Celebrating 25 Years of Scoop
Special: Up To 25% Off Scoop Pro Learn More
Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Undernews For October 19, 2009

Undernews For October 19, 2009

Since 1964, the news while there's still time to do something about it

96 Maine Street #255
Brunswick ME 04011
202 423 7884



October 19, 2009

Control + Click on date for permanent link, on Comments to make or read comments, and on the envelope to email story to someone


People change and forget to tell each other. -- Lillian Hellman

10/19/2009 | Comments


We have set up a swine flu page to cover the various issues concrening the flu and the vaccine. At this stage, the only report we have found on the actual effects of the swine flu vaccine is this from the NY Times: "China began its swine flu vaccinations on Sept. 21, the first country to do so. Of the first 39,000 Chinese to get shots, only four had side effects, muscle cramps and headaches, a World Health Organization spokesman said."

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading

Are you getting our free newsletter?

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.

NPR - Fewer than half of Americans say that they are planning to receive the new H1N1 swine flu vaccine, according to recent polls - a trend that is leaving many health professionals at a loss.

"I'm genuinely baffled," says Arthur Kellermann, an emergency medicine physician at the Emory University School of Medicine who has treated swine flu cases. "The public has developed this odd sense of complacency. The only thing that comes to my mind is photos of people standing on the seawall of Galveston hours before the hurricane hit."

The public's skepticism over the vaccine has persisted despite health experts' warning that the unpredictable H1N1 virus, which can cause very severe complications even in healthy young adults and children, has reached pandemic proportions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says an unusually high number of children have died since it first arose last spring. "There are now a total of 86 children under 18 who have died from the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus," the CDC's Dr. Anne Schuchat told reporters in a briefing Friday. Eleven of those deaths were reported in the past week, the CDC says.

Public health officials and the medical community are scrambling to figure out how to convince more Americans to get vaccinated when supplies of the vaccine become more widely available, but it won't be easy.

For one thing, there are many different reasons why people say they are unlikely to get vaccinated. Nearly a third are worried about side effects, according to a Harvard School of Public Health survey in September. Twenty-eight percent said they don't believe they are at risk for a serious case of the flu, while another quarter say they can get medication to treat the flu if they do get sick.

That last statistic is the one that really worries Kellermann, who is also an associate dean for health policy at Emory's medical school. He says that even a mild flu outbreak could overwhelm the nation's emergency rooms, which already have a limited supply of the high-tech equipment that is needed to fight the most virulent cases of the H1N1 virus.

"This flu, seemingly by random, occasionally picks out the healthy child or young adult and puts them in the intensive care unit, hanging on by a thread," he says. "We don't have thousands and thousands of ICU beds and high-frequency jet ventilators standing by to care for those people."
For now, government officials are trying to walk a fine line with their message: They're touting the safety of the vaccine and warning about the risks of swine flu, but stopping well short of creating a panic.

"They really can lose public credibility for decades if what they do is threaten that thousands are going to die and be hospitalized, and it doesn't occur," says Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard University School of Health. "They feel confident there's going to an outbreak, but they don't know how many severe cases there will be.". . .

It is still very early in the fall flu season. As skeptics see more and more people getting vaccinated, experts expect others to change their minds. Reports of swine flu deaths, particularly in people's own communities and schools, could end up being the most powerful motivator.

But this year, officials are also fighting some high-profile counterweights to their message. First, an unusual set of high-profile personalities - including conservative media commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, and more liberal ones like Bill Maher - is publicly opposing the vaccination effort.

Their opposition appears to be part of the larger anti-government movement that has been vocal during the debate over the Obama administration's efforts to overhaul the nation's health care system. Beck told his viewers on Fox News that he would do "the exact opposite" of whatever the government recommends. Maher echoed that on his HBO talk show, saying, "I don't trust the government, especially with my health." t's not yet clear how persuasive their opinions will be. "There's no question that the anti-government feeling and fears are playing a role," says Blendon. "We just don't know the magnitude of the impact."

Public opinion surveys show that doctors and nurses are seen as the most credible sources of information on these kinds of medical decisions, but there has also been a flurry of media reports about some health professionals resisting mandatory vaccination campaigns at certain hospitals.

Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer, Atlantic - All of which leaves open the question of what people should do when faced with a decision about whether to get themselves and their families vaccinated. There is little immediate danger from getting a seasonal flu shot, aside from a sore arm and mild flu-like symptoms. The safety of the swine flu vaccine remains to be seen. In the absence of better evidence, vaccines and antivirals must be viewed as only partial and uncertain defenses against the flu. And they may be mere talismans. By being afraid to do the proper studies now, we may be condemning ourselves to using treatments based on illusion and faith rather than sound science.

10/19/2009 | Comments


Adam Storch, vice president of Goldman Sachs' Business Intelligence Group has become head of the SEC's enforcement division. It doesn't get much more cynical than that.

10/19/2009 | Comments


NY Times - Is the Central Intelligence Agency covering up some dark secret about the assassination of John F. Kennedy? Probably not. But you would not know it from the C.I.A.'s behavior.

For six years, the agency has fought in federal court to keep secret hundreds of documents from 1963, when an anti-Castro Cuban group it paid clashed publicly with the soon-to-be assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. The C.I.A. says it is only protecting legitimate secrets. . .

The files in question, some released under direction of the court and hundreds more that are still secret, involve the curious career of George E. Joannides, the case officer who oversaw the dissident Cubans in 1963. In 1978, the agency made Mr. Joannides the liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations - but never told the committee of his earlier role.

That concealment has fueled suspicion that Mr. Joannides's real assignment was to limit what the House committee could learn about C.I.A. activities. The agency's deception was first reported in 2001 by Jefferson Morley, who has doggedly pursued the files ever since, represented by James H. Lesar, a Washington lawyer specializing in Freedom of Information Act lawsuits.

"The C.I.A.'s conduct is maddening," said Mr. Morley, 51, a former Washington Post reporter and the author of a 2008 biography of a former C.I.A. station chief in Mexico. . .

Mr. Morley's quest has gained prominent supporters, including John R. Tunheim, a federal judge in Minnesota who served in 1994 and 1995 as chairman of the Assassination Records Review Board, created by Congress to unearth documents related to the case.

"I think we were probably misled by the agency," Judge Tunheim said, referring to the Joannides records. "This material should be released."

10/19/2009 | Comments


Jonathan Turley, USA Today - Around the world, free speech is being sacrificed on the altar of religion. Whether defined as hate speech, discrimination or simple blasphemy, governments are declaring unlimited free speech as the enemy of freedom of religion. This growing movement has reached the United Nations, where religiously conservative countries received a boost in their campaign to pass an international blasphemy law. It came from the most unlikely of places: the United States.

While attracting surprisingly little attention, the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any "negative racial and religious stereotyping." The exception was made as part of a resolution supporting free speech that passed this month, but it is the exception, not the rule that worries civil libertarians. . .

In the resolution, the administration aligned itself with Egypt, which has long been criticized for prosecuting artists, activists and journalists for insulting Islam. For example, Egypt recently banned a journal that published respected poet Helmi Salem merely because one of his poems compared God to a villager who feeds ducks and milks cows. The Egyptian ambassador to the U.N., Hisham Badr, wasted no time in heralding the new consensus with the U.S. that "freedom of expression has been sometimes misused" and showing that the "true nature of this right" must yield government limitations. . .

Thinly disguised blasphemy laws are often defended as necessary to protect the ideals of tolerance and pluralism. They ignore the fact that the laws achieve tolerance through the ultimate act of intolerance: criminalizing the ability of some individuals to denounce sacred or sensitive values. We do not need free speech to protect popular thoughts or popular people. It is designed to protect those who challenge the majority and its institutions. Criticism of religion is the very measure of the guarantee of free speech - the literal sacred institution of society.

10/19/2009 | Comments


Telegraph, UK - A sexually explicit illustrated Book of Genesis by controversial artist Robert Crumb, which features Bible characters having intercourse, has been condemned by religious groups.

The book, which is released this month, carries the warning "adult supervision recommended for minors", and is described as "scandalous satire" by its publishers.

It includes graphic illustrations of Bible characters having sexual intercourse, and other scenes depicting naked men and women as well as "gratuitous" depictions of violence.

Crumb, the book's author, is most famous for his creation Fritz the Cat, a sexually graphic "underground" comic strip. It was turned into a film that became the first animation to receive an X rating.

He has said he does not believe that the Bible is the word of God. "I take it all for myth from start to finish, with probably some faint relation to historical reality." he said.

"They're great stories. But for people to take texts as something sacred, handed down from God... that's pretty backward, I think."

The Book of Genesis illustrated by R. Crumb has been criticized by leading religious groups such as the Christian Institute.

"It is turning the Bible into titillation," said Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute, a religious think-tank. "It seems wholly inappropriate for what is essentially God's rescue plan for mankind.

"If you are going to publish your own version of the Bible it must be done with a great deal of sensitivity. The Bible is a very important text to many many people and should be treated with the respect it deserves.

"Representing it in your own way is all very well and good but it must be remembered that it is a matter of people's faith, their religion.

"Faith is such an important part of people's lives that one must remember to tread very carefully."

Other leading religious figures have been more supportive of the work. "I didn't think it was satire," said the Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Rev Nick Baines.

"He set out to say; 'this is important, fundamental myth' and it seems to me he's done a good job."

A spokeswoman for the Bible Society said she hadn't seen the book but that reviews had suggested that Crumb had "really engaged" with the Book of Genesis.

"It may surprise people but the bible does contain nudity, sex and violence. That's because it contains real stories about real people.

"If by reading the book people are encouraged to re-engage with the Bible then that can only be a good thing."

A spokesman for the Church of England said: "I haven't seen the book but I think trying to sell something by emphasizing the sexual nature of some of the scenes doesn't seem to be a good way to pass on the message of the bible."

10/19/2009 | Comments


Times, UK - Hillary Clinton has been caught out "mis-speaking" again in a manner that suggests that she hasn't learnt from past experiences of her globe-trotting, "lily-gilding" speeches. . .
She was back in Belfast last week, giving a gentle push to politicians dragging their heels over a final piece in the peace process jigsaw.

But according to the Sunday Life newspaper, during a speech she made to the Stormont parliament, she said that Belfast's landmark Europa Hotel was devastated by an explosion when she first stayed there in 1995.

The Europa, where most journalists covering the decades-long conflict stayed, was famed as Europe's most bombed hotel, earning the moniker "the Hardboard Hotel".

However, the last Provisional IRA bomb to damage the Europa was detonated in 1993, two years before President Clinton and his wife checked in for the night.

The last time the Europa underwent renovations because of bomb blast damage was in January 1994, 22 months before the presidential entourage booked 110 rooms at the hotel.

Mrs Clinton told assembled politicians at Stormont: "When Bill and I first came to Belfast we stayed at the Europa Hotel . . . even though then there were sections boarded up because of damage from bombs."

During the presidential campaign Mrs Clinton drew on her Bosnia experience, saying: "I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport but we just ran with our heads down to get in the vehicles to get to our base."

After archive news footage was shown of her walking calmly from her plane with her daughter, Chelsea, Ms Clinton admitted: "I did mis-speak the other day. . .


- Hillary claimed she played pickup basketball when she was young, presumably to get ready for her race against Obama.
- She was named after Sir Edmund Hillary. who climbed Mount Everest.
- She was a Yankees fan when she lived in Chicago.
- She told upstate New Yorkers she had been a "duck hunter."
- She claimed on Sept. 11 daughter Chelsea was jogging around the World Trade Center.
- Number of times that Hillary Clinton, providing testimony to Congress, said that she didn't remember, didn't know, or something similar: 250

10/19/2009 | Comments


Adrienne, Henrico County, Virginia Public Library - Every year we participate in National Banned Book Week, a week that celebrates the written word and the free exchange of ideas, as outlined in the First Amendment to our Constitution. . . This is our way of celebrating that our community has the right to read freely. The Banned Book Reading Room will be open for three weeks longer than the National Banned Book Week, because last year's Room was so popular. Ever since the written word has existed there have been those who would prevent others from reading material considered "objectionable" -- everything from the Harry Potter series to the American Heritage Dictionary.

10/19/2009 | Comments


10/19/2009 | Comments


Hispanic Link - At 5%, the number of Hispanics in the 111th Congress may be small, but with two chairs, two vice-chairs and potent subcommittee chairs, their power and influence is grand.

Five of the 28 Hispanic members of the House sit on the Committee on Appropriations, which controls the government’s purse strings. It is considered one of the House’s most important committees. Even the Appropriations subcommittees are seen as powerful. Subcommittee chairs have been called “cardinals" because of the power they wield.

Democrat José Serrano (NY-16) has jurisdiction over the Treasury, Judiciary and National Security Council, among others, as the chairmen of the influential Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Service and General Government.

He is joined on Appropriations by fellow Democrats Dennis Cardoza (CA-18), Ciro Rodrìguez (TX-23), Ed Pastor (AZ-04) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34).

Hispanics are also spread into other top committees such as Agriculture, Judiciary, Ways and Means, Homeland Security and Armed Services.

The high-ranking Permanent Select Intelligence Committee is chaired by Silvestre Reyes (TX-16). He is joined by Nydia Velázquez (NY-12), of the fast-rising Small Business Committee, as the only other Latino committee head.

Loretta Sánchez (CA-47),of Homeland Security, is one of two Hispanics serving as vice-chairs. . .

After the recent retirement of Mel Martìnez (R-FL), Bob Menéndez (NJ-D) remains as the only Hispanic sitting on the Senate side.

10/18/2009 | Comments


Jonathan Turley - President Barack Obama, the world's newest Nobel peace laureate, is again expanding on the policies of former President George Bush and fighting to conceal evidence of U.S. torture and abuse. As did the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration is seeking to change the law after courts rejected its absurd argument that the President can withhold photos of detainee abuse simply because they are embarrassing to the United States. Democrats in Congress are assisting in the effort to try to stop the Supreme Court from considering the issue by preempting the litigation. . .

His position in the case of ACLU v. Department of Defense is reprehensible and exceeds the arguments made by Bush. He is claiming that he can deny the media and the public such pictures simply because he views them as controversial and likely to cause anger from Muslims. It is an exception that would swallow the rule.

As some of stated at the time, this argument is legally meritless and that is precisely what the courts have concluded. Now, however, Obama has taken another lesson from Bush. Unable to win on the merits, he has called on Congress to simply change the rules before the Supreme Court can vote. Democrats have joined the effort and are now close to passing legislation to remove the courts from the controversy. This is what Obama supported on the telecom litigation, where courts had rejected arguments of executive authority and Congress stepped in to extinguish dozens of public interest lawsuits.

The position of President Obama in the case is disgraceful. Solicitor General Elena Kagan . . . has taken the extraordinary step of asking the Court to delay considering the case to allow Congress to kill the litigation through legislation. As a result, no court would be allowed to rule on the release of the 87 photographs and authority would be transferred to the Defense Department.

Had Bush done such a thing (giving the Pentagon control) Democrats would have been in the streets. However, Democratic leaders are supporting the effort, the media is largely silent, and the Democratic base is passive. The move contradicts Obama's pledge of transparency in government. It contradicts his pledge to make a full account of abuses. It makes of mockery of his award of the Nobel for encouraging international “dialogue”. It appears that that dialogue must still occur on the terms set by the United States and specifically avoids evidence that would embarrass the United States or show clearly how it has violated international law.

10/17/2009 | Comments


Lester Brown, Earth Policy Institute - For years now, many members of Congress have insisted that cutting carbon emissions was difficult, if not impossible. It is not. During the two years since 2007, carbon emissions have dropped 9 percent. While part of this drop is from the recession, part of it is also from efficiency gains and from replacing coal with natural gas, wind, solar, and geothermal energy.

The United States has ended a century of rising carbon emissions and has now entered a new energy era, one of declining emissions. Peak carbon is now history. What had appeared to be hopelessly difficult is happening at amazing speed.

For a country where oil and coal use have been growing for more than a century, the fall since 2007 is startling. In 2008, oil use dropped 5 percent, coal 1 percent, and carbon emissions by 3 percent. Estimates for 2009, based on U.S. Department of Energy data for the first nine months, show oil use down by another 5 percent. Coal is set to fall by 10 percent. Carbon emissions from burning all fossil fuels dropped 9 percent over the two years.

Beyond the cuts already made, there are further massive reductions in the policy pipeline. Prominent among them are stronger automobile fuel-economy standards, higher appliance efficiency standards, and financial incentives supporting the large-scale development of wind, solar, and geothermal energy.

10/16/2009 | Comments


Miami Herald - Professor Noam Chomsky may be among America's most enduring anti-war activists. But the leftist intellectual's anthology of post 9/11 commentary is taboo at Guantanamo's prison camp library, which offers books and videos on Harry Potter, World Cup soccer and Islam.

U.S. military censors recently rejected a Pentagon lawyer's donation of an Arabic-language copy of the political activist and linguistic professor's 2007 anthology Interventions for the library, which has more than 16,000 items.

Chomsky, 80, who has been voicing disgust with U.S. foreign policy since the Vietnam War, reacted with irritation and derision. "This happens sometimes in totalitarian regimes,'' he told The Miami Herald by e-mail after learning of the decision.

"Of some incidental interest, perhaps, is the nature of the book they banned. It consists of op-eds written for The New York Times syndicate and distributed by them. The subversive rot must run very deep.''. . .

10/16/2009 | Comments


Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing - Complex derivatives are "intractable" -- you can't tell if they're being tampered with. "Computational Complexity and Information Asymmetry in Financial Products," a new paper by Princeton computer scientists and economists Sanjeev Arora, Boaz Barak, Markus Brunnermeier, and Rong Ge suggests that complex financial derivatives are computationally intractable: that is, once you have mixed together a bunch of weird-ass securities and derivatives, you literally can't tell if the resulting security is being tampered with as it pays off (or doesn't). Freedom to Tinker's Andrew Appel likens it to cryptography: you can mix together a bunch of known quantities to get a new number that can't be turned back into the old numbers.

The paper shows the example of a high-volume seller who builds 1000 CDOs from 1000 assert-classes of home mortages. Suppose the seller knows that a few of those asset classes are "lemons" that won't pay off. The seller is supposed to randomly distribute the asset classes into the CDOs; this minimizes the risk for the buyer, because there's only a small chance that any one CDO has more than a few lemons. But the seller can "tamper" with the CDOs by putting most of the lemons in just a few of the CDOs. . .

10/16/2009 | Comments


Reason Weekly - Americans tell pollsters that they go to church in immense numbers, and most of them name the Bible as their favorite book. Church attendance as established by surveys is one of the main factors alleged to illustrate the depth of religious feeling in America. Depending on which poll you consult, between 33 percent and 43 percent of Americans claim to attend church weekly. Using the low end of that range, we get a figure of around a hundred million people. Even cursory crack research, however, reveals that this can not be true, for the simple reason that there are not enough seats in all churches in America to hold nearly as many people.

According to the U.S. Churches Database, there exist 68,574 churches in the United States, of which 1,210 are megachurches (defined as having a seating capacity of over 2,000). We will assume, generously, that the average maximum occupancy of a megachurch is 10,000, for a total of 12,100,000 seats. Ignore for a moment the fact that a study conducted this year by the evangelical Christian Outreach Magazine tracking the biggest 100 churches in the U.S. puts their total weekly attendance at just 631,585. It is mathematically impossible for all 1,210 megachurches to have over 6,000,000 attendants per week, but, for the sake of erring on the side of caution, we'll go with 12,100,000.

The remaining 67,364 churches are medium- and small-sized operations, which can hold no more than 2,000 people, or they would have been included in the megachurch category. To accurately establish the average seating capacity for these remaining churches would be hard, but a guess of 200 seats per church seems fair, and one of 300 bounteous. Make it 400, but keep in mind that small-town churches, which needfully must comprise the majority of these sixty-seven thousand, are much tinier than that. Even with these grossly inflated numbers, the total seating capacity of non-megachurch establishments clocks in at 26,945,600. Add to that the 12,100,000 seats of the megachurches and we arrive at 39,045,600. Some large churches, though a minority, hold more than one weekly service; kindly insert 20,000,000 extra seats in our tally.

So, what is the maximum number of seats available at any given time in all of America's churches? Assuming that all are filled to capacity, that even the smallest of them can accommodate at least 400 people, and liberally adding 20,000,000 extra seats, the total number of available seats in churches across America is 59,045,600. That is just little over a half of what would be necessary to accommodate all the people who claim to go to church weekly. A large number of Americans are lying to the polls.

10/16/2009 | Comments


Washington Post - Get in shape or pay a price. That's a message more Americans could hear if health-care reform provisions passed by the Senate finance and health committees become law. By more than doubling the maximum penalties that companies can apply to employees who flunk medical evaluations, the legislation could put workers under intense financial pressure to lose weight, stop smoking or even lower their cholesterol.

The bipartisan initiative, largely eclipsed in the health-care debate, builds on a trend that is in play among some corporations and that more workers will see in the benefits packages they bring home during this fall's open enrollment. Some employers offer lower premiums to workers who complete personal health assessments; others limit coverage for smokers.

The current legislative effort would take the trend a step further. It is backed by major employer groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. It is opposed by labor unions and organizations devoted to combating serious illnesses, such as the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association.

Critics say employers could use the rewards and penalties to drive some workers out of their health plans. . .

"Everybody said that we're going to be ending discrimination based on preexisting conditions. But this is, in effect, discrimination again based on preexisting conditions," said Ann Kempski of the Service Employees International Union. . .

Under current regulation, incentives based on health factors can be no larger than 20 percent of the premium paid by employer and employee combined. The legislation passed by the health and finance committees would increase the limit to 30 percent, and it would give government officials the power to raise it to 50 percent.

A single employee whose annual premiums cost him and his employer the national average of $4,824 could have as much as $2,412 on the line.

10/16/2009 | Comments


Star, Canada - Police forces across Canada, including the RCMP, OPP, are immediately changing their Taser use policy after the manufacturer issued a directive that officers should not aim the weapon at a suspect's chest.

Taser International said in a bulletin that it's no longer advisable to aim the conducted energy weapon, which sends out a jolt of electricity, at a target's chest area to avoid impact to the heart.

"We have lowered the recommended point of aim from centre of mass to lower centre of mass for front shots," the company said in a new training bulletin.

Rather than the chest area, which could lead to electricity affecting the heart, the company said police officers should target the back, legs or abdomen.

The new directive comes as the two-year anniversary approaches of the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died Oct. 14, 2007 at Vancouver International Airport. . .

Taser International has strenuously denied at the public inquiry that the weapon was the direct cause of Dziekanski's death. . .

B.C. Civil Liberties executive director David Eby said Sunday the weapon should be banned and that changing the targeted area on where to aim is not enough.

"We are disappointed that police have to wait for the company to issue a directive before making these changes," said Eby. "Admittedly that is a step towards limiting the use, but it's hard to imagine in what situation it makes sense to aim at a suspect's back.". . .

Amnesty International says 330 people died in the United States after being jolted by stun guns between June 2001 and late 2008. In Canada, the human rights watchdog says at least 26 such deaths occurred from 2003 to 2008.

10/16/2009 | Comments


Jacob Sullum, Reason - A conference committee that resolved differences between the House and Senate versions [of the hate crime bill] dropped an amendment written by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) that said the bill should not be applied in a way that imposes a substantial burden on First Amendment freedoms "if such exercise of religion, speech, expression, or association was not intended to plan or prepare for an act of physical violence or incite an imminent act of physical violence against another."

The bill now says that it's OK to impinge on people's First Amendment freedoms even if they are not conspiring to commit a violent crime or deliberately inciting one, as long as the burden "is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest." In light of this more permissive language, Bader argues, the new law could be combined with the federal "aiding and abetting" statute to justify prosecuting people whose speech allegedly influenced others to commit hate crimes, even when that result was unintended. For example, a minister who inveighs against homosexuality could be prosecuted if a member of his congregation assaults gay people.

I still think the courts would reject such cases on First Amendment grounds. But it's hard to see the purpose of the change . . . unless it was meant to allow prosecutions that go beyond violent criminals to the people who allegedly shape their thinking.

10/16/2009 | Comments


Sam Smith

One of the reasons I couldn't get all that excited about Barack Obama was because of something that happened in the Washington neighborhood of Trinidad two days after Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in the primary campaign.

DC police established a South African style neighborhood blockade, requiring anyone entering Trindad to provide not only ID but a reason for being there. It was an astoundingly unconstitutional move - allegedly justified by a spike in violence. Or maybe it wasn't that astounding, given that DC chief Kathy Lanier had been trained by the Israeli police who treat Palestinians like that.

I was on the the NAACP task force on police and justice - which included such usual suspects as the ACLU, the National Black Police Association, and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance - and we became a lonely voice opposing the blockade, along with the Partnership for Civil Justice, which filed suit. I remember standing on a corner in Trinidad during a news conference and thinking: where are all those white liberal Obama supporters when we need them?

The good news is that the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. has just denied the District's petition to re-hear its case challenging the constitutionality of the police checkpoint program. The bad news is that you probably won't read about this anywhere else because the fact that urban police were planning to put a whole black neighborhood under apartheid style control just isn't news in America. Even the attorney general for the city's black mayor says he will still "look at our options including a Supreme Court request."

10/16/2009 | Comments


Progressive Review - Supporters of DC public education bully Michelle Rhee bragged about the recent results for the city in 4th grade and 8th grade math scores. The Washington Post - which helped to install Rhee - called them "dramatic" and "heartening." What it forgot to say was that the increase was all of two percent - virtually statistically insignificant, but then Post editorial writers learned their math before Rhee was appointed.

The New York Times did better about the national picture: " The latest results on the most important nationwide math test show that student achievement grew faster during the years before the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, when states were dominant in education policy, than over the years since, when the federal law has become a powerful force in classrooms. . . In the six years since the law took effect, fourth-grade scores have risen by five points, to 240 from 235. That is slower growth than during the seven years preceding the federal law, when average fourth-grade math scores grew by 11 points, to 235 in 2003 from 224 in 1996.

"'Either the standards movement has played out, or the No Child law failed to build on its momentum,' said Mark Schneider, who from 2005 to 2008 was commissioner of the arm of the Department of Education that oversees the National Assessment. 'Whatever momentum we had, however, is gone.'

No Child Left Behind, the only idea of George Bush that anyone wastes time on anymore has, in short, been less successful than what preceded it.

Fortunately, the Post news department does a better job than its editorial writers, towit:

Bill Turque, Washington Post - In February, Marie Fonrose, then a counselor at Anacostia, was one of the 20 newly certified DCPS teachers honored by Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten at a reception. Nearly 74,000 teachers nationwide have won certification, but they are rare in DCPS, which has just 39.

On Oct. 2, she was one of the 266 teachers and support staff laid off to help close what Rhee has called a $43.9 million budget gap. Like many other educators shown the door, she said that Rhee's formula for determining who should go--involving broad categories such as "needs of the school," was no formula at all but a license for administrators to fire at will.

"In gathering data for this RIF [reduction in force], one will find that many principals use their own criteria in deciding who to let go. Many of them did not even take the time to get to know what skills and talents to retain," Fonrose said in an e-mail. . .

Fonrose said one of her students called her about the RIF, unaware that she had been included. "She said 'I guess I have to make sure I am as good as you so this does not happen to me' when I graduate from college," Fonrose said.

"I said, 'Well, I was riffed.' Her answer was 'no way.' She is now thinking about changing her major."

Courtland Milloy, Washington Post - "What upset us the most was seeing our teachers fired and then escorted from the building by D.C. police," Jessy Beach, 17, a senior at McKinley Technology High School, told me. "The students were saying, 'Shouldn't you guys be out catching criminals?' The police wouldn't even let us hug our teachers or say goodbye. It was horrible.". . .

Beach was one of several McKinley students who organized classmates for a protest march to D.C. school headquarters and on to city hall last week. The way the students saw it, Rhee had used a relatively small budget shortfall as a ruse to get rid of older teachers and make way for the 900 new ones she had hired over the summer. . .

"We had a great science teacher who knew how to handle our class and make learning fun," said Dayna Downs, 13, an eighth-grader at Alice Deal Middle School. "Now he's been replaced with a less-experienced teacher, and the class is acting a lot differently. Some students don't listen anymore. Some talk while the new teacher is trying to talk because they want our old teacher back."

It is said that youngsters pay as much attention to what adults do as to what we say and that kids are especially alert to contradictions. On one hand, school officials say students should behave like ladies and gentlemen. On the other hand, Rhee and Mayor Adrian Fenty, who gave her near-dictatorial powers over the schools, have behaved like bullies, callous and inconsiderate. . .

Students I interviewed say their schools have far more unsung heroes in the teaching ranks than loafers. McKinley's Sheila Gill, a counselor for 32 years, was cited as an example. Her extensive contacts at colleges and in the community helped thousands of students get scholarships and jobs that they might otherwise have missed out on. . . Gill was among those fired.

Claudia Ricci, Huffington Post - What is astonishing is how little media coverage there has been about how those firings came down. . My source on the story is a good friend who teaches in one of the DC schools affected and was there when colleagues were fired. This friend - who will remain anonymous, because God knows I don't want to see one more teacher fired - called me from a cell phone the Friday before last, frantic, and practically in tears.

"You won't believe what just happened here at school," my friend yelled into the phone. I was working in a crowded office where I couldn't talk, but I whispered back, "what?"

"It was like some kind of armed coup. Twenty minutes before the end of the school day, with all the kids sitting in the classroom, they walked in and fired a bunch of teachers.". . .

It was just minutes before the bell rang. No one knew it was coming. The doors of certain classrooms opened. Armed policemen wearing bullet-proof vests appeared. Accompanying the cops were the new teachers who informed the existing teachers that they had been replaced. No warning at all.

"Teachers were given exactly five minutes to pack up their things and exit the building," my friend said.

Some of those teachers had worked in the schools for more than 20 years.

Some of those teachers left in tears.

And the students? God knows what they thought.

The teachers' union is suing, protesting the firings. . . The union accused School Chancellor Rhee of union busting, systematically removing more expensive, experienced teachers.

In their lawsuit, the union noted that more than 900 new teachers had been hired during the summer, about three times as many as normal. These new instructors, the union argues, will cost the system less in salary.

Rhee denies the union accusations, insisting that the teachers were relieved of their duties for legitimate reasons, including incompetence.

The controversy about why the teachers were removed will undoubtedly rage on. But the story of how they were dismissed is crystal clear.

In my friend's words, "the teachers were treated like criminals."

10/16/2009 | Comments


Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer, Atlantic - What if flu vaccines do not protect people from dying-particularly the elderly, who account for 90 percent of deaths from seasonal flu? And what if the expensive antiviral drugs that the government has stockpiled over the past few years also have little, if any, power to reduce the number of people who die or are hospitalized? The U.S. government-with the support of leaders in the public-health and medical communities-has put its faith in the power of vaccines and antiviral drugs to limit the spread and lethality of swine flu. Other plans to contain the pandemic seem anemic by comparison. Yet some top flu researchers are deeply skeptical of both flu vaccines and antivirals. Like the engineers who warned for years about the levees of New Orleans, these experts caution that our defenses may be flawed, and quite possibly useless against a truly lethal flu. And that unless we are willing to ask fundamental questions about the science behind flu vaccines and antiviral drugs, we could find ourselves, in a bad epidemic, as helpless as the citizens of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. . .

While vaccines for, say, whooping cough and polio clearly and dramatically reduced death rates from those diseases, the impact of flu vaccine has been harder to determine. Flu comes and goes with the seasons, and often it does not kill people directly, but rather contributes to death by making the body more susceptible to secondary infections like pneumonia or bronchitis. For this reason, researchers studying the impact of flu vaccination typically look at deaths from all causes during flu season, and compare the vaccinated and unvaccinated populations.

Such comparisons have shown a dramatic difference in mortality between these two groups: study after study has found that people who get a flu shot in the fall are about half as likely to die that winter-from any cause-as people who do not. Get your flu shot each year, the literature suggests, and you will dramatically reduce your chance of dying during flu season.

Yet in the view of several vaccine skeptics, this claim is suspicious on its face. Influenza causes only a small minority of all deaths in the U.S., even among senior citizens, and even after adding in the deaths to which flu might have contributed indirectly. When researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases included all deaths from illnesses that flu aggravates, like lung disease or chronic heart failure, they found that flu accounts for, at most, 10 percent of winter deaths among the elderly. So how could flu vaccine possibly reduce total deaths by half? . . .

When Lisa Jackson, a physician and senior investigator with the Group Health Research Center, in Seattle, began wondering aloud to colleagues if maybe something was amiss with the estimate of 50 percent mortality reduction for people who get flu vaccine, the response she got sounded more like doctrine than science. "People told me, 'No good can come of [asking] this,'" she says. "'Potentially a lot of bad could happen' for me professionally by raising any criticism that might dissuade people from getting vaccinated, because of course, 'We know that vaccine works.' This was the prevailing wisdom."

Nonetheless, in 2004, Jackson and three colleagues set out to determine whether the mortality difference between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated might be caused by a phenomenon known as the "healthy user effect." . . . Jackson's findings showed that outside of flu season, the baseline risk of death among people who did not get vaccinated was approximately 60 percent higher than among those who did, lending support to the hypothesis that on average, healthy people chose to get the vaccine, while the "frail elderly" didn't or couldn't. In fact, the healthy-user effect explained the entire benefit that other researchers were attributing to flu vaccine, suggesting that the vaccine itself might not reduce mortality at all. Jackson's papers "are beautiful," says Lone Simonsen, who is a professor of global health at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., and an internationally recognized expert in influenza and vaccine epidemiology. "They are classic studies in epidemiology, they are so carefully done." MORE

10/16/2009 | Comments


Morton Mintz, Neiman Watchdog - The Progressive magazine's 100th-anniversary issue, published in April, consists mainly of excerpts from issues in each year since 1909. The entry for January 1917 – nearly 93 years ago – expands the much-disputed definition of "American Exceptionalism." It begins: "At present the United States has the unenviable distinction of being the only great industrial nation without universal health insurance. . . Certain interests which think they would be adversely affected by health insurance have made the specious plea that it is an un-American interference with liberty."

Good - Driving faster than 60 miles per hour starts to drastically reduce your fuel economy. In fact, according to the EPA, for every 5 miles per hour you drive over 60 mph, you are paying an extra $.24 a gallon for your gas.

Entropy update - A letter mailed in Freeport, Maine, on October 7 arrived in Washington today. That's about 50 miles a day or considerably slower than the pony express.

Harpers - Britain's High Court issued a decision on Friday directing that classified information shared by the CIA with British intelligence services concerning the torture and mistreatment of a former Guantánamo prisoner be made public.

Boston Globe - Unemployment in Massachusetts has reached its highest level since the 1970s, officials said yesterday as they also disclosed that the state will exhaust a fund that helps laid-off workers pay for health insurance by the end of next month. State officials said they are considering a number of emergency measures, including imposing higher costs on the unemployed and raising fees on employers, to close a gap that could exceed $50 million by April.

Survival International - The Akuntsu tribe in the Brazilian Amazon has lost its oldest member, Ururu, leaving the tribe with only five surviving members. Ururu was the oldest member of this close-knit, tiny group . . . 'She was a fighter, strong, and resisted until the last moment.' In addition, the oldest-surviving Akuntsu, Ururu's brother Konibu, is seriously ill. ururu witnessed the genocide of her people and the destruction of their rainforest home, as cattle ranchers and their gunmen moved on to indigenous lands in Rondnia state. . . Survivors say their family members were killed when ranchers bulldozed their houses and opened fire on them.

New America Media - When supermarket janitors in Local 1877 of the Service Employees International Union allied last month at Safeway and Lucky stores in San Jose, Calif., they weren't only demanding improved wages and health benefits. They were calling for the adoption of green cleaning standards to make their jobs safer. . . Putting green cleaning standards on the agenda with wages and benefits is evidence that one of the country's largest unions is broadening its idea of a safe and healthy workplace. . . "The health impacts of chemicals are front and center, and the problems are significant," said SEIU spokesperson Rachele Huenneknes. "We don't often see on a contract survey, literally 100 percent of workers saying, 'I get a headache when I use these chemicals,' and 100 percent saying, 'No, I don't have gloves.' That's the reason why at this particular time, there's a push."

The Whig Party will have at least three candidates on the Florida ballot for the US House in 20010

Fox News - New York state wants to crack down on truckers who rely on satellite devices to direct them onto faster but prohibited routes and end up crashing into overpasses that are too low for their rigs. Gov. David Paterson proposed penalties including jail time and confiscation of trucks to come down on drivers who use GPS - global positioning systems - to take more hazardous routes and end up striking bridges. "To our knowledge, no other state has similar legislation," said Clayton Boyce of the American Trucking Associations, an industry trade group based in Washington.. . . In New York, a truckers' group called the proposal unfair and unwarranted.

Rich Benjamin, Alternet - From 1934 to 1962, the Federal Housing Administration underwrote $120 billion in new housing. Less than 2 percent of that went to nonwhites. From 1938 to 1962, the FHA insured the mortgages on nearly one third of all new housing in the United States. Its Underwriting Manuals, however, considered blacks an "adverse influence" on property values and instructed personnel not to insure mortgages on homes unless they were in "racially homogenous" white neighborhoods. Under its eligibility ranking system, the FHA often refused to lend money to or underwrite loans for whites if they moved to areas where people of color lived. Some scholars now call the government's handiwork a "$120 billion head start" on white home ownership, on white equity, and on whites' ability to pass along wealth from one generation to the next. MORE ON THIS

ABC News - Angry French farmers blocked the famous Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris to call attention to the difficulties their sector is going though. Several other French cities were also affected. In Poitiers (western France), farmers dumped about a thousand cubic meters of soil in the city center. French media reported that several hundreds of tractors converged towards the centers of several French cities from north to south, disrupting or stopping traffic on roads and highways. 52,000 protesters took part in the protests nationwide. . . In Paris, about 50 cereal growers set up barriers and dropped bales of hay on the chic Champs-Elysees avenue, next to the posh Fouquet's restaurant where French President Nicolas Sarkozy celebrated his election in May 2007. Protesters set hay and tires on fire, completely blocking rush-hour traffic in several streets in the area. The farming world is dying", Damien Greffin, president of the "Young In 2008, French farmers' income dropped by as much as 20 percent and the situation is not expected to improve this year, according to the French Farm Ministry.

Wonkette - eBay CEO and McCain campaign "female supporter" Meg Whitman, currently running for governor of California, has simply had a terrible last week. Some lib for the Sacramento Bee exposed her recently as a lousy civic bum who had never registered to vote before age 46. Dearest Meg has apologized numerous times since then, but has only now offered this mea culpa: "I was focused on raising a family, on my husband's career, and we moved many, many times."

When you read things in the Review that seem a little strange, please be patient. For example, 37 years ago we called for a return of the streetcar in the nation's capital as part of a mixed transit system. The idea went nowhere. But just the other day, the city's Department of Transportation issued this announcement: "Better mobility, economic development and congestion relief may soon come to the streets of the District of Columbia in the form of a new transit system. DDOT is embarking on a public outreach tour to all eight wards of the District to engage residents and businesses in the implementation of a new streetcar system in the city."

Boston Globe - A Delaware first-grader who was facing 45 days in an alternative school as punishment for taking his favorite camping utensil to school can return to class after the school board made a hasty change granting him a reprieve. The seven-member Christina School Board voted unanimously to reduce the punishment for kindergartners and first-graders who take weapons to school or commit violent offenses to a suspension ranging from three to five days.

WCBS TV, NY - According to a new report, the number of homeless people sleeping in New York City shelters has reached an all time high at 39,000 -- many of them are children.

Daily Beast - An interracial couple was denied a marriage license by a Louisiana justice of the peace, Keith Bardwell, who said he turned them down out of concern for their potential children. Bardwell said he wasn't racist and had done ceremonies for black couples in his house; he explained that his decision to deny a license to Beth Humphrey, 30, and Terence McKay, 32, of Hammond, Louisiana, was based on his personal observation that neither white nor black families are accepting of interracial kids. He also thinks interracial marriages don't last. . . "I don't do interracial marriages because I don't want to put children in a situation they didn't bring on themselves," Bardwell says, adding that if he did one interracial marriage, he'd have to do them all. "I try to treat everyone equall

Guardian, UK - A vote to endorse a highly critical report on the Gaza war passed at the UN human rights council in Geneva, despite opposition from the US and Israel. The council approved a resolution endorsing the report, which was written by the South African judge Richard Goldstone and accused Israel and the Islamist group Hamas of war crimes during the Gaza war. It said the report should go to the UN general assembly for consideration. The resolution condemned "the recent Israeli violations of human rights in occupied east Jerusalem", referring to recent demolitions of Palestinian houses and excavation work near the Haram al-Sharif, also known as the Temple Mount. The vote passed with 25 votes in favor, six against and 11 abstentions.

Huffington Post - The zoo in Gaza cannot afford to buy zebras and has instead painted stripes on two donkeys. Israel controls the movement of goods into and out of Gaza and only allows in humanitarian and basic supplies. The zoo could smuggle zebras into Gaza through tunnels connecting the strip with Egypt, but that would cost $30,000. The zoo director, Mahmud Barghut, told AFP: "We couldn't afford real zebras." Donkeys only cost $700. [Link includes slideshow]



10/19/2009 | Comments



© Scoop Media

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading
Top Scoops Headlines


Join Our Free Newsletter

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.