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UNDERNEWS: June 9, 2011

UNDERNEWS: June 9, 2011

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

Great moments in homeland insecurity

Telegraph, UK - When a group of 2,000 elderly British cruise ship passengers docked at Los Angeles for a short stop-off during a five-star cruise around America it was, in the words of one of them, more like arriving at Guantanamo Bay.

During their £10,000, two-and-a-half month “Alaska Adventure” tour from the Arctic to the Caribbean, the passengers on the luxury P&O liner Arcadia had become more than accustomed to passing US immigration with little formality.

By the time they docked at Los Angeles on May 26, for a one-day visit it was their 10th stop on US soil. Related Articles

But when a handful of them questioned whether the lengthy security checks at the port were strictly necessary for a group of largely elderly travellers officials were not amused.

Although they had already been given advance clearance for multiple entries to the country during their trip, all 2,000 passengers were made to go through full security checks in a process which took seven hours to complete.

The fingerprints of both hands were taken as well as retina scans and a detailed check of the passport as well as questioning as to their background.

Passengers claim that the extra checks were carried out in “revenge” for what had been a minor spat over allegedly overzealous security.

They complain that they were “herded like animals” and made to stand for hours in temperatures up to 80F with no food or water or access to lavatories.

Some are said to have passed out in the heat while others were left confused and bewildered.

A few of the dangers of a national health data base before we even have one

Dick Zwart, Sys-Con - The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has begun posting the data breaches affecting 500 or more individuals as required by the HITECH Act. The New York Times has labeled this site “The Wall of Shame”. Why? Because if patients have no faith in electronic record-keeping, the future of healthcare record automation will be jeopardized: Law suits and government regulation will bury any cost-savings.

What are the stories behind the most severe healthcare sector data breaches reported in 2010? Here are the most expensive stories, documented in the Privacy Rights Clearing House database. While they’re sober reminders of the problem of keeping data secure, they’re also instructive: none of these breaches were malicious hacks, but were instead the results of theft, poor record-keeping policies, and simple human error.

- On June 29th of 2010 a thief stole four computers from a physician specialist’s office in Fort Worth, Texas. This theft resulted in an estimated 25,000 patient records being exposed. The patient records contained addresses, Social Security numbers and dates of birth. Estimated liability: $5,350,000.

- On the weekend of May 22nd, 2010 two computers were stolen from a medical center in the Bronx. Names, medical record numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, insurers, and hospital admission dates of patients were known to be on the computers. Total records compromised: 39,000. Estimated liability: $8,346,000.

- A computer stolen from an optometry office in Santa Clara, California on Friday April 2nd, 2010 contained patient names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, birth dates, family member names, medical insurance information, medical records, and in some cases, Social Security numbers. Though the files were password protected, they were not encrypted. A total of 40,000 records were lost, with an estimated liability of $8,560,000.

- Medical records were found at a public dump in Georgetown, Massachusetts on August 13th, 2010. The records contained names, addresses, diagnosis, Social Security numbers, and insurance information. A medical billing company that had worked for multiple hospitals was responsible for depositing the records at the dump. The exposure required the hospitals to notify patients – an effort that continues to this date. The total number of records known to have been exposed is 44,600, but the search continues. Estimated liability: $9,544,400.

- On March 20th, 2010, in Chicago, Illinois, a contractor working for a large dental chain found his laptop stolen. The computer held a database containing the personal information of approximately 76,000 clients, including first names, last names and Social Security numbers. Estimated liability: $16,264,000.

- On June 30th, 2010 a medical center in the Bronx reported that it had failed to receive multiple CDs containing patient personal information that was sent to it by its billing associate. These CDs were lost in transit. Information of 130,495 patients included the dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, descriptions of medical procedures, addresses, and Social Security numbers. Estimated liability of $27,925,930.

- In Westmont, Illinois, a medical management resources company reported on May 10, 2010 that a portable hard drive had been stolen after a break-in. The company believes the hard drive contained personally identifiable information about patients including name, address, phone, date of birth, and Social Security number. The company acknowledged that this hard drive had no encryption. As a result, 180,111 records were exposed, creating an estimated liability of $38,543,754.

- On April 10th, 2010 a New York managed care service in the Bronx reported that it was notifying 409,262 current and former customers, employees, providers, applicants for jobs, plan members, and applicants for coverage that their personal data might have been accidentally leaked through a leased digital copier. The exposure resulted because the hard drive of the leased digital copier had not been erased when returned to the warehouse. Estimated liability: $87,582,068.

- The theft of 57 hard drives from a medical insurance company’s Tennessee training facility in October of 2010 put at risk the private information of an estimated 1,023,209. customers in at least 32 states. The hard drives contained audio files and video files as well as data containing customers’ personal data and diagnostic information, date of birth, and Social Security numbers, names and insurance ID numbers. That data was encoded but not encrypted. Estimated liability to date: $218,966,726.

- A Gainsville, Florida health insurance company reported in November of 2010 that two stolen laptops contained the protected information of 1.2 million people. This is an on-going story, as new estimates are calculated. To date, the estimated liability is $256,800,000.

These cases document that the majority of the data breaches which occurred in 2010 were not the result of hacking activities, or even unauthorized access by personnel. The greatest data losses were simply the result of computer theft of portable devices and misplaced media. Had the contents of the files been encrypted, this could have significantly reduced the risks and liabilities of these data losses.

What the tiger mom didn't tell you

Helen Gym, Rethinking Schools - Some months ago, Yale law professor Amy Chua wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that set off a media and cultural firestorm. Titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” the piece’s outlandish assertions about Asian immigrant parenting hit the requisite rounds on the 24-hour news cycle. Though the media chatter was nonstop for weeks, what was not adequately addressed is Chua’s calculated exploitation of a pernicious stereotype that has had deep impact on youth¬particularly youth of color¬in our schools: the model minority stereotype of the superhuman Asian student…

The model minority stereotype implies that Asian Americans are a docile group with a pull yourself up by the bootstraps culture¬a group that doesn’t need services or much political or cultural attention and resources. It’s a message that creates and widens divisions between Asian Americans and other people of color. The model minority narrative reinforces “personal responsibility” and “culture of poverty” interpretations of low achievement that often blame African American and Latino students and their families for the impact of racism and poverty on learning and school climate. By implying that one set of students’ moral and cultural values can overcome any obstacle, it implicitly condemns other students of color for allegedly failing to have the moral and cultural resources to do the same.

For Asian students, the impact is just as damaging. This stereotype is often at the heart of the denial of a host of educational services from language services to lack of testing for special education, counseling services, and multiracial ethnic studies in schools. . .

Mental health counseling services are notoriously lacking for Asian communities. After all, why provide such services when Asians are so successful in school? Tutoring assistance? Special ed placement? College advisory? Aren’t Asians “overrepresented” in colleges? Curricula? Why bother to teach Asian American history when Asians assimilate so well?

Stereotypes of Asians as the model minority have triggered informal quotas in higher education and the neglect of racial harassment and violence in schools. For example, at South Philadelphia High School, school officials ignored repeated attacks against Asian immigrant students, forcing a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against the school district for unlawful discrimination and civil rights violations against Asian youth

Helen Gym is a parent activist and board member of Asian Americans United, where she works on education and immigration issues. MORE

Talking Basketball, in Spanish, Is Definitely No Slam Dunk

In which the other journalist in your editor’s family – Clemson Smith Muniz - is quoted.

Wall Street Journal - Broadcasters covering the NBA finals for Spanish-speaking fans from different parts of the world do it from a Tower of Babel where a dunk is not a dunk, but the play-by-play guys disagree about just what to call it….

New York Knicks' broadcaster Clemson Smith Muñiz avoids offending local Puerto Rican fans with "nailed" by calling a dunk a martillazo¬meaning "hammer blow."

The debate over Basketball Spanish traces back to the 1990s at ESPN International, where narrators often called games for an overseas audience. "Everyone would take out their dictionaries," say Mr. Smith Muñiz, who had worked at ESPN. "When you have 22 countries that speak Spanish, who's right?"

Arguments routinely started over pito, Spanish for whistle, but a vulgarity in Puerto Rico. "Let's be sensible," Mr. Smith Muñiz recalls advising colleagues. "In a sports context, 'pito' is not a vulgarity."

Nonetheless, ESPN's politically correct Argentine staffers insisted on using the arcane silbato, a Spanish word commonly used to describe the sound made by tea kettles, not umpires, says Mr. Smith Muñiz.

Silbato won. ESPN broadcasters stay away from "salacious terms" to this day, says Álvaro Martín, who works for the network as an announcer.

Anthropologists, sociologists and linguists now are tracking the evolution of Basketball Spanish with growing fascination. Ilan Stavans, a professor of Latino culture at Amherst College, marvels at the emergence of the new "language" driven by immigrants, just as many academics bemoan the demise of indigenous tongues world-wide.

Great moments in research

Improbable Research - “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12 ¬ Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, Selected Sites, United States, 2001-2009,” . . . The authors report that: “The prevalence of having rarely or never worn a bicycle helmet was lower among heterosexual than bisexual students in four sites (Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont) and higher among heterosexual than unsure students in four sites (Boston, Chicago, New York City, and San Francisco).”

Two wild elephants invade Indian city and gore security guard to death in three-hour rampage

Former interior secretary zaps Obama

LA Times - President Obama has failed to answer Republican attacks on environmental safeguards "forcefully and persuasively" and to articulate his own vision for conserving American wilderness and water, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt charged Tuesday.

Babbitt, who served under President Clinton, said in an interview that he would lay out his concerns about the Republican environmental agenda and the Obama administration's response in a speech in Washington on Wednesday.

It's rare for a political figure of Babbitt's stature to reproach publicly a sitting president of his own party. But Obama has faced blunt criticism from old allies on a range of issues after compromising with Republicans who control the House.

Babbitt is giving voice to disappointment among many environmental advocates. Since the midterm elections, the administration has delayed or weakened several regulations bitterly opposed by congressional Republicans and business lobbyists, and given credence to the GOP contention that regulations ¬ especially environmental ones ¬ stifle growth.

More recently, Babbitt said, the administration has acquiesced to riders that conservatives placed on the interim budget, including one that took the gray wolf off the endangered species list in several states and another that gutted a program meant to reduce overfishing.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, warned that Obama's inaction could cost him in 2012. "Unless there's a change in his policies, he will likely face very damp enthusiasm from young voters and a significant portion of the base that wants him to stand up to polluters," Brune said. "I definitely think there are many progressive donors in general and environmental donors in particular whose enthusiasm won't be what it was in 2008."

Santorum says that McCain doesn't understand how torture works

How Bush and Obama strengthened Al Qaeda

Garath Porter, Counterpunch - Al-Qaeda strategists have been assisting the Taliban fight against U.S.-NATO forces in Afghanistan because they believe that foreign occupation has been the biggest factor in generating Muslim support for uprisings against their governments, according to the just-published book by Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistani journalist whose body was found in a canal outside Islamabad last week with evidence of having been tortured.

That Al-Qaeda view of the U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan, which Shahzad reports in the book based on conversations with several senior Al- Qaeda commanders, represents the most authoritative picture of the organization's thinking available to the public.

Shahzad, who had been the Pakistan bureau chief for the Hong Kong- based Asia Times, had unique access to senior Al-Qaeda commanders and cadres, as well as those of the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban organisations. His account of Al-Qaeda strategy is particularly valuable because of the overall ideological system and strategic thinking that emerged from many encounters Shahzad had with senior officials over several years.

Shahzad's account reveals that Osama bin Laden was a "figurehead" for public consumption, and that it was Dr. Ayman Zawahiri who formulated the organisation's ideological line or devised operational plans.

Shahzad summarizes the Al-Qaeda strategy as being to "win the war against the West in Afghanistan" before shifting the struggle to Central Asia and Bangladesh...

But Shahzad's account makes it clear that the real objective of Al- Qaeda in strengthening the Taliban struggle against U.S.-NATO forces in Afghanistan was to continue the U.S.-NATO occupation as an indispensable condition for the success of Al-Qaeda's global strategy of polarizing the Islamic world.

Shahzad writes that Al-Qaeda strategists believed its terrorist attacks on 9/11 would lead to a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan which would in turn cause a worldwide "Muslim backlash". That "backlash" was particularly important to what emerges in Shahzad's account as the primary Al-Qaeda aim of stimulating revolts against regimes in Muslim countries.

Appeal court judges question Obamacare

David G. Savage, LA Times - A top Obama administration lawyer defending last year's healthcare law ran into skeptical questions Wednesday from three federal judges here, who suggested they may be ready to declare all or part of the law unconstitutional.

Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal K. Katyal faced off against former Bush administration Solicitor General Paul Clement in what has become the largest and broadest challenge to the healthcare law. In all, 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business joined in urging the judges to strike down the law.

"I can't find any case like this," said Chief Judge Joel Dubina of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. "If we uphold this, are there any limits" on the power of the federal government? he asked.

Judge Stanley Marcus appeared to agree. "I can't find any case" in the past where the courts upheld "telling a private person they are compelled to purchase a product in the open market…. Is there anything that suggests Congress can do this?"

Katyal argued that healthcare is unique and unlike purchasing other products, like vegetables in a grocery store. "You can walk out of a courtroom and be hit by a bus," he said. And if such a person has no insurance, a hospital and the taxpayers will have to pay the costs of his emergency care, he said.

Judge Frank Hull, the third member of the panel, repeatedly asked the lawyers about the possible effect of the court striking down the mandate, while upholding the rest of the law. She said the government had exaggerated the importance of the mandate. It will affect about 10 million persons at most, not the roughly 50 million who are uninsured now. She said the other parts of the law will extend insurance to tens of millions of persons.

Ex RIAA lawyer now Solicitor General of U.S.

Obama's transparent opposition to whistleblowers

Project on Government Oversight - Last month, The New Yorker magazine reported on how POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian told President Obama to his face that "prosecuting whistleblowers would undermine his legacy." One of those whistleblowers being targeted is Tom Drake, a National Security Agency whistleblower who is less than a week away from his first day in court. Drake is being prosecuted not for sharing classified information with the media, but instead is being charged with having information¬including unclassified materials¬in his possession that he used in cooperation with a Defense Department Inspector General audit of a program that wasted hundreds of millions of dollars and may have put your civil liberties at risk. As Danielle told the President, "Drake was exactly the kind of whistleblower who deserved protection."

Prosecuting whistleblowers for their cooperation with authorities will have a chilling effect throughout the federal government at a time when we need whistleblowers to identify waste, fraud, abuse, threats to our civil liberties, and other misconduct.

There is not (or there should not be) a national security exemption to accountability in a democratic society¬yet going after a whistleblower like Drake is the antithesis of accountability. The White House should tell the Justice Department to exercise prosecutorial discretion and drop its case against Drake.

• The Government Accountability Project is representing Drake (although not as his criminal defense). Some of GAP’s efforts and other information on Drake can be viewed here.

• Steven Aftergood, who runs the Project on Government Secrecy for the non-profit Federation of American Scientists, has been diligently chronicling significant filings during the pre-trial phase of the case and presumably will continue to do so if the trial begins.

The New Yorker profiled Drake and explored the case last month, 60 Minutes featured Drake in a special episode, and The Washington Post editorialized earlier this week that his prosecution “smacks of overkill.”

61% of Americans wouldn't vote for an atheist

Ed Department denies raid was about student loan

Department of Education - Yesterday, the Depart of Education's office of inspector general executed a search warrant at Stockton California residence with the presence of local law enforcement authorities.
While it was reported in local media that the search was related to a defaulted student loan, that is incorrect. This is related to a criminal investigation. The Inspector General's Office does not execute search warrants for late loan payments.

Because this is an ongoing criminal investigation, we can't comment on the specifics of the case. We can say that the OIG's office conducts about 30-35 search warrants a year on issues such as bribery, fraud, and embezzlement of federal student aid funds.

Earlier story:

Leigh Paynter, News 10, CA - Kenneth Wright does not have a criminal record and he had no reason to believe a S.W.A.T team would be breaking down his door at 6 a.m. on Tuesday."I look out of my window and I see 15 police officers," Wright said.

Wright came downstairs in his boxer shorts as the officers team barged through his front door. Wright said an officer grabbed him by the neck and led him outside on his front lawn."He had his knee on my back and I had no idea why they were there," Wright said.

According to Wright, officers also woke his three young children ages 3, 7, and 11, and put them in a Stockton police patrol car with him. Officers then searched his house.

As it turned out, the person law enforcement was looking for was not there - Wright's estranged wife.

"They put me in handcuffs in that hot patrol car for six hours, traumatizing my kids," Wright said.

Wright said he later went to the mayor and Stockton Police Department, but the city of Stockton had nothing to do with Wright's search warrant.

The U.S. Department of Education issued the search and called in S.W.A.T for his wife's defaulted student loans.

According to the Department of Education's Office of the Inspector General, the case can't be discussed publicly until it is closed, but a representative confirmed the department did issue the search warrant at Wright's home.

Wednesday morning, inspector general spokeswoman Gina Burress provided the following statement:

"The Office of Inspector General does not engage in the collection of student loans. Our mission is to conduct criminal investigations related to the programs and operations of the U.S. Department of Education, which include the student financial aid programs. We can confirm that we executed a search warrant at the residence, however our policy is not to discuss details of our on-going work."

America's lonely disrespect for Palestine

Francis A. Boyle - On November 15, 1988 the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers proclaimed the Palestinian Declaration of Independence that created the independent state of Palestine. Today the State of Palestine is bilaterally recognized de jure by about 130 states. Palestine has de facto diplomatic recognition from most states of Europe. It was only massive political pressure applied by the U.S. government that prevented European states from according de jure diplomatic recognition to Palestine.

Palestine is a member state of the League of Arab States and of the Organization of Islamic Conference. When the International Court of Justice in The Hague - the World Court of the United Nations System - conducted its legal proceedings on Israel's apartheid wall on the West Bank, it invited the State of Palestine to participate in the proceedings. In other words, the International Court of Justice recognized the State of Palestine.

Palestine has Observer State Status with the United Nations Organization, and basically all the rights of a U.N. Member State except the right to vote. Effectively, Palestine has de facto U.N. Membership. The only thing keeping Palestine from de jure U.N. Membership is the implicit threat of a veto at the U.N. Security Council by the United States, which is clearly illegal because it would violate a solemn and binding pledge given by the United States not to veto States applying for U.N. Membership. Someday, Palestine shall become a full-fledged U.N. Member State.

The votes are there already in the U.N. General Assembly to admit Palestine pursuant to the terms of its Uniting for Peace Resolution. It is the U.N. General Assembly that admits a Member State, not the Security Council. Obama's veto at the Security Council can be circumvented by the General Assembly acting under the Uniting for Peace Resolution to admit Palestine as a U.N Member State in September.

Francis Boyle served as legal advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organization and Yasser Arafat on the 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence, as well as to the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations from 1991 to 1993,

30% of employers ready to drop health insurance when Obamacare goes into effect

Market Watch ¬ Once provisions of the Affordable Care Act start to kick in during 2014, at least three of every 10 employers will probably stop offering health coverage, a survey released Monday shows.

While only 7% of employees will be forced to switch to subsidized-exchange programs, at least 30% of companies say they will “definitely or probably” stop offering employer-sponsored coverage, according to the study published in McKinsey Quarterly.

Scott Walker doesn't want painting of multi-ethnic kids messing up his house

Pocket paradigms

Laws should be handled like prescription drugs, but many of our politicians think of them as being more like popcorn or M&Ms -- something to munch on. This is unfortunate since much of America's success to date can be traced to one simple rule: don't make too many rules. Much of America's failure to date has come from ignoring this rule. - Sam Smith


Corrupted by wealth and power, your government is like a restaurant with only one dish. They've got a set of Republican waiters on one side and a set of Democratic waiters on the other side. But no matter which set of waiters brings you the dish, the legislative grub is all prepared in the same Wall Street kitchen. - Huey Long

Louisiana has kept two men in solitary for nearly 40 years

Agence France-Presse - Two US prisoners who have been held in solitary confinement for nearly 40 years should have their isolation ended immediately, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

Albert Woodfox, 64, and Herman Wallace, 69, have been held in solitary at Louisiana State Penitentiary ever since they were convicted of murdering a prison guard in 1972, the London-based human rights group said.

Their four-decade ordeal "is cruel and inhumane and a violation of the US's obligations under international law," said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty's Americas deputy director.

"We are not aware of any other case in the United States where individuals have been subjected to such restricted human contact for such a prolonged period of time."

The pair are suing the Louisiana authorities claiming that their prolonged isolation is "cruel and unusual punishment" and so violates the US constitution.

Amnesty said the men were confined to their cells, measuring two metres (6.5 feet) by three metres, for 23 hours a day, and have never been allowed to work or have access to education.

Pawlenty's off to a bad start

Think Progress - Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s plan for the economy wins the triple crown: it’s more radical than Ryan, costs three times more than the Bush tax cuts, and still means a tax increase on the middle class. Here are the main points of the Pawlenty plan, which he outlined in a speech this morning in Chicago:

• A hidden tax increase on the middle class

• A massive personal income tax cut for millionaires and billionaires; Citizens for Tax Justice estimates the plan cuts millionaires’ taxes by at least 41%

• A massive tax cut for corporations ¬ including Big Oil ¬ that would cut the corporate rate by more than 50%

A complete elimination of the estate tax, capital gains tax, and tax on dividend income

• A cap on total spending that would necessitate severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other government programs (except for defense, which Pawlenty has taken off the table in favor of slashing Social Security instead)

The price tag for all of these tax cuts? More than triple the cost of extending just the Bush tax cuts: a whopping $7.8 trillion over 10 years, according to the Center for American Action Progress Fund’s director for tax and budget policy, Michael Linden. And that comes in addition to the $2.5 trillion that a full extension of the Bush tax cuts would also cost.
The early reviews for the plan have not been kind. On the progressive side of the ledger, Ezra Klein of the Washington Post wrote:

This plan isn't optimistic. It isn't a bit vague. It's a joke. And I don't know which is worse: The thought that Pawlenty knows that and went forward with this pandering, fantasy-based proposal anyway, or the thought that he doesn't know it, and he really thinks this could work.

How egregiously slanted toward the richest Americans is the Pawlenty plan? Billionaire hedge-funders would pay virtually nothing in taxes thanks to the permanent exemption the plan would give to their income, they could pass on that wealth tax-free when they die, and those who inherited it could continue to live off of it ¬ without ever paying any taxes on that income.

In short, if you thought the Ryan plan to end Medicare in order to pay for tax breaks for the wealthy and Big Oil didn’t go far enough, then you’ll love the much more radical Pawlenty plan.

The billionaires behind the war on public education

Think Progress - [The] rapid expansion of voucher programs ¬ which undermine and undercut public education by funnelling taxpayer money to private schools ¬ is remarkable. After all, vouchers have been unpopular with the American public. Between 1966 and 2000, vouchers were put up for a vote in states 25 times, and voters rejected the program 24 of those times.

Yet if one looks behind the curtain ¬ at the foundations, non-profits, Political Action Committees ¬ into the workings of the voucher movement, it’s apparent why it has gained strength in recent years. A tight-knit group of right-wing millionaires and billionaires, bankers, industrialists, lobby shops, and hardcore ideologues has been plotting this war on public education, quietly setting up front group after front group to promote the idea that the only way to save public education is to destroy it ¬ disguising their movement with the innocent-sounding moniker of “school choice.”

Here are some of the top millionaires and their organizations waging war on our education system:

– Dick DeVos: The DeVos family has been active on education issues since the 1990?s. The son of billionaire Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, Sr., DeVos unsuccessfully ran for governor of the state of Michigan, spending $40 million, the most ever spent in a gubernatorial race in the state. In 2002, Dick DeVos sketched out a plan to undermine public education before the Heritage Foundation, explaining that education advocates should stop using the term “public schools” and instead call them “government schools.” He has poured millions of dollars into right-wing causes, including providing hundreds of thousands of dollars into seed money for numerous “school choice” groups, including Utah’s Parents for Choice in Education, which used its PAC money to elect pro-voucher politicians.

– Betsy DeVos: The wife of Dick DeVos, she also coincidentally happens to be the sister of Erik Prince, the leader of Xe, the mercenary outfit formerly known as Blackwater and is a former chair of the Republican Party of Michigan. Mrs. DeVos has been much more aggressive than her husband, pouring her millions into numerous voucher front groups across the country. She launched the pro-voucher group All Children Matter in 2003, which spent $7.6 million in its first year alone to impact state races related vouchers, winning 121 out of 181 races in which it intervened. All Children Matter was found breaking campaign finance laws in 2008, yet has still not paid its $5.2 million fine. She has founded and/or funded a vast network of voucher front groups, including Children First America, the Alliance for School Choice, Kids Hope USA, and the American Federation for Children.

- American Federation for Children: AFC made headlines recently when it brought together Govs. Scott Walker (R-WI) and Tom Corbett (R-PA) and former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee at a major school choice event in Washington, D.C. AFC is perhaps the most prominent of all the current voucher groups, having been founded in January 2010 by Betsy DeVos. Working together with its PAC of the same name and the 501c(3) organization also lead by DeVos, the Alliance for School Choice, it has served as a launching pad for school choice legislation across the country. AFC made its mark in Wisconsin by pouring thousands of dollars into the state legislative races, donating $40,000 in the service of successfully electing voucher advocate Rep. Kathy Bernier (R) and donating similar amounts to elect Reps. Andre Jacque (R), John Klenke (R), Tom Larson (R), Howard Marklein (R), Erik Severson (R), and Travis Tranel (R). DeVos front group All Children Matter also donated thousands to many of these same voucher advocates. Altogether, AFC spent $820,000 in Wisconsin during the last election, making it the 7th-largest single PAC spender during the election (behind several other mostly right-wing groups with similar agendas).

- Alliance for School Choice: The Alliance for School Choice is another DeVos front group founded to promote vouchers and serves as the education arm of AFC. In 2008, the last date available for its financial disclosures, its total assets amounted to $5,467,064. DeVos used the organization not only for direct spending into propaganda campaigns, but to give grants to organizations with benign-sounding names so that they could push the radical school choice agenda. For example, in 2008 the organization gave $530,000 grant to the “Black Alliance for Educational Options” in Washington, D.C. and a $433,736 grant to the “Florida School Choice Fund.” This allowed DeVos to promote her causes without necessarily revealing her role. But it isn’t just the DeVos family that’s siphoning money into the Alliance for School Choice and its many front group patrons. Among its other wealthy funders include the Jaquelin Hume Foundation (which gave $75,000 in 2008 and $100,000 in 2006), the brainchild of one of an ultra-wealthy California businessman who brought Ronald Reagan to power, the powerful Wal Mart Foundation (which gave $100,000 in 2005, the Chase Foundation of Virginia (which gave $9,000 in 2007, 2008, and the same amount in 2009), which funds over “supports fifty nonprofit libertarian/conservative public policy research organizations,” and hosts investment banker Derwood Chase, Jr. as a trustee, the infamous oil billionaire-driven Charles Koch Foundation ($10,000 in 2005), and the powerful Wal Mart family’s Walton Family Foundation (more than $3 million over 2004-2005).

- Bill and Susan Oberndorf: This Oberndorfs use their fortune, gained from Bill’s position as the managing director of the investment firm SPO Partners, to funnel money to a wide variety of school choice and corporate education reform groups. In 2009, their Bill and Susan Oberndorf Foundation gave $376,793 to AFC, $5,000 to the Center for Education Reform, and $50,000 to the Brighter Choice Foundation. Additionally, Bill Oberndorf gave half a million dollars to the school choice front group All Children Matter between 2005 and 2007. At a recent education panel, Bill Oberndorf was credited with giving “tens of millions” of dollars of his personal wealth to the school choice movement, and said that the passage of the Indiana voucher law was the “gold standard” for what should be done across America.

- The Walton Family Foundation:The Wal Mart-backed WFF is one of the most powerful foundations in the country, having made investments in 2009 totaling over $378 million. In addition to financing a number of privately-managed charter schools itself, the foundation showered ASC with millions of dollars in 2009. It also gave over a million dollars to the New York-based Brighter Choice Foundation, half a million dollars to the Florida School Choice Fund, $105,000 to the Foundation for Educational Choice, $774,512 to the Friends of Educational Choice, $400,000 to School Choice Ohio, and gave $50,000 to the Piton Foundation to promote a media campaign around the Colorado School Choice website ¬ all in 2009 alone. WFF’s push for expanding private school education and undermining traditional public schools was best summed up by John Walton’s words in an interview in 2000. An interviewer asked him, “Do you think there’s money to be made in education?” Walton replied, “Absolutely. I think it will offer a reasonable return for investors.” (He also did vigorously argue in the same interview that he does not want to abolish public education).

The wealthy families and powerful corporate-backed foundations presented here are just a sampling of some of the forces currently taking aim at public education. By demonizing traditional public schools and the teachers that staff them, this corporate education movement is undermining a very basic aspect of our democracy: a public commons that provides true opportunity for all, no matter what their background or socioeconomic status.

While the goals of the figures in this movement are varied, their assault on our public education system is one and the same. Joseph Bast, the president and CEO of the Heartland Institute, explained his own thinking about vouchers once, saying, “The complete privatization of schooling might be desirable, but this objective is politically impossible for the time being. Vouchers are a type of reform that is possible now, and would put us on the path to further privatization.” It’s up to Americans to protect their schools, teachers, kids, and communities from that fate.

The rise of narcissism in America

Dr. Jim Taylor, Huffington Post - One study found that 30 percent of young people were classified as narcissistic according to a widely used psychological test. That number has doubled in the last 30 years. Another study reported a 40-percent decline among young people in empathy, a personality attribute inversely related to narcissism, since the 1980s.

One obvious place where young people are learning about narcissism is our omnipresent and unrelenting popular culture. A study by the celebrity psychiatrist Dr. Drew, in which 200 "celebrities" (I put the word in quotes because the threshold for being considered a celebrity these days has declined significantly) completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, found that they were significantly more narcissistic than the general population. Interestingly, the celebrities who actually had a talent (for example, musicians) tended to be less narcissistic. . .

Another fascinating study that was just published explored the changes in music lyrics over the past three decades. The researchers found a significant shift toward lyrics that reflect narcissism ("I" and "me" appear more often "we" and "us") and hostility (change from positive to angry words and emotions). And these findings aren't just due to the increased popularity and influence of hip-hop music (which is known for its aggrandizement of the artists and its venom), but rather are evident across musical genres.

Pocket paradigms

In Washington these days, morality is defined not by philosophy or principles but by restrictive words written by lawyers and ambiguous phrases concocted by public relations experts. Politicians, their academic groupies in the think tanks, and the media accept these words and phrases with little question. Thus justice becomes not a matter of broad decency but of narrow definition and indefinable euphemism. - Sam Smith


Violence may murder the murderer, but it doesn't murder murder. Violence may murder the liar, but it doesn't murder lies; it doesn't establish truth.... Violence may go to the point of murdering the hater, but it doesn't murder hate. It may increase hate. It is always a descending spiral leading nowhere. This is the ultimate weakness of violence: It multiplies evil and violence in the universe. It doesn't solve any problems. - Martin Luther King Jr.

Obama caves in to for-profit colleges on rules

Huffington Post - The Obama administration on Thursday issued a series of highly anticipated regulations aimed at cracking down on for-profit colleges and other career training programs that leave students saddled with unmanageable debts and contribute to an unequal share of federal student loan defaults.

The final rules issued by the Department of Education, however, are significantly less stringent than a draft version released last year, giving college programs an additional three years to come in line before possibly losing access to lucrative federal student aid dollars. The changes come after an unprecedented lobbying and campaign finance offensive over the past year by the for-profit college industry, which derives a vast majority of revenues from federal student loan and grant programs and has sought to protect that income by gaining influence in Washington.

Chris Christie is one mean dude

Think Progress - Despite recent polls that show Americans are just as protective of Medicaid as they are of Medicare, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is trying to gut the popular program in his state and prevent 23,000 people from receiving benefits. Christie has proposed cutting Medicaid eligibility to absurdly low levels: from the current maximum income of $24,645 to $5,317 a year for a family of three. Apparently, the governor believes a family of three making $6,000 a year is simply too rich to receive Medicaid.

The New Jersey press has reported that the main effect of his proposal would be to slash help for the working poor, tearing a huge hole in the state’s social safety net:

Adults in a family of three that makes as little as $103 a week would earn too much to qualify for health care provided by Medicaid under a sharply curtailed program Gov. Chris Christie wants the federal government to approve this year….

Sick city of the day: Orlando

Orlando Sentinel - Members of Orlando Food Not Bombs were arrested Wednesday when police said they violated a city ordinance by feeding the homeless in Lake Eola Park.

Arrest papers state that Cross, Markeson and McHenry helped feed 40 people Wednesday night. The ordinance applies to feedings of more than 25 people. "They intentionally violated the statute," said Lt. Barbara Jones, an Orlando police spokeswoman.

Iraq: From U.S. military to U. S. corporate colony

Politico - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Deputy Secretary Tom Nides (formerly chief administrative officer at Morgan Stanley) will host a group of corporate executives at State this morning as part of the Iraq Business Roundtable. Corporate executives from approximately 30 major U.S. companies - including financial firms Citigroup, JPMorganChase and Goldman Sachs - will join U.S. and Iraqi officials to discuss economic opportunities in the new Iraq. Full list of corporate participants

Bernie Sanders' plan to stop Pharma's drug patent rip-off

No child left behind in Russellville, Arkansas

Fox 16, AK - Open up the Russellville Middle School yearbook. You’ll see the students’ pictures, the administration, and a pretty controversial list that’s supposed to be covered with a piece of black tape …. The list is titled “Top 5 worst people of all time.” The top three, in order, are Adolf Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, and Charles Manson. Numbers four and five are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Superintendent Randall Williams calls the list “an oversight.”

God bless America. . . and its bombs

Bill Blum

When they bombed Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, El Salvador and Nicaragua I said nothing because I wasn't a communist.

When they bombed China, Guatemala, Indonesia, Cuba, and the Congo I said nothing because I didn't know about it.

When they bombed Lebanon and Grenada I said nothing because I didn't understand it.

When they bombed Panama I said nothing because I wasn't a drug dealer.

When they bombed Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen I said nothing because I wasn't a terrorist.

When they bombed Yugoslavia and Libya for "humanitarian" reasons I said nothing because it sounded so honorable.

Then they bombed my house and there was no one left to speak out for me. But it didn't really matter. I was dead.

Who in the Mid East cares what Obama thinks?

The potential for urban farming

Groovy Green - Fully 1/5 of the people in America who could be working are not currently working. I think urban farming could be this generation’s way to handle unemployment, sort of like a 2011 version of the CCC.

SPIN farming is a method developed by a farming couple in Canada when they realized that they could make more money by growing intensively on less land if they grew the right crops at the right times.

They have a farm income calculator on their site that suggests that a farmer with 1/2 an acre can generate $24,000 in gross sales on the low end up to $72,000 on the high end.

…If you take the top 10 of our largest cities they would represent 21,760 acres of vacant space per city (640 acres per sq miles * 34 sq miles). That would work out to 210,760 acres across those 10 cities.

Fingerprinting craze growing rapidly

Billings Gazette

-- In 1999, the FBI processed 42,203 fingerprint checks per day. That increased to 167,822 fingerprint checks each day for fiscal year 2010.

-- The FBI processed nearly 61.3 million fingerprint checks last year.

-- Criminal background checks of fingerprints take an average of 8 minutes 42 seconds.

-- Non-criminal background checks take an average of 55 minutes, 24 seconds.

Holding her 2 1/2-year-old daughter with one hand, Chelsea Kemp pushes the index finger of her other hand into a scanner and is electronically admitted to the Kids Playland USA Drop-In Childcare Center.

The new drop-in center at 2011 Grand Ave. claims to be the first local daycare center to use fingerprint security to let parents, relatives or trusted friends drop off a child or pick one up.

"I want to know she's being picked up by someone I know," Kemp said.

For years now, anyone wanting to work with children has had to get fingerprinted. Now, the technology is being used for moms and dads. . .

While statistics are scarce about how widespread the demand for fingerprints is, technicians who do the work say their use is expanding.

. . One of the heaviest users of fingerprints are the 500 undergraduate and graduate education students at Montana State University Billings, who need background checks before they can step into a classroom, even as sophomores. The checks must be upgraded every second year and every five years for teaching certificates.

Back when Democrats were still Democrats

"Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people. The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any other controlling private power.

The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living. Both lessons hit home. Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing. Franklin Roosevelt

Global leaders call war on drugs a failure

Reuters - A high-profile group of global leaders declared the "war on drugs" a failure on Thursday and urged governments to consider decriminalizing drugs in a bid to cut consumption and weaken the power of organized crime gangs.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Switzerland, said a decades-long strategy of outlawing drugs and jailing drug users while battling cartels that control the trade had not worked.

"It's not peace instead of war, it's a more intelligent way to fight .. the use of drugs," former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, chair of the commission, told a news conference in New York. "Stop the war on drugs and let's be more constructive in trying to reduce consumption."

"We cannot have one recipe. It's not so easy to say stop the war on drugs and let's legalize, it's more complicated than that," he said. "Between prohibition and legalization there is an enormous variety of solutions in between."

Good Stuff: Shades on modern building

Bookshelf: How Alan Lomax stumbled upon the hidden history of jazz

A New Literary History of America

Marybeth Hamilton - At the outset, in May 1938, Alan Lomax did not expect much from his interview with Jelly Roll Morton. As assistant in charge of the Archive of Folk Song at the Library of Congress, Lomax focused on collecting endangered music: field hollers, hillbilly ballads, the old-time songs of marginal peoples that commercial recording was fast drowning out. So he was intrigued but skeptical when friends told him about Morton, a jazz composer who had generated a string of hit records before his fortunes turned sour in the Depression. For the previous 18 months he had been running a bar above a hamburger joint in the black district of Washington, playing piano, mixing drinks, when necessary tossing out drunks.

Lomax had never been a jazz fan. But friends described Morton as a great source of old melodies, so Lomax arranged to bring him together with a disc recorder in the library's Coolidge Auditorium. Morton turned up for the session on May 23 sporting gold rings, a hundred-dollar suit, and a diamond-studded incisor, unfurling his satin-lined jacket over the back of the piano like a bullfighter wielding his cape.

At Lomax's suggestion, Morton opened the interview by singing "Alabama Abound." . . .

Between verses Morton recalled his days as an entertainer in the low-down dives from Biloxi to Mobile, composing songs, playing piano, and shooting pool when he spotted an easy mark. "I never will forget, after I beat some guys playing pool, if it wasn't for one of my piano-playing friends, you'd never heard this record because the guy was gonna knife me in the back, I'm telling you. He said that I only used the piano for a decoy, which he was right." He played softly while he was reminiscing, and his speaking voice itself became music, guttural and melodic by turns.

For Lomax, all this was dizzying. One simple request for a traditional tune and Morton was spinning in a picaresque novel, full of the laughter of prostitutes, the click of pool cues, and the rattle of loaded dice. "He had a knife right on me. And, of course, he had it in his mind that I was kind of nice-looking. Imagine that, huh? Of course, he wasn't such a good-looking fellow hisself. He had some awful, rubber-looking lips, I'm telling you."

His tale called up a subterranean world unlike anything Lomax had ever set out to document. So when Morton concluded by saying, with patrician grandeur, "Is there any other information you would like to ask?" Lomax excused himself and rushed to his office for a boxful of blank discs and a bottle of whiskey. "Jelly Roll," Lomax resumed, setting the recording machine whirling once more, "tell us about yourself."

Happy birthday, MIT

Guardian UK - For the past 150 years, MIT has been leading us into the future. The discoveries of its teachers and students have become the warp and weft of modernity, the stuff of daily life that we now all take for granted. The telephone, electromagnets, radars, high-speed photography, office photocopiers, cancer treatments, pocket calculators, computers, the internet, the decoding of the human genome, lasers, space travel . . . the list of innovations that involved essential contributions from MIT and its faculty goes on and on.

As the school marks its 150th anniversary this month, it seems the US has never needed MIT's help more than it does today. The voices of the nay-sayers are in the ascendancy, questioning the US's ability to reinvent itself, to heal its wounded economy and sustain its leadership in the face of a burgeoning China. Questions too, are increasingly being asked about the ability of science and technology to address the world's problems, as optimism about the future slides into doubt. "There is a profound cynicism around the role of science that is debilitating for those in the enterprise, and devastating for this country," says MIT's president, Susan Hockfield. "If we can't figure out how to make technological innovation the path to the future, then America is not going to have invented the future, some other country will have.". .

In the student canteen you can see two of the most famous MIT hacks preserved for prosperity – a police car that was balanced on top of the institute's great dome, and a functioning fire hydrant that was erected in one of the lobbies. . . Then there is the Baker House Piano Drop, an annual institution ever since students first dropped a stand-up piano from a sixth-storey dormitory in 1972, then measured the impact that it made when it crashed on the pavement below.

Women still make up only 21% of the faculty. But the gender balance of its students is almost 50:50, and about 40% of its staff members were born outside the US, underlying how MIT remains a huge magnet for talented individuals around the world

A different sort of protest story

Protest stories tend to follow a familiar pattern. Every so often, one breaks the mold as in this case described by Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. . We begin with a letter he wrote to the Brunswick Times Record explaining the reason for the protest, and then his notes on the protest itself:

Bruce K. Gagnon: One place the Aegis destroyers made at Bath Iron Works will go is a tiny fishing and farming village called Gangjeong on Jeju Island, South Korea. The rocky coast along the village shoreline reminds one of Pemaquid Point here in Maine. These rocks will be completely covered with cement to build piers to dock the visiting U.S. warships.

Today Yang Yoon-Mo is in jail for crawling under a construction truck and is on his 52nd day of a hunger strike. He vows to die unless the Navy base construction stops.

Yang has been joined in jail by eight other village leaders for trying to non-violently block construction. Simple farmers and fishermen just trying to protect their way of life. Not such a strange concept.

The Aegis warships are outfitted with so-called “missile defense” systems and are today being used by the Navy to surround China and Russia. A new arms race is on the way. As more Aegis warships are built, more ports of call are needed for them. We think about the jobs created here in this country and forget about the enemies we make overseas when we force people off their land so we can build more bases for the U.S. military empire. The people of Gangjeong are pleading for our support.

I am now in the fourth day of an open-ended fast in solidarity with those in jail doing their hunger strike. I will come to BIW each weekday to stand here so that maybe someone in our local community will reflect on what is happening.

And now about Gagnon’s protest:

I was able to hand out six leaflets at Bath Iron Works yesterday. At 3:30 pm, when the gates are opened and the workers come streaming out, one man ran ahead of the pack and held up a large piece of paper in front of me. It read "I've got a job! Where's yours? I'm working for my country. You’re working against it!" As the big group of workers passed by the scene some cheered him on but not as many as you might have expected. One brave soul walked up to me, stuck out his hand, and said "I think I'm ready to take one of those now."

The man with the sign stood in front of me for one-half hour. His first words to me were, "I bet you weren't in the military either?" I replied that in fact I was in the Air Force during the Vietnam war for 3 1/2 years. It got quiet for a while.

About 15 minutes into the stalemate I had the thought to tell him my name. He quickly replied "I'm Tom" and then began to tell me that we have to protect ourselves from the Muslims who want to kill all of us. He accused me of being disloyal to my country and other such things. I told him firmly that he should not judge me. Since he refused to take my leaflet, I told him that he knew nothing about me or why I was standing here. This exchange went on for a few minutes.

Then he softened just a bit and I told him the full story about the Gangjeong village on Jeju Island and about Yang Yoon-Mo who is now on his 53rd day of hunger strike. I told him about the other eight villagers in jail, including GN board member Sung-Hee Choi who is now on her 9th day of hunger striking. I told him that I was joining them in a solidarity fast and today marks my 5th day.

He listened.

Then I asked Tom if he knew of Pemaquid Point in Maine. Yes, of course, he replied. I told him that the coastline of Gangjeong village was very similar to Pemaquid. I explained how it would be covered with cement and the animal and plant life within the rocks would be buried alive.

He winced.

Then things started to turn. Tom suggested that I change a few of the words on my sign to better express the environmental concerns of the villagers. Then he told me I should call Kim Block at TV Channel 8 and have her come out to cover the story. I told Tom that they would never cover me protesting at BIW if I called them. But, I said, if you called them and told them you worked at BIW and thought they should cover this story they probably would.

By now the workers walking home were largely gone but cars were still stuck in traffic in the street. I asked Tom to imagine he lived in Gangjeong village and the Navy was going to destroy their fishing and farming way of life. What would you do Tom? He quickly replied, "I'd kick their ass." Exactly.

At this point I asked Tom if I could shake his hand. He easily extended his hand to me and I looked over at the workers in their cars stuck in traffic and saw some jaws drop.

Tom was really a sweet, kind-hearted man. Once we got past the formalities we had a real positive conversation. I thank Tom for that. He gave me a chance to tell him the story and that is all I really wanted. I look forward to seeing him again.

I walked toward home carrying my big sign and as I approached my house a neighbor who works at BIW called out to me, "You were pretty brave out there." I stopped and we had a good long talk about the whole situation and he took my leaflet. He promised to watch the video of Professor Yang. He expressed sadness about the direction our country is heading.

How many historians does it take to change a light bulb?

Q: How many historians does it take to change a light bulb?

A (by Dr. L): There is a great deal of debate on this issue. Up until the mid-20th century, the accepted answer was ‘one’: and this Whiggish narrative underpinned a number of works that celebrated electrification and the march of progress in light-bulb changing. Beginning in the 1960s, however, social historians increasingly rejected the ‘Great Man’ school and produced revisionist narratives that stressed the contributions of research assistants and custodial staff. This new consensus was challenged, in turn, by women’s historians, who criticized the social interpretation for marginalizing women, and who argued that light bulbs are actually changed by department secretaries. Since the 1980s, however, postmodernist scholars have deconstructed what they characterize as a repressive hegemonic discourse of light-bulb changing, with its implicit binary opposition between ‘light’ and ‘darkness,’ and its phallogocentric privileging of the bulb over the socket, which they see as colonialist, sexist, and racist. Finally, a new generation of neo-conservative historians have concluded that the light never needed changing in the first place, and have praised political leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for bringing back the old bulb. Clearly, much additional research remains to be done.


Department of Good Stuff


Socialists meet in Chicago July 1-4

Targeting Target

There's No Such Thing as a Free Market

Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future. Robert Reich explains what's really happened to the American economy


The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman

Hole in the Head: The finally revealed story of harmful scientific studies done on blacks in a town in Indiana. Trailer


Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute on Libya


A piano player like no other

Edith Piaf - Non, je ne regrette rien


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