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Archive for the ‘government’ Category

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How Psychedelic Drugs Can Help Patients Face Death

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Painted Trees Overlooking LSD
Painted Trees Overlooking LSD1

Psychedelic drugs have a lot of potential, especially if we can separate the puritanical Drug-War impulses of politicians from science.

Pam Sakuda was 55 when she found out she was dying. Shortly after having a tumor removed from her colon, she heard the doctor’s dreaded words: Stage 4; metastatic.…As her fears intensified, Sakuda learned of a study being conducted by Charles Grob, a psychiatrist and researcher at Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center who was administering psilocybin — an active component of magic mushrooms — to end-stage cancer patients to see if it could reduce their fear of death. Twenty-two months before she died, Sakuda became one of Grob’s 12 subjects. When the research was completed in 2008 — (and published in the Archives of General Psychiatry last year) — the results showed that administering psilocybin to terminally ill subjects could be done safely while reducing the subjects’ anxiety and depression about their impending deaths.

Grob’s interest in the power of psychedelics to mitigate mortality’s sting is not just the obsession of one lone researcher. Dr. John Halpern, head of the Laboratory for Integrative Psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont Mass., a psychiatric training hospital for Harvard Medical School, used MDMA — also known as ecstasy — in an effort to ease end-of-life anxieties in two patients with Stage 4 cancer. And there are two ongoing studies using psilocybin with terminal patients, one at New York University’s medical school, led by Stephen Ross, and another at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where Roland Griffiths has administered psilocybin to 22 cancer patients and is aiming for a sample size of 44. “This research is in its very early stages,” Grob told me earlier this month, “but we’re getting consistently good results.”

Grob and his colleagues are part of a resurgence of scientific interest in the healing power of psychedelics. Michael Mithoefer, for instance, has shown that MDMA is an effective treatment for severe P.T.S.D. Halpern has examined case studies of people with cluster headaches who took LSD and reported their symptoms greatly diminished. And psychedelics have been recently examined as treatment for alcoholism and other addictions.

Despite the promise of these investigations, Grob and other end-of-life researchers are careful about the image they cultivate, distancing themselves as much as possible from the 1960s, when psychedelics were embraced by many and used in a host of controversial studies, most famously the psilocybin project run by Timothy Leary. Grob described the rampant drug use that characterized the ’60s as “out of control” and said of his and others’ current research, “We are trying to stay under the radar. We want to be anti-Leary.” Halpern agreed. “We are serious sober scientists,” he told me.

(click here to continue reading How Psychedelic Drugs Can Help Patients Face Death – NYTimes.com.)

Bear in mind, marijuana is sometimes considered a psychedelic drug, and the US still hasn’t stopped demonizing it, despite the number of successful pot smokers who partake (or have partook)…

Quoting myself:

The Office of National Drug Control Policy is by far one of the most ridiculous wastes of taxpayer money in our nation. Their mandate is to convince young folks that marijuana is a demon weed, and that one toke will corrupt young minds forever, and ever, amen. A current ad asserts that if you partake of cannabis, the only career options left for you will be comical dead-end jobs like “Burrito Taster” and “Couch Security Guard” and so on.

[and from The Agitator: Successful Pot Smokers: Let’s Make a List

Barack Obama, president-elect. Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the U.S. John Kerry, U.S. Senator and 2004 Democratic nominee for president. John Edwards, multi-millionaire, former U.S. Senator, and 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president. Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, 2008 Republican nominee for vice president. British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, and and Chancellor Alistair Darling. Josh Howard, NBA all-star. New York Governor David Paterson. Former Vice President, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Oscar winner Al Gore. Former Sen. Bill Bradley, who smoked while playing professional basketball. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and former New York Governor George Pataki. Billionaire and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

That’s the result of a five-minute Google search. The presence of so many high-ranking politicians so early in the search results puts the lie to the ONDCP’s ridiculous ad campaign, and shows that to the extent that marijuana is harmful, the harm lies mostly in what the government will do to you to you if it catches you

Footnotes:
  1. Lake Shore Drive, but seems a bit trippy to me []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 20th, 2012 at 11:30 am

Posted in government,science

Tagged with , , ,

The Worst Farm Bill Ever

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Summer Squash
Summer Squash

The so-called Farm Bill is a five year plan for American agriculture policy, and as usual, rewards food corporations instead of consumers, and is adverse to encouraging sustainable food production.

For decades, groups like Fred Hoefner’s [National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition] have worked hard to create a set of programs designed to at least partially offset US farm policy’s tendency to bolster Big Ag. The programs, which the Obama Administration in 2009 grouped under the banner of Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, include initiatives designed to assist new farmers to get loans help communities roll out farmers markets, and reduce  costs for farms to transition to organic.

Taken as a whole, Hoefner says, the programs amount to about $175 million per year—less than 1 percent of the non-food stamps portion of the farm bill. “These programs make up an extremely modest portion of the farm bill’s budget, but they’ve had a large impact on communities nationwide,” Hoefner said. Hoefner pointed to a wide-ranging recent USDA study documenting positive impact of the programs.

Corn and Cornier
Corn and Cornier

and of course having lots of money to hire lobbyists always pays off for food corporations:

Big Ag continues to get support for monster corn and soy crops. Large commodity growers will take a nominal hit in the next farm bill. For years, farmers in a few chosen crops—corn, soy, cotton, etc.—have received $5 billion per year in so-called “direct payments” based on the acreage under production. In order to receive direct payments, farmers had to sign so called “conservation-compliance” agreements, which obligated them to create conservation plans for highly erodible land and agree not to drain wetlands for planting. The conservation-compliance agreements were far from perfect, Hoefner says, but they did help slow soil erosion in the Corn Belt for years.

In the next farm bill, direct payments will almost certainly be scrapped, Hoefner says, and replaced by a revenue-insurance scheme that is projected to cost $3.5 billion per year, saving taxpayers $1.5 billion per year. Sounds like a step forward, right? Wrong. First of all, in current negotiations, there is no conservation-compliance requirement for revenue insurance—meaning that farmers will have incentive to drain wetlands to grow crops, as well as expand crops onto erosion-prone land. Moreover, the new scheme will likely insure prices at high levels—meaning that relatively small price dips could cost taxpayers serious money, potentially wiping out that promised $1.5 billion in savings.

The switch to revenue insurance, Hoefner says, will “further reduce the risk of putting the pedal to the metal on commodity production, [with] no incentive whatsoever to diversify crops or leave any ground unplanted.” All of that, of course, is manna to the companies that supply inputs to industrial-scale farmers: seed and pesticide companies like Monsanto and Syngenta; and to the companies that buy corn and soy and transform them into a range of low-quality, profitable foods.

(click here to continue reading The Worst Farm Bill Ever? | Mother Jones.)

Some of my bounty from FreshPicks.com
Some of my bounty from FreshPicks.com

Lobbyists won’t like this suggestion:

The federal government could save about $1 billion a year by reducing the subsidies it pays to large farmers to cover much of the cost of their crop insurance, according to a report by Congressional auditors due to be released on Thursday.

The report raised the prospect of the government’s capping the amount that farmers receive at $40,000 a year, much as the government caps payments in other farm programs. Any move to limit the subsidy, however, is likely to be opposed by rural lawmakers, who say the program provides a safety net for agriculture.

The report, by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, was requested by Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, as part of his efforts to cut government spending.

Under the federal crop insurance program, farmers can buy insurance policies that cover poor yields, declines in prices or both. The insurance is obtained through private companies, but the federal government pays about 62 percent of the premiums, plus administrative expenses.

The crop insurance subsidy, according to the G.A.O. report, ballooned to $7.3 billion last year from $951 million in 2000, or about $1.2 billion adjusted for inflation. A Congressional Budget Office study cited in the report estimates that the premium subsidy will cost $39 billion from 2012 to 2016, about $7.8 billion a year.

Unlike other farm programs that have income or payment limits, crop insurance payments have no such restrictions, so farmers can get millions in subsidies regardless of their income. The G.A.O. said a cap last year would have affected about 4 percent of farmers in the program, who accounted for about a third of the premium subsidies and were mostly associated with large farms.

(click here to continue reading Cap on Farm Insurance Subsidy Could Save Billions, Report Says – NYTimes.com.)

City Farm
City Farm

and we ignore climate change at our peril:

One of the biggest challenges facing this planet isn’t simply feeding a growing population — perhaps as many as 10 billion by the year 2100. The challenge is feeding all those people as the climate changes in ways we can barely project. A new report called “Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change” (PDF) illustrates the complexity of the problem and makes clear that action must be taken soon to address it.

Commissioned by Cgiar — a research alliance financed by the United Nations and the World Bank — it recommends essential changes in the way we think about farming, food and equitable access to it, and the way these things affect climate change.

It is tempting to assume that expanding agricultural acreage and using new technology, like genetically engineered crops, will somehow save the day. The report says that efficiency and sustainability will also require fundamental changes in how we grow and consume food: reducing waste in production and distribution and finding ways to farm that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and other “negative environmental impacts of agriculture,” like soil loss and water pollution. The report also calls for better dietary habits in wealthy countries, which have a disproportionately and unsustainably high calorie intake, and targeted aid to populations whose farming is most at risk.

(click here to continue reading Sustainably Feeding a Changing World – NYTimes.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

April 12th, 2012 at 8:28 am

FTC Should Pursue Case Against Google

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Electric Eye
Google’s Electric Eye sees all

Google really has lost whatever ethics it may have once had1 and should really have to pay a price for their latest lapse. Especially since Google and the Federal Trade Commission had an arrangement already, and Google violated it within weeks…

The Stanford privacy researcher who first uncovered Google evading the default privacy settings for all users of Apple’s Safari web browser believes that the Federal Trade Commission has a “slam dunk” case that Google violated its privacy agreement with the government.

“The facts in this case are unusually clear cut,” Jonathan Mayer, a grad student in computer science and law and a researcher at the Stanford Law Center for Internet and Society, in a phone interview with TPM.

…Aside from further tarnishing Google’s image in the press and public at a crucial time (the search giant was at the time getting ready to roll out a controversial new privacy policy), the news led many writers, including TPM, to speculate that Google could be found in violation of a privacy settlement it agreed to with the Federal Trade Commission.

The settlement, first struck in October 2011 , was the result of the FTC’s year-long privacy investigation into Google over its failed Google Buzz social network. The FTC concluded that Google had indeed misled users and violated their privacy and subjected Google to 20 years worth of privacy audits and ordered that Google no longer “misrepresent” its privacy settings to users. If Google violates any of the terms of the settlement, the FTC can slap the company with a $16,000 civil fine for every day that the company violated any of the terms.

On Thursday night, The Journal reported that the FTC “is examining whether Google’s actions violated last year’s legal settlement,” and another regulatory body in France (the CNIL) and several states attorneys general were also investigating Google over the practice and could levy fines of their own.

 

(click here to continue reading FTC Has ‘Slam Dunk’ Case Against Google, Privacy Researcher Says | TPM Idea Lab.)

Or Pay The Price
Or Pay The Price

and from the WSJ:

In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission is examining whether Google’s actions violated last year’s legal settlement with the government in which Google pledged not to “misrepresent” its privacy practices to consumers, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The fine for violating the agreement is $16,000 per violation, per day. Because millions of people were affected, any fine could add up quickly, depending on how it is calculated. The FTC declined to comment.

A group of state attorneys general, including New York’s Eric Schneiderman and Connecticut’s George Jepsen, are also investigating Google’s circumvention of Safari’s privacy settings, according to people familiar with the investigation. State attorneys general can have the ability to levy fines of up to $5,000 per violation.

In Europe, the French Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés, or CNIL, has added the Safari circumvention technique to its existing pan-European investigation into Google’s privacy-policy changes, according to a person close to the investigation. The CNIL is the agency that levied a €100,000 ($130,960) fine on Google last year for collecting passwords and other personal information when Google vehicles were gathering information for its Street View map service.

(click here to continue reading Google Faces New Privacy Probes – WSJ.com.)

Google power and deep pockets shouldn’t be enough to evade the law, the FTC should make an example of Google, and really bring the hammer down.

Footnotes:
  1. perhaps it never had ethics and was just better at covering up its questionable decisions. No matter []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 20th, 2012 at 7:56 am

John Norquist and Our Congestion Obsession

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East To Dan Ryan Expy
East To Dan Ryan Expy

Years ago, I read a book (or series?) set in the near future where all the freeways had been turned into public parks.

Everybody’s been sort of trained to believe that if you’ve got a traffic problem, all you have to do is make the pipe bigger, you know, make the road wider and that’ll solve the problem. The Detroit metropolitan area is covered with freeways. Ever freeway you could possible imagine has been built—although there are a couple left on the drawing board—but more than any other place in the country, the Michigan DOT pretty much go its way.

And they have solved the problem that they identified, which was congestion. The city of Detroit doesn’t really have a problem with congestion anymore. That’s the least of their problems. So by creating a transportation system that encouraged people to leave town—the population of the city is about a third of what it was since 1950. They had 300 miles of streetcars at the end of the war. That’s all gone. Now they have these big roads. The street grid has been cut up, so it’s hard to move around on the surface streets. And normally that’s a big problem, but with Detroit the rush hour has become so uneventful that you really don’t have a problem with congestion. You have to go out to the suburbs to find congestion that you’re used to in America…

The stated goal was to battle congestion, and in Detroit, they did it. And there are side effects. You could take care of congestion in New York in a similar way: If you eliminate the 700 miles of subway, eliminate the commuter trains, build the Cross-Manhattan Expressway, put the West Side Highway back in—build all the freeways that Robert Moses didn’t get around to building—you could probably solve the congestion problem in New York. Manhattan’s population would drop from 2 million down to half a million, and the city would become a really poor place instead of a rich place.

The point I’m making is that, since the postwar period, federal transportation policy has been focused on eliminating congestion, and that’s too narrow a goal. The goal ought to be, What adds value to society? What adds value to the economy? If you look at the richest places in America, they’re the most congested.

(click here to continue reading Next American City » Buzz » INTERVIEW: John Norquist and Our Congestion Obsession.)

Also too bad the current crop of Republicans is so anti-train: city congestion is one thing, but what about travel from city to city?

Written by Seth Anderson

March 18th, 2012 at 8:42 am

Posted in Business,government

Tagged with ,

LSD helps alcoholics to give up drinking

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LSD and the heartbeat of a city

LSD and the heartbeat of a city

Another victim of Nixon’s ill-guided War on Drugs…

One dose of the hallucinogenic drug LSD could help alcoholics give up drinking, according to an analysis of studies performed in the 1960s. A study, presented in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, looked at data from six trials and more than 500 patients. It said there was a “significant beneficial effect” on alcohol abuse, which lasted several months after the drug was taken. Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology analysed earlier studies on the drug between 1966 and 1970.

Patients were all taking part in alcohol treatment programmes, but some were given a single dose of LSD of between 210 and 800 micrograms. For the group of patients taking LSD, 59% showed reduced levels of alcohol misuse compared with 38% in the other group.

This effect was maintained six months after taking the hallucinogen, but it disappeared after a year. Those taking LSD also reported higher levels of abstinence.

The report’s authors, Teri Krebs and Pal-Orjan Johansen, said: “A single dose of LSD has a significant beneficial effect on alcohol misuse.”

They suggested that more regular doses might lead to a sustained benefit.

“Given the evidence for a beneficial effect of LSD on alcoholism, it is puzzling why this treatment approach has been largely overlooked,” they added.

(click here to continue reading BBC News – LSD ‘helps alcoholics to give up drinking’.)

Puzzling, until you recall that the United States government is adamantly opposed to scientists being able to even research drugs like psilocybin, LSD and marijuana, no matter how many promising studies occur. Tellingly, the US media has not, to my knowledge, published this story.
Update, just took a while. So far, NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones, and a few other not-quite mainstream players have seen fit to run a story.

Sometimes Darkness Is just a Dream
Sometimes Darkness Is just a Dream

The study is available here, as PDF, if you are interested in the details…

Alcohol is said to cause more overall harm than any other drug (Nutt et al., 2010). Alcohol contributes to about 4% of total mortality and about 5% of disability adjusted life-years to the global burden of disease (Rehm et al., 2009). Despite the often extreme individual and social consequences of alcohol misuse, many users find it challenging to stop drinking. Alcoholism, also called alcohol dependence, continues to be difficult to treat, and many patients do not achieve recovery from existing treatments (Schuckit, 2009).

Numerous clinical investigators have claimed that treating alcoholics with individual doses of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), in combination with psychosocial interventions, can help to prevent a relapse of alcohol misuse, for example, by eliciting insights into behavioural patterns and generating motivation to build a meaningful sober lifestyle (Dyck, 2008). LSD is well- known for inducing spectacular and profound effects on the mind (Henderson and Glass, 1994; Passie et al., 2008). It has previously been used in standard treatment programs for alcoholism at many clinics, but, unfortunately, assessments of the clinical value of LSD have not been based on formal systematic review and meta- analysis (Mangini, 1998). Hence, we have performed a quantita- tive evaluation of the effectiveness of LSD for alcoholism, based on data from randomized controlled clinical trials.

Methods Search strategy and selection criteria

We searched the PubMed and PsycINFO databases (1943–2010), without language restrictions, using the following terms: LSD, lysergic, lysergide, psychedelic*, or hallucinogen*; and alcohol*, addict*, or dependence. We independently inspected the searchresults by reading the titles and abstracts. We retrieved each potentially relevant publication located in the search and assessed it for inclusion, subsequently examining the reference lists of eligible studies and relevant review articles. We supplemented our search for trials by contacting experts. If publications lacked important information, we attempted to contact study investigators and institutions.

We specified inclusion and exclusion criteria and defined primary and secondary outcomes in the meta-analysis study protocol. We included randomized controlled trials of LSD for alcoholism, in which control condition involved any type of treatment, including doses of up to 50 mcg LSD as an active control. If a trial included multiple randomized treatment arms, all participants in the eligible LSD arms and all participants in the eligible control arms were pooled for analysis. We excluded participants with schizophrenia or psychosis from analysis, as psychosis is recognized as a contraindication for treatment with LSD (Johnson et al., 2008; Passie et al., 2008).

Written by Seth Anderson

March 9th, 2012 at 8:26 am

Posted in government,science

Tagged with , ,

Why Hull House Lost Its Way

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Hull House circa 1997
Hull House circa 1997

Cory Franklin thinks the reason that Hull House shut down was that it became dependent upon government money to stay afloat, and Illinois is not flush with cash these days, nor is helping poor people top priority of most politicians…

In 1889, future Nobel Prize winner Jane Addams and her associate Ellen Starr founded Hull House after visiting London’s Toynbee Hall, the oldest settlement house in the world. In England’s class-ridden society, Toynbee’s philosophy was to bring the wealthy and poor together — “to learn as much as to teach, to receive as much as to give” — and create a sense of community between the classes. As Addams expressed it, “to accentuate the likenesses and ignore the differences which are found among the people whom the settlement constantly brings into juxtaposition.”

Hull House provided social and educational support to Chicago’s immigrant poor and dispossessed at a time when class struggle threatened to tear Chicago apart. The 1886 Haymarket riot and the 1894 Pullman strike created social turmoil and class resentment in the city. In that environment, Addams and Starr fostered personal interaction at Hull House between the rich, middle class and the poor.

Tradesmen taught skills. College graduates and the wealthy led artistic and music programs. Social clubs showed immigrants how to assimilate. Hull House was renowned for lively discussions of religion, politics and the arts. People of widely different backgrounds and outlooks learned about each other and worked together for the goals of the progressive movement: child labor laws, unemployment compensation, women’s suffrage and protection of immigrants and minorities.

Hull House was originally financed by private money but then, as now, private money was limited. As Addams wrote in “Twenty Years At Hull House,” “we were often bitterly pressed for money and worried by the prospect of unpaid bills, and we gave up one golden scheme after another because we could not afford it; we cooked the meals and kept the books and washed the windows without a thought of hardship if we thereby saved money for the consummation of some ardently desired undertaking.”

She harbored no illusions about government or politicians. She admired the latter for their ability to gain the trust of the poor. She understood this was often through patronage, which she loathed. However, she would confront politicians when she believed their venality undermined her constituents. She worked with government since she understood it was able to do many things Hull House could not, and she willingly ceded those responsibilities. However, she avoided having Hull House become too reliant on government.

(click here to continue reading Commentary: Why Hull House had to shut down – chicagotribune.com.)

 

Written by Seth Anderson

February 15th, 2012 at 8:12 am

Posted in government

Tagged with

When Will the USDOJ Get Serious About Murdoch?

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A Silence So Loud
A Silence So Loud

Let’s hope by this summer, or even autumn, the House Corrupt of Rupert Murdoch begins to fall. Just in time for the 2012 election, and Fox News’ ramp up of lies, damn lies, and false statistics…

Nick Davies reports:

On Saturday morning, the police arrested four journalists who have worked for Rupert Murdoch. For a while, it looked as though these were yet more arrests of people related to the News of the World but then it became clear that this was something much more significant.

This may be the moment when the scandal that closed the NoW finally started to pose a potential threat to at least one of Murdoch’s three other UK newspaper titles: the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times.

The four men arrested on Saturday are not linked to the NoW. They come from the Sun, from the top of the tree – the current head of news and his crime editor, the former managing editor and deputy editor.

Nothing is certain. No one has been convicted of anything. The four who were arrested on Saturday – like the 25 others before them – have not even been charged with any offence. But behind the scenes, something very significant has changed at News International.

Under enormous legal and political pressure, Murdoch has ordered that the police be given everything they need. Whereas Scotland Yard began their inquiry a year ago with nothing much more than the heap of scruffy paperwork seized from the NoW’s private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, Murdoch’s Management and Standards Committee has now handed them what may be the largest cache of evidence ever gathered by a police operation in this country, including the material that led to Saturday’s arrests.

They have access to a mass of internal paperwork – invoices, reporters’ expense claims, accounts, bank records, phone records. And technicians have retrieved an enormous reservoir of material from News International’s central computer servers, including one particularly vast collection that may yet prove to be the stick that breaks the media mogul’s back. It is known as Data Pool 3.

(click here to continue reading Mysteries of Data Pool 3 give Rupert Murdoch a whole new headache | Media | The Guardian.)

Sometimes That's How It Works
Sometimes That’s How It Works

and D.D. Guttenplan adds:

The US Department of Justice, on its website, helpfully offers links to the text of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in fifteen languages, from Arabic to Urdu. The English version is sixteen pages long, and probably ought to be in Rupert Murdoch’s iPad so he can skim through it during his flight this week from New York to London, where the British branch of his media empire made more headlines on Saturday.

…But as the Guardian’s Nick Davies, the reporter who broke the hacking scandal this summer, explained last week, what makes this handover particularly dangerous for the Murdochs is that this data, “which was apparently deliberately deleted from News International’s servers,” might also “yield evidence of attempts to destroy evidence the high court and police were seeking.” Destroying such evidence, or perverting the course of justice, as it’s known here, is a felony in Britain. But it is also a crime under the FCPA—§ 78m (b) 5, which states: “No person shall knowingly circumvent or knowingly fail to implement a system of internal accounting controls or knowingly falsify any book, record, or account.”

Although Davies’s reporting exploded the “rogue reporter” defense, until now the Murdochs have just about managed to maintain plausible deniability for themselves. But the traditional prosecution strategy of picking off the guilty underlings and then flipping them up the corporate ladder has gotten uncomfortably close to James Murdoch—and that was before the company started throwing employees off the train, which is how even longtime Murdoch minions like Trevor Kavanagh, the Sun’s former political editor, see this weekend’s arrests.

As the evidence mounts that much of Murdoch’s journalism was built on illegal invasions of privacy and corrupt relationships with police, three questions remain in urgent need of answers: Why should British authorities permit an in-house News Corporation committee, regardless of how fragrant its members may be, to serve as gatekeepers of the company’s records—especially when there is abundant evidence of efforts to destroy or delete incriminating evidence? In light of the latest arrests relating to corrupt payment to government officials, and bearing in mind actor Jude Law’s claim that his phone was hacked on his arrival at JFK airport, when will the Justice Department get serious about its own investigations? (There is also the lesser question of whether we are really to believe that methods which consistently delivered tabloid gold for editors and reporters in Britain would be too sleazy to tempt the high-minded hacks at the New York Post?)

And finally, what did the Murdochs know and when did they know it? Unlikely as it might have seemed in July, we may be about to find out. As more News Corp. executives come to believe they are being sacrificed to protect Rupert’s succession plan, the probability increases that someone who knows the answer will decide to cooperate with authorities. This gives the Justice Department, in particular, enormous leverage. In 2009 Siemens paid $800 million in fines for violating the FCPA—which also provides for possible prison sentences of up to five years. Amid the steady drumbeat of revelations from London it is important to keep an eye—and ear—on Washington. That’s where you’ll hear the sound of the other shoe dropping.

(click here to continue reading When Will the Justice Department Get Serious About Murdoch? | The Nation.)

A nice stiff fine would be nice, or even better, take away their FCC license…

Submerged Danger Object
Submerged Danger Object

Lois Beckett reports:

This weekend, five more journalists from a Rupert Murdoch-owned British tabloid were arrested as part of an ongoing bribery investigation.

The arrested journalists, all from the The Sun, were later released, and have yet to be charged with any crimes. (As the Wall Street Journal explained this summer, arrests in the U.K. are often made early in a criminal investigation, and may not be followed by any charges.)

But the arrests have once again raised questions about whether Murdoch’s News Corporation might face prosecution for bribery in the U.S. under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Reuters reported last week that U.S. authorities are “stepping up investigations” into the potential bribery by Murdoch employees. An FBI spokeswoman told ProPublica, “We’re aware of the allegations and we’re looking into it.”

As we noted during the unfolding of the phone hacking scandal this summer, the U.S. has stepped up prosecutions of companies for bribery of foreign officials in recent years, and the fines for these violations can be steep. Companies can face prosecution by the Justice Department if they record bribery payments, or be pursued by the Securities and Exchange Commission for fake record-keeping if they falsify documents to conceal the bribes.

The statute of limitations on civil Foreign Corrupt Practices Act charges is five years. The New York Times reported Saturday that it was not clear when the allegations that led to the Sun arrests had taken place, “though some of those arrested have told friends that they were questioned on events from almost a decade ago.”

(click here to continue reading New Arrests in Murdoch Bribery Scandal Raise Question of U.S. Charges – ProPublica.)

 

Written by Seth Anderson

February 13th, 2012 at 4:30 pm

A Terrible Transportation Bill

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Imaginary Anthropology
Imaginary Anthropology

The anti-American Republicans in the House are trying to gut public transit.

Add this to the list of Things I’m Pissed Off About…

The list of outrages coming out of the House is long, but the way the Republicans are trying to hijack the $260 billion transportation bill defies belief. This bill is so uniquely terrible that it might not command a majority when it comes to a floor vote, possibly next week, despite Speaker John Boehner’s imprimatur. But betting on rationality with this crew is always a long shot.

Here is a brief and by no means exhaustive list of the bill’s many defects:

¶It would make financing for mass transit much less certain, and more vulnerable, by ending a 30-year agreement that guaranteed mass transit a one-fifth share of the fuel taxes and other user fees in the highway trust fund. Instead it would compete annually with other programs.

¶It would open nearly all of America’s coastal waters to oil and gas drilling, including environmentally fragile areas that have long been off limits. The ostensible purpose is to raise revenue to help make up what has become an annual shortfall for transportation financing. But it is really just one more attempt to promote the Republicans’ drill-now-drill-everywhere agenda and the interests of their industry patrons.

¶It would demolish significant environmental protections by imposing arbitrary deadlines on legally mandated environmental reviews of proposed road and highway projects, and by ceding to state highway agencies the authority to decide whether such reviews should occur.

Where that $40 billion will come from is also unclear. The idea that oil revenues from increased drilling will provide it is delusional. Even if new leases are rushed through, oil will not begin to flow for years, and neither will the royalties.

In any case, none of this is good news for urban transit systems, including New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which, in 2010 alone, received about $1 billion from the trust fund.

Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, rightly calls this the “worst transportation bill” he has seen in 35 years of public service. Mr. Boehner is even beginning to hear from budget-conscious conservatives who believe that relying on user fees is the most fiscally responsible way to pay for all transportation programs.

(click here to continue reading A Terrible Transportation Bill – NYTimes.com.)

 

Written by Seth Anderson

February 9th, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Spinoza and The First Amendment

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Motley Tongues of Forgotten Speech
Motley Tongues of Forgotten Speech

Interesting essay by Steven Nadler, arguing that freedom of expression, without restraint, benefits the state as well as its citizens

Baruch Spinoza, the 17th-century Dutch thinker, may be among the more enigmatic (and mythologized) philosophers in Western thought, but he also remains one of the most relevant, to his time and to ours. He was an eloquent proponent of a secular, democratic society, and was the strongest advocate for freedom and tolerance in the early modern period. The ultimate goal of his “Theological-Political Treatise” — published anonymously to great alarm in 1670, when it was called by one of its many critics “a book forged in hell by the devil himself”— is enshrined both in the book’s subtitle and in the argument of its final chapter: to show that the “freedom of philosophizing” not only can be granted “without detriment to public peace, to piety, and to the right of the sovereign, but also that it must be granted if these are to be preserved.”

Spinoza was incited to write the “Treatise” when he recognized that the Dutch Republic, and his own province of Holland in particular, was wavering from its uncommonly liberal and relatively tolerant traditions. He feared that with the rising political influence in the 1660s of the more orthodox and narrow-minded elements in the Dutch Reformed Church, and the willingness of civil authorities to placate the preachers by acting against works they deemed “irreligious,” “licentious” and “subversive,” the nearly two decades-long period of the “True Freedom” was coming to an end. The “Treatise” is both a personally angry book — a friend of Spinoza’s, the author of a radical treatise, had recently been thrown in prison, where he soon died — and a very public plea to the Dutch republic not to betray the political, legal and religious principles that made its flourishing possible.

…Well before John Stuart Mill, Spinoza had the acuity to recognize that the unfettered freedom of expression is in the state’s own best interest. In this post-9/11 world, there is a temptation to believe that “homeland security” is better secured by the suppression of certain liberties than their free exercise. This includes a tendency by justices to interpret existing laws in restrictive ways and efforts by lawmakers to create new limitations, as well as a willingness among the populace, “for the sake of peace and security,” to acquiesce in this. We seem ready not only to engage in a higher degree of self-censorship, but also to accept a loosening of legal protections against prior restraint (whether in print publications or the dissemination of information via the Internet), unwarranted surveillance, unreasonable search and seizure, and other intrusive measures. [2] Spinoza, long ago, recognized the danger in such thinking, both for individuals and for the polity at large. He saw that there was no need to make a trade-off between political and social well-being and the freedom of expression; on the contrary, the former depends on the latter.

(click here to continue reading Spinoza and The First Amendment – NYTimes.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

February 6th, 2012 at 4:10 pm

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Public Transit on Chopping Block

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Said You Felt Trapped
Said You Felt Trapped

Speaking of Congressional corruption, why is gutting public transit even a consideration? Public transit over C-17’s that the Pentagon admits it doesn’t need? What kind of crazy budget priority is that? Especially when highway funding is sacrosanct.

The House leadership of the Ways and Means committee introduced a proposal yesterday that would exclude public transit from receiving federal motor fuels tax funding. The proposal is a part of a bill that will establish funding for a new five-year transportation bill now before Congress. The move would eliminate guaranteed funding in the Mass Transit Account – established in 1982 under President Reagan – potentially eliminating public transportation nationwide.

“The House Ways and Means Bill stops just short of defunding America’s public transit system. Instead it says that the real money with a funding source will all go to highways, while the tooth fairy will pay for transit. For Big Oil and the highway lobby, this is a dream, but it’s a nightmare for America’s transportation future,” said Dan Smith of U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups.

“Over the past several weeks, many of us were surprised to hear that House and Senate transportation leaders were unified in their desire to pass a surface and transit-funding bill in the near term,” said Richard Harnish, Executive Director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. “This development raised the rare possibly of bi-partisan action on an important piece of domestic policy. Well, all of that ended yesterday afternoon. Unlike the responsible and consensus-driven Senate version, House Chairman John Mica released a political document that surely elicited high-fives among his party’s most ideological stalwarts. The bill slashes Amtrak funding, zeroes out high-speed rail funding and maintains the “pave at all cost” mentality that is pervasive in American transportation policy.”

“We are deeply concerned that if this measure passes, Americans who use public transportation, or who would like that option in the future, will be thrown under the bus,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. “This couldnʼt come at a worse time for people who need an affordable, reliable way to get to work, or for employers who need workers.” Corless noted the demand for transit has been rising as the economy slowly recovers and people are using public transportation to get to jobs and to avoid volatile gas prices.

“This bill is vastly outside the mainstream and does nothing for American commuters who are desperate for a comprehensive transportation system that actually improves their quality of life,” said Harnish. “Additionally, instead of tackling the foundational funding structure that is bankrupting the Highway Trust Fund, House leaders decided it would be best to garner new revenues through increased domestic oil drilling.

(click here to continue reading High-Speed Rail and Transit on Chopping Block | Midwest High Speed Rail Association.)

If you are so inclined, there is an email-your-representative form here

I thought the Tea Bagger bible celebrated railroads?

Written by Seth Anderson

February 2nd, 2012 at 8:57 pm

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Taking Back Wasted Tax Breaks

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Illinois Department of Revenue
Illinois Department of Revenue

Speaking of corporate welfare, who will be the first state to start demanding corporate welfare recipients pass drug tests? Or at least do what the taxpayer funded subsidy was supposed to accomplish?

For example: Many states compete for new jobs by offering taxpayer-funded subsidies to companies to entice them to open in their state. In many ways, these states are just like consumers: those willing to pay the most (in this case, offer the most generous subsidy) ultimately get the product they demand (the jobs a company promises to provide in exchange).

So if these companies ultimately fail to produce the jobs they promised, shouldn’t the taxpayers get their money back? Seems right, but according to a new report from Good Jobs First, this is hardly ever the case. Their analysis of  “clawback” efforts for 238 different state-based business subsidies reveals just how tough it is to demand fairness and accountability when it comes to public handouts to private companies.

At first glance, many of these subsidies do appear to have return policies in place: fully 90 percent of these programs actually require companies to deliver regular reports to state agencies estimating how many jobs they have successfully created thanks to public subsidies; furthermore, 75 percent of the programs they studied contain some type of penalty measure in the event that job creation fails to meet the agreed upon standards.

But here’s the bad news: 31 percent of the programs that require proof of job creation do not require any independent third-party reviewer to ensure that the data these companies submit is actually accurate. And those penalty provisions? Forty-seven percent of them are only enforced voluntarily, meaning that they are basically never enforced at all — in fact, only 21 of the 178 programs with penalty provisions actually publish any documentation of enforcement efforts.

 

(click here to continue reading No Subsidies For You: Taking Back Wasted Tax Breaks – The Demos Blog – PolicyShop.)

Flag Waving
Flag Waving

What about your state? What is its ranking on this list of Clawbacks and Other Enforcement Safeguards in State Economic Development Subsidy Programs? Illinois scored 52/100 on the Monitoring, Enforcement & Penalty Score, covering 5 projects totaling nearly $150,000,000 of state budget.

Illinois’ worst score was for IDOT Economic Development Program ‐ a funding stream for road infrastructure built primarily to benefit specific companies, primarily big‐box retailers, for these reasons:

  • Agency awarding subsidy does not verify performance outcomes reported by recipient
  • No penalty
  • No recalibration of award
  • No online publication of statistics regarding award
  • No online publication of names of companies penalized and dollar amounts
And yet our state is in dire financial straits, and our leaders cannot seem to figure out why…

Written by Seth Anderson

January 27th, 2012 at 10:09 am

Senator Bernie Sanders proposes to ax fossil-fuel subsidies

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Department of Energy and Climate Change
Department of Energy and Climate Change, Britain

Good for Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the few Senators who actually cares about the average citizen, and our planet…

Bernie Sanders used to be Congressman-at-large from Vermont. Now he’s Vermont’s junior Senator. In so many ways, however, he’s the nation’s Senator-at-large, showing the way when so many others in Congress have lost theirs.

While a good chunk of Congress, including a majority of the freshman class in the House, are climate-change deniers, Sanders has no illusions about where we need to be headed. That’s why he introduced the 10 Million Solar Rooftops bill last June. That bill, now with seven co-sponsors, was approved for a vote by the full Senate in December. It’s also why he introduced legislation to end oil and coal subsidies last year. That bill got just 35 votes in the Senate. But he vowed Tuesday not to give up.

“We’ve got to end all of the tax breaks for the oil companies and coal companies and I’m going to introduce legislation to do just that,” Sanders told demonstrators clad in black-and-white striped referee shirts who rallied to “blow the whistle” on members of Congress and Big Oil. Ending tax breaks and subsidies for oil and gas companies would reduce the deficit by more than $40 billion over the next 10 years. Sanders’ legislation will end those tax breaks and tens of billions of dollars in other special subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.

Besides ignoring Sen. Sanders’s bill last year, and Obama’s budget proposal, Congress refused to go along with the proposal of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who wanted to cut some $2 billion in subsidies solely from the five big dogs in the oil business: BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron and Conoco Phillips.

Together over the past decade, those five have together put $1 trillion on their bottom lines. And yet some of them have had years in which they not only paid zero income taxes, they actually got rebates. Exxon Mobil paid $39 million in taxes on the $9.9 billion in U.S. profits it made for 2009-2010. Its effective tax rate? 0.4 percent. Outrageous, but perfectly legal.
Sanders told the 350.org crowd, “One of the absurdities that goes on right here in Washington, D.C., is that Congress keeps voting not for the interest of our children, not in the interest of our future, but for the profits of the huge oil and coal companies.”

There’s a good reason for this outcome. In 2011 alone, oil and gas companies spent more than $100 million lobbying Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics reports. Since 1990, they have collectively passed out $238.7 million to candidates and parties, three-fourths of it to Republicans. Exxon Mobil alone contributed $872,694 to candidates in 2010-2011. Sitting members of Congress received $12 million in contributions from oil and gas interests from July 2009 through July 2011, according to the non-partisan research group Maplight.

(click here to continue reading Daily Kos: Bernie Sanders proposes to ax fossil-fuel subsidies and add 10 million sun-powered rooftops.)

Standard Oil Co of Ind
Standard Oil Co of Indiana

Outrageous, really, that our tax dollars go to line the pockets of oil industry executives…

Written by Seth Anderson

January 27th, 2012 at 9:24 am

Turning stadiums into homeless shelters

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Sunset at Safeco Field
Sunset at Safeco Field

This would be the best solution to the ongoing saga of billionaire sports owners ripping off their local communities, right? Too bad it isn’t a national bill…

According to a 23-year-old Florida law that has been mostly ignored, professional sports facilities built with the help of government funds are required to house the homeless on nights when no official events are taking place.

Two lawmakers have dug up that old statute, and are pushing bills that would make stadium owners return millions of taxpayer dollars if they can’t prove they’ve been operating as a haven for the homeless in the years since they began receiving checks from the government. The bill passed its first committee in the Senate on Monday with a unanimous vote.

“We have spent over $300 million supporting teams that can afford to pay a guy $7, $8, $10 million a year to throw a baseball 90 feet. I think they can pay for their own stadium,” said Sen. Michael Bennett, R-Bradenton, who is pushing the bills along with Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami. “I cannot believe that we’re going to cut money out of Medicaid and take it away from homeless and take it away from the poor and impoverished, and we’re continuing to support people who are billionaires.”

Bennett’s bill would force owners of sports facilities like the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg to refund millions of dollars and begin operating homeless shelters on off-nights. So far, the state has spent more than $270 million on constructing stadiums, with the former Dolphin Stadium receiving $37 million and AAA taking $27.5 million. It is unclear whether any of the stadiums, which receive monthly subsidies of about $166,000 each, is operating an active homeless shelter program.

 

(click here to continue reading Bill would enforce law turning stadiums into homeless shelters on off days – Florida – MiamiHerald.com.)

via

We’ve fulminated against the sports stadium boondoggle a few times, like here, here, and many other times

Written by Seth Anderson

January 24th, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Posted in government,Sports

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Term Limit For The US Supreme Court

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Oath
Oath

I hesitate to give Rick Perry any credit for this idea, as I doubt he could even spell Supreme Court, much less suggest changes to it. I do like the idea itself though, as reported by The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg:

A Constitutional Amendment creating 18-year terms staggered every 2 years, so that each of the nine Justices would be replaced in order of seniority every other year. This would be a prospective proposal, and would be applied to future judges only. Doing this would move the court closer to the people by ensuring that every President would have the opportunity to replace two Justices per term, and that no court could stretch its ideology over multiple generations. Further, this reform would maintain judicial independence, but instill regularity to the nominations process, discourage Justices from choosing a retirement date based on politics, and will stop the ever-increasing tenure of Justices.

This ingenious idea has been kicking around in legal circles for decades. It tiptoed into wider view (PDF) in 2002, via a Washington Post op-ed piece by two prominent law professors of opposite ideological and political leanings: Yale’s Akhil Reed Amar, a Democrat, a former clerk for Stephen Breyer, and a stalwart of the liberal American Constitution Society; and Northwestern’s Steven G. Calabresi, a Republican, a former clerk for Antonin Scalia, and a co-founder of the conservative Federalist Society. In 2006, Calabresi and his colleague James Lindgren fleshed the idea out in a long article in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. Justices would still get lifetime appointments. After their eighteen years with the Supremes, they could choose to serve on other federal courts, bringing their experience and, in some cases, their wisdom to the appellate bench. Even if they didn’t exercise that option, though, their salaries would continue for life. If a Justice died or retired before his or her eighteen years were up, a substitute would be appointed via the usual process—Presidential nomination, Senate confirmation—to serve out the remainder. The interim Justice would not be eligible for reappointment to the Supreme Court, but he or she would have the same sweet post-Court deal. And what lawyer wouldn’t jump at the chance to be a Justice of the highest of high courts, if only for a year?

The Amendment—call it the Perry Plan—would solve any number of problems. From 1789 through 1970, the average tenure of a Supreme Court Justice was about fifteen years. For Justices who have retired or died since then, the average tenure has been twenty-six years. This isn’t just an artifact of longer life spans. As the Court’s importance has grown—Marbury v. Madison made it the only one of the three federal command posts that is functionally sovereign, and the polarized gridlock of the elected branches has only made it more powerful—and as it has become more “political,” aging Justices have tended to hang on well into senescence, especially when the sitting President is of a different ideological persuasion. Presidents, for their part, seek to extend their influence into the far-distant future, by finding the youngest nominee they can get away with. (Another incentive: while younger is not always wiser, it does make for a shorter paper trail.) The prospect that a Justice will be handing down decisions for close to half a century turns confirmation fights into political Armageddons. The randomness of openings abets the now-or-never mentality. Richard Nixon named four Justices during his five years in the White House; Jimmy Carter, during his four years, named zero. The Perry Plan would change all that. Voters would know that every President, every two years, would get to nominate someone for the Court.

(click here to continue reading Rick Perry’s Supreme Court Idea : The New Yorker.)

 

Written by Seth Anderson

January 24th, 2012 at 10:40 am

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Mind-altering drugs research call from Prof David Nutt

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Shroom as Big As Your Head
Shroom as Big As Your Head

If only governments listened to reason…

Former government drugs adviser Prof David Nutt has said that regulations should be relaxed to enable researchers to experiment on mind-altering drugs.

Prof Nutt told BBC News that magic mushrooms, LSD, ecstasy, cannabis and mephedrone all have potential therapeutic applications.

However, he said they were not being studied because of the restrictions placed on researching illegal drugs.

He said the regulations were “overwhelming”.

His comments followed the publication of new research by his group in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which suggests that the active ingredient in magic mushrooms could be used to treat depression.

“I feel quite passionately that these drugs are profound drugs; they change the brain in a way that no other drugs do. And I find it bizarre that no-one has studied them before and they haven’t because it’s hard and illegal,” he said.

Prof Nutt was sacked by the home secretary from his government advisory role three years ago for saying that ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than alcohol.

We need to have a more scientific rational approach to drugs and vilifying drugs like psilocybin whilst at the same time actively promoting much more dangerous drugs like alcohol is totally stupid scientifically” Prof David NuttHe says his new research indicated that there were no “untoward effects” from taking magic mushrooms and that it should not be illegal to possess them.

Prof Nutt and his team scanned the brains of volunteers who had been injected with a moderate dose of psilocybin, the active ingredient of magic mushrooms.

They had expected higher activity in areas of the brain associated with visual imagery. But in fact they found that the drug switched off a network of interconnected regions of the brain which regulated an individual’s sense of being and integration with their environment.

The researchers say that this alters consciousness because individuals are less in touch with their sensations and normal way of thinking.

(click here to continue reading BBC News – Mind-altering drugs research call from Prof David Nutt.)

LSD Partners  Dylan

LSD Partners – Bob Dylan

Written by Seth Anderson

January 23rd, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Posted in government,health,science

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