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Friday, March 06, 2015

Air Pollution in China

From Upworthy

Water on Mars

Another derailed oil train

This one, the third in three weeks, happened outside of Galena, Il. It was a big train, 103 of which were carrying crude oil. No one was injured. No property, other than the trains, was damaged. Maybe that's why the National Transportation Safety Board will not be investigating the incident.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

A picture-taking octopus

Middlebury College scientists are studying octopi to discover if they are really as intelligent as the scientists believe. They put open boxes of food in the tank of an octopus after it had watched a video of other octopi performing the same task. They also put a G-Pro camera in the tank to film the experiment. Well, the octopus turned the camera around and began photographing the scientists. 

I guess the octopus is pretty smart.

Fear in America

Alternet is running a series, entitled "Fear in America", which will look into the role that fear has played and is playing in this country. The first in the series discusses social panics. It talks about nine panics, all of which occurred in the 20th century. I wonder why they didn't go back to the early days of America when there were witches in Salem. Anyway, here is the list. How many do you remember?

1. Reds Under the Bed and Communist Hysteria
This was the first one I can remember. Senator Joe McCarthy was all over the news, but was eventually toppled by Joseph Welch, a lawyer from Boston.
2. AIDS Panic and Misinformation
This may be the most recent one I recall. Gays, whether or not they had AIDS, were stigmatized.
3. Satanic Ritual Abuse
This harked back to the Salem trials. The McMartin Preschool trial in California was the top story, but I can recall at least one trial in Massachusetts.
4. Superpredators
I don't remember this. Supposedly, groups of teenagers were in a rage of violent crimes, especially killing young kids.
5. The Marriage Crunch
This seems a stretch to me. Although it happened it the '80s, it was basically an article in Newsweek that supposedly excised many unmarried women as it claimed that their chances of getting married were quite slim.
6. Recovered Memory Syndrome
This phenomenon of the late 20th century led to the creation of the False Memory Foundation, which is still in business. There was a wave of people in psychotherapy suddenly recovering memories of nasty things that had been done to them as children. How widespread this panic was is questionable in my mind.
7. Crack Babies
The term was fairly widespread in the early '90s. The idea here was the children of those using crack would grow up to be very nasty people. But, like many supposedly scientific studies, the idea was based on a very small sample of 23 babies.
8. Various Disease Pandemics
Remember Mad Cow Disease? Ebola?
9. Heavy Metal, Dungeons & Dragons, Satanism and Suicide
How much fear was generated in the nation by heavy metal music, etc. is questionable.
I don't think this series is off to a good start.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Yves Smith on TPP

If you read Smith's article - and you really should, you have to wonder how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)has gotten so far. For example, minor point: this 'trade' deal has only five of its 29 chapters dealing with tariffs.

Most of the pact is focused on strengthening intellectual property laws to help US software and entertainment companies, along with Big Pharma, increase their hefty profits, and to aid multinationals by permitting the greatly increased use of secret, conflict-ridden arbitration panels that allow foreign investors to sue governments over laws that they contend reduced potential future profits. 

Unbelievably, the TPP gives privileges to foreign companies that are not available to domestic companies. A quote from Elizabeth Warren's Washington Post op-ed: The TPP 
"would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with TPP, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions — and even billions — of dollars in damages."

One reason for the market's rise

And maybe the major reason are stock buybacks. It so happens that prior to the Great Recession there was also a glut of companies buying their stock. Remember Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch? Where are they now?

The money being spent to buy back stock plus paying dividends works out to just about 95% of S&P 500 index's earnings. This year, companies plan to buy $104.3 billion of their own stock. This is a record figure and it is happening in the face of 10-year Treasury yields holding below 2.1 percent, economic growth trailing forecasts and earnings estimates deteriorating. Companies are increasing buybacks with valuations reaching five-year highs just as profits are forecast to post the first back-to-back quarterly contractions since 2009. Plus, the S&P 500 trades at 18.9 times earnings, compared with an average of 16.9 since 1936, data compiled by Bloomberg and S&P show. 

When will we ever learn?

Is Hillary above the law?

State Department regulations state “All Government employees and contractors are required by law to make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency (Federal Records Act, or “FRA,” 44 U.S.C. 3101 et seq).” 

Yet, Hillary never had a government email address while she was the Secretary of State. The purpose of the regulations is to ensure that government records are archived so that congressional committees, historians and members of the news media can find them.

Why she deliberately violated government laws will be a common question should she continue her quest for the presidency.

Paying for police misconduct

Last year Chicago paid $54.2 million in settlements and verdicts for police misconduct cases. That’s more than the budget for the offices of the mayor, the city treasurer, the city council, the council committees and the department of human resources – combined.

There were 161 police misconduct cases in 2014 but only 9 were the result of a jury verdict, the vast majority were settled out of court.
There were cases filed against other city departments. In fact the police misconduct complaints accounted for just 15 percent of the cases, but more than half of all payouts.

What's with the Chicago Police? Only last week it was in the news for its black site.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Some good music

I saw the PBS special on Peter, Paul and Mary last night. It was wonderfully reminiscent in the eyes and ears of an old man. The program focused on their activism. Granted the Earth is a better place because of their efforts. But the questions in the song are still unanswered.

Would you like a tarantula?

Ten Commandments for America in the 21st Century

Tom Engelhardt thinks that the following commandments would help us out.
  • 1. Thou shalt not torture. 
  • 2. Thou shalt not send drones to assassinate anyone, American or not.
  • 3. Thou shalt not invade another country.
  • 4. Thou shalt not occupy another country.
  • 5. Thou shalt not upgrade thy nuclear arsenal. 
  • 6. Thou shalt not intercept the communications of thy citizens or others all over the world or pursue the elaboration of a global surveillance state based on criminal acts. 
  • 7. Thou shalt not be free of punishment for crimes of state.
  • 8. Thou shalt not use a massive system of secret classification to deprive Americans of all real knowledge of acts of state.
  • 9. Thou shalt not act punitively toward those who want to let Americans in on what the national security state is doing in their name. 
  • 10. Thou shalt not infringe on the rights of the citizenry to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Infrastructure in the U.S. is really not funny

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Protesters in Wisconsin and ISIS

How were those mealworms?

Camren Brantley-Rios, a student at Auburn, has just completed a 30-day diet of eating insects three times a day. His favorites were mealworms, waxworms and crickets. He has tried scrambled eggs with waxworms, bug-burgers with cheese and creole crickets. Conservation and sustainability were his goals as insects consume fewer resources than mammals to produce the same amount of protein. He is not alone as more than two billion people worldwide include insects in their regular diet, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

He is particular. He always made sure the insects have been fed on an organic diet and only bought species he knows are safe to eat.

How does he do it?

Editing of the photography has to help

From our Plymouth, Mass. correspondent

Friday, February 27, 2015

What does this chart tell you?

It might tell you that putting more people in jail has lowered the crime rate. However, as you can see the crime rate has been going down but the incarceration rate has continued to rise. In 36 states, the prison population has more than tripled as a share of state population since 1978. 

The chart and a lot of other significant analysis told the Brennan Center for Justice that while rising incarceration rates helped reduce property and violent crime rates in the 1990s, the effect was much smaller than some other studies have suggested, accounting for 0-10 percent of the total decline over the decade. Since 2000, rising incarceration rates account for less than 1 percent of the decline in crime rates.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

7 important words

Chicago fights terrorists and other serious criminals

This is one of those posts where you question the veracity of the source. I think it is true, largely because it is based on a series - not just one article - by The Guardian. Plus, the Chicago police department did not respond to the Guardian’s questions about the facility. The thrust of the series is that the Chicago police force is breaking the law as it violates the constitution.

The force works in secret at a place known as Homan Square. Here are some of the things that go on at Homan Square:
  • Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases. 
  • Beating by police, resulting in head wounds. 
  • Shackling for prolonged periods. 
  • Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility. 
  • Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.
Chicago's anti-terror group is not alone at Homan Square. Several special units operate outside of it, including the anti-gang and anti-drug forces.

The following video summarizes the experience of one person who spent time at the Square.