws including the installation of an audible alarm and a barrier fence around the pool. . . Massena Code Enforcement Officer Gregory Fregoe has been busy this summer checking for violators. He says any pool holding 24 inches of water or more, including inflatable blue pools, need a permit and should be surrounded by a 4 foot high locked fence or barrier. The law also requires the pool be equipped with an audible alarm that sounds should someone fall in. "The quick-set blue pools, which we call them, are a menace to the villages. They're a danger because because people erect them with no concern about the code requirements," said Fregoe.

Frego says the various sized blue pools are becoming "a silent menace" because they are cost friendly and easy to set up for the consumer, but they can also be risky and dangerous to youngsters and animals if local laws aren't followed. Statistics indicate that close to 200 children nationwide drown or are injured in swimming pools each year.

A quick check found that complying with the code could end up being more costly than the price of the blue pool, especially when you factor in the $30 to $200 cost of the alarm, not to mention the cost of the fencing and other requirements.

BREVITAS

MONEY & WORK

Steven Greenhouse, New York Times The presidents of several labor unions that quit the A.F.L.-C.I.O. three years ago have been quietly meeting with union presidents in the federation to coordinate their political operations and message for the fall election, a move that labor leaders say could lead to several of the unions rejoining the federation. In a series of dinners and meetings in Washington, the presidents of several breakaway unions and the presidents of several federation unions have been mapping strategies to help elect Senator Barack Obama and forge joint policies on trade and other issues. Several union officials involved in the meetings said the leaders had also discussed overhauling the A.F.L.- C.I.O. to address the concerns of some breakaway unions, with the aim of persuading some to rejoin. One issue being debated is whether Richard Trumka, the federation's secretary-treasurer, should succeed John J. Sweeney as president. Because Mr. Trumka, considered the favorite, is unpopular with several breakaway union leaders, his election would make it less likely that those unions would return. In 2005, several leading unions - including the service employees; the Teamsters; the food and commercial workers; and Unite Here, which represents hotel, restaurant and apparel workers - quit the A.F.L.- C.I.O., asserting that it was too bureaucratic, plodding and ineffective in reversing labor's long decline. The seceding unions formed the Change to Win Coalition, which has created its own political field operation and organizing operation.

William Greider, Nation We are witnessing a momentous event--the great deflation of Wall Street--and it is far from over. The crash of IndyMac is just the beginning. More banks will fail, so will many more debtors. The crisis has the potential to transform American politics because, first it destroys a generation of ideological bromides about free markets, and, second, because it makes visible the ugly power realities of our deformed democracy. Democrats and Republicans are bipartisan in this crisis because they have colluded all along over thirty years in creating the unregulated financial system and mammoth mega-banks that produced the phony valuations and deceitful assurances. . If Washington wants real results, it has to abandon the wishful posture that is simply helping the private firms get over their fright. . . Instead of propping up Fannie Mae or others, the threatened firm should be formally nationalized as a nonprofit federal agency performing valuable services for the housing market. That is the real consequence anyway if the taxpayers have to buy up $300 billion in stock. The private shareholders "are walking dead men, muerto," Institutional Risk Analytics, a private banking monitor, observed. Make them eat their losses, the sooner the better. The real national concern should be focused on the major creditors who lend to Fannie Mae and other US agencies as well as private financial firms. They include China, Japan and other foreign central banks. Foreign investors hold about 21 percent of the long-term debt paper issued by US government agencies--$376 billion in China, $229 billion in Japan. It is not in our national interest to burn these nations with heavy losses. On the contrary, we need to sustain their good regard because they can help us recover by bailing out the US economy with more lending. If these foreign creditors turn away and stop their lending now, the US economy is toast and won't soon recover.

MID EAST

Rasmussen Reports Forty-two percent (42%) of Americans say that if Israel launches an attack against Iran, the United States should help Israel. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 46% believe the United States should do nothing while just 1% believe the U.S. should help Iran.

OUTLYING PRECINCTS

Has McCain given up already? Politico reports that at a town hall meeting in New Mexico, the GOP candidate said, "Could I mention the presence of my friend, Congressman Steve Pearce, who I believe will be joining me in the United States Senate?"

Barack Obama during an Indiana talk: "Throughout our history, America's confronted constantly evolving danger, from the oppression of an empire, to the lawlessness of the frontier, from the bomb that fell on Pearl Harbor, to the threat of nuclear annihilation. Americans have adapted to the threats posed by an ever-changing world." Didn't he grow up in Hawaii?

NY Times Ohio must include the Libertarian Party's nominees on its ballot in November, a court has ruled, complicating Senator John McCain's effort to win conservative votes in a hotly contested state rich in electoral votes. The Libertarian candidate, Bob Barr, formerly a Republican congressman from Georgia, will lead his party's ticket, which includes the vice-presidential candidate, Wayne Allyn Root, and candidates for governor and several Congressional seats. . . The court order, issued Thursday, directs the Ohio secretary of state, Jennifer L. Brunner, to disregard her office's current guidelines for ballot inclusion, which require eligible parties to gather valid signatures equal to one-half of 1 percent of the total vote in 2006 or to have garnered at least 5 percent of the last election's votes. The Libertarians submitted 6,545 signatures in March, far below the approximately 20,000 needed. Ms. Brunner's office has not decided whether to appeal the ruling.

Think Progress In response to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s clear statement in support of a 16-month redeployment from Iraq, a senior McCain official tells Marc Ambinder "Voters care about [the] military, not about Iraqi leaders." A "prominent Republican strategist" who occasionally provides advice to the McCain campaign said more candidly, "We’re fucked." This is what McCain said in 2004: "QUESTION: Let me give you a hypothetical, senator. What would or should we do if, in the post-June 30th period, a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there? I understand it’s a hypothetical, but it’s at least possible. . . McCAIN: Well, if that scenario evolves, then I think it’s obvious that we would have to leave because - if it was an elected government of Iraq - and we’ve been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government, then I think we would have other challenges, but I don’t see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people.

Now al-Maliki is complaining that he was mistranslated although he does not explain how. And his denial, interestingly, was released through Centcom.

THE MIX

Washington Post Public attitudes about gays in the military have shifted dramatically since President Bill Clinton unveiled what became his administration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy 15 years ago today. Seventy-five percent of Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll said gay people who are open about their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military , up from 62 percent in early 2001 and 44 percent in 1993. Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents alike now believe it is acceptable for openly gay people to serve in the U.S. armed forces. Shortly after he took office in 1993, Clinton faced strong resistance to his campaign pledge to lift the military's ban on allowing gay people to enlist. At that time, 67 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of conservatives opposed the idea. A majority of independents, 56 percent, and 45 percent of Democrats also opposed changing the policy.

BUSH CRIMES

Think Progress Karl Rove ignored a subpoena and refused to testify before Congress, choosing instead to take a trip abroad. David Iglesias, one of the U.S. Attorneys politically purged under Alberto Gonzales, told MSNBC's Mike Barnicle he believed Rove "had information that. . . would show illegal activity" and thus will refuse to testify "to keep himself from being indicted.

FURTHERMORE. . .

If you live in DC and want to feel really unsafe, don't miss Jeff Stein's interview with DC's Director of Homeland Security on how major catastrophes are handled in our capital city.

An interesting and important podcast features Limies of Growth co-author Dennis Meadows being interviewed by George Kenney. One could attach different numbers to the curves in Limits To Growth, maybe push the timeline back several decades, but one can't argue much with the conclusion that unrestricted exponential growth results in sudden collapse. If we won't make the hard choices to control growth (e.g., population and industrialization), nature will. Dr. Dennis Meadows has been working all his professional life to advance the cause of sustainability. A little slow getting started; the good stuff begins about minute 11.

READER COMMENTS

NOTE: You can post your comments on any of the above stories by going to our Undernews site and searching for the headline. Once posted, a copy is immediately mailed to the Review and we pick some of the most interesting to publish here. http://prorev.com/indexa.htm

CONGRESS CREATES OVER 500 NEW FEDERAL CRIMES A DECADE

They're just trying to keep up with the amount of crimes they commit. - xilii

CORY BOOKER & THE BLACK IVIES

I can't agree with you lumping Cory Booker in with the others the way you did. Cory to me is something next to God or a progressive Mother Theresa or something like that. Because of his Ivy League connections and status, this is a guy that could have done anything he wanted, the world was his oyster and he could've gone the route of many other minorities who "made it" -- pulling down big bucks somewhere. But he didn't sell out. Instead, he opted to become mayor of Newark. Wow. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy.

And he walked into it with a faith in people -- poor people, minorities, white people -- that is quasi-spiritual, with a willingness to sacrifice, living among the poor, that is practically Franciscan. It seems to me, more than any politician I know, he has walked his talk. Sure, he might make mistakes, who wouldn't in that situation? Would you know how to govern as mayor of Newark? I sure wouldn't.

You seem to hint in your writing that he is somewhat different than the others, but then you lumped him right back in with them. In short, I think you cast a wide cynical net that I don't think he deserved to be lumped into. At least, not the way you did it. Too much rhetoric, not enough balance. - Steve

Cory Booker is clearly the most appealing of the lot, as I tried to suggest, albeit too subtlety for your tastes. Those wanting to find out more should definitely get the movie "Street Fight" which describes the Newark story. It remains true, however, that none of the four black Ivies mentioned - Booker, Fenty, Patrick or Obama - come close to being as transformational as the generation of civil rights leaders they succeeded. Thus it seems premature - if not highly presumptuous - to claim them as the latter's rightful heirs. - Sam

I have found your Obama skepticism a healthy antidote to excessive hero mania on the part of hopeful new participants in the process. But I think, in this case, you have unwittingly committed a double error, in amplifying taint by association (Obama with the stark details about Fenty) and then leaping to a highly speculative projection from that generic concept.

You have set up an arbitrary contrast between authentic salt of the earth blacks, and the beneficiaries of the white dominated top colleges (Oberlin, by the way, being a whole lot better than a mini-mart Ivy, a gratuitously pejorative aside).

You are demonstrating a fear masked as precautionary pseudo-analysis. Sorry for the harsh term "pseudo", but is isn't real facts in the head yet, regarding Obama. I reserve my right, of course, to vote for McKinney

OBAMA

As Geroge Lakoff has said in his latest book, there is no definable population that holds anywhere near a consistent set of centrist values, frames and narratives. By turning right the Obama Campaign is alienating its activist base. . . The worst administration in American history, with a collapsing economy, sky-rocketing gas prices, a two front war killing our sons and daughters and bleeding our Treasury dry. . . And all Obama can manage is a tie, a horse race? If his campaign continues to ignore its progressive blind spot we may see the biggest snatch of defeat from the "jaws of victory" the World has ever seen - William Francis

When you are good; you are the best. Concise, clear, highly important. We hope you will be surprised, however, with what a good president Barack will make. - PM

Given the possible winners in the primaries, Obama certainly appears to be the least evil. One had hopes that he might have some core American values, or at least have read the Constitution and be willing to minimally go along with its precepts. He certainly doesn't have the courage, leadership, fortitude or honesty to help repair the mess that Bush has made of our nation. An Obama administration will probably be somewhat less immediately disastrous than would one of McCain. The long term is anybody's guess. Are we better off with the disaster coming to a quick postulant head, or will there be less suffering with a slower course of illness?

Two candidates even less evil than Obama, with core American values, able to read the Constitution, and willing to go along with its precepts: Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney. Percentage of Democrats without the courage, leadership, fortitude or honesty to vote for a 3rd party: almost 100%.

SUBPRIME PUBLIC RADIO

This American Life Show Radio had a set of interviews with actual sub prime loan makers and alleged their work to be series of "accidents" that happened. The loans they were creating, in fact, were as poisonous as ecoli hamburger in that they injected economic germs into the system that went all the way to Zurich. How blind can English majors be? - MC

You are really mean to Obama. Jeez, How many ways can we find to screw ourselves again? Hypercriticism of Obama along with only mild criticism of McCain. You present the logical cases against McCain, but you only seem really energized when attacking Obama. As if we can ever again say "It doesn't matter who wins." I love getting Undernews, but I don't like this relentless trashing of Obama stuff. - Garret

MCCAIN GOONS HAVE LIBRARIAN ARRESTED FOR CARRYING SIGN

That's exactly why the dragged her away. Political candidates hate it when anyone tries to tell the truth about them.

SENATOR MCCAIN CALLS SOCIAL SECURITY A "DISGRACE"

The thing that pisses me off about John McCain and his supporters is that he admits he broke under torture and gave the position of his ship and his bombing route from it. Which means he wanted to live enough to sacrifice his fellow pilots. So my question is why is it a pampered coward ass admiral's son can have a breaking point but poor people who've struggled every fuckin' day of their lives just to survive cannot have a breaking point?

GREAT MOMENT IN PUBLIC RELATIONS

Many women who participate in these pageants do it for the scholarships. If one is pretty and talented and a little cash strapped, a beauty pageant win can pay for a bachelor's degree. Many women would like to get out of college without excessive debt, and pageants offer this chance. That said, I think beauty contests are awful, but I understand why a woman would go through it.

WHO'S WON THE WAR ON DRUGS?

It's time to remove all the politicians that promote prohibition. How many more lives have to be needlessly devastated or lost? Prohibited drugs are way easier for kids to get than regulated drugs! Prohibition never works it just causes crime and violence. The year alcohol prohibition was repealed violent crime fell by 65 percent.

On March 22, 1972, the Richard Nixon-appointed, 13-member National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse recommended the decriminalization of marijuana, concluding, "[Marijuana's] relative potential for harm to the vast majority of individual users and its actual impact on society does not justify a social policy designed to seek out and firmly punish those who use it."

The USA spends $69 billion a year on the drug war, builds 900 new prison beds and hires 150 more correction officers every two weeks, arrests someone on a drug charge every 17 seconds, jails more people than any nation and has killed over 100,000 citizens in the drug war. The World Health Organization documents the failure of U.S. drug policies.

In 1914 when there were no prohibited drugs 1.3% of our population was addicted to drugs, today 1.3% of our population is still addicted to drugs but there's way more crime and violence because of the huge profits prohibition generates. Guns have absolutely nothing to do with using drugs, they have to do with drug prohibition. Al Capone didn't kill people because he was drunk, he killed people because they got between him and his illegal drug money.

There's only been one drug success story in US history, tobacco, by far the most deadly and one of the most addictive drugs. Almost half the users quit because of regulation, accurate information and medical treatment. No one went to jail and no one got killed.

MAKING A MUDDLE OF THE MIDDLE

Actually I think it was just part of the plan. During the primaries Obama had to convince Democrats that he was to the left of Clinton in order to get votes. Now that Clinton is out of the picture, he has to convince the billionaires whose contributions determine who wins the election that he is further right than Clinton. It's anybody's guess which Obama will actually make the decisions once he's in office.

Obama & McCain both have little substance in their platforms. Both just spew political rhetoric. Check your facts. Dr. Ron Paul is still in the race. Compare all the candidates instead of herding the flock of sheep.

CHINA AND ENERGY

"China's economy will overtake that of the United States by 2035 and be twice its size by midcentury, a study released Tuesday by a US research organization concluded."

With what energy source are they going to do this with, a Tesla coil? The facts are clear. Oil has not the legs to prop any economy any further. There is no other combination of inputs that will add up to what we currently release in calories per day through the burning of petroleum products. The economies of mid-century, regardless of location (if there is a human still alive to operate a market), will be powered by slaves, beasts of burden and dung. There is little probability that any economy will be near that of the present, let alone surpass the present.

GREAT MOMENTS WITH THE KOOL AID KROWD

Religion certainly rots people's minds. Contrast Obama's statement that he would filibuster the FISA bill when he was desperate to get the nomination, with his votes in favor of it in the Senate yesterday and you'll see that he's even worse than Bush. Bush at least told us truthfully about the evil things he was going to do before he did them.

The Cult of Obama can only end in misery, as all cults do. How long before he asks everyone to poison themselves, and they do so with a big grin on their faces?

No. 1: Obama's being a good politician. Must I have to remind everyone that George W. Bush (and the media that loved him) played himself up in very much the same way, but Obama's better at it. This goes to show that Obama's "hope and change" stuff is nothing more than good political theater designed to get votes. Nothing wrong with that. If people look "cultish" it's only because of the horrible administration of GWB. . . No. 2: There's plenty of valid criticism of Obama that comes from sources other than the Moonie Times. We know the Republicans hate Obama. . . He's most likely going to hand them their worst electoral defeat in decades.

There is something very wrong when a candidate says he's going to make a good choice to get people to vote for him and then does the exact opposite once they have done so. It's called hypocrisy. It's called a con game. It means Obama is just as worthless as all the rest and all this hype about hope is all bullshit.

ACLU HITS OBAMA-BACKED ASSAULT ON CONSTITUTION

Although it's usually reported that the government will be able to eavesdrop on international emails, in fact they will need to look at all emails. The way to tell whether an email is going overseas is to look at it and examine the headers. So if they are going to do a proper job of this, they'll have to look at everything you or I send. Yes, every email. So that's what they'll do, of course. - Larry

Let's clarify the term "look at" as used by Larry: it's a piece of software that is doing the looking, watching for certain sender and receiver names as well as certain key words. I'll admit that it's very possible for an innocent e-mail between friends discussing political or social issues to contain such words, but still there is no way the government has the manpower to actually read every e-mail sent in or from the US.

Computers will of course be doing the "looking." That's much worse than if there were small armies of humans going through the mail. Use the pre-determined "wrong" words and the computer will not only possibly flag your email for a real human, but it could put you on a no-fly list or schedule you for an FBI visit. Or put something in your "permanent record" as teachers used to threaten. The point is that it doesn't take manpower any longer to get someone in trouble. The computer system is designed to overcome that limitation.

FORECLOSURE RATE

A comment on the mortgage hysteria of the last few days: a 50% increase from last year's foreclosure rate of 2% means the rate is now 3%. Does that seem anywhere near as scary to you as the talking heads have been making it sound? - Robbie

If one correlates percentage to actual numbers of home going under, then yes, it is as scary as the talking heads make it sound. According to the VA, there have been 1,200,000 foreclosures. For the month of June alone, there were actually 252,363 foreclosure filings. 50% of the foreclosures over the last two years in Orange County, California, for example, have occurred in the last four months. That's some trend line.

As a result, home prices have declined by as much as 30% in some cities. That's a lot of equity that has disappeared almost overnight. For many, home equity is the sum of their assets. Millions of individuals now find themselves going from a position of positive net worth to one that would have them thousands of dollars in debt should they have to sell their home.

WATCHING OUT FOR THREE YEAR OLD RACISTS

What happens when a three year old says yuck to a food from their own culture? Are they institutionalized to cure their self-loathing? Just from a developmental point of view, children have taste buds that are more sensitive to bitterness than adults do and they often hate foods they will like as adults. It has nothing to do with cultural insensitivity.

And this kind of Maoist indoctrinational BS has nothing to do with common sense, a trait seemingly more exhibited by more children than adults these days

TOP MCCAIN CAMPAIGN ADVISOR CALLS AMERICA "A NATION OF WHINERS"

Gramm has always been an total corrupted proponent of rapacious capitalism. Here's a doofus that said that America is the only nation where the poor are fat. He's one of the fat cats who have been making big bucks from serving the poor an unhealthy diet of lard which leads to ill health.

SMART HOUSE TO GO WITH YOUR SMART CAR

Let's see: L50000 purchase price divided by 5-year product life cycle. . . yielding a mere L10000/year cost of ownership with no resulting equity from a "mobile" home... who's the target market? Complete morons who are immune to claustrophobia?

MATT DRUDGE'S SECRET FANS

You've forgotten the most important thing about the Drudge Report, and that's it's an excellent place to find out what brain-numbingly inane sensationalistic "news" is going to make the top of the show on NBC 'Today" the following morning - Mike Flugennock

PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION GETS 30% OF INCOME FROM DRUG FIRMS

Having pharmaceutical companies have exhibits at conventions and advertising in journals can be problematic in terms of influence, but it is not an unreasonable or indeed likely to be fetterable.

The practices of giving dinners, dinner chits, items of value, vacations, tickets, personal green dollars, indirect bribery, research and publishing support, as well as the continual inundation of endless advertising on pens, pads, novelties and other chotchkies are all much more serious concerns.

Advertising, where it is isolated and readily identified as such, is relatively easily dealt with. When it becomes an invasive part of the environment it works all too well. Narcissistic types might not believe it, but the empirical evidence is there. If MDs, JDs, et al, believe they are above such influences, they should hear what their stock brokers, car dealers and detail persons (pharmaceutical reps) say about them.

IRAN

What Iran needs more than anything right now is something to lose. We've backed it into a corner and given it few options. We should give Iran an honorable path of retreat. Iran needs to be plugged into the global economy. Once its people are engaged economically, and it will have plenty of internal motivation to play better with others.

TEN WAYS AMERICANS ARE HURTING, NOT WHINING

Most other industrialized nations, such as in Europe and Australia, have been paying around $8 a gallon of gas for years now. Complaining about $4 a gallon gas really is whining.

MORNING LINE: IS MCCAIN TOAST?

I have thought this as well. McCain is not a spry, healthy senior citizen. He hobbles around like he's 85, can barely read the teleprompter, and just comes off as an old dweeb dufus. Note how the networks tend to capture him after he's already at the podium instead of on the way to it. In a debate, I'm sure Obama will smoke him.

Nonsense. McCain is simply using his senility to attract votes from Ronald Reagan fans. Old Ray-Gun himself served 8 bumbling years with undiagnosed Alzheimer's disease. Handing the nuke launching codes from President Chimpy to McInsane will keep the world at DEFCON 1 for four more years.

OPEC WARNS AGAINST MILITARY CONFLICT WITH IRAN

This is why the US and Israel have not invaded before now. I can remember reading about Japan trying to reduce their reliance on Iranian oil last year when the last lot of saber rattling was going on. The US is stretched and exhausted on Iran and can't afford to start another war. Israel can try but they did not do too well against the Hezbollah. - Flavian

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