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In the USA...United Surveillance America

Indian schools face disrepair, poverty

Federally owned schools for Native Americans on reservations are marked by remoteness, extreme poverty and few construction dollars. An Obama administration plan to fix the problems faces daunting complications..

By KIMBERLY HEFLING
John Locher / The Associated Press

WINSLOW, Ariz. — Federally owned schools for Native Americans on reservations are marked by remoteness, extreme poverty and a lack of construction dollars. They also are among the nation’s lowest performing.

The Obama administration is pushing ahead with an improvement plan that gives tribes more control. But the effort is complicated by the disrepair of so many buildings, not to mention the federal legacy of forcing American Indian children from their homes to attend boarding schools.

Consider Little Singer Community School, with 81 students on a remote desert outpost. The vision for the school came in the 1970s from a medicine man who wanted area children to attend school locally. Here’s the reality today: a cluster of rundown classroom buildings containing asbestos, radon, mice and mold.

Students often come from families struggling with domestic violence, alcoholism and a lack of running water at home, so nurturing is emphasized. The school provides showers, along with shampoo and washing machines.

Teachers have no housing, so they commute together about 90 minutes each morning on barely passable dirt roads.

The school is on the government’s priority list for replacement. It’s been there since at least 2004. Not even one-quarter of students were deemed proficient in reading and math on a 2012-13 assessment.

“We have little to work with, but we make do with what we have,” says Verna Yazzie, a school-board member.

The 183 schools are spread across 23 states and fall under the jurisdiction of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Education. The schools serve about 48,000 children, or about 7 percent of Native-American students, and are among the country’s lowest performing.

They are in some of the most out-of-the-way places in the country; one is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, reachable by donkey or helicopter. Most are small, with fewer than 150 students.

These are schools, says Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, whose department is responsible for them, “that you or I would not feel good sending our kids to, and I don’t feel good sending Indian kids there, either.”

Native Americans perform better in schools that are not overseen by the federal bureau than in schools that are, national and state assessments show. Overall, they trail their peers in an important national assessment and struggle with a graduation rate of 68 percent.

Already, tribes manage about 120 schools, and the plan will turn the rest over as the federal government shifts to more of a support role.

The plan calls for more board-certified teachers, better Internet access and less red tape, making it easier to buy books and hire teachers. The Interior Department wants to help schools accelerate the use of Native American languages and culture.

Lofty ambitions, but the rundown state of many schools can’t be ignored.

More than 60 are listed in poor condition. An estimated $1.3 billion is needed to replace or refurbish these schools. But since the 2009 release of about $280 million in stimulus money, little has gone to major school construction or renovation.

That leaves Jewell, the interior secretary, in a tight spot.

She recently visited Crystal Boarding School on the Navajo reservation in Crystal, N.M., where some classes are held in a building constructed by Depression-era workers.

The school is now primarily a day school, but about 30 children stay in dorms there. A second dorm was condemned.

Jewell thanked the students for “making do with this school the way it is.” Later, she told school leaders she could not promise the money will be there to build a new school.

“For schools throughout Indian country, this is a chronic problem,” she said. “I don’t want to stand here and make promises I can’t keep. What I want to say is, I get it.”

The effort to shift more control to tribes has drawn some praise. “It’s an important step for us to go ahead and take control over what we know we can do best,” says Kimberly Dominguez, Crystal’s vice principal.

Others, though, say the federal government is merely washing its hands of its responsibilities.

Aubrey Francisco, 40, who attended Crystal and sends his 6-year-old son there, questions whether Navajo leaders can continue the school’s legacy. “With the tribe and its limited resources, they need to take that into account,” he said.

Ahniwake Rose, executive director of the National Indian Education Association, said her organization is cautiously optimistic, partly out of appreciation that Obama is seemingly engaged.

At Little Singer, Etta Shirley, the principal, said she also has some optimism. One glimmer of hope: A House spending bill contains nearly $60 million for construction at Little Singer and two other bureau schools.

“We need to get the kids out of the environment,” Shirley said. “That’s what’s really driving this. I lose sleep over it, just thinking about it.”

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Supreme Court Allows Texas To Enforce The Most Draconian Voter ID Law in The U.S.A.

By: Adalia Woodbury
PoliticusUSA
Saturday, October, 18th, 2014, 4:03 pm      

By a vote of 6-3 The Supreme Court is allowing Texas’ draconian voter ID law to be enforced for this year’s election.

According to Scotusblog, this is the first time since 1982, the Supreme Court allowed enforcement of a restrictive voting law after a Federal Court ruled the law is unconstitutional.

In a blistering six page dissent Justice Ginsberg, joined by Justices Kagan and Sotomayor said,

“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,”

Much of Ginsberg’s critique coincided with the federal court’s reasoning and conclusions that the law was a result of intentional discrimination, it violated the Voting Rights Act and it violates the Twenty-Fourth Amendment because the fees required to get a valid ID constitute a poll tax.

The dissenting Justices estimated that 600,000 Texas voters, or 4.5% of all registered voters, will be disenfranchised and a “sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic.”

Aside from the discrimination against racial minorities, this law will disenfranchise married women in Texas. In fact, Sandra Watts, a Texas judge got caught in this net during a local election last year.  The name on her driver’s license was the same for 52 years.  The address on her voter registration card and driver’s license remained the same for twenty years.  But, during that election, voting officials told her that she would have to sign a voter’s affidavit that she was she said she was. You’ll just love the reason.  Per Texas law, the Judge’s maiden name is her middle name.  However, her voter registration shows her actual middle name.

This feature of the law is likely to disenfranchise a lot more women in the same situation and because the costs involved are prohibitive for women earning low incomes. As explained by Judge Ginsburg in her dissent,

     A voter whose birth certificate lists her maiden name or misstates her date of birth may be charged $37 for the amended certificate she needs to obtain a qualifying ID. Texas voters born in other States may be required to pay substantially more than that.

If anyone still doubts the significance of the Supreme Court ruling that gutted section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, this law is a direct consequence of that ruling.  The fact is this law failed pre-clearance when section 5 was still in effect.

Here is where things stand now. This law will be in force for this year’s election.

The fifth circuit will consider the case and issue it’s ruling.  Then, the law will probably be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

It’s a sad day when the Supreme Court allows to stand an unconstitutional law that makes a mockery of the principle of free and fair elections.

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Ginsburg issues blistering dissent to ‘racially discriminatory’ TX Voter ID ruling

David Ferguson
18 Oct 2014 at 12:46 ET                  

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a blistering dissent on Saturday morning to a Texas court’s decision to uphold the state’s strict Voter ID law. Ginsburg argued that the law is “racially discriminatory” and was enacted solely to keep traditionally Democratic constituencies away from the polls.

Huffington Post reported that Ginsburg was joined in the dissent by fellow justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Ginsburg wrote in her dissent.

Texas Fifth Circuit Court ruled that it is too close to the beginning of early voting to repeal the law, which is among the strictest in the nation. Ginsburg slapped that argument down, writing, “In any event, there is little risk that the District Court’s injunction will in fact disrupt Texas’ electoral process. Texas need only reinstate the voter identification procedures it employed for ten years (from 2003 to 2013) and in five federal general elections.”

The state’s Voter ID law, she said, was “enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose and would yield a prohibited discriminatory result.”

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Is the stock market going crazy? Or is it traders?

Newsweek
18 Oct 2014 at 11:36 ET    

Investors looking for why the stock market is in turmoil might want to go back to 1987, when “Walk Like an Egyptian” topped the charts and Janet Yellen, now the Federal Reserve chairwoman but then an unknown, untenured economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, published a paper on the role of irrational behavior in market movements.

Titled “Rational Models of Irrational Behavior” and co-written with Yellen’s economist-husband George Akerlof, then a colleague at Berkeley, the paper appeared just five months before Black Monday, the largest stock market crash in history, in which the Dow lost nearly a quarter of its value on a single October day.

Yellen’s paper espoused a controversial approach that she appears to have increasingly embraced over the years: that markets are not orderly, rational machines of predictable, efficient behavior based on clear information, but are suffused with panic, greed and other irrational forces that drive human psychology, emotion and behavior.

“Economists have accorded the assumption of rational, self-interested behavior unwarranted ritual purity, while alternative assumptions—that agents follow rules of thumb, that psychological or sociological considerations matter, or that, heaven forbid, they act downright irrationally at times—have been accorded corresponding ritual impurity,” Yellen and Akerlof wrote in the paper. “If agents really behave according to impure assumptions, is it not likely that the best models to fulfill that agenda will mirror that behavior?”

Wall Street investors are blaming the recent global stock-market turmoil on everything from fears of recession in Europe, to a slowdown in economic growth in China, to a collapse in world oil prices, to a potential end to the Fed’s efforts to pump massive amounts of dollars into the U.S. economy—just as the American economy finally appears to be returning to some form of low-growth normality after the 2008 mortgage meltdown and subsequent crippling credit crisis.

Confused by the mixed signals the market is sending, investors are wondering whether the recent sell-off reflects the end of an irrational, speculative bubble in stocks—and whether the Fed will attempt to rein things in before that bubble bursts.

At a Boston Fed conference on Friday morning, Yellen gave few clues to her future actions, making scant comments on monetary policy and focusing instead on whether income inequality was “compatible with the values rooted in our nation’s history.”

But Wall Street might want to consider what appears to be Yellen’s broad view of the validity of behavioral economics and behavioral finance to be found in her 1987 paper on the irrationality of market movements. In a little-noticed shift inside the Federal Reserve, Yellen appears to have increasingly embraced the tenets of her Berkeley thesis.

“Janet Yellen recognizes some behavioral phenomena, as do some of the Fed staff economists,” Hersh Shefrin, a behavioral finance professor at Santa Clara University’s business school,” tells Newsweek. A former senior Fed official who declined to be named tells Newsweek that Michael Lewis’s book Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, about the disastrous things that happen when overconfidence (a focal point of some behavioral economic theories) and technology (high-frequency trading) collide, is “widely respected inside the Fed.”

And Yellen’s husband, Akerlof, a 2001 Nobel winner in economics who will join the faculty at Georgetown University next month, has in recent years co-chaired the National Bureau of Economic Research’s behavioral economics group. “That leads me to believe that she absorbed some of the behavioral perspectives through the channel,” says a leading university economist who also declined to be named.

By mid-morning Friday, the Dow had halted its six-day losing streak to regain some of its losses, as some large companies, including General Electric and Morgan Stanley, reported solid earnings and strategists speculated that Yellen’s Fed might continue pumping money into the economy through quantitative easing, rather than tapering it later this month as previously expected.

Remarks on Thursday by the St. Louis Federal Reserve branch president, James Bullard, to Bloomberg that the Fed might prolong pumping money through bond buying continued to excite investors on Friday, particularly as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index is still down more than six percent since its highs last September.

Infused by quantitative and qualitative work in psychology and sociology, behavioral economics stands in stark contrast to the efficient market hypothesis, a bedrock of modern financial theory since its genesis in the 1960s that holds that stock prices and stock markets as a whole rationally incorporate all relevant information an investor needs, making them largely predictable.

Evidence that Yellen still hews to at least some elements of behavioral economics, a form of Keynesian economics, appears in other recent papers and remarks by her.

While her predecessors at the Fed, Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan, steered clear of public comments on the work of Hyman Minsky, a behavioral economist whose ideas that markets are inherently unstable and prone to speculation as they expand are experiencing fresh scholarly interest, Yellen has not.

In April 2009, as the stock market and the U.S. economy continued to reel in the wake of the mortgage meltdown a year earlier, and the Fed, led at the time by Bernanke, arranged a massive bailout of Wall Street banks, Yellen, at the time head of the San Francisco branch of the Federal Reserve, told an academic conference in New York that “with the financial world in turmoil, Minsky’s work has become required reading.” Referring to what is known as  the “Minsky moment,” in which speculative bubbles burst and markets collapse, she added, according to a transcript, that “one of the critical features of Minsky’s world view is that borrowers, lenders, and regulators are lulled into complacency as asset prices rise.”

She posed a hypothetical question. “Should central banks attempt to deflate asset price bubbles before they get big enough to cause big problems? Until recently, most central bankers would have said no,” she said, adding that “I myself have supported this approach in the past. However, now that we face the tangible and tragic consequences of the bursting of the house price bubble, I think it is time to take another look” at that approach.

Not that behavioral economics has all the answers. “I was as surprised at the low historic volatility before the recent turmoil as I am by the sudden spike in risk. Behavioral finance does not yet have a good framework for changing market volatility,” says William Goetzmann, a finance professor and behavioral economist at Yale University’s School of Management.

Still, the craziness is discernible. “Day-to-day fluctuations in the profits of existing investments, which are obviously of an ephemeral and non-significant character, tend to have an altogether excessive, and even an absurd, influence on the market,” Richard Thaler, a behavioral economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, tells Newsweek.

Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University whose research incorporates cognitive neuroscience, adds: “The only sensible thing is to talk about herding behavior and mood effects. When the market drops so much, it’s very easy to be depressed and to act on that in multiple ways.”

Citing the spread of Ebola and “the time of the year when days in the Northern Hemisphere are growing shorter—the documented seasonal affective disorder SAD-effect on equity markets,” Hersh tells Newsweek that “negative mood catalysts such as fear of epidemics and declining hours of sunlight amplify the dynamic. We're seeing a lot of things coming together now.”

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Could crowd-sourced policing turn us into vigilantes – or bedroom super sleuths?

The Conversation
18 Oct 2014 at 09:21 ET    

An increasingly popular weekend pastime among fans of Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Inspector Morse and others, are murder mystery parties at which participants pit their wits against secret killers. But are these murder mysteries – described by one organiser as “Cluedo for real” – simply just a bit of fun, or do they reveal important insights into the human condition in this information age that might help society fight crime in the future?

This issue was recently touched on in a recent report from the Association of Chief Police Officers that reviewed, among other matters, the role played by the public in policing.

As a criminologist researching crime and policing in the digital era, the success of murder mystery games raises an important question as to whether it may help bridge the gap between society’s increasing fear of rising crime with the reality of decreasing crime rates, which is creating public demands for security that police and government cannot satisfy.

Clearly, one way for police agencies to reassure the public is to engage people more fully in the work that they do. So, does the murder mystery phenomenon reveal the presence of a secret army of “bedroom detectives” – willing volunteers who can help police agencies with their ever increasing task of maintaining order and enforcing the law?

To know the answer to this we have to establish whether there is such an army of volunteers out there and how practical is crowd or people-sourced investigation as a policing policy.

Virtual neighbourhood watch?

Common sense suggests that there is a resource here to be tapped, especially online – a virtual neighbourhood watch, which could extend the current reach of police. As an extension of the old community policing model, people-sourced policing is an attractive idea and the advantages are manifold. They can provide intimate knowledge of localised or specific communities; they can also provide investigating police with a sounding board for ideas and theories. They can alert “the community” about problems.

Even more attractive, is the idea of people-sourcing, or “the human flesh search engine”, a name translated from Chinese, which describes mass online community action against deviance. See, for example, the case of Mary Bale, the British woman who put a live cat in a wheelie bin, or the “Kitten Killer of Hangzhou” who crushed her kittens’ skull with her stilettos. In both cases outraged online communities rallied to help identify the individuals involved and bring them to police attention.

When it comes to feasibility, however, it is not as simple as the practicalities of people-sourced policing, especially legal boundaries, makes it hard to implement.

Participants in search of the intellectual excitement of a murder mystery will probably be disappointed by the painstaking and mundane reality of most investigations. The crimes they may be asked to work will certainly not be as appealing or straightforward as the murder mysteries. Murders are, in fact, comparatively rare in the UK. Plus, meeting the evidence threshold beyond reasonable doubt is particularly hard to achieve and requires training and skills.

Participants may also not wish to accept the responsibility that comes with such a role, especially if they make wrong assumptions. Remember how in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, the digital community embarked on a quest to find the perpetrators and got it wrong, which directed valuable police resources in the wrong direction and made unbearable the life of an innocent person.

Online vigilantes

Even more concerning is when police are seen to fail in a function and public involvement in policing takes a step further as online vigilantes seek to supplant the police role. This is highlighted by the recent cases of Letzgo Hunting, Demon Hunter and others where individuals sought to independently entrap and expose so-called paedophiles.

Not only do such actions interfere with established police operations into which long-term effort and resources have been invested, but they do not always provide the evidence chain that might be regarded as admissible in a court of law. Then there is the fall out when individuals subject to entrapment subsequently kill themselves.

The final concern is where online public involvement in policing mission creeps into a cold-war Stasi-like police spy system where everybody ends up reporting each other’s movements and actions, reaching the point where due process goes out of the window.

However, the general idea of people-sourced policing is attractive; it is also quite feasible if the ground rules are clearly and legally set out. While bedroom detectives of the murder mystery set may be the wrong group to draw upon, the enlisting of a digital community watch may be a distinct possibility if the circumstances are correctly identified and managed.

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Who’s Responsible For The Media’s Ebola Malpractice? We Are

By: Becky Sarwate
PoliticusUSA
Saturday, October, 18th, 2014, 3:00 pm   

The Ebola crisis in West Africa is a deadly serious threat. But for many reasonable, concerned Americans it’s become difficult to separate the reality of the devastation occurring on that continent, from the overblown media and political hysteria that’s dominating our national news cycle. Can any person of intelligence stay engaged when, as our own Justin Baragona reported this week, Keith Ablow, a Fox News Contributor Claims Obama Wants Ebola To Spread In US Because He Hates America?

It’s possible to feel empathy for the two Dallas, Texas healthcare workers who’ve been diagnosed with the disease after treating an infected patient, without extrapolating that we’re on the verge of a pandemic. And to take the argument a step further (I’m looking at you Fox News and Republican lawmakers), it’s a cynical act on the verge of criminal to needlessly stoke constituent fears of the unknown for perceived political gain. There’s no medically valid reason to doubt CDC Director Dr. Tom Friedan’s working theory that Nina Pham, the 26-year-old woman who was the first to contract the disease Stateside, did so because of a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) “breach in protocol.”

There’s even less justification for leveraging the situation to foment xenophobia. I offer Washington Post writer Gail Sullivan’s piece, “For the right, Ebola is the latest rallying cry for closing the Mexican border,” by way of example. Sullivan observes “First US-diagnosed patient Thomas Eric Duncan arrived on a plane from Liberia. But that hasn’t stopped people from stoking fear that Ebola will spread to the United States via our border with Mexico, a country that has seen exactly zero cases of Ebola thus far. Few seem as concerned about Ebola entering the United States via Canada, our less politically-fraught border to the north.”

Less malevolent, but still shameful reporting practices have assisted in alienating thinking people. Earlier this week, Jon Stewart did a great send-up of mass media’s Ebola coverage. As the legendary Will & Grace character Karen Walker once observed of an anecdote, “It’s funny because it’s sad.” That is certainly true of the “sanity-resistant” faux analysis surrounding the isolated Texas cases. While there’s nothing humorous about the real suffering of real people, a variety of opportunists with an Ebola agenda make it hard to accommodate genuine concern with sneering disapproval. Rather than fight the good fight, it’s often easier to disengage. After all, there’s a new season of The Walking Dead on AMC.

To these layers of coverage perturbation, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni added another on Tuesday with his piece, “Scarier Than Ebola.” The writer opens with a succinct and withering indictment of our culture: “We Americans do panic really well. We could use a few pointers on prudence.”

Bruni continues, “During the 2013-2014 flu season…only 46 percent of Americans received vaccinations against influenza, even though it kills about 3,000 people in this country in a good year, nearly 50,000 in a bad one.

These are deaths by a familiar assassin. Many of them could have been prevented. So why aren’t we in a lather over that? Why fixate on remote threats that we feel we can’t control when there are immediate ones that we simply don’t bother to?”

It’s a feature of human nature that we are inclined to ruminate on the novel and titillating rather than the routine. It’s an impulse we come by honestly, but also one we should endeavor to check. To continue Bruni’s argument, there are thousands of risks Americans take almost unconsciously every day that pose a greater threat to body and spirit than Ebola, such as getting in a car, drinking milk after the sell-by date or listening to the Rush Limbaugh Show. And by indulging in the worst of our impulses, we not only ignore real risks, we enable truly terrible reporting and disingenuously motivated political speech.

But at the end of the day, Fox News and anti-immigration lawmakers are just giving us what we want. If there were no audience for this type of garbage, it would fade away. Let’s stop indulging it and regain a little perspective. Perhaps that will create space to aid and support eradication of Ebola where it truly exists at epidemic levels – Western Africa.

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Obama Steps Up and Shows Republicans How It’s Done While Knocking Down Ebola Hysteria

By: Sarah Jones
PoliticusUSA
Saturday, October, 18th, 2014, 12:58 pm      

President Obama is on this. The Ebola response is not going to be passively, continuously botched like the Katrina response was, even with the massive cuts to disease prevention. Not if President Obama has anything to say about it.

The President has directed a stepped up response to the Ebola crisis.

Watch President Barack Obama brief the American people on the government’s response to Ebola and what they need to know and can do:

Obama explained what he was doing to step up our response to the Ebola virus:

And this week, at my direction, we’re stepping up our efforts. Additional CDC personnel are on the scene in Dallas and Cleveland. We’re working quickly to track and monitor anyone who may have been in close contact with someone showing symptoms. We’re sharing lessons learned so other hospitals don’t repeat the mistakes that happened in Dallas. The CDC’s new Ebola rapid response teams will deploy quickly to help hospitals implement the right protocols. New screening measures are now in place at airports that receive nearly all passengers arriving from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. And we’ll continue to constantly review our measures, and update them as needed, to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep Americans safe.

The President poured water on the “just ban the flights!” hysteria – this is a common initial reaction, but guess what, experts know something. That won’t work and that’s why we’re not doing it. He urged us to be guided by the science and facts (insert maniacal laughter here).

The President educated the public on the facts and checked some of the hyperbole:

This is a serious disease, but we can’t give in to hysteria or fear-because that only makes it harder to get people the accurate information they need. We have to be guided by the science.

First, what we’re seeing now is not an “outbreak” or an “epidemic” of Ebola in America. We’re a nation of more than 300 million people. To date, we’ve seen three cases of Ebola diagnosed here…

Second, Ebola is actually a difficult disease to catch. It’s not transmitted through the air like the flu. You cannot get it from just riding on a plane or a bus. The only way that a person can contract the disease is by coming into direct contact with the bodily fluids of somebody who is already showing symptoms. I’ve met and hugged some of the doctors and nurses who’ve treated Ebola patients. I’ve met with an Ebola patient who recovered, right in the Oval Office. And I’m fine.

Third, we know how to fight this disease. We know the protocols. And we know that when they’re followed, they work.

It’s not a big surprise that the President is angry at the failures surrounding the Ebola virus’ entry to the U.S. After being told things were being handled and then realizing that they weren’t being handled up to his standards, Obama appointed Ron Klain as the Ebola Czar, to coordinate the government’s efforts on Ebola. Unlike some people, the President believes in government stepping in when it’s best suited to the problem, and this is one of those times.

We are, however, playing catch up for ten years of being underfunded.

    The funding slide was marked by George W. Bush cutting CDC funding in every one of his budgets. The Center For Disease Control (CDC) has had $600 billion cut for their budget since 2010. The NIH has received less funding under congressional Republicans than they had during the Bush years.

Democrats have demanded an investigation into the funding levels for a reason. As we tried to explain to the simpletons who somehow think Obama is to blame for sequestration even though Republicans championed it for years before they got and gloated about getting it:

    The problem with only looking at overall funding levels is that it misses the point. Over the last few years, the CDC has had billions of dollars taken out of its budget for infectious disease preparedness at the federal, state, and local levels. This means that the CDC started with fewer resources to work with when the Ebola situation started. There is a reason the Congress rushed through an infusion of cash to fight Ebola before they left town. The CDC budget was left short on preparedness.

So the next time a Republican is mocking money being spent on research (see their juvenile mocking of stimulus funds being spent on medical and scientific research), ask yourself why fools are allowed to put us all in jeopardy. (VOTE for science and safety on November 4th.)

In a meeting on Friday coordinating the government response to Ebola with members of his national security and public health teams, the President “underscored that the domestic response to Ebola cases must be seamless at all levels, just as we continue to move forward expeditiously with a whole-of-government approach to counter the outbreak at its source in West Africa,” according to a readout of the meeting issued by the White House press secretary.

More ways Obama is taking charge:

    The President’s advisors updated him on the status of the contact tracing process to identify and, as necessary, monitor all individuals who may have come into contact with the Ebola patients in Dallas following their exposure. The team also discussed plans to augment resources available to state and local authorities in Dallas. Specifically, in order to ensure the Dallas response is nimble and capable of leveraging effective coordination between the federal, state, and local levels—as well as with frontline healthcare workers—the administration, working closely with state and local officials, will support or designate the appointment of senior personnel to serve on the ground in Dallas.

Obama won’t make false promises or pretend he is Superman. He’s just going to be very competent at leading others in doing their jobs. This is an area where Obama has always excelled, whether he is leading a campaign team or leading the country. Obama is a leader.

As hysteria mounts, the nation will always look to its President for guidance and this one is in the house. President Obama is present. Engaged. And in charge.

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Lawsuits: AL jailers let prisoners die from easily treatable illnesses to save money

Tom Boggioni
18 Oct 2014 at 17:14 ET    

Three lawsuits recently filed in federal court accuse the state of Alabama of denying prisoners with easily treatable illnesses or injuries proper medical care resulting in the prisoner’s death.

According to AL.com, the lawsuits have been filed over the deaths of three inmates, including a 19-year-old who died naked on a cell floor from gangrene.

The three suits allege the jailers in Madison County withhold the basic medical care in order to save money, believing that the insurance carried by the out-sourced medical contractor will cover any lawsuits filed against them.

One of the lawsuits alleges that Deundrez Woods, a 19-year-old from Huntsville, died in jail in August as the result of a gangrenous wound in his foot that was left untreated.

According to court documents, Woods was being held for shoplifting Star Wars DVDs at Wal-Mart in June and then for passing a phony $100 bill in July.

While in jail a wound in Woods’ foot developed gangrene, the infection causing him to begin hallucinating and unable to communicate. Woods was placed in a “medical observation cell” on Aug. 6, 2013, however  jail records show that he had no access to water after Aug. 12, there is no record of him eating after Aug. 14, and no nurses visited him after Aug. 14. Once authorities noticed the smell from Woods’ foot he was hosed down and moved into a different cell.

“Still, no correction officer or ACH nurse did anything to even check Woods, let alone help him,” reads the complaint. The suit states that jail records show no one took his temperature, checked his blood sugar or assessed his condition. “The gangrenous wound on top of his right foot was clearly visible had anyone bothered to look.”

“Woods went from normal, to aggressive and disruptive, to barely responsive, to all but dead as correction and medical staff watched.”

According to the suit Woods was found on the floor of his cell, dead from a blood clot that originated in his gangrenous foot.

Tanyatta Woods, the mother of the teen,  filed the suit stating  that Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning, jail administrator Steve Morrison, Dr. Arthur Williams, the director of medical care at the jail, and Dr. Norman Johnson, who is the CEO of Advanced Correctional Healthcare, are “part of an explicit or implicit agreement or plan to delay or deny necessary medical care to avoid having to pay for medical care.”

The other two  lawsuits refer to Tanisha Jefferson, 30, who died of an intestinal blockage after being denied medical care for 13 days after being jailed for harassment, and 61-year-old Nikki Listau, also in jail for harassment, who died from complications resulting from a broken femur sustained after she fell out of her prison bunk.

Civil rights attorney Hank Sherrod who filed all three lawsuits claims that the Madison County jailers are relying on the insurance coverage maintained by Advanced Correctional Healthcare to shield them from lawsuits, and to save money by not dealing with inmate medical problems..

“ACH’s business model, reflected in the agreement, succeeds by underbidding the competition and implementing severe cost control measures,” Sherrod said. “The necessary result of which is inmate suffering and liability claims (dealt with through liability insurance.)”

Jeff Rich, attorney for Madison County, would not comment on pending litigation, saying the three lawsuits are “being vigorously defended.”

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Rick Scott Privatized, Inmates Died

By capper October 18, 2014 6:00 am -
CrooksAndLiars

Florida Governor (and naked mole rat lookalike winner) Rick Scott tried to privatize the state's prison system in 2011. Fortunately, he was beat back by the unions and the privatization scheme failed.

Undaunted, Scott did the next worst thing he could - he privatized the prisons' health care system.

He rewarded the five-year, $1.2 billion contract to a company call Corizon, despite the fact that Corizon has been sued 660 times in the last five years for malpractice.

The results of the privatization deal were very predictable and very sad:

    In January 2014, three months after the privatization was fully implemented, the number of inmates who died "shot to a 10-year high," says the Post. In the past 10 years, there were only 10 months in which 30 or more inmates died. So far this year, the death count has "topped 30 a total of four times in just seven months." This is a dramatic increase from 12.5 percent to 57 percent. The investigation also found that the number of referrals for outside hospital care is down by 47 percent compared to 2012.

    How did this happen? In his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, candidate Scott promised to cut prison funding by $1 billion. "Privatization isn't necessary for us to achieve that goal, but nothing is off the table," Scott's spokesperson Brian Burgess said. True enough, the Florida Corrections Department soon sent out a request for proposal for prison health care services. Underbidding the competitors, Corizon argued that it could provide the current quality of care, but for seven percent less.

    As the privatization process moved forward, 1,890 state employees received a dismissal letter reading, in part, "Due to the outsourcing of this function, your position will be deleted." As far as Corizon was concerned, there were some snags along the way. But $415,000 spent on lobbying the state legislature between 2011 and 2013 might have gone some way toward ironing them out.

As if there weren't enough reasons already to vote the naked mole rat out.

*************

Georgia teen forced to ground at gunpoint for seat-belt violation files $12.5 million lawsuit

Tom Boggioni
RawStory
18 Oct 2014 at 22:31 ET    

The family of high school athlete who was pulled over and forced to the ground at gunpoint over a seat-belt violation has filed a $12.5 million lawsuit against the Waycross, Georgia police department contending the officer involved was only given a slap on the wrist for his actions, according to News4GA.

Saying “I could have been another Trayvon Martin case,” Montre’ Merritt explained to reporters how the traffic stop in front of his home where officer Officer Cory Gay held a gun to his head and ordered him onto the ground still haunts him.

“That night when it happened, I felt like I could have been another Trayvon Martin case,” Merritt said. “And just hearing how Mike Brown went about his case for doing the right thing. He still got shot. I just feel like I don’t want any of my friends or family, I don’t want that to happen to anybody.”

According to the suit, Merritt was pulled over by Gay on Jan. 18, in front of his home and instructed at gunpoint to get out of his car and on the ground where Gay handcuffed him. When Merritt’s mother came outside to see why her son was being arrested, the officer told her it was for a seat belt violation.

The Merritt family subsequently filed a complaint with the Waycross Police Department over Gay’s actions.

Following an investigation by police authorities, Gay was found guilty of using excessive force and was suspended for five days without pay. Gay was also ordered to take Judgmental Use of Force Training.

Unhappy with Gay’s punishment, the family filed the lawsuit against the police department.

In the suit, Merritt attorney Reginald Greene, claims Gay racially profiled Merritt and then used excessive force in a false arrest. The lawsuit also alleges negligent supervision, assault and battery, deprivation of civil rights, and causing emotional distress.

Merritt, who now attends college, calls the humiliating arrest in front of his mother “painful.”

“Coming from me being a huge role model in my community, to see my mom witness that. That was one of the most painful things I could ever imagine for her,” Merritt said. “The pain that I still feel. The tears that I still cry. Everything is just real in reality. I have to wake up with this on my heart and on my mind every day, and it hurts.”

***********

New York City jails are way too violent and expensive: report

Newsweek
18 Oct 2014 at 11:48 ET      

New York City’s Department of Correction sure doesn’t have its jails on lock, according to a new report from Comptroller Scott Stringer.

The number of fight and assault infractions in New York City jails has soared by 65 percent since 2007, though the inmate population has declined by 18 percent in that period, the report states.

And yet, New York City’s jails, which now boast an all-time-high operating budget of $1.1 billion, are increasingly expensive to run. In fiscal year 2014, the cost per inmate was $96,232, a 42 percent increase from fiscal year 2007, when the annual cost was $67,565. That’s “more than twice as high as comparable cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Miami,” the comptroller’s office says.

In this seven-year period, there has also been a shocking 124 percent increase in attacks on Department of Correction staffers, the data, first reported by The New York Times on Thursday, reveal. In addition, allegations of guards assaulting inmates have surged by 300 percent.

The number of corrections officers has also thinned, by 3 percent from 2007 to 2014, or from 9,203 to 8,922. That’s less than the drop in inmates, meaning the rate of officer to inmate has risen 19 percent during this time, from 0.66 to 0.78 officers per inmate.

The Department of Correction is paying less overtime in fiscal year 2014 compared with fiscal year 2013: $139 million rather than a record $155 million. However, that’s still a hefty increase from the $101 million in overtime disbursed in fiscal year 2007.

The unfavorable financial news comes as the Department of Correction grapples with intensifying criticism of violence on Rikers Island. In July, a New York Times investigation revealed that 129 inmates had been severely injured “in altercations with guards” last year.

In August, the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan released a report detailing “a pattern and practice of conduct at Rikers Island that violates the rights of adolescents.” The office said it would sue the Department of Correction if it did not address this violence.

The department has not yet responded to Newsweek’s request for comment.

 73 
 on: Oct 19, 2014, 07:08 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
‘Dirty icy snowball’ comet nears Mars in first ever run towards center of solar system

Agence France-Presse
18 Oct 2014 at 21:02 ET   

A comet the size of a small mountain is about to skim past Mars, and NASA hopes its spacecraft will be able to photograph the once-in-a-million-years encounter.

The comet, known as Siding Spring (C/2013 A1), is set to hurtle past Mars at a close distance of about 88,000 miles (141,600 kilometers).

The closest pass is expected to happen Sunday at 2:27 pm (1827 GMT).

Astronomers do not expect it will come any where near colliding with Mars, but they do hope it will be close enough to reveal clues about the origins of the solar system.

That is because the comet is believed to have originated billions of years ago in the Oort Cloud, a distant region of space at the outskirts of the solar system.

“Comets such as C/2013 A1 are essentially dirty icy snowballs with rocks and dust embedded in frozen gasses,” said Dan Brown, an astronomy expert at Nottingham Trent University.

“It is on its first run towards the center of our solar system and its material is virtually unchanged by the rays of the sun and can give us an insight to the material composition of our early solar system 4.6 billion years ago.”

- Fast and powdery -

The comet is flying through space at a breakneck speed of 122,400 miles per hour.

Another interesting thing about the comet, about a mile wide in diameter, is that it is only about as solid as a pile of talcum powder.

NASA has manuevered its Mars orbiters to the far side of the planet so they won’t be damaged by the comet’s high-speed debris.

Even as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey and MAVEN have been repositioned to avoid hazardous dust, scientists hope they will be able to capture a trove of data about the flyby for Earthlings to study.

NASA’s two rovers — Curiosity and Opportunity — will turn their cameras skyward and send back pictures of the comet’s pass in the coming days, weeks and months, the US space agency said.

“The orbiters will keep a close eye on the show,” said Rebecca Johnson, editor of StarDate magazine.

“They’ll study the comet itself, which is a small chunk of ice and rock. They’ll also study the cloud of gas and dust around the comet, as well as its long tail,” she said.

“And they’ll measure how the gas and dust interact with the Martian atmosphere.”

The comet has traveled more than one million years to make its first pass by Mars, and will not return for another million years, after it completes its next long loop around the sun.

The comet was discovered by Robert McNaught at Australia’s Siding Spring Observatory in January 2013.

Its flyby of Mars is not likely to be visible to sky watchers on Earth.

But the encounter is of great interest to scientists, particularly since there are so many spacecraft on and around Mars to record it.

“As it zips toward the sun, it gives scientists a chance to see a relic from the distant past — a snowball that preserves the same ingredients that gave birth to our own world,” said Johnson.

 74 
 on: Oct 19, 2014, 07:07 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Cassini caught in Hyperion’s particle beam

RedOrbit
18 Oct 2014 at 10:34 ET 

Static electricity is known to play an important role on Earth's airless, dusty moon, but evidence of static charge building up on other objects in the solar system has been elusive until now. A new analysis of data from NASA's Cassini mission has revealed that, during a 2005 flyby of Saturn's moon Hyperion, the spacecraft was briefly bathed in a beam of electrons coming from the moon's electrostatically charged surface.

The finding represents the first confirmed detection of a charged surface on an object other than our moon, although it is predicted to occur on many different bodies, including asteroids and comets.

The new analysis was led by Tom Nordheim, a doctoral candidate at Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL), University College London, and was published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Hyperion is porous and icy, with a bizarre, sponge-like appearance. Its surface is continuously bombarded by ultraviolet light from the sun and exposed to a rain of charged particles -- electrons and ions -- within the invisible bubble generated by Saturn's magnetic field, called the magnetosphere. The researchers think Hyperion's exposure to this hostile space environment is the source of the particle beam that struck Cassini.

Measurements made by several of Cassini's instruments during a close encounter with Hyperion on September 26, 2005, indicate that something unexpected took place in the charged particle environment around the spacecraft. Among those instruments, the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS) detected that the spacecraft was magnetically connected to the surface of Hyperion for a brief period, allowing electrons to escape from the moon toward the robotic probe.

Most people are familiar with the electrostatic charge buildup that occurs when a balloon is rubbed against hair or a sweater. Objects in space can also become electrostatically charged by exposure to solar ultraviolet light and incoming charged particles. The Cassini data show that a similar process can take place on Hyperion.

The finding is surprising, as the small but odd-looking moon was thought to be a simple inert object, which would not undergo any strong interactions with the Saturnian magnetosphere. Nevertheless, the team's analysis indicates that Cassini remotely detected a strongly negative voltage on Hyperion. "It was rather like Cassini receiving a 200-volt electric shock from Hyperion, even though they were over 2,000 kilometers [1,200 miles] apart at the time," said Nordheim.

Scientists had previously suggested that surface features observed on the asteroid Eros and several of Saturn's moons are due to the motion of charged dust across their surfaces. On small objects with low gravity, dust grains might even be able to overcome the force of gravity and escape into space.

Although mission controllers have detected no signs that the Hyperion electron beam caused damage to Cassini, strong electric charging effects could prove to be a hazard to future robotic and human explorers at planetary objects without atmospheres, including Earth's moon, where they could create the potential for powerful electrostatic discharges.

"Our observations show that this is also an important effect at outer planet moons and that we need to take this into account when studying how these moons interact with their environment," said Geraint Jones of MSSL, a member of the Cassini CAPS team who helped supervise the study.

Cassini's CAPS instrument was powered off in 2012, when the instrument began to draw excess current. The team is based at Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio. Part of the CAPS instrument that made the detection discussed in this research -- the CAPS electron spectrometer -- was built by MSSL.

Nordheim and colleagues also utilized data from three other Cassini instruments in their analysis: the Radio and Plasma Wave Science instrument, the Magnetospheric Imaging Instrument and the magnetometer.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. 

 75 
 on: Oct 19, 2014, 07:03 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Are we in the Anthropocene? Scientists ask if this is the new epoch of humans

Ian Sample, The Guardian
18 Oct 2014 at 13:45 ET                   

A disparate group of experts from around the world will meet for the first time on Thursday for talks on what must rank as one of the most momentous decisions in human history.

The question confronting the scientists and other specialists is straightforward enough, even if the solution is far from simple. Is it time to call an end to the epoch we live in and declare the dawn of a new time period: one defined by humanity’s imprint on the planet?

The 30-strong group, made up of geologists, climate scientists, ecologists – and a lawyer for good measure – will start their deliberations in a room at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, or House of the Cultures of the World, a contemporary arts centre in Berlin.

Like many things in the world of geology, little moves fast at the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), the body that decides the time period we live in. But the arrival and informal adoption of the word “anthropocene” to mean a new epoch of humanity has somewhat forced their hand.

The word came into common usage after Paul Crutzen, a Dutch chemist and Nobel prize winner, used the term in 2000. He arguedin an academic newsletter that the current geological epoch should be awarded the new name to reflect the major and ongoing impact of human life on Earth.

The official arrival of the Anthropocene would mark the end of the Holocene, the geological time we live in now. Identified by a geochemical signal in Greenland ice cores that marks the onset of warmer and wetter conditions at the end of the last ice age, the Holocene defined a time when humans colonised new territories and the population swelled.

Though many scientists are happy with the Holocene, the Anthropocene was quickly picked up on. It entered the lexicon of archaeologists, historians, climate scientists and environmentalists. For the ICS, which balks at terms being bandied about without them being properly defined, the rise of the Anthropocene posed a problem.

The ICS responded the way any large and conservative organisation might. Its subcommission on quaternary stratigraphy set up a working group on the Anthropocene, filled it with a diverse range of experts, and handed the problem to them. The working group has given itself until 2016 to bash out a proposal for the ICS to consider.

“Crutzen, who is not a geologist, but one of the modern great scientists, essentially launched a small hand grenade into the world of geological time scales,” Jan Zalasiewicz, chair of the ICS’s anthropocene working group, told the Guardian. “The word began to be used widely, well before geologists ever got involved.”

The secretary of the working group, Colin Waters, a principal mapping geologist at the British Geological Survey, said the term has come to mean different things as it has spread to different groups, a situation that can only end in headaches. “It’s so widely used now that there are at least three journals using the term Anthropocene in their titles, yet no-one knows what is meant by the term. It’s like having a set of publications on the Jurassic without anyone knowing what the word Jurassic means. We need a common understanding,” he said.

The history of the Earth is divided up according to the geological time scale, which is set by the International Commission on Stratigraphy. The longest units of time are periods, such as the Tertiary period, which spans from around 2.5 million years ago to 66 million years ago. Epochs are shorter, such as the Eocene, which ran from 56 million years ago to 34 million years ago. Shorter still are ages, such as the Messinian, which spanned the past 7 to 5 million years.

The working group must first thrash out a definition of the anthropocene and then work out whether it wants the ICS to make the term official and at what level. Crutzen proposed it as a new epoch – as the suffix “cene” suggests – and the working group will use this as a starting point.

In the past, the ICS has looked to rocks to define different time periods in Earth’s history. The Cambrian period, which began more than half a billion years ago, marks the moment when major groups of animals first appeared as fossils in rock strata.

This time, the signals may be less wondrous. One marker for the start of the Anthropocene that the group will consider is the sudden and global arrival of radionuclides left over from atomic bombs in the 1940s and 1950s. One advantage is that plutonium, caesium, strontium and other substances can be linked to a specific date in time as well as a clear line in rock, called a golden spike, in the business. “The boundary might be set at 1945 when that started,” said Zalasiewicz.

Other options are the widespread use of plastic, the release of polyaromatic hydrocarbons from the burning of fossil fuels, and lead contamination from petroleum, which all leave stark traces in the Earth. Crutzen argued for the late 18th century as the start of the industrial revolution.

But some scientists are completely against the idea. Phil Gibbard, a geologist at Cambridge who set up the working group in the first place, is one. “ I’m not in favour of this being defined formally as a division of geological time. I think it’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to do,” he said. “We are living in an interglacial period and there’s no question we’re still within that period, and it’s called the holocene.”

Mike Ellis, a member of the working group and head of climate change at the British Geological Survey, disagrees: “The principal process of change on the planet is us, so the name of our epoch should reflect that. It’s as simple as that.

“It acknowledges that humans and the human process is as much a natural process as any other natural process that we are used to thinking about, such as volcanoes and earthquakes. The things we do and the things we make; the rules and legislation we come up with to control the way we live, they are a natural process and it emerges out of this thing called the Earth.”

 76 
 on: Oct 19, 2014, 07:03 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Are we in the Anthropocene? Scientists ask if this is the new epoch of humans

Ian Sample, The Guardian
18 Oct 2014 at 13:45 ET                   

A disparate group of experts from around the world will meet for the first time on Thursday for talks on what must rank as one of the most momentous decisions in human history.

The question confronting the scientists and other specialists is straightforward enough, even if the solution is far from simple. Is it time to call an end to the epoch we live in and declare the dawn of a new time period: one defined by humanity’s imprint on the planet?

The 30-strong group, made up of geologists, climate scientists, ecologists – and a lawyer for good measure – will start their deliberations in a room at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, or House of the Cultures of the World, a contemporary arts centre in Berlin.

Like many things in the world of geology, little moves fast at the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), the body that decides the time period we live in. But the arrival and informal adoption of the word “anthropocene” to mean a new epoch of humanity has somewhat forced their hand.

The word came into common usage after Paul Crutzen, a Dutch chemist and Nobel prize winner, used the term in 2000. He arguedin an academic newsletter that the current geological epoch should be awarded the new name to reflect the major and ongoing impact of human life on Earth.

The official arrival of the Anthropocene would mark the end of the Holocene, the geological time we live in now. Identified by a geochemical signal in Greenland ice cores that marks the onset of warmer and wetter conditions at the end of the last ice age, the Holocene defined a time when humans colonised new territories and the population swelled.

Though many scientists are happy with the Holocene, the Anthropocene was quickly picked up on. It entered the lexicon of archaeologists, historians, climate scientists and environmentalists. For the ICS, which balks at terms being bandied about without them being properly defined, the rise of the Anthropocene posed a problem.

The ICS responded the way any large and conservative organisation might. Its subcommission on quaternary stratigraphy set up a working group on the Anthropocene, filled it with a diverse range of experts, and handed the problem to them. The working group has given itself until 2016 to bash out a proposal for the ICS to consider.

“Crutzen, who is not a geologist, but one of the modern great scientists, essentially launched a small hand grenade into the world of geological time scales,” Jan Zalasiewicz, chair of the ICS’s anthropocene working group, told the Guardian. “The word began to be used widely, well before geologists ever got involved.”

The secretary of the working group, Colin Waters, a principal mapping geologist at the British Geological Survey, said the term has come to mean different things as it has spread to different groups, a situation that can only end in headaches. “It’s so widely used now that there are at least three journals using the term Anthropocene in their titles, yet no-one knows what is meant by the term. It’s like having a set of publications on the Jurassic without anyone knowing what the word Jurassic means. We need a common understanding,” he said.

The history of the Earth is divided up according to the geological time scale, which is set by the International Commission on Stratigraphy. The longest units of time are periods, such as the Tertiary period, which spans from around 2.5 million years ago to 66 million years ago. Epochs are shorter, such as the Eocene, which ran from 56 million years ago to 34 million years ago. Shorter still are ages, such as the Messinian, which spanned the past 7 to 5 million years.

The working group must first thrash out a definition of the anthropocene and then work out whether it wants the ICS to make the term official and at what level. Crutzen proposed it as a new epoch – as the suffix “cene” suggests – and the working group will use this as a starting point.

In the past, the ICS has looked to rocks to define different time periods in Earth’s history. The Cambrian period, which began more than half a billion years ago, marks the moment when major groups of animals first appeared as fossils in rock strata.

This time, the signals may be less wondrous. One marker for the start of the Anthropocene that the group will consider is the sudden and global arrival of radionuclides left over from atomic bombs in the 1940s and 1950s. One advantage is that plutonium, caesium, strontium and other substances can be linked to a specific date in time as well as a clear line in rock, called a golden spike, in the business. “The boundary might be set at 1945 when that started,” said Zalasiewicz.

Other options are the widespread use of plastic, the release of polyaromatic hydrocarbons from the burning of fossil fuels, and lead contamination from petroleum, which all leave stark traces in the Earth. Crutzen argued for the late 18th century as the start of the industrial revolution.

But some scientists are completely against the idea. Phil Gibbard, a geologist at Cambridge who set up the working group in the first place, is one. “ I’m not in favour of this being defined formally as a division of geological time. I think it’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to do,” he said. “We are living in an interglacial period and there’s no question we’re still within that period, and it’s called the holocene.”

Mike Ellis, a member of the working group and head of climate change at the British Geological Survey, disagrees: “The principal process of change on the planet is us, so the name of our epoch should reflect that. It’s as simple as that.

“It acknowledges that humans and the human process is as much a natural process as any other natural process that we are used to thinking about, such as volcanoes and earthquakes. The things we do and the things we make; the rules and legislation we come up with to control the way we live, they are a natural process and it emerges out of this thing called the Earth.”

 77 
 on: Oct 19, 2014, 07:00 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Brazil Contenders Gear Up for Final Vote

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 October 2014, 07:07

Leftist incumbent Dilma Rousseff and Social Democratic challenger Aecio Neves are fighting to break a statistical tie in the polls a week out from next Sunday's presidential runoff.

The contest has developed into the closest-fought in a generation as Neves, scion of a political dynasty, looks to unseat Rousseff, whose Workers Party (PT) has been in power for 12 years.

Having unexpectedly thrashed environmentalist Marina Silva in the first round, Neves, former governor of southern Minas Gerais state, has his nose just in front, polls say.

But his advantage going into this weekend was wafer-thin at 51 percent to 49, leaving him and Rousseff in a virtual dead heat.

The past week has seen Neves 54, and Rousseff, 66, engage in caustic debate with both accusing the other of lying and turning a blind eye to graft, a key issue in the debate amid a kickbacks scandal involving oil giant Petrobras.

While insisting he will keep in place extensive PT welfare reform programs after they pulled millions out of poverty in the past decade, Neves has accused Rousseff's administration of failing on the economy by leading it into recession this year.

Rousseff's four years have been marked by low growth which had raced ahead under predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

With the Petrobras scandal also haunting her administration -- though his own party has not escaped allegations of wrongdoing -- Neves insists that "Brazil cannot take another four years of misgovernment on this scale."

Rousseff fired back by unsubtly referring to 2011 reports of Neves refusing to take a breathalyzer test and insisting that his party, which ruled Brazil for eight years before Lula triumphed in 2002, would seek to unpick the welfare reforms which have won international renown.

"My government will care for all Brazilians, in contrast to the previous one (of 1995-2002 Social Democrat (PSDB) president Fernando Henrique Cardoso) which only served the elite," trumpeted Rousseff, who polled eight percent more than her rival in the October 5 first round.

- Class divisions -Though many Brazilians fed up with poor public services and corruption say they want change next week's run-off features two candidates whose respective parties have ruled the country between them for the past two decades.

The country is also split down the middle, between the largely PT-supporting, less well off North and the richer South, where Neves' pro-business message is well received.

"This is an extremely divisive election. The upper middle and upper classes have gone for Neves, and the lower middle and the excluded -- at whom the PT's big social programs are directed -- are voting for Rousseff," Mauro Paulino, director of polling agency Datafolha, told Agence France Presse.

But he explains that, for those in the middle, things are less clear-cut.

"The middle class, which grew most under PT rule and forms a large swath of the electorate (at around 36 percent), is divided between the two candidates.

"On the one hand they are afraid to lose the gains associated with the PT, such as access to consumer goods. But on the other, there is a feeling of indignation as the process of life getting better has been interrupted.

"They recognize the improvements -- but they want more," says Paulino

For Ricardo Ribeiro, analyst with MCM Consultancy, "where there is a real battle between the PT and PSDB is among middle class voters who do not depend upon the main bolsa familia social program" to supplement the wages of the poorest "but (who) can benefit from other grants."

Such aid includes state help with university fees and other studies as well as housing programs for families who Ribeiro indicates generally may espouse "traditional middle class values."

The financial world is meanwhile solidly behind Neves, criticizing Rousseff for economic micro-management and excessive state reach while allowing inflation to breach a government ceiling target of 6.5 percent.

- Rising anti-PT tide -"After 12 years of PT rule there is a rising anti-PT tide -- this election is more polarized than any we have seen since 1989," says political consultant Andre Cesar.

"That is a bad thing for the next president as he (or she if Rousseff retains her post) will inherit a divided country with an economy in the doldrums and a fragmented Congress comprising 28 parties."

Source: Agence France Presse

 78 
 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:59 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Bolivia's Morales Wins Reelection with 61 Percent

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 October 2014, 07:05

President Evo Morales swept to a third term with 61 percent of the vote, electoral officials said Saturday in confirming the result.

The October 12 balloting was a massive vote of support and a strong mandate to expand his leftist reforms.

In power since 2006 and Bolivia's first indigenous president, Morales earned 37 points more than his closest rival, wealthy cement magnate Samuel Doria Medina.

Morales will extend his time in office to 14 years, until January 2020, after Bolivia's Supreme Court ruled last year that his first term was exempt from a new constitution adopted in 2009 that imposed a limit of one re-election for sitting presidents.

After rising to prominence as a union leader fighting for the rights of the country's coca growers, Morales has brought sweeping changes since taking office in 2006.

His government has nationalized a broad range of industries, including oil, gas, mining, telecommunications and water; rolled out welfare grants for the elderly, children and expectant mothers; and moved to empower previously marginalized groups, among them the indigenous people who account for 65 percent of the population.

Defying opponents' dire warnings of economic catastrophe, Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, has instead seen a boom.

The economy grew 6.8 percent last year and is forecast to grow more than five percent this year, one of the fastest rates in the region.

Source: Agence France Presse

 79 
 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:58 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Mexico Finds Many Corpses, but Not Lost 43

By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
OCT. 18, 2014
IHT

IGUALA, Mexico — With borrowed shovels and pick axes, the farmers drove their battered pickup trucks to a series of suspicious clearings in the countryside, jumped out and started digging.

“Hey, hey, it’s a spine,” one of the men, part of a citizen police patrol, called out last week, fishing out what appeared to be a piece of spinal column. Soon came other fragments — a rib? a knee bone?

Five mass graves have already been discovered in the hunt for 43 students who disappeared last month after clashing with the local police — and another half dozen secret burial sites like this one are being tested to determine the origins of the remains inside.

Even with hundreds of soldiers, federal officers, state personnel and local residents on the trail, the search has still not confirmed what happened to the missing students. Instead, it has turned up something just as chilling: a multitude of clandestine graves with unknown occupants right on the outskirts of town, barely concealing the extensive toll organized crime has taken on this nation.

The students were reported missing after the local police, now accused of working with a local drug gang, shot to death six people on Sept. 26. Prosecutors say they believe that officers abducted a large number of the students and then turned them over to the gang. The students have not been seen since.

President Enrique Peña Nieto has declared the search for the missing students his administration’s top priority. But if anything, the hunt is confirming that the crisis of organized crime in Mexico, where tens of thousands are already known to have been killed in the drug war in recent years, may be worse than the authorities have acknowledged.

The federal government has celebrated official statistics suggesting a decline in homicides in recent months. But the proliferation of graves here in the restive state of Guerrero — including at least 28 charred human bodies that turned out not to be the missing students — has cast new doubt over the government’s tally, potentially pointing to a large number of uncounted dead.

Relatives of the students, who were training to be teachers and planning a protest against cuts to their college, agonize over the discovery of each mass grave. Some have given up searching on their own, convinced that a mafia of criminals and politicians knows where they are but are not saying.

Many still believe the lost students are alive, joining the distressed fraternity of relatives of the thousands still missing from the drug war in Mexico. Such cases are rarely solved.

Hours before the latest possible graves were found, María Oliveras, the mother of Antonio Santana, one of the missing students, lit a candle and prayed at the campus where she and other relatives are holding a constant vigil.

“I just want to know how he is, where he is and what he is doing,” she said. “When they find remains, I don’t want to believe it is him. You have to believe he is alive and for some reason they haven’t turned him over.”

In his first two years in office, Mr. Peña Nieto has focused on revamping the economy and drawing foreign investors, earning praise from some economists who say he has set the stage for future growth.

But critics argue that in the process, Mr. Peña Nieto has largely overlooked the lawlessness of towns like this one, 120 miles south of Mexico City, the evidence of which lies literally just under their surface.

“Impunity is the main motivation for these numerous disappearances,” said Alejandro Hope, a former Mexican intelligence official. “We must remember that only one in every five murder cases is solved in Mexico, whereas in the U.S. it’s two out of three cases. This is due to impunity, weak institutions and a decentralized search and localization process.”

Members of the farmer brigades searching for the students — calling themselves “community police” who have stepped into the vacuum of authority in southern Mexico — said they were acting on a rash of tips from residents who do not trust any of the professional police.

Leaning on a shovel, Miguel Ángel Jiménez, a leader of the community police, said he doubted the students could have been buried in this spot because the growth of weeds over it looked thicker than a few weeks would produce.

“But even if it is not them, we can’t let these graves go unsolved,” he said, bringing a halt to the digging. “Once we find some bones, we stop and let the forensic investigators come in.”

It will take a couple of weeks for the authorities to test all of the new remains discovered in recent days. Prosecutors have confirmed that the corpses and remains in at least five mass graves uncovered so far are human, but they have not yet tied them to any of the students.

On Friday, acting again on tips from residents, the farmer brigades searched a hilly trail, looking for caves in which residents believe bodies were left. Along the way, they found what appeared to be a safe house for a gang, littered with bottles, old clothes, candles and a portrait of Jesús Malverde, a gang icon.

Later, a local guide working with them got a threatening telephone call as he headed down the trail from the cave.

“Stop going up there,” the voice said over and over before hanging up, the man said.

The school the students attended, the Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos, is a teacher college with radical roots, steeped in revolutionary ferment and slogans.

Now parents and other family members of the missing bide their time there, sipping coffee, chatting in clusters and sleeping on mattresses stuffed into classrooms and other spare space.

The students had been organizing an Oct. 2 protest against cuts to their state-financed school, but they appear to have gotten into a skirmish with the police when they tried to steal buses to travel to and from the demonstration, human rights groups said.

“Sometimes I can’t just sit and think,” said the mother of one student at the school, declining to give her name out of fear. She clutched a piece of paper with a prayer for “the Protection of the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ” written on it.

Her husband scoffed at what he considered a big charade on the part of the authorities. “We can’t search; we don’t know the terrain,” he said with anger. “But they already know where they are. Just bring him to us.”

Eleucadio Ortega, another father, said his gut tightened with each report of a grave being found. In the days after his son, Mauricio Ortega, went missing, he searched parts of Iguala with other parents. But they found the effort futile and believe that only informants in the criminal world can provide real leads.

He wonders if somehow the students got mistaken for any number of groups in conflict in the state, including a range of guerrilla groups and gangs. But, he said, his son was simply a peasant farmer who wanted to be a teacher to get ahead.

“Somebody knows what happened to him and the others,” he said. “Somebody needs to bring them back.”

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 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:54 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Ebola: Liberia deaths ‘far higher than reported’ as officials downplay epidemic

Film-maker Sorious Samura, recently returned from Liberia, says Ebola is still not under control, with cultural practices and data problems masking the true extent of the epidemic

Mark Townsend   
The Observer, Sunday 19 October 2014      

The true death toll from the Ebola epidemic is being masked by chaotic data collection and people’s reluctance to admit that their loved ones had the virus, according to one of west Africa’s most celebrated film-makers.

Sorious Samura, who has just returned from making a documentary on the crisis in Liberia, said it is very clear on the ground that the true number of dead is far higher than the official figures being reported by the World Health Organisation.

Liberia accounts for more than half of all the official Ebola deaths, with a total of 2,458. Overall, the number of dead across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has exceeded 4,500.

Samura, a television journalist originally from Sierra Leone, said the Liberian authorities appeared to be deliberately downplaying the true number of cases, for fear of increasing alarm in the west African country.

“People are dying in greater numbers than we know, according to MSF [Médecins sans Frontières] and WHO officials. Certain departments are refusing to give them the figures – because the lower it is, the more peace of mind they can give people. The truth is that it is still not under control.”

WHO has admitted that problems with data-gathering make it hard to track the evolution of the epidemic, with the number of cases in the capital, Monrovia, going under-reported. Efforts to count freshly dug graves had been abandoned.

Local culture is also distorting the figures. Traditional burial rites involve relatives touching the body – a practice that can spread Ebola – so the Liberian government has ruled that Ebola victims must be cremated.

“They don’t like this burning of bodies,” said Samura, whose programme will air on 12 November on Al Jazeera English. “Before the government gets there they will have buried their loved ones and broken all the rules.”

Kim West of MSF admitted that calculating deaths was “virtually impossible”, adding that only when retrospective surveys were conducted would the true figure be known.

Samura believes sexual promiscuity among westerners could play a role in the virus’s spread abroad. Almost immediately after the outbreak was reported in March, Liberia’s health minister warned people to stop having sex because the virus was spread via bodily fluids as well as kissing.“I saw westerners in nightclubs, on beaches, guys picking up prostitutes,” he said. “Westerners who ought to know better are going to nightclubs and partying and dancing. It beggars belief.It’s scary.”

He said another striking feature was that the ineffectiveness of years of aid had been laid bare: “Money has poured in from the west, but it has gone to waste. Ebola should make us think about how the west gives aid to Africa; aid has not been used to create a system able to cope with this challenge. Ebola has exposed the fact it is not working. That money has gone to waste.”

A committee of MPs recently criticised the Department for International Development and the EU for failing to address the problem of aid being misappropriated. It said just £2.4m of £37m of aid had actually made its way to Liberia’s health ministry.

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