Top Scoops

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


Undernews for December 28

Undernews for December 28

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


Try our mobile edition

We now have a new edition designed for mobile devices. Same address but with a mobile friendly look.

A year well worth leaving
Sam Smith

We have almost made it through a truly dismal year. The three main Democratic voices - Obama, Reid and Pelosi - are their party's least competent leaders in modern memory. The Republican leaders are not only incompetent but aggressively stupid - and surrounded by a chorus of spoiled brat sound bite junkies who make Lindsay Lohan appear a raving intellectual. By today's GOP rules, Robert Taft, Margaret Chase Smith, or Dwight Eisenhower wouldn't even be allowed to run for county commissioner.

Meanwhile, in the first month of the year, the Supreme Court ruled that corporate money used to bribe political candidates was free speech, one of the most destructive decisions of its history.

And all these activities have been covered by a thoroughly embedded media that regards politics as Hollywood without the trailers, policy as just another nine inning game, and history as what happened last week.

The major legislation that has been passed in the first two years of the Obama administration - stimulus, healthcare and tax changes - has been most noticeable for its almost random mixture of the moderately decent and the rampantly awful in such a manner that no one can realistically predict the final effect. Although called compromises, they were not. A compromise involves a moderation of intended course, but the only intent of any of these measures was to be able to say that something had passed - no matter what. There never was any true course to moderate.

Those who have attempted to instill some logic into the debate have been ignored, dissed or aggressively ridiculed. The reason for this is that Washington is no longer a place where politics is debated sensibly but more like a dysfunctional family, where rational voices either keep quiet or are roundly abused. And the only truly bipartisan cause is corruption.

To the extent that America is able to rediscover itself, it will happen far away from the Capitol and the White House - perhaps a youthful rebellion, the rise of an unexpected coalition, or a revolt of local decency against centralized idiocy and cruelty. Though there are, to be sure, few signs of such movements, the first step is to stop honoring our dysfunctional elite and to seek elsewhere the wisdom and humanity of which it is so incapable. We must expand and enliven those oases of democracy that still exist in the great desert of our national politics – oases of community, culture and cause.

Perhaps we can even create something strong enough to force the capital to respond favorably but at the very least we can sustain - and build coalitions among - those increasingly rare places where what America is meant to be about still exists.
The corporations that buy our elections hire more people overseas than in U.S.
Huffington Post - All but 4 percent of the top 500 U.S. corporations reported profits this year, and the stock market is close to its highest point since the 2008 financial meltdown. But the jobs are going elsewhere. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, says American companies have created 1.4 million jobs overseas this year, compared with less than 1 million in the U.S.
Number of Americans without health insurance soars to over 50 million
Amy Lee, Huffington Post - As the Great Recession has sown unemployment and downgraded work even for those people who have held on to their jobs, the number of Americans lacking healthcare has swelled beyond 50 million, according to a sobering new report from the Kaiser Foundation.

Among the report's most troubling findings: The number of Americans without any health care coverage grew by more than four million in 2009. That left almost one-fifth of non-elderly people uninsured. Among those between 19 and 29 years old, nearly one-third lacked coverage.... The number of Americans lacking medical coverage now exceeds the population of Spain
Living longer because we live better with disease
NY Times - An analysis of government data has found that while life expectancy has steadily increased over the past decade, the prevalence of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes has also increased, and disability has grown as well. For example, in 1998 about 16 percent of men in their 70s had a mobility problem ¬ that is, they failed one of four commonly used physical tests. By 2006, almost 25 percent failed at least one.

Writing in the January issue of The Journal of Gerontology B, the authors conclude that people live longer not because they are less likely to get sick, but because they survive longer with disease. As a result, a 20-year-old man today can expect to live about a year longer than a 20-year-old in 1998, but will spend 1.2 years more with a disease, and 2 more years unable to function normally.
Another healthcare bomb
Don McCanne MD, Physicians for a National Health Plan - People who have been denied coverage by private insurers because of a preexisting condition and who have been uninsured for at least six months are eligible to participate in PCIP. The idea is to give patients who have no access to private coverage because of their condition a way to get insurance while they wait for the state-based health insurance exchanges to launch in 2014.

Almost 6 million Americans are potentially eligible for the program, which runs through 2013.

How successful has the program been so far? After four months of this three and one-half year program, 99.9 percent of eligible individuals have not yet been enrolled. Only 8,011 out of about 6,000,000 eligible have.

Several explanations have been advanced as to why participation is so low, but they are trivial compared to the most fundamental reason. Our fragmented, dysfunctional health financing system based on private insurance plans will never be capable of bringing everyone in and making the premiums and out-of-pocket spending affordable. As this program demonstrates, trying to apply patches to a rickety financing infrastructure will never be adequate to provide health security for everyone.
Snow falls on the Bloomberg, Christie snow job
Alex Pareene, Salon - Two East Coast political superstars with national ambitions were caught completely unprepared for the most predictable of local political headaches this week: A blizzard... New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- two names on the 2012 shortlists of some of America's most annoying pundits -- were both checked out and unprepared, and both should suffer dearly among their constituents.

They're both rich, accustomed to the better things in life, and largely unfamiliar with and incurious about how the other half lives.... Bloomberg was probably at his Bermuda weekend estate while this storm was gathering -- though he was smart enough to make it back into town in time for a press conference yesterday. Christie, idiotically (he hasn't been at this as long as Mayor Mike), is in Florida. Even more idiotically, his lieutenant governor is in Mexico. (The lieutenant governor position was just recently created in order to avoid situations like this. A Democratic state senator is in charge of storm response.)

So New Jersey's tough-talking, take-no-prisoners governor is literally at Disney World while dozens of vehicles remain strapped on highways and some post offices are unable to deliver the mail. The worst part is that Christie left on Sunday, when the storm was on its way up the coast and his Lt. Gov. was already in Mexico. Christie's already less popular in Jersey than his non-Jersey-residing admirers would have you believe, and this embarrassment certainly won't help.
New Iraq constitution provides better healthcare than America
Current - Article 31 of the Iraqi Constitution, drafted by your right-wing Bushies in 2005 and ratified by the Iraqi people, includes state-guaranteed (single payer) healthcare for life for every Iraqi citizen. Article 31 reads:
"First: Every citizen has the right to health care. The State shall maintain public health and provide the means of prevention and treatment by building different types of hospitals and health institutions.

Second: Individuals and entities have the right to build hospitals, clinics,or private health care centers under the supervision of the State, and this shall be regulated by law."

There are other health care guarantees, including special provisions for children, the elderly, and the handicapped elsewhere in the 43-page document.
The merger of journalists and the governing class
Glenn Greenwald, Salon - Over the last month, I've done many television and radio segments about WikiLeaks and what always strikes me is how indistinguishable -- identical -- are the political figures and the journalists. There's just no difference in how they think, what their values and priorities are, how completely they've ingested and how eagerly they recite the same anti-WikiLeaks, "Assange = Saddam" script. So absolute is the WikiLeaks-is-Evil bipartisan orthodoxy among the Beltway political and media class ...that you're viewed as being from another planet if you don't spout it...

From the start of the WikiLeaks controversy, the most striking aspect for me has been that the ones who are leading the crusade against the transparency brought about by WikiLeaks -- the ones most enraged about the leaks and the subversion of government secrecy -- have been . . . America's intrepid Watchdog journalists. What illustrates how warped our political and media culture is as potently as that? It just never seems to dawn on them -- even when you explain it -- that the transparency and undermining of the secrecy regime against which they are angrily railing is supposed to be . . . what they do.
NYC firefighters have death panel for snow storms
NY Post - The Post has learned EMS workers normally call a doctor for advice after working on a patient for 20 minutes.The doctor normally allows them to keep trying to revive the person, sometimes letting them continue for more than an hour. But faced with an enormous backlog of 1,300 calls, the medics were told to quit after 20 minutes and move on to the next case.CPR can last a long time and sometimes medics can work on patients for as long as an hour.
If the certified first responders, in this case firefighters, are on the scene and they are doing CPR for 20 minutes or more, they can call FDNY doctors who review the information at hand and decide if they can terminate that call and stop treatment. Also yesterday, there were five-hour delays in responding to some 911 medical calls and even three-hour delays in responding to "priority" calls, which range from cardiac arrest to a report of an unconscious person.
Online ad spending to surpass that for newspapers
AFP - Online advertising spending in the United States will overtake spending on newspaper ads this year for the first time, digital research firm eMarketer said. EMarketer estimated that online ad spending will grow 13.9 percent in 2010 to 25.8 billion dollars while spending on print newspaper ads will drop 8.2 percent to 22.78 billion dollars. Including Internet ads, print and online newspaper advertising revenue will hit 25.7 billion dollars, eMarketer said, still below the 25.8 billion dollars advertisers will spend online.
The Washington Post’s questionable partner
Peter S Goodman, Huffington Post - Inside the [Washington Post] corporation today, the newspaper is vastly overshadowed by a fast-growing business known as Kaplan Higher Education -- a sprawling empire of for-profit college campuses and sundry online course offerings alongside the test preparation business that first made the brand famous.

The Kaplan name has been doing no favors for the Washington Post's reputation or that of the Graham family. As HuffPost business reporter Chris Kirkham detailed in a hard-hitting piece drawing on former Kaplan insiders, management has employed deceptively aggressive marketing practices to recruit students, while enrolling many in classes without their knowledge, enabling the company to pocket a larger slice of the federal financial dollars that comprise upwards of 85 percent of their tuition revenues.

Like many schools in the thriving for-profit college industry, Kaplan has churned out graduates with debts most cannot hope to repay, given the meager wages they will likely earn. Indeed, Kaplan's graduates have wound up defaulting on their federal student loans at roughly twice the rate of counterparts at non-profit university programs.
How Obama tax bill threatens Social Security
Jonathan Battaglia & Robert Weiner, Palm Beach Post - If made permanent, a new Social Security "payroll tax holiday," reducing the "match" employers pay from 6 percent to 4 percent of salary, will drop the solvency of the program 14 years, from 2037 to 2023, according to the Congressional Budget Office. .

Without sufficient worker and employer matching money, which has kept Social Security solvent for 75 years and helped millions of Americans live out their senior years in comfort, the program could be doomed. Congress and the White House say they want to "protect Social Security's solvency," but this action does just the opposite.

The most dangerous aspect of the payroll tax holiday is that it could become permanent. The new philosophy in Congress seems to be "once a cut, always a cut." When the payroll tax holiday expires in a year, Republicans will insist on keeping it, just as they did with the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

Democrats are falling for the same trap they did nine years ago when they helped pass the Bush tax cuts. Bush communications director Dan Bartlett explained how they used "temporary" cuts to get votes: "We knew that, politically, once you get it into law, it becomes almost impossible to remove it."
New National Historic Myth Site
History News Network - The National Park System has grown by one with the formal establishment of the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site in Hope, Arkansas.

"We are very proud to include this important historical birthplace home within the National Park System and to interpret the story of President William Jefferson Clinton's early, small-town life for the American public,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday in announcing the site's addition to the park system. “President Clinton spent his first formative years in Hope and credits his family and the community with helping to shape his understanding of the world and influencing his development into the international statesman that he has become.”

Progressive Review - While it's true that Clinton was born in Hope, it is only part of his childhood. The rest has been carefully excised by the Clintons and their embedded media. Here's the rest of the story:

When Bill Clinton is 7, his family moves from Hope, Arkansas, to the long-time mob resort of Hot Springs, AR. Here Al Capone is said to have had permanent rights to suite 443 of the Arlington Hotel. Clinton's stepfather is a gun-brandishing alcoholic who loses his Buick franchise through mismanagement and his own pilfering. He physically abuses his family, including the young Bill. His mother is a heavy gambler with mob ties. According to FBI and local police officials, his Uncle Raymond -- to whom young Bill turns for wisdom and support -- is a colorful car dealer, slot machine owner and gambling operator, who thrives (except when his house is firebombed) on the fault line of criminality.

Paul Bosson, a Hot Springs prosecutor, described Hot Springs like this: "Growing up here, you were living a lie. You lived a lie because you knew that all of these activities were illegal. I mean, as soon as you got old enough to be able to read a newspaper, you knew that gambling in Arkansas was illegal, prostitution was illegal. And so you lived this lie, so you have to find some way to justify that to yourself and, you know, you justify it by saying, "Well," you know, "it's okay here."

Said Clinton's mother, Virginia Kelly: "Hot Springs was so different. We had wide-open gambling, for one thing, and it was so wide open that it never occurred to me that it was illegal - it really didn't - until it came to a vote about whether we were going to legalize gambling or not. I never was so shocked."
How common standards hurt children
P. L. Thomas, Education Week - Today's attempt at national standards, the recently released work of the Common Core State Standards Initiative in English language arts and mathematics that is being adopted separately by states, fails first because the standards are based on two flawed assumptions: that we somehow don't already know what to teach (we do and have for decades); and that somehow a standard body of learning matches what humans need and what a democracy that values human freedom wants (it doesn't match either).

Next, the standards further deprofessionalize teaching at the K-12 level. Chemistry professors in college do not need a set of standards to teach chemistry; part of the appropriate expectations for their job is to be scholars of their field and adept at teaching that body of knowledge. (In fact, a central problem we could address is that, at the K-12 level, we trivialize the need for teachers to be knowledgeable, and at the college level, we trivialize a professor’s need to be skilled at teaching. Educators need both.)

To standardize and prescribe expectations is, in fact, to lower them.

Common standards also devolve into asking less, not more, of students, since they are invariably tied to the narrowest possible types of assessment. . .
Standards-driven education removes decisions from teachers and students and renders classrooms lifeless and functional, devoid of the pleasure and personal value of learning, discovering, and coming to be.

Common standards also begin by assuming that the content is all that matters in learning. To create a standard body of knowledge is to codify that the students themselves do not matter¬at least in any humane way. The standards movement envisions children as empty vessels to be filled by the prescribed knowledge chosen for them¬certainly a counterproductive view of humans in a free society. . .

A call for national standards ensures that we continue doing what is most wrong with our bureaucratic schools (establish-prescribe-measure) and that we persist in looking away from the largest cause of low student achievement: childhood poverty.

P.L. Thomas is an associate professor of education at Furman University, in Greenville, S.C. He was formerly a high school English teacher.
Latino birthrate down by half
Hispanic Link - Compared to a 59% growth in the 1990s, Latino population growth in 2000-2009 in the United States (excluding Puerto Rico) is estimated at around 29% so far, according to the Census Bureau’s 2005-2009 five-year estimates of the American Community Survey that were released Dec. 10. Between 2000 and 2009, the 29% Latino rate compares to only 4% for non-Latinos in the United States.

In 2009, the five largest Latino groups were Mexicans (29.3 million), Puerto Ricans (4.1 million), Cubans (1.5 million), Salvadorans (1.5 million) and Dominicans (1.2 million). The Latino groups with the highest growth rates in 2000-2009 were Spaniards (+371%), Uruguyans (180%), Hondurans (153%), Guatemalans (147%) and Salvadorans (124%).

The American Community Survey is also conducted in Puerto Rico. It shows that the population in Puerto Rico grew by less than 4% between 2000 and 2009, trailing that of the rest of the United States, which was 7%.

In contrast to the United States, population growth for non-Latinos (11%) exceeded that for Puerto Ricans and other Latinos (3%). After Puerto Ricans, who make up 95% of the Island’s population, the largest Latino groups were Dominicans (69,011), Cubans (19,616), Mexicans (11,143), Colombians (4,712) and Spaniards (3,966).
Rural unemployment higher than urban
Rural Blog - "Poverty rates in rural America are higher than in urban or exurban counties, and these rates have gone up in the recession," the Daily Yonder reports after analyzing the latest census data. "But there are large regional differences between rural regions."

Bill Bishop writes, "Nearly one in six people living in rural America fell below the poverty line in 2009. . . . The poverty rate in rural America was 17.26 percent, according to the Yonder’s analysis of Census Bureau data. The rate in exurban counties was 13.3 per cent; and in urban counties, the rate was 13.9 percent.

Map by county
Random acts of culture
The Macon Orchestra drops in at the Macon Street Cafe

Random Acts of Culture: Reclaiming Art and Community in the 21st Century is an unsentimental, optimistic book about the art of living in apocalyptic times. Clarke Mackey argues that art and culture in Western society ¬ both the mass culture of the people and the high culture of elites ¬ has become stultified, that it is experienced in artificial conditions and is increasingly irrelevant to modern life, however much fleeting pleasure it might provide. In contrast he examines the very different role that the arts played in the past and still play in Eastern, African and other less industrialized countries, where whole communities participate directly in performances and where cultural activity is not an artificial ritualized oasis outside normal life, but an essential part of everyday experience. Making a radical analysis of cultural life from pre-history to the present, the book draws new conclusions, showing how the present nature of cultural activities is determined by historically recent economic patterns that undermine the social and democratic nature of the arts. It examines how literacy, imperialism, industrialization, and electronic technologies have coalesced to produce a new category of participant in cultural affairs: the spectator. The book suggests that the rise of the spectator in modern culture precipitates the sense of powerlessness and apathy felt by more and more people caught up in the sweeping changes brought about by globalization.

Where's the money's coming from

The Philadelphia Opera descends on Macy's

Heathrow Airport
Important joint statement on Wikileaks
Joint Statement: UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression & Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression

In light of ongoing developments related to the release of diplomatic cables by the organization Wikileaks, and the publication of information contained in those cables by mainstream news organizations, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression see fit to recall a number of international legal principles. The rapporteurs call upon states and other relevant actors to keep these principles in mind when responding to the aforementioned developments.

1. The right to access information held by public authorities is a fundamental human right subject to a strict regime of exceptions. The right to access to information protects the right of every person to access public information and to know what governments are doing on their behalf. It is a right that has received particular attention from the international community, given its importance to the consolidation, functioning and preservation of democratic regimes. Without the protection of this right, it is impossible for citizens to know the truth, demand accountability and fully exercise their right to political participation. National authorities should take active steps to ensure the principle of maximum transparency, address the culture of secrecy that still prevails in many countries and increase the amount of information subject to routine disclosure.

2. At the same time, the right of access to information should be subject to a narrowly tailored system of exceptions to protect overriding public and private interests such as national security and the rights and security of other persons. Secrecy laws should define national security precisely and indicate clearly the criteria which should be used in determining whether or not information can be declared secret. Exceptions to access to information on national security or other grounds should apply only where there is a risk of substantial harm to the protected interest and where that harm is greater than the overall public interest in having access to the information. In accordance with international standards, information regarding human rights violations should not be considered secret or classified.

3. Public authorities and their staff bear sole responsibility for protecting the confidentiality of legitimately classified information under their control. Other individuals, including journalists, media workers and civil society representatives, who receive and disseminate classified information because they believe it is in the public interest, should not be subject to liability unless they committed fraud or another crime to obtain the information. In addition, government “whistleblowers” releasing information on violations of the law, on wrongdoing by public bodies, on a serious threat to health, safety or the environment, or on a breach of human rights or humanitarian law should be protected against legal, administrative or employment-related sanctions if they act in good faith. Any attempt to impose subsequent liability on those who disseminate classified information should be grounded in previously established laws enforced by impartial and independent legal systems with full respect for due process guarantees, including the right to appeal.

4. Direct or indirect government interference in or pressure exerted upon any expression or information transmitted through any means of oral, written, artistic, visual or electronic communication must be prohibited by law when it is aimed at influencing content. Such illegitimate interference includes politically motivated legal cases brought against journalists and independent media, and blocking of websites and web domains on political grounds. Calls by public officials for illegitimate retributive action are not acceptable.

5. Filtering systems which are not end-user controlled – whether imposed by a government or commercial service provider – are a form of prior censorship and cannot be justified. Corporations that provide Internet services should make an effort to ensure that they respect the rights of their clients to use the Internet without arbitrary interference.

6. Self-regulatory mechanisms for journalists have played an important role in fostering greater awareness about how to report on and address difficult and controversial subjects. Special journalistic responsibility is called for when reporting information from confidential sources that may affect valuable interests such as fundamental rights or the security of other persons. Ethical codes for journalists should therefore provide for an evaluation of the public interest in obtaining such information. Such codes can also provide useful guidance for new forms of communication and for new media organizations, which should likewise voluntarily adopt ethical best practices to ensure that the information made available is accurate, fairly presented and does not cause substantial harm to legally protected interests such as human rights.
Deutsche Bank pays half a billion to escape US tax probe
DW, Germany - Germany's biggest bank, Deutsche Bank, has agreed to pay US authorities $554 million to end a fraud investigation and compensate the government for lost tax revenues.

The office of a New York district attorney general confirmed that the Frankfurt-based bank admitted taking part "in financial transactions which furthered fraudulent tax shelters that generated billions of dollars in US tax losses." The deal will "resolve an investigation related to the bank's participation in various tax-oriented transactions for clients from approximately 1996 to 2002," Deutsche Bank said in a statement.
End of liner notes?
Globe & Mail, Canada - It's a bit early to pronounce the death-due-to-downloading of the liner note, but the situation is critical. So warns Rob Bowman, ethnomusicologist, professor of music at York University, and a Grammy-winning (and multiple-nominee) writer of album notes. Five or six years ago, he worked on about 20 projects a year. Last year, he was down to four.

“With the music industry falling apart the way it has been the last few years, record companies are doing less and less with their catalogue ... so there are a lot fewer liner notes actually being written,” says Bowman.

With record companies pinched for cash and doing fewer re-issues (boxed sets are a natural home for enhanced liner notes), and more music being bought digitally, liner notes are in danger of being considered a frill, Bowman says, something he bemoans not just as a writer, but as a consumer.
The ghost in the free market economy myth: slavery
Marvin Smith, Real World Economics Review - Plantations. . . were part and parcel of the economic system that created the wealth that Adam Smith enjoyed when he was collecting material for his book The Wealth of Nations. Instead of telling us this history, which he knew not only because he would have witnessed it as a resident of Glasgow, but also because he met for years with the Glasgow merchants of tobacco, he tells us the story of the butcher, brewer, and the baker.

This image of economics, and others like it, such as the invisible hand or the “natural” dynamics of markets, has dominated the past decades of Anglo-American economics. The combination of Smith not telling us how wealth was actually created in his city, and of supplying images of commerce that left no room for such stories, created a legacy of market optimism that continues to shield us from seeing how the economy really functions today.

It is truly amazing that in the many current books on Adam Smith’s political philosophy, his ethics, and even his economics, one finds a total absence of reference to the Glasgow tobacco lords, or to the slave-based tobacco trade. It is as if Smith’s context was as invisible as his “invisible hand’ of the market.

Still, one must admit that if one only studied the written text, one would not know that the “opulence” Smith enjoyed in Glasgow came largely from the exploitation of the kidnapped Africans who labored on tobacco plantations in Virginia and Maryland. As a consequence of not knowing this story, or at least not admitting it, Smith’s economics have been used as the basis for believing that an unfettered market economy promotes human freedom.

Two writers who played leading roles in the recent popularizing of Smith were Milton Friedman and Michael Novak. Friedman proposed in his book with the apt title, Capital and Freedom, that Smith’s “invisible hand” of the market system had been more “potent for progress” than the visible hand of government. Michael Novak gave expression to Smith’s influence in his thinking with the following formulation of Smith’s vision:

"Adam Smith’s hope was that the self-love of human beings might be transformed into a social system which benefited all as no other system had ever done. Thus his purpose in granting human self-interest its due was to transform it into a system of order, imagination, initiative, and progress for all. . . Each individual would then participate in a good society, in such a way that his self-love would come to include the whole."

In Friedman and Novak, one finds an optimistic economics that proposes that if we would just mind our own business, so to speak, market forces will provide us with the prosperity we desire. This message found its political voice in Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign for the Presidency, where he contrasted his message of optimism and promised prosperity to Jimmy Carter’s message of difficult challenges and the need for sacrifices. He won.

“Regannomics,” and in Great Britain “Thatcherism,” became the basic economic framework for the policies of the final decades of the last century, providing the ideology for such influential organizations as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization. The recent chair of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, continues this praise of Smith. Just before the advent of the financial disaster that continues to threaten our global community, he wrote in his autobiography: "It is striking to me that our ideas about the efficacy of market competition have remained essentially unchanged since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, when they first emerged, to a remarkable extent, largely from the mind of one man, Adam Smith.
Passings: The voice of the Lone Ranger
Washington Post - Fred Foy, 89, a radio and TV announcer best known for conjuring up "those thrilling days of yesteryear" in the late 1940s and '50s as the announcer-narrator of "The Lone Ranger" on radio and television, died Dec. 22 at his home in Woburn, Mass. The cause of death was not reported.

During a broadcasting career that began in Detroit in 1940, Mr. Foy spent more than 20 years as a staff announcer for ABC TV and radio before retiring in the mid-1980s.

His early career included stints announcing radio's "The Green Hornet" and "The Challenge of the Yukon," and he later was the announcer on "The Dick Cavett Show" on ABC in the late 1960s and early '70s.

Mr. Foy remains best remembered for his stentorian delivery of what many consider the most famous opening in broadcast history, accompanied by the strains of Rossini's "William Tell Overture

"A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty 'Hi-yo, Silver' - the Lone Ranger! With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early Western United States. Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice.

"Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver. The Lone Ranger rides again!"
TSA scanner lobby loaded with ex government staffers
Washington Post - About eight of every 10 registered lobbyists who work for scanner-technology companies previously held positions in the government or Congress, most commonly in the homeland security, aviation or intelligence fields, a Washington Post review of lobbying-disclosure forms and other data shows.

Industries routinely employ well-connected lobbyists to seek favorable legislation and regulations in the nation's capital. But the extent of the connections to the federal government is particularly notable given the relatively small size of the scanner industry, which is dominated by half a dozen specialized businesses with heavy investments in airport and border security technology. On K Street as a whole, by contrast, only about one in three lobbyists has previously worked in government.
The danger of banks making political choices of customers
NY Times Editorial - Visa, MasterCard and PayPal announced in the past few weeks that they would not process any transaction intended for WikiLeaks. Earlier this month, Bank of America decided to join the group, arguing that WikiLeaks may be doing things that are “inconsistent with our internal policies for processing payments.”

The Federal Reserve, the banking regulator, allows this. Like other companies, banks can choose whom they do business with. Refusing to open an account for some undesirable entity is seen as reasonable risk management. The government even requires banks to keep an eye out for some shady businesses ¬ like drug dealing and money laundering ¬ and refuse to do business with those who engage in them.

But a bank’s ability to block payments to a legal entity raises a troubling prospect. A handful of big banks could potentially bar any organization they disliked from the payments system, essentially cutting them off from the world economy.

The fact of the matter is that banks are not like any other business. They run the payments system. That is one of the main reasons that governments protect them from failure with explicit and implicit guarantees. This makes them look not too unlike other public utilities. A telecommunications company, for example, may not refuse phone or broadband service to an organization it dislikes, arguing that it amounts to risky business.

Our concern is not specifically about payments to WikiLeaks. This isn’t the first time a bank shunned a business on similar risk-management grounds. Banks in Colorado, for instance, have refused to open bank accounts for legal dispensaries of medical marijuana.

Still, there are troubling questions. The decisions to bar the organization came after its founder, Julian Assange, said that next year it will release data revealing corruption in the financial industry. In 2009, Mr. Assange said that WikiLeaks had the hard drive of a Bank of America executive.

What would happen if a clutch of big banks decided that a particularly irksome blogger or other organization was “too risky”? What if they decided ¬ one by one ¬ to shut down financial access to a newspaper that was about to reveal irksome truths about their operations? This decision should not be left solely up to business-as-usual among the banks.
Hamas used as excuse for Gaza assaults by Israel
Moments before Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, former Director of Military Intelligence Major General Amos Yadlin said he would "be happy" if it happened, a diplomatic cable published on WikiLeaks revealed on Monday. According to the document Yadlin said a Hamas takeover would be a positive step, because Israel would then be able to declare Gaza as a hostile entity. A few days later, his prediction came true as Hamas took control of the Strip. – Ynet News
Jesus got the death penalty and St Nick was in prison
Solitary Watch - As Christmas is celebrated in Incarceration Nation, it’s worth remembering certain things about the two figures who dominate this holiday.

As more than 3,000 American sit on death row, we revere the birth of a godly man who was arrested, “tried,” sentenced, and put to death by the state. The Passion is the story of an execution, and the Stations of the Cross trace the path of a Dead Man Walking.

Less well know is the fact that Saint Nicholas, the early Christian saint who inspired Santa Claus, was once a prisoner, like one in every 100 Americans today. Though he was beloved for his kindness and generosity, Nicholas acquired sainthood not only by giving alms, but in part by performing a miracle that more or less amounted to a prison break. . .
ACLU gets listed by Tennesse anti-terror center
Chatanooga Times Free Press - State anti-terrorism officials listed the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee on an Internet map detailing "terrorism events and other suspicious activity" after the group warned schools to ensure holiday celebrations "are inclusive.". . . .Tennessee's Fusion Center was created in 2007, one of dozens established nationwide following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
How to create jobs: cut the work week
Eugene P. Coyle, Counterpunch - At the end of the Great Depression, when the nation similarly faced a severe jobs issue, a new Wages and Hours law in 1940 cut the workweek from six to five days, the now standard 40 hours. Hours have not been reduced in the 70 years since, despite the relentless large gains in productivity. The ideal first step would be national adoption of the four-day workweek, retaining the eight-hour day. A first step more practical politically is to make a cut of four hours per week, with the cut taken as eight hours every other week. The standard routine would be five days one week, four the next, for a 10 per cent cut in hours.

Productivity gains and a transfer of national income from profits to pay will cover the cost of a shorter workweek. A temporary cut in the withholding tax can support the transition to the shorter hours at first. Korea in 2004 used a temporary cut in payroll taxes for a transition to shorter hours, cutting to a five-day week. A phased program there began with employers of 1,000 or more workers. A year later, businesses employing more than 300 workers were added to the program, with smaller employers joining gradually thereafter.

In the U.S.A., the payroll tax is 7.65 per cent for the employer plus the same amount paid by workers for a total of 15.30 per cent. Suspending the employer’s portion and adding the average annual productivity gain would make the employer roughly financially whole for the change in the first year. Productivity typically jumps when hours are cut, so the relentless gains in productivity – past, present, and future – can also be appropriated to finance a cut to the four-day week. . .
Entropy update: Bush memoir sells two million copies
Daily Mail, UK - Former U.S. President George W Bush's memoir has sold an astonishing two million copies since it was released in early November - and it's not even in paperback yet. By contrast, former president Bill Clinton's memoir, 'My Life', has logged sales of 2.2million copies since it was first published in 2004..A spokesman for Crown called the performance remarkable

Corporations cut office space for workers

LA Times - In the 1970s, American corporations typically thought they needed 500 to 700 square feet per employee to build an effective office. Today's average is a little more than 200 square feet per person, and the space allocation could hit a mere 50 square feet by 2015, said Peter Miscovich, who studies workplace trends as a managing director at brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle.
No high school basketball player left behind
All teams must make the state playoffs and all must win the championship.

If a team does not win the championship, it will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable. If after two years they have not won the championship their basketballs and equipment will be taken away until they do win the championship.

All players will be expected to have the same basketball skills at the same time, even if they do not have the same conditions or opportunities to practice on their own. No exceptions will be made for lack of interest in basketball, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or disabilities of themselves or their parents.

All students will play basketball at a proficient level

Talented players will be asked to workout on their own, without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren't interested in basketball, have limited athletic ability or whose parents don't like basketball.

Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th, and 11th games. If parents do not like this new law, they are encouraged to vote for vouchers and support private schools that can screen out the non-athletes and prevent their children from having to go to school with bad basketball players.

- Author unknown
Time to enlarge the House of Representatives
Robert Cruickshank's Diary - Today's release of the 2010 Census figures and the reapportionment of US House seats ought to reopen a discussion of the size of the House of Representatives itself. Instead of taking seats from one state and giving them to another, as mandated by a 1929 law capping the size of the House at 435, we should instead massively increase the size of the House - and decrease the number of people in each district - for the purposes of a more effective democracy.

Our House districts need to shrink dramatically. One proposal out there is the Wyoming rule, which would ensure that districts would be the size of the smallest state - in this case around 544,000, the population of Wyoming. If this had been in place in 2000, the House would currently have 569 members.

But even this is too large. We don't have to return to districts of 30,000 people each. But 100,000 would seem reasonable. It's a reasonable size, enabling members of Congress to get to know their constituents well - or have no excuse if they fail to do so. And it enables their constituents to more effectively interact with their representatives, while freeing up the Congressmember to spend more time on political reform and economic recovery.

In this case, a House drawn with districts of 100,000 would have about 3,080 members, based on the 2010 Census population of 308 million. That's big. But the US is a big country. Surely our democracy can handle it.
What's a Phd really worth?
Economist, UK - PhD graduates do at least earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree. A study in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management by Bernard Casey shows that British men with a bachelor’s degree earn 14% more than those who could have gone to university but chose not to. The earnings premium for a PhD is 26%. But the premium for a master’s degree, which can be accomplished in as little as one year, is almost as high, at 23%. In some subjects the premium for a PhD vanishes entirely. PhDs in maths and computing, social sciences and languages earn no more than those with master’s degrees. The premium for a PhD is actually smaller than for a master’s degree in engineering and technology, architecture and education. Only in medicine, other sciences, and business and financial studies is it high enough to be worthwhile. Over all subjects, a PhD commands only a 3% premium over a master’s degree.
The Web 20 years later. . .
Guardian, Uk -On Christmas Day, 1990, in a lab at Cern in Geneva, Switzerland, Tim Berners-Lee finished building the tools to create the world wide web. This act, 20 years ago, set the agenda for far-reaching transformations in the political sphere, in economies everywhere, in social interaction, even in concepts of our own identity. And Berners-Lee succeeded in doing so for one reason: he released the technology for free.

This simple decision, taken by a computer scientist used to working in environments that promoted openness and transparency, eclipses any hype about subsequent Twitter revolutions, Facebook campaigns or political protests ascribed to the platform since. The invention of the web is comparable to Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1450.

Like the printing press, the web has already been credited with ushering in an age of enlightenment; it is hailed, too, as the most powerful harbinger of social change the world has ever seen. But this isn't the first time such claims have been made. Tom Standage, author of The Victorian Internet, has argued that the telegraph, in the 19th century, inspired rampant technophilia. "The telegraph was the first technology to be seized upon as a panacea," he has written. "It was soon being hailed as a means to solve the world's problems.

"It failed to do so, of course - but we have been pinning the same hope on other new technologies ever since."

So is the web over-hyped? In the 90s, when it still was in its swaddling clothes, revolution meant building a website brandishing the word "REVOLUTION!" in flashing red Comic Sans capital letters on a bright yellow background. Unfortunately, e-radicalism required a degree of technological capability. And political protests online were derivative, often no more effective than a giant billboard that people might drive by on the way to work or the shops. But everything did change in 2003 with the advent of a new crop of publishing platforms, blogs and social networks, that net pundits described as an entirely new phenomenon.

Stripping the hype away, this version of the web gives a new crop of cyber-revolutionaries access to a printing press, a radio station, a cable TV channel and more. Rather than virtual pamphleteering, they are developing technologies that take seed in grassroots communities. . .
Word: Cablegate
Blast Shack - The one grand certainty about the consumers of Cablegate is that diplomats are gonna be reading those stolen cables. Not hackers: diplomats. Hackers bore easily, and they won't be able to stand the discourse of intelligent trained professionals discussing real-life foreign affairs.

American diplomats are gonna read those stolen cables, though, because they were supposed to read them anyway, even though they didn't. Now, they've got to read them, with great care, because they might get blindsided otherwise by some wisecrack that they typed up years ago.

And, of course, every intelligence agency and every diplomat from every non-American agency on Earth is gonna fire up computers and pore over those things. To see what American diplomacy really thought about them, or to see if they were ignored (which is worse), and to see how the grownups ran what was basically a foreign-service news agency that the rest of us were always forbidden to see.

This stark fact makes them all into hackers. Yes, just like Julian. They're all indebted to Julian for this grim thing that he did, and as they sit there hunched over their keyboards, drooling over their stolen goodies, they're all, without exception, implicated in his doings. Assange is never gonna become a diplomat, but he's arranged it so that diplomats henceforth are gonna be a whole lot more like Assange. They'll behave just like him. They receive the goods just like he did, semi-surreptitiously. They may be wearing an ascot and striped pants, but they've got that hacker hunch in their necks and they're staring into the glowing screen.
How TV shows can help deal with overpopulation
Digital Report - The issues surrounding humanity’s overpopulation challenge are vast and discouraging, but one organization is taking a creative approach – and it just may be working. . Katie Elmore, director of communications at Population Media Center, explained her group’s creative approach. “Population Media Center uses long-running dramas on radio and television to educate people about various social and health issues.”

The actions of the characters portrayed in these dramas present role-models that the viewers learn from – and can witness more positive outcomes that can later be replicated in their own lives. Population Media Center does not attempt to tell young child-bearing females what to do – but strives instead to showcase a number of outcomes through serialized character development that allows the target viewer to develop an emotional bond and trust.

In a progress report dated November 6, the following picture emerges from Population Media Center’s work in Ethiopia:

“In just two and a half years of nationwide broadcasting, the following changes were recorded:

• Listeners were 5 times more likely than non-listeners to know 3 or more family planning methods.

• Among married women in the Amhara region who were listeners, there was a 55 percentage point increase in those who had ever used family planning methods, while among non-listeners, the change was only 24 percentage points. A similar increase occurred among male listeners in the Amhara region.

• Male listeners sought HIV tests at four times the rate of non-listeners, and female listeners sought tests at three times the rate of non-listeners.

• The fertility rate in Amhara (the most populous region) fell from 5.4 to 4.3 children per woman.

• Demand for contraceptives increased 157%.

• Spousal communication about family planning issues among married women climbed from 33% to 68%.

• There was a 50% increase in communication between mothers and their children about sexuality issues.

• There was a 16% increase among men in recognizing the importance of girls’ education.

• There was a 38% increase among men in the belief that women are fit to hold public office.”
The deindustrialization of America
From the Economic Collapse Blog

The United States has lost approximately 42,400 factories since 2001.

In 2008, 1.2 billion cellphones were sold worldwide. So how many of them were manufactured inside the United States? Zero.

According to a new study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, if the U.S. trade deficit with China continues to increase at its current rate, the U.S. economy will lose over half a million jobs this year alone.

The United States has lost a total of about 5.5 million manufacturing jobs since October 2000.

According to Tax Notes, between 1999 and 2008 employment at the foreign affiliates of U.S. parent companies increased an astounding 30 percent to 10.1 million. During that exact same time period, U.S. employment at American multinational corporations declined 8 percent to 21.1 million.

In 1959, manufacturing represented 28 percent of U.S. economic output. In 2008, it represented 11.5 percent.

The United States has lost a whopping 32 percent of its manufacturing jobs since the year 2000.

The United States spends approximately $3.90 on Chinese goods for every $1 that the Chinese spend on goods from the United States.
College students check cellphones in class 1-5 times
Huffington Post - College students use cell phones in class, despite knowing that it adversely affects their concentration, according to a study conducted at the University of New Hampshire. In a university-wide study, student researchers at the UNH Whittemore School of Business and Economics found student cell phone users check their phones an average of one to five times during class. About half of students (51 percent) say that cell phone use in class affects their ability to concentrate and the amount of information that they receive during class (52 percent).
TSA won't prove its scanners are safe
AOL News - If you believe the government, you have little to worry about from the radiation beam flitting over the front and back of your body in airport watchdogs' search for explosives and other hidden implements of terror this holiday season. The Transportation Security Administration says that when working properly, the back scatter Advance Imaging Technology X-ray scanners emit an infinitesimal, virtually harmless amount of radiation.

The problem is that the TSA offers no proof that anyone is checking to see if the machines are "working properly.". . . Further, the Homeland Security agency refuses to release exposure data to top non-TSA safety experts eager to evaluate any risk.
TSA abuses whistleblowing pilot
News 10, Sacramento - An airline pilot is being disciplined by the Transportation Security Administration for posting video on YouTube pointing out what he believes are serious flaws in airport security.

The 50-year-old pilot, who lives outside Sacramento, asked that neither he nor his airline be identified. He has worked for the airline for more than a decade and was deputized by the TSA to carry a gun in the cockpit.He is also a helicopter test pilot in the Army Reserve and flew missions for the United Nations in Macedonia.

Three days after he posted a series of six video clips recorded with a cell phone camera at San Francisco International Airport, four federal air marshals and two sheriff's deputies arrived at his house to confiscate his federally-issued firearm. The pilot recorded that event as well and provided all the video to News10.
More homeowners drop out of Obama's foreclosure program
CNBC - More troubled homeowners are dropping out of the Obama administration's main foreclosure-relief program, which has been widely criticized for failing to help more people keep their homes. The Treasury department said Wednesday that about 774,000 homeowners have dropped out as of last month. That's about 54 percent of the more than 1.4 million people who applied. And it's up from October, when approximately 756,000 had fallen out.
Senate Democrats finally gain courage to change filibuster rule
National Journal - All Democratic senators returning next year have signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urging him to consider action to change long-sacrosanct filibuster rules.

Among the chief revisions that Democrats say will likely be offered: Senators could not initiate a filibuster of a bill before it reaches the floor unless they first muster 40 votes for it, and they would have to remain on the floor to sustain it. That is a change from current rules, which require the majority leader to file a cloture motion to overcome an anonymous objection to a motion to proceed, and then wait 30 hours for a vote on it.

Two thirds of colleges have unconstitutional speech codes
Huffington Post - Two thirds of colleges maintain speech codes that violate students' First Amendment rights, according to a new report released by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. 67 percent of public and 65 percent of private American postsecondary institutions -- out of 390 in total -- received a "red light" rating from the nonprofit organization for maintaining at least one policy that "clearly and substantially restrict[s] freedom of speech." Only 3 percent of the schools considered received "green light" ratings, which means that the "school's written policies do not pose a serious threat to free speech."


© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Ian Powell: Pay Freezes, Health Systems And Medical Specialists

What has a pay freeze got to do with a universal public health system? Actually quite a lot. Health systems, especially public hospitals which handle the more complex and urgent cases that the rest of the system can’t fix, are by their very nature ... More>>

Forgetting Citizenship: Australia Suspends Flights From India

As India is being devastated by COVID-19 cases that have now passed a daily rate of 400,000, affluent and callous Australia has taken the decision to suspend all flights coming into the country till mid-month. The decision was reached by the Morrison ... More>>

Digitl: UK Spy Chief: “The West Has To Go It Alone On Tech"

“Cybersecurity is an increasingly strategic issue that needs a whole-nation approach. The rules are changing in ways not always controlled by government. More>>

Keith Rankin: The New Zealand Government’s 'Public Finance Rabbithole'

Last week, out of left field, the government placed a three-year embargo on normal public sector wage bargaining, essentially a salary freeze. While there has been a certain amount of backtracking since, it is clear that the government has been ... More>>

The Conversation: Without The Right Financial Strategies, NZ’s Climate Change Efforts Will Remain Unfinished Business

When it comes to climate change, money talks. Climate finance is critical for enabling a low-emissions transition. This involves investment and expenditure — public, private, domestic and transnational — that demonstrably contributes to climate ... More>>

Dr Terrence Loomis: Does Petroleum Industry Spying Really Matter?

Opinion: Nicky Hager’s latest revelations about security firm Thompson and Clark’s ‘spying’ on climate activists and environmental organisations on behalf of the oil and gas industry and big GHG emitters makes entertaining reading. But it does ... More>>