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How The Tea Party Saved A Trillion And Cost Us Trillions More

Tea Party Republicans rejoiced when the debt ceiling deal was signed into law. On paper, the cost cutting will shave $1 trillion off of the national debt. However, nobody mentioned that there will be immediate and extremely damaging consequences to the nation’s and the world’s economies. When S&P downgraded the credit rating of the United States there were immediate consequences. Although some experts say that the change was a mere slap on the wrist and others believe that a single investment management company pressured S&P into making the change, we can already see adverse changes as a result of the Tea Party “victory”. Short term loans are going to cost more. The $1 trillion in savings over 10 years will be completely wiped out by the extra interest charges that the US government will have to start paying right now.

Even worse that that, in the seven days since the announcement of the deal, the world’s equity markets have lost $4.5 trillion in value and they are very likely to lose more in the next few days as the realization of what has happened sinks in. From now on, every time the debt ceiling has to be raised there will be another long and wasteful battle, not all of which can be guaranteed to be settled in time to avoid a total calamity. The Dow-Jones suffered its ninth largest drop in history yesterday. If the markets don’t rally soon we’ll be plunged into a second recession, possibly worse than the first, as we are in a much weaker situation now. This is fiscal irresponsibility at its worst.

Tea Party members seem to think that all of this is a good idea. They hope to “starve the Beast”, as President Ronald Reagan put it. They think that by cutting funding for government they’ll shutdown programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. They believe that they can oust President Obama in 2012 by making it seem that all of this is his fault, when President Bush singlehandedly almost doubled the nation’s debt.

What the Tea Party members don’t seem to realize is that the first people to starve will be ordinary working Americans, all of whom have seen the values of their houses and other assets drop in the past couple of years. Well done Tea Party morons! You’ve taken another great step in turning over our nation to the corporations and the very richest Americans. Why don’t you change your name to the Serfer’s Party? That’s what you seem to be bent on doing. Turning most of us into serfs.

Footnote: Later today, CNN reported that – “Though observers said S&P’s downgrade shouldn’t matter all that much, the market wasn’t buying it. ‘Investors are having one reaction to the downgrade: Sell first and ask questions later,’ said Paul Zemsky, head of asset allocation with ING Investment Management.”

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Debt Ceiling Deal Contains A Trojan Elephant

An enduring and educational story emerged from the Trojan War of around 13BC to 12BC concerning the tale of the Trojan Horse. Here’s how it goes – “In one version, after a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of 30 men inside. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy.

That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greek army entered and destroyed the city of Troy, decisively ending the war.” – Wikipedia

The Republicans planted their Trojan Elephant on Sunday, July 31, 2011 when they cemented a deal with the Democrats and the White House to allow the debt ceiling to be raised. They aren’t planning to destroy their feeding trough, the city of Washington, DC, but they are continuing their war against ordinary Americans. A war fought for large corporations, including foreign ones, and the richest few percent of Americans. The deal places conditions on the raising of the debt ceiling and involves a complex sequence of decisions and outcomes. The chart below spells out the steps involved and the consequences.

Understanding The Debt Ceiling Deal – Source: Washington Post

The “Super Congress”
The Trojan Elephant is the innocent looking Joint Committee. It will consist of six Republicans and six Democrats tasked with hammering out the exact details of the cuts to be made. Note that there are no revenue increases, such as removing the Bush tax cuts fro the extremely rich. The Joint Committee only deals with cuts. Their recommendations will be formed behind closed doors, with no monitoring or publishing of their activities, making them prime lobbyist prey. Even worse, their recommendations can’t be debated or changed when they are presented to congress, but merely be given an up or down vote.

Some people think that the whole “Super Congress” notion that the Joint Committee embodies is unconstitutional or just plain illegal. However, in principle, it’s no different from many other task forces and committees that congress appoints to deal with detailed business, so it will probably endure. The kinds of cuts that it is supposed to cover are distasteful to both parties, so you have to hope that they will come out with sensible recommendations. Given the whole unwarranted debate over this particular debt ceiling housekeeping task, the signs aren’t encouraging. If the Republicans send in six Tea Party members here won’t be a meaningful debate.

What’s inside the Trojan Elephant?
It really doesn’t matter what the Joint Committee recommends. If they don’t do anything, stalemate, or send completely unacceptable recommendations to congress, cuts will start happening automatically, across the board. That will cause a little pain to the Republicans, but a lot more pain to the vast majority of Americans, as social programs that have been developed over decades are shredded. The cuts won’t stimulate our economy, but may very well bring on a “double dip” recession. That, unfortunately, is exactly what the Republicans want. They don’t want to see thriving middle and working class Americans. They are hell-bent on bringing down President Obama and delivering a nation of serfs who are subservient to the rich and powerful.

The Republicans’ Trojan Elephant is in place and the President has allowed it to be brought inside the walls of the city. Only the populace at large can defeat whatever emerges from it – preferably by voting the libertarian economic terrorists out of office in 2012.

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Who Ran Up The Debt Anyway?

As the debt ceiling non-debate continues, the Republicans repeatedly regurgitate their line about “President Obama’s deficit” and how he grew it by a trillion Dollars. They seem to have forgotten that he had to bail out the auto industry and pump money into the economy to try to get the nation out of the biggest recession since the Great Depression. A recession caused by lack of control of our key financial institutions, which had been largely deregulated by Republican administrations.

The most recent example that we’ve witnessed was by a Tea Party Senator who was being quizzed by an MSNBC anchorman yesterday evening. When confronted with the facts, the Tea Party Senator dodged the question, became confrontational and insisted on pushing his pre-scripted talking point about President Obama’s “excessive overspending”. As we shall see, he was very under-informed about the facts.

Let’s take a close look at the additional spending that occurred because of actions taken by President Bush and that is projected to occur as a result of President Obama’s actions. Here are the major items:

  1. President Bush spent almost $1.5 trillion on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and didn’t count them as a part of his annual budgets. President Obama has shut down the Iraq War, but increased expenditures on the Afghanistan war and may spend around $700 million on the military action in Libya (which is about the cost of four days of the Afghanistan war effort).
  2. President Bush gave away over $1.8 trillion in tax cuts for the extremely rich and for corporations. President Obama spent $425 billion on stimulus tax cuts after the recession that the Bush administration caused. In other words, a more correct figure is $2.225 trillion in tax cuts as a result of President Bush’s mismanagement.
  3. Non-defense discretionary spending amounted to $608 billion under President Bush, more than twice the $278 billion that President Obama is expected to spend.
  4. President Bush spent a total of just under $1 trillion on bailouts and stimulus funding ($224 billion on TARP and $773 billion on the 2008 stimulus attempts). President Obama spent $711 on stimulus funding. Again, the true tally should be $224+773+711, i.e. $1.708 trillion as a result of Bush’s actions and zero as a result of President Obama’s policy changes.
  5. President Bush spent $180 billion on unfunded Medicare drug benefit changes that primarily put money into the hands of the Big Pharmas. President Obama spent $152 billion on health care reform and entitlement changes. Incidentally, the Republicans continually lie about the latter figure when they say that “Obamacare”, their deprecatory label for the health care reform bill, will cost $1 trillion. It won’t and they know it. If they were to repeal it the cost over ten years would be around $340 billion.

On paper, President Bush added a total of $5.07 trillion to the debt and President Obama will add $1.44 trillion. However, approximately $1.14 of the latter figure is as a result of President Bush’s mismanagement of the economy. In other words, the real numbers should be $6.21 trillion of additional spending by President Bush and only $0.3 trillion by President Obama. If you add in the $126 billion in savings that President Obama will make on defense spending, he will only be responsible for about $0.17 trillion of new spending, about 4% of what President Bush was responsible for. As the total national debt is around $14.7 trillion, President Bush singlehandedly created almost half of it!

Additional Spending As A Result Of Changes Made By Presidents Bush and Obama (Source: The Atlantic).

It’s no wonder that the Republicans don’t want to look back at the real reasons that we have to raise the debt ceiling. Let’s hope that President Obama and the Democrats can leverage the real facts in 2012.

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The Great Debt Ceiling Non-Debate

Many Republicans, especially the Tea Party types, are unworried about the potential consequences of not raising the debt ceiling. One line of argument takes the line that monthly government income is more than enough to pay for essential services, such as servicing the debt loan, paying for the military, veteran’s pensions and even the social programs that they hate most – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

What they appear to be deliberately overlooking is that it isn’t clear that the Treasury can actually pick and choose who it pays first without serious and long term consequences. They’re already paying things in order of priority to the maximum of their legal ability. A stop-gap bill that tries to make sure that seniors, veterans, loan payments and so on are paid first won’t avoid the long term damage.

Perhaps the most important is the potential effect on the credit status of the USA. The country has always been regarded as a rock solid credit risk, but that’s probably going to change now whether or not the debt ceiling is raised in time to avoid the obvious consequences. The nation currently borrows money at an interest rate of approximately 3.29% per annum. We pay about $800 billion a year in interest charges on the national debt. If the interest rate goes up by 1% (and some analysts in the City of London are talking about at least 2%) we’ll be paying an extra $8 billion a year. That’s hardly a fiscally conservative move, Conservatives! If the government is paying an extra 1% we can expect credit card and mortgage interest rates to increase by at least as much.

The real risk of another Great Depression
If the Federal Reserver raises interest rates by as little as 0.25% the stock market suffers immediately. If the rate stays at a higher level for long, which it would have to, the economy will probably go into a deep recession. That will cost more jobs, lowering government revenues and potentially raising the debt even higher. I’m sick of hearing the GOP refer to Obama’s trillion Dollar deficit. President George W. Bush created the deficit and President Obama has had to spend money to help the economy recover. Arguably, if the Republicans had let him spend more at the start of the recession, we’d be out of it by now. They don’t want that, of course. Forcing the middle classes into submission and making the President look bad are a part of their standard political agenda.

You might wonder why none of this happened during or after the two government shutdowns that occurred during the Clinton administration. We didn’t go into recession back then because the economy was in very good shape, largely fueled by the “Dot Com” World Wide Web revolution. Nobody raised interest rates on us because they could see the upswing in the economy and weren’t worried about our ability, or willingness, to pay our debts. President Clinton raised taxes and paid off the deficit, leaving a surplus for President Bush to squander away, in exactly the same way that all Republican presidents have in the past century or so.

What happened last time the government shut down?
The most significant shutdown was the second 1996 one. Here’s an overview of the immediate consequences:

  • Federal employees furloughed: All federal employees other than those providing essential services (vital to national defense, public health and safety, or other crucial operations) were furloughed immediately. This saved money short term, but they were eventually paid, so we wasted money. Not paying them would be a breach of contract and could lead to additional legal costs and penalties.
  • Health:There were multiple immediate effects, including:
    • Not accepting new patients into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center.
    • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ceased disease surveillance, so information about the spread of diseases, such as AIDS and flu, was unavailable.
    • Hotline calls to the NIH concerning diseases were not answered.
    • Toxic waste clean-up work at 609 sites stopped, resulting in 2,400 “Superfund” workers being sent home.
  • Law Enforcement/Public Safety: Essential services continued, but:
    • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms ceased processing of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives applications. Although this seems trivial it halted work on mining and construction projects. A similar halt in Minnesota is currently causing the shutdown of bars and liquor outlets.
    • Work on more than 3,500 bankruptcy cases was suspended.
    • Cancellation of the recruitment and testing of federal law-enforcement officials occurred, including the hiring of 400 border patrol agents.
    • Delinquent child-support cases were suspended, causing increased hardship to vulnerable single parent families.
  • Parks/Museums/Monuments: Closure of 368 National Park Service sites (loss of 7 million visitors) occurred, with local communities near national parks losing an estimated $14.2 million per day in tourism revenues; and closure of national museums and monuments (an estimated loss of 2 million visitors) occurred.
  • Visas/Passports: 20,000-30,000 applications by foreigners for visas went unprocessed each day; 200,000 U.S. applications for passports went unprocessed; and U.S. tourist industries and airlines sustained millions of dollars in losses.
  • American Indian/other Native Americans: All 13,500 Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) employees were furloughed; general assistance payments for basic needs to 53,000 BIA benefit recipients were delayed; and an estimated 25,000 American Indians did not receive timely payment of oil and gas royalties, causing local economic recessions and hardship.
  • American Veterans: There were major curtailment in services, ranging from health and welfare to finance and travel problems.
  • Federal Contractors: This is a major portion of the service segment, as private companies have offshored everything they can. The main effects were:
    • Of $18 billion in Washington area contracts, $3.7 billion (over 20%) were managed by agencies affected by the funding lapse.
    • The National Institute of Standards, was unable to issue a new standard for lights and lamps, scheduled to be effective January 1, 1996. Although this seems trivial, it delayed energy savings essential to the nation’s economic health.
    • Employees of federal contractors were furloughed without pay.

The Tea Party wants to eliminate the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency and many other government services that annoy their corporate and excessively wealthy masters, so shutting down those services seems like a good idea to them. How long will it take for your favorite local polluter, such as Koch Industries, to poison your water supply? Although the Tea Party morons think that only “the government” will be affected by inaction, the reality is that private companies and vulnerable individuals suffer most.

A debate that should never have happened
This debate should never have happened. The Tea Party is strong-arming the Republican leadership into turning a routine piece of government accounting into a nightmare for their own political ends, which aren’t in the interests in the vast majority of voters. None of the proposals on the table has a hope of making it through both houses before the deadline of August 2. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even proposed a bill that was exactly the set of provisions that the Republicans had first asked for. He even left out increasing taxes on the rich and closing corporate tax loopholes. The Republicans turned it down! They turned down their own proposal!

I think that the deadline will be upon us when both houses vote on a single line bill that simply increases the debt ceiling, with no other embellishments at all, just as they always have in the past. Then perhaps we can get back to talking about job creation, fixing our infrastructure and putting changes in place to preserve Medicare and Medicaid. Social Security is in good shape, despite what the GOP and Faux News would have you believe. However, if we can’t compete as a nation and pay off our debts, we’ll soon be the fifth most powerful nation in the World, behind China, Brazil, India and Russia. Maybe we should get it over with and outsource Congress to the lowest bidder right now.

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Psychologically Disturbed

We were hoping that we’d never have to mention Glenn Beck again after Fox News discarded him as his ratings plummeted. Yesterday, however, he hit a new low on his radio talk show, by saying that the youth camp in Norway where almost 70 people, including many children, were gunned down reminded him of Adolf Hitler’s infamous Hitler Youth. Beck generally reserves references to Hitler and the Nazis for sniping at Democrats and President Obama. Here’s what he said on his radio show on Monday: “There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler youth. I mean, who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics? Disturbing.”

His statement horrified the Norwegians, provoking Torbjørn Eriksen, the former press secretary to Norway’s prime minister, to issue a statement saying – “Young political activists have gathered at Utoya for over 60 years to learn about and be part of democracy, the very opposite of what the Hitler Youth was about. Glenn Beck’s comments are ignorant, incorrect and extremely hurtful.”

Tea Party Summer Camps
Beck obviously hasn’t heard of the “vacation liberty schools” being run in several US states this summer, where children as young as eight are taught a Tea Party-endorsed curriculum spanning religion, political principles and economics. Given the total lack of understanding of the basics of the economics connected to the debt ceiling on the part of Tea Party congressional members, that’s all a bit worrying. One such venue, Tampa Liberty School, organized by Conservative writer Jeff Lukens and staffed by volunteers from the 912 Project met every morning July 11-15 at the Paideia Christian school in Tampa, Florida. Here’s a game on that summer camp’s agenda:

“Starting in an austere room where they are made to sit quietly, symbolizing Europe, the children will pass through an obstacle course to arrive at a brightly decorated party room (the New World). Red-white-and-blue confetti will be thrown. But afterward the kids will have to clean up the confetti, learning that with freedom comes responsibility.”

That sounds like fun, but it’s not exactly a true representation of historical facts. Real history also tells us that the lives of the earliest European settlers in the New World were very far from cause for celebration. Tea partiers like re-writing history, with Michelle Bachmann being one of their most fertile producers of fictional “history”. I also doubt that there’s any mention of the scientific revolution that was going on in the early 17th. century in Europe. The Tea Party really hates science, as does Glenn Beck. The Christian right-wing isn’t exactly very tolerant of Muslims and people of many other faiths either. They were exactly the kind of people in Europe that the Pilgrims wanted to escape from.

Something in common?
Lawyers for the person suspected of being the perpetrator of the bombing and shootings in Norway are pushing the argument that he is psychologically disturbed and unfit to stand trial. Having read some of the material on his web site, I’m inclined to agree, though I’m not in any kind of position to make a professional assessment. Coincidentally, it isn’t very different from the kinds of arguments that Glenn Beck makes. The European Union is stepping up its investigation of right wing hate groups. They should start with a summer camp on Glenn Beck and his “teachings” and insane propagandist rantings.

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I Ain’t Related To No Chimpanzee!

We apologize in advance for the appallingly bad grammar in the title, but we’ve been reading a lot of right wing blogs lately as a part of our attempt to get multiple perspectives on issues of the day. We won’t bore you with the xenophobic, racist and often downright illiterate material to be found there, much of which revolves around denigrating our President, or invoking Hitler, the Nazis, Fascists and Communism when referencing the Democrats and their ideas. We did find one attitude that needs correction though, so we’ll arm you with some useful arguments. It’s the one characterized by our headline today, which is symptomatic of an anti-science attitude that seems to be taking over the right and is endemic in the Tea Party, along with an abysmal lack of knowledge of basic economics, if the debt ceiling debate is anything to go by.

The line of argument concerns the absurdity (to the proponents of the argument) of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Amazingly, the basic premise of the disbelievers, lead by the Creationists and Intelligent Design crowd, i.e. that we can’t possibly have been descended from monkeys/chimpanzees/gorillas/baboons etc., is actually correct! Most scientists with any knowledge of the principles of evolution will readily concede that humans weren’t descended from any of those other primate species. The anti-evolutionists seem to be right.

The scientific evidence
[I've started a new paragraph to allow anti-evolutionists to misquote this whole article by only cutting and pasting the above one.]

Unfortunately, neither Darwin nor any other zoologist or biologist claims that those other primate species are our ancestors. Instead, modern DNA research has vindicated Darwin’s deduction that all primates, indeed all plants and animals, share a a common ancestor. We wrote about the tree of life in an article1 a few months ago.

The Higher Primates sub-tree has many branches, traceable back to about 40 million years ago, when the lemurs and marmosets went off on a path of their own. We diverged from the baboons and proboscis monkeys about 35 million years ago, then from gibbons, orangutans, gorillas and eventually chimpanzees about 30, 14, 8 and 6 million years ago, respectively. We appear to have diverged from the last of the other man-like species, the Neanderthals, only about a half million years ago. So, the other primates aren’t our ancestors, but we share a common ancestry. In other words, the premise in our title is wrong!

The mechanisms that lead to distinct new species emerging are complex, but quite well understood. It’s easy to find examples of evolution going on all around us, especially in closed environments such as the Galapagos Islands. Humans are still evolving too, sometimes in disturbing ways, such as the genetic mutations that appear to have introduced the possibility of developing conditions such as Down’s Syndrome. Environmental conditions can cause changes too. It seems likely that some humans developed darker skins as a result of much higher exposure to ultraviolet rays around the tropics than others in more Northern or Southern latitudes. Unfortunately, for natural or human-caused reasons, some species are extinct or close to extinction too. Not every branch on the tree of life succeeds.

How to confuse a Creationist
I’m reminded of a rather “politically incorrect” joke that somebody told me when I was a kid – “How do you make an [fill in a nationality] dizzy?. Put them in a barrel and tell them to stand in the corner!” That’s cruel when used in anger, but let’s apply the same principle to a seemingly dimwitted segment of our countrymen and women, the Creationists, and ask them a few leading questions. It really doesn’t matter which part of the Bible you choose, as much of it probably wasn’t meant to be taken literally, but let’s take the story of Noah’s Ark as an example. This, incidentally, was just one of the many topics I got into trouble over at Sunday School as a kid.

I’m sure that you know the gist of the story. God instructed Noah to build an Ark and take a pair of every kind of animal onboard to ride out a great flood that was to cleanse the Earth of sinners. God was so successful in this endeavor that only Noah’s family and the creatures in his Ark endured. After things had dried out, the animals were released and things carried on, minus the sinners. Biblical scholars place the event somewhere in the 5th century BC.

A few problems immediately stick out like sore thumbs, so please ask your Creationist friends or online acquaintances for answers to these questions:

  1. The Chinese have a written history that dates back to around 1,500BC. How did they survive (and thrive) if the Ark’s inhabitants were the only survivors of the Great Flood in 500BC?
  2. How did Noah live to be (according to Biblical scholars) over 600 years old?
  3. According to the dimensions mentioned in the Bible, the Ark had a capacity of roughly 5,000 cubic yards. That would only be enough room to house a few hundred pairs of the larger kinds of animal. We can ignore the almost 10,000 species of birds, which might have been able to sit shoulder to shoulder on the roof and deck, plus the 36,000 species of fish and amphibians. But what about the 14,000 known species of mammals and reptiles? There wouldn’t have been room for them all, unless the Bible is wrong, and everyone knows that it’s always right, right?
  4. How did Noah catch them all, especially the more than a million species of invertebrates (insects, mollusks, crustaceans etc.)?
  5. God appears to have given him about 20 to 40 years to build and stock his Ark. Did Noah travel all around the World to round all of the animals up? It took Charles Darwin a total of nine years to complete his two epic voyages in search of flora and fauna in the H.M.S. Beagle, which was almost certainly a lot faster ship than Noah’s Ark. How long did Noah take?
    • Noah would have had to locate and trap (or entice) an average of one or two species of animal or reptile per day.
    • He’d have had to trap 26 different species of invertebrate per minute, working 24 hours a day.
    • He’d actually have had to work harder than that because of the traveling time involved between continents (which were well formed at the time).
  6. Curiously though, Noah seems to have taken only seven days to load his Ark. That’s about three animals a minute, so he must have been a pretty good shepherd and the lions, tigers and venomous creatures must have been pre-crated.
    • Did he build a big zoo to house his captives in the interim?
    • Did he run out of time and leave the dinosaurs behind? [Just kidding, they died out 60 million years ago.]
  7. Did he discover America and Australia on his travels? If so, how did his ancestors come to forget about them?
  8. Darwin only scratched the surface in his extensive search for new species. We’ve discovered tens of thousands of others in the past hundred or so years alone. How did Noah know about them all? Did they simply find Noah, walking tens of thousands of miles to get to the Ark?
  9. The Bible doesn’t mention any attempt to preserve plants by taking them on board the Ark. They would all have died out under the floodwater, which would have been many miles deep in places and at least twenty feet deep at its shallowest. Did Noah collect over 300,000 different types of seeds or spore? if so, how? They can’t have walked to the Ark.
  10. Many of the animals have very specialized diets. Where did Noah store or grow their food? He’d have needed at least another Ark of the same size to feed his captives.
  11. There’s no mention of Noah returning the more than a million species to their original homes. How did they get back there, as we know that there are no indigenous elephants in Australia, nor kangaroos in the Americas? It’s a long way to swim home.

Of course, it may be that Noah just took them back to roughly where they were found, dropping off a couple of hundred thousand species per continent. Or maybe there weren’t as many species back then, but lots more new ones evolved later…. Oops!

 1  The Origins Of Our Species – A Bit Of Extra Homework.

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A Sad Day For Norway And Humanity

I’ve travelled all over the world, but when people ask me to list my favorite cities I always put Oslo, Norway at the top, followed by Santiago, Chile. Oslo is wonderful at this time of year, especially on a fine night. You can sit outside and listen to jazz and other musicians in the wee hours of the morning in broad daylight. I have fond memories of seeing a bunch of outrageously drunk Laplanders, newly rich from the sale of pelts,being ejected from the lunch buffet at the Grand Hotel by a policeman who used the simple device of grabbing their bottles of Aquavit and leading them outside, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Oslo is further North than 49 of the US states, so it’s cold in the winter, but it’s always a special place to visit. The Viking Ship Museum hosts huge longboats, which were much larger than we’d ever imagined, and Nansen and Amundsen’s Fram, the wooden sailing ship that held the record for traveling “Furthest North and Furthest South”. A few weeks ago the state television service ran live streamed video for five and a half days from a ship on the famous Hurtigruten, arguably the most beautiful sea voyage in the world. It runs from Bergen on the South East coast to Kirkenes in the extreme North East of the country, inside the Arctic Circle. I watched some of it when the ship visited places that I’d been.

A double tragedy
We were shocked today to hear about a double tragedy in Norway. There was a bombing in Oslo at a government building, possibly as a reaction to the countries involvement in the conflict in Libya. At least seven people died. Then there was a cowardly attack on children at a summer camp run by one of the left-wing political parties. As many as 80 people may have been gunned down on the small island near Oslo where the camp was being held. A suspect is in custody and he may be involved in both attacks.

Norway is a small country of just under five million people, about 10% of whom live in and around Oslo. The country is a constitutional monarchy, headed by King Harald V. My family saw him, a handsome young Prince in 1981, strolling around the city, chatting and joking with Norwegians and tourists, with one soldier in ceremonial attire “guarding” him. His father, King Olaf, waved at us from the deck of his yacht as we passed him on a boat in a narrow fjord. In those days you could walk right up to the gardens at the rear of the Royal Palace and peer into the lowest floor without anyone asking why you felt the need to do it. Happy Days!

Unfortunately, we’re now in the 21st century and even Norway isn’t immune from the kind of terrorist attacks that many other Western cities have seen. Our hearts go out to the people of Norway, particularly those in Oslo and the families of the victims. It’s a sad day for humanity in general and Norway in particular.

Footnote: The death toll on the island of Utoya had risen to 84 by late Friday. Police charged a 32-year-old Oslo resident and Norwegian citizen on suspicion of the twin attacks. Media reports identified the man as Anders Behring Breivik. His Facebook postings paint a picture of a blond-haired and blue-eyed Christian right-wing extremist with anti-Muslim views. He may have run a company named Geofarm, but that could have been a cover to allow him to buy fertilizer to be used in a car bomb.

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Why The Brain’s Clock Mechanism Starts Degenerating In Middle Age

Circadian rhythms are built-in, self sustained and roughly 24-hour cycles in biochemical, physiological, or behavioural processes. In many organisms, including humans, there is a master circadian clock, known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), in the hypothalamus region of the brain. The SCN controls the timing of the sleep-wake cycle and many other rhythmic and non-rhythmic processes in the body.

A large number of older people have difficulty sleeping, adjusting to time changes and performing well on shift work. They can also be less alert when awake as a result of changes in the sleep-awake cycle. A new study casts light on changes that occur in the SCN as we age. In time, this may lead to ways to moderate, or perhaps even stop, the changes.

Bring on the mice…
A team lead by UCLA Chancellor Gene Block successfully recorded electrical activity from the brain’s SCN in living mice. This is both the first time that this has been achieved in middle-aged animals and that scientists have watched the central biological clock of aging animals in action. The researchers studied young (just a few months old) mice and middle-aged mice that were more than a year old. The researchers found that SCN brain cells are electrically active during the day and electrically silent during the night in younger animals and younger people, but that difference is reduced with aging. They found that critical neural activity rhythms were already disrupted in middle age, but there was no significant change in the molecular mechanisms that generate these rhythms.

Block, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and of physiological science said – “The question is, what changes in the nervous system underlie all of that? This paper suggests a primary cause of at least some of these changes is a reduction in the amplitude of the rhythmic signals from the SCN.” Study co-author Christopher Colwell, a UCLA professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences who has conducted research with Block for many years, added – “These results indicate that the outputs of the central circadian clock start to decline in middle age and suggest that the same may be true in humans. Before this study, we did not know that the SCN was the site where the decline occurs.”

Block also said that – “The changes we observed in the electrical rhythm between the young and middle-aged animals, which are quite dramatic, occur even though we do not see significant changes in the underlying molecular rhythm. Our hypothesis is that the age-related changes in the circadian timing system are primarily occurring, at least initially, at the level of the electrical output signaling, perhaps mediated by changes in the cell-membrane properties of SCN clock cells. This is good news, because it points where in the cell to look for the age-related ‘lesion’ and thus helps inform what type of measures may be available to reduce these age-related deficits.”

 1  “Age-Related Decline in Circadian Output” – Takahiro J. Nakamura, Wataru Nakamura, Shin Yamazaki, Takashi Kudo, Tamara Cutler, Christopher S. Colwell, and Gene D. Block – The Journal of Neuroscience, 13 July 2011, 31(28):10201-10205; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0451-11.2011.

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A Fox News Master Class In Spin Doctoring

“In public relations, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing an interpretation of an event or campaign to persuade public opinion in favor or against a certain organization or public figure. While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, “spin” often, though not always, implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics.” – Wikipedia

Nobody knows more about spin doctoring, the professional use of spinning techniques to change public opinion of a circumstance, than Fox (“Faux”) News. Their staff lie continuously and when lying isn’t enough to conceal a publicly known fact they bring in the “spin doctors” to analyze a situation to death and reposition it. Hence, President George Bush’s deficit becomes “The Obama deficit”. President Obama’s Recovery Act initiative, which spends government money short term to help start an economic recovery, becomes “Obama’s trillion Dollar deficit building”. At least three Faux News morons, one just last week, have insisted that no terrorist attacks occurred on US soil during George W. Bush’s Presidency from 1/1/2001 until 2008. Maybe they weren’t on this planet on 9/11/2001.

The voicemail hacking scandal
If you’ve only been watching Faux News you probably won’t know much about the hacking scandal going on over in the United Kingdom. Some employees of the News of the World (NoW), like Fox News a News Corporation company, had already been convicted of hacking into the voicemail of celebrities and royal family staff. The scandal has changed from a snowball to an avalanche. The former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) was arrested on wiretapping and corruption charges. Even the Prime Minister is involved, as he employed the former NoW CEO as his Communications Director.

We covered the allegations and timeline in a recent article. Since then, the head of the [London] Metropolitan Police and the Assistant Commissioner of Police have resigned and the most recent CEO of the NoW has been arrested and charged similarly to her predecessor. Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who heads News Corporation, had to personally apologize to the family of a murdered teenager whose voicemail was hacked into by the NoW after her death, possibly impeding police investigations.

Fox News Tries To Conceal The Facts
All of this is highly embarrassing for the NoW’s sister company Fox News. They ignored the story for months, but when Rupert Murdoch, his son and the CEO of the NoW were summonsed to Parliament to answer questions about the allegations and the FBI launched an investigation into corruption allegations, Fox News was forced to start countering the adverse publicity that other news outlets were giving the scandal.

The following clip, which includes MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow debunking just one of their attempts, is astonishing and educational. Rachel’s reaction to it is hilarious. Remember that some News of the World staff have already been tried and convicted on hacking charges. The new allegations involve the NoW hacking into the voicemails of between 3,000 and 4,000 individuals, including the families of murder and 9/11 victims. The NoW is, in all likelihood, the hacker. It is definitely not the victim of any known hacking attempt. Watch the Fox News spin doctor, Bob Dillenschneider, position the company as the victim, not the hacker, a few sentences into his sales pitch… Sorry!… interview.

Related articles:

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Accentuate The Positive And Age Better

German neuroscientists conducted a study1 in young and old adults where they used neuroimaging to evaluate how much attention subjects were paying when were they were shown either neutral, happy, sad or fearful faces. They were trying to assess the validity of theories that propound that people who have a tendency and preference to seek positive, emotionally gratifying experiences age better. An example would be a focus on short-term rather than long-term priorities.

When the older subjects were undertaking parts of a task that didn’t require as much attention as others they were significantly more distracted by the happy faces. They showed increased activity in the part of the brain that helps control emotions. This stronger activity correlated with the subjects who exhibited the the greatest emotional stability. The scientists, lead by author Dr. Stefanie Brassen, suggest that – “Motivational goal-shifting in healthy aging leads to a self-regulated engagement in positive emotions even when this is not required by the setting. In addition, our finding of a relationship between rostral anterior cingulate cortex activity and emotional stability further strengthens the hypothesis that this increased emotional control in aging enhances emotional well being.”

Got that? OK then, take a look at this clip from Dennis Potter’s masterpiece “The Singing Detective”. I hope it cheers you up.

 1  “Anterior Cingulate Activation Is Related to a Positivity Bias and Emotional Stability in Successful Aging” by Stefanie Brassen, Matthias Gamer, and Christian Büchel – Biological Psychiatry, Volume 70, Number 2 (July 1, 2011), published by Elsevier.

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The Worms Turn

Rupert Murdoch, the news mogul, has been at the center of a phone hacking and corruption storm over the past few months that has now turned into a tornado that may severely damage his empire, News Corporation. Today, Rupert Murdoch and his son James were summonsed to appear before Members of Parliament in the UK to answer questions about allegations of illegal phone hackings. They had previously indicated that they were “too busy”, but ignoring Parliament could have lead to their deportation. Although born in Australia, both are now American citizens.

The company, headquartered in New York but incorporated in Delaware, is the second largest media organization in the world, after the Walt Disney Company. News Corp. owns: two book companies (HarperCollins and a Christian book publisher); 60 newspapers in a half dozen countries, including the Wall Street Journal and the formerly prestigious The Times in the UK; 30 magazines; two Russian media groups; the Fox Film Music Group; four sports teams; including the Colorado Rockies; 20 studios; 16 broadcast companies; 86 broadcasting groups and TV channels (including the Fox News right wing propaganda channel); two cable companies; 33 Internet companies and a couple of dozen of other related companies.

How did this happen?
The allegations of phone hackings have become increasingly sensational as they have unfolded. Revelations involving politicians, celebrities and even people close to the Royal family were surprising, but didn’t cause Rupert Murdoch, possibly the most powerful man in the world, too much trouble. The tipping point was one involving a murder victim. Here’s a chronology of events so far:

  • 2000 – Rebekah Wade appointed editor of Britain’s best-selling Sunday tabloid, the extremely trashy News of the World (NoW).
  • 2002 – UK Teenager Milly Dowler disappears in March. Her remains are found in September.
  • 2003 – Wade becomes editor of daily tabloid The Sun, sister paper to the News of the World, then admits to a parliamentary committee that her paper paid police (including New Scotland Yard detectives) for information.
  • November 2005 – The NoW publishes a story on Prince William’s knee injury. Royal staff members complain about voicemail messages having being intercepted and a police inquiry is launched.
    • January 2007 – The News of the World’s royal affairs editor Clive Goodman is jailed for four months and his accomplice, private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, is given a six-month prison term.
    • After their sentencing, NoW editor Andy Coulson resigns, saying he took “ultimate responsibility.”
    • May 2007 – Conservative Party leader David Cameron appoints Coulson as the Party’s Director of Communications.
  • June 2009 – Rebekah Wade becomes CEO of News International, marries and becomes Rebekah Brooks.
  • July 2009 – Rival newspaper, the Guardian, says NoW reporters illegally accessed messages from the mobile phones of celebrities and politicians while Coulson was editor and that senior managers knew about it.
  • September 2009 – The executive chairman of Murdoch’s newspaper arm in Britain tells a committee of legislators that any problem with phone hacking was limited to one already well-publicized case. He says they carried out a wide review and found no new evidence.
  • February 2010 – The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sports Committee disagrees, saying that it was “inconceivable” that managers at the paper did not know about the practice and that they believe it was more widespread than the paper had admitted.
  • September 2010 – Parliament calls for a deeper investigation.
  • January 2011 – British police open a new investigation into allegations of phone hacking at the tabloid. Senior police officials had previously resisted conducting an inquiry.
    • Coulson resigns as Cameron’s communications chief.
  • April 2011 – Two NoW reporters are arrested in connection with the case and the company admits its role in the phone hacking for the first time.
  • June 2011 – Milly Dowler’s murderer is convicted.
  • July 2011 -The family’s lawyer says he learned from police that the schoolgirl’s voicemail messages had been hacked while police were searching for her. Police also announce that they are looking at a similar case involving the NoW in another part of the UK.
    • Police soon reveal that NoW journalists deleted voicemails in order to gather more information, leading the family and police to hold out hope that she was still alive. if true, that would have very serious criminal consequences for the people involved and possibly their management too.
    • July 5, News International provides emails to the police that show that Coulson knew about payments to detectives.
      • The list of people who may have been targeted includes victims of the London suicide bombings of 2005, and the parents of Madeleine McCann, who disappeared in Portugal in 2007.
    • July 6 – Cameron says that he is “revolted” by allegations that investigators from the paper eavesdropped on the voicemail of victims of crimes and says he will order an inquiry.
      • Murdoch launches an internal investigation.
      • The UK’s Daily Telegraph alleges that the NoW staff hacked into the phones of relatives of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • July 7 – The authority overseeing the possible purchase of BSkyB (equivalent to DirecTV over here) puts the acquisition on hold.
  • July 8 – Prime Minster David Cameron promises sweeping news regulatory rules for the British press and calls for a public inquiry. He also defends his appointment of Coulson.
    • Coulson is arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications and suspicion of corruption.
    • Former royal editor, Goodman, is arrested in connection with a police operation looking at alleged payments to police by journalists at the paper.
    • Murdoch shocks everyone by announcing that the NoW will close after its next edition.
  • July 10 – The News of the World publishes its last edition.
  • July 12 – More allegations emerge, involving victims of the 9/11 attack. Politicians in the United States call for an investigation covering that allegation and the possibility that Murdoch may have violated anti-corruption laws by bribing officials of a foreign government.
  • July 13 – News Corp. formally withdraws its bid for BSkyB, a project that Murdoch has been working on for six years.

What’s Next?
Many people close to the scandal have strongly indicated that the worst offenses have yet to be revealed. If the current charges are proven there may be serious side effects for Murdoch’s empire over here. The Federal Communications Commission may decide that he is not of sufficiently reputable character to own the more than 27 TV channels that he runs in the US. They may even take a look at what Fox News has been up to. They routinely harass people that they don’t agree with and its President and Chief Executive, Roger Ailes, who is one of the three board members of News Corp. who is not a Murdoch family member, has consistently run a right wing propaganda machine at “Faux News”, rather than a news channel. A study last year showed that Fox News readers are deliberately fed disinformation and are the least informed about the facts connected to political issues as compared to users of other news sources.

Politicians, not just Conservatives, but including left wing Prime Minister David Blair, many celebrities and even senior police and civil servants in the UK have benefited by cozying up to Murdoch. He has turned the course of elections, notable switching newspaper support from Labour to Conservative in the most recent national election in the UK. However, his recent change in fortunes has many of his former associates spilling the beans or running for the hills.

He has undoubtedly wielded similar political influence here. With over 500 former employees of the NoW (with the notable and curious exception of Rebekah Brooks) looking for jobs, more revelations can be expected soon. Does Brooks know something that Rupert or James Murdoch don’t want her to reveal? Time will tell. The big question is whether or not Murdoch’s empire has actually broken any US laws.

Footnote 1: The FBI has launched an investigation into Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., according to CNN.
Footnote 2: Rebekah Brooks resigned on July 15, 2011.

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Porcelain Unicorn

Sir Ridley Scott, director of one of my favorite movies, “Bladerunner”, awarded the Grand Prize for this year’s Philips Cinema Parallel Lines “Tell It Your Way” international contest to “Porcelain Unicorn”. Entries are constrained to six lines of dialog. The movie speaks for itself.


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Governor Of Texas Ignores The Constitution And Breaks The Law

Yesterday, a Mexican citizen who had been found guilty of a very heinous crime was executed by the state of Texas in accordance with the law. This article isn’t about the case itself, or the person who was executed, but about the Republican Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, the person who last year voiced his opinion that Texas should consider leaving the Union. Governor Perry decided to ignore an International treaty and in doing so violated one of the laws that is very clearly laid out in the Constitution. It’s worth noting that Republicans, particularly the Tea Party fringe, which loves Governor Perry, are very fond of citing the Constitution in support of their arguments, but feel free to ignore, edit or re-interpret it whenever it suits them.

Governor Perry violated the terms of an International treaty, one signed in 1963 and known as the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The United States ratified the treaty on November 24, 1969. Article 36 of the treaty makes it clear that foreign nationals who are arrested or detained must be given notice “without delay” of their right to have their embassy or consulate notified of that arrest. If the detained foreign national so requests, the police must fax that notice to the embassy or consulate, which can then check up on the person. The consulate staff can then decide whether or not to assist the foreign national. Governor Perry repeatedly denied Mexico the right to meet with and help defend the person who was executed yesterday.

Governor Rick Perry broke the law
Whether or not it would have made a difference in this case doesn’t matter. The law is clear and Governor Perry defied it, even ignoring requests from the President that he delay the execution until congress has had a chance to strengthen the law for morons like Perry. You might think that because it’s an International Law, we can choose to ignore it and run by our own rules. That’s not true. According to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers – “The convention is the major worldwide treaty on the topic of consular relations and regulates all aspects of the relationship of consuls to a host government and the consul’s activities. The Vienna Convention is on the same level as constitutional rights granted by the United States Constitution. A federal treaty or statute establishing rules and regulations touching rights, privileges, obligations or burdens of aliens as such is the law of the land, and no state can add to or take from the force and effect thereof.”

Governor Rick Perry ignored the Constitution
The same Association also note that – “The Constitution historically has been construed to extend its protection to aliens. The guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction equal protection of the law applies to all persons, including aliens, whether legally or illegally within the jurisdiction of the state. The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects aliens from being deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”

Governor Perry has failed to perform his duties properly. Article VI of the Constitution makes the scope of such International treaties crystal clear, saying- “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution;”.

The consequences could affect all Americans traveling abroad
This is the first time that I can recall any country having broken the treaty. Even North Korea, a country that we are technically still at war with, honored the treaty in 2009, allowing access to an American journalist who was eventually released without harm. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in favor of the United States when we invoked the treaty to successfully gain access to American hostages in Iran in 1979. We not only signed the treaty, we’ve honored it and benefited from it.

It’s not very likely that Mexico will ask that Governor Perry be brought to trial at the ICJ to resolve the dispute, but they could. Much more importantly, when Governor Perry decided to ignore the Constitution and break the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations he automatically made it possible for all of the other signatory countries to the treaty to regard the broken provision as invalid. That eventuality is spelt out in the wording of the treaty. Mexico could take the stance that is often played out in International diplomacy, and turn the tables on us by simply denying access to American nationals who are arrested there. More importantly, so could the many countries, including most of the Europeans, who openly criticize the use of the death penalty by the United States.

What will happen the next time that Americans are arrested in Iran, North Korea or other countries that dislike us? They can now feel free to ignore this aspect of the treaty and deny our government access to our citizens there. Governor Perry has done the traveling public, especially those who are legitimately or accidentally in unfriendly territories, a huge disservice. The Constitution makes it very clear that he has broken the law – not just International law, but our own law. Governor Perry, who has voiced the opinion that Texas should secede from the Federation, should be charged, tried and brought to justice.

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Republicans Focus On Rigging Elections

One of the topics that we covered while covering Republican lies, sorry “Myths”, was voter fraud [GOP Myths - #6 - Voter Fraud]. If you listen to Fox News and other right wing propaganda organizations you might think that voter fraud is rife. It isn’t. The overwhelming expert opinion is that voter fraud isn’t a real issue. It’s a bullying tactic on the part of the GOP and their hired guns to try to keep people who would almost certainly vote against them from being able to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.

A recent analysis of registered voters showed a very close split between Democrats (41%) and Republicans (39%) with 20% registered as Independent. So, you have to focus on keeping the base happy, winning as many Independents as you can and preventing the opposition from growing their base. In other words, stop them from voting. That’s exactly what the Republicans are trying to do in a co-ordinated nationwide spate of new election legislation, primarily in states with Republican governors.

Ohio Governor replaces one vote prevention law with another
The latest example is occurring in Ohio. In October 2010 we wrote – “Earlier this month, Republicans in Ohio lost their lawsuit challenging a state rule that allows voters to register and vote early on the same day. GOP officials demanded records from all 88 county boards of election identifying every person who took advantage of same-day registration and voting. In one county, the Republican district attorney even opened a grand jury investigation. ‘He’s investigating people who the law says are allowed to vote,’ said Ohio ACLU lawyer Carrie Davis. After it was revealed that the district attorney was also the local chairman of the McCain campaign, he was forced to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the case. This case exemplifies the kinds of attacks on new voters that are going on across the country.”

The Governor of Ohio isn’t giving up. State Sen. Nina Turner (D) pointed out in 2010 that, “Voting in the wrong precinct led over 14,000 registered voters statewide to lose their vote in 2008.” Rating the statement “true,” Politifact reported that “The second most common reason the ballot was not counted was because, while the person was properly registered to vote in Ohio, they cast the ballot in the wrong county or precinct. In all, 14,335 such ballots were not counted for this reason, according to the Brunner report.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer pointed out that mixing up precincts “most often occurs” in “urban and impoverished areas of the state,” leading Turner to sarcastically suggest of Republicans, “I guess the loss of votes for some doesn’t matter.” She’s wrong. It does matter and they want it to happen more.

So, what is the Governor doing to fix the problem? This week he will sign new legislation that removes a highly restrictive voter ID provision but replaces it with new language that doesn’t require a poll worker to direct a voter to the place where they are eligible to vote. It even comments that “it is the duty of the individual casting the ballot to ensure that the individual is casting that ballot in the correct precinct.” So, if you don’t know where to vote, don’t ask a poll worker. They might even direct you to another place you can’t vote. Whatever happened to the notion that government is there to help you, not hinder you?

Part of a pattern
If you think this kind of legislation is unusual, think again. South Carolina passed a bill in 1895 calling for: a two-year residency requirement; a poll tax of one dollar; the ability to read and write the Constitution; or to own property worth three hundred dollars; and the disqualification of convicts. In 1889, Florida required voters to deposit separate ballots in each of the different boxes marked for different candidates, making it virtually impossible for the illiterate to navigate the balloting process.

In the 1960′s the promise of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution was kept with the passing of the Voting Rights Act. The poll tax and the literacy test – devices that were used to keep poor people and blacks from registering – were abolished. The Vietnam War lead to the voting age being lowered to eighteen. By the end of the 20th century people could register permanently rather than annually and some States even allowed voters to register when they renewed their driver’s license or vehicle registration. All of that was bad news for Republicans, so they had to find new ways to stop those people from voting.

Here are just a few of the ways that Republicans in almost forty states are trying to stop people who might not be their supporters from actually getting to exercise their legal right to vote:

  • Voter ID Cards: Republicans claim that thousands of people repeat vote using false identity, even though there’s no evidence of such crime in any state since before the Great Depression. Their strongest push is for Voter ID bills that would require a voter to produce a picture id card (college cards not allowed) when voting. About 2/3 to 3/4 of urban residents don’t have one. Some Tea Party Republicans want a woman who marries after registering to change her registration surname to the married name and produce a marriage certificate when she goes to vote, even if she has a previous driver’s license or other ID. It might be a good idea to have a national identity card just for this reason alone.
  • Exclude Students: Some states want to bar young people from voting from their college dorm even if they are going to spend four years in that area, even to the extent of restricting their voting for a President or federal officials.
  • Prove Citizenship: Another law would require every new registrant to show proof of citizenship. Do you have your’s handy? What if you’d just lost your birth certificate in a natural disaster? With today’s databases and computers it is no great problem for the county boards of elections to check on birth and citizenship status, as they’ve done for decades, even without computers.
  • Eliminating Same Day Voter Registration: A lot of states made it convenient to be able to turn up on polling day, prove that you were eligible to vote, register there and then and vote. It’s a small thing to lose, but what if you moved into a new residence the day before a Presidential election? Would you have to travel back across the country to cast your vote?
  • Re-punishing convicted felons: If a person has been found guilty of a crime, been sentenced and has then served their time (or paid fines or recompensed their victim) they have every right to vote. Unless a Republican Governor has passed a law that stops them from doing so.
  • Voter Intimidation: Self-appointed “Poll Protection” vigilantes illegally ask for proof of voter registration, citizenship etc. in order to scare people away from polls, sometimes even being allowed to work inside of polling stations!
  • Bring Back “Poll Taxes”: A recent spokesman at a Tea Party rally advocated restoring property [land] holding as a requisite for voting, arguing that “Only people with a stake in society” should have the right to vote.

Don’t assume that being registered will allow you to vote and be counted properly
Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once said – “It doesn’t matter who votes what matters is who counts the votes” . Republicans don’t want to take any chances on the counting, even with a biased Supreme Court on their side in the case of the 2004 Presidential election. They want to prevent opponents from voting, so it doesn’t matter who controls the count.

The moral of the story is that you must make sure that you know what the requirements are to vote in your State, County and City. They may be changing, right up to the day you want to vote. Warn your friends and family too.

If you are denied the right to vote or strongly suspect a counting problem, file a protest with the appropriate election administration official and go public in the local and national press, or online. If your state administrator is in on the ruse your only hope is to bring national attention to the problem.

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Republicans Ignore E.coli Outbreak And Defund Food Monitoring Program

The ongoing outbreak of illnesses and deaths linked to a new breed of E. coli bacteria is being tracked by the European Food Safety Authority. The infections were due to a strain of E. coli known as STEC O104:H4, which causes bloody diarrhea, severe kidney complications and deaths in some cases. It produces a toxin called Shiga. Although only four related cases have been reported here in the United States, more than 4,100 people have been infected in Europe. About a third of them suffered from liver damage and 49 died.

You might think that congress would be leaping about to make sure that a similar outbreak couldn’t happen here, but you’d be wrong. The House has just passed a bill that will defund the Microbiological Data Program (MDP), a scientific monitoring and tracking project that is specifically designed to look for problems such as the STEC 0104:H4 one. In fact, it’s the only national program in the United States that might have detected the problem before people started getting ill. Without it, finding the source of the problem would have been extremely difficult.

The MDP has triggered product recalls – maybe that’s the problem.
The MDP currently tests about 15,000 annual samples of vulnerable produce, such as cantaloupe, cilantro, lettuce, spinach, sprouts and tomatoes for pathogens including salmonella and several strains of E. coli. The MDP’s findings have triggered at least 19 product recalls over the past two years alone. Food industry lobbyists say that the monitoring is already carried out by other (unnamed) entities, including the large food companies.

It would be nice if that were true, but, in general, it isn’t. if they had been good at their jobs we wouldn’t have had those 19 outbreaks, plus many more due to problems that the MDP can’t yet monitor, or isn’t chartered to. Supporters of the program say that say that the uniformity and efficiency of the program are among its greatest strengths and that outsourcing the work would introduce unacceptable variability in the collected data. Maybe the Republicans want to outsource the work to Mexico, where food-borne infections run rife.

Once again, we’re watching the Republicans act in favor of the large corporations that fund them and against the interests of the public, all of whom are consumers. Let’s hope that the Senate can reverse this decision before we get an outbreak like the one that just hit Europe over here.

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