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Undernews For November 16, 2009

Undernews For November 16, 2009

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

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Sam Smith

Last May, the Republican National Committee condemned Obama and the Democratic Congress for leading America towards socialism. Since then the line has been picked up by numerous others on the right including the tea baggers, a group that believes it is standing for true American rights by invoking memories of a fight that was actually about merely getting Americans some representation in the British Parliament and not about full independence.

That's not the only mistake made by those complaining about the threat of socialism. If Obama is leading America anywhere, it is - like his immediate predecessors - towards fascism. Socialism is about the state running things on behalf of the public; fascism is about the state running things on behalf of corporations. Adrian Lyttelton in his book on Mussolini wrote that "fascism can be viewed as a product of the transition from the market capitalism of the independent producer to the organized capitalism of the oligopoly." It was a point that Orwell noted when he described fascism as being but an extension of capitalism. Lyttelton quoted Italian Nationalist theorist Affredo Rocco: "The Fascist economy is. . . an organized economy. It is organized by the producers themselves, under the supreme direction and control of the State."

This is the way we have been heading for some time and Obama has merely joined the club.

Still, all the talk got me thinking about what avoiding socialism in America would truly be about. What if we set out to rid ourselves of all intrusions of this purported political curse? Here are a few things we might do:

- Return to the old system of fire fighting in which blazes were handled by private fire brigades hired by private insurance companies. Brooke Harrington described the practice in Economic Sociology: "If you wanted a fire brigade to come to your aid in . . . emergencies, you had to join a kind of club with private membership fees. It worked like this: you ponied up the fees, the club gave you a plaque to put over your front door, and then if fire swept through the neighborhood, the club dispatched help, but they only assisted paying members. So if you didn't have that plaque over your door, the fire rescue teams would pass you right on by. It would not be uncommon to find that your house burned down while the one next door would be saved." Sounds a little like our health insurance system.

- End public education. Public schools - which strongly aided the growth of America - are about as socialistic as you can get. Obama, it should be noted, is trying to help reduce this deleterious influence by converting public schools into profit-making charter operations.

- Close down all federal highways or sell them off to the highest bidder so they can turn them into profit-making roads using tolls.

- Abolish Social Security, Medicare, food stamps and all other such welfare programs.

- End all government interference with the banking and financial industries. This would have recently saved us hundred of billions in bailout funds.

- End all veterans programs including closing veterans' hospitals.

- Sell off all public transportation to unregulated private interests.

- Close all public hospitals, end public subsidies to other hospitals and privatize all ambulance service.

- End all government regulation of food or health products.

- End the practice of government plowing streets after a snow storm. As Boston mayor James Curly put it, "The Lord brought it; let the Lord take it away."


Feeling better yet?

Bet you never realized what a bunch of closet socialists we are.

We got there, though, because - instead of hurling theories and cliches at each other - we decided on a case by case basis who could do a particular job best. And the funny thing is, it's worked pretty well.

People who complain about the threat of socialism remind me of the man from Virginia who went to college on the GI Bill and bought his first house with a VA loan. When a hurricane struck he got federal disaster aid. When he got sick he was treated at a veteran's hospital. When he was laid off he received unemployment insurance and then got a SBA loan to start his own business. His bank funds were protected under federal deposit insurance laws. When he retired he went on Social Security and Medicare. The other day he got into his car, drove the federal interstate to the railroad station, parked in the public lot, took Amtrak to Washington and went to Capitol Hill to ask his congressman to get the government off his back.

11/15/2009 | Comments


"Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response." - Barack Obama telling a bipartisan group of governors that he has no intention of softening his goals for reducing emissions, even amidst the global economic downturn, November 19, 2008.

11/16/2009 | Comments


LA Times - Healthcare overhaul bills working their way through Congress could jeopardize laws in California and other states that require insurers to pay for treatments such as AIDS testing, second surgical opinions and reconstructive surgery for breast cancer patients.

What's more, the federal legislation could make it virtually impossible for states to enforce other consumer protection laws, such as the right to appeal if an insurer denies coverage for a particular treatment.

Healthcare overhaul bills in both the Senate and the House would open the door to insurers selling policies across state lines -- which some lawmakers fear could allow health plans to take advantage of the lenient rules in some jurisdictions while avoiding tougher enforcement regimes in places like California.

"It would be a huge problem for California consumers," said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), who helped craft insurance laws when she served in the state Senate. "California is leading the way in terms of consumer protection, and I don't want to see that lost."

11/16/2009 | Comments


Washington Post - A year ago, the financial system was tottering and government officials arranged a $2.3 billion emergency cash infusion into CIT Group, a troubled lender to small businesses.

Today, CIT is in bankruptcy court, and the taxpayers' investment is on the brink of being wiped out. It would be the largest loss so far from the government's massive rescue of the financial system, but it isn't likely to be the last.

Officials poured about $700 billion into investments in scores of companies, from giants such as the automaker General Motors and the insurer American International Group to smaller regional banks. Of them, 46 had missed required dividend payments to the government as of the end of September, according to the inspector general overseeing the program. .

Analysts expect more bailed-out firms to fail in the months ahead. Others may survive but will struggle to repay the government. Steven Rattner, the former head of the government's efforts to bail out the auto industry, said recently that the full public investment in GM is unlikely to be repaid. Meanwhile, AIG is dismantling itself, selling healthy subsidiaries at what critics say are bargain prices in an all-out effort to get cash to repay the government.

11/16/2009 | Comments


Hyde: 30 Years is Enough - Today, women forgo food, risk eviction and pawn their possessions as they attempt to raise money for an abortion. Some are forced to continue the pregnancy, abandon their education and stay trapped in poverty. Women face these difficult situations because the government denies abortion funding to women in need.

In 1976, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which forbids federal funding for abortion. The only exceptions are in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the woman. Most states have also banned state Medicaid funding for abortion.

Before the Hyde Amendment, women could access abortion services regardless of their income, because Medicaid covered abortion care like it did every other medical service. However, since 1976, low-income women's ability to exercise their rights has been severely restricted.

Congress also denies abortion coverage to military personnel and their families, women receiving care from Indian Health Services, and people on disability insurance.

11/16/2009 | Comments


Life Science - Daily record high temperatures occurred twice as often as record lows over the last decade across the continental United States, new research shows. . . If temperatures were not warming, the number of record daily highs and lows being set each year would be approximately even, the researchers explained in a statement.

Instead, for the period from Jan. 1, 2000, to Sept. 30, 2009, the continental United States set 291,237 record highs and 142,420 record lows, as the country experienced unusually mild winter weather and intense summer heat waves.

11/16/2009 | Comments


The other evening, facing a plate of Maine crab cakes I suddenly got the urge to douse them with butter and maple syrup. This was not something I had dreamed up; it came from some deep corner of memory. And, boy, was I glad. It was delicious.

But when I mentioned this to others, seeking the origin of this inclination, I found no one who thought I was anything but a bit nutty. The web wasn't much help although I did find a Maryland Eastern Shore "classic recipe for crab cakes as they are traditionally prepared" that included a tablespoon of pure maple syrup included in the basic formulation.

I suspect it's a southern thing, perhaps from my DC childhood, but if anyone can give any context it will be appreciated. With or without cultural context, however, I plan to continue to pour maple syrup on my crab cakes.- Sam

11/15/2009 | Comments


From Burlington Free Press

- Since the modern process for producing aluminum was developed by Alcoa founder Charles Martin Hall in 1886, more than 70 percent of all the virgin aluminum ever made remains in use.

- Currently, some 50 percent of the aluminum beverage cans consumed in this country are being recycled. This is well below world standards: - Brazil: 94.4 percent - Japan: 90.9 percent - Germany: 89 percent - Global Average: 63 percent - Western Europe: 57.7 percent

- The newspaper you put in your blue bin today could be recycled and have some portion of it land back on your doorstep as a new Free Press within two to three weeks.

- Here's the breakdown of a household's trash and recyclables: - 9 percent non blue-bin recyclables (e.g. fabrics, scrap metal). - 19 percent blue-bin recyclables. - 33 percent compostables. - 39 percent landfill material.

- Americans throw out 694 plastic bottles every second, according to National Geographic.

- Regarding recycled toilet paper, the United States could save 470,000 trees, 1.2 million cubic feet of landfill space and 169 million gallons of water if everyone in the US traded one roll of regular toilet paper for a recycled roll, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

11/15/2009 | Comments


Open Left - When Reagan was first elected, only one percent of voters (and six percent of the population) were Hispanic. . . In 2008, after a rapid increase in participation, the Latino proportion of the electorate had increased almost tenfold (in part because of immigration) to 9% (compared to 15% of the population).

The most striking feature . . . is the increase in the Latino electorate in the South and other areas outside the Southwest. . .

In 2008, seven states had more than 10% of the exit poll respondents describe themselves as Latino. Among them, there was essentially no change between 2004 and 2008 in Texas and Florida, and a slight decrease in California. The rest of the Southwest showed dramatic increases: from 8% of the electorate in 2003 to 13% of the electorate in 2008 (+63%) in Colorado, 10% to 15% in Nevada (+50%), 32% to 41% in New Mexico (+28%), and 12% to 16% in Arizona (+33%). The states without much change had the same status in 2004 and 2008 - uncompetitive for TX and CA, battleground for FL.

11/15/2009 | Comments



The folks at the Project on Government Oversight knew something was wrong when they would ge questions like the one from a congressional staffer wanting to know how to file a freedom of information request with the executive branch. You are Congress, POGO explained, an equal branch of government. You don't need to file a request.

Part of the problem was congressional turnover; when the majority changes party a lot of senior staffers now in the minority bail out, taking with them much experience. It was such gaps that Pogo decided to fill.

WFED - For the past three years, the Project on Government Oversight has been holding monthly training sessions entitled "The Congressional Oversight Training Series", a free lunchtime skill-building seminar designed to educate Hill staffers about their rights, responsibilities and powers working in the realm of Congressional oversight.

Ingrid Drake is an investigator at POGO, and Director of COTS:

"What we're trying to do is expose them to some of the very seasoned oversight staffers on the Hill, or who may have recently left the Hill, as well as to journalists, as to how to make oversight investigations really hard-hitting, and really meaningful, and help resolve the problems that they've identified. The seminars are strictly non-partisan. We always talk about how important it is to reach across the aisle as part of a successful investigation. We talk about how important it is to involve the media in various stages of the investigation, and not just at the end.". . .

Recently POGO has published "The Art of Congressional Oversight: A Users Guide to Doing it Right". The 83-page, spiral bound volume contains insights into how to be a successful congressional committee investigator.

In one case, an attorney for a company under investigation tried to intimidate a then-young investigator, Franklin Sibley, formerly a Democratic House and Senate oversight Staff Director, saying "I find you very laughable". Sibley shot back, "three months from now, I want to see how funny you think I am." He went on to say, "three months later, he wasn't that amused".

POGO is sending a copy to every congressman and senator on Capitol Hill, and is also providing copies to Hill staffers who attend the seminars, or who write in requesting a copy.

POGO is also making "The Art of Congressional Oversight" available for purchase by interested members of the public from its website.

11/14/2009 | Comments


Guardian, UK - Doctors in Iraq's war-ravaged enclave of Falluja are dealing with up to 15 times as many chronic deformities in infants and a spike in early life cancers that may be linked to toxic materials left over from the fighting. . . Neurologists and obstetricians in the city interviewed by the Guardian say the rise in birth defects - which include a baby born with two heads, babies with multiple tumors, and others with nervous system problems - are unprecedented and at present unexplainable.

A group of Iraqi and British officials, including the former Iraqi minister for women's affairs, Dr Nawal Majeed a-Sammarai, and the British doctors David Halpin and Chris Burns-Cox, have petitioned the UN general assembly to ask that an independent committee fully investigate the defects and help clean up toxic materials left over decades of war - including the six years since Saddam Hussein was ousted. . .

11/14/2009 | Comments



IPS - U.S. Army Specialist Alexis Hutchinson, a single mother, is being threatened with a military court-martial if she does not agree to deploy to Afghanistan, despite having been told she would be granted extra time to find someone to care for her 11-month-old son while she is overseas.

Hutchinson, of Oakland, California, is currently being confined at Hunter Army Airfield near Savannah, Georgia, after being arrested. Her son was placed into a county foster care system.

Hutchinson has been threatened with a court martial if she does not agree to deploy to Afghanistan on Sunday, Nov. 15. She has been attempting to find someone to take care of her child, Kamani, while she is deployed overseas, but to no avail.

According to the family care plan of the U.S. Army, Hutchinson was allowed to fly to California and leave her son with her mother, Angelique Hughes of Oakland.

However, after a week of caring for the child, Hughes realized she was unable to care for Kamani along with her other duties of caring for a daughter with special needs, her ailing mother, and an ailing sister.

In late October, Angelique Hughes told Hutchinson and her commander that she would be unable to care for Kamani after all. The Army then gave Hutchinson an extension of time to allow her to find someone else to care for Kamani. Meanwhile, Hughes brought Kamani back to Georgia to be with his mother.

However, only a few days before Hutchinson's original deployment date, she was told by the Army she would not get the time extension after all, and would have to deploy, despite not having found anyone to care for her child.

Faced with this choice, Hutchinson chose not to show up for her plane to Afghanistan. The military arrested her and placed her child in the county foster care system.

Currently, Hutchinson is scheduled to fly to Afghanistan on Sunday for a special court martial, where she then faces up to one year in jail.

11/14/2009 | Comments


Washington Post - Newly released FBI data offer evidence of the broad scope and complexity of the nation's terrorist watch list, documenting a daily flood of names nominated for inclusion to the controversial list.

During a 12-month period ended in March this year, for example, the U.S. intelligence community suggested on a daily basis that 1,600 people qualified for the list because they presented a "reasonable suspicion," according to data provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee by the FBI in September and made public last week.

FBI officials cautioned that each nomination "does not necessarily represent a new individual, but may instead involve an alias or name variant for a previously watchlisted person."

The ever-churning list is said to contain more than 400,000 unique names and over 1 million entries. The committee was told that over that same period, officials asked each day that 600 names be removed and 4,800 records be modified. Fewer than 5 percent of the people on the list are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Nine percent of those on the terrorism list, the FBI said, are also on the government's "no fly" list.

11/14/2009 | Comments


World Public Opinion - Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new BBC World Service global poll finds that dissatisfaction with free market capitalism is widespread, with an average of only 11% across 27 countries saying that it works well and that greater regulation is not a good idea.

In only two countries do more than one in five feel that capitalism works well as it stands--the US (25%) and Pakistan (21%).

The most common view is that free market capitalism has problems that can be addressed through regulation and reform--a view held by an average of 51% of more than 29,000 people polled by GlobeScan - PIPA.

An average of 23% feel that capitalism is fatally flawed, and a new economic system is needed--including 43% in France, 38% in Mexico, 35% in Brazil and 31% in Ukraine.

Furthermore, majorities would like their government to be more active in owning or directly controlling their country's major industries in 15 of the 27 countries. This view is particularly widely held in countries of the former Soviet states of Russia (77%), and Ukraine (75%), but also Brazil (64%), Indonesia (65%), and France (57%).

Majorities support governments distributing wealth more evenly in 22 of the 27 countries --on average two out of three (67%) across all countries. In 17 of the 27 countries most want to see government doing more to regulate business--on average 56%.

11/14/2009 | Comments


Politico - The Republican National Committee told its members that it is reviewing its health insurance policy -- a move announced after Politico reported that RNC employees have abortion coverage through their current plan. . .

The Republican Party's official position calls for a constitutional ban on abortion, and many of its members are heavily engaged in a fight to ban individuals who get federal subsidies for insurance from using that money to buy policies that cover abortion through the health insurance exchanges proposed in a health care measure moving through Congress.

11/13/2009 | Comments


Peter Edelman, Dissent - Next year, welfare as we now know it is slated to come before Congress for reauthorization. By "welfare" I mean federally financed cash assistance to low-income mothers (and occasionally fathers) with children. Welfare as we used to know it was the program called Aid to Families with Dependent Children, in effect from 1935 to 1996. It was hardly generous (as well as being otherwise flawed), but it nonetheless succumbed in 1996 to three decades of conservative attack. The allegation was that it had created undue numbers of long-term recipients; it had fostered welfare dependency. The program was replaced by Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, which made it much harder to obtain assistance and imposed stringent time limits.

All this [stage] began with Governor Bill Clinton running for president on a platform of ending "welfare as we know it." Whatever his intention, the phrase opened the door to a radically conservative approach from the newly muscular and emboldened Republican-controlled Congress. Running for re-election in 1996, but also believing in the merits of TANF, Clinton signed the welfare reform bill into law.

The meta-message of the TANF legislation was that states had to pare their welfare rolls. The primary tool given them was the repeal of the legal entitlement to benefits and the transformation of the legal framework into a block grant. A block grant is flexible and can be used for good or ill. . .

Nonetheless, the main message was to downsize the rolls, and downsize they did. The palpable result thirteen years later is the virtual disappearance in many states of cash assistance for low-income mothers with children, with caseloads going down by well over 90 percent. Overall, the rolls shrank from 14.3 million mothers (and a few fathers) and children in 1994 to under four million in 2007. In 1995, nine million of the 14.5 million children then poor were in families that received welfare. By 2006, only four million of the 12.8 million poor children were in families getting TANF. That the gap bespeaks a failure to respond to legitimate need seems obvious.

These are the techniques of radical reduction: shut the front door almost completely; staff the back door with the equivalent of a tough nightclub bouncer; and, in between, hassle applicants to the point where they just give up and go away. . .

We cannot look at welfare in isolation. We need to ask why there is such a huge gap between top and bottom in this wealthy country and why there are so many people at the bottom. We need to ask why so many people with steady work don't make enough money to pay for basic living costs-which are in fact much higher than the unrealistic measure we call the poverty line.

But we especially need to look at people at the very bottom and to understand that a disproportionate number of these are children who, whatever the sins or failings of their parents, deserve a decent chance to succeed. And even more fundamentally, we need to ask why there is so much hostility toward a group of people who, if we provided a modicum of assistance, at a cost that is not astronomical, could at least avoid the very worst of conditions. . .

Ninety million is the number of people-30 percent of the population-who have incomes below twice the poverty line, or below about $35,000 for a family of three. These people are not "poor," but much research shows that this is the minimum income they need to pay their bills and go to a doctor if they have to without worrying about what other necessities they will have to forgo. (And this is true even if they have insurance, what with deductibles and coinsurance.) These ninety million present critically important policy issues that are not being addressed fully. .

No one should suppose that the advent of President Barack Obama and large (but hardly overwhelming) Democratic majorities in Congress will result in completely revamping the block grant TANF framework. Welfare has never been popular. TANF took the public's hostility toward welfare off the front burner (at a considerable cost), but it is only dormant. Even in today's changed political world, bold ideas for cash assistance to the lowest income people in our nation would be met with ideological resistance. . .

What we should have and what we can reasonably hope to get in the world of welfare are two different things. My ideal framework would feature a minimum benefit (which could vary regionally based on the cost of living) and a clear connection between income support and work (based mainly on incentives rather than penalties). It should also be possible for a relatively small number of people, who are not legally disabled but have good reasons not to be in the job market, to receive cash assistance without an expectation that they will work outside the home. My framework would include good child care, continuing health coverage, relevant education and training, and strong support services to help new workers succeed in the workplace.

11/13/2009 | Comments


Photo Alberto Cesar, Greenpeace

Change - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced that the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon plummeted 46 percent between August 2008 to July 2009, according to a government press release. That is the lowest rate in 20 years, since the government started collecting data 1988. . . Brazil's Ministry of Environment claims that deforestation has slowed so rapidly due to the Action Plan for Deforestation Control and Prevention in the Amazon launched in 2004, which strengthened anti-deforestation monitoring and enforcement, demarcated conservation areas and encouraged sustainable livelihood options in the Amazon.

11/13/2009 | Comments


Harriet Alexander, Telegraph, UK - Churchill's speeches, Hemingway's style and Golding's prose would not have been appreciated by a new computerized marking system used to assess A level English.

The system, which is a proposed way of marking exam papers online, found that Churchill's rousing call to "fight them on the beaches" was too repetitive, with the text using the word "upon" and "our" too frequently.

His reference to the "might of the German army" lost him marks because the computer assumed that Churchill had intended to say "might have", instead of using "might" as a noun.

Graham Herbert, deputy head of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, said: "The computer was limited in its scope. It couldn't cope with metaphor and didn't understand the purpose of the speech.

"We also tried a passage from Hemingway. It couldn’t understand the fact that he had a very Spartan style and [it] said he should write with more care and detail. He was also rated less than average."

Passages from Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange were deemed incomprehensible by the computer.

Online marking of papers is being tested by exam boards and could be introduced within the next few years. It is already in use in America, where some children have learnt to write in a style which the computer appreciates, known as "schmoozing the computer".

11/13/2009 | Comments


Michael Bond, New Scientist - Is George W. Bush stupid? It's a question that occupied a good many minds of all political persuasions during his turbulent eight-year presidency. The strict answer is no. Bush's IQ score is estimated to be above 120, which suggests an intelligence in the top 10 per cent of the population. But this, surely, does not tell the whole story. . . . Even his loyal speechwriter David Frum called him glib, incurious and "as a result ill-informed". The political pundit and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough accused him of lacking intellectual depth, claiming that compared with other US presidents whose intellect had been questioned, Bush junior was "in a league by himself". Bush himself has described his thinking style as "not very analytical".

How can someone with a high IQ have these kinds of intellectual deficiencies? Put another way, how can a "smart" person act foolishly? Keith Stanovich, professor of human development and applied psychology at the University of Toronto, Canada, has grappled with this apparent incongruity for 15 years. He says it applies to more people than you might think. To Stanovich, however, there is nothing incongruous about it. IQ tests are very good at measuring certain mental faculties, he says, including logic, abstract reasoning, learning ability and working-memory capacity - how much information you can hold in mind.

But the tests fall down when it comes to measuring those abilities crucial to making good judgments in real-life situations. That's because they are unable to assess things such as a person's ability to critically weigh up information, or whether an individual can override the intuitive cognitive biases that can lead us astray.

This is the kind of rational thinking we are compelled to do every day, whether deciding which foods to eat, where to invest money, or how to deal with a difficult client at work. We need to be good at rational thinking to navigate our way around an increasingly complex world. And yet, says Stanovich, IQ tests - still the predominant measure of people's cognitive abilities - do not effectively tap into it. . .

"A high IQ is like height in a basketball player," says David Perkins, who studies thinking and reasoning skills at Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It is very important, all other things being equal. But all other things aren't equal. There's a lot more to being a good basketball player than being tall, and there's a lot more to being a good thinker than having a high IQ.". . .

Indeed, IQ scores have long been criticised as poor indicators of an individual's all-round intelligence, as well as for their inability to predict how good a person will be in a particular profession. The paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould claimed in The Mismeasure of Man in 1981 that general intelligence was simply a mathematical artifact and that its use was unscientific and culturally and socially discriminatory. Howard Gardner at the Harvard Graduate School of Education has been arguing - controversially - for more than 25 years that cognitive capacity is best understood in terms of multiple intelligences, covering mathematical, verbal, visual-spatial, physiological, naturalistic, self-reflective, social and musical aptitudes. . .

As an illustration of how rational-thinking ability differs from intelligence, consider this puzzle: if it takes five machines 5 minutes to make five widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? Most people instinctively jump to the wrong answer that "feels" right - 100 - even if they later amend it. When Shane Frederick at the Yale School of Management in New Haven, Connecticut, put this and two similarly counter-intuitive questions to about 3400 students at various colleges and universities in the US - Harvard and Princeton among them - only 17 per cent got all three right. . .

11/13/2009 | Comments


Coshocton Tribune - A free service enjoyed by hundreds has been shut down due to illegal activity conducted by one individual. "It's unfortunate that one person ruins it for those who use the service legitimately," said Commissioner Gary Fisher.

About five years ago, the county made a free wireless Internet connection available in the block surrounding the Coshocton County Courthouse at 318 Main St.

It was disabled last week after someone used the wireless local area network address to illegally download a movie.

The county's Internet Service Provider - One Community - was notified by Sony Pictures Entertainment about the breach, and the county's Information Technology Department was in turn notified by One Community.

Progressive Review: Sony Films you may want to avoid because of the above:

* Angels & Demons * The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day * Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs * District 9 * Julie & Julia * Michael Jackson's THIS IS IT * The Stepfather * Zombieland * 2012 * Armored * Dear John * Did You Hear About the Morgans? * The Green Hornet * The Karate Kid * Legion * Planet 51 * Priest * Salt * Takers

11/12/2009 | Comments


NY Times - Saying a resolution by the House of Representatives that barred Acorn from receiving federal aid violated the Constitution by singling the antipoverty group out for punishment, lawyers for Acorn filed a lawsuit on Thursday that seeks to restore the financing.

The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Brooklyn, says that the Congressional resolution constitutes a "bill of attainder," or a legislative determination of guilt without a trial. In the suit, Acorn, which came under fire especially from conservative critics after a series of embarrassing scandals, said it was penalized by Congress "without an investigation" and has been forced to cut programs that counsel struggling homeowners, and to lay off workers.

For example, it said, because of budget cutbacks, a first time homebuyer class in New York that enrolled 100 people in September enrolled only seven people in October, after the Congressional action.

"It's a classic trial by the Legislature," said Jules Lobel, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which brought the suit. "They have essentially determined the guilt of the organization and any organization affiliated or allied with it."

11/12/2009 | Comments


Guardian, UK - A United Nations special investigator who was blocked from visiting the US by the Bush administration has accused the American government of pouring billions of dollars into rescuing banks and big business while treating as "invisible" a deepening homeless crisis.

Raquel Rolnik, the UN special rapporteur for the right to adequate housing, who has just completed a seven-city tour of America, said it was shameful that a country as wealthy as the US was not spending more money on lifting its citizens out of homelessness and substandard, overcrowded housing.

"The housing crisis is invisible for many in the US," she said. "I learned through this visit that real affordable housing and poverty is something that hasn't been dealt with as an issue. Even if we talk about the financial crisis and government stepping in in order to promote economic recovery, there is no such help for the homeless."

She added: "I think those who are suffering the most in this whole situation are the very poor, the low-income population. The burden is disproportionately on them and it's of course disproportionately on African-Americans, on Latinos and immigrant communities, and on Native Americans.". . .

The US government does not tally the numbers but interested organizations say that more than 3 million people were homeless at some point over the past year. The fastest growing segment of the homeless population is families with children, often single parents. On any given night in Los Angeles, about 17,000 parents and children are homeless. Most will be found a place in a shelter but many single men and women are forced to sleep on the streets.

11/12/2009 | Comments


Loose Lips, Washington City Paper - The Archdiocese of Washington plays hardball on gay marriage, telling District legislators that the gay marriage bill as currently written could mean the end of Catholic Charities in D.C.-'a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care,' Tim Craig and Michelle Boorstein report in WaPo. 'Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city. "If the city requires this, we can't do it," Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Wednesday. "The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that's really a problem."' But some lawmakers appear ready to call what they consider a bluff: 'Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) referred to the church as "somewhat childish." Another council member, David A. Catania (I-At Large), said he would rather end the city's relationship with the church than give in to its demands. "They don't represent, in my mind, an indispensable component of our social services infrastructure," said Catania. . . Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the judiciary committee, said the council "will not legislate based on threats."' . . Catholic Charities 'serves 68,000 people in the city, including the one-third of Washington's homeless people who go to city-owned shelters managed by the church. City leaders said the church is not the dominant provider of any particular social service, but the church pointed out that it supplements funding for city programs with $10 million from its own coffers.'

11/12/2009 | Comments


Global Post - They are the face of Chilean guidebooks: giant statues made of volcanic rock scattered across Easter Island.

Constructed centuries ago, the figures are thought to represent ancestors or chiefs of the indigenous Polynesian population. It is their descendants who now inhabit the tiny triangular island nearly 2,000 miles off the Chilean coast.

But they're fed up with the hundreds of immigrants who keep flooding the island in search of fortune. These immigrants, they say, are destroying the ecosystem, taking their jobs and ruining the historical legacy of their ancestors.

And so they're fighting back in the hope of restricting residence on the island, known in the indigenous tongue as Rapa Nui.

With more than 4,000 people - about half non-natives, mostly Chileans - living on 62 square miles, the islanders feel they are already overpopulated. Waste disposal is becoming a serious problem, as trash keeps piling up and the litter spreads in proportion to its population.

11/12/2009 | Comments


BBC - The president of the Maldives has strongly criticized the world's rich countries for doing too little to stem climate change.

Mohamed Nasheed said there was so little money offered to vulnerable nations that it was like arriving at an earthquake with a dustpan and brush.

He was opening a high-level two-day gathering of countries deemed especially at risk from global warming.

The Maldives government says the islands face disaster if oceans rise.

This was an outspoken attack on the G8 rich countries by the leader of a country so low that rising sea levels threaten to submerge most or all of it by 2100. The Maldives stands about 2.1 metres (7ft) above sea level.

President Nasheed said the wealthy nations had pledged to halt temperature rises to 2C, but had refused to commit to the carbon targets that would deliver this.

Even with a 2C rise, he added, "we would lose the coral reefs… melt Greenland, and… my country would be on death row".

"I cannot accept this," he said.

The Maldives wants the countries at this gathering to follow its own example in aiming to go carbon neutral, switching to renewable energy and offsetting aviation pollution.

Such a bloc of developing countries could change the outcome of next month's climate change summit in Denmark, the president said, making it morally harder for rich countries not to take action themselves.

The Maldives is hosting about 10 nations vulnerable in different ways - African countries threatened by desertification, mountain ones whose glaciers are melting, large Asian ones affected by floods and typhoons, and other small islands like itself.


Edge San Francisco - A 10-year-old Arkansas boy name Will Phillips has decided that he cannot in good conscience pledge allegiance to the flag as long as the country for which it stands refuses legal equality to its GLBT citizens. That stand has brought young Mr. Phillips anti-gay taunts in the lunch room, but admiration from around the country, reports a Nov. 5 Arkansas Times article. The West Fork School District fifth grader clashed with a substitute teacher for his refusal to stand for the pledge, prompting a call to Will's mother, Laura Phillips. When the principal acknowledged that Will has the right to refuse to say the pledge, Ms. Phillips asked that her son receive an apology--a request that the principal declined to honor. A 1943 Supreme Court decision found that schools may not punish students for refusing to recite the pledge.

NPR - The number of homeowners on the brink of losing their homes dipped in October, the third straight monthly decline, as foreclosure prevention programs helped more borrowers. . . Despite Nevada's legislative efforts to slow foreclosures, the state still clocked in the nation's highest foreclosure rate for the 34th month in a row, followed by California, Florida, Arizona and Idaho. Rounding out the top 10 were Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, Maryland and Utah.

Reuters - Cuba has ordered all state enterprises to adopt "extreme measures" to cut energy usage through the end of the year in hopes of avoiding the dreaded blackouts that plagued the country following the 1991 collapse of its then-top ally, the Soviet Union. In documents seen by Reuters, government officials have been warned that the island is facing a "critical" energy shortage that requires the closing of non-essential factories and workshops and the shutting down of air conditioners and refrigerators not needed to preserve food and medicine.














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