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Hypocrite conservatives have another number to whine about

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The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to the lowest level in more than four and a half years, according to government data on Thursday that suggested improvement in the labor market…

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 30,000 to a seasonally adjusted 339,000, the Labor Department said.

It was the lowest number of new claims since February 2008, about a year before Obama took office in the midst of the global financial crisis…

A Labor Department analyst noted that seasonal factors had predicted a very large increase in claims last week, which he said would be typical for the first week of the calendar quarter. Unadjusted claims did rise, but far less than expected, resulting in the sharp drop in the seasonally adjusted figure…

Economists said the labor market was showing signs of getting stronger

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims edging up to 370,0000 last week. The four-week moving average for new claims, a better measure of labor market trends, fell 11,500 to 364,000…

Recent data on the U.S. labor market has been encouraging.

Employers added a modest 114,000 jobs to their payrolls in September, but the unemployment rate dropped sharply to 7.8 percent, also the lowest level since Obama took office…

One under-reported aspect of times changing oh-so-slowly for the better is the strength of Keynesian measures. Even in the face of a dogpile of cowards and craven Congressional conservatives dragging their feet – that portion of stimulus measures that was able to be implemented is having an effect.

It hasn’t happened in a vacuum. Quantitative easing from the Fed has added another small measure of positive economic force into the whole process. The proof of this particular pudding starts with the ideological whine from the Right. The companion piece on the Left – ranging from anarchists to tea party liberals can pretty much be laid at the feet of ignorance; but, the conservative flavor of criticism falls directly to ideologues who still cringe over the failure of Hayek and Hooverville Republicans.

As someone who spent way too many years criticizing Keynesian theory until day-by-day economic processes proved me wrong – I welcome any correction to the dismal science which ends up providing jobs for the workers of America, the class I’m pleased to be a part of. This doesn’t mean we can walk away from the reforms still needed in education, financial oversight, tax code revision, a foreign policy which stinks on ice. But, it’s a start.

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Written by Ed Campbell

October 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

Can’t modify a schoolchild’s environment – modify the child!

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Peanut butter on the top shelf, drugs down below

When Dr. Michael Anderson hears about his low-income patients struggling in elementary school, he usually gives them a taste of some powerful medicine: Adderall.

The pills boost focus and impulse control in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder “made up” and “an excuse” to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children’s true ill — poor academic performance in inadequate schools.

“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”

Dr. Anderson is one of the more outspoken proponents of an idea that is gaining interest among some physicians. They are prescribing stimulants to struggling students in schools starved of extra money — not to treat A.D.H.D., necessarily, but to boost their academic performance.

It is not yet clear whether Dr. Anderson is representative of a widening trend. But some experts note that as wealthy students abuse stimulants to raise already-good grades in colleges and high schools, the medications are being used on low-income elementary school children with faltering grades and parents eager to see them succeed…

All the easier to come to this conclusion when decisions are based pretty much only on test scores.

Jacqueline Williams said she can’t thank Dr. Anderson enough for diagnosing A.D.H.D. in her children — Eric, 15; Chekiara, 14; and Shamya, 11 — and prescribing Concerta, a long-acting stimulant, for them all. She said each was having trouble listening to instructions and concentrating on schoolwork.

“My kids don’t want to take it, but I told them, ‘These are your grades when you’re taking it, this is when you don’t,’ and they understood,” Ms. Williams said, noting that Medicaid covers almost every penny of her doctor and prescription costs.

Some experts see little harm in a responsible physician using A.D.H.D. medications to help a struggling student. Others…fear that doctors are exposing children to unwarranted physical and psychological risks. Reported side effects of the drugs have included growth suppression, increased blood pressure and, in rare cases, psychotic episodes.

The reported prevalence of the disorder has risen steadily for more than a decade, with some doctors gratified by its widening recognition but others fearful that the diagnosis, and the drugs to treat it, are handed out too loosely and at the exclusion of nonpharmaceutical therapies.

RTFA for delightful tales of side effects, hospitalization. Diagnosis rates have gone up as Congressional beancounters and state ward-heelers have cut funding for education. Somehow, keeping the machinery of death and destruction well-oiled while our childrens’ education continues in a death spiral fits the job description for elected officials in every one of these United States.

So, the punks in Congress, drug-dealers in the medical profession, say they’re doing their best to keep life going in difficult times. No thought for planning ahead. No conscience. No reformation of an education system turned over to pharmaceutical companies and budget clerks.

Written by Ed Campbell

October 11, 2012 at 6:00 am

Hobbit coins will be released as legal tender in New Zealand

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Bilbo Baggins will be worth $10NZ

New Zealand to release commemorative ‘The Hobbit’ coins worth thousands of dollars ahead of next month’s premier of director Peter Jackson’s latest Tolkien epic.

Hobbit coins, featuring characters such as Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the wizard, will be legal tender in the country, New Zealand Post said – although their face value will be only a fraction of the cost collectors will be expected to pay.

The most expensive, made from one ounce of pure gold, costs more than 350 times its face value. It will set Tolkien enthusiasts back NZ$3,695 but has a face value of just NZ$10.

The cheapest is available for almost 30 times its face value – a NZ$1 coin retailing for NZ$29.90…

Jackson, who was responsible for the Oscar-winning adaptation of Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, announced earlier this year that he would make three films from “The Hobbit” book, rather than two as originally planned…

New Zealand enjoyed a huge tourism boom after the original trilogy and is hoping to repeat the success with the Hobbit movies, launching a campaign branding the country “100% Middle Earth” to coincide with the premiere.

According to my friends, the smartest brown trout in the world live there. A long, long time.

Written by Ed Campbell

October 11, 2012 at 2:00 am

Conservatives text less, search for news less, than liberals

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Nearly nine out of 10 registered U.S. voters own a cell phone — almost half of which are smartphones. And many voters are using cell phones to get and share election information or news…

In September, Pew surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. adults and found that — even though text messaging is generally the most popular thing people do with their phones (other than talking) — texting doesn’t appear to be hugely popular in relation to this year’s election. This year, fewer than one in five mobile-enabled voters have sent campaign-related text messages to people they know, and only 5% had subscribed to receive text messages directly from a candidate or other group involved in the election.

Furthermore, while 45% of cell-owning registered voters use smartphone apps, only 8% use apps that come from a campaign, political party or interest group.

Overall, self-designated political conservatives appear to be the least advanced, and active, when it comes to mobile technology. Pew found that while liberal, conservative and independent voters are equally likely to own a cell phone, only 40% of conservative voters own a smartphone, significantly fewer than liberal (56%) or moderate (55%) voters. Also, only 68% of conservatives use text messaging, compared to 78% of moderates and 81% of liberals.

Getting news is a popular election-related activity: 27% of cell phone-owning voters do this, especially those under age 50. Liberals (37%) are more likely to get election or political news on their phones than moderates (28%) or conservatives (25%)…

Members of the Party-formerly-known-as-Republican figures they might start a coal shortage if they use their phones too much.

Written by Ed Campbell

October 10, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Australia PM calls out opposition leader for sexist remarks

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Julia Gillard, Australia’s prime minister, has verbally attacked the country’s opposition leader, labelling him as a hypocrite and a misogynist during a tirade in parliament that has garnered international media attention.

During a heated day in parliament on Tuesday, Gillard unleashed on Tony Abbott’s character after he called for the dismissal of Peter Slipper, the speaker of parliament, for lurid text messages he sent to a former member of staff…

In a fiery response, Gillard accused Abbott of possessing double standards when it came to sexism.

“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not,” she said.

“And the government will not be lectured on sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever.

“If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror, that’s what he needs.”

She then recounted previous…quotes by Abbott, which she said had repeatedly offended her personally.

I wish Democrats understood they might actually increase the tiny edge of respect they have over Republicans by calling them out for their bigotry and backwardness.

Written by Ed Campbell

October 10, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Radioactive birth control helps fruit farmers fight fly sex

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At the height of the tangerine season in Croatia’s Neretva river delta, two pickup trucks scour a maze of water channels carrying an odd-looking contraption: a mortar-like pipe spraying orchards with sterilized flies.

Each launch sends into the air thousands of males of the fruit fly, one of the most harmful orchard pests, in what advocates say is a prime example of how nuclear science can benefit both agriculture and the environment.

They have been bombarded with radioactive Cobalt-60 in an Israeli biotechnology plant to make them sterile in a bid to reduce the fly population and the damage they wreak on the crop…

It is essentially a form of birth control,” IAEA head Yukiya Amano said. “The result has been a drop of no less than 75 percent in fruit fly damage” in Neretva, where nine out of ten people are involved in the citrus fruit industry…

The sterilized males outnumber the local fruit flies and gradually take the place of normal males. They can mate, but there is no offspring. Consequently, the number of larvae, which feed on ripening tangerines, quickly declines…

Jorge Hendrichs, who heads a joint pest control program of the IAEA and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency, said the SIT method was a win-win because it enabled farmers to fight a pest which “can easily eliminate 30 to 100 percent of the crop” and at the same time use fewer pesticides…

For other countries – like the United States, Japan and Chile – the main thing is to prevent new pest outbreaks. “They want 100 percent assurance that the product you are exporting is 100 percent free, not one worm,” he said…

Greenpeace – which opposes nuclear energy on safety grounds – said blah, blah, blah.

If you mention the work “radioactivity” our current generations of ignoranuses panic and dash about forming circular firing squads – much in the same manner as obedient Catholics volunteered to inform on witches and Jews during the Inquisition.

People simply are unread and inexperienced enough to know that descriptions of radioactive half-life have nothing whatsoever to do with the effects of radiation on sterilized products. There is no radioactive residue left behind to contaminate your fruit compote.

Written by Ed Campbell

October 8, 2012 at 10:00 pm

A solution to starving rice plants that starts at the root

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Scientists have pinpointed a gene that enables rice plants to produce around 20% more grain by increasing uptake of phosphorus, an important, but limited, plant nutrient.

The discovery unlocks the potential to improve the food security of rice farmers with the lowest value phosphorus-deficient land allowing them to grow more rice to add to global production, and earn more.

The gene — called PSTOL1 which stands for Phosphorus Starvation Tolerance — helps rice grow a larger, better root system and thereby access more phosphorus. Farmers can apply phosphorus fertilizers to increase productivity but on problem soils phosphorus is often locked in the soil and unavailable to plants.

Also, phosphorus fertilizer is often unaffordable to poor farmers. Adding to the problem is that phosphorus is a non-renewable natural resource and rock phosphate reserves — the source of most phosphorus fertilizers — are running out…

…Dr. Sigrid Heuer, senior scientist at the International Rice Research Institute, said…”We’ve known for a long time that the traditional rice variety Kasalath from India has a set of genes that helps rice grow well in soils low in phosphorus”…

“We have now hit the jackpot and found PSTOL1, the major gene responsible for improved phosphorus uptake and understand how it works,” Heuer saiFd…

The discovery of the PSTOL1 gene means that rice breeders will be able to breed new rice varieties faster and more easily, and with 100% certainty their new rice will have the gene.

One of the special benefits of the new strains is their suitability for poorer upland farmers growing rice without irrigation.

The gene is being offered through modern hybridization techniques though I don’t doubt there will be GM versions as well. Neither of which may satisfy Luddites; but, then agronomists are not trying to improve crops just to stroke the farming-as-religion crowd.

Poor farmers and nations in need are the legitimate target market.

Written by Ed Campbell

August 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Another black eye for state’s managing OSHA’s workplace safety

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L.V. and Tina Hall – 2 years before she died

Around midnight on June 1, 2007, Tina Hall was finishing her shift in a place she loathed: the mixing room at the Toyo Automotive Parts factory in Franklin, Ky., where flammable chemicals were kept in open containers.

A spark ignited vapors given off by toluene, a solvent Hall was transferring from a 55-gallon drum to a hard plastic bin. A flash fire engulfed the 39-year-old team leader, causing third-degree burns over 90 percent of her body. She died 11 days later.

After investigating the accident, the Kentucky Labor Cabinet’s Department of Workplace Standards cited Toyo for 16 “serious” violations and proposed a $105,500 fine in November 2007…

The violations didn’t stick. Every one of them went away in 2008, as did the fine, after Toyo’s lawyer vowed to contest the enforcement action in court. Last month, in a move believed to be unprecedented in Kentucky, the Department of Workplace Standards reinstated all the violations because, it said, the company hadn’t made promised safety improvements.

The case was another black eye for state-run workplace health and safety programs nationwide. In all, 26 states administer their own programs under federal supervision. Several have been criticized in recent years for capitulating to lawyered-up employers, performing subpar inspections and shutting out accident victims’ families.

RTFA for lots of details, examples of states rights and local bureaucracy used as you would expect – to walk away from responsibility to provide safe conditions for working people. Like many smoke-and-mirrors state programs, these exist because of lax administration by a federal bureaucracy equally unconcerned about those they are chartered to protect.

Kentucky is just one example of a state with employers let off the hook by states rights and state responsibilities. But, the case of Tina Hall, burned to death from a terrible fire stinks even more because a department run by cowards and cowed civil servants backed away from prosecution and penalties simply because the company responsible threatened to contest the case.

Written by Ed Campbell

August 23, 2012 at 6:00 pm

NY firefighters burning down houses to increase safety!

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Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Firefighters will spend the next two weeks setting homes ablaze on a small island in New York Harbor for one purpose: Saving lives.

Eighteen abandoned townhouses on New York City’s Governors Island, formerly housing for members of the Coast Guard, have been turned into a setting for roaring fires in experiments aimed to develop new strategies firefighters can use to save lives.

“They are bringing the lab out to the firefighters,” said Dan Madryzkowsky, a fire protection engineer from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which conducted the tests with the FDNY and Underwriters Laboratories, a non-profit group.

The idea behind this and other experiments taking place on Governors Island is to find flaws in fire-fighting techniques that, in many cases, haven’t changed in decades.

At the same time, modern households have undergone dramatic shifts, with organic materials, such as cotton and feathers, largely replaced by more affordable synthetic materials introduced in the 1970s.

With the change came a disturbing trend, said Fire Department deputy assistant chief Robert Maynes. The new materials have shortened the time it takes a house to burn, and cause fire to burn even hotter. Where more natural homes would take 17 to 20 minutes to burn, modern homes can be engulfed in five minutes…As a result, Maynes said, an increase in burns and fatalities started to show up in fire department statistics in 1983.

The researchers performing the experiments on Governors Island hope that each home, outfitted with more than 100 sensors which measure oxygen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, airflow through the houses and heat levels, would give them valuable information in fighting fires.

Bravo. Sensible use, smart experiments, designed to elicit info which can save lives.

Written by Ed Campbell

July 10, 2012 at 10:00 am

Supreme Court pretends there’s no bigotry in profiling

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The United States has a dignity problem. The concept of dignity is recognized by law in countries all over the world. It is a cornerstone of both international humanitarian law, which governs the treatment of prisoners of war, and international human rights law.

But it has little power in American jurisprudence. A robust recognition and protection of dignity is precisely what we need, particularly if we are to understand how racism has broken its tether and become enshrined again in state laws and policies across the United States.

Take racial profiling — the single most explicit manifestation of racial prejudice in the United States today. Nearly 700,000 individuals a year are subject to the brutal indignity of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy. The vast majority are young African-American and Latino men

Stop-and-frisk policing is only one aspect of the national indignity of racial profiling. Police surveillance of law-abiding Muslims (here again the New York police play a central role) and the pulling over of motorists for “driving while black” are two others. Rather than recognize how these practices strike at our bedrock constitutional rights to due process, equal protection and freedom from unreasonable searches, the Supreme Court recently doubled down on racial profiling. It decided that the discretion of police may be complemented by the discretion of jail officials to strip-search the 14 million Americans who are arrested each year.

In this way, the conservative majority on the court is turning back the clock on the greatest successes of the civil rights movement — the understanding that the Civil War amendments to the Constitution were designed to uphold the inherent dignity of blacks as human beings and citizens…

The court appears poised to do the same next month in the case involving Arizona immigration law, which gives local police the right to demand proof of citizenship from people they suspect are here illegally…Chief Justice John Roberts insisted on limiting the parameters of the case by stating at the outset of the solicitor general’s argument, “I’d like to clear up what (this case is) not about. No part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling…” So, the Court may not include discussion of profiling in their decision. Baloney!

The meek acquiescence of the solicitor general to this judicial bullying was a failure of colossal proportions. The conservative majority may have the power to legalize racial profiling in this country, but they should not be permitted to pretend they are doing anything else.

It’s beyond contempt to watch the broad swath of Americans who lie out loud about racism and bigotry in this country. From creeps like Roberts – who lied through his teeth to get Senate confirmation – to your friendly neighborhood air conditioned cop car, Americans practically deny that slavery and racism, Jim Crow and segregation ever existed. Hundreds of years as the law of the land disappear like a Walt Disney dissolve from John Wayne to Midwestern cities appearing – without noticing the thousands of Native Americans who were slaughtered.

If “polite” Americans refuse to admit to or discuss bigotry they presume it will vanish. Wrong! You still need some elbow grease and that magic cleanser is called truth.

Written by Ed Campbell

May 25, 2012 at 6:00 pm

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