Friday, October 29, 2010

POLITICS - A Georgian Asks a Question (10/2010)

"GOP created debt, why all the worry now?" by Wayne Smoot, Rome News-Tribune (Georgia) 10/28/2010

Since the Republican Party lost power there has been a sudden concern about our national debt. The truth is Republican administrations have given us more than 75 percent of the national debt. Despite their accusations that Democrats tax and spend, the Republicans themselves have spent, borrowed and quadrupled earmarks.

Both of our senators and Rep. Phil Gingrey voted lockstep with the Bush administration to double our national debt and not one peep about deficit spending. Vice President Dick Cheney said the debt didn’t matter. To top it off they borrowed almost $1 trillion from China and the like to give tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans and oil companies.

The Tea Party said it wants to cut taxes and spending but neither they nor legislators fueling the outcry specify what they will cut. Now the Tea Party wants to return to these same idiotic economic policies by voting Republican. This administration is saddled by the foolish economic policies of the previous administration along with two unpaid-for wars forcing the current deficit. We barely avoided a disastrous depression. Democrats have always been fiscally more responsible than Republicans and were the only party in the last 30 years to have a surplus. At least they have the sense to pay the bills instead of borrowing.

It’s time to vote for responsible government instead of a party that will buy your vote with the promise of tax cuts and deeper deficits only to funnel more money to the 5 percent of Americans they represent.

The answer Wayne, the Republicans are sleazebags. Unfortunately they are VERY good convincing rightfully angry voters that they are not at fault, AND that Obama and the Democrats had a whole 2yrs to fix our economy. The economy the Republicans took 8yrs to sink.

Yap, really good idea to put Republicans back in charge.... NOT!

ENVIRONMENT - Brazil's Test on Deep Water Drilling

"Drill, Brazil, drill" by Erik German, GlobalPost 10/27/2010


This week Brazil is poised to start selling off its “gift from God.”

After billions of barrels of undersea oil were discovered off Brazil’s coast in 2007, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva credited divine providence. “God is Brazilian,” he said in a speech following the discovery, later calling the oil not only a divine gift, but his country’s “passport to the future.”

That future arrives in part on Thursday. That’s when Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras, is set to announce the start of its commercial production of a small section of the Tupi field, one of several billion-barrel oil fields the company says are located offshore.

More than 200 miles out to sea and several miles below the surface, the pools of oil are thought to be among the biggest discovered on earth in recent decades. Properly tapped, they’ll make fortunes and catapult Brazil into the ranks of the world’s top oil-producing countries.

But as the crude begins to flow, some industry experts say Brazil has understated the risks involved — made apparent by the deep-sea drilling that caused this year’s disastrous spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The fields are known as the "pre-salt" region, due to the fact that the bulk of the oil is locked beneath a formation of hardened salt as much as 6,500 feet thick. The closest of the new fields are about 200 miles southeast from the beaches of Rio de Janeiro on a patch of sea floor where the water is more than a mile deep.

Bold-blue emphasis mine

I HOPE Brazil can learn from our (USA) mistakes, but it's only a hope. The big bright flashing $$$-signs and the loud JACKPOT! bells will likely drown out caution.

ECONOMY - Columbia's Influx of U.S. Dollars

"Foreign investment: Colombia's too-mighty peso" by John Otis, GlobalPost 10/29/2010


Colombia’s transformation from pariah state in the eyes of investors to dynamic emerging market has led to a massive influx of U.S. dollars. But the flood of greenbacks is drowning some of the nation’s most important producers.

Until the Bogota government took action this month, the Colombian peso had gained nearly 13 percent against the American dollar this year and ranked as the world’s most revalued currency.

That’s good news for Colombians traveling to Disney World or for those purchasing imported refrigerators and lawn mowers, which are now cheaper. But it’s a blow to many of the country’s exporters.

True, world commodity prices remain high thus Colombia’s oil, mineral and coffee exporters are holding their own. But the strong peso makes Colombian flowers, foodstuffs, garments and other textiles more expensive abroad and less competitive. As their profits tumble, these industries are laying off thousands of workers.

“For most Colombians, the revalued peso is a bad thing,” said Mauricio Cardenas, a former economic development minister who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “Your average Colombian works in manufacturing or agriculture and these sectors have been hit very hard. The strong peso keeps unemployment high.”

The jobless rate is 12 percent while 34 percent of working Colombians labor in the informal sector and are considered "underemployed." In a letter to government officials this month, the country’s main business associations warned that the revaluation of the peso “jeopardizes the Colombian economy’s positive outlook.”

The peso’s rally is the result of economic troubles in the United States, fiscal policies in China and an oil and mining boom at home.

Bold-blue emphasis mine

POLITICAL NOTE: This is what the top 2% of American income do with their wealth. They put their money where the profit is, which CAN mean NOT in the USA. They do NOT deserve a tax cut.

WORLD - Bragging Rights of Wealth

(click for larger view)

"India: Behind Mumbai's conspicuous consumption" by Hanna Ingber Win, GlobalPost 10/29/2010


In a city where the majority of people lives in slums, the world’s fourth-richest man has built a 27-floor house.

It is an act most global media outlets have touted as a symbol of India's robust economy on the upswing. News outlets have pointed to the dramatic increase in the number of billionaires (69) and a rapidly growing middle class. A McKinsey Global Institute report predicted that India’s 22 million middle-class urban households could increase to as many as 91 million in the next 20 years.

But inside India, the response has been more varied. Some news commentators have called Mukesh Ambani’s mansion, which cost $1 billion and is the most expensive in the world, distasteful and even vulgar.

From the average Mumbaikar, however, there has been very little resentment despite an awareness of the contrast between this one home’s splendor and the rampant poverty that surrounds it.

Rather than a slap in the face, many Mumbaikars say they are proud of Ambani's ostentatious display, which, at 570 feet, is complete with helipads, a swimming pool and home theater.

Taxi drivers point out the towering home with a sense of honor at what their city has produced, much the same way they point to the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, an attractive bridge that took 10 years to build and connects the western suburbs to Central Mumbai.

Indians do not tend to resent others’ wealth, said Samar Halarnkar, the editor-at-large of the Hindustan Times. In cities like Mumbai with a high level of upward mobility, people tend to see another’s success and rather than scorn it, admire it and strive to achieve it.

“Everyone thinks that they can get there as well,” Halarnkar said. “They might not actually get there, but there’s always hope.”

India’s young see this growth and these opportunities, and they believe that they can be a part of it.

“Definitely there is a feeling that there are opportunities here for anyone to seize,” said Rupa Subramanya Dehejia, an economist and writer based in Mumbai. She said she travels back and forth between North America and India and notices a significant difference between how the young see their future. In the United States and Canada, she said, she senses “doom and despair.” In India, the youth emit a sense of optimism.

“They think that they’re only going to go up,” she said of India’s young people.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

HEALTH - Baby Boomers and Alzheimer's

"The Age of Alzheimer’s" by SANDRA DAY O’CONNOR, STANLEY PRUSINER and KEN DYCHTWALD, New York Times 10/27/2010

OUR government is ignoring what is likely to become the single greatest threat to the health of Americans: Alzheimer’s disease, an illness that is 100 percent incurable and 100 percent fatal. It attacks rich and poor, white-collar and blue, and women and men, without regard to party. A degenerative disease, it steadily robs its victims of memory, judgment and dignity, leaves them unable to care for themselves and destroys their brain and their identity — often depleting their caregivers and families both emotionally and financially.

Starting on Jan. 1, our 79-million-strong baby boom generation will be turning 65 at the rate of one every eight seconds. That means more than 10,000 people per day, or more than four million per year, for the next 19 years facing an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Although the symptoms of this disease and other forms of dementia seldom appear before middle age, the likelihood of their appearance doubles every five years after age 65. Among people over 85 (the fastest-growing segment of the American population), dementia afflicts one in two. It is estimated that 13.5 million Americans will be stricken with Alzheimer’s by 2050 — up from five million today.

Just as President John F. Kennedy, in 1961, dedicated the United States to landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade, we must now set a goal of stopping Alzheimer’s by 2020. We must deploy sufficient resources, scientific talent and problem-solving technologies to save our collective future.

As things stand today, for each penny the National Institutes of Health spends on Alzheimer’s research, we spend more than $3.50 on caring for people with the condition. This explains why the financial cost of not conducting adequate research is so high. The United States spends $172 billion a year to care for people with Alzheimer’s. By 2020 the cumulative price tag, in current dollars, will be $2 trillion, and by 2050, $20 trillion.

If we could simply postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by five years, a large share of nursing home beds in the United States would empty. And if we could eliminate it, as Jonas Salk wiped out polio with his vaccine, we would greatly expand the potential of all Americans to live long, healthy and productive lives — and save trillions of dollars doing it.

Experience has taught us that we cannot avoid Alzheimer’s disease by having regular medical checkups, by being involved in nourishing relationships or by going to the gym or filling in crossword puzzles. Ronald Reagan suffered the ravages of this disease for a decade despite the support of his loving family, the extraordinary stimulation of his work, his access to the best medical care and his high level of physical fitness. What’s needed are new medicines that attack the causes of the disease directly.

So far, only a handful of medications have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat Alzheimer’s, and these can only slightly and temporarily modify symptoms like forgetfulness, disorientation and confusion. None actually slows the underlying neurodegeneration.

In the mid-1980s, when our country finally made a commitment to fight AIDS, it took roughly 10 years of sustained investment (and about $10 billion) to create the antiretroviral therapies that made AIDS a manageable disease. These medicines also added $1.4 trillion to the American economy. The National Institutes of Health still spend about $3 billion a year on AIDS research, while Alzheimer’s, with five times as many victims, receives a mere $469 million.

Most of the medical researchers who study Alzheimer’s agree on what they have to understand in order to create effective drugs: They must find out how the aberrant proteins associated with the disease develop in the brain. They need to model the progression of the illness so they can pinpoint drug targets. And ultimately they must learn how to get drugs to move safely from the blood into the brain.

A breakthrough is possible by 2020, leading Alzheimer’s scientists agree, with a well-designed and adequately financed national strategic plan. Congress has before it legislation that would raise the annual federal investment in Alzheimer’s research to $2 billion, and require that the president designate an official whose sole job would be to develop and execute a strategy against Alzheimer’s. If lawmakers could pass this legislation in their coming lame-duck session, they would take a serious first step toward meeting the 2020 goal.

Medical science has the capacity to relegate Alzheimer’s to the list of former diseases like typhoid, polio and many childhood cancers. But unless we get to work now, any breakthrough will come too late to benefit the baby boomers. Whether the aging of America turns out to be a triumph or a tragedy will depend on our ability to fight this horrific disease and beat it before it beats us.

ON THE LITE SIDE - Obama on "The Daily Show"

"About (Late) Last Night: Jon Stewart presses President Obama on 'The Daily Show'"
Los Angeles Times 10/28/2010
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Barack Obama Pt. 1
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

CHILE - Chilean Engineering Feat

"Chilean Miners' Rescue Presented Massive Engineering, Drilling Hurdle"
PBS Newshour 10/26/2010

ENVIRONMENT - Frontline on BP and the Gulf Oil Spill

Frontline aired what I consider to be a damning show on BP and the Gulf oil spill.

I highly recommend my readers view the show online: "The Spill" Frontline (54min)

What I took from this show is this is what happens when a company grows too big, too fast, and is lead by people who do NOT REALLY understand the industry they are a member of. Where money is much more important than anything else, an "account's" view.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

ENVIRONMENT - The Navajo View

"Navajos Hope to Shift From Coal to Wind and Sun" By MIREYA NAVARRO, New York Times 10/25/2010


For decades, coal has been an economic lifeline for the Navajos, even as mining and power plant emissions dulled the blue skies and sullied the waters of their sprawling reservation.

But today there are stirrings of rebellion. Seeking to reverse years of environmental degradation and return to their traditional values, many Navajos are calling for a future built instead on solar farms, ecotourism and microbusinesses.

“At some point we have to wean ourselves,” Earl Tulley, a Navajo housing official, said of coal as he sat on the dirt floor of his family’s hogan, a traditional circular dwelling.

Mr. Tulley, who is running for vice president of the Navajo Nation in the Nov. 2 election, represents a growing movement among Navajos that embraces environmental healing and greater reliance on the sun and wind, abundant resources on a 17 million-acre reservation spanning Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

“We need to look at the bigger picture of sustainable development,” said Mr. Tulley, the first environmentalist to run on a Navajo presidential ticket.

With nearly 300,000 members, the Navajo Nation is the country’s largest tribe, according to Census Bureau estimates, and it has the biggest reservation. Coal mines and coal-fired power plants on the reservation and on lands shared with the Hopi provide about 1,500 jobs and more than a third of the tribe’s annual operating budget, the largest source of revenue after government grants and taxes.

At the grass-roots level, the internal movement advocating a retreat from coal is both a reaction to the environmental damage and the health consequences of mining — water loss and contamination, smog and soot pollution — and a reconsideration of centuries-old tenets.

In Navajo culture, some spiritual guides say, digging up the earth to retrieve resources like coal and uranium (which the reservation also produced until health issues led to a ban in 2005) is tantamount to cutting skin and represents a betrayal of a duty to protect the land.

“As medicine people, we don’t extract resources,” said Anthony Lee Sr., president of the Diné Hataalii Association, a group of about 100 healers known as medicine men and women.

Bold emphasis mine

The Navajos in sync with our Earth and "Mother Nature." Americans as a whole need to learn from them.

AFGHANISTAN - I'm Not a Crook (Nixonism)

"Afghan Leader Admits His Office Gets Cash from Iran" by DEXTER FILKINS and ALISSA J. RUBIN, New York Times 10/25/2010


President Hamid Karzai acknowledged on Monday that he regularly receives bags of cash from the Iranian government in payments amounting to millions of dollars, as evidence mounted of a worsening rift between his government and its American and NATO supporters.

During an often hostile news conference, Mr. Karzai also accused the United States of financing the “killing” of Afghans by paying private security contractors to guard construction projects and convoys in Afghanistan. He has declined to postpone a December deadline he set for ending the use of private security forces despite urgent pleas from Western organizations, including development organizations, that need protection here.

His statements were the latest indication that American relations with Mr. Karzai were badly frayed, despite diplomatic efforts to mend ties and improve governance in Afghanistan. The tensions threaten to undermine President Obama’s goal of handing responsibility for the war against the Taliban to Mr. Karzai and the Afghan military, allowing the United States to begin withdrawing troops next year.

“They do give us bags of money — yes, yes, it is done,” Mr. Karzai said, responding to questions about a report in The New York Times on Sunday that Iran sends regular cash payments to his chief of staff, Umar Daudzai. “We are grateful to the Iranians for this.”

“Patriotism has a price,” he said.

Afghan and Western officials said the Iranian payments were intended to drive a wedge between Mr. Karzai and the United States and NATO.

On Sunday, Mr. Karzai held a volatile meeting with the NATO commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, as well as other senior Afghan and Western officials to discuss the private security firms. Mr. Karzai stormed out of the session, saying that he did not need the West’s help, according to people knowledgeable about the confrontation.

IRAQ - Newly Leaked Documents = "Detailed Granularity"

"Reaction to Newly Public Iraq War Documents"
PBS Newshour 10/25/2010

ECONOMY - The Broken Home Affordable Modification Program

"Homeowners Express Frustration with Government Loan Modifications"
PBS Newshour 10/25/2010

Home Affordable Modification Program, HAMP

Excerpts from transcript

PAUL SOLMAN (Newshour): Attorney Kevin Costello represents homeowners in cases against J.P. Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America, a NewsHour underwriter, arguing that, when servicers drag out the HAMP trial process, then reject the homeowner, they're breaking a contract.

KEVIN COSTELLO, attorney: I think it's clear that servicers have not invested the time, the energy and the resources in creating an infrastructure within their shops to adequately discharge their duties under the HAMP program.

It may be that the financial incentive isn't enough. There are all sorts of fees that mortgage servicers are collecting while the limbo for the homeowner drags on and on.

PAUL SOLMAN: According to a recent report by the National Consumer Law Center, servicer fees based on a percentage of outstanding balance provide incentives to increase the loan principal by adding delinquent amounts and junk fees.

Don Madden (homeowner) says he was surprised to see his loan grow after he was rejected from HAMP by Bank of America after a six-month trial that cut his payments from $1,400 to $656.
PAUL SOLMAN: The main problem, according to attorney Costello, servicers haven't been pressured to make permanent HAMP modifications.

KEVIN COSTELLO: What stick is the federal government bringing to bear against servicers who are failing to comply? The data is there that folks are not getting permanent modifications who appear to be entitled to them. What is Treasury doing to enforce the rules of HAMP against servicers?

HERBERT ALLISON, Former Assistant Treasury Secretary For Financial Stability: We don't, Under the law, have the authority to require servicers to be part of the program. And we cannot fine the servicers for not complying.

PAUL SOLMAN: Until his recent retirement, Herb Allison oversaw Treasury's TARP program, which funds HAMP.

HERBERT ALLISON: These are voluntary programs. We have to strike a fine balance between getting very tough with them and making sure that they are active and involved in our program.

What this adds up to? HAMP is a toothless law, the banks are dragging their feet (no matter what they say) and all the while they collect more money in fees, and the homeowner gets shafted.

Monday, October 25, 2010

SUPREME COURT - Scalia, Thomas, and Koch Money

"What Role Have Scalia And Thomas Played In The Koch Money Machine?" by Ian Millhiser, Think Progress 10/20/2010

Earlier today, ThinkProgress’ Lee Fang revealed several documents outlining the details of one of right-wing billionaire Charles Koch’s secret convenings of corporate political donors. As Koch revealed to the Wall Street Journal in 2006, the purpose of these meetings is to recruit “captains of industry” to fund the conservative infrastructure of front groups, political campaigns, think tanks and media outlets. Buried in this document, however, is a surprising revelation about the role two supposedly impartial jurists have played in these extended fundraising solicitations: “Past meetings have featured such notable leaders as Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.”

A Supreme Court justice lending a hand to a political fundraising event would be a clear violation of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, if it wasn’t for the fact that the nine justices have exempted themselves from much of the ethical rules governing all other federal judges. Nevertheless, a spokesperson for the Supreme Court tells ThinkProgress that “[t]he Justices look to the Code of Conduct for guidance” in determining when they may participate in fundraising activities. Under that Code:

Fund Raising. A judge may assist nonprofit law-related, civic, charitable, educational, religious, or social organizations in planning fund-raising activities and may be listed as an officer, director, or trustee. A judge may solicit funds for such an organization from judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority and from members of the judge’s family. Otherwise, a judge should not personally participate in fund-raising activities, solicit funds for any organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for that purpose. A judge should not personally participate in membership solicitation if the solicitation might reasonably be perceived as coercive or is essentially a fund-raising mechanism.

Scalia and Thomas’ participation in these fundraising gatherings also call into question whether they can be impartial in any number of cases brought by Koch-aligned groups seeking immunity to the law. Most significantly, the Koch brothers have contributed significantly to efforts to stop the Affordable Care Act from going into effect, and a number of attendees at the Koch’s secret meetings include health industry moguls with a direct financial stake in the litigation challenging health reform (Justice Thomas’ wife, of course, actively lobbied against the Affordable Care Act).

Court observers hoping that Scalia and Thomas will recuse themselves from cases backed by the “Kochtopus” shouldn’t hold their breath, however. During the Bush Administration, Justice Scalia infamously refused to recuse himself from a suit against Vice President Dick Cheney even after it was revealed that Scalia and Cheney went on a duck hunting trip together during the pendancy of Cheney’s case. Scalia also came under ethical fire when he skipped Chief Justice Roberts’ swearing in ceremony to attend a junket to a Ritz-Carlton resort funded by the right-wing Federalist Society; and Thomas accepted more than $42,000 in free gifts in just six years on the Supreme Court.

At the very least, however, Scalia and Thomas should publicly disclose exactly what role they played in supporting Koch’s secret fundraising network. These fundraising meetings exist for the purpose of eliminating laws and regulations that corporate America does not like, and a sitting Supreme Court justice can do a great deal to advance this purpose (indeed, Scalia and Thomas both already handed an enormous gift to the Koch’s corporate network by joining the egregious decision in Citizens United v. FEC). The two justices’ attendance at these events raise serious questions about whether Scalia and Thomas are deciding cases impartially — or whether they are pushing the exact same agenda as all the Koch events’ other attendees.

Reference from above article

"Justices Scalia And Thomas's Attendance At Koch Event Sparks Judicial Ethics Debate" by Sam Stein, Huffington Post 10/20/2010

So, DID Koch "buy" conservative seats on the Supreme Court?

ON THE JOB - Safe Workplace vs Patient/Employee Rights

"Drug Testing Poses Quandary for Employers" by KATIE ZEZIMA and ABBY GOODNOUGH, New York Times 10/24/2010


The news, delivered in a phone call, left Sue Bates aghast: she was losing her job of 22 years after testing positive for a legally prescribed drug.

Her employer, Dura Automotive Systems, had changed the policy at its sprawling plant here to test for certain prescription drugs as well as illicit ones. The medication that Mrs. Bates was taking for back pain — hydrocodone, a narcotic prescribed by her doctor — was among many that the company, which makes car parts, had suddenly deemed unsafe.

“I don’t think it should end the way it did,” said Mrs. Bates, an assembly line worker who has sued Dura for discrimination and invasion of privacy. “You tell somebody you lost your job because you’re on prescription medication and they’re like, ‘Yeah, right.’ ”

Two decades after the Supreme Court first upheld the right to test for drugs in the workplace, Dura’s concern — that employees on certain medications posed a safety hazard — is echoing around the country. The growing reliance of Americans on powerful prescription drugs for pain, anxiety and other maladies suggests that many are reporting to work with potent drugs in their systems, and employers are grappling for ways to address that.

What companies consider an effort to maintain a safe work environment is drawing complaints from employees who cite privacy concerns and contend that they should not be fired for taking legal medications, sometimes for injuries sustained on the job.

“This may be the point guard for an important societal issue,” Dr. Robert T. Cochran Jr., a Nashville pain specialist who treats three of the Dura plaintiffs, said of the lawsuit against Dura. “How do we address these drugs as a society?”

There is a dearth of data from independent groups regarding impairment from prescription drugs in the workplace, partly because the issue has not drawn broad scrutiny.

Quandary indeed, not only for companies but for our society as a whole.

Friday, October 22, 2010

PAKISTAN - Additional Aid Offered

"U.S. Offers Pakistan Army $2 Billion Aid Package" by ERIC SCHMITT and DAVID E. SANGER, New York Times 10/22/2010


Even as the Obama administration moved to stop training and equipping Pakistani Army units that have killed civilians in the offensive against the Taliban, the United States said Friday that it planned increased aid for Pakistan’s military over the next five years.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made the announcement in Washington alongside the Pakistani foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, as leaders from both nations convened for a series of meetings.

The new aid package, totaling $2 billion, is meant to replace one that expired Oct. 1. It would complement $7.5 billion in aid that the United States has already pledged to Pakistan for civilian projects, some have which have been directed toward helping the nation recover from the damaging floods.

In announcing the aid, Mrs. Clinton did not discuss the administration’s moves to stop financing certain elements in the Pakistani Army that have killed unarmed prisoners and civilians.

NASA - Astronauts Now On Foursquare!

"Astronaut Posts First Foursquare Check-In from Space" by Chloe Albanesius, PC Magazine 10/22/2010


It was bound to happen sooner or later. A NASA astronaut has become the first person to check-in to a social-networking service from space.

Commander Douglas H. Wheelock of Expedition 25 checked into the International Space Station on Friday, unlocking the new NASA Explorer Badge. He used Foursquare's mobile site aboard the ISS's orbiting laboratory, NASA said.

"You are now 220 miles above Earth traveling at 17,500 mph and unlocked the NASA Explorer Badge," the badge notification said. "Show this badge and get a free scoop of astronaut ice cream."

"Check-ins from around the world have been cool, but this blew my mind! We're psyched to partner with NASA to help users explore the space program and the universe," Dennis Crowley, chief executive and co-founder of Foursquare, said in a statement.

"We are very grateful to JESS3 and NASA for making this all happen. In the near future, explorers on earth who visit space-related places can also unlock the badge while learning about NASA history and the space program," Eric Friedman, head of business development at Foursquare, wrote in a blog post.

Wheelock's check-in is part of partnership between NASA and Foursquare to connect its users to the space agency. When Wheelock returns, users back on earth can check-in and earn the NASA Explorer Badge at places like the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, the space shuttle Enterprise inside the McDonnell hangar in Virginia, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Alabama, and more. Details are available on Foursquare's NASA page.

POLITICS - Election 2010, Things Looking UP

"Strong Turnout for Democrats in Early Voting" CBS News 10/21/2010


1st Figures on Early Balloting Show GOP Gains on 2008 Numbers, But Democrats Hold Edge in Some Key States

Election Day is already over for more than 3 million Americans, and a surprising number of them are Democrats.

Republicans clearly are gaining ground in turning out early voters compared with their showing two years ago, but figures from the first batch of states that offer clues about 2010 early voting patterns still give Democrats an edge in a number of states and big counties.

"If people thought the Democrats were just going to roll over and play dead in this election, that's not what we're seeing," said Michael McDonald, a George Mason University professor who tracks early voting nationally. "They've got to be feeling a little bit better with the numbers that they're seeing."

With 30 percent or more of all votes likely to be cast early, both sides are going all-out to lock in supporters' ballots early. And for the first time in a midterm election, they're combining traditional shoe-leather canvassing and get-out-the-vote rallies with technological tools like Facebook and text messaging.

Strategies run the gamut: In Washington state, Democrats held a "tweetup" to rein in young early voters. In Illinois, a voter-education group posted a YouTube video about the state's early-voting law highlighting the ability to vote naked - from the comfort of home, please. In Florida, Democrats e-mailed a notice that "Today is Election Day. No, that's not a typo, because every day between now and November 2 is Election Day."

While it's impossible to tell for whom people are voting, Democrats so far are casting ballots at a faster clip than Republicans in Iowa, Maryland, North Carolina and Nevada's heavily Democratic Clark County, which supplied two-thirds of the state's voters in 2008.
With nearly every indicator in a new Associated Press-GfK poll pointing toward big GOP victories, the Democrats' ground-game advantage is squaring off against the Republicans' enthusiasm edge - and the outcome could determine who wins close races.

VOTE DEMOCRATIC! Keep the people (Republicans), who ruined our economy in 8yrs of their control, from a replay.

HEALTH - Buyer Beware, Herbal Supplements

"What's Really in Herbal Supplements?"
PBS Newshour 10/21/2010

Understatement from transcript

PAUL SOLMAN (Newshour): Though we rarely do consumer stories, at the New York Botanical Garden not long ago, we happened on one we just couldn't resist: that, in one of America's fastest growing and least regulated industries, medicinal herbs, what you see may not be what you get.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

NATIONAL SECURITY - On the Cyberwar Front

"Pentagon Will Help Homeland Security Department Fight Domestic Cyberattacks" by THOM SHANKER, New York Times 10/20/2010


The Obama administration has adopted new procedures for using the Defense Department’s vast array of cyberwarfare capabilities in case of an attack on vital computer networks inside the United States, delicately navigating historic rules that restrict military action on American soil.

The system would mirror that used when the military is called on in natural disasters like hurricanes or wildfires. A presidential order dispatches the military forces, working under the control of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Under the new rules, the president would approve the use of the military’s expertise in computer-network warfare, and the Department of Homeland Security would direct the work.

Officials involved in drafting the rules said the goal was to ensure a rapid response to a cyberthreat while balancing concerns that civil liberties might be at risk should the military take over such domestic operations.

The rules were deemed essential because most of the government’s computer-network capabilities reside within the Pentagon — while most of the important targets are on domestic soil, whether within the government or in critical private operations like financial networks or a regional power grid.

The new approach will begin with a Department of Homeland Security team deploying to Fort Meade, Md., home to both the National Security Agency, which specializes in electronic espionage, and the military’s new Cyber Command. In exchange, a team of military networking experts would be assigned to the operations center at the Homeland Security Department.

The rules were detailed in a memorandum of agreement signed in late September by Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, but they were not released until last week.

Robert J. Butler, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for cyber policy, said the memorandum was intended to cut through legal debates about the authority for operating domestically, and to focus on how best to respond to the threat of attack on critical computer networks.

Mr. Butler said teams of lawyers would watch for potential violations of civil liberties. “We have put protection measures in place,” he said.

ECONOMY - The Foreclosure Battlefield

"Battle Lines Forming in Clash Over Foreclosures" by GRETCHEN MORGENSON and ANDREW MARTIN, New York Times 10/20/2010


About a month after Washington Mutual Bank made a multimillion-dollar mortgage loan on a mountain home near Santa Barbara, Calif., a crucial piece of paperwork disappeared.

But bank officials were unperturbed. After conducting a “due and diligent search,” an assistant vice president simply drew up an affidavit stating that the paperwork — a promissory note committing the borrower to repay the mortgage — could not be found, according to court documents.

The handling of that lost note in 2006 was hardly unusual. Mortgage documents of all sorts were treated in an almost lackadaisical way during the dizzying mortgage lending spree from 2005 through 2007, according to court documents, analysts and interviews.

Now those missing and possibly fraudulent documents are at the center of a potentially seismic legal clash that pits big lenders against homeowners and their advocates concerned that the lenders’ rush to foreclose flouts private property rights.

That clash — expected to be played out in courtrooms across the country and scrutinized by law enforcement officials investigating possible wrongdoing by big lenders — leaped to the forefront of the mortgage crisis this week as big lenders began lifting their freezes on foreclosures and insisted the worst was behind them.

Federal officials meeting in Washington on Wednesday indicated that a government review of the problems would not be complete until the end of the year.

In short, the legal disagreement amounts to whether banks can rely on flawed documentation to repossess homes.

So, let me get the clear, there is a "disagreement" about relying on "flawed" paperwork?! That includes missing legal paperwork?

I have to wonder what planet these legal shysters live on. Or maybe they live in an alternate universe.

AFGHANISTAN - Carrot and the Stick

While the negations with Taliban leaders are the carrot, there is the stick....

"Coalition Forces Routing Taliban in Key Afghan Region" by CARLOTTA GALL, New York Times 10/20/2010


American and Afghan forces have been routing the Taliban in much of Kandahar Province in recent weeks, forcing many hardened fighters, faced with the buildup of American forces, to flee strongholds they have held for years, NATO commanders, local Afghan officials and residents of the region said.

A series of civilian and military operations around the strategic southern province, made possible after a force of 12,000 American and NATO troops reached full strength here in the late summer, has persuaded Afghan and Western officials that the Taliban will have a hard time returning to areas they had controlled in the province that was their base.

Some of the gains seem to have come from a new mobile rocket that has pinpoint accuracy — like a small cruise missile — and has been used against the hideouts of insurgent commanders around Kandahar. That has forced many of them to retreat across the border into Pakistan. Disruption of their supply lines has made it harder for them to stage retaliatory strikes or suicide bombings, at least for the moment, officials and residents said.

NATO commanders are careful not to overstate their successes — they acknowledge they made that mistake earlier in the year when they undertook a high-profile operation against Marja that did not produce lasting gains. But they say they are making “deliberate progress” and have seized the initiative from the insurgents.

Western and Afghan civilian officials are more outspoken, saying that heavy losses for the Taliban have sapped the momentum the insurgency had in the area. Unlike the Marja operation, they say, the one in Kandahar is a comprehensive civil and military effort that is changing the public mood as well as improving security.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

BEING HUMAN - Pure Altruism?

"Is Pure Altruism Possible?" by JUDITH LICHTENBERG, New York Times 10/19/2010


Who could doubt the existence of altruism?

True, news stories of malice and greed abound. But all around us we see evidence of human beings sacrificing themselves and doing good for others. Remember Wesley Autrey? On Jan. 2, 2007, Mr. Autrey jumped down onto the tracks of a New York City subway platform as a train was approaching to save a man who had suffered a seizure and fallen. A few months later the Virginia Tech professor Liviu Librescu blocked the door to his classroom so his students could escape the bullets of Seung-Hui Cho, who was on a rampage that would leave 32 students and faculty members dead. In so doing, Mr. Librescu gave his life.

Still, doubting altruism is easy, even when it seems at first glance to be apparent. It’s undeniable that people sometimes act in a way that benefits others, but it may seem that they always get something in return — at the very least, the satisfaction of having their desire to help fulfilled. Students in introductory philosophy courses torture their professors with this reasoning. And its logic can seem inexorable.

Contemporary discussions of altruism quickly turn to evolutionary explanations. Reciprocal altruism and kin selection are the two main theories. According to reciprocal altruism, evolution favors organisms that sacrifice their good for others in order to gain a favor in return. Kin selection — the famous “selfish gene” theory popularized by Richard Dawkins — says that an individual who behaves altruistically towards others who share its genes will tend to reproduce those genes. Organisms may be altruistic; genes are selfish. The feeling that loving your children more than yourself is hard-wired lends plausibility to the theory of kin selection.

These evolutionary theories explain a puzzle: how organisms that sacrifice their own “reproductive fitness” — their ability to survive and reproduce — could possibly have evolved. But neither theory fully accounts for our ordinary understanding of altruism.

The defect of reciprocal altruism is clear. If a person acts to benefit another in the expectation that the favor will be returned, the natural response is: “That’s not altruism!” Pure altruism, we think, requires a person to sacrifice for another without consideration of personal gain. Doing good for another person because something’s in it for the do-er is the very opposite of what we have in mind. Kin selection does better by allowing that organisms may genuinely sacrifice their interests for another, but it fails to explain why they sometimes do so for those with whom they share no genes, as Professor Librescu and Mr. Autrey did.

And the "argument" goes on.

AFGHANISTAN - Progress on Talks With Taliban

"Taliban Elite, Aided by NATO, Join Talks for Afghan Peace" by DEXTER FILKINS, New York Times 10/19/2010


Talks to end the war in Afghanistan involve extensive, face-to-face discussions with Taliban commanders from the highest levels of the group’s leadership, who are secretly leaving their sanctuaries in Pakistan with the help of NATO troops, officials here say.

The discussions, some of which have taken place in Kabul, are unfolding between the inner circle of President Hamid Karzai and members of the Quetta shura, the leadership group that oversees the Taliban war effort inside Afghanistan. Afghan leaders have also held discussions with leaders of the Haqqani network, considered to be one of the most hard-line guerrilla factions fighting here; and members of the Peshawar shura, whose fighters are based in eastern Afghanistan.

The Taliban leaders coming into Afghanistan for talks have left their havens in Pakistan on the explicit assurance that they will not be attacked or arrested by NATO forces, Afghans familiar with the talks say. Many top Taliban leaders reside in Pakistan, where they are believed to enjoy at least some official protection.

While this is good news, I have to wonder if we are not jeopardizing lives by this very public announcement of crossings.

Monday, October 18, 2010

POLITICS - In the GOP Gestapo's Handbook

"Miller security guards handcuff journalist" by RICHARD MAUER, Anchorage Daily News 10/17/2010


The editor of the Alaska Dispatch website was arrested by U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller's private security guards Sunday as the editor attempted to interview Miller at the end of a public event in an Anchorage school.

Tony Hopfinger was handcuffed by the guards and detained in a hallway at Central Middle School until Anchorage police came and told the guards to release Hopfinger.

Hopfinger has not been charged but the owner of the Drop Zone, the private security firm that's been providing Miller's security, accused Hopfinger of trespassing at the public event, a town hall sponsored by the Miller campaign. The owner, William Fulton, also said Hopfinger assaulted a man by shoving him.

Anchorage Police who responded to the call said they would leave it to the District Attorney's office to decide whether to prosecute. They spent more than an hour taking statements, then left.

So, IF this article is accurate, according to this GOP Gestapo's Handbook there is such a charge as "trespassing at the public event?!" Public event = private event? I DON'T think so.

POLITICS - U.S. Chamber of Commerce Abandonment Increases

"Hudson breaking from U.S. Chamber of Commerce" by CAMERON KITTLE, Nashua Telegraph, 10/17/2010

Already under fire for controversial fundraising practices, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is now losing some of its local support.

On Friday, the Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce released a statement saying its board of directors has voted not to renew its membership with the national chamber because it felt recent political advertisements by the national chamber in support of specific parties and candidates were in “direct conflict” with the foundation of the Hudson chamber.

Jerry Mayotte, executive vice president of the Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce, said the Hudson group is a nonpartisan organization. He said he can’t remember the last time they chose not to renew their membership.

The decision wasn’t made lightly.

“We didn’t like the fact that the U.S. Chamber was supporting particular candidates,” Mayotte said. “We don’t think it’s good business practice to do so.

“We take stands on particular issues considering business, but not particular candidates.”

Hudson isn’t the first to separate from the U.S. Chamber because of political disagreement. Many local chambers broke off years ago or never joined in the first place.

Chris Williams, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, said that group hasn’t been a member of the U.S. Chamber for many years.

“We have no formal relationship with them, and we have no plans to change that,” he said.

However, Williams said the lack of membership isn’t because of politics. The decision to stay independent was made years before his time and hasn’t been revisited.

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce does a very good job of aggressively promoting its message,” he said. “It certainly takes advantage of political season, and that can result in (local chambers) becoming a little uncomfortable.”

May Balsama, executive director of the Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce, said it has never been in her chamber’s interest to be a member of the U.S. Chamber.

“We cover a very large area, and in our towns, there is a broad range of political viewpoints,” she said. “While the U.S. Chamber lobbies and does some very good work for our businesses, I know they’re also very active in politics, and we determined it would not be appropriate to be part of the membership.”

It’s still a common misunderstanding that all local chambers are connected to the national group in some way.

Robin Comstock, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, had to clarify that to the audience at a 1st Congressional District debate on Tuesday at Saint Anselm College.

“We are not accredited by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; we are not a member,” she said. “The only similarity is that we share a name.”

Manchester’s lack of relationship is because of politics, Comstock said.

“The ad campaign the U.S. Chamber is running in New Hampshire, simply put, we do not do that,” she said. “We just do not support candidates or any particular party. We are simply here to present both sides of the conversation and both arguments.”

Merrimack Area Chamber of Commerce board member Mary Hendricks said that group isn’t involved with the U.S. Chamber, either, also for political concerns.

“We have always tried to be neutral on political issues,” she said in an e-mail.

Williams said local chambers that choose to be a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sometimes do so because they get small benefits they believe could help their businesses, including access to some federal resources or the ability to participate in certain accreditation programs.

But moving forward, Mayotte doesn’t see the lack of membership affecting the Hudson chamber negatively, or even at all.

“I don’t believe we lose anything,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, I could not find one positive thing to say about being involved in the U.S. Chamber.”

Bold emphasis mine

POLITICS - Nixon's Re-Election Practices Are Back

"Return of the Secret Donors" by JILL ABRAMSON, New York Times 10/16/2010


To old political hands, wise to the ways of candidates and money, 1972 was a watershed year. Richard M. Nixon’s re-election campaign was awash in cash, secretly donated by corporations and individuals.

Fred Wertheimer, a longtime supporter of campaign finance regulation, was then a lawyer for Common Cause. He vividly recalls the weeks leading up to April 7, 1972, before a new campaign finance law went into effect requiring the disclosure of the names of individual donors. “Contributors,” he said, “were literally flying into Washington with satchels of cash.”

The Committee for the Re-Election of the President was also illegally hauling in many millions of dollars from corporations, many of which felt pressured into making contributions.

The record of donors was so tightly held that it was kept in a locked drawer by Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s secretary. The list — which came to be known as “Rose Mary’s Baby” — wasn’t released until Mr. Wertheimer forced the issue through a lawsuit. Among those on the list were William Keeler, the chief executive of Phillips Petroleum, who pleaded guilty, during the post-Watergate prosecutions, to making an illegal corporate donation.

Rose Mary’s Baby itself, now an artifact of the nation’s biggest political scandal, sits in the Watergate collection of the National Archives.

In this year’s midterm elections, there is no talk of satchels of cash from donors. Nor is there any hint of illegal actions reaching Watergate-like proportions. But the fund-raising practices that earned people convictions in Watergate — giving direct corporate money to a campaign and doing so secretly — are back in a different form in 2010.

This time around, the corporations are still giving secretly, but legally. In 1907, direct corporate donations to candidates were legally barred in a campaign finance reform push by President Theodore Roosevelt. But that law and others — the foundation for many Watergate convictions — are all but obsolete. This is why many supporters of strict campaign finance laws are wringing their hands.

Certainly, it is still illegal for corporations to contribute directly to candidates. But they now have equally potent ways to exert their influence. This election year is the first since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allows corporations for the first time to finance ads that directly support or oppose political candidates. And tax laws and loopholes have permitted a shadow campaign network of Republican-leaning nonprofit groups to collect a flood of anonymous donations and spend it widely.

Bold emphasis mine

I wonder if Nixon (wherever he is) is jumping for joy. BIG MONEY buying elections, the dream of any GOP "Committee for the Re-Election of the President."

POLITICS - Tax Breaks and Overseas Hiring

"Obama: End tax breaks to stop overseas hiring" by JULIE PACE, AP 10/16/2010


President Barack Obama is renewing his call for Congress to close tax breaks that reward some U.S. companies with overseas subsidiaries, a proposal that has raised concerns among some lawmakers in the president's own party.

In his weekly radio and online address, Obama said the tax breaks encourage companies to create jobs and profits in other countries.

"There is no reason why our tax code should actively reward them for creating jobs overseas," Obama said. "Instead, we should be using our tax dollars to reward companies that create jobs and businesses within our borders."

At issue is a bill that stalled in the Senate last month that would end some tax credits and deferrals for U.S. companies for operations overseas.

Though Obama singled out Republican opposition, the bill also failed to get support from some Democrats, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who expressed concern that change would put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage.

The ending of the tax loopholes has been opposed by business groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers.

Obama said that while companies that conduct business internationally do make an important contribution to the U.S. economy, it doesn't make sense to grant them tax breaks when companies at home are struggling to rebound from the economic crisis.

Obama has said he wants revenue collected from closing the loopholes to be used for other business tax breaks by making permanent research and development tax credits and allowing businesses next year to write off all new equipment costs.

This is one of President Obama's policies I totally agree with. It IS an incentive for companies to create jobs here in America and NOT overseas. I also consider creating jobs at home MORE important that any consideration of competitiveness.

POLITICS - Opinion, Campaign 2010

"The Wars That America Forgot About" by TOM BROKAW, New York Times 10/17/2010

IN what promises to be the most contentious midterm election since 1994, there is no shortage of passion about big issues facing the country: the place and nature of the federal government in America’s future; public debt; jobs; health care; the influence of special interests; and the role of populist movements like the Tea Party.

In nearly every Congressional and Senate race, these are the issues that explode into attack ads, score points in debates and light up cable talk shows. In poll after poll, these are the issues that voters say are most important to them this year.

Notice anything missing on the campaign landscape?

How about war? The United States is now in its ninth year of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the longest wars in American history. Almost 5,000 men and women have been killed. More than 30,000 have been wounded, some so gravely they’re returning home to become, effectively, wards of their families and communities.

In those nine years, the United States has spent more than $1 trillion on combat operations and other parts of the war effort, including foreign aid, reconstruction projects, embassy costs and veterans’ health care. And the end is not in sight.

So why aren’t the wars and their human and economic consequences front and center in this campaign, right up there with jobs and taxes?

The answer is very likely that the vast majority of Americans wake up every day worrying, with good reason, about their economic security, but they can opt out of the call to arms. Unless they are enlisted in the armed services — or have a family member who has stepped forward — nothing much is asked of them in the war effort.

The all-volunteer uniformed services now represent less than 1 percent of the American population, but they’re carrying 100 percent of the battle. It’s not unusual to meet an Army infantryman or Marine who has served multiple tours in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.

Moreover, the majority of those in uniform come from working-class or middle-class backgrounds. The National Guard units and reserve forces that have been called up, some for more than one tour, draw heavily on first responders, as well as farm, factory and service workers.

Their families live in their own war zone. At a recent Minnesota event for military families, I heard Annette Kuyper, the mother of a National Guardsman who had an extended deployment in Iraq, describe how she and other Guard mothers changed their lives while their children were in harm’s way. “We close the blinds on the windows overlooking the driveway,” she said, “so we don’t see the Army vehicle arriving with a chaplain bearing the unbearable news.”

This woman’s son returned safely, but too many do not. As the campaign season careens to an end, military funerals will be held in country burial grounds, big city graveyards and at Arlington National Cemetery. Military families will keep the blinds closed on the windows facing the driveway.

While campaigns trade shouts of witchcraft, socialism, greed, radicalism (on both sides), warriors and their families have a right to ask, “What about us?” If this is an election about a new direction for the country, why doesn’t some candidate speak up for equal sacrifice on the home front as well as the front lines?

This is not just about military families, as important as they are. We all would benefit from a campaign that engaged the vexing question of what happens next in the long and so far unresolved effort to deal with Islamic rage.

No decision is more important than committing a nation to war. It is, as politicians like to say, about our blood and treasure. Surely blood and treasure are worthy of more attention than they’ve been getting in this campaign.

SECURITY - Our National Security With Blinders

The following emphasizes the problem with our National Security Agencies and methods. It's a very human one, a matter of judgement of individual people in these agencies.

We really need to re-educate ALL the people in our National Security community that our nation's security come BEFORE political considerations, AND this includes inter-agency problems. It should NOT have mattered that Mr. Headley was an informant for the D.E.A.

"U.S. Had Warnings on Plotter of Mumbai Attack" by JANE PERLEZ, ERIC SCHMITT and GINGER THOMPSON, New York Times 10/16/2010


Less than a year before terrorists killed at least 163 people in Mumbai, India, a young Moroccan woman went to American authorities in Pakistan to warn them that she believed her husband, David C. Headley, was plotting an attack.

It was not the first time American law enforcement authorities were warned about Mr. Headley, a longtime informer in Pakistan for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration whose roots in Pakistan and the United States allowed him to move easily in both worlds.

Two years earlier, in 2005, an American woman who was also married to the 50-year-old Mr. Headley told federal investigators in New York that she believed he was a member of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba created and sponsored by Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency.

Despite those warnings by two of his three wives, Mr. Headley roamed far and wide on Lashkar’s behalf between 2002 and 2009, receiving training in small-caliber weapons and countersurveillance, scouting targets for attacks, and building a network of connections that extended from Chicago to Pakistan’s lawless northwestern frontier.

Then in 2008, it was his handiwork as chief reconnaissance scout that set the stage for Lashkar’s strike against Mumbai, an assault intended to provoke a conflict between nuclear-armed adversaries, Pakistan and India.

An examination of Mr. Headley’s movements in the years before the bombing, based on interviews in Washington, Pakistan, India and Morocco, shows that he had overlapping, even baffling, contacts among seemingly disparate groups — Pakistani intelligence, terrorists, and American drug investigators.

Those ties are rekindling concerns that the Mumbai bombings represent another communications breakdown in the fight against terrorism, and are raising the question of whether United States officials were reluctant to dig deeper into Mr. Headley’s movements because he had been an informant for the D.E.A.

More significantly, they may indicate American wariness to pursue evidence that some officials in Pakistan, its major ally in the war against Al Qaeda, were involved in planning an attack that killed six Americans.

ECONOMY - Warning for America's Future?

"Japan Goes From Dynamic to Disheartened" by MARTIN FACKLER, New York Times 10/16/2010


Like many members of Japan’s middle class, Masato Y. enjoyed a level of affluence two decades ago that was the envy of the world. Masato, a small-business owner, bought a $500,000 condominium, vacationed in Hawaii and drove a late-model Mercedes.

But his living standards slowly crumbled along with Japan’s overall economy. First, he was forced to reduce trips abroad and then eliminate them. Then he traded the Mercedes for a cheaper domestic model. Last year, he sold his condo — for a third of what he paid for it, and for less than what he still owed on the mortgage he took out 17 years ago.

“Japan used to be so flashy and upbeat, but now everyone must live in a dark and subdued way,” said Masato, 49, who asked that his full name not be used because he still cannot repay the $110,000 that he owes on the mortgage.

Few nations in recent history have seen such a striking reversal of economic fortune as Japan. The original Asian success story, Japan rode one of the great speculative stock and property bubbles of all time in the 1980s to become the first Asian country to challenge the long dominance of the West.

But the bubbles popped in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Japan fell into a slow but relentless decline that neither enormous budget deficits nor a flood of easy money has reversed. For nearly a generation now, the nation has been trapped in low growth and a corrosive downward spiral of prices, known as deflation, in the process shriveling from an economic Godzilla to little more than an afterthought in the global economy.

Now, as the United States and other Western nations struggle to recover from a debt and property bubble of their own, a growing number of economists are pointing to Japan as a dark vision of the future. Even as the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, prepares a fresh round of unconventional measures to stimulate the economy, there are growing fears that the United States and many European economies could face a prolonged period of slow growth or even, in the worst case, deflation, something not seen on a sustained basis outside Japan since the Great Depression.

Many economists remain confident that the United States will avoid the stagnation of Japan, largely because of the greater responsiveness of the American political system and Americans’ greater tolerance for capitalism’s creative destruction. Japanese leaders at first denied the severity of their nation’s problems and then spent heavily on job-creating public works projects that only postponed painful but necessary structural changes, economists say.

This is both a warning and a reminder that our present economic situation is not JUST happening to us.

We CAN point fingers at those who caused our mess, greedy (poorly regulated) Wall Street and GOP control for 8yrs, but the effect is worldwide. This makes it MUCH harder to "fix" our economy which is one reason why it is taking so long.

Friday, October 15, 2010

SCIENCE - Our Weird Brain

"7 Weird-But-True Facts About the Human Brain" by Rich Maloof, MSN

Intellectual curiosity is one of humankind's most admirable traits. We're fascinated by what we don't fully understand. Were this not true, we'd have no ongoing preoccupation with black holes, or what really happened to Amelia Earhart, or why you can't eat just one Pringle.

We search for mysteries at the far reaches of outer space, yet there are a great many strange and unknown things going on within the finite space of our own brains. Small wonder, really, when there are as many neurons in our brains as there are stars in our galaxy: about 100 billion, give or take a few million. Though in each brain there are some 100 trillion connections made among all of those cells, not a single neuron physically touches another.

Just by virtue of the enormous numbers, the human brain is beyond our comprehension.

And that's not even the weird stuff. Check out these mind-boggling facts.

Your eyeballs are an extension of your brain

If someone were to open up your skull and remove your brain (carefully, please), your eyeballs would come with it. That's because your eyes are hardwired to a lobe at the back of the head responsible for sight information. Bundles of optic nerve fibers connect the retina, where images are received, directly to the brain's occipital lobe. The other four senses send their signals through convoluted pathways and nerve networks, but vision has a straight line into the brain, like a keyboard connected to a computer.

Brain surgery can be conducted while a patient is awake

Patients suffering from brain tumors or epileptic seizures may undergo surgery while awake. Rather than relying exclusively on brain-imaging technology, a neurosurgeon can speak to an awake patient to mark or "map" critical areas of the brain that control vision, language, and body movement, ensuring the procedure's accuracy and safe outcome. The patient is anesthetized during the portion of surgery when doctors make their way through the cranium to the exposed brain.

The brain knows everything but can't feel a thing

The brain itself has no receptors for pain. It has no sensory nerve system of its own to detect temperature, pressure, or even tissue damage. In the awake-surgery mentioned above, a surgeon could poke the exposed matter with a needle and the patient would not feel any sensation in the brain. When cysts or tumors cause headaches, the pain results from pressure on nerve tissue and/or blood vessels surrounding the brain.

Brain freeze is a mystery

Nobody's quite sure why a fast gulp of Slurpee can leave you feeling like a vice is crushing the inside of your head. We call it "brain freeze," but the sensation is actually felt around the temples and the mask of the face; remember, the brain itself has no pain receptors. The best guess among scientists is that a cold drink, when rapidly consumed, shocks the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sensation to the face and head. The brain's hypothalamus gets a message to create warmth and responds by dilating vessels around the nerve to heat the area with blood flow. But the sudden dilation causes pressure and a stunning wave of pain.

The brain is an oxygen hog

"Although the brain constitutes only 2 percent of our body mass, it uses 20 percent of the oxygen," explains Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, Ph.D., of the Semel Institute's Tennenbaum Center for the Biology of Creativity at UCLA. In other words, the brain uses up a fifth of the oxygen we breathe. This leaves the brain highly susceptible to damage during anoxic episodes; after about four minutes without oxygen-rich blood, brain cells start to die.

You can't tickle yourself

Well, you can try, but you won't laugh. The body's sensory nervous system is active all the time, allowing us to hear our own breathing or feel the weight of our body on our feet. Yet, these are background sensations; our sensory attention is reserved for signals from the external world such as a honking car or a kiss on the cheek. Neuroscientists believe that the cerebellum, a small area responsible for coordinating movement and motion, predicts our own sensory actions and differentiates them. Says Molnar-Szakacs, "The cerebellum warns your brain/body that the 'tickle' movement is coming, and so the sensory part of the brain essentially knows to ignore the sensation."

The brain is terribly smart, but it can be fooled

In the image shown here, the squares marked A and B are the same exact shade of gray. Really. No fooling. The checkershadow illusion plays on the way the brain's visual system uses contrast to determine light levels. (A complete explanation of the illusion by its creator, professor Edward H. Adelson of M.I.T., is available here.)

One thing that's great about that last experiment is that it underscores the confidence, even the blind faith, we have in the brain. With just a few scant clues about how that gelatinous mass works, we're absolutely certain that it does. We can imagine challenges beyond the capacity of other organs and body parts: a load we know is too heavy for our arms, a meal our stomach won't tolerate, a pitch too high for our ears to detect. But a challenge to the brain's reliability and accuracy? Do you really mean to tell me those hundred billion neurons are not doing their job? Them's fightin' words.

POLITICS - Another Opinion of Who's At Fault

"Obama is fixing GOP's economic mess" by Hilary Rosen, CNN 10/14/2010


Consider a few facts that the Republicans keep missing. As they say, you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

Ed Rollins can pooh-pooh the fact that Democrats have been in control for two years -- but it took eight years to get us into this mess. And we have been crawling out of the hole ever since.

Bold emphasis mine

GOP = Pushing drug to make Americans forget THEY were in charge of our economic mess.

SUPREME COURT - Next on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

"After Judge's Injunction, What's Next for 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'?" PBS Newshour Transcript (includes video) 10/13/2010


DAVID CHALIAN (NewsHour's political editor): DOJ, the Department of Justice, has not yet said, but all indications are that they will look to at least get the injunction put off, get a stay on the ruling that we got from California.

If, indeed, they don't get that, they will go to the court of appeals to try to get a full appeal. But, right now, Department of Justice has not weighed in officially. That's just the tea leaf reading, Jim.

But Robert Gibbs at the White House this morning with reporters was very clear.

JIM LEHRER (Newshour Editor): White House press secretary.

DAVID CHALIAN: The White House press secretary. He -- he said the key indication that the White House takes from this court ruling is that the policy is near its end.

He reasserted, though, the White House and the president would prefer that this policy, don't ask, don't tell end legislatively, not through the courts. He's just looking at the courts and the president is just looking at the courts as an indication. Basically, I think they were trying to goose Congress in saying, hey, guys, look over here in the Senate. And all you senators that didn't vote on this last time around, look at what the courts are telling us. This is the direction that we're moving in. Time to get on board.

Congress, you listening?

Republicans: Note the President is AGREEING with you on legislative action vs court action.

Now we'll see if Republicans oppose ANYTHING Obama or not.

WORLD - Chilean Miners Rescue

This chain of events is AMAZING!

I am likely not the only one who has been tracking this event. The entire world seemed riveted, one way or another. This, after all, is a very human event.

From the willingness of a company (with some fleeting reluctance according to rumors) and a country (its government and people) to go all out in rescuing these men, AND to have it go so unexpectedly well.

This is a testament to what can be done when human beings REALLY put our minds to a task. Especially the disregard to the money-cost, "whatever it takes."

My personal congratulations to the miners and Chile. Good job.

SEE: "Developing: Rescue Operation for Chilean Miners" PBS Newshour Timeline Page

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WORLD - Chilean Miners Recovery

"Rescue only the first step in Chilean miners' recovery process" CNN 10/13/2010

The process of extracting 33 miners from a Chilean mine, where they have been trapped for more than two months, is going better than expected, the nation's health minister told reporters Wednesday.

"Things are going extraordinarily well so far," said Health Minister Jaime Manalich.

However, the miners' rescue is only the first step in a longer recovery process, workers with NASA have said. Health concerns linger regarding their lack of sunlight, nutrition, effects of their confinement, lack of sleep and sanitation.

Mental health is also a concern. They must be reintroduced to their families and society and deal with their sudden celebrity status.

Dr. Michael Duncan, deputy chief medical officer at Johnson Space Center, said, "The work is just beginning when the miners get out of the mine."

The first group of miners brought up were the younger men, who could best relay information back to the surface and in case of emergency would have been able to activate levers to liberate the rescue capsule, Manalich said. Those miners with health conditions were being brought up afterward, he said.

The rescue capsule has behaved well, Manalich said, and was not rotating as much as officials had feared, reducing the likelihood that the men would become dizzy while being brought up to the surface.

The speed with which the rescue capsule ascends is getting shorter, he said. It required some scheduled maintenance, which delayed the rescues for a while, but all was proceeding according to plan, he said.

The miners' health situation is "pretty good," the minister said. "We have had very, very minor problems."

The first two miners rescued were taken to Copiapo Hospital, he said, where they were evaluated by specialists including ophthalmologists and dermatologists and given chest X-rays. "Their recuperation process is going quite well and according to the schedule," he said.

Other rescued miners were at different stages in that process, he said, with some spending time in a meeting room with relatives before being flown to the hospital.

Manalich said the miners could have opted out of going to the hospital, but it was strongly recommended to them that they do and they were all in agreement.

Extensive precautions were taken to minimize the miners' health risks before they were rescued.

Chilean army nurses were in the mine, evaluating the miners and helping them prepare for their trip to the surface, Manalich said.

"They have an anemic condition, and right now they have been sleeping less these last few days," he said. "They're tired and they still have long hours of waiting in order to be able to come up to the surface and to meet with their families."

The miners were switched to a liquid diet six hours before their rescue in case they vomit on the way up. Because Chilean Mining Minister Laurence Golborne was concerned about the miners being reintroduced to sunlight abruptly, special sunglasses were sent down for the men to wear to make sure they don't suffer damage to their retinas.

While underground, they were given special clothing that pulls sweat away from the body because of concern about skin infections as well as special socks to help prevent infections such as athlete's foot. They also had a series of vaccinations, including a tetanus booster and flu shot. They have been exercising daily, and one miner, Yonni Barrios, is a paramedic and has been weighing his colleagues daily and taking blood tests and daily urine analysis.

American astronaut Jerry Linenger knows something about isolation and confinement. He said his five months in space aboard the Russian space station Mir left him weak and with bone loss. "Down in the mines you have gravity pulling you down. There will be disorientation -- turning your head will feel like doing 100 back flips in a row," he said.

The reunions with those brought to the surface with their families have been "very emotional," Manalich said after eight miners had been rescued, and "they are very happy, very grateful for all they've been able to experience together during this rescue process."

The miners are showing slight increases in blood pressure and cardiac activity during the trip, but have recovered satisfactorily after a few minutes of rest and have not required medication, he said. "I think things are going better than we thought."

However, psychological adjustments will be a hurdle for the miners. "These men spent 20 days totally cut off in the dark until the first bore hole was made," Linenger said. "So they were in survival mode, which is tough psychologically because you are in a life and death situation."

Once out, the miners will be examined on site and hospitalized for a mandatory two days. During that time they'll be monitored and receive physical and mental health care. Doctors will keep an eye out for things such as nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety and claustrophobia, among other potential issues.

AMERICA - Understanding Others' Beliefs

"Despite Religious Roots, Americans Struggle to Understand Others' Beliefs"
PBS Newshour 10/12/2010

ECONOMY - China Competition Threatens U.S. Solar Industry

"Silicon Valley’s Solar Innovators Retool to Catch Up to China" by TODD WOODY, New York Times 10/12/2010


A few years ago, Silicon Valley start-ups like Solyndra, Nanosolar and MiaSolé dreamed of transforming the economics of solar power by reinventing the technology used to make solar panels and deeply cutting the cost of production.

Founded by veterans of the Valley’s chip and hard-drive industries, these companies attracted billions of dollars in venture capital investment on the hope that their advanced “thin film” technology would make them the Intels and Apples of the global solar industry.

But as the companies finally begin mass production — Solyndra just flipped the switch on a $733 million factory here last month — they are finding that the economics of the industry have already been transformed, by the Chinese. Chinese manufacturers, heavily subsidized by their own government and relying on vast economies of scale, have helped send the price of conventional solar panels plunging and grabbed market share far more quickly than anyone anticipated.

As a result, the California companies, once so confident that they could outmaneuver the competition, are scrambling to retool their strategies and find niches in which they can thrive.

“The solar market has changed so much it’s almost enough to make you want to cry,” said Joseph Laia, chief executive of MiaSolé. “We have spent a lot more time and energy focusing on costs a year or two before we thought we had to.”

The challenges come despite extensive public and private support for the Silicon Valley companies. Solyndra, one of the biggest firms, has raised more than $1 billion from investors. The federal government provided a $535 million loan guarantee for the company’s new robot-run, 300,000-square-foot solar panel factory, known as Fab 2.

“The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra,” President Obama said in May during an appearance at the then-unfinished factory. But during the year that Solyndra’s plant was under construction, competition from the Chinese helped drive the price of solar modules down 40 percent. Solyndra rushed to start cranking out panels on Sept. 13, two months ahead of schedule, and it has increased marketing efforts to make the case to customers that Solyndra’s more expensive panels are cost-effective when installation charges are factored in.

“It definitely puts more pressure on us to bring our costs down as quickly as possible by ramping up volume,” said Ben Bierman, Solyndra’s executive vice president for operations and engineering.

Silicon Valley companies like Solyndra, Nanosolar and MiaSolé continue to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in customer orders and some plan to expand local manufacturing. But the rapid rise of low-cost Chinese manufacturers has made investors — who once envisioned the region’s future as Solar Valley — skittish about backing new capital-intensive start-ups.

An example of unfair competition from countries with governments who are willing to heavily subsidize an industry, and China is not the only one.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

POLITICS - No Enthusiasm Gap? (aka Do Pollsters Really Know What's Happening?)

"The Invisible Six Point Democratic Lead" by Stephen Herrington, Huffington Post 10/12/2010

The "enthusiasm gap" is driving the midterm election narrative. You hear, everywhere from every MSM and polling source, that the generic ballot shows a 5-10 point lead for the GOP. That lead is constructed entirely on the "likely voter" model. Among likely voters, you hear, the GOP has a 5-10 point lead. Have you ever heard the results of polls of registered voters not qualified by the "likely" modifier?

In the latest CNN public opinion poll released 10/08, someone slipped up and mentioned that, among registered voters, the generic Democrats have a 6 point lead. A 6 point lead is about what it took to sweep Congress and the White House for the Democrats in 2006-08. So the sentiment of the country favors Democrats by 6 percent and the press reports only the pollster construct of right leaning likely voters as representing the sentiment of the nation.

What is a likely voter? Different polls have different methods and most are proprietary. Gallup has shared their battery of questions used to determine a likely voter. From Mystery Pollster :

  1. How much have you thought about the upcoming elections for president, quite a lot or only a little? (Quite a lot = 1 point)

  2. Do you happen to know where people who live in your neighborhood go to vote? (Yes = 1 point)

  3. Have you ever voted in your precinct or election district? (Yes = 1 point)

  4. How often would you say you vote, always, nearly always, part of the time or seldom (Always or nearly always = 1 point)

  5. Do you plan to vote in the presidential election this November? (Yes = 1 point) [presumably updated for 2012]

  6. In the last presidential election, did you vote for Al Gore or George Bush, or did things come up to keep you from voting?" (Voted = 1 point) [presumably updated for 2010-12]

  7. If "1" represents someone who will definitely not vote and "10" represents someone who definitely will vote, where on this scale would you place yourself? (Currently 7-10 = 1, according to this "quiz" on USA Today)

It's easy to see that the questions used to determine a likely voter skew in favor of older people and those with long term political involvement. Note that only one question, number 7, directly asks if you plan to vote and voting history is the most weighted measure by far. What is apparent in the battery is that complacency is judged an immutable pattern of the U.S. voter, 2006-08 notwithstanding for some reason.

Fair reporting on the subject of this current election would be that the press has decided that the same American public that voted out the GOP in 2006-08 is intent on putting them back in office in 2010. Despite the tribulations of the first two years of Obama, Americans seem still in favor of Democratic rule, but their "enthusiasm" is measured by only two of the Gallup battery questions, numbers 1 and 7. Question 1 can be interpreted as having not had to think about the election too hard in order to make a choice. Question 7 could turn on the notion that if things appear to be in hand, then I won't bother. Rather gaping holes in both questions for the polls and press to rely entirely on them as a litmus of political fact. Rather thin criterion for the claim that America is a center right nation, these two questions, but that is what the MSM has made of it in practical terms.

News organizations are depriving the public of a vital piece of information that is significant. That piece of information is that the public actually supports the Democrats more than it does the Republicans, just maybe not enough to bother with voting. Only reporting the horse race aspect of the election, which party's voters are most likely to show up by historical statistical standards, serves to skew the perception that America is leaning right when it's not. Issue polls bear this out, America is the most left on issues that it has been since the sixties. What comparing the likely voter and registered voter numbers show is a GOP willing to use big money enabled anger to impose its will on a public that, in majority, doesn't want it to.

Because of this distortion in reporting poll outcomes, some on the left will stay home or vote a third party because they think the Republicans will win anyway. The tragedy of this is that the "unenthused" left majority will suffer the all too predictable pains of a GOP Congress legislating against their interests and wishes. The public wishes government to be left of center and not right, according to the polls.

Democrat(s) are by avocation democratic, so if the majority is leaning politically right they are more likely to accept a right wing future than Republicans are to accept a politically left leaning future. The right is just always more enthused about forcing everyone to live according to their rules than is the left. But then, actual enthusiasm is not a central component of the likely voter calculation, history is.

Pollsters always push the "likely voter" qualification because it is intuitively the more exact predictor. It is an exact predictor until "enthusiasm" swings, right up to and including the day of the election. It is the old "if the vote were held today" codicil to predictions that allows them to predict in polling at all. But the pitfall of that is a misrepresentation of the political landscape that the press and polls undertake at the risk of being proved wrong, like the market crash of 2008 propelled Obama to a 6 point lead and win out of a virtual tie. Happily for the press and pollsters, the public has the long term memory of a mayfly (lifespan one day).

Conspiracy theorists might jump to the conclusion that the conservative owned press is willfully misrepresenting the public temperament. More likely is that the American press has just become too lazy and arrogant to care whether what they are fed by pollsters who should know what is happening in fact do not know what is happening, or even whether they are being fed propaganda crap by them. The drumbeat of the Democrats being beat like a drum is everywhere that Fox News can feed a tag line. The somnambulism of the left, having won something but not so much that it appears to have upset business as usual, is innervated further by dire predictions of losing even what has been accomplished. Time for the left to surrender, according to Fox.

Fox, CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN and Republicans, listen up and listen tight, surrender is not a word any American takes lightly.

Bold-blue emphasis mine