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Undernews for December 6, 2010

Employer based health insurance premiums jacked 41% in six years

Washington Post - Premiums for employer-sponsored family health insurance increased an average of 41 percent across states from 2003 to 2009, more than three times faster than median incomes, to a report by the Commonwealth Fund.

The average employer-sponsored family premium for all states was $13,027. Premiums for employer-sponsored coverage include the amounts paid by employers and employees combined.

That's some tea party

According to a Hotline review of records compiled by Citizens Against Government Waste, the 52 members of the caucus, which pledges to cut spending and reduce the size of government, requested a total of 764 earmarks valued at $1,049,783,150 during Fiscal Year 2010, the last year for which records are available.

Obama bans another drug, adding to profits of illicit drug industry

Alternet - Hours before Washington closed down for Thanksgiving, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it would use emergency powers to ban an herbal product known as "K2" for one year while the agency studies whether Congress should make the ban permanent. Over the past year, K2 has appeared in convenience stores and novelty shops across the country. Although K2 is sold as incense, the combustible herbal mixture is sprayed with synthetic chemicals that are thought to mimic the effects of marijuana when smoked.

Choosing to add K2 to the growing list of banned substances is a disappointing indication that the Obama administration is willing to rely on the same failed approach to psychoactive drugs that has fueled the destructive war on drugs. Rather than take control of K2 production, marketing and sales, the Obama administration is ceding control of the K2 market to the illicit market. Letting criminals decide what goes into K2 isn't exactly a winning public health strategy.

Persecuting Assange may be hard

NY Times - Legal scholars say the legal landscape for the protection of government information has been exposed as unprepared for the mass dissemination of leaked electronic documents on the Internet.

A relic of World War I, the Espionage Act was written before a series of Supreme Court rulings expanded the First Amendment’s protection of speech and press freedoms. The court has not reviewed the law’s constitutionality in light of those decisions.

Moreover, in a reflection of strong constitutional protections for the freedoms of speech and the press, the United States has usually prosecuted only government officials responsible for leaking documents, not outsiders who received information and passed it on.

The one effort to prosecute recipients of a leak under the Espionage Act ended in embarrassment for the Justice Department. In 2005, it indicted two lobbyists for a pro-Israel group who had been accused of receiving leaked information from a Pentagon official and conveying it to others. The case collapsed after a judge ruled that prosecutors had to prove that the lobbyists specifically intended to harm the United States or benefit a foreign country.

That ruling, specialists say, suggests that prosecutors would have to prove that Mr. Assange intended to harm the United States. That could be difficult. While he has made many statements critical of United States foreign policy, he has also portrayed himself as motivated by a belief in greater openness.

Prosecuting Mr. Assange could also open the door to prosecuting traditional media organizations, including The New York Times, which was provided advance access to the materials.

Although legal scholars say the law does not draw a legal distinction between the traditional news media and anyone else, Justice Departments under both political parties have been reluctant to prosecute members of the press.

Jack M. Balkin, a Yale professor of constitutional law, noted that Mr. Assange had portrayed himself as a journalist, calling himself an editor who received unsolicited information and made decisions about how to publish it.

“If you could show that he specifically conspired with a government person to leak the material, that puts him in a different position than if he is the recipient of an anonymous contribution,” Mr. Balkin said. “If he’s just providing a portal for information that shows up, he’s very much like a journalist.”

There are indications that the Obama administration may be taking steps toward a potential prosecution of Mr. Assange by establishing a record that he was on notice that the law required him to return the documents rather than distribute them.

Two administration lawyers have written letters informing him that publishing the materials would have grave consequences and that “as long as WikiLeaks holds such material, the violation of the law is ongoing.”

But in an interview with Time magazine, Mr. Assange rejected such warnings, questioning the constitutionality of the Espionage Act. He said it was important to remember that the law was “not simply what powerful people would want others to believe it is.” Rather, he said, the law is what the Supreme Court “says it is, and the Supreme Court in the case of the United States has an enviable Constitution on which to base its decisions.”

Obama endorsed principles of Wikileaks

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

SUBJECT: Freedom of Information Act

A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, "sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." In our democracy, the Freedom of Information Act , which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike.

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. - Barack Obama

Bikes are not a major answer to urban transit

The intrepid Gary Imhoff of DC Watch made some critical comments about urban bikeophila, which produced a number of interesting statistics on where bikes roll into stats on transit. For example in the Washington region, here are the percentages for different types of commuting

2% Biking or motorcycles
7% Carpooling or telecommuting
12% Walking
33% Public transportation

That's not a typical urban scorecard - Washington is at the top for walking and using transit - but it does suggest where the emphasis is best placed.

U.S.forced high dosage of dangerous drug on Gitmo prisoners

Jason Leopold & Jeffrey Kaye, Truthout - The Defense Department forced all "war on terror" detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison to take a high dosage of a controversial antimalarial drug, mefloquine, an act that an Army public health physician called "pharmacologic waterboarding."

The US military administered the drug despite Pentagon knowledge that mefloquine caused severe neuropsychiatric side effects, including suicidal thoughts, hallucinations and anxiety. The drug was used on the prisoners whether they had malaria or not.

The revelation, which has not been previously reported, was buried in documents publicly released by the Defense Department two years ago as part of the government's investigation into the June 2006 deaths of three Guantanamo detainees.

Ben Bernanke’s Secret Global Bank

Mary Bottari, PR Watch - From a quick review of the data now available on the Federal Reserve website, we can see that the Fed took an expansive internationalist view of its role, prompting U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders to ask: “Has the Federal Reserve Become the Central Bank of the world?”

When AIG was bailed out out in Sept. 2008 and immediately passed on huge sums to overseas counterparties including Société Générale (France) and Deutsche Bank (Germany), there was a public uproar. The Fed data out today confirms what many suspected. This back-door bailout of foreign banks was just the tip of the iceberg. The Fed data covers 13 programs amounting to some $3.3 trillion in loans, we could only look at a few, but in every program examined foreign banks were huge beneficiaries of a taxpayer-funded lifeline. Central Bank Liquidity Swap Lines Aided Foreign Central Banks

Central banks around the world, the governmental entities that serve as a nation’s primary monetary authority, drew heavily on the Fed’s currency swap lines beginning in December of 2007. Private foreign banks also received billions from the Fed in exchange for mortgage backed securities The Fed created its MBS program in November 2008 and eventually paid out $1.25 trillion. These facts were known. What we did not know was that approximately half of these purchases were from overseas financial firm including billions from Barclays Capital (U.K.), Credit Suisse (Switzerland), Deutsche Bank (Germany), Royal Bank of Scotland (England), UBS (Switzerland) and Nomura Securities (Japan). The numbers are huge. Duetsche Bank sold some $290 billion worth of MBS to the Fed.

The Huffington Post reported that like U.S. banks, major European firms benefited from the Term Securities Lending Facility. Under this program the banks were loaned securities for four-week intervals while paying fees that amounted to a whopping 0.0078 percent.

Five European firms sucked up this free money including-- Credit Suisse (Switzerland), Deutsche Bank (Germany), Royal Bank of Scotland (U.K.), Barclays (U.K.), and BNP Paribas (France) -- borrowed $5.2-6.2 billion in Treasuries 20 different times.

Bookshelf: Vapid celebrities

Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity
Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

Salon - ‘Over the past decade, “celebrity” has undergone a massive transformation: The rise of reality television, the Internet and social networking have meant that more people are becoming famous, for shorter periods of time, for doing less than ever before. Two decades ago, it would have been unthinkable that a woman like Snooki ¬ a woman of no discernible talent or taste ¬ could become a household name. . .

As Elizabeth Currid-Halkett explains in her fascinating, well-researched new book, Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity, recent developments in the celebrity industry can tell us a great deal about our changing global culture. In an era in which more and more people are feeling alienated from their peers, stars give us a common language and allow a greater degree of social cohesion. They also fuel enormous industries ¬ celebrity-driven occupations generate $1.5 billion in salary in Los Angeles alone.

Great moments in the law

Lowering the Bar - New York's Appellate Division held on November 23 that Barbara Stanislav could not sue William Papp for injuries she sustained when she fell off a horse during a date. She alleged that Mr. Papp "was negligent in failing to properly warn her and appreciate her limited level of skill as a rider, and in failing to pay proper attention to her request that the horses proceed at a slow pace in a careful manner."

The problem with a lawsuit like this is going to be the "assumption of risk" doctrine, which in the context of sporting activities precludes an action based on risks that are considered "inherent in the sport." Just the week before, the state's highest court had heard argument in a case where plaintiff alleged defendant hit him with a golf ball without yelling "Fore!" The lower courts dismissed that case based on this doctrine, and it looks like that's what the Appellate Division did here.

Word

A better informed public is not a bad thing... except if your entire job is based on trying to keep people in the dark. Look at who's complaining the most about Wikileaks and you realize that it's the people who benefit from not being held accountable for their actions. - Tech Dirt

NPR thinks cutting your your Social Security & Medicare is courageous

Dean Baker - NPR again abandoned journalistic standards in pushing deficit reduction by insisting that doing so is courageous. Given the wealth of the people pushing for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and the fawning attention that these people get from media outlets like NPR and the Washington Post, it is difficult to see what it is courageous about trying to take away benefits for middle class retirees.

It also wrongly described the deficit as "spiraling." Of course the deficit is not spiraling. The deficit rose in 2008-2010 because the housing bubble collapsed. NPR, like other news outlets, largely ignored the $8 trillion housing bubble. An honest discussion would point out that the deficit has temporarily ballooned because of the incompetence of people who carry through and report on economic policy.

In the longer term the deficit is projected to rise, but that is because of the projected explosion of U.S. health care costs. Our per person costs are projected to rise from more than twice the average in countries with longer life expectancies to more than three times as much.Honest and courageous politicians and reporters would be talking about the real problem, a broken health care system. They would not be mis-representing it as a problem of a spiraling deficit.

Independents & third party candidates do best since 1920s

Ballot Access News - In the November 2010 election, eleven states elected people to federal or state office who were not nominees of either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. This is the largest number of such states since 1922, when there were fourteen such states.

In the 20th and 21st centuries combined, the even-numbered year with the fewest states that elected someone who wasn’t either a Democratic nominee or a Republican nominee to federal or state office was 1954, when South Carolina and Connecticut were the only such states. The year with the most such states was 1914, when there were 24 such states.

India & China to have nearly half of world's middle class population by 2030

Times of India - Recent financial and demographic studies have revealed that by the time the year 2030 comes around a majority of the middle class population of the world will be from China and India. It has been estimated that the people of India and China will account for as much as 45 per cent of the middle class population of the world by the year 2030.

These stunning statistics have been recently brought to light by the financial book Southern Engines of Global Growth. The book predicts that by the year 2030 the section of Chinese people forming the worldwide middle class will grow to 38 per cent of the total. The book also predicts that 6 per cent of the overall middle class in the world will come from India.

GOP congressman wants US citizens to be held without trial if deemed terrorists

AFP - One of President Barack Obama's top critics in the US Congress called for bolstering US powers to detain "war on terrorism" fighters -- including US citizens -- indefinitely and without trial. "Congress should ensure no court in the land questions the legal authority for our forces to prosecute this war," Republican Representative Buck McKeon, who is likely to become chair of the House Armed Services Committee next year. . . The bill declares the US government has the right to detain any unlawful enemy combatant, including a US citizen, "without criminal charges and without trial" for the duration of the conflict, "consistent with the law of war."

Note: Congress has not declared war

Putting Dignity on the Guest List

ACLU - Imagine if you had agreed to host Thanksgiving dinner ¬ but your relatives weren’t allowed to come to your house, or anywhere near it. This is the situation faced by many families living in public housing, including the plaintiffs in an ACLU lawsuit who challenged the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis’s policy of “banning” people it deems undesirable. Under the policy, anyone the housing authority designated as "detrimental to the overall quality of life for public housing residents" could be banned from HACA property for three years to life, with little to no recourse for being removed from the list.

Esther Sharps is a grandmother in her seventies whose children and grandchildren were banned from visiting her. Another client, Glenda Smith, has been raising her great-grandson Rico, because she was told that she would be evicted unless she agreed that Rico’s mother could not come on the property. In 2009, Esther, Glenda, and their family members, along with other Annapolis residents, sued the housing authority and the city, which enforced the “banning” policy by arresting guests who were on the banned list for trespassing.

The plaintiffs announced a settlement agreement with both the housing authority and the city, bringing the case to an end. Under the settlement, the housing authority will put in place new policies that will allow residents to designate their friends and family as “invited guests.” Residents will no longer face threats of eviction for allowing their guests on the premises, and people who are banned will be able to invoke clear procedures for getting their names off of the banned list. Far fewer people will be on the banned list, and many of those currently on the list will be eligible for removal from the list..

According to housing advocates, a large number of housing authorities around the country employ banning lists, aggressive use of trespassing arrests, and other heavy-handed methods to control who can visit friends and relatives, work, or volunteer on housing authority property. We hope the agreement reached in Annapolis will signal a new trend toward increased control and dignity for residents and their guests, no matter where they live.

Great unsolved mysteries

Improbable Research - John Mattson reports in Scientific American: Tycho Brahe died at age 54 after, as the story goes, he stayed at the table too long without relieving himself during a formal dinner, possibly bursting his bladder in the process. That last legend may soon be challenged, as Brahe is being disinterred for analysis for the second time since he was buried in Prague in 1601. Testing on hair samples taken from Brahe's tomb the first time, in 1901, showed an abnormally high mercury content in the astronomer's body, raising the possibility that he had been poisoned. But Brahe may well have met his fate by less malicious means; for centuries medical practitioners applied mercury as a treatment for maladies such as syphilis.

If those terrorists are so dangerous why aren't more of us dead?

The number one threat to the United States is said to be international terrorism. So you'd think it would easy to find out exactly how big a threat. Unfortunately, Google will pretty much fail you on this, perhaps because, well, the numbers just aren't all that exciting.

For example, the State Department, well buried in its annual report, was able to find just nine Americans worldwide who died in 2009 as a result of terrorism.

And Firedog Lake came up with this domestic calculation: "If you count the Ft. Hoot shooting as a terrorist attack, 16 people have died in the United States as result of terrorism in 2009. The other three deaths include the Little Rock military recruiting office shooting, the Holocaust Museum shooting, and Dr. George Tiller’s assassination, the last two coming at the hands of right-wing extremists."

And we also came upon this chart from Wired in 2006, which while a little out of date (and includes 9/11), shows terrorist risk over a ten year span compared to other ways you could die.

Polls. .

Interpress Service - A clear majority of U.S. voters - 61 percent - would choose a punishment other than death for murder if given a choice, the Death Penalty Information Center said Tuesday as it released the results of "one of the most comprehensive studies ever conducted" of U.S. citizens' views on capital punishment.

A new Quinnipiac poll finds American voters think that the U.S. should not be involved in Afghanistan by a 50% to 44% margin -- the first time a majority has opposed the war.

The latest Quinnipiac national poll finds voters overwhelmingly support the repeal of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy by a wide margin, 58% to 34%.

Angle a fan of Pinochet

It's been kept secret until now but at a private campaign fundraiser, Sharon Angle said of Augusto Pinochet's privatizing of Social Security: "Sometimes dictators have good ideas."

The decline of marriage and rise of new families

From the introduction of a stunningly detailed report on contemporary American attitudes towards marriage, family, and children.

* The Class-Based Decline in Marriage. About half (52%) of all adults in this country were married in 2008; back in 1960, seven-in-ten (72%) were. This decline has occurred along class lines. In 2008, there was a 16 percentage point gap in marriage rates between college graduates (64%) and those with a high school diploma or less (48%). In 1960, this gap had been just four percentage points (76% vs. 72%). The survey finds that those with a high school diploma or less are just as likely as those with a college degree to say they want to marry. But they place a higher premium than college graduates (38% versus 21%) on financial stability as a very important reason to marry.

* Is Marriage Becoming Obsolete? Nearly four-in-ten survey respondents (39%) say that it is; in 1978 when Time magazine posed this question to registered voters, just 28% agreed. Those most likely to agree include those who are a part of the phenomenon (62% of cohabiting parents) as well as those most likely to be troubled by it (42% of self-described conservatives). Despite these growing uncertainties, Americans are more upbeat about the future of marriage and family (67% say they are optimistic) than about the future of the country’s educational system (50% optimistic), its economic system (46% optimistic) or its morals and ethics (41% optimistic).

* An Ambivalent Public
. The public’s response to changing marital norms and family forms reflects a mix of acceptance and unease. On the troubled side of the ledger: Seven-in-ten (69%) say the trend toward more single women having children is bad for society, and 61% say that a child needs both a mother and father to grow up happily. On the more accepting side, only a minority say the trends toward more cohabitation without marriage (43%), more unmarried couples raising children (43%), more gay couples raising children (43%) and more people of different races marrying (14%) are bad for society. Relatively few say any of these trends are good for society, but many say they make little difference.

* Group Differences
. Where people stand on the various changes in marriage and family life depends to some degree on who they are and how they live. The young are more accepting than the old of the emerging arrangements; the secular are more accepting than the religious; liberals are more accepting than conservatives; the unmarried are more accepting than the married; and, in most cases, blacks are more accepting than whites. The net result of all these group differences is a nearly even three-way split among the full public. A third (34%) say the growing variety of family arrangements is a good thing; 29% say it is a bad thing and 32% say it makes little or no difference.

* The Resilience of Families. The decline of marriage has not knocked family life off its pedestal. Three-quarters of all adults (76%) say their family is the most important element of their life; 75% say they are “very satisfied” with their family life, and more than eight-in-ten say the family they live in now is as close as (45%) or closer than (40%) the family in which they grew up. However, on all of these questions, married adults give more positive responses than do unmarried adults.

* The Definition of Family. By emphatic margins, the public does not see marriage as the only path to family formation. Fully 86% say a single parent and child constitute a family; nearly as many (80%) say an unmarried couple living together with a child is a family; and 63% say a gay or lesbian couple raising a child is a family. The presence of children clearly matters in these definitions. If a cohabiting couple has no children, a majority of the public says they are not a family. Marriage matters, too. If a childless couple is married, 88% consider them to be a family.

* The Ties that Bind. In response to a question about whom they would assist with money or caregiving in a time of need, Americans express a greater sense of obligation toward relatives¬including relatives by way of fractured marriages– than toward best friends. The ranking of relatives aligns in a predictable hierarchy. More survey respondents express an obligation to help out a parent (83% would feel very obligated) or grown child (77%) than say the same about a stepparent (55%) or a step or half sibling (43%). But when asked about one’s best friend, just 39% say they would feel a similar sense of obligation.

* Changing Spousal Roles. In the past 50 years, women have reached near parity with men as a share of the workforce and have begun to outpace men in educational attainment. About six-in-ten wives work today, nearly double the share in 1960. There’s an unresolved tension in the public’s response to these changes. More than six-in-ten (62%) survey respondents endorse the modern marriage in which the husband and wife both work and both take care of the household and children; this is up from 48% in 1977. Even so, the public hasn’t entirely discarded the traditional male breadwinner template for marriage. Some 67% of survey respondents say that in order to be ready for marriage, it’s very important for a man to be able to support his family financially; just 33% say the same about a woman.

* The Rise of Cohabitation. As marriage has declined, cohabitation (or living together as unmarried partners) has become more widespread, nearly doubling since 1990, according to the Census Bureau. In the Pew Research survey, 44% of all adults (and more than half of all adults ages 30 to 49) say they have cohabited at some point in their lives. Among those who have done so, about two-thirds (64%) say they thought of this living arrangement as a step toward marriage.

* The Impact on Children. The share of births to unmarried women has risen dramatically over the past half century, from 5% in 1960 to 41% in 2008. There are notable differences by race: Among black women giving birth in 2008, 72% were unmarried. This compares with 53% of Hispanic women giving birth and 29% of white women. Overall, the share of children raised by a single parent is not as high as the share born to an unwed mother, but it too has risen sharply ¬ to 25% in 2008, up from 9% in 1960. The public believes children of single parents face more challenges than other children ¬ 38% say “a lot more” challenges and another 40% say “a few more” challenges. Survey respondents see even more challenges for children of gay and lesbian couples (51% say they face a lot more challenges) and children of divorce (42% say they face a lot more challenges).

* In Marriage, Love Trumps Money. Far more married adults say that love (93%), making a lifelong commitment (87%) and companionship (81%) are very important reasons to get married than say the same about having children (59%) or financial stability (31%). Unmarried adults order these items the same way. However, when asked if they agree that there is “only one true love” for every person, fewer than three-in-ten (28%) survey respondents say, I do.

Americans Already Drinking Their Own Pee Because Of Water Shortages

AOL - Someday, millions of Americans will be drinking their own urine, says Robert Roy Britt, managing editor of LiveScience.com. . . In a recent commentary for the site, Britt, based in arid Phoenix, said that because of imminent drought in the West, many people will have to rely on treated sewage -- containing human waste -- for their drinking water. . .

He suggested that Phoenix and other cities throughout the Southwest may soon go the way of Orange County, Calif., which does exactly what he's foretold – it recycles wastewater into tap water. . .

Orange County takes "highly treated" sewer water and sends it through various filtration and purification processes, until the final product exceeds the standards for most drinking water. The water is then seeped back into the aquifer, where it blends with natural water that eventually makes it to the tap.

The Phantom Left

Chris Hedges, Truthdig - The loss of a radical left in American politics has been catastrophic. The left once harbored militant anarchist and communist labor unions, an independent, alternative press, social movements and politicians not tethered to corporate benefactors. But its disappearance, the result of long witch hunts for communists, post-industrialization and the silencing of those who did not sign on for the utopian vision of globalization, means that there is no counterforce to halt our slide into corporate neofeudalism. This harsh reality, however, is not palatable. So the corporations that control mass communications conjure up the phantom of a left. They blame the phantom for our debacle. And they get us to speak in absurdities.

The phantom left took a central role on the mall this weekend in Washington. It had performed admirably for Glenn Beck, who used it in his own rally as a lightning rod to instill anger and fear. And the phantom left proved equally useful for the comics Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who spoke to the crowd wearing red-white-and-blue costumes. The two comics evoked the phantom left, as the liberal class always does, in defense of moderation, which might better be described as apathy. If the right wing is crazy and if the left wing is crazy, the argument goes, then we moderates will be reasonable. We will be nice. Exxon and Goldman Sachs, along with predatory banks and the arms industry, may be ripping the guts out of the country, our rights--including habeas corpus--may have been revoked, but don't get mad. Don't be shrill. Don't be like the crazies on the left.

The Rally to Restore Sanity, held in Washington's National Mall, was yet another sad footnote to the death of the liberal class. It was as innocuous as a Boy Scout jamboree. It ridiculed followers of the tea party without acknowledging that the pain and suffering expressed by many who support the movement are not only real but legitimate. It made fun of the buffoons who are rising up out of moral swamps to take over the Republican Party without accepting that their supporters were sold out by a liberal class, and especially a Democratic Party, which turned its back on the working class for corporate money.

The liberal class wants to inhabit a political center to remain morally and politically disengaged. As long as there is a phantom left, one that is as ridiculous and stunted as the right wing, the liberal class can remain uncommitted. If the liberal class concedes that power has been wrested from us it will be forced, if it wants to act, to build movements outside the political system. This would require the liberal class to demand acts of resistance, including civil disobedience, to attempt to salvage what is left of our anemic democratic state. But this type of political activity, as costly as it is difficult, is too unpalatable to a bankrupt liberal establishment that has sold its soul to corporate interests. And so the phantom left will be with us for a long time.

The Extremist Middle

Historian Douglas Brinkley, on CSPAN, lumped Move On and those who believe Obama to be a Muslim as examples of political exremism.

David Broder suggests a war with Iran as a good way to improve the economy.

There's nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow stripe and a lot of dead armadillos. -- Jim Hightower

Israel's Labor Party May Walk Out Of Coalition

Guardian, UK - Israel's Labour party will walk out of the rightwing-dominated coalition government unless serious negotiations with the Palestinians get under way in the coming weeks, according to cabinet minister Avishay Braverman, an expected challenger to Ehud Barak for his party's leadership.

"We need to move as soon as possible. The only way to guarantee the state of the Jewish people is to move boldly after the US election," Braverman, the minister for minorities, said in an interview.

If Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu missed the opportunity, "Labor will not be in the coalition government. If there are the beginnings of serious negotiations, Labor stays; if not, Labor leaves."

He also urged Barack Obama to apply himself to the issue of a Middle East peace settlement with renewed determination after Tuesday's midterm elections. "The world needs a strong president of the US," he said.

Labor's departure from Netanyahu's government could trigger its collapse unless the centre-right Kadima party could be persuaded to join. But Kadima has said it would not enter a coalition which included the rightwing Yisrael Beiteinu party led by foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.

British Medical Journal Find Alcohol Most Dangerous Drug

BBC - Alcohol is more harmful than heroin or crack, according to a study published in medical journal the Lancet.

The report is co-authored by Professor David Nutt, the former UK chief drugs adviser who was sacked by the government in October 2009.

It ranks 20 drugs on 16 measures of harm to users and to wider society.

Tobacco and cocaine are judged to be equally harmful, while ecstasy and LSD are among the least damaging.

Prof Nutt refused to leave the drugs debate when he was sacked from his official post by the former Labour Home Secretary, Alan Johnson.

He went on to form the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, a body which aims to investigate the drug issue without any political interference.

Members of the group, joined by two other experts, scored each drug for harms including mental and physical damage, addiction, crime and costs to the economy and communities.
Graphic

The modelling exercise concluded that heroin, crack and methylamphetamine, also known as crystal meth, were the most harmful drugs to individuals, but alcohol, heroin and crack cocaine were the most harmful to society.

When the scores for both types of harm were added together, alcohol emerged as the most harmful drug, followed by heroin and crack.
'Valid and necessary'

The findings run contrary to the government's long-established drug classification system, but the paper's authors argue that their system - based on the consensus of experts - provides an accurate assessment of harm for policy makers.

"Our findings lend support to previous work in the UK and the Netherlands, confirming that the present drug classification systems have little relation to the evidence of harm," the paper says.

No Excuses: The Minor Problems Of Teachers

Marion Brady, Letter to Orlando Sentinel - Columnist Mike Thomas has just seen the documentary film "Waiting For Superman," and is fired up. We can't use a kid's background as an excuse for his failure," he says in his 10-28-10 Sentinel column. "That allows educators to excuse themselves in advance for their own failure."

Well, we certainly can't have that, can we? Any teacher who can't overcome the minor obstacles to learning that some kids bring with them to school needs to be shown the door.

And the process of booting them through it shouldn't be complicated by some "due process" clause written into a union contract.

No excuses. Just because a kid is hungry, has bad teeth, can't hear well,can't concentrate or behave because of lead poisoning, is tutored hours a day by television, gets no exercise, comes from a home without books or anything else to read, changes neighborhoods and schools a couple of times a year to keep ahead of the rent collector, has never seen the inside of a museum, has never been anywhere, lives with adults who know and use only a fraction of the words known and used by other adults, has no reasonable expectation of ever having a different sort of life (or even a life at all), lives in a plutocracy masquerading as a democracy, where celebrity trumps seriousness-just because teachers haven't figured out how to use the wonderful tools and rules that educationally clueless bureaucrats have handed them, is no reason to let them off the hook.

That American teachers face about 20% of those kinds of kids, and top-scoring Finland has about 4% of them, is irrelevant.

The Starfish Vs Spider Approach To Organization

Patrick Meier, Irevolution - “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom is still one of my favorite books on organizational theory and complex systems.

The starfish represents decentralized “organizations” while the spider describes hierarchical command-and-control structures. The Starfish and the Spider is about “what happens when there’s no one in charge. It’s about what happens when there’s no hierarchy. You’d think there would be disorder, even chaos. But in many arenas, a lack of traditional leadership is giving rise to powerful groups that are turning industry and society upside down.” The book draws on a series of case studies that illustrate 8 Principles of Decentralization:

1. When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized: Not only did the Apaches survive the Spanish attacks, but amazingly, the attacks served to make them even stronger. When the Spanish attacked them, the Apaches became even more decentralized and even more difficult to conquer

2. It’s easy to mistake starfish for spiders:

When we first encounter a collection of file-swapping teenagers, or a native tribe in the Arizona desert, their power is easy to overlook. We need an entirely different set of tools in order to understand them (36).

3. An open system doesn’t have central intelligence; the intelligence is spread throughout the system: It’s not that open systems necessarily make better systems. It’s just that they’re able to respond more quickly because each member has access to knowledge and the ability to make direct use of it.

4. Open systems can easily mutate: The Apaches did not¬and could not¬plan ahead about how to deal with the European invaders, but once the Spanish showed up, Apache society easily mutated. They went from living in villages to being nomads. The decision didn’t have to be approved by headquarters.

5. The decentralized organization sneaks up on you: For a century, the recording industry was owned by a handful of corporations, and then a bunch of hackers altered the face of the industry. We’ll see this pattern repeat itself across different sectors and in different industries.

6. As industries become decentralized, overall profits decrease: The combined revenues of the remaining four [music industry giants] were 25 percent less than they had been in 2001. Where did the revenues go? Not to P2P players [Napster]. The revenue disappeared.

7. Put people into an open system and they’ll automatically want to contribute: People take great care in making the articles objective, accurate, and easy to understand [on Wikipedia] .

8. When attacked, centralized organizations tend to become even more centralized: As we saw in the case of the Apaches and the P2P players, when attacked decentralized organizations become even more decentralized.

Why Protest Works

Johann Hari, Independent, UK - There is a ripple of rage spreading across Britain. It is clearer every day that the people of this country have been colossally scammed. The bankers who crashed the economy are richer and fatter than ever, on our cash. The Prime Minister who promised us before the election 'we’re not talking about swinging cuts' just imposed the worst cuts since the 1920s, condemning another million people to the dole queue. Yet the rage is matched by a flailing sense of impotence. We are furious, but we feel there is nothing we can do. There’s a mood that we have been stitched up by forces more powerful and devious than us, and all we can do is sit back and be shafted.

This mood is wrong. It doesn’t have to be this way – if enough of us act to stop it. To explain how, I want to start with a small scandal, a small response – and a big lesson from history.

For years now, Vodafone has been refusing to pay billions of pounds of taxes to the British people that are outstanding. . .

Many people emailed me saying they were outraged that while they pay their fair share for running the country, Vodafone doesn’t pay theirs. One of them named Thom Costello decided he wanted to organize a protest, so he appealed on Twitter – and this Wednesday seventy enraged citizens shut down the flagship Vodafone store on Oxford Street in protest. . .

The reaction from members of the public – who were handed leaflets explaining the situation – was startling. Again and again, people said “I’m so glad somebody is doing this” and “there needs to be much more of this.” Lots of them stopped to talk about how frightened they were about the cuts and for their own homes and jobs. The protest became the third most discussed topic in the country on Twitter, meaning millions of people now know about what Vodafone and the government have done.

To understand how and why protest like this can work, you need some concrete and proven examples from the past. Let’s start with the most hopeless and wildly idealistic cause – and see how it won. The first ever attempt to hold a Gay Pride rally in Trafalgar Square was in 1965. Two dozen people turned up – and they were mostly beaten by the police and arrested. Gay people were imprisoned for having sex, and even the most compassionate defense of gay people offered in public life was that they should be pitied for being mentally ill.

Imagine if you had stood in Trafalgar Square that day and told those two dozen brave men and women: “Forty-five years from now, they will stop the traffic in Central London for a Gay Pride parade on this very spot, and it will be attended by hundreds of thousands of people. There will be married gay couples, and representatives of every political party, and openly gay soldiers and government ministers and huge numbers of straight supporters – and it will be the homophobes who are regarded as freaks.” It would have seemed like a preposterous statement of science fiction. But it happened. It happened in one lifetime. Why? Not because the people in power spontaneously realized that millennia of persecuting gay people had been wrong, but because determined ordinary citizens banded together and demanded justice. . .

ENDS


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