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Undernews For November 7, 2008

Undernews For November 7, 2008

The news while there's still time
to do something about it

611 Pennsylvania Ave SE #381
Washington DC 20003
Editor: Sam Smith

7 November 2008


We read to discover that we are not alone. ---- Shadowlands, a film about C.S. Lewis



Telegraph, UK - Local authorities have ordered employees to stop using the words and phrases on documents and when communicating with members of the public and to rely on wordier alternatives instead. The ban has infuriated classical scholars who say it is diluting the world's richest language and is the "linguistic equivalent of ethnic cleansing".

Bournemouth Council, which has the Latin motto Pulchritudo et Salubritas, meaning beauty and health, has listed 19 terms it no longer considers acceptable for use. This includes bona fide, eg (exempli gratia), prima facie, ad lib or ad libitum, etc or et cetera, ie or id est, inter alia, NB or nota bene, per, per se, pro rata, quid pro quo, vis-a-vis, vice versa and even via.

Its list of more verbose alternatives, includes "for this special purpose", in place of ad hoc and "existing condition" or "state of things", instead of status quo.

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In instructions to staff, the council said: "Not everyone knows Latin. Many readers do not have English as their first language so using Latin can be particularly difficult."


In 8 of the 10 initiatives, drug reform got a high percentage than did Obama

NORML - Millions of Americans cast votes Tuesday in favor of marijuana law reform, approving nine out of ten ballot measures seeking to liberalize penalties on cannabis use and possession.

In Massachusetts, 65 percent of voters approved Question 2, which replaces criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana (punishable by up to six-months in jail and a $500 fine) with a civil fine of no more than $100. More than 1.9 million Massachusetts voters (and all but three cities) backed the measure - a greater total than the number of voters who endorsed President Elect Barack Obama (1.88 million). Question 2 is expected to become law within 30 days - making Massachusetts the thirteenth state to decriminalize the personal use and possession of cannabis. However, opponents of the measure - which include the state's governor, attorney general, and all twelve state district attorneys - note that lawmakers still have the legal option to amend or repeal the new law.

In Michigan, 63 percent of voters approved Proposal 1, which legalizes the physician-supervised use and cultivation of medicinal cannabis by state-authorized patients. More than 3 million voters endorsed the measure, which received approximately 150,000 more votes in Michigan than did Obama. Proposal 1 goes into effect on December 4th, at which time nearly one-quarter of the US population will live in a state that authorizes the legal use of medical cannabis.

Thousands of voters in various municipalities also backed local ballot initiatives supportive of marijuana law reform. In Arkansas, 66 percent of Fayetteville (population: 67,000) voters approved Question 16, which directs law enforcement to make activities related to the investigation and prosecution of adults who possess up to one ounce of marijuana their lowest priority.

In Hawaii, Big Island (population: 172,000) voters approved a similar initiative, which directs law enforcement to make activities related to the investigation and arrest of adults who possess up to 24 ounces of cannabis and/or 24 plants their lowest priority. The measure, which voters backed by nearly a 3 to 2 margin, also forbids the County Council from accepting government funding to promote federal marijuana eradication efforts on the Big Island.

In Massachusetts, voters in four state House districts (encompassing 15 towns) passed nonbinding public policy questions directing each district's state representative to vote in favor of legislation to legalize the medical use of cannabis. More than 70 percent of voters in each district backed the measures.

Finally, voters in Berkeley, California endorsed Measure JJ, which eliminates local limits on the quantity of medicinal cannabis that may be possessed by patients, and liberalizes municipal zoning guidelines for patient dispensaries.

By contrast, California voters rejected a statewide sentencing reform measure (Proposition 5), which sought expand the diversion of non-violent offenders to drug treatment and would have decreased minor marijuana penalties to a non-criminal infraction. Numerous politicians, including Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrat US Senator Dianne Feinstein, joined forces with law enforcement and the California Beer and Beverage Distributors to lobby against the measure, which gained just 40 percent of the vote.


World Socialist On the eve of the US elections, the New York Times cautiously pointed to the emergence of a bipartisan consensus in Washington for an aggressive new strategy towards Iran. While virtually nothing was said in the course of the election campaign, behind-the-scenes top advisers from the Obama and McCain camps have been discussing the rapid escalation of diplomatic pressure and punitive sanctions against Iran, backed by preparations for military strikes. The article entitled "New Beltway Debate: What to do about Iran" noted with a degree of alarm: "It is a frightening notion, but it not just the trigger-happy Bush administration discussing-if only theoretically-the possibility of military action to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program. . . Reasonable people from both parties are examining the so-called military option, along with new diplomatic initiatives."

Behind the backs of American voters, top advisers for President-elect Barack Obama have been setting the stage for a dramatic escalation of confrontation with Iran as soon as the new administration takes office. A report released in September from the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank, argued that a nuclear weapons capable Iran was "strategically untenable" and detailed a robust approach, "incorporating new diplomatic, economic and military tools in an integrated fashion".

A key member of the Center's task force was Obama's top Middle East adviser, Dennis Ross, who is well known for his hawkish views. He backed the US invasion of Iraq and is closely associated with neo-cons such as Paul Wolfowitz. Ross worked under Wolfowitz in the Carter and Reagan administrations before becoming the chief Middle East envoy under presidents Bush senior and Clinton. After leaving the State Department in 2000, he joined the right-wing, pro-Israel think tank-the Washington Institute for Near East Policy-and signed up as a foreign policy analyst for Fox News. The Bipartisan Policy Center report insisted that time was short, declaring: "Tehran's progress means that the next administration might have little time and fewer options to deal with this threat."

Ottawa Citizen -
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni attacked U.S. president-elect Barack Obama on Thursday for declaring a willingness to talk with Iran about its nuclear program. "We live in a neighborhood in which sometimes dialogue . . . is liable to be interpreted as weakness," Livni told Israeli Radio, expressing a view held by many of her countrymen. Asked if she supported discussions between the U.S. and Iran, Livni said: "No." Livini is in a close fight with Likud's hawkish leader Benjamin Netanyahu to become the next prime minister. Livini is in a close fight with Likud's hawkish leader Benjamin Netanyahu to become the next prime minister. . . The comments from the new leader of the governing Kadima party came just before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the official Iranian wire service, IRNA to send an unexpected note of congratulations to Obama on his victory. But Ahmadinejad, who has threatened to use nuclear weapons against Israel, included a warning to Obama that because "the opportunities bestowed upon people by God are short-lived," the next U.S. president should "make the most of the chance of service and leave a good name by preferring people's real interests and justice to the insatiable demands of a selfish and indecent minority."

Irish Times - Israel said US president-elect Barack Obama's stated readiness to talk to Iran could be seen in the Middle East as a sign of weakness in efforts to persuade Tehran to curb its nuclear program


Andrew Malone, Daily Mail, UK - The children were inconsolable. Mute with shock and fighting back tears, they huddled beside their mother as friends and neighbors prepared their father's body for cremation on a blazing bonfire built on the cracked, barren fields near their home.

As flames consumed the corpse, Ganjanan, 12, and Kalpana, 14, faced a grim future. While Shankara Mandaukar had hoped his son and daughter would have a better life under India's economic boom, they now face working as slave labor for a few pence a day. Landless and homeless, they will be the lowest of the low. Indian farmer Shankara, respected farmer, loving husband and father, had taken his own life. Less than 24 hours earlier, facing the loss of his land due to debt, he drank a cupful of chemical insecticide.

Unable to pay back the equivalent of two years' earnings, he was in despair. He could see no way out. There were still marks in the dust where he had writhed in agony. Other villagers looked on - they knew from experience that any intervention was pointless - as he lay doubled up on the ground, crying out in pain and vomiting. . .

Shankara's crop had failed - twice. Of course, famine and pestilence are part of India's ancient story. But the death of this respected farmer has been blamed on something far more modern and sinister: genetically modified crops.

Shankara, like millions of other Indian farmers, had been promised previously unheard of harvests and income if he switched from farming with traditional seeds to planting GM seeds instead.

Beguiled by the promise of future riches, he borrowed money in order to buy the GM seeds. But when the harvests failed, he was left with spiraling debts - and no income.

So Shankara became one of an estimated 125,000 farmers to take their own life as a result of the ruthless drive to use India as a testing ground for genetically modified crops.

The crisis, branded the 'GM Genocide' by campaigners, was highlighted recently when Prince Charles claimed that the issue of GM had become a 'global moral question' - and the time had come to end its unstoppable march.

Speaking by video link to a conference in the Indian capital, Delhi, he infuriated bio-tech leaders and some politicians by condemning 'the truly appalling and tragic rate of small farmer suicides in India, stemming. . from the failure of many GM crop varieties'.

Ranged against the Prince are powerful GM lobbyists and prominent politicians, who claim that genetically modified crops have transformed Indian agriculture, providing greater yields than ever before.

What I found was deeply disturbing - and has profound implications for countries, including Britain, debating whether to allow the planting of seeds manipulated by scientists to circumvent the laws of nature. For official figures from the Indian Ministry of Agriculture do indeed confirm that in a huge humanitarian crisis, more than 1,000 farmers kill themselves here each month.

Simple, rural people, they are dying slow, agonising deaths. Most swallow insecticide - a pricey substance they were promised they would not need when they were coerced into growing expensive GM crops.

It seems that many are massively in debt to local money-lenders, having over-borrowed to purchase GM seed.

Pro-GM experts claim that it is rural poverty, alcoholism, drought and 'agrarian distress' that is the real reason for the horrific toll.

But, as I discovered during a four-day journey through the epicentre of the disaster, that is not the full story

In one small village I visited, 18 farmers had committed suicide after being sucked into GM debts. In some cases, women have taken over farms from their dead husbands - only to kill themselves as well. . .


ABC - President-elect Barack Obama's newly appointed chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, served on the board of directors of the federal mortgage firm Freddie Mac at a time when scandal was brewing at the troubled agency and the board failed to spot "red flags," according to government reports. According to a complaint later filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Freddie Mac, known formally as the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, misreported profits by billions of dollars in order to deceive investors between the years 2000 and 2002.

Emanuel was not named in the SEC complaint but the entire board was later accused by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight of having "failed in its duty to follow up on matters brought to its attention." . . . Freddie Mac agreed to pay a $50 million penalty in 2007 to settle the SEC complaint and four top executives of the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation were charged with negligent conduct and, like the company, agreed to settle the case without admitting or denying the allegations. The actions by Freddie Mac are cited by some economists as the beginning of the country's economic meltdown.

Joshua Frank, Information Clearing House - Emanuel is a shameless neoliberal with close ties to the Democratic Leadership Council, even co-authoring a strategy book with DLC president Bruce Reed. Without Emanuel, Bill Clinton would not have been able to thrust NAFTA down the throats of environmentalists and labor in the mid-1990s. Over the course of his career, Emanuel's made it a point to cozy up to big business, making him one of the most effective corporate fundraisers in the Democratic Party. He's also a staunch advocate of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories. Emanuel's shinning moment came in 2006 as he helped funnel money and poured ground support into the offices of dozens of conservative Democrats, expanding his party's control of the House of Representatives. Emanuel, who supports the War on Terror, and expanding our presence in Afghanistan, worked hard to ensure that a Democratic House majority would not alter the course of US military objectives in the Middle East.

Antiwar - When the House Democratic majority passed a military appropriations bill slated for Iraq, a clause that would have prohibited an attack on Iran without a vote in Congress was deleted at the instigation of Emanuel and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. When Rep. John Murtha presaged the popular rebellion against the Iraq war by coming out against it in no uncertain terms, Emanuel urged Pelosi to refrain from endorsing his call for withdrawal, arguing that it would hurt the Democrats politically. . .

He backed pro-war candidates over antiwar Democrats every time. As Bill Safire put it on "Meet the Press" just before Tim Russert died: "What about Rahm Emanuel [for Vice President], the most powerful voice in the House of Representatives that agrees with Hillary Clinton on foreign affairs? He's a hawk. And although he's a rootin' tootin' liberal on domestic affairs, he is a hawk on foreign affairs. I was at the - a roast for him for Epilepsy Association, and Hillary Clinton was there, and I said, quite frankly, here you have the hawkish side of the Democratic Party. If they get together, the bumper sticker will read 'Invade and bomb with Hillary and Rahm.'"

Mondo Weiss - Another county heard from. Rahm Emanuel's father, who was in the terrorist organization the Irgun, talking to the Israeli press: "In an interview with Ma'ariv, Emanuel's father, Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, said he was convinced that his son's appointment would be good for Israel. 'Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel,' he was quoted as saying. 'Why wouldn't he be? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House.'"

Mark Karlin, Buzzflash - Like most progressives, BuzzFlash sided with the 50-state strategy of Howard Dean in 2006, which Emanuel and Chuck Schumer did everything they could to undercut. We remember reporting at the time that Emanuel was barely on speaking terms with Dean because Rahm thought that the 50-state approach was unrealistic and a waste of time and financial resources. Well, fast forward to 2008 and Howard Dean's vision -- as carried out on the presidential level by the campaign staff of Barack Obama -- was vindicated. The limited cautious political focus of Emanuel and Schumer would have been a disaster for the Obama campaign, and for the Senate gains in both the 2006 and 2008 cycle.


Katherine Thompson, Editor's Weblog - Danny Schechter is a respected investigative journalist and the author of Plunder, a searing indictment of the modern banking system, the role of government in finance, and the greed-is-good mentality. Schechter's book was published one week before the collapse of Lehman Brothers on the 1st of September, and it examines the very problems that were about to unfold. . .

Schechter believes that there were two key areas where the media failed. He says that there was little or no examination into the new breed of exotic financial products that caused many of the problems, such as CDO's, and that the media ignored the warnings from community housing organizations of the predatory lending practices in some of America's poorest communities. "This was a big media failure, we were not warned about it" says Schechter. If Schechter's assertion is correct, why did the media fail to fulfill its role? . . .

Schecter believes that the media failed in its role because of vested interests. He points out that one of the key sources of revenue for newspapers is real estate advertising in weekend supplements and classifieds, as well as advertisements for credit card and refinancing companies. As a result, he argues there is a connection between the real estate and newspaper industry, their future and success are intertwined. Schechter says, "The newspaper industry is the marketing arm of the real estate industry. . . Newspapers were making money on the sales of these homes."

Schechter argues that after the bubble burst back in 2000, all the advertisements from these new emerging businesses stopped, so the $3 billion in lost advertising revenue for the media industry had to be found somewhere. Schechter puts forth that credit card companies and refinancing firms stepped into the gap. He points out that the majority of people do not automatically spend money that they don't have, but it was marketed to them through the media in advertising and life-style supplements. Most of the money that the media makes in advertising is in the last quarter in the run up to Christmas, newspapers run articles on the best presents to buy, and so forth, all of it driving a concept of "buy and shop" which "stimulates consumption." . . . Schechter says, "for me, on the consumer front newspaper's are a marketing instrument and on the investment front it's a confidence building instrument. The media was part of this whole sales

Another criticism leveled at business reporters is that they are too close to Wall Street and the City, and have too much respect for the institutions they are supposed to be examining. John Friedman of Market Watch was at the press conference announcing the Bank of America's acquisition of Merrill Lynch and wrote, "the media were so polite and deferential to the two CEOs; they behaved as if the press conference were a victory lap for the financial services industry." Schechter believes that "business men are seen as heroes" and it's all part of the "cult of masters of the universe"; he cites the endless sycophantic articles about Bill Gates of Microsoft and Richard Branson of Virgin. He argues that there is a kind of "cultural embedding, as financial journalists cover business, they become part of the scene, they identify with the players, go to the parties, they are increasingly in a world of fewer and fewer people that is cut off from the mainstream of American life." He believes that many financial journalists want to be like these Masters of the Universe that they write about every day.

Schechter also says that there is no real pressure at the top of media organizations to thoroughly investigate these companies, the reason being that they would be investigating their advertisers. As a result, there is no impetus behind financial reporting, no push for the truth and the heart of the story, not enough cynicism. . .


Pamela Manson, The Salt Lake Tribune - The FBI is appealing an order that allows a Utah attorney to conduct taped depositions of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and a death-row inmate. Salt Lake City lawyer Jesse Trentadue believes that the two inmates have valuable information about his brother's death in a federal prison - and about the FBI's alleged withholding of many of the relevant documents requested in his Freedom of Information Act suit.

Authorities say the August 1995 death of Kenneth Trentadue in a cell at an Oklahoma City federal prison was a suicide, but the inmate's family believes he was mistaken for a bombing conspirator and that guards strangled him with a set of plastic handcuffs in an interrogation that got out of hand. To support that theory, Jesse Trentadue has filed three FOIA lawsuits. As part of one of those suits, he requested an order allowing the depositions from Nichols and David Paul Hammer, who now is on death row at the federal penitentiary at Terre Haute, Ind. Lawyers for the FBI objected, saying the agency has made appropriate searches for documents. U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball granted Trentadue's request last year. He reaffirmed that order in September after the FBI asked him to reconsider.

The body of Kenneth Trentadue, who had served time for bank robbery and was being held on an alleged parole violation, was found hanging in his cell on Aug. 21, 1995. Nichols and Hammer already have supplied Jesse Trentadue with written affidavits concerning Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the bombing and was executed in 2001. Nichols - who is serving a life sentence at the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo. - claims a high-ranking FBI official "apparently" was directing McVeigh in the plot. Both Nichols and Hammer, who says he had lengthy conversations with McVeigh while the two were both housed at the Terre Haute facility, say McVeigh claimed to be an undercover operative for the military. The FBI has denied any role in the bombing.


Fair Vote has come up with ten surprising stories about Election '08.

This November's ballot measures showed that Americans are ready to transform our politics. Landslide majorities voted for spoiler-free, majority elections through instant runoff voting in Memphis, Tennessee (71%) and Telluride, Colorado (67%), which extends a nearly unbroken string of wins for IRV in ballot measures since 2002. Meanwhile, an opportunity to win the ranked choice form of proportional representation lost in Cincinnati after a late infusion of opposition money and deceptive advertising dropped the majority support won among early voters down to 47%. Other Fair Vote-endorsed reforms won with more than 70% of the vote in Maryland (for early voting) and Connecticut (for 17-year-old primary voting), while redistricting reform won in California.

Instant runoff voting had a terrific first election in Pierce County, Washington, accommodating a full range of voter choice in a high-turnout general election. If early returns hold up, the system will elect the first women county executive in the state's history, with her victory dependent on the preferences of the third and fourth place candidates that vaulted her from second into first. San Francisco also held its fifth set of IRV elections; local press lauded the impact it had in reducing the degree of negative attacks that too often dominate our politics.

Even with Barack Obama's strong national numbers and the low vote totals for minor party and independent presidential candidates, electoral votes in three states and one congressional district were won over the opposition of most voters in that jurisdiction. Obama's 49.9% of the vote in Indiana defeated John McCain by a margin less than Libertarian Bob Barr's 1.1%. Obama won North Carolina with 49.7% of the vote (Barr won 0.59%), while McCain carried Missouri with only 49.4% of the votes (where Obama won 49.2 % and Ralph Nader 0.6%). Obama also looks likely to pick up an electoral vote by taking Nebraska's second congressional district with less than 50%.

Nine U.S. House seats were elected with less (and sometimes far less) than a majority of the vote, including Ohio's Second district that was won with only 45%.

The Senate had several non-majority results. In Oregon, Democrat Jeff Merkley will win narrowly with less than 49% of the vote, while Republican Ted Stevens looks likely to be re-elected in Alaska with a similar vote-share. In Minnesota, where fully 14 of the last 20 statewide races have been won with less than 50%, Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley won 437,377 votes (15%) and two other candidates won more than 20,000 votes in an election in which incumbent Republican Norm Coleman leads his Democratic challenger Al Franken by merely 326 votes - they are now going to a recount. IRV would have given the backers of Barkley and the other third party candidates a way in choosing between the frontrunners, both of whom won less than 42% of the vote. Meanwhile, Georgia requires its Members of Congress to win a majority of the vote, and incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss leads with 49.8% in a race where Libertarian Allen Buckley won 3.1%. Chambliss will face Democrat Jim Martin in a December 2nd runoff. Turnout is sure to plunge from Georgia's record participation this week, and the candidates and their backers will spend millions. IRV would have given us a clean winner on election night.

In the Senate, no new people of color won - and the Senate will again have no African Americans if the Illinois governor does not select an African American to replace Obama. Two women won (Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire), but there is only a net gain for women of only one seat, making the Senate 83% male.

In the House, there was a net gain of only two women - notching women up 0.5% to 16.5%. There were no gains for African Americans and an increase of one Latino, with Ben Lujan's victory in New Mexico.

Women defeated men in the two close gubernatorial elections, but there was no net gain for women in governor's mansions.

Women did win a remarkable seven statewide offices in North Carolina, while the New Hampshire state senate became the first woman-majority state legislative chamber in our nation's history. On the other hand, the South Carolina state senate became the first legislative chamber to not have a single woman representative since 1991, and the share of women in state legislatures stayed flat at 23.7% - less than 3% higher than it was in 1993.

In the last dozen years, Democrats have won sweeping victories in the Northeast, with the region's Republican Party now on life-support. After the1992 elections, Republicans in New England and New York collectively held 20 of 54 U.S. House seats and held at least one House or Senate seat in every state. The intervening years for Republicans in the region have been devastating, especially in 2006 and 2008. New England's last Republican House member, Chris Shays of Connecticut was defeated this week, and Republicans now hold only 3 of 29 seats in New York and no Senate or House seats in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont.


Michael White, Scientific Blogging - Which species is more diverse, humans or chimps? Most of us would be tempted to answer 'humans'. Unless you're a primatologist or you work at a zoo, you would likely have trouble telling one chimp apart from another, not to mention distinguishing between West African and Central African chimpanzees. By contrast, we can easily spot differences among humans - if asked to guess whether someone was from China, Pakistan, or Kenya, few of us would have any trouble getting the answer correct.

By the measure of genes though, humans are amazingly uniform. Humans are genetically less diverse than chimps, and both chimps and humans are much less diverse than a common species of fruit fly. Given our species' long history of racial conflict, our genetic uniformity may come as a surprise. . . Our DNA tells us that our genetic differences don't even come close to matching the variety found within a single, apparently monotonous fruit fly species.

The basic concept is simple. Pick a few dozen or a few hundred genes and tally the differences in those genes in a sample of a few dozen or a few hundred people. Thus at gene A, person 1 and person 2 may differ at 5 DNA bases, while person 1 and person 3 may differ at 7 bases. After making all of the possible comparisons for gene A, you compute the average number of differences - in the case of gene A let's say we find an average of 6 differences between any two people. If gene A is 6000 bases long, we say any two people would differ on average once in every 1000 DNA bases. . .

How does this genetic variation stack up against variation in other animals? While we tend to differ at 1 position in every 1000 bases or so, chimps differ at about 1 in every 750 bases, and gorillas differ at roughly one in every 650 bases. The fly species D. melanogaster is much more genetically diverse, and tends to differ at one out of every few hundred bases. Keep in mind that these estimates are just averages - genetic variation is not spread out evenly across an entire genome. Some portions of our genomes are highly variable, while others are relatively uniform.

The bottom line is this: although fruit flies and gorillas may look largely the same to us, they beat us hands down in genetic diversity.

Of course the genetic differences that do exist among humans are enough to generate much of the biological diversity we see around us - differences in skin, hair, and eye color, our voices, our physical stature, and our personalities. . .

At first guess, you might think that most of our genetic diversity would fall along racial lines. Race differences often seem to be the most obvious differences among different human groups, so it wouldn't be surprising if genetic differences fell along racial lines as well. Genetically, a white guy like me should be much more similar to my white neighbor than my black one, right?

With the availability of genome-scale tools, researchers have devoted a significant amount of effort in the last eight years to finding those genes that exist in different versions among humans. We haven't mapped all of this genetic diversity yet, but there is enough to start looking at genetic variation among humans in different parts of the world. With this new data, we are developing a much more detailed picture of how races differ genetically.

'Race' though, is a horribly sloppy term. Geneticists prefer to speak about populations, not out of political correctness but because race is extremely imprecise. We've all filled out some form or another asking whether we are Black, White, Hispanic, or 'none of the above.' It's obvious that this is much less informative than knowing whether someone's ancestry is African, Australian Aborigine, European, or East Asian.

Thus researchers like Richard Lewontin have argued that "As a biological rather than a social construct, 'race' has ceased to be seen as a fundamental reality characterizing the human species." Race may be too imprecise to be biologically meaningful, but there has to be some biological reality behind the obvious physical differences in different human populations, right?

Yes, there are genetic differences between different human populations, but the big surprise is this: genetic differences between human populations are few compared to the differences within human populations.

Here is what that means:

If you compare my genome with that of a Chinese grad student down the hall from me, you'll find that only tiny fraction of the 2-3 million differences between us tell you much about our ancestry. Among Chinese, there may be a tendency to have a DNA base 'G' at position XYZ in gene ABC on chromosome 12, while among Europeans (where my ancestors came from), there is a tendency to have an 'A' at that same position. What we find though, in almost all cases, is that these tendencies are not absolute: 90% of Chinese may have base 'G', while the other 10% have base 'A'. And maybe 70% of Europeans have base 'A' at position XYZ, while 30% have base 'G'.

So in other words, the fact that my Chinese friend has base 'G' at position XYZ in gene ABC does not tell you with certainty that he's Chinese. In fact both my Chinese friend and I may have the base 'G' at that same position, even though it is less likely in my case. If you look at any one gene, you don't get enough information to make an accurate call.

In order to really see differences among human populations, you have to look at many genes (or any place in the genome where humans vary - it doesn't have to be a gene). In the Chinese population, base 'G' may be common at position XYZ on chromosome 12, base 'T' may be more common at position TUV on chromosome 6, etc., etc. So once you look at dozens or hundreds of informative positions, you can say with high confidence, 'this person is Chinese, and that one is European.' (And of course we could all be American or Canadian or British by birth - we're obviously talking about ancestral populations here.). . .

But here is where it gets paradoxical: while there are enough genetic differences among human populations to make accurate classifications, those genetic differences make up only 5-15% of the total amount of genetic variation. Most of the genetic variation among humans has nothing to do with differences in populations. The genetic differences between 'races' are minor compared to the differences between people in general. .

When it comes to medically important traits, we need to avoid typological thinking - when we consider genetic variation as a whole, humans don't fall neatly into racial or population categories. Yes, a minor fraction of genetic variation enables scientists to accurately categorize people by ancestral population, but the vast majority of the variation that produces diversity in our susceptibility to disease, response to drugs, and even our behavior does not fall neatly along racial lines. All human populations overlap substantially in their genetic diversity. . .

Researchers have not identified a single genetic variant with an impact on intelligence that falls along population lines. In fact several studies have recently tested variants in genes that appear to be involved in controlling brain size. No correlation with intelligence was found. Yes, genetics does play a significant role in intelligence, and many other traits. But there is simply no genetic evidence (and I mean real genetics, not psychology) for genetic differences in intelligence between human populations.

Other traits, like skin color, obviously fall along population lines. While skin color is obviously not a 100% reliable predictor, skin color is a major indicator of race. Irish, Kenyans, Pakistanis, and Chinese populations all have clearly different skin tones.

It turns out, not surprisingly, that the genetic variation for some (but not all) skin color genes does in fact follow population divisions, in contrast with most other genetic variation. This is most likely because skin color differences end up being relatively simple - a single variant of a gene (causing lighter skin, for example) can easily become common in a population through natural selection. The result is that you have different human populations with dramatic differences in skin color.

Other traits, however, are much more complex than skin color. Physical differences which are determined not by one, but many different genetic variants, are unlikely to split neatly by population. . .

Racial conflict has long been a part of human societies. Along with that conflict has come frequent speculation (most famously, but not exclusively among whites with European ancestry) that one race is inferior to another. Some have been worried that modern genetics would substantiate that belief, but our best genetic evidence to date shows those worries unfounded. Genetics does play a large role in the diversity we find among human beings. That diversity, in spite of some dramatic but superficial exceptions like skin color, is shared in common among all races.



Obama Transition Team - Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.

Progressive Review - Obama favors a national service plan that appears to be in sync with one being promoted by a new coalition that would make national service mandatory by 2020, and with a bill requiring such mandatory national service introduced by Rep. Charles Rangel.

He announced in Colorado Springs last July, "We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded."

On another occasion he said, "It's also important that a president speaks to military service as an obligation not just of some, but of many. You know, I traveled, obviously, a lot over the last 19 months. And if you go to small towns, throughout the Midwest or the Southwest or the South, every town has tons of young people who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's not always the case in other parts of the country, in more urban centers. And I think it's important for the president to say, this is an important obligation. If we are going into war, then all of us go, not just some."

J.D. Tuccille, Examiner - Rep. Rahm Emanuel wants to force people 18 to 25 to labor for the government. Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, President-Elect Barack Obama's choice for chief of staff in his incoming administration, is co-author of a book, The Plan: Big Ideas for America, that calls for, among other things, compulsory service for all Americans ages 18 to 25. The following excerpt is from pages 61-62 of the 2006 book:

|||| It's time for a real Patriot Act that brings out the patriot in all of us. We propose universal civilian service for every young American. Under this plan, All Americans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five will be asked to serve their country by going through three months of basic training, civil defense preparation and community service. . .

Here's how it would work. Young people will know that between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, the nation will enlist them for three months of civilian service. They'll be asked to report for three months of basic civil defense training in their state or community, where they will learn what to do in the event of biochemical, nuclear or conventional attack; how to assist others in an evacuation; how to respond when a levee breaks or we're hit by a natural disaster. These young people will be available to address their communities' most pressing needs. ||||

Emanuel and co-author Bruce Reed insist "this is not a draft," but go on to write of young men and women, "the nation will enlist them for three months of civilian service." They also warn, "some Republicans will squeal about individual freedom," ruling out any likelihood that they would let people opt out of universal citizen service.

As chief of staff, Emanuel will not be in a position to directly introduce public policy, but his enthusiasm for compulsory service, combined with Barack Obama's own plan to require high school students to perform 50 hours of government-approved service, suggest an unfortunate direction for the new administration.


AU Ctr for Study of the American Electorate - Despite lofty predictions by some academics, pundits, and practitioners that voter turnout would reach levels not seen since the turn of the last century, the percentage of eligible citizens casting ballots in the 2008 presidential election stayed at virtually the same relatively high level as it reached in the polarized election of 2004.

According to a report and turnout projection released today by American University's Center for the Study of the American Electorate and based, in part, on nearly final but unofficial vote tabulations as compiled by the Associated Press as of 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 5, the percentage of Americans who cast ballots for president in this year's presidential election will reach between 126.5 million and 128.5 million when all votes have been counted by early next month. If this prediction proves accurate, turnout would be at either exactly the same level as in 2004 or, at most, one percentage point higher (or between 60.7 percent and 61.7 percent). If the rate of voting exceeds 61.0 percent of eligibles, turnout will have been the highest since 1964.

The percentage of eligible citizens voting Republican declined to 28.7 percent down 1.3 percentage points from 2004. Democratic turnout increased by 2.6 percentage points from 28.7 percent of eligibles to 31.3 percent. It was the seventh straight increase in the Democratic share of the eligible vote since the party's share dropped to 22.7 percent of eligibles in 1980. Of the 47 states and the District of Columbia included in this report, turnout was up in only 22 states and D.C. (Because of the extensive uncounted no excuse absentee balloting in Alaska and California and all-mail voting in Oregon and most of the state of Washington, those states are not included in this report.)

"Many people were fooled (including this student of politics although less so than many others) by this year's increase in registration (more than 10 million added to the rolls), citizens' willingness to stand for hours even in inclement weather to vote early, the likely rise in youth and African American voting, and the extensive grassroots organizing network of the Obama campaign into believing that turnout would be substantially higher than in 2004," said Curtis Gans, CSAE's director.

"But we failed to realize that the registration increase was driven by Democratic and independent registration and that the long lines at the polls were mostly populated by Democrats." Gans attributed the GOP downturn to three factors:

1) John McCain's efforts to unite the differing factions in the Republican Party by the nomination of Governor Sarah Palin as vice-presidential nominee was a singular failure.

2) As events moved towards Election Day, there was a growing perception of a Democratic landslide, discouraging GOP voters.

3) The 2008 election was a mirror image of the 2004 election. In the 2004 election, the enthusiasm level was on the Republican side. By Election Day, Democratic voters were not motivated by their candidate but rather by opposition to President Bush, while Republican voters had a much greater liking for their standard bearer. In 2008 and according to polls from several sources, by at least 20 percentage points, Obama enjoyed stronger allegiance than McCain. Even the best get-out-the-vote activities tend to be as successful as the affirmative emotional context in which they are working. In 2004, that context favored the GOP. In 2008, it favored the Democrats.

Biggest increase in voter turnout:

17% North Carolina
12% Georgia
12% South Carolina
9% Alabama
9& Indiana

Biggest drop in voter turnout

13% Arizona
12% Maine
9% Utah
8% Ohio
7% West Virginia


American Medical Association - On what percentage of records does the payer's allowed amount equal the contracted payment rate?

Aetna - 70.78%
Anthem - 72.14%
CIGNA - 66.23%
Coventry - 86.74%
Health Net - not reported
Humana - 84.20%
UHC - 61.55%
Medicare - 98.12%


David Axelrod, Obama's top campaign aide, runs a PR firm that has represented Commonwealth Edison, ATT and Cablevision.

William Donaldson, on the Obama economic transition committee, has been chairman and CEO of the investment banking firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, which he co-founded and chairman and CEO of the New York Stock Exchange.

Warren Buffett, on the Obama economic transition committee, is chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

Roger Fergurson, on the Obama economic transition team, has worked for Davis Polk & Wardwell, representing commercial and investment banks, as well as Forrtune 500 companies on syndicated loans, public offerings, and mergers and acquisitions. He became chair of Swiss re America Holding Corporation in 2006. In 2008, he was named president and CEO of the financial giant TIAA-CREF

Penny Pritzker, on the Obama economic transition team, is the former chair of the Superior Bank, one of the first to get into subprime mortgages. While she resigned as chair of the family business in 1994, as late as 2001 she was still on the board and wrote a letter saying that her family was recapitalizing the bank and pledging to "once again restore Superior's leadership position in subprime lending." The bank shut down two months later and the Pritzker family would pay $460 million in a settlement with the government.

Paul Volcker, on the Obama economic transition team, was chair of the investment banking firm, J. Rothschild, Wolfensohn & Co.

David Swanson - According to news reports, president elect Obama is considering for Labor Secretary three people who actually know something about labor and actually support the intended mission of the labor department, which is protecting the rights of laborers. Here's the short list:

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of House Education and Labor Committee

Former Rep. David Bonior

Andy Stern, president of Service Employees International Union



Single payer health insurance may be an early victim of the Obama administration. We hear that liberal House members are already caving on the issue, ready to let private insurers continue their exploitation of the nation's health. Single payer advocates better get on their presumed allies fast.


Bo Rev - Chavez weighs in: "The historic election of an Afro-descendant to the head of the most powerful country in the world is a sign that the change that's been carried out in South America may be reaching the doorstep of the U.S.'' . . . Evo's like great, yeah, fuck off: "My greatest wish is that Mr. Obama can end the Cuba embargo, take troops out of some countries, and also surely relations between Bolivia and the United States will improve." . . . Lula, too: "I hope the blockade of Cuba ends, because it no longer has any justification in the history of humanity.'' . . . Crisitina channels her inner Princess Leia: "I know we can count on you, and I want you to know that you can count on my sincere friendship.''. . This being the Castro administration's 23rd odd US president, they are, hilariously, resigned: "If Obama takes some action to ease the embargo, it would be welcomed and of course it would be of help, but we're prepared for conditions to remain the same." In other words, whatevs. No comment from President Death Squad, although the former US ambassador to Colombia says "Obama will criticize Uribe harshly, something Bush never did, and will be tougher on him over human rights abuses.'' Sweet.

Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic - Four years ago, 313,592 out of 474,740 registered voters in Alaska participated in the election-a 66% turnout. Taking into account 49,000 outstanding ballots, on Tuesday 272,633 out of 495,731 registered Alaskans showed up at the polls; a turnout of 54.9%.

Missing in action: the Bradley effect


Jason Leopold,The Public Record Electronic voting machines that a Michigan election official said last week incorrectly tabulated vote counts during pre-election tests in the state were used in Minnesota where the senate race between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken is in dispute. According to an Oct. 24 letter sent to the federal Election Assistance Commission, Ruth Johnson, the Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds, warned that tabulating software in Election Systems & Software M-100 optical scan voting machines recorded "conflicting" vote counts during testing in her state.

Brad Blog - Wide-spread voting machine failures have been reported to the Obama/DNC election protection hotline in Nevada since early voting began more than a week ago in the state. All voters who vote in person in the crucial battleground state are forced to cast their votes on 100% unverifiable Sequoia EDGE touch-screen voting machines with the VeriVote "paper trail" printer add-on. Attorneys monitoring the incident reports coming in to the hotline have taken no action in regard to removing the failed machines from service, despite reports of the presidential race not appearing at all on some ballots; voters having problems selecting their preferred candidates; machines not starting up at all; "paper trail" printers jamming or running out of paper, and; a number of machines at a number of sites which refuse to work at all. . .


Joshua Frank, Information Clearing House - After Gerald Ford's loss and Jimmy Carter's ascendance into the White House in 1976, Indonesia, which invaded East Timor and slaughtered 200,000 indigenous Timorese years earlier, requested additional arms to continue its brutal occupation, even though there was a supposed ban on arms trades to Suharto's government. It was Carter's appointee to the Department of State's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Richard Holbrooke, who authorized additional arms shipments to Indonesia during this supposed blockade. Many scholars have noted that this was the period when the Indonesian suppression of the Timorese reached genocidal levels. . .

Other foreign policy advisors may also include the likes of Madeline Albright, the great supporter of Iraq sanctions, which killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Madeline Albright, when asked by Leslie Stahl of 60 Minutes about the deaths caused by U.N. sanctions, infamously condoned the deaths. "I think this is a very hard choice," she said. "But the price-we think the price is worth it."


CBS - Mayor Michael Bloomberg is going to cut the city work force by 3,000, but that's just the beginning of the pain New Yorkers will feel as part of the fiscal crisis. A slew of new taxes are also on the agenda. There will be 1,000 fewer cops, but the city will hire 200 more traffic agents to give out $60 million a year in new block-the-box tickets. . . In the current fiscal year there's the 7 percent property tax hike that starts in January -- and the plan to renege on a promised $400 property tax rebate. "I think the people of the city are going to be enraged," City Councilman Simcha Felder, D-Brooklyn, said. "They've been told the check is in the mail on the rebate."


National Security Archives In a striking rebuke to the Central Intelligence Agency, Judge Gladys Kessler of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia yesterday rejected the CIA's view that it - and not journalists - has the right to determine which Freedom of Information Act requests are newsworthy. Reconsidering its earlier decision deferring to the CIA's written assurances that the agency would cease illegally denying the National Security Archive's news media status, the court ordered the CIA to treat the Archive as a representative of the news media for all of its pending and future non-commercial requests. Finding that the CIA "has twice made highly misleading representations to the Archive, as well as to [the] Court," the court explained that the CIA's position "is truly hard to take seriously" and enjoined the CIA from illegally denying the Archive's news media status. "The CIA's long-running failure to treat the Archive's FOIA requests in accordance with clearly established law, together with its persistent lack of candor with the court, raise serious concerns about what else the CIA may be doing to obstruct the public's legitimate efforts to learn about the agency's past and present activities," said Pat Carome, counsel for the Archive from WilmerHale LLP. "Judge Kessler's ruling represents a stern reminder to the CIA that it must live up to our nation's open government laws."

Robert Verkaik, Independent, UK - Internet "black boxes" will be used to collect every email and web visit in the UK under the Government's plans for a giant "big brother" database, The Independent has learnt. Home Office officials have told senior figures from the internet and telecommunications industries that the "black box" technology could automatically retain and store raw data from the web before transferring it to a giant central database controlled by the Government. Plans to create a database holding information about every phone call, email and internet visit made in the UK have provoked a huge public outcry. Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, described it as "step too far" and the Government's own terrorism watchdog said that as a "raw idea" it was "awful".


David Biello, Scientific American - The northern leopard frogs that inhabit the boreal U.S. have never recovered from some catastrophic population declines in the 1970s. Some blame it on the acidifying lakes and streams caused by coal-burning, others point to the ongoing loss of wetlands to development, and now new evidence shows that the herbicide atrazine-widely sprayed on crop fields throughout the region-is killing the frogs by helping parasitic worms that feast on them. "Atrazine provides a double whammy to frogs: It increases both amphibian exposure and susceptibility," says biologist Jason Rohr of the University of South Florida in Tampa, who tested the impact by re-creating field conditions in 300-gallon tanks in his lab. "Atrazine is one of the more mobile and persistent pesticides being widely applied. In fact, residues have been found in remote, nonagricultural areas, such as the poles." That may explain why amphibians are on the decline worldwide. As many as one third of the nearly 6,000 known amphibian species-frogs, toads, salamanders, even wormlike caecilians-are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. And no one knows why.

Treehugger - With the economic crunch, the price for recycled good has dropped, and now UK local authorities and collection companies have tons of worthless recyclables that they can't do anything with. In an effort to store them, they're requesting for less strict storage regulations to try and keep the recyclables from being dumped while they ride out the economic crisis. Much of the recyclables in the UK are sold to China for the manufacturing of goods. However, as the economy sinks, so too does production, and therefore so too does the demand for recyclables. Plastics and metals that were once valuable have sunk to practically worthless.


The Defense Department has awarded a $260 million contract to CACI International to provide "thought leadership and change management." We thought Obama was going to handle that.



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