Whats In the News

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Week in Review

Hundreds of thousands of Indians cheer a rural activist on a hunger strike.
Israel was challenged by the largest street demonstrations in its history.
Young people in Spain and Greece took over public squares across their countries. Their complaints range from corruption to lack of affordable housing and joblessness.
From South Asia to the heartland of Europe and now even to Wall Street, these protesters share something else: Wariness, even contempt, toward traditional politicians and the democratic political process they preside over.
They are taking to the streets, in part, because they have little faith in the ballot box. “Our parents are grateful because they’re voting,” said Marta Solanas, 27, referring to older Spaniards’ decades spent under the Franco dictatorship.
“We’re the first generation to say that voting is worthless,” added Solanas.
Economics have been one driving force, with growing income inequality, high unemployment and recession-driven cuts in social spending. Alienation runs especially deep in Europe, with boycotts and strikes that, in London and Athens, erupted into violence.
Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in many ways on the Culture of the Web.
In that sense, the protest movements in democracies are not altogether unlike those that have rocked authoritarian governments this year, toppling longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Protesters have created their own political space online that is chilly, sometimes openly hostile, toward traditional institutions of the elite.
“You’re looking at a generation of 20- and 30-year-olds who are used to self-organizing,” said Yochai Benkler, a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “They believe life can be more participatory, more decentralized, less dependent on the traditional models of organization, either in the state or the big company.
Those were the dominant ways of doing things in the industrial economy, and they aren’t anymore.”
National
The wife of Texas Governor Rick Perry defended her husband's immigration record during a stop meant to boost the presidential hopefuls’ campaign.
Anita Perry stumped for her husband at several stops in Iowa, where she characterized him as the best-suited candidate to match up against President Obama next fall and promised improved performances in the next GOP debate.
“Some have attacked Rick on this issue of immigration, so I want you to be armed with the facts,” Mrs. Perry said. “No one has done more to secure the border. And as President, he is committed to stopping the tide of illegal immigration,” she continued.
Mrs. Perry first noted that her husband vetoed a bill to give illegal immigrants driver licenses, fought illegal sanctuaries, and billed the government for incarcerating illegal aliens. She also said in-state tuition is only offered to residents who have gone to school in Texas for three years and have earned a high-school degree.
The First Lady of Texas was asked to clarify her comments on the latest debate, saying that her husband is not “polished” like some 2012 candidates.
She responded to reporters, saying, “Gov. Romney has been running for President for four or five years, and that was my husband’s third debate. I think [Perry] would tell you that the other night was not his best performance. But he is only going to get better.
“And I think part of the attacks had something to do with it. I think when you have seven arrows being shot at you – and you are the one person in the middle – a 30-second rebuttal doesn’t give you much time,” she added.
“He’s the most determined candidate that I know. And when the chips get down, he’s at his best, because he’s a fighter. And that’s why we’re in this race,” she said during a brief speech to a handful of supporters at the opening.
“When Rick sees so many people struggling, it breaks his heart – but steels his resolve. I think he is only one who can go toe to toe with Obama,” said Mrs. Perry.

Politics
After two days of energetically raising money in the precincts of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, President Barack Obama stopped at a high school to push for new ways to spend money.
Promoting his $450 billion jobs bill, Mr. Obama said the $25 billion in the legislation for repairing and renovating schools would allow Abraham Lincoln High School, a well-kept but aging institution, to update science laboratories of a 1960s vintage.
“My question to Congress is: What on earth are we waiting for? Let’s get to work,” Mr. Obama said to a boisterous crowd of students, he asked: “Why should our students be allowed to study in crumbling, outdated schools? How does that give them the sense that education is important?”
Neither Mr. Obama’s choice of Colorado, nor of this heavily Latino high school in a struggling part of Denver, were remotely accidental. He carried Colorado in 2008. Analysts believe he will need to hold on to it next year to put together a winning electoral map.
Mr. Obama accepted the Democratic nomination in the state and signed the $787 billion stimulus package. But with the jobless rate here rising to 8.5 percent from 7.4 percent since then, even Democrats here say Colorado could be an uphill battle. Mr. Obama repeatedly challenged Republicans to pass the jobs bill.

Business/ Economics
Amazon.com revealed plans to begin selling a color touchscreen tablet. Named the Kindle Fire, the device has a 7-inch touchscreen, weighs 14.6 ounces and is outfitted with a dual-core processor.
At $199, the Fire is less than half the price of the Apple iPad, which starts at $499. It is the first tablet from a major company to seriously undercut the iPad in price.
Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive who showed off the Fire on stage at a news conference, said it was meant to build on the popularity of the company’s e-readers and appeal to a broader audience that also wants to browse the Web and stream music, movies and video.
The device has access to Amazon’s library of 18 million e-books, songs and movies and television shows, and can run Android applications that have been approved by Amazon. There is also a newsstand for users who want to subscribe to magazines, with titles like Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair, Wired and Glamour. “We’re building premium products at non-premium prices,” said Mr. Bezos. “We are determined to do that.”
Mr. Bezos also introduced a speedy custom-built mobile browser, called Amazon Silk, which he said was “cloud-accelerated,” combining Amazon’s computing cloud with the Kindle Fire device. “It’s truly a technical achievement,” he said. Amazon plans to begin taking preorders for the Fire on its Web site immediately, and they will start shipping Nov. 15. Mr. Bezos said the company was “making many millions of these.”
The Kindle Fire includes a free cloud-based storage system, meaning that no syncing with cables is necessary. Mr. Bezos seemed to take a swipe at Apple, saying, “That model that you are responsible for backing up your own content is a broken model.”
This first model of the Fire sends and receives data only over Wi-Fi, not cellular networks. Like the iPad’s screen, the screen on the Fire has so-called in-plane switching technology, meaning that unlike some LCD screens it can be viewed from a variety of angles, not just straight on.

Health
Major health insurance companies have been charging sharply higher premiums this year, outstripping any growth in workers’ wages and creating more uncertainty for the Obama Administration and employers who are struggling to drive down an unrelenting rise in medical costs.
A study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a research group, showed that the average annual premium for family coverage through an employer reached $15,073 in 2011 — 9 percent higher than in the previous year.
And even higher premiums could be on the way, particularly in New York, where some companies are asking for double-digit increases for about 1.3 million New Yorkers in individual or small-group plans, setting up a battle with state regulators.
The higher premiums are particularly unwelcome at a time when the economy is sputtering and unemployment is hovering at about 9 percent. Many businesses cite the cost of coverage as a factor in their decision not to hire, and health insurance has become increasingly unaffordable for more Americans. The cost of family coverage has about doubled since 2001, compared with a 34 percent gain in wages.
How much the new federal health care legislation pushed by President Obama is affecting rates remains a point of debate, with some consumer advocates and others suggesting that insurers have raised prices in anticipation of new rules that would, in 2012, require them to justify any increase of more than 10 percent.
Kaiser estimates that one to two percentage points of the increase this year is related to provisions of the law already in effect, like coverage for children up to 26 years old and for prevention services like mammograms.

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Week in Review

The Iraqi government has joined a chorus of other nations calling President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to step down.  “We believe that the Syrian people should have more freedom and have the right to experience democracy,” said the adviser, Ali al-Moussawi. “We are against the one-party rule and the dictatorship that hasn’t allowed for the freedom of expression.”

When the United Statesand several of its major allies called in August for Mr.  Assad to cede power, the Iraqi government appeared to support Mr. Assad. Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, gave a speech warning Arab leaders thatIsrael would benefit the most from the Arab Spring.

“There is no doubt that there is a country that is waiting for the Arab countries to be ripped and is waiting for internal corrosion,” Mr. Maliki said in that speech. “Zionists andIsraelare the first and biggest beneficiaries of this whole process.”

With armed loyalists of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the fallen Libyan leader, still comfortably established in his hometown and a few other reasons NATO announced a three-month extension of its bombing campaign. “We are determined to continue our mission for as long as necessary, but ready to terminate the operation as soon as possible,” the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said in a statement from itsBrussels headquarters.

It was the second 90-day extension of the NATO campaign inLibyaand was approved with less than a week before it was set to end.  NATO’s aerial campaign inLibya, authorized under a United Nations Security Council mandate to protect civilians from Colonel Qaddafi’s military reprisals, effectively became a major weapon of the rebels who toppled him.

Libya’s Transitional National Council, the interim government of anti-Qaddafi forces that have taken control in much ofLibya, has expressed gratitude to NATO for its role.

As world leaders at the United Nations were embracing the rebels who overthrew him, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi denounced Libya’s new interim government and predicting its quick demise once NATO warplanes end their attacks on his forces.

The development came as international recognition of the Transitional National Council, the interim government, which began as a rebel movement against Colonel Qaddafi more than six months ago, gained acceptance at the United Nations.

“What is happening inLibyais a charade which can only take place thanks to the air raids, which will not last forever,” Colonel Qaddafi said in the message on Arrai television, a station inSyriathat has broadcast a number of his statements since his opponents stormedTripoli,Libya’s capital.

“Do not rejoice and do not believe that one regime has been overthrown and another imposed with the help of air and maritime strikes,” Colonel Qaddafi said in the broadcast.

Iran released two Americans arrested while hiking along the Iran-Iraq frontier two years ago and sentenced to eight years in prison, ending diplomatic skirmishing that has complicated theUnited States’ already fraught relationship withTehran.

The two men, Shane M. Bauer and Joshua F. Fattal, both 29, emerged from the notorious Evin prison at dusk and were immediately taken by a diplomatic convoy to the airport. They flew toOman where they were greeted by their families.

“We now all want nothing more than to wrap Shane and Josh in our arms, catch up on two lost years and make a new beginning, for them and for all of us,” read a joint statement released by the families after the plane had taken off from Tehran.

The release of the two Americans, who were accused of espionage, followed days of uncertainty over their fate after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised that they would be freed as a humanitarian gesture “in a couple of days.”

                 When the Obama Administration wanted to be certain that Congress would not block $50 million in new aid to the Palestinian Authority, it turned to a singularly influential lobbyist: Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

                 At the request of the American Embassy and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Netanyahu urged dozens of members of Congress visiting Israelin August not to object to the aid, according to Congressional and diplomatic officials. Mr. Netanyahu’s intervention with Congress underscored an extraordinary relationship between the Israeli government and the Republican Party that now controls the House.

A potential candidate in the 2012 presidential election, Gov. Rick Perry ofTexas, delivered a speech inNew Yorkcriticizing Mr. Obama’s stance towardIsraelas “naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous.” Mr. Perry said that he would be a guest soon of Danny Danon, the hard-right deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament.

The relationship between the Israeli government and the Republican Party has complicated President Obama’s ability to exert pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to make concessions that could restart negotiations with the Palestinians.

National

According to a survey to be released by Inside Higher Ed, an online publication for higher education professionals, more than half of the admissions officers at public research universities, and more than a third at four-year colleges said that they had been working harder in the past year to recruit students who need no financial aid and can pay full price.

Similarly, 22 percent of the admissions officials at four-year institutions said the financial downturn had led them to pay more attention to applicants’ ability to pay.

“As institutional pressures mount, between the decreased state funding, the pressure to raise a college’s profile, and the pressure to admit certain students, we’re seeing a fundamental change in the admissions process,” said David A. Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

“Where many of the older admissions professionals came in through the institution and saw it as an ethically centered counseling role, there’s now a different dynamic that places a lot more emphasis on marketing.”

In the survey, 10 percent of the admissions directors at four-year colleges — and almost 20 percent at private liberal-arts schools — said that the full-pay students they were admitting, on average, had lower grades and test scores than other admitted applicants.

                 President Obama declared his opposition to the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood through the Security Council even as he acknowledged the democratic aspirations that have taken hold throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

                 “Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the U.N.,” Mr. Obama said, in an address before world leaders at the General Assembly. “If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.”

Instead, Mr. Obama said, the international community should continue to push Israelis and Palestinians toward talks on the four intractable “final status” issues that have vexed peace negotiations since 1979: the borders of a Palestinian state, security for Israel, the status of Palestinian refugees who left or were forced to leave their homes in Israel, and the fate of Jerusalem, which both sides claim for their capital.

President Nicolas Sarkozy ofFrancestood at the same podium in a sharp repudiation, calling for a General Assembly resolution that would upgrade the Palestinians to “observer status,” as a bridge towards statehood. “Let us cease our endless debates on the parameters,” Mr. Sarkozy said. “Let us begin negotiations and adopt a precise timetable.”

For Mr. Obama, that was how to address the incongruities of the Administration’s position:

  • The President who committed himself to making peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians a priority from Day One, who still has not been able to even get peace negotiations going after two and a half years;
  • The President who opened the door to Palestinian state membership at the United Nations last year ending up threatening to veto that very membership;
  • The President who was determined to get on the right side of Arab history ending up, in the views of many on the Arab street, on the wrong side of it on the Palestinian issue.

White House officials say that he has long been keenly aware that he, like no other American President, stood as the ultimate symbol of the hopes and rewards of democracy. But since he is the president of theUnited States, he has had to put American interests first. So Mr. Obama’s entire 47-minute address appeared, at times, an effort to thread the needle meant to balance his efforts in support of democratic movements against his efforts to stand behindIsrael,America’s foremost ally.

From the moment he stepped behind the podium and began talking, everything he said seemed directed to one point: “Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: It is a great honor for me to be here today. I would like to talk to you about a subject that is at the heart of the United Nations — the pursuit of peace in an imperfect world.”  This year alone, he said, “more individuals are claiming their universal right to live in freedom and dignity.”

He hailed the democratic movements in theIvory Coast, inTunisia, inSouth Sudan. OfEgypt, where President Hosni Mubarak fell after 30 years, Mr. Obama said, “we saw in those protesters the moral force of non-violence that has lit the world fromDelhitoWarsaw; fromSelmatoSouth Africa— and we knew that change had come toEgyptand to the Arab world.”

He hailed the Libyan toppling of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and threw his weight behind the protesters inSyria.

Israelis and Palestinians, he said, have legitimate grievances that should be addressed. “The deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in each other’s shoes,” Mr. Obama said.

“This body, founded, as it was, out of the ashes of war and genocide; dedicated, as it is, to the dignity of every person, must recognize the reality that is lived by both the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Mr. Obama said.

“We will only succeed in that effort if we can encourage the parties to sit down together, to listen to each other, and to understand each other’s hopes and fears. That is the project to whichAmericais committed, and that is what the United Nations should be focused on in the weeks and months to come.”

Politics

Aerospace executives warned of dire consequences if Congress cuts hundreds of billions of dollars in Pentagon spending, and they promised a full-throttled campaign to stop it.

Panelist, Dick McNeel, who runs aNorth Carolinasupplier of military parts, abruptly left the dais before the briefing was even over and dashed to a meeting with Senator Patrick J. Toomey to fight the kind of cuts that Mr. McNeel says could cost jobs. It is all part of an effort, Mr. McNeel said, “to make sureWashingtonknows how we feel.”

Mr. Toomey, a Republican fromPennsylvania, and the other 11 lawmakers on a special Congressional committee are weighing $1.2 trillion in debt reductions. “If you’re not at the table,” Manuel Rouvelas, a prominentWashingtonlawyer, said of the lobbying blitz, “you’re on the menu.”

The committee is the focus of intense lobbying not only because of its broad mandate, but also because it faces an unusually fast timetable; its recommendations are due by Thanksgiving. And the failure to approve a plan would set off a series of automatic cuts.

Business/ Economics

The Federal Reserve announced a new plan  to stimulate growth by purchasing $400 billion in long-term Treasury securities with proceeds from the sale of short-term government debt, defying Republican demands to refrain from new actions.

“Growth remains slow. Recent indicators point to continuing weakness in overall labor market conditions and the unemployment rate remains elevated,” the Fed said in a statement that listed its reasons for worry about the anemic condition of the American economy.

“Household spending has been increasing at only a modest pace in recent months.” It hopes that the lower rates will encourage companies to build new factories and hire more workers, and consumers to start spending again on homes and cars and clothes and vacations.

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Week in Review

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s (NCADP) Top Ten Reasons to Oppose Death Penalty (Legal Murder):

1. Executions are carried out at staggering cost to taxpayers: It costs far more to execute a person than to keep him or her in prison for life.

2. Capital punishment does not deter crime: There is no evidence that the threat of death prevents crime. TheSouthern UShas both the highest capital punishment and murder rates in the country.

3. States are unable to prevent accidental executions of innocent people: 138 people to date have been pardoned while on Death Row. If someone is executed and then found innocent, then what?

4. Race plays a role in determining who lives and who dies: While the numbers of Black and White murder victims have been similar since 1977, some 80 percent of people executed were convicted of murdering a White person. Is the crime of murder more terrible if the victim is White? The death penalty seems to indicate so.

5. The death penalty is applied at random: There are 22,000 homicides every year, but only 150 people sentenced to death. Why? “Politics, quality of legal counsel and the jurisdiction in which a crime is committed.”

6. Capital punishment goes against almost every religion: While there is supposed to be a separation between church and state, it doesn’t stop the same religious people who oppose abortion (yet often support the death penalty) from citing faith as a reason to prevent legal killings.

7. TheU.S.is keeping company with notorious human rights abusers: Over 128 nations worldwide have abandoned the death penalty. And onlyChina,Saudi ArabiaandIranput more people to death each year thanAmerica.

8. Millions of dollars could be diverted to helping the families of murder victims: The money used to execute people could be used to provide therapy, compensation of lost wages and other more tangible methods of recompensing victims of murder.

9. Bad lawyers are a persistent problem: Incompetent lawyers have been a huge factor in determining who lives and who dies. The better the quality of the legal representation, the less likely the accused will face death…is that fair?

10. Life without parole is a sensible alternative to the death penalty: Almost every state has a life sentence option available for sentencing criminals. You can take someone’s life without taking their breath. You can also be sure that someone who is later exonerated is alive to receive justice.

 

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International

                The Iranian judiciary contradicted an assurance by Iran’s President that two Americans arrested two years ago while hiking the Iran-Iraq frontier and imprisoned on espionage charges would be freed as a humanitarian gesture, the state news media reported.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad disclosed the plan to liberate the hikers, Shane M. Bauer and Joshua F. Fattal,  in a move to portray him more favorably before he attends the United Nations General Assembly meeting. But the judiciary’s announcement could show the limits of his power and highlight the frictions between Mr. Ahmadinejad and the conservatives who control the courts.

The state media reported that “Iran’s judiciary has refuted recent media reports on the imminent release of two American nationals that were convicted of committing espionage against the Islamic Republic for the U.S. government.” “The two Americans are going to stay in prison for a bit longer.

Reports of their imminent release are wrong,” a judiciary official was quoted as saying. The Associated Press quoted an unidentified official at Oman’s Foreign Ministry as saying it had sent a plane to Tehran amid efforts toward a bail-for-freedom deal for the Americans.

National        

            BP, running weeks behind schedule and tens of millions of dollars over budget trying to complete its troubled Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, took numerous shortcuts that contributed to the disastrous blowout and oil spill last year, federal investigators concluded in a recently released report.

The central cause of the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was a failure of the cement at the base of the 18,000-foot-deep well.

That failure led to a cascade of human and mechanical errors that allowed natural gas under tremendous pressure to shoot onto the drilling platform, causing an explosion and fire that killed 11 of the 115 crew members and caused an oil spill that took 87 days to get under control.

The two-part report, compiled by a joint task force of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and the United States Coast Guard and covering more than 500 pages, is the most comprehensive to date on the April 2010 disaster. Its findings largely mirror those of other investigations, including the inquiry by the commission named by President Obama to determine the causes of the calamity.

“The loss of life at the Macondo site on April 20, 2010, and the subsequent pollution of the Gulf of Mexico through the summer of 2010 were the result of poor risk management, last-minute changes to plans, failure to observe and respond to critical indicators, inadequate well control response and insufficient emergency bridge response training by companies and individuals responsible for drilling at the Macondo well and for the operation of the Deepwater Horizon,” the latest report said.

            NASA revealed a design for its next colossal rocket that is to serve as the backbone for exploration of the solar system for the coming decades. The rocket would be the most powerful since the Saturn V that took Americans to the moon four decades ago. NASA expects that it could lift astronauts on deep-space missions farther than anyone has ever traveled.

“We’re investing in technologies to live and work in space, and it sets the stage for visiting asteroids and Mars,” the NASA administrator, Major General Charles F. Bolden Jr., said at a news conference.

In an effort to speed development and control costs, the design is based on pieces from the just-retired space shuttles. The first stage would essentially be an elongated shuttle fuel tank, and it would use the same rocket engines.

The first unmanned test flight of the first iteration of the rocket, able to lift 70 metric tons to low-Earth orbit, could fly as early as 2017. Future versions are to be more powerful, capable of lifting up to 130 metric tons.

The cost of developing the rocket is estimated at $10 billion over the next five years. The crew capsule where the astronauts would ride would cost $6 billion and the launching pad and other ground facilities would add another $2 billion, for a total of $18 billion. Congressional backers of NASA hailed the announcement as resolving a standoff between Congress and the White House over the future of the space agency.

“This is a day we’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” said Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. “We wish it had been sooner, of course.”

With more money — perhaps as much as $62 billion — the space agency estimated that it could fly up to two missions a year and have enough to start developing the pieces, like a deep-space habitat, that would likely be needed to for a mission to an asteroid.

Politics

                An unlikely issue, whether to vaccinate preadolescent girls against a sexually transmitted virus, has become the latest flashpoint among Republican presidential candidates as they vie for the support of social conservatives and Tea Party members.

Representative Michele Bachmann and former Senator Rick Santorum attacked Gov. Rick Perry of Texas during a debate for issuing an executive order requiring sixth-grade girls to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, criticizing the order as an overreach of state power in a decision properly left to parents.

The issue pushes many buttons with conservatives: overreach of government in health care decisions, suspicion that sex education leads to promiscuity and even the belief — debunked by science — that childhood vaccinations may be linked to mental disorders.

Mrs. Bachmann, of Minnesota, raised that concern by suggesting that Mr. Perry had put young girls at risk by forcing “an injection of what could potentially be a very dangerous drug.”

            As Congress opens a politically charged exploration of ways to pare the deficit, President Obama is expected to seek hundreds of billions of dollars in savings in Medicare and Medicaid, delighting Republicans and dismaying many Democrats who fear that his proposals will become a starting point for bigger cuts in the popular health programs.

The President made clear his intentions in his speech to a joint session of Congress when, setting forth a plan to create jobs and revive the economy, he said he disagreed with members of his party “who don’t think we should make any changes at all to Medicare and Medicaid.”

Many Democrats say that if, as expected, Mr. Obama proposes $300 billion to $500 billion of savings over 10 years in entitlement programs, he will provide political cover for a new bipartisan Congressional committee to cut just as much or more.

And, they say, such proposals from the White House will hamstring Democrats who had been hoping to employ Medicare as a potent issue against Republicans in 2012 campaigns after many Congressional Republicans backed a budget that would have substantially altered Medicare by providing future beneficiaries with a subsidy to enroll in private health care plans.

Representative Emanuel Cleaver II, Democrat of Missouri and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said: “Ninety-eight percent of the President’s speech was excellent. The Democratic caucus and the black caucus are fired up. But you will find that we have some differences with the president’s plan as it relates to Medicare and Medicaid.

“We would rather see some kind of increase in revenue as opposed to cutting these programs.” By offering such proposals, Mr. Cleaver said, the President “cancels out any bludgeoning that Democrats might give the Republicans over Medicare and Medicaid.”

Business/ Economics

            Consumers spent less on autos, clothing and furniture in August, leaving retail sales unchanged, the government reported. The Commerce Department also said retail demand in July was weaker than first thought.

Auto sales fell 0.3 percent in August. Sales at clothing stores declined 0.7 percent. Gasoline sales rose. The flat reading for retail sales was a surprise, given private reports from retailers and auto dealers that suggested a brighter picture in August.

Major automakers reported healthy sales increases in August, largely because dealers introduced new models and offered cheaper financing. The nation’s major retailers reported solid results from the all-important back-to-school shopping. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity in the United States.

Health

            Researchers recently discovered that the hippocampus, an area of the brain that helps you respond to anxiety-filled situations, appears uniquely susceptible to the negative effects of cortisol. Excess cortisol, they suspect, may suppress neurogenesis, the brain’s ability to create and support new brain cells. And that's not good for anyone, especially those over age 50.

Two key stress fighters are exercise and sex. While exercise increases cortisol in the short term, over time it decreases anxiety and boosts neurogenesis — likely by improving blood circulation to the brain. Even more intriguing, the brain cells created during exercise may be more resilient against future episodes of stress.

Sex seems to have similar benefits.

In a recent animal study, a single sexual experience caused a short-term surge of cortisol, just as exercise does. But multiple sexual experiences, daily over two weeks, reduced the release of cortisol, increased neurogenesis, and decreased anxiety like behavior.

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Week in Review

September 16, 2011

 

International

A week after rebels broke into Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s former stronghold, much of its territory remains divided into fiefs, each controlled by quasi-independent brigades representing different geographic areas of the country.

Fighters from the western mountain city of Zintan control the airport. The fighters from Misurata guard the central bank, the port and the prime minister’s office.  Berbers from the mountain town Yafran took charge of the city’s central square, where they spray-painted “Yafran Revolutionaries.”

The top civilian officials of the Libyan rebels’ Transitional National Council are yet to arrive, citing personal safety concerns, even as they pronounce the city fully secure. There are growing hints of rivalry among the various brigades over who deserves credit for liberating the city and the influence it might bring. 

The jockeying for power also illustrates the challenge a new provisional government will face in trying to unify Libya’s fractious political landscape. The rebels who ousted Colonel Qaddafi never organize themselves into a unified force. Rebels from the western mountains, the mid-coastal city of Misurata and the eastern city of Benghazi each fought independently.

The transition so far has been orderly — almost no looting and little violence — and Tripoli has become an early test of the revolution’s ability to bridge those divisions. In contrast to other Libyan cities liberated by their own residents, Colonel Qaddafi was ousted from Tripoli by brigades from other regions, and most remain in the streets.

Saying that they had a “good idea” where Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi was hiding, the Libyan rebels gave the Colonel’s recalcitrant loyalists four days to surrender or face military action against holdout towns. The rebels also demanded that Algeria repatriate a clutch of Qaddafi family members — including his daughter and her newborn daughter.

 

National    

Hurricane Irene will most likely prove to be one of the 10 costliest catastrophes in the Nation’s history, and analysts said that much of the damage might not be covered by insurance. Industry estimates put the cost of the storm at $7 billion to $10 billion, largely because the hurricane pummeled an unusually wide area of the East Coast.

While insurers have typically covered about half of the total losses in past storms, they might end up covering less than 40 percent of the costs associated with Hurricane Irene, according to an analysis by the Kinetic Analysis Corporation. That is partly because so much damage was caused by flooding, and it is unclear how many damaged homes have flood insurance. Also deductibles have risen steeply in coastal areas in recent years, requiring some homeowners to cover $4,000 worth of damages or more before insurers pick up the loss.

This could make it harder for many stricken homeowners to rebuild and could dampen any short-term boost to the construction industry that typically accompanies major storms, Jan Vermeiren, the chief executive of Kinetic Analysis, said.

Politics

President Barack Obama vowed that he would not allow cuts in programs for veterans as Congress and the Administration look for ways to balance the budget. The President’s speech to the annual convention of the American Legion dwelled on the need to tackle unemployment among veterans, but offered little in the way of specifics about his overall economic proposals that are due the first full week in September.

The President simply repeated his earlier assertion of this summer that after a decade of war, it was time to turn the country’s attention to domestic prosperity. “It’s time to focus on Nation-building here at home,” Mr. Obama told 6,000 members of the country’s largest veterans group.

Mr. Obama singled out the “9/11 generation veterans,” who, he said, “have the skills and dedication to help lead the way.” He praised “all who have worn the uniform in these wars” and said it was time, now, for the government to help these veterans find a place at home.

“Far too many of our veterans are unemployed,” the President said. He said he had directed the federal government to hire 100,000 more veterans. But at a time of restricted budgets, overall government employment is constrained.

“As a Nation, we’re facing some tough choices, as we put our fiscal house in order. But I want to be clear,” Mr. Obama said, “as a Nation, we cannot, we must not and we will not balance the budget on the backs of veterans.”

Business/ Economics      

At their recent meeting, Federal Reserve policy makers were in strong disagreement, with some advocating aggressive options to stimulate the economy and others pressing to do nothing. At the time of the meeting, the Fed disclosed three dissenting votes — unusual given that most decisions are reached by consensus — but it was not known that there was such a broad array of disagreement and such vigorous debate about the options.

In the end, the Federal Open Market Committee took a middle ground, agreeing to keep interest rates near zero through mid-2013. “Some participants judged that none of the tools available to the committee would likely do much to promote a faster economic recovery,” the minutes said.

Health

Gruesome details of American-run venereal disease experiments on Guatemalan prisoners, soldiers and mental patients in the years after World War II were revealed during hearings before a White House bioethics panel investigating the study’s sordid history.

From 1946 to 1948, American taxpayers, through the Public Health Service, paid for syphilis-infected Guatemalan prostitutes to have sex with prisoners. When some of the men failed to become infected through sex, the bacteria were poured into scrapes made on the penises or faces, or even injected by spinal puncture.

About 5,500 Guatemalans were enrolled, about 1,300 of whom were deliberately infected with syphilis, gonorrhea or chancroid. At least 83 died, but it was not clear if the experiments killed them. About 700 were treated with antibiotics, records showed; it was not clear if some were never treated.

The stated aim of the study was to see if penicillin could prevent infection after exposure. But the study’s leaders changed explanations several times. “This was a very dark chapter in the history of medical research sponsored by the U.S. government,” Amy Gutmann, the chairwoman of the bioethics panel and the president of the University of Pennsylvania, said in an interview.

President Obama apologized to President Álvaro Colom of Guatemala for the experiments last year, after they were discovered. Since then, the panel, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, has studied 125,000 pages of documents and has sent investigators to Guatemala.

The most offensive case, said John Arras, a bioethicist at the University of Virginia and a panelist, was that of a mental patient named Berta. She was first deliberately infected with syphilis and months later given penicillin. After that, Dr. John C. Cutler of the Public Health Service, who led the experiments, described her as so unwell that she “appeared she was going to die.”

Nonetheless, he inserted pus from a male gonorrhea victim into her eyes, urethra and rectum. Four days later, infected in both eyes and bleeding from the urethra, she died. “I really do believe that a very rigorous judgment of moral blame can be lodged against some of these people,” Dr. Arras said.

Also, several epileptic women at a Guatemalan home for the insane were injected with syphilis below the base of their skull. One was left paralyzed for two months by meningitis. Dr. Cutler said he was testing a theory that the injections could cure epilepsy. 

Poor, handicapped or imprisoned Guatemalans were chosen because they were “available and powerless,” said Anita L. Allen, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania’s law school and a panelist. Members of the bioethics commission recalled Nazi experiments on Jews and said that Dr. Cutler, who died in 2003, must have known from the Nuremberg doctors’ trials under way by 1946 that his work was unethical.

Also, according to Dr. Gutmann, Dr. Cutler had read a brief article in the New York Times on April 27, 1947, about other syphilis researchers — one of them from his own agency — doing tests like his on rabbits. The article stated that it was “ethically impossible” for scientists to “shoot living syphilis germs into human bodies.”

His response, Dr. Gutmann said, was to order stricter secrecy about his work.

 

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“We’ve got the bubble-headed bleach-blonde who comes on at five. She can tell you about the plane crash with a gleam in her eye. It’s interesting when people die. Give us dirty laundry.” — Don Henley, “Dirty Laundry”

Anyone who relies exclusively on television/cable news hosts and political commentators for actual knowledge of the world today is making a serious mistake.

Unfortunately, as Americans have devolved into non-readers with woefully short attention spans, newspapers providing even semi-analytical content have found themselves struggling to stay afloat while television, which delivers little more than news sound bites sandwiched between superficial chitchat and entertainment buzz, has become the prime source of so-called “news.”

In this way, real news of national significance is either under-reported or unreported altogether while contrived media spectacles such as the Casey Anthony trial or the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton are allowed to dominate the news headlines for days and weeks on end.

As media theorist Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, rightly observed, “The news of the day is a figment of our technological imagination. It is, quite precisely, a media event… Without a medium to create its form, the news of the day does not exist.”

(The following list continues from Part I of Whitehead’s column from Muslim Journal issue dated Aug. 26, 2011.)

The following “truths”   help to refocus one’s media lens in order to better view the news through the eyes of an informed citizen:

4. It is vitally important to learn about the economic and political interests of those who own the “corporate” media. There are few independent news sources anymore. The major news outlets are owned by corporate empires.

For example, General Electric owns the entire stable of NBC shows, including MSNBC, which it co-owns with Microsoft. CBS is owned by Westinghouse, while Disney owns ABC. CNN is owned by the multi-corporation Time-Warner, while Fox News Channel is owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Whether it comes down to acquiring government contracts or avoiding government regulation, corporations have a vested interest in politics. To this end, the two major parties in this country are heavily bankrolled by corporate dollars.

For example, Time-Warner contributed about half a million dollars to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. General Electric (GE) handed Obama about half a million dollars as well.

This is not a partisan issue, either. GE gave McCain about $100,000 in 2008 and Kerry and Bush about $100,000 each in 2004. In the 2010 election cycle, GE offered $1,378,310 to Democratic candidates and $899,460 to Republican candidates.

This begs the question: How can a corporate news network present objective news on any issue if it is financially supporting a political candidate or promoting a message to a specific audience? The answer is simple: It can’t. “One doesn’t have to be a Marxist,” note Postman and Powers, “to assume that people making a million dollars a year will see things differently from people struggling to make ends meet.”

Remember, the aim of the news media is not to inform viewers but rather to sell them a product. Unfortunately, in the quest to turn a profit, truth suffers. This is why it is so vitally important to get various views on news stories and from sources that present a different view than what is seen on the corporate news networks.

5. Pay special attention to the language of newscasts and what is not being reported. More often than not, pundits and reporters tend to focus more on political games of one-upmanship rather than the real issues affecting the nation.

For example, recent news reports have revolved around how the Republicans played hardball with the Democrats over the debt ceiling debate, and how the President used his “bully pulpit” to put pressure on Republicans to compromise. Not being discussed are the multitude of wars America is embroiled in, the continued dismantling of civil liberties in this country, and the widening gap in wealth between the top 1 percent of Americans and the working and middle classes.

The wool is being pulled over our eyes as the country continues to plunge into darkness.

TV by its very nature manipulates viewers. One must never forget that every television minute has been edited. The viewer does not see the actual event but the edited form of the event. For example, presenting a one- to two-minute segment from a two-hour political speech and having a TV talk show host critique it may be disingenuous, but such edited footage is a regular staple on news shows.

Consider the fact that the average sound bite during the 1968 presidential election was 43 seconds in length, whereas by 1988 the average sound bite hovered around a mere 9 seconds long. Add to that the fact that the reporters editing the footage have a subjective view — sometimes determined by their corporate bosses — that enters into their commentary, and you have a recipe for misinformation.

Moreover, because film footage and other visual imagery are so engaging on TV news shows, viewers are apt to allow language — what the reporter is saying about the images — to go unexamined, despite the fact that the meaning we derive from the image is often determined by the host’s commentary.

6. Greatly reduce the amount of TV news you watch. TV news generally consists of “bad” news—wars, torture, murders, scandals and so forth. It cannot possibly do you any harm to excuse yourself each week from much of the mayhem projected at you on the news.

Do not form your concept of reality based on television. TV news, it must be remembered, does not reflect normal everyday life. Studies indicate that a heavy viewing of TV news makes people think the world is much more dangerous than it actually is.

One “study indicates that watching television, including news shows, makes people somewhat more depressed than they otherwise would be,” say Postman and Powers. This may lead to chronic depression and constantly being alarmed.

These feelings of depression and alarm ignited during the newscast are juxtaposed with advertisements offering stress relieving and distracting products, such as prescription medications, alcohol, food, and consumer products.

7. One of the reasons many people are addicted to watching TV news is that they feel they must have an opinion on almost everything, which gives the illusion of participation in American life.

But an “opinion” is all that we can gain from TV news because it only presents the most rudimentary and fragmented information on anything. Thus, we don’t really know much about what is actually going on, and, of course, we are expected to take what the TV news host says on an issue as gospel truth.

Yet while it is certainly better to think for yourself, we often don’t have enough information from the “news” source to form a true opinion. How can that be accomplished?

First of all, books are a great source of information that are often overlooked. Books allow for levels of breadth and depth of discussion of an issue that television cannot possibly provide. Major newspapers are still a decent source of information despite their falling profits and their selective discussion of certain issues.

Local papers are most important because all political involvement begins at the local level. Understanding the issues facing your town and responding to them via letters to the editor is an effective way to start participating in society. It’s certainly more effective than sitting on your couch and watching TV.

Finally, there is the internet, which as The Economist recently acknowledged in its special report on the news industry, “has made the news a far more participatory and social experience.” The article continues:

“Non-journalists are acting as sources for a growing number of news organisations, either by volunteering information directly or by posting comments, pictures or video that can be picked up and republished. Journalists initially saw this as a threat but are coming to appreciate its benefits, though not without much heart-searching.

“Some organizations have enlisted volunteers to gather or sift data, creating new kinds of ‘crowd-sourced’ journalism. Readers can also share stories with their friends, and the most popular stories cause a flood of traffic as recommendations ripple across social networks.

“Referrals from social networks are now the fastest-growing source of traffic for many news websites. Readers are being woven into the increasingly complex news ecosystem as sources, participants and distributors. ‘They don’t just consume news, they share it, develop it, add to it — it’s a very dynamic relationship with news,’ says Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post, a news website in the vanguard of integrating news with social media.      

“As well as making Twitter, Facebook and Google part of the news ecosystem, the internet has also made possible entirely new kinds of specialist news organizations. It has allowed WikiLeaks, for example, to accept documents anonymously and publish them to a global audience, while floating in cyberspace above national jurisdictions, operated by a small, nomadic team.

“Other newcomers include a host of not-for-profit news organizations that rely on philanthropic funding and specialize in particular kinds of journalism. Many of these new outfits collaborate with traditional news organizations, taking advantage of their broad reach and trusted, established brands.         

“All these new inhabitants of the news ecosystem have brought an unprecedented breadth and diversity of news and opinion to the business… [A]s news becomes more social, participatory, diverse and partisan, it is in many ways returning to the more chaotic, freewheeling and politically charged environment of the era before the emergence of mass media in the 19th Century.

“And although the internet has proved hugely disruptive to journalists, for consumers — who now have a wider choice than ever of news sources and ways of accessing them — it has proved an almost unqualified blessing.”

(About John W. Whitehead: Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book The Freedom Wars (TRI Press) is available online at www.amazon.com. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.)

 

 

 

 

 

Politics

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By Nusayba Hammad, Communications Director, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (nusayba@uscpr.org) WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an act unprecedented in recent history, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand...
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