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Undernews For November 31st, 2009

Undernews For November 31st, 2009

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

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Organic planning does not begin with a preconceived goal; it moves from need to need, from opportunity to opportunity, in a series of adaptations that themselves become increasingly coherent and purposeful, so that they generate a complex final design, hardly less unified than a pre-formed geometric pattern. - Lewis Mumford

11/30/2009 | Comments


US troop levels the Afghan war - 2003 through the planned increase - laid alongside US troop levels in Vietnam during 1960-1965

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11/30/2009 | Comments


Sam Smith

The pending health care legislation is as corrupt, cynical and contemptuous of simple decency as any bill I've seen in over a half century of covering national politics. Which still leaves the question of what to do about it.

After all, living in the Mafia neighborhood that contemporary America has become, survival can easily, and wisely, take precedence over principle.

For example the Institute of Medicine estimates that around 18,000 Americans die because of a lack of health insurance. A study in the December issue of American Journal of Public Health puts the figure for those 18-64 at 45,000 lives lost a year. Does one ignore such numbers in order to stand on principle against an indefensible payoff to the health insurance industry?

Or consider these assets of the pending legislation as outlined by Joshua Holland for Alternet:

[] According to the Congressional Budget Office, Medicaid expansion alone would offer public insurance to more than 10 million low-income Americans who would otherwise be without. . . More than nine in ten people who lack insurance in America fall beneath 400 percent of the poverty line, and every one of them will get some help getting coverage. .

"The House legislation is a watered-down bill that would do little to contain America's overall health-care costs, but would help contain the family health-care expenses of tens of millions of real working people, while covering 36 million who would otherwise be uninsured." []

But now look at another side of the story. How many people will die or become ill because of provisions in the measure?

For example, the Medicare cost-cutting raises a serious threat to elderly. How big a threat one can't tell right now, but you can get a sense of the problem by considering the recent report favoring a drastic reduction in mammograms. Thanks to the strength of the women's movement, this suggestion was quickly squashed, but what about similar cuts in examinations or services to those under Medicare who are less likely to cause a fuss?

Further, we are looking at a system in which the standards for care will be judged for both health benefit and budgetary efficiency by the same government agencies. The conflict of interest is enormous and will especially affect those whose illnesses and response do not match the government-approved average. How many people will die or suffer continued bad health as a result? To what degree is there a submerged bias in the bills against older patients suffering what might be called statistical deficit disorder? What will be the death rate as a result of seniors giving up Medicare Advantage? What will be the health effects of the mandatory mandate on a family that is about to have their house foreclosed and simultaneously faces criminal charges for not paying protection money to the insurance industry? We seem to have forgotten that beyond the poor are a huge number who need only be slightly pushed to go over the edge.

It is useful to recall that Obama's original point man in this sick game was Tom Daschle who said that health care reform "will not be pain free" and that seniors should accept more of that pain rather than treating it.

Daschle pushed for a federal review body modeled after the one in Britain that distinguished itself by such things as a rule that elderly patients couldn't get an expensive eye drug until one of their eyes went blind. It took three years of protest to reverse that decision.

Now, quietly snuck into the stimulus package, we have something called the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research, which consists of 15 government officials and no outside experts. This body will be making purportedly unbiased evaluations of treatments but every official on it will be actually serving two gods: health and the budget.

In short, we are moving from a de facto triage system based on income to one based on appropriations.

And on age.

The silent and widespread acceptance of huge cuts in Medicare as part of "health reform" is an indicator of where the elderly really stand in current political priorities. As Cecil Connolly of the Washington Post noted last summer, "It appears seniors are the net losers under bills" then pending in the House.

No small part of the reason for this is that our health "reform" is being designed on an economic rather than a medical or moral basis. Since seniors are less productive than younger people, their lifespan simply isn't that important to a government so fiscally obsessed.

You can get a sense of how this works from an article in the Boston Globe by Linda Bilmes of the Harvard Kennedy School and Rosemarie Day of Massaschusetts' health insurance authority:

"The premature death of thousands of Americans can be translated into monetary terms using the economic "value of a statistical life.'' . . . A recent study by Stanford economists has demonstrated that the average economic value of a year of human life is about $129,000. Most insurance companies, and many countries around the world, already use a variant of this concept. They implicitly ascribe the value of an additional year of human life at $50,000 by setting that as the threshold for approving treatments. (Any treatment that costs $50,000 will be reimbursed if it is predicted to add another year of life for the patient)."

Significantly, no figures were given for the elderly, retired or infirm but it is clear from the subtext of the current debate that those in charge know whose lives they want to save and it ain't your grandmother.

There are other problems lurking behind the teleprompters. For example, the National Committee to Preserve Medicare and Social Security notes:

[] The health care reform bills now before Congress contain an unpleasant surprise for older Americans: Age-based increases in health insurance premiums for those under 65. This is nothing more than a giveaway to the private insurance industry.

At first blush, it might appear that this is justified assuming that as we age, we cost the health care system more. In fact, age is far from an entirely reliable predictor of health care costs, accounting for less than 20% of the variation in costs across age groups. A healthy 55-year-old may well consume fewer health care dollars than a 35-year-old who is obese or has diabetes.

Both the House and Senate bills include provisions to eliminate coverage for pre-existing conditions, which clearly serves the public interest.

Permitting premiums to rise with age contradicts the intent, if not the letter, of that regulation as aging can reasonably be considered an immutable, pre-existing condition. Moreover, the new regulation disproportionately affects Americans between 55 and 64, who already shoulder a financial burden for health care that is higher than any other age group, regardless of insurance status. . .

Here's a question for policymakers and the public to consider: Will the proposed age-rating of premiums, coupled with the absence of a robust, affordable public option, push more older Americans into the pool of people unable to afford health coverage?. . .

A recent Harvard study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that American adults under 65 who lack health insurance have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who have coverage. Ailing and uninsured people in their 50s and 60s will likely add to the strain on Medicare's budget as they seek care for neglected health problems as soon as they become eligible for this entitlement.

The private insurance industry stands to make big profits from the millions of new customers it will pick up through health care reform. Adding to its bounty by putting the squeeze on the finances of older Americans is not only unjust, it is poor economic policy. []

Add to this the efforts by a powerful coalition that wishes to gut both Social Security and Medicare, epitomized by the insidious Concord Coalition and Peterson Foundation, as well as a development reported recently by Chris Bowers in Open Left:

"Of all the various blocs and gangs that have been formed in Congress this year, Senators Bayh, Conrad, Feinstein, Lieberman and Warner have managed to form the most regressive one yet. Currently, these five Democrats are demanding that Speaker Pelosi hand over all relevant Congressional power to an independent commission that will be allowed to slash and partially privatize Social Security and Medicare, or else they will allow the United States to default on its debt."

Writing in Global Research, Shamus Cooke gives rare attention to still other hidden ills of the healthcare legislation:

[] And although the final bill has yet to be crafted, there exists general agreements as to what the end version will look like. Americans will be forced to buy shoddy corporate insurance with no limit to the cost, no guarantee of quality, with large premiums and other tricks to further gouge consumers. If a public option emerges in the final bill - by no means a guarantee - it will be shrunken enough to insure very few people (2 percent of the U.S. population).

But it gets worse. How this health care "reform" will be paid for has implications that dwarf the above atrocities. . .

The two biggest cost saving schemes are the most damaging. The first is the enormous attack on Medicare. Since its inception, the corporate elite wanted this program struck down. Now they have their man for the job - a Republican could never get away with such obvious treachery. . .

One way that both Congressional health care bills will gut Medicare is referred to as "forced productivity gains" - cost saving measures essentially; trimming the fat.

What are these savings? The most mentioned device - by politicians and media alike - is the reduction of "wasteful tests" and procedures that doctors routinely perform, an idea that the health care mega-corporations love. It will save them billions, while having catastrophic effects on the health care of millions of people. . .

Another piece of Medicare that's being trimmed is Medicare Advantage, a favorite program of the elderly because of its comprehensive services. .

Finally, The Senate health care bill attacks Medicare by reducing payments to doctors by 25 percent. If doctors receive such a drastic reduction in pay, they will simply refuse to see Medicare or Medicaid patients; people will thus be insured only on paper. The newly insured Medicaid patients under any new congressional bill will be sorely disappointed.

Once Medicare is undermined in the above ways, the corporate sponsored right-wing will make a very convincing argument that "Medicare doesn't work", leading to future cuts that will further destroy the program.

The second hidden disaster in financing a congressional health care bill is the tax on so-called "gold-plated" or "Cadillac" health insurance policies that some employers offer their workers. This tax is supposedly meant to apply to the health care policies that "elite" employees receive. . .

As it turns out, many, if not most workers in unions will be included in this tax, which, under the Senate version, will include any plan worth more than $8,000 for individuals and $21,000 for families. Hardly elite, considering the still-soaring costs for health care.

If this provision were to pass - and it's very popular in Congress - the immediate reaction would be very predictable: employers would immediately drop their health care plans, forcing workers into the now-forced purchasing of inadequate health care. . . []

But facts have never been important in this debate. For example, the Democrats have done their best to conceal how long it will be before provisions actually go into effect - such as the much touted ban on denial due to preexisting provisions. Nor will anyone admit the truth that a real advantage of the mandatory mandate is that the administration can claim - dishonestly to be sure - that it is not raising taxes. It is. The affected are just sending their checks to an insurance company rather than to the IRS.

In the end, the legislation will save lives while simultaneously causing other deaths. Not only does no one know the real numbers, but no one that I can find has even tried to come up with such figures. How do the saved uninsured match up against those driven out of existing plans (such as Medicare Advantage and so-called "Cadillac" programs) and how many seniors will die prematurely because of added costs or efficiency measures that claim their tests to treatment aren't worth it? I suspect there will be a net saving of life but that's not what all of us being created equal and with inalienable rights was meant to be about. None of our founders mentioned cost effectiveness as a precondition of human decency.

It's all a sad example of America's cultural and political collapse. This crowd - from Obama on down - could never have gotten Social Security, a minimum wage or Medicare passed. And it probably wouldn't have bothered them all that much, since today's politics has no higher goal than next quarter's campaign contributions.

Still, in reacting to it, this is a different situation than, say, being a conscientious objector in which one refuses to join in the killing and where virtue and effect are in sync. If, as I suppose, more lives will be saved than lost under the healthcare bill, then it is worth backing however cruel the choice - because you can't stand on principle in this instance without contributing to the damage. It seem that we have to pay the protection money to the insurance mob, save some lives and then turn to fighting the struggle on better ground.

11/30/2009 | Comments


Beth Healy, Boston Globe - It happened at least once a year, every year. In a roomful of a dozen Harvard University financial officials, Jack Meyer, the hugely successful head of Harvard's endowment, and Lawrence Summers, then the school's president, would face off in a heated debate. The topic: cash and how the university was managing - or mismanaging - its basic operating funds.

Through the first half of this decade, Meyer repeatedly warned Summers and other Harvard officials that the school was being too aggressive with billions of dollars in cash, according to people present for the discussions, investing almost all of it with the endowment's risky mix of stocks, bonds, hedge funds, and private equity. Meyer's successor, Mohamed El-Erian, would later sound the same warnings to Summers, and to Harvard financial staff and board members.

"Mohamed was having a heart attack,'' said one former financial executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of angering Harvard and Summers. He considered the cash investment a "doubling up'' of the university's investment risk.

But the warnings fell on deaf ears, under Summers's regime and beyond. And when the market crashed in the fall of 2008, Harvard would pay dearly, as $1.8 billion in cash simply vanished. Indeed, it is still paying, in the form of tighter budgets, deferred expansion plans, and big interest payments on bonds issued to cover the losses. . .

"Investing cash alongside the endowment was a long-held strategy that we didn't decide to change until early 2008,'' said James F. Rothenberg, Harvard's treasurer - a part-time, unpaid role. He said the biggest mistake was not to have taken some of the cash off the table, and placed it in safer accounts, as trouble started brewing in the markets and the economy. "We all can look back now and say we wish we did something different,'' he said.

In the Summers years, from 2001 to 2006, nothing was on auto-pilot. He was the unquestioned commander, a dominating personality with the talent to move a balkanized institution like Harvard, but also a man unafflicted, former colleagues say, with self-doubt in matters of finance.

Certainly, when it came to handling Harvard's cash account, the former US Treasury secretary had no doubts. Widely considered one of the most brilliant economists of his generation, Summers pushed to invest 100 percent of Harvard's cash with the endowment and had to be argued down to 80 percent, financial executives say. The cash account grew to $5.1 billion during his tenure, more than the entire endowment of all but a dozen or so colleges and universities.

11/30/2009 | Comments


Herald Tribune, Colombia TN - Spring Hill's mayor wanted the results of a drug test the town's police chief failed kept "highly confidential" and threatened to terminate any employee who "leaked" the information to the media, according to an e-mail obtained by The Daily Herald.

Earlier this month, Police Chief John Smith tested positive for codeine during a random drug screening of city employees. The chief said he took the last two pills of an 8-year-old Tylenol 3 prescription to alleviate a sore back a day before taking the random test Nov. 9.

Smith said he threw away the pill bottle and was unable to find a record of the prescription from a doctor's office or pharmacy.

On Nov. 19, Mayor Mike Dinwiddie responded to an e-mail about the incident from the city administrator with a stern warning for city employees with loose lips.

"It goes without saying that this should be kept highly confidential," Dinwiddie wrote. "Any city employee leaking this info publicly will be considered for immediate termination. IF the media does get wind of this, please forward their inquiries to me."

The e-mail was addressed to City Administrator Victor Lay and the town's aldermen. It was carbon-copied to the city attorney, the finance director and the police chief.

Dinwiddie said there has been no attempt to hide information from the public. At the same time, the mayor said he didn't think the city needed to "broadcast" something that would paint the chief and the city in a bad light.

"We don't need to go out and broadcast what happens to every employee in the city," he said. "If anybody has a question about an employee, they are certainly free to come into City Hall and look at the personnel file."

Dinwiddie said he didn't think it was in the public's interest to know about the chief's drug test because there was no evidence that the chief was addicted to drugs or did anything wrong.

"He was just trying to relieve a back ache," the mayor said. "So why do we need to drag him and his family through the mud - and the city through the mud - over something as little as that?"

Spring Hill Alderman Jonathan Duda, however, raised questions about the mayor's e-mail in an interview with a Nashville newspaper, saying that it "went against the role of a city official."

Because of the violation, the chief will be required to attend an evaluation session with a drug counselor. He must also take six more drug tests as outlined in the town's substance abuse policy.

City administrator Lay said the chief was not given any special treatment and was treated the same as any other employee would be.

11/30/2009 | Comments


Jonathan Alter, Newsweek - Populism has been expanded to include anyone on the side of the people against the elites. But the word once had a more particular meaning. The anger had content. Populists of the past like Bryan in the 1890s, Huey Long and Father Coughlin in the 1930s, and even Pat Buchanan in the 1990s were angry about East Coast capitalists who were hurting the little guy in the heartland. They were anti-Wall Street, strongly protectionist, and committed to economic justice, even when some of them descended into racism and anti-Semitism.

Today's faux populists also feast on emotions-anxiety, anger, resentment-that intensify in hard times. But they are more accurately described as plain old reactionaries, a wonderfully precise word that has gone out of common usage. They're reacting against the pace of change and feeding right-wing nostalgia for a bygone era when a liberal black man wouldn't dare run for president. Palin might try to echo Bryan, but she would consider Bryan's Populist Party platform of 1896 communistic were she to add it to her famous reading list. Dobbs, once corporate America's biggest apologist, still has no use for labor unions, which might make it tough to forge a connection with working people. Beck said recently that his reading of history suggested it was in the progressive era that the United States first started going to hell. He wants to make the country safe for the 1880s.

11/30/2009 | Comments


Reuters - The Small Business Administration said that supplemental economic stimulus funds for its two most popular loan programs have run out and new loan volumes could fall if funds are not extended.

The SBA said $375 million in Recovery Act funds for use in loan programs were exhausted, leaving thousands of struggling but viable small businesses in limbo unless new resources can be found.

The money was used to temporarily reduce fees on SBA-backed loans and raise SBA's guarantee percentage on some loans to 90 percent from 75 percent. This saved small businesses up to $60,000 in fees, made lenders more willing to extend credit and helped lure investors back into the market for securities backed by SBA loans.

11/30/2009 | Comments


Daily Mail, UK - It's a peril that only a crack team of health and safety experts could have uncovered.

After two years and L250,000, they found that ten-pin bowling alleys up and down the country could be a 'very dangerous' environment for families.

They concluded that it was too easy for children or teenagers to run down lanes and get trapped in machinery that sets up the pins - even though there was no record of any such accident having happened.

The bizarre Health and Safety Executive report found that members of the public would be at risk if they walked along the 60-foot lanes to knock over pins by hand.

Its authors even considered ordering every bowling alley to put barriers across lanes. But they were forced to admit defeat - after realizing that bowlers must be able to see what they are aiming at.

Their report said: 'Because customers need to see the pins and bowling balls entering the machine, managing the risk of access into the machine from the lanes is more difficult.'

Instead they have told operators to fit photoelectric beams to lanes so that pin-setting machines will cut off automatically if anyone trespasses.

John Ashbridge, of The Ten-Pin Bowling Proprietors Association, said: 'I have been in this industry for 40 years and I have never known any member of the public injured by a bowling pinsetter. I have never heard of anybody going near the pins.'

Mr Ashbridge said he had watched HSE inspectors examining a bowling centre and he found their attempts to detect possible dangers 'hilarious'.

He added: 'Some operators have now fitted photoelectric beams. They don't cause any problems - they don't stop the machines because nobody ever goes near the pins.'

[We thought this was a joke, but here's the report]

11/30/2009 | Comments


Tree Hugger - In Todmorden in West Yorkshire, Great Britain, a grass-roots effort to put the land to work has grown into a project drawing national media attention, Incredible Edible. The brains and energy behind Incredible Edible is Pam Warhurst, who combines insight gained as a former leader of Calderdale Council with the commitment that comes from being involved in a just cause. The principle is simple: food unites us, all peoples regardless of social rank or means, can communicate in the language of food. . .

Incredible Edible has planted two orchards and many veggie gardens. They work with authorities to use public space, like the fire stations and railway lands, for common gardens. Getting the social housing landlords involved reaches out to those who live in apartments without access to their own land.

School children in Todmorden eat locally grown meat and produce at every meal. Children learn from agricultural projects and participate in farms run by the schools. The Todmorden High School is now seeking funding for an aquaponics installation, which will grow fish and recycle the nutrient rich water for growing water-intensive plants, for scientific study of the environmentally-friendly food production options for the future.

It does not stop at growing food. Incredible Edible holds workshops, like how to kill and prep a chicken, how to forage for edible plants, and skills for canning and preserving. Blogs and a Twitter presence tell the ongoing story.

The Incredible Edible project is on track to meet their goal to make the town self-sufficient by 2018. A third more people grow their own vegetables, seventy percent buy locally grown produce at least once a week and 15 times more citizens tend their own chickens, compared with a year and a half ago.

11/30/2009 | Comments


David Sirota, Seattle Times - The 2010 Pentagon budget means "every man, woman and child in the United States will spend more than $2,700 on (defense) programs and agencies next year," reports the Cato Institute. "By way of comparison, the average Japanese spends less than $330; the average German about $520; China's per capita spending is less than $100."

"(The Pentagon budget) dwarfs the combined defense budgets of U.S. allies and potential U.S. enemies alike," reports Hearst Newspapers.

"President (Obama) is on track to spend more on defense, in real dollars, than any other president has in one term of office since World War II," reports National Journal's Government Executive magazine.

In 2000, the Pentagon admitted it has lost - yes, lost - $2.3 trillion. In 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a subsequent Department of Defense study said it was only $1 trillion. To put such numbers in perspective, contemplate what those sums could finance. $1 trillion, for instance, could pay the total cost of universal health care for the long haul. $2.3 trillion would cover universal health care plus the bank bailout plus the stimulus package.

11/30/2009 | Comments


The Daily Beast - On her book tour, Sarah Barracuda pretends to be one of the people. But she's really winging across the country on a private jet.

As much of her entourage, including HarperCollins publicist Tina Andreadis, risked a collective case of White Line Fever, covering more than 3,000 road miles during the book tour's first week, Sarah Palin herself seems to have remained above it all, apparently cosseted in the luxury of a Gulfstream II 12-passenger jet rented from Universal Jet Aviation of Boca Raton, Florida, at a cost of more than $4,000 per hour.

More than two weeks ago, quoting Andreadis, USA Today reported that Palin would be "making two and sometimes three stops a day, traveling in a bus painted with the cover of her book." And just before the tour started, Palin herself said on her Facebook page: "I'll post our progress from the road." To further the illusion, the populist heroine gave televised interviews from the bus, including one to Greta Van Susteren en route to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

To further the illusion, the populist heroine gave televised interviews from the bus, including one to Greta Van Susteren en route to Fort Bragg. .

It seems now that Palin hasn't been on the bus, except for short hops between local airports and hotels and book-signing sites. Instead, as first reported by the Alaskan blog Palingates, she's apparently been aboard UJT750, the Gulfstream American twin-jet that she first boarded at Westchester County airport shortly after noon on November 18, bound for Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the first stop on her tour. . .

11/30/2009 | Comments


The Canadian Free Press came up with this pix from Polo Contacts in November 2008. Caption reads: "From Left to Right is: Randy Jackson, better known as a Judge on American Idol - his previous life he was a bass player for the Rock band JOURNEY, which also performed at the America's Polo Cup. Others pictured are Black Eyed Peas Rock Band, Tareq Salahi the President of the America's Polo Cup, President Elect Obama, Fergie from Black Eyed Peas and Michaele Salahi a former Miss USA and SuperModel

11/29/2009 | Comments


Washington Post - Because the history of Washington has been written by humans, nobody has paid much attention to the fact that 18 Canadian squirrels were released at the National Zoo during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.

But, if the capital's story were ever told by its rodents, few events would be more prominent than this one.

That's because those 18 squirrels -- whose coats of lustrous black set them apart from the native animals -- were the beginning of a shift that has changed the complexion of Washington's backyard critters. Now, probably because of a slight evolutionary advantage conveyed with a black coat, the descendants of these squirrels have spread all the way into Rockville and Prince William County. . .

Scientists say it's a real-life example of natural selection at work, which has rolled on for a century here without much public notice.

"It shows the spread of a gene within a population," said Richard W. Thorington Jr., a Smithsonian Institution researcher working on a book that includes a history of the District's black squirrels. "That is evolutionary change before your eyes.". . . Some have been spotted in a forest 35 miles from their origins in Washington.

11/29/2009 | Comments


Tree Hugger - It was assumed that sea stars, also known as star fish, where at the mercy of the sun during periods of low tide. A new study, however, has uncovered a secret adaptation, one that has never before been seen in the animal kingdom, which allows sea stars to regulate their temperature in the changing tides.

During periods of high tide, when the sea star's perch is flooded, the echinoderms soak up cold ocean water. This extra water is then used as a buffer when the sea star is exposed to direct sunlight and warm water during periods of low tide.

Researchers explained that: "It would be as if humans were able to look at a weather forecast, decide it was going to be hot tomorrow, and then in preparation suck up 15 or more pounds of water into our bodies."

But this unique strategy for coping with highly-variable temperatures may be rendered ineffective by global warming. For the sea star's buffer to work, the ocean water must be sufficiently cold during periods of high tide. If it is not, the sea stars will either absorb warm water, or not get the cue they need to begin the process.

Eric Sanford, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, and co-author of the study said that "there are likely limits to how much this mechanism can buffer this animal against global change."

Indeed, the sea star's novel cooling strategy will be insufficient to deal with the challenge of a warming ocean.

11/29/2009 | Comments


USA Today - Addiction to prescription painkillers - which kill thousands of Americans a year - has become a largely unrecognized epidemic, experts say. In fact, prescription drugs cause most of the more than 26,000 fatal overdoses each year, says Leonard Paulozzi of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of overdose deaths from opioid painkillers - opium-like drugs that include morphine and codeine - more than tripled from 1999 to 2006, to 13,800 deaths that year, according to CDC statistics released Wednesday.

In the past, most overdoses were due to illegal narcotics, such as heroin, with most deaths in big cities. Prescription painkillers have now surpassed heroin and cocaine, however, as the leading cause of fatal overdoses, Paulozzi says. And the rate of fatal overdoses is now about as high in rural areas - 7.8 deaths per 100,000 people - as in cities, where the rate is 7.9 deaths per 100,000 people, according to a paper he published last year in Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety.

"The biggest and fastest-growing part of America's drug problem is prescription drug abuse," says Robert DuPont, a former White House drug czar and a former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "The statistics are unmistakable."

About 120,000 Americans a year go to the emergency room after overdosing on opioid painkillers, says Laxmaiah Manchikanti, chief executive officer and board chairman for the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians.

11/26/2009 | Comments


Reuters - Widespread adoption of clotheslines could significantly reduce U.S. energy consumption, argued [Alexander Lee of Project Laundry List], who said dryer use accounts for about 6 percent of U.S. residential electricity use.

Florida, Utah, Maine, Vermont, Colorado, and Hawaii have passed laws restricting the rights of local authorities to stop residents using clotheslines. Another five states are considering similar measures. . .

Principal opponents are the housing associations such as condominiums and townhouse communities that are home to an estimated 60 million Americans, or about 20 percent of the population. About half of those organizations have 'no hanging' rules, Lee said, and enforce them with fines.

11/26/2009 | Comments


Computer World - "Working in partnership with Microsoft and elements of the Department of Defense, NSA leveraged our unique expertise and operational knowledge of system threats and vulnerabilities to enhance Microsoft's operating system security guide without constraining the user to perform their everyday tasks, whether those tasks are being performed in the public or private sector," Richard Schaeffer, the NSA's information assurance director, told the Senate's Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security yesterday as part of a prepared statement.

"All this was done in coordination with the product release, not months or years later during the product lifecycle," Schaeffer added. "This will improve the adoption of security advice, as it can be implemented during installation and then later managed through the emerging SCAP standards."

This is not the first time that the NSA has partnered with Microsoft during Windows development. In 2007, the agency confirmed that it had a hand in Windows Vista as part of an initiative to ensure that the operating system was secure from attack and would work with other government software. Before that, the NSA provided guidance on how best to secure Windows XP and Windows 2000.

According to Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronics Privacy Information Center, the NSA's involvement with operating system development goes back even farther. "This battle goes back to at least the crypto wars of the early '90s," said Rotenberg, who remembered testifying about the agency's role in private sector computer security standards in 1989.

But when the NSA puts hands on Windows, that raises a red flag for Rotenberg, who heads the Washington, D.C.-based public interest research center. "When NSA offers to help the private sector on computer security, the obvious concern is that it will also build in backdoors that enables tracking users and intercepting user communications," Rotenberg said in an e-mail. "And private sector firms are reluctant to oppose these 'suggestions' since the US government is also their biggest customer and opposition to the NSA could mean to loss of sales.". . .

11/26/2009 | Comments


Washington Post - In the first three quarters of 2009, 475 foreclosure proceedings were begun against multifamily rental or cooperative homes in the District, according to Neighborhood Info DC. . .

In Chicago's Cook County, 328 multifamily rental buildings were in foreclosure by the second quarter of this year, compared with 185 last year, according to a yet-unreleased study by the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University.

In Los Angeles, foreclosures for buildings with five or more units totaled 78 -- encompassing 1,344 units -- in the first three quarters of 2009, compared with 49 buildings and 432 units over the same period last year, and 13 buildings and 239 units in the same period of 2007, according to the city's housing department.

In New York, housing analysts estimate that the number of apartment units in buildings at risk of default because of upside-down loans -- in which the property is worth less than is owed on the loan -- could range from 50,000 to 100,000.

And through the first nine months of this year, across the country, Fannie Mae had 74 foreclosed multifamily properties on the books, compared with 25 through the first nine months of last year.

11/25/2009 | Comments


Adrian Fenty, the black mayor of Washington, took every precinct when he was elected three years ago. He had certain similarities to Barack Obama - well educated, young, attractive and a voice for change.

After his election, however, a combination of tin ear, chrome plated ego, indifference to ordinary citizens and loyalty to special interests has dramatically changed things. According to Washington City Paper:

"A poll of 501 registered voters finds that D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray leads Fenty, 41 to 37 percent, in the first publicly released head-to-head polling. Asked whether they approve or disapprove of Fenty, poll respondents were negative on Fenty, 49 percent to 43."

More striking was that the poll found that "Fifty-one percent of all white voters polled said they would like to see Fenty re-elected but only 22 percent of all African American voters polled would - a 29"“point difference."

Unlike Obama, however, Fenty's leading alternative is also black. Still the poll does show that even ethnic loyalty can vanish when it's not reciprocated by the office holder.

11/25/2009 | Comments


Michigan Messenger, Lansing - City Attorney Brigham Smith wants a working group being put together to develop new Freedom of Information Act policies for the city in the wake of a series of incidents earlier this year where he was criticized for being careless with private information. But the details of the capital city's information disclosure guidelines will be hammered out in private.

"I actually think it's better if we don't [open the meetings] for the reason we can probably be more candid that way," Smith said late last week when asked if the meetings would be open to the public.

Omar Chaudhary, a lawyer from Butzel Long, which runs a legal hotline in conjunction with the Michigan Press Association, said Smith can argue the group is creating a legal opinion, which would be protected by attorney-client privilege. That, he said, means the group can meet in closed session and with no public input.

"They're trying to be very clever with the law," Chaudary said. .

Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, also a working group member, said he doesn't have a problem with the group meeting behind closed doors. "I think it's not a body covered by the Open Meetings Act," Swope said. . .

11/25/2009 | Comments


Chicago Tribune - Cars and trucks slammed into each other 28 times at Western Avenue and 63rd Street in 2006, the year before the Daley administration installed red-light cameras there in the name of safety. In 2008, the year after cameras went in, accidents at the Southwest Side intersection soared to 42, according to state data.

It was not an aberration. Cameras are said to reduce accidents, but collision records compiled by the Illinois Department of Transportation indicate that accidents increased at many city intersections the year after red-light cameras were installed. In fact slightly more intersections saw an increase than a decrease, the data show.

11/25/2009 | Comments


Jon Letman, Truth Out - Last week at the dinner table, my five-year-old son announced blithely, "Soldiers came to school today." He then added, "They only kill bad people. They don't kill good people."

He made the announcement with the same levity he uses in recalling the plot line of Frog and Toad or a Nemo video.

My wife and I looked at each other incredulously.

"Soldiers came to school? What do you mean?" I asked.

He repeated himself and then I remembered - it was "Career Day" at school. My son mentioned a bus driver too, but it was the soldier who stuck out in his mind. When my wife asked if the soldier was cool, he nodded yes.

The soldier had given my five-year-old a gift. From his yellow backpack, he produced a six-inch, white, plastic ruler with big, bold, red letters reading "ARMY NATIONAL GUARD" next to a waving American flag and below that www.1-800-GO-GUARD.com.

Kindergarteners - children with Dora the Explorer and Spiderman backpacks and bedrooms full of stuffed animals who are still working to master their A-B-C's - are now targets for early conditioning by the US military. . .

11/25/2009 | Comments



A diplomat who actually resigned on principle


Last Words: A Memoir George Carlin with Tony Hendra

The Battle of the Story of the "Battle of Seattle"


The Garden: An LA community tries to save its 14 acre garden from politicians and developers

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers"

Windham County Liberal Examiner, CT - The former third-party candidate for President and Connecticut native Ralph Nader is considering a run to challenge embattled Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) for his U.S. Senate seat. However, Nader announced that he is gauging the reactions from those around him and the state's disapproval of Dodd's job before he makes any formal announcement. . . At a recent promotional book signing for his new manuscript, "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!" residents held signs pleading, "Run Ralph, Run" for the once national political scapegoat. The state's Green Party is also eager to convince Nader to challenge Dodd as the best chance for the party to claim a Senate seat in Connecticut in the foreseeable future.

Cities and transportation

Context Sensitive Solutions - Shuttle buses equipped with front bicycle racks bring visitors to Zion National Park from parking lots in neighboring Springdale, Utah, and from the park's visitor center. Shuttle buses equipped with front bicycle racks bring visitors to Zion National Park from parking lots in neighboring Springdale, Utah, and from the park's visitor center. With almost three million visitors every year, by the early 1990s, traffic congestion and illegal parking were taking their toll on the park and its gateway town. In 1993, the National Park Service recommended a mandatory shuttle system to transport visitors to Zion's inner canyon. They held public meetings in the surrounding communities.

Springdale residents, led by Mayor Phillip Bimstein, suggested that the park extend the shuttle system into town. Park visitors could be encouraged to leave their cars in Springdale and take a free shuttle service to the park; reducing traffic and, at the same time, allowing visitors to explore the town. . . The heart of the project is the free shuttle-bus system that runs through town, picks up and drops off passengers at parking facilities, hotels and major areas, and ends at a new visitor center located within Zion National Park. . . Route 9 was narrowed from 40 feet to 32 feet at four locations, where pedestrian crossings and bus shelters that match those in the park were installed. The roadbed, curbs, and sidewalks were colored red to minimize the visual impact on the natural landscape. In the shuttle's first week of operation, residents of Springdale were seen using it for daily errands, to go to church, and, of course, to visit the park.

Cyber notes

Boing Boing - New Zealand's National Business Review stuck a pay wall in front of its website back in mid-July, betting that enough readers would stick around and pay for "quality" that it would make up for the stupendous drop in readership. Looks like they bet wrong. Their traffic plummeted, and traffic to their free competitors skyrocketed. On every metric, NBR is failing: page views, session duration, unique readers, and total time on site. NBR has a high pay wall price, so maybe they've got enough money from corporate subscribers to make up for the advertising losses -- but how long will they keep them for, with all the links, visits, and attention going to their competitors?


Portland Press Herald - At 1,165 feet, Mount Harris is little more than a broad hill in a small town along Route 9, southwest of Bangor. And as residents debated an ordinance to regulate wind power development here, it seemed like a local matter. That changed Nov. 19. By a wide margin - 229-78 - voters approved an ordinance that's being called one of the most restrictive in New England. It requires a one-mile setback between turbines and homes, a standard that likely will have the effect of banning grid-scale wind power on Mount Harris and other wooded ridges in town. Now developers, environmentalists and state officials are wondering whether growing public backlash against wind power will prompt more towns to use ordinances similar to Dixmont's to restrict similar proposals. Mainers have a long history of craving economic development in general, but fighting it in their backyards. Does Dixmont's vote signal that the apparent public support for renewable energy extends only to wind projects that are very far from where people live?

Swine flu

Las Vegas Review Journal - Two months after H1N1 flu vaccine was first distributed to public health districts around the country, people 65 and older with serious medical conditions still can't get vaccinated. . The evidence has shown that, as a group, seniors need the vaccine less than younger age groups, according to Dr. Anthony Fiore with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And when there is a vaccine shortage, he said, you must prioritize. Public health authorities admit they have been inundated with calls from the elderly who want to know when they can receive vaccinations. Many seniors have called the Review-Journal to complain. Some refrain from giving their names because they fear their complaints could cause their Social Security benefits to be cut off. . . And private physicians who have enrolled in the H1N1 vaccine provider program aren't supposed to bypass public health regulations. They sign documents saying they will abide by the program's designated priorities if given vaccine to distribute.

Local heroes

Salem News, MA - In defiance of the ban on the word "meep," at least two Danvers High seniors wore blue "Free meep" T-shirts to school, saying they would like to sell these shirts to raise money for a scholarship or grant. Seniors Mike Spiewak, 17, and Matt LaFleur, 18, wore their "Free meep" shirts to school yesterday despite a ban on the word that was broadcast to parents in an automated call about two weeks ago. The school's principal has said "meep" was being used to disrupt the school. . . The students spoke outside the school on Cabot Road and said they were not suspended for wearing the shirts yesterday, though some teachers asked them to cover them up. LaFleur said he has already been suspended twice for meeping, including once for creating a Facebook page asking about making shirts "to show how stupid it is we are getting banned from saying 'meep.'" Spiewak and LaFleur said meep was not used to harass a teacher but was an inside joke and a greeting.

Furthermore. . . .






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