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Undernews For December 9, 2009

Undernews For December 9, 2009


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

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A FEW REASONS TO TAKE CLIMATE CHANGE SERIOUSLY

Arctic & Antarctic

ANTARCTIC ICE MELTING FASTER THAN THOUGHT
GREENLAND ICE MELTING FASTER
STUDY: IN 20 YEARS NO ARCTIC ICE IN SUMMER
WATCHING THE ARCTIC MELT
LARGE ANTARCTIC GLACIER THINNING FOUR TIMES FASTER THAN A DECADE AGO
ARCTIC ICE AREA SMALLEST IN 800 YEARS
OLDER ARCTIC SEA ICE DECLINING
ANTARCTIC ICE SHELF ON THE VERGE OF COLLAPSE
HUGE ANTARCTIC ICE SHELF ON BRINK OF COLLAPSE
IMPORTANT GLACIER MELTING AT MORE THAN GLACIAL SPEED
ARCTIC ICECAP MELTING IN WINTER AS WELL AS SUMMER
SCIENTISTS FIND METHANE TIME BOMB IN ARCTIC
POLAR BEARS RESORT TO CANNIBALISM
ARCTIC ICE MELTING FAR FASTER THAN THOUGHT
ANTARCTIC ICE SHELF CONTINUES TO BREAK UP. . . IN WINTER
GREENLAND IS RISING WITH LOSS OF ICE
ANTARCTIC RISE IN FRESH WATER WORRIES SCIENTISTS
NEW ARCTIC SEA ICE UNABLE TO SURVIVE SUMMER SUN
FAST MELTING GLACIERS ENDANGER GLOBE
I CE LOSS IN ANTARCTICA MATCHES THAT IN GREENLAND
SUMMER ARCTIC SEA ICE COULD DISAPPEAR BY 2012
ANTARCTICA'S PENGUINS FADING BECAUSE OF CLIMATE CHANGE

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Climate change

GLOBAL TEMPS SET TO RISE OVER TEN DEGREES BY 2100
HOW CLIMATE CHANGE COULD PRODUCE DRASTICALLY COLD WEATHER
DAILY RECORD HIGH TEMPS BEAT RECORD LOW TEMPS BY 2 TO 1 OVER PAST DECADE
REPORT: CLIMATE CHANGE WILL FORCE 75 MILLION PACIFIC ISLANDERS TO RELOCATE
CLIMATE CHANGE ALREADY AFFECTING COUNTRY
MIT STUDY: 90% PROBABILITY OF 6-13F DEGREE RISE IN TEMPERATURES BY 2100
WHAT A WORST CASE CLIMATE SCENARIO MIGHT LOOK LIKE
EPA DECLARES GREENHOUSE GASES A PUBLIC HEALTH THREAT
UK'S CHIEF SCIENCE ADVISOR SEES ECO DISASTER LOOMING BY 2030
SCIENTISTS: FIVE FOOT RISE IN SEA LEVEL BY 2100 POSSIBLE
SCIENTISTS TELL CONGRESS HEAT WAVES MIGHT MAKE LIFE UNBEARABLE IN SOME CITIES
TOP SCIENTIST: CLIMATE CHANGE IRREVERSIBLE
TREE DEATH RATE DOUBLES
HOTTER SUMMERS WILL DRASTICALLY CUT CROPS YIELDS
WEATHER-RELATED DISASTERS DOMINATE
EXPERTS: WE'RE MOVING TOO SLOW TO PREVENT CLIMATE CATASTROPHE
SCIENTIST WHO WARNED OF GLOBAL WARMING 20 YEARS AGO SAYS TIME IS RUNNING OUT
GREENHOUSE GASES HIGHEST IN AT LEAST 800,000 YEARS
WARM CLIMATE CAN BRING BEETLE INFESTATIONS THAT LIMIT FORESTS' ABILITY TO ABSORB CARBON
CARBON AND METHANE IN AIR UP SHARPLY
EARLY GLOBAL WARMING SPOTTER SAY IT'S WORSE THAN WE THINK
PRINCE CHARLES SAYS ECO CRISIS SHOULD BE TAKEN AS SERIOUSLY AS WAR
RECOVERED HISTORY: SECRET PENTAGON REPORT SEES ECO DISASTER COMING
2007 WAS WARMEST YEAR EVER FOR EARTH'S LAND AREAS
EVEN CLIMATE ACTIVISTS DON'T UNDERSTAND HOW BAD IT IS
REPORT DETAILS BUSH'S MANIPULATION OF CLIMATE CHANGE INFORMATION
CLIMATE CHANGE MAY WIPE OUT OR DAMAGE 60% OF AMAZON BY 2030
SCIENTISTS UNITE ON DANGER OF CLIMATE CHANGE
WHY THE EARTH IS RUNNING OUT OF TIME
'VERY UNLIKELY' WE CAN AVOID CATASTROPHIC CLIMATE CHANGE

Drought

TREE RINGS SUGGEST SOUTH CAROLINA HAVING WORST DROUGHT IN 800 YEARS
LAKE MEAD MAY BE DRY BY 2021

Labels: CLIMATE CHANGE, ECOLOGY

12/08/2009 | Comments

AUSTRALIAN CITY GETS FIRST SPRING HEAT WAVE SINCE RECORDS BEGAN IN 1887

NASA - A spring heat wave scorched southeastern Australia in mid-November 2009, pushing the fire danger to the "catastrophic" category in parts of South Australia and New South Wales and to "extreme" in other surrounding areas. Many cities, including Melbourne and Adelaide experienced record-breaking temperatures that continued for many days. . .

Around Adelaide in South Australia and Melbourne in Victoria, the land surface temperatures were up to 12 degrees Celsius (22 degrees Fahrenheit) above average in mid-November. For Adelaide, the event was the first springtime heat wave since records began in 1887, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. The city had temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) for 8 consecutive days.

Labels: CLIMATE CHANGE, ECOLOGY

12/08/2009 | Comments

OVER 20% OF WATER SYSTEMS VIOLATE POLLUTION LAWS

NY Times - More than 20 percent of the nation's water treatment systems have violated key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act over the last five years, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data. The water system in Ramsey, N.J., has illegal concentrations of arsenic and the solvent tetrachloroethylene, both linked to cancer.

That law requires communities to deliver safe tap water to local residents. But since 2004, the water provided to more than 49 million people has contained illegal concentrations of chemicals like arsenic or radioactive substances like uranium, as well as dangerous bacteria often found in sewage.

Regulators were informed of each of those violations as they occurred. But regulatory records show that fewer than 6 percent of the water systems that broke the law were ever fined or punished by state or federal officials, including those at the Environmental Protection Agency, which has ultimate responsibility for enforcing standards.

Labels: ECOLOGY, POLLUTION, WATER

12/09/2009 | Comments

LOCAL HEROES: BERNIE SANDERS ON BERNANKE

Bernie Sanders, Guardian, UK - Last year, the American people overwhelmingly voted for a change in our national priorities and for a new direction on the economy. After eight long years of trickle-down economics that benefitted millionaires and billionaires while leaving the middle class behind, Americans demanded a change that would put the interests of ordinary people ahead of the greed of Wall Street and the wealthy few.

What the American people did not bargain for was another four years for one of the key architects of the Bush economy.

Before Ben Bernanke became the Fed chairman in 2006, he headed the council of economic advisers for President Bush - one of the most right-wing presidents in American history. He also sat on the Fed board of governors from 2002 to 2005. Perhaps more than anyone else, Bernanke was in a position to diagnose the impending economic disaster and take steps to stop it. Tragically, not only did he fail to prevent the economic collapse that we have experienced, he did not even warn the American people that it was coming until it was too late. Equally distressing, his actions since the crisis began may leave taxpayers holding the bag for an even bigger bailout in the future. . .

Since Bernanke took over as Fed chairman, the unemployment rate has more than doubled and, today, an incredible 17% of the American workforce is either unemployed or underemployed.

Not since the Great Depression has the financial system been as unsafe, unsound, and unstable as it has been during Bernanke's tenure. More than 120 banks have failed since he became chairman, despite the Fed's army of nearly 3,000 bank supervisors with broad powers to maintain the safety and soundness of financial institutions.

Under Bernanke's watch, the value of risky derivatives held at our nation's top commercial banks grew from $110tn to more than $290tn, 95 per cent of which are concentrated in just five financial institutions. While Bernanke was asleep at the wheel, Warren Buffett, as early as 2003, called derivatives "financial weapons of mass destruction" and warned that they posed a "mega-catastrophic risk" to the economy.

Bernanke failed to prevent banks from issuing deceptive and unfair financial products to consumers. Under his leadership, mortgage lenders were allowed to issue predatory loans they knew consumers could not afford to repay. This risky practice was allowed to continue even though the FBI warned in 2004 of an "epidemic" in mortgage fraud that had the potential to become "the next S&L crisis".

After the financial crisis hit, Bernanke's response was to provide trillions of dollars in virtually zero-interest loans and other taxpayer assistance to some of the largest financial institutions in the world. Adding insult to injury, Bernanke has refused to tell the American people the names of the institutions that received this handout or the terms involved. Trillions of taxpayer dollars are at risk and Mr Bernanke continues to hide the names!

Further, despite the American people spending $700bn bailing out huge financial institutions because they were "too-big-to-fail," Bernanke has allowed three of the four largest financial institutions in the country to become even larger than they were before the financial collapse.

In the midst of a horrendous economic crisis that has caused massive suffering in this country Bernanke had the opportunity to force irresponsible and corrupt Wall Street firms to change their ways. The chairman could have demanded that Wall Street provide adequate credit to small businesses to create decent-paying jobs. He could have insisted that bailed-out banks end the usurious practice of charging interest rates of 30% or higher on credit cards. He could have required bailed out banks to stop making risky bets in derivatives. He could have required bailed-out-banks to modify mortgages so that homeowners could afford to stay in their homes. He could have required too-big-to-fail banks become smaller. He could have instituted a major investigation of how the financial collapse occurred in the first place, and held chief executives at those banks accountable.

Instead, Wall Street, with Bernanke's help, has instituted a system of "heads they win, tails taxpayers lose". If Wall Street wins, their executives receive millions in bonuses and they keep all of their profits. If Wall Street loses, taxpayers bail them out, and their executives still keep their bonuses.

As the middle class of this country continues to suffer, we need a chairman of the Fed who is more concerned about expanding the productive economy - increasing decent-paying jobs for all Americans - than continuing to fan the flames of Wall Street greed that precipitated this crisis.

Labels: BERNANKE, ECONOMY, FEDERAL RESERVE, MONEY

12/09/2009 | Comments

WHY CAP AND TRADE WON'T WORK. . .AND WHAT WILL

James Hansen, NY Times - Because cap and trade is enforced through the selling and trading of permits, it actually perpetuates the pollution it is supposed to eliminate. If every polluter's emissions fell below the incrementally lowered cap, then the price of pollution credits would collapse and the economic rationale to keep reducing pollution would disappear.

Worse yet, polluters' lobbyists ensured that the clean air amendments allowed existing power plants to be "grandfathered," avoiding many pollution regulations. These old plants would soon be retired anyway, the utilities claimed. That's hardly been the case: Two-thirds of today's coal-fired power plants were constructed before 1975.

Cap and trade also did little to improve public health. Coal emissions are still significant contributing factors in four of the five leading causes of mortality in the United States - and mercury, arsenic and various coal pollutants also cause birth defects, asthma and other ailments. . .

To compound matters, the Congressional carbon cap would also encourage "offsets" - alternatives to emission reductions, like planting trees on degraded land or avoiding deforestation in Brazil. Caps would be raised by the offset amount, even if such offsets are imaginary or unverifiable. Stopping deforestation in one area does not reduce demand for lumber or food-growing land, so deforestation simply moves elsewhere. .

There is a better alternative, one that would be more efficient and less costly than cap and trade: "fee and dividend." Under this approach, a gradually rising carbon fee would be collected at the mine or port of entry for each fossil fuel (coal, oil and gas). The fee would be uniform, a certain number of dollars per ton of carbon dioxide in the fuel. The public would not directly pay any fee, but the price of goods would rise in proportion to how much carbon-emitting fuel is used in their production.

All of the collected fees would then be distributed to the public. Prudent people would use their dividend wisely, adjusting their lifestyle, choice of vehicle and so on. Those who do better than average in choosing less-polluting goods would receive more in the dividend than they pay in added costs.

For example, when the fee reached $115 per ton of carbon dioxide it would add $1 per gallon to the price of gasoline and 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour to the price of electricity. Given the amount of oil, gas and coal used in the United States in 2007, that carbon fee would yield about $600 billion per year. The resulting dividend for each adult American would be as much as $3,000 per year. As the fee rose, tipping points would be reached at which various carbon-free energies and carbon-saving technologies would become cheaper than fossil fuels plus their fees. As time goes on, fossil fuel use would collapse.

Still need more convincing? Consider the perverse effect cap and trade has on altruistic actions. Say you decide to buy a small, high-efficiency car. That reduces your emissions, but not your country's. Instead it allows somebody else to buy a bigger S.U.V. - because the total emissions are set by the cap.

In a fee-and-dividend system, every action to reduce emissions - and to keep reducing emissions - would be rewarded. Indeed, knowing that you were saving money by buying a small car might inspire your neighbor to follow suit. Popular demand for efficient vehicles could drive gas guzzlers off the market. Such snowballing effects could speed us toward a pollution-free world.

James Hansen is the author of the forthcoming "Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity."

Labels: CLIMATE CHANGE, ECOLOGY

12/09/2009 | Comments

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND FLUNKS AGAIN

Progressive Review - The dismal record of the corporatization of America's public school system under the No Child Left Behind law reiterated itself in the latest national math test scores.

Between 2007 and 2009 there was no change in 4th grade math scores. Scores have risen about 1% a year since the law was passed.

For low income students, between 2007 and 2009, 4th grade math scores went up 1 point. The increase since 2003 has been 6 points.

Those scoring below basic levels have declined 3% since 2007 and 23% since 2003, which sounds good until you learn that this marker declined about the same amount in the period immediately before the law was passed.

For 8th graders, the scores since 2007 have gone up less than 1%. Since 2003 they have gone up less than 2%. For low income 8th graders, the results were abut the same.

All this is before we consider such key issues as how the tests are designed, what they test, or the degree to which they are manipulated to produce the desired results.

But even without these details, we have one more sad chapter in deforming of public education.

THE DC ANGLE

According to an article by Nick Anderson and Bill Turque, "D.C. public schools made outsize gains in mathematics during the past six years, according to a federal report card that shows the city school system, long derided as one of the nation's worst, is progressing faster than most of its urban peers.

"The advances do not put the city schools anywhere near the same league as high-flying suburban systems such as Montgomery, Fairfax or Arlington counties. But the results suggest that reform efforts under controversial D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and her predecessor have begun to pay off in better student performance."

Way down the article, the reporters note that Rhee - beloved by the extremist center - only took over in 2007.

The article claims, "The National Assessment of Educational Progress found that the D.C. system was the only one of 11 studied in 2007 and 2009 to make significant strides in grade 4 and 8 math scores, in an analysis that excluded charter school scores. Its gains in fourth grade since 2003 were triple those found in the nation as a whole and roughly double those for all large cities."

It should be noted that Turque has done some real good reporting on DC schools but this story, like so many these days, seems searching for proof that the test junkies are right.

It should also be noted that the Washington Post's profits these days in large part from the test monster Kaplan, which, Wikipedia notes "provides educational materials and services to children in grades pre-K through 12 and individual school districts,and advises school districts on compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act. Also, Kaplan's Score Learning Centers provide after-school tutoring services in reading and math for children in grades kindergarten to tenth grade."

Now let's turn to some facts about the DC results national math tests.

For grades four and eight the increase in test scores during Rhee's regime beginning in 2007 was 2%. The percent moving from below basic achievement to at or above was 14% and 11% respectively.

This sounds good until you consider a couple of factors. First, the 4th grade improvement is almost precisely that occurred in recent earlier years except between 2007 and 2005. If Rhee wasn't on the case then, how could the DC schools possibly have done so well? Only in the 8th grade, where those below basic level fell 10% compared to 4-8% in previous years, could Rhee claim any credit.

Second, if the 8th grade did better was it really because it learned more or because the students were being better trained to take tests - which is not the same as learning math? Elementary education has long been strongly biased towards rote learning, and the DC school system has always done better at that level on tests as a result.

For low income students, the improvement was statistically insignificant under Rhee compared to the immediate preceding years.

The one thing Anderson and Turque are quite right about is that DC school system, "long derided as one of the nation's worst, is progressing faster than most of its urban peers."

The irony, however, is that this information was available to the Washington Post and others for some time and it happened before Rhee. Instead, faux reformers have used the capital as a major excuse for creating a test-driven, corporate-conceived public school policy with which we are now cursed.

Labels: EDUCATION, NO CHILD

12/09/2009 | Comments

LEAKED DOCUMENTS CAUSE COPENHAGEN FUROR

Guardian, UK - The UN Copenhagen climate talks are in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN's role in all future climate change negotiations.

The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals.

The so-called Danish text, a secret draft agreement worked on by a group of individuals known as "the circle of commitment" - but understood to include the UK, US and Denmark - has only been shown to a handful of countries since it was finalized this week.

The agreement, leaked to the Guardian, is a departure from the Kyoto protocol's principle that rich nations, which have emitted the bulk of the CO2, should take on firm and binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, while poorer nations were not compelled to act. The draft hands effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank; would abandon the Kyoto protocol - the only legally binding treaty that the world has on emissions reductions; and would make any money to help poor countries adapt to climate change dependent on them taking a range of actions.

The document was described last night by one senior diplomat as "a very dangerous document for developing countries. It is a fundamental reworking of the UN balance of obligations. It is to be superimposed without discussion on the talks".

Labels: CLIMATE CHANGE, ECOLOGY

12/08/2009 | Comments

CONFLICTING NEW YORK RESULTS FLUNK TEST OBSESSION

NY Times - New York City's fourth and eighth graders did not perform significantly better on federal math exams this year than in 2007, according to test scores.

The results on the federal tests differ sharply from the city's performance on state-administered tests, where the city has registered large gains in the last couple of years. On state NY texams, 71 percent of the city's eighth graders met state standards this year, but just 26 percent were considered proficient or better on the federal exams.

. . Although the gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts narrowed on the state tests, it widened slightly on the federal tests, as Asian students continued to post higher scores than other ethnic and racial groups.

. . The city's schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, is particularly sensitive to claims [sic] that the federal scores contradict state gains, in part because he has so much riding on the results of the state exams. The Bloomberg administration has used the results from the state tests to deliver grades of A through F for schools and to determine teacher and principal bonuses. Last month, the mayor said Mr. Klein would begin using the results from the students' tests as a factor in decisions on tenure for teachers.

Labels: SCHOOLS, TESTING

12/08/2009 | Comments

YAHOO WILL SELL YOUR EMAILS TO THE GOVERNMENT FOR $30-40

Mathaba - After earlier reports this week that Yahoo had blocked an FOIA Freedom of Information release of its "law enforcement and intelligence price list", someone helpfully provided a copy of the Yahoo company's spying guide to the whistleblower web site Cryptome.org.

The 17-page guide, which Yahoo has tried to suppress via legal letters to the Cryptome.org site run by freedom of information champion John Young, describes Yahoo's policies on keeping the data of Yahoo Email and Yahoo Groups users, as well as the surveillance and spying capabilities it can give to the U.S. government and its agencies.

The Yahoo document is a price list for these spying services and has already resulted in many people closing down their accounts in protest. However, closing a Yahoo account is not as easy as one might expect: users have reported great difficulty in finding the link to delete their account, and, Yahoo will still keep data for another 90 days. . .

Many government leaders and officials around Africa, Asia and Latin America are known by Mathaba to widely be using Yahoo, Gmail, and Hotmail in spite of these Email services being hosted on U.S. computers and the ease that gives the hosts to access their data. Mathaba has also long been aware of a great many business people, politicians and even Presidents who use the "free" web-based email services of Yahoo for their Email communications, thus making it easy for the U.S. and its owners to spy on them with negligible cost.

Cryptome also published lawful data-interception guides for Cox Communications, SBC, Cingular, Nextel, GTE and other telecoms and Internet service providers. . .

The price list that Yahoo tried to prevent the government from releasing appears in one small paragraph in the 17-page leaked document. According to this list, Yahoo charges the government about $30 to $40 for the contents, including e-mail, of a subscriber's account. It charges $40 to $80 for the contents of a Yahoo group.

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other U.S. "social networking" sites are at minimum providing information in similar fashion to U.S. agencies, and in some cases have also received substantial funding by U.S. government related entities as a most efficient and cost-effective means of spying on their users around the world.

Labels: CIVIL LIBERTIES, SPYING, WIRETAP

12/08/2009 | Comments

LOCAL HEROES: CONYERS STANDS UP TO OBAMA

The Hill - President Barack Obama recently called Rep. John Conyers Jr. to express his frustrations with the Judiciary Committee chairman's criticism.

In an interview with The Hill, Conyers said his opinions of Obama's policies on healthcare reform and the war in Afghanistan have not sat well with the president.

According to the lawmaker, the president picked up the phone several weeks ago to find out why Conyers was "demeaning" him.

Obama's decision to challenge Conyers highlights a sensitivity to criticism the president has taken on the left. Conyers's critical remarks, many of which have been reported on the liberal-leaning Huffington Post, appear to have irritated the president, known for his calm demeanor.

Conyers, the second-longest-serving member of the House, said, "[Obama] called me and told me that he heard that I was demeaning him and I had to explain to him that it wasn't anything personal, it was an honest difference on the issues. And he said, 'Well, let's talk about it.'"

Sitting in the Judiciary Committee's conference room two days after Obama delivered his speech on Afghanistan, the 23-term lawmaker said he wasn't in the mood to "chat."

Obama's move to send in 30,000 troops to Afghanistan by the summer of 2010 has clearly disappointed Conyers.

He said he intends to press his case in writing soon.

"I want something so serious that he has to respond in writing, like I am responding in writing to him," he said.

"Calling in generals and admirals to discuss troop strength is like me taking my youngest to McDonald's to ask if he likes french fries," Conyers said. . .

"I've been saying I don't agree with him on Afghanistan, I think he screwed up on healthcare reform, on Guantanamo and kicking Greg off," Conyers said, referring to the departure of former White House counsel Greg Craig.

Craig was a leading proponent in the White House of closing the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay and releasing photos of detainees undergoing torture. Closing the military prison has proven to be politically difficult, and Obama reversed field on the photos, opting not to make them publicly available.

The liberal Conyers has been an outspoken proponent of a single-payer healthcare system and a critic of U.S. involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He has also been at odds with White House policy on extending expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, crafting legislation that is to the left of the Senate's version.

Obama and Conyers have a complicated and nuanced relationship.

Conyers was the first member of the Congressional Black Caucus to endorse Obama over then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president. . .

Labels: OBAMA, POLITICS

12/08/2009 | Comments

CREDIT RATING AGENCIES HELPED BRING DOWN THE ECONOMY

Dean Baker, American Prospect - One important aspect of the financial crisis was the willingness of the credit rating agencies to rate complex derivative instruments as investment grade, even though they were filled with junk assets. The rating agencies had a motive to do this because they are paid by the companies whose issues they rate. Since they do not want to lose the business of a Citigroup or Goldman Sachs, they have a strong incentive to give overly positive ratings.

The NYT notes that Congress seems unlikely to do anything about this basic conflict of interest in its regulatory reform bill. It would have been useful to note that this fundamental conflict could be easily eliminated, if Congress cared about it.

It is only necessary to take away the hiring decision from the company whose issuers are being rated. If a third party, such as the stock exchange on which the company is listed, selected the rating agency, then the agency would have no incentive to bend its analysis. Its ability to get future business would not in any way be helped by bending its analysis.

It is striking that it appears that Congress never seriously considered this simple measure.

Labels: ECONOMY

12/08/2009 | Comments

THE FACE OF FRIENDSHIP IN A NEW CENTURY

William Deresiewicz, Chronicle of Higher Education - The belief that the most significant part of an individual's emotional life properly takes place not within the family but within a group of friends began to expand beyond the artistic coterie and become general during the last half of the 20th century. The Romantic-Bloomsburyan prophecy of society as a set of friendship circles was, to a great extent, realized. Mary McCarthy offered an early and tart view of the desirability of such a situation in The Group; Barry Levinson, a later, kinder one in Diner. Both works remind us that the ubiquity of group friendship owes a great deal to the rise of youth culture. Indeed, modernity associates friendship itself with youth, a time of life it likewise regards as standing apart from false adult values. "The dear peculiar bond of youth," Byron called friendship, inverting the classical belief that its true practice demands maturity and wisdom. With modernity's elevation of youth to supreme status as the most vital and authentic period of life, friendship became the object of intense emotion in two contradictory but often simultaneous directions. We have sought to prolong youth indefinitely by holding fast to our youthful friendships, and we have mourned the loss of youth through an unremitting nostalgia for those friendships.

The new group friendship, already vitiated itself, is cannibalizing our individual friendships as the boundaries between the two blur. The most disturbing thing about Facebook is the extent to which people are willing-are eager-to conduct their private lives in public. "hola cutie-pie! i'm in town on wednesday. lunch?" "Julie, I'm so glad we're back in touch. xoxox." "Sorry for not calling, am going through a tough time right now." . . .

Perhaps I need to surrender the idea that the value of friendship lies precisely in the space of privacy it creates: not the secrets that two people exchange so much as the unique and inviolate world they build up between them, the spider web of shared discovery they spin out, slowly and carefully, together. There's something faintly obscene about performing that intimacy in front of everyone you know, as if its real purpose were to show what a deep person you are. Are we really so hungry for validation? So desperate to prove we have friends?. . .

They call them social-networking sites for a reason. Networking once meant something specific: climbing the jungle gym of professional contacts in order to advance your career. . . . Now, in the age of the entrepreneurial self, even our closest relationships are being pressed onto this template. . . We have given our hearts to machines, and now we are turning into machines. The face of friendship in the new century.

Labels: IDEA MILL 12/08/2009 | Comments

DUNCAN: PRINCIPALS AS CEOS. . (AND STUDENTS AS JUST PRODUCTS?)

Change - Arne Duncan doesn't want principals to be like teachers, like role models, or like leaders, but demands they become CEOs. With recent fears of schools being turned into businesses that focus more on numbers (money, test scores) so much more than teaching (curricula, quality teachers), this is the cherry on top. . .

So are we going to let these new CEOs play quick and fast with our kids' education, give the prinicipals bonuses no matter how the 'company' performs, and then bail them out with money for new reforms when their plan fails? Treating principals like CEOs seems crazy. Who are the share-holders of this corporation? The government, one can only presume. This sort of approach is likely to only lead to a more efficient production line like education of children programmed how to answer test questions, teachers programmed to teach the test, leading to a 'product' unable to compete internationally. Children aren't products, and demanding principal become more like CEOs is frightening.

Labels: DUNCAN, SCHOOLS

12/08/2009 | Comments

DOES BIGGER MEAN GREENER?

Hank Green, Ecogeek - Busses are greener than cars, and apartment buildings are greener than houses. But is a 747 greener than a Cessna? Is an interstate greener than Route 66? Is a 55 inch flat screen greener than a 20 inch tube television? Is a cruise ship greener than a pontoon boat?. . .

Often, efficiency just becomes one more pathway to profligate waste. Let's take interstate highways as an example here, since they're both the solution to and cause of so many of our problems.

Let's say you wanted to move 100,000 cars from one city to the next city before interstates. The gridlock would have been tremendous. Cars would have idled for days, traveling at low, inefficient speeds with start and stop traffic that would have wasted a huge amount of gasoline. With interstates, those 100,000 cars can speed along a seven lane highway at efficient speeds without ever tapping the breaks. Highways are much more efficient.

Of course, before Atlanta had seven lane highways, no one was driving 60 miles to work every morning. The waste per mile driven has dropped dramatically, but much more dramatic is the rise in miles driven. . .

This story re-plays itself over and over again. Technology lets us build more efficient televisions, so we make them gigantic. Technology allows us to build the Airbus A380, with room for 853 passengers, by far the most efficient plane per passenger mile, and suddenly a billion more people can afford air travel. Technology allows us to build a cruise ship that holds 6,300 passengers, transporting them with 30% less fuel per passenger, and there are 6,300 people eating crab cakes and surfing on artificial waves on a boat that's too big to dock anywhere in Europe.

Bigger is greener when you're replacing needs that were met inefficiently elsewhere. If you're getting someone on a bus instead of in a car, or in an apartment building instead of a house, that's greener. But if you're creating new and exciting ways for people to over-consume efficiently or, worse, unsustainable infrastructure that will only lead to an unstable future for our world, then bigger is better for someone's wallet in the short term, but bad for us all in the end.

Labels: ECOLOGY

12/08/2009 | Comments

THE AGING OF AMERIA'S PRISONERS

The "tough on crime" posturing and policymaking that have dominated American politics for more than three decades have left behind a grim legacy. Longer sentences and harsher parole standards have led to overcrowded prisons, overtaxed state budgets, and devastated families and communities. Now, yet another consequence is becoming visible in the nation's prisons and jails: a huge and ever-growing numbers of geriatric inmates.

Increasingly, the cells and dormitories of the United States are filled with old, often sick men and women. They hobble around the tiers with walkers or roll in wheelchairs. They fill prison infirmaries, assisted living wings, and hospices faster than the state and federal governments can build them""and since many are dying behind bars, they are filling the mortuaries and graveyards as well.

The care these aging prisoners receive, while often grossly inadequate, is nonetheless cripplingly expensive" - so much so that some recession-strapped states are for the first time seriously considering releasing older terminally ill and mentally ill prisoners rather than pay the heavy price for their warehousing. It remains to be seen what will happen when such fiscal concerns run head on into America's taste for punitive justice. A recent report by the Vera Institute made this clear. .

According to the Sentencing Project, the United States imprisons five times as many people as it did 30 years ago and more than seven times as many as it did 40 years ago. Our criminal justice system now keeps 2.3 million people behind bars" - about half of them for drug offenses and other nonviolent crimes. Twenty-five years ago, there were 34,000 prisoners serving life sentences; today the number is more than 140,000. The fact that each person is spending a longer stretch behind bars means that the falling crime rates of the 1990s do not translate into fewer inmates. It also means that more and more people who committed offenses in their 20s or even their teens are growing old and dying in prison.

Labels: JUSTICE, PRISONS

12/08/2009 | Comments

STUDY: SWINE FLU EPIDEMIC NOT AS DEADLY AS THOUGHT

USA Today - A team of researchers from the USA and Britain dramatically scaled back estimates of the severity of the swine flu epidemic.

The analysis suggests that the death rate from the current wave of H1N1 flu cases probably will fall in a range that extends from far lower to slightly higher than the estimate of 36,000 deaths caused by seasonal flu in a typical year. . .

At the low end, the estimates suggest that for every 10% of the population to develop flu symptoms, there will be 1,500 to 2,700 deaths, 6,600 to 11,000 people in intensive care, and 36,000 to 78,000 hospitalizations. At the high end, for the same percentage of the population, swine flu could cause 7,800 to 29,000 deaths, 40,000 to 140,000 people needing intensive care, and 250,000 to 790,000 hospitalizations.

The calculations represent a marked reduction from an August report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. That report proposed a "plausible" death toll that could fall anywhere between 30,000 and 90,000. Lipsitch, who worked on the August report, says the earlier estimate was based on "limited data" because the researchers began their work not long after the virus first surfaced in April, when little was known about the shape of the epidemic to come. . .

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its own estimate of the scope of the epidemic. The agency says at least 22 million Americans have gotten the flu since April. About 3,900 have died, including about 540 children.

Labels: FLU, HEALTH

12/08/2009 | Comments

FOR BANKS, IT'S ABOUT DERIVATIVES, NOT ECOLOGY

Washington's Blog, Global Research - Bloomberg notes that the carbon trading scheme will be centered around derivatives:

The banks are preparing to do with carbon what they've done before: design and market derivatives contracts that will help client companies hedge their price risk over the long term. They're also ready to sell carbon-related financial products to outside investors.

[] [Blythe] Masters says banks must be allowed to lead the way if a mandatory carbon-trading system is going to help save the planet at the lowest possible cost. And derivatives related to carbon must be part of the mix, she says. Derivatives are securities whose value is derived from the value of an underlying commodity -- in this case, CO2 and other greenhouse gases'. . . []

Who is Blythe Masters?

She is the JP Morgan employee who invented credit default swaps, and is now heading JPM's carbon trading efforts. As Bloomberg notes:

[] Masters, 40, oversees the New York bank's environmental businesses as the firm's global head of commodities'. . .

As a young London banker in the early 1990s, Masters was part of JPMorgan's team developing ideas for transferring risk to third parties. She went on to manage credit risk for JPMorgan's investment bank.

Among the credit derivatives that grew from the bank's early efforts was the credit-default swap. []

Some in Congress are fighting against carbon derivatives:

[] "People are going to be cutting up carbon futures, and we'll be in trouble," says Maria Cantwell, a Democratic senator from Washington state. "You can't stay ahead of the next tool they're going to create."

Cantwell, 51, proposed in November that U.S. state governments be given the right to ban unregulated financial products. "The derivatives market has done so much damage to our economy and is nothing more than a very-high-stakes casino -- except that casinos have to abide by regulations," she wrote in a press release. . . []

However, Congress may cave in to industry pressure to let carbon derivatives trade over-the-counter:

[] The House cap-and-trade bill bans OTC derivatives, requiring that all carbon trading be done on exchanges'. . . The bankers say such a ban would be a mistake'. . . The banks and companies may get their way on carbon derivatives in separate legislation now being worked out in Congress'. . . []

Financial experts are also opposed to cap and trade:

[] Even George Soros, the billionaire hedge fund operator, says money managers would find ways to manipulate cap-and-trade markets. "The system can be gamed," Soros, 79, remarked at a London School of Economics seminar in July. "That's why financial types like me like it -- because there are financial opportunities"'. . .

Hedge fund manager Michael Masters, founder of Masters Capital Management LLC, based in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands [and unrelated to Blythe Masters] says speculators will end up controlling U.S. carbon prices, and their participation could trigger the same type of boom-and-bust cycles that have buffeted other commodities'. . . []

The hedge fund manager says that banks will attempt to inflate the carbon market by recruiting investors from hedge funds and pension funds.

[] "Wall Street is going to sell it as an investment product to people that have nothing to do with carbon," he says. "Then suddenly investment managers are dominating the asset class, and nothing is related to actual supply and demand. We have seen this movie before." []

Indeed, many environmentalists are opposed to cap and trade as well. For example:

[] Michelle Chan, a senior policy analyst in San Francisco for Friends of the Earth, isn't convinced.

"Should we really create a new $2 trillion market when we haven't yet finished the job of revamping and testing new financial regulation?" she asks. Chan says that, given their recent history, the banks' ability to turn climate change into a new commodities market should be curbed'. . . []

Labels: CLIMATE CHANGE, ECOLOGY

12/08/2009 | Comments

COPENHAGEN CRAP SHOOT

John Feffer, Foreign Policy in Focus - President Obama won't show up until the end of the Copenhagen confab. But no one is expecting him to make a major splash. Obama has said that he can't go further than what Congress is willing to do. The bill in front of the House calls for a 17% reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2000 levels by 2020. "This works out to a 4% cut from 1990 levels, the standard baseline for measurement, and yet scientists have calculated that the major industrialized nations need to cut their emissions by 40% to have any hope of getting us on a path back towards safety," writes Bill McKibben in Tom Dispatch. "And even that 17% cut may turn out to be far too high a figure for the Senate."

While the U.S. Congress fiddles with its toothless legislation, the rest of the world is preparing. Because of the increased risk of flooding, the Netherlands is spending millions to build floating communities and, simultaneously, to require all children to learn how to swim with their clothes on by the time they're six years old. In the face of rising temperatures and plummeting rainfall in Africa, farmers are integrating small trees into their farming to boost yields and restore soil fertility. . .

Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is not going to be easy. The casino game of "cap-and-trade," the crapshoot that Copenhagen conferees will be discussing, won't do the trick. As climate scientist James Hansen points out, cap-and-trade will just shift emissions around and, as in most casino games, the vast majority of us will lose out in the end. "We are going to have to move beyond fossil fuels at some point. Why continue to stretch it out longer?" he recently told the Times of London. "The only way we can do that is by putting a price on carbon emissions. The business community and the public need to understand that there will be a gradually increasing price on carbon emissions.". . .

Labels: CLIMATE CHANGE, ECOLOGY

12/08/2009 | Comments

RECOVERED HISTORY: THE LAST HEALTHCARE FIGHT

Sam Smith, Shadows of Hope, 1994 - During the first months of the Clinton administration, one of the biggest national policy changes of the past fifty years was being forged by a secret committee led by Mrs. Clinton under procedures that periodically defied the courts and the Government Accounting Office and whose public manifestations consisted of highly contrived media opportunities, carefully staged "town meetings," and similar artifices.

Despite the contrary evidence of public opinion polls, the concept of Canadian-style single-payer insurance was dismissed early. Tom Hamburger and Ted Marmor in the Washington Monthly tell of a single-payer proponent being invited to the White House in February 1993. It was, he said, a "pseudo-consultation;" the doctor was quickly informed that "single payer is not politically feasible." When Dr. David Himmelstein of the Harvard Medical School pressed Mrs. Clinton on single payer, she replied, "Tell me something interesting, David."

In other words, write Hamburger and Marmor:

"Fewer than six weeks into the Clinton presidency, the White House had made its key policy decision: Before the Health Care Task Force wrote a single page of its 22-volume report to the President, the single payer idea was written off, and "managed competition" was in."

If there was any popular, grassroots demand for "managed competition" it never appeared. Managed competition had not been tested anywhere.

Nonetheless, reported Thomas Bodenehimer in Nation:

"Around Hillary Rodham Clinton's health reform table sit the managed-competition winners: big business, hospitals, large (but not small) commercial insurers, the Blues, budget-worried government leaders and the 'Jackson Hole Group,' the chief intellectual honchos of the managed competition movement. . . Adherence to the mantra of managed competition appears to be the price of a ticket of admission to this gathering."

What was finally proposed involved a massive transfer of the American health industry -- by some accounts now larger than the military-industrial complex -- to a small number of the largest insurance companies and other major corporations. These were companies that had the assets to play the game being offered -- a medical oligopoly that would dispense health-care under the rules of the Fortune 500 rather than according to those of Hipprocrates.

Clinton's position on health care had bounced around in the early months of the campaign, finally settling on a policy that would leave the big health insurers largely unscathed. It was not particularly surprising. Max Brantley, columnist for the Arkansas Times, noted that "Blue Cross owns Arkansas, and [Clinton] never did much to fight them."

The stakes would eventually become so high that a number of the biggest insurers -- including CIGNA, Aetna and Metropolitan Life -- would leave the industry-wide Health Insurance Association of America. Five of the largest insurance companies formed something called the Alliance for Managed Competition. In this new game one of the first targets of 'managed competition' was the smaller insurance companies that now account for nearly half of the health underwriting business. Said managed competition advocate Lynn Etheridge, "Ninety-nine percent of the insurance companies are going to be wiped out because they're only prepared to be insurance companies."

Mrs. Clinton, sounding like a 1980s takeover lawyer, said, "It's going to be a Darwinian struggle. Only the best and fittest of them will survive." Similarly, when asked how small businesses were meant to cope with the added costs of her plan, Mrs. Clinton replied, "I can't go out and save every undercapitalized entrepreneur in America."

Her interest lay with the largest companies, i.e. the ones with the ability to purchase or create the health maintenance organizations that would become de rigeur under the Clinton scheme. The new HMOs would be major profit-centers for companies, simultaneously subsidized by federal payments for the ailments of the poor, elderly and those without conventional insurance.

Not everyone shared the Clintons' enthusiasm for the plan. Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser wrote:

"I'm sorry if I sound like a snob, but over the years I've developed fairly good relationships with a few doctors, and I have a feeling that if [the Clinton plan] goes into effect, I'll never see them again. I fear I'll end up in the teeming waiting room of an HMO, sitting on a cold folding chair, wearing those hideous paper slippers and a hospital gown that exposes your behind, shuffling down a bleak hallway, waiting to see the one doctor on call. We'll all be milling around, holding numbers in our hands, just like at an Eastern European fish market."

12/01/2009 | Comments

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