Friday, May 4, 2012

Andre Rieu on his violin

Fantastic Tribute to Frank Sinatra

Consumer Protection Faces a 'Tsunami' in Court

By on April 27, 2012

A year ago today, a split Supreme Court issued a ruling that fundamentally changed the way consumers can pursue claims of corporate wrongdoing. In a 5-4 ruling in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the Supreme Court said companies have the right to force consumers who sign contracts—like debit-card agreements and cell phone plans—to accept terms that require them to settle all disputes in private arbitration and waive their right to band together in class actions.

In just the first year, the ruling’s impact has been dramatic. “There is no case in the history of consumer law as harmful as Concepcion,” says Paul Bland, a senior attorney at the public interest law firm Public Justice. In a report released this week, the National Association of Consumer Advocates and the legal advocacy group Public Citizen, which represented the Concepcions before the Supreme Court, said they have identified 76 cases in the past year where potential class actions were shot down by judges citing Concepcion.

Companies have rushed to add class action waivers into the contracts or make existing clauses more bulletproof. Wells Fargo, for example, tightened up the language in its contracts in February to make clear that the only exception to arbitration is small claims courts. (The bank told the Berger Record that is policies are “are consistent with the industry.”) “There is a realistic possibility that the decision will lead to a virtual end of class actions against businesses,”  READ MORE

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

He-Men and Virginity Pledges? Obama Administration Quietly Endorses Absurd Anti-Sex Curriculum

Photo Credit: hipposrunsuperfast
The administration has succumbed to the political pressure of social conservatives, allowing ideology to prevail over the health and well-being of the nation's youth.
May 1, 2012

Sometime this month, an updated list of “evidence-based” teen pregnancy prevention programs was endorsed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and posted to the website of the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH).

No notice, not even a press release to announce the addition of three programs to the coveted list of 28 deemed effective and carrying the HHS seal of approval. Until now, this list was the holy grail of the Administration’s commitment to a science-based approach to teen pregnancy prevention and a directive for grantees of the President’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPPI).

So why the secrecy about the new additions? What does the Administration have to hide?
Because one of the "new" programs is actually an old, dis-proven and dangerous abstinence-only-until-marriage program.

We have been around long enough to expect politics as usual in Washington, D.C. The backroom deals and secrecy should not surprise us. The jettisoning of young people and their sexual health for political expediency is not new. But, this blatant hypocrisy needs to stop. This latest example is just too much.
Perhaps the Administration realized that the inclusion of Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education on this select list would call into question its commitment to young people and their sexual health. Once again, they have succumbed to the political pressure of social conservatives and allowed the ideology of the right to prevail over the health and well-being of the nation’s youth.   READ MORE

Rightwing ALEC Puts Wisconsin Anti-Labor Laws On May Agenda

Michigan's Koch-Funded Mackinac Center Is Bringing Wisconsin Act 10 Provisions to ALEC's spring meeting.
May 1, 2012

With the recent publication of additional American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) documents, new questions are being raised about the source of certain provisions in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's controversial collective bargaining legislation. Some of those provisions may be adopted by ALEC for introduction in other states.

According to documents posted by good government organization Common Cause, the Koch-funded, Michigan-based think tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy will ask ALEC at its Spring Task Force Summit on May 11 in Charlotte, North Carolina to adopt as a "model bill" a proposal that strongly resembles sections of Governor Walker's Act 10. Those provisions, requiring that public employee unions recertify with a majority of eligible employees (rather than just a majority of those voting) and do so regularly, were considered some of the most onerous burdens on unions imposed by Act 10, and their source a subject of significant speculation.

The Act 10 provisions that the Mackinac Center will bring to ALEC were recently struck down by a federal court in Wisconsin. That court also rejected the law's prohibition on voluntary union dues deductions, which resembled already-existing ALEC model legislation.  READ MORE

Why the GOP's Really Afraid of a "Cool" Obama

Lately Obama has been raising the ante, asking which candidate would you like to share a song with, and the GOP considers this to be some kind of dirty trick.
May 1, 2012

Republicans used to exult in fielding candidates that voters would like “to have a beer with.” This year, of course, their candidate doesn’t drink beer—in fact, Mitt Romney’s so socially challenged that his advance team is wary about letting him share cookies with voters. But lately Obama has been raising the ante on social comfort, asking which candidate would you like to share a song or nod to a pulsing beat with, and the GOP clearly considers this to be some kind of dirty trick.

And so in the two days since Obama and Jimmy Fallon “slow-jammed the news” on Fallon’s late-night show (specially taped at the University of North Carolina to underline the Democratic campaign to keep student loan interest rates from doubling), the Republicans have put out two web ads. Each tries to turn Obama’s strength into a weakness, insisting that the “Preezy” is too busy being cool to be presidential:

Think Canola Oil Is a Healthy Alternative to Olive Oil? Then Read This Little Known History

Canola oil is refined with heat, pressure, solvents, and bleach, and comes from the seed of a plant that's younger than the Rolling Stones.
May 2, 2012

To look at many cookbooks, you'd think olive oil and canola oil were identical twins separated at birth. Countless recipes call for "extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil," as if the two were interchangeable.
This implied equivalence is odd. Extra-virgin olive oil is cold-pressed from a fruit that has been cultivated for more than 7,000 years, with no refining beyond filtration. Canola oil is refined with heat, pressure, solvents, and bleach, and comes from the seed of a plant that's younger than the Rolling Stones.

The canola plant was conceived when demand for rapeseed oil plummeted in the late 1940s, and the Canadian rapeseed industry began seeking and creating new markets for its product. Since the Industrial Revolution, rapeseed oil has been an important component of lubricants for ships and steam engines, because unlike most oils it sticks to wet metal. During World War II the U.S. built a lot of ships, and so needed lots of rapeseed oil, but couldn't get it from traditional suppliers in Europe and Asia. The Canadian rapeseed industry, which had been relatively small, exploded to fill the gap, and played an important role in the allied naval effort, becoming rich and powerful in the process.

But rapeseed oil demand waned when the war ended, and thus began an intensive program to breed a rapeseed edible to humans. The Holy Grail was a strain with dramatically lower levels of erucic acid and glucosinolates, which are the main culprits behind rapeseed oil's foul flavor, and according to some research, toxic effects.  READ MORE

Mitt Romney's Dangerous Foreign Policy Team: Nostalgic for Bush, Hellbent on War with Iran The candidate's foreign policy team features the usual belligerence, mixed with some serious nostalgia for a thoroughly discredited foreign policy framework. May 2, 2012

It's hard to watch the Romney campaign with a straight face. Their latest crackup has one Romney adviser, John Lehman, warning of the “Soviet threat," and another, Pierre Prosper, complaining that the administration hasn't done enough to stand with Czechoslovakia. And those comments were hardly the first time we've heard throwbacks to the Cold War in this campaign. But don't laugh too hard—it might distract from the dangerous and discredited worldview Romney's foreign policy team is pushing.

Despite Obama’s expansion of the war in Afghanistan and his ramping up of drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, Romney claims Obama is a president who does not want “America to be the strongest nation on earth,” as he told an audience at the Citadel military college in South Carolina.   READ MORE

Why Are Universities Buying Up Drones Faster Than Police Departments?

The spreading drone curriculum is a sign of the coming normalization of drones in American life.
May 2, 2012

For all the attention given to U.S. law enforcement’s interest in adopting drones, the biggest users turn out to be not police departments, but universities. We learned this last week, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation forced the Federal Aviation Administration to reveal that it had approved 25 universities to fly drones in U.S. airspace. Not that universities were waiting on the FAA to begin working in the field: Last fall, Kansas State University created a degree in unmanned aviation. So far, 30 undergraduates have signed up.

The spreading drone curriculum is, for better and worse, a sign of the coming normalization of drones in American life. Interviews with university officials revealed widespread excitement about the possibilities of unmanned aviation technology, which has the potential to transform fields like agriculture and disaster response. The U.S. military, however, is funding parts of this academic research, and so are leading defense contractors. Whether their intentions are as pure as the universities’ is an open question.  READ MORE

"Festive, Righteous Anger": Occupy Makes a May Day Comeback With Massive Demonstrations

Yesterday, Occupy recaptured the public's attention with rallies, marches, parties, and yes, arrests all over the country.
May 1, 2012

All over the world, May 1st is celebrated as International Workers Day. Yesterday, May Day also marked the reemergence of the Occupy movement, with events in cities all over America. AlterNet's reporters were in the field -- here are their dispatches from New York and the Bay Area.

Midtown NYC, morning 
-- Sarah Jaffe

Midtown is a great place for chanting; your voice echoes off the tall buildings and you can hear it blocks away. Even better for marching bands, bells and whistles.  There may not actually be 99 pickets, but midtown Manhattan is clogged with them in the morning, and they're inside the heads of the people on the street--I walk past a couple discussing our "cruel," unequal society as I hurry from picket to picket. 
 I made it to Bryant Park a few minutes after eight in a haze of rain, and found a crowd of around a hundred huddled under their umbrellas or the ones at tables in the park. The Rude Mechanical Orchestra were clustered around their instruments but not playing, and Occupiers chatted with one another.

Why Is the Conservative Brain More Fearful? The Alternate Reality Right-Wingers Inhabit Is Terrifying

Walk a mile in your ideological counterparts' shoes...if you dare.
May 2, 2012

Consider for a moment just how terrifying it must be to live life as a true believer on the right. Reality is scary enough, but the alternative reality inhabited by people who watch Glenn Beck, listen to Rush Limbaugh, or think Michele Bachmann isn't a joke must be nothing less than horrifying.

Research suggests that conservatives are, on average, more susceptible to fear than those who identify themselves as liberals. Looking at MRIs of a large sample of young adults last year, researchers at University College London discovered that “greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala” ($$). The amygdala is an ancient brain structure that's activated during states of fear and anxiety. (The researchers also found that “greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex” – a region in the brain that is believed to help people manage complexity.)  READ MORE

Welcome to the 2012 Hunger Games: Sending Debt Peonage, Poverty, and Freaky Weather Into the Arena

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When I was growing up, I ate books for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and since I was constantly running out of reading material, I read everyone else’s -- which for a girl with older brothers meant science fiction. The books were supposed to be about the future, but they always turned out to be very much about this very moment.

Some of them -- Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land -- were comically of their time: that novel’s vision of the good life seemed to owe an awful lot to the Playboy Mansion in its prime, only with telepathy and being nice added in. Frank Herbert’s Dune had similarly sixties social mores, but its vision of an intergalactic world of disciplined desert jihadis and a great game for the substance that made all long-distance transit possible is even more relevant now.  Think: drug cartels meet the oil industry in the deep desert.

We now live in a world that is wilder than a lot of science fiction from my youth. My phone is 58 times faster than IBM’s fastest mainframe computer in 1964 (calculates my older brother Steve) and more powerful than the computers on the Apollo spaceship we landed on the moon in 1969 (adds my nephew Jason). Though we never got the promised jetpacks and the Martians were a bust, we do live in a time when genetic engineers use jellyfish genes to make mammals glow in the dark and nerds in southern Nevada kill people in Pakistan and Afghanistan with unmanned drones.  Anyone who time-traveled from the sixties would be astonished by our age, for its wonders and its horrors and its profound social changes. But science fiction is about the present more than the future, and we do have a new science fiction trilogy that’s perfect for this very moment.  READ MORE

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Marty Kaplan on Big Money’s Effect on Big Media

Tuesday, 01 May 2012 11:13 By Bill Moyers, Moyers & Co. | Video 

Big money and big media have coupled to create a ‘Disney World’ of democracy in which TV shows, televised debates, even news coverage is being dumbed down, just as the volume is being turned up. The result is a public certainly more entertained, but less informed and personally involved than they should be, says Marty Kaplan, director of USC’s Norman Lear Center and an entertainment industry veteran. Bill Moyers talks with Kaplan about how taking news out of the journalism box and placing it in the entertainment box is hurting democracy and allowing special interest groups to manipulate the system.
“It’s all about combat. If every political issue is [represented by] combat between two polarized sides, then you get great television because people are throwing food at each other,” Kaplan tells Moyers. “And you have an audience that hasn’t a clue at the end of the story, which is why you’ll hear, ‘Well, we’ll have to leave it there.’”

“The problem is that there’s not that much information out there if you’re an ordinary citizen. You can ferret it out, but it ought not be like that in a democracy,” Kaplan says. “Education and journalism were supposed to, according to our founders, inform our public and make democracy work.”


British Panel Finds Murdoch Unfit to Lead Media Empire

Tuesday, 01 May 2012 11:21 By John F Burns and Alan Cowell, The New York Times News Service | Report 

London - In a damning report after months of investigation into the hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers, a parliamentary panel here concluded on Tuesday that he was "not a fit person" to run a huge international company, amplifying a public outcry against him, but threatening further bruising divisions within the political establishment.

The startling conclusion about the world's most influential media tycoon went much further in lambasting Mr. Murdoch than had been expected from Parliament's select committee on culture, media and sport, which has conducted several inquiries into press standards in recent years, the most recent starting last July.
DOCUMENT: The Full Parliamentary Report (PDF)

But the impact of the report by the all-party committee was blunted by divisions within the panel itself. Presaging further disarray within Britain's strained coalition government, the committee said it had split, 6 to 4, on party lines, with the dominant Conservatives opposing the censure of Mr. Murdoch while the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in Prime Minister David Cameron's government, joined the Labor opposition in supporting it.

"On the basis of the facts and evidence before the committee," the report said in one passage, "we conclude that, if at all relevant times Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications."   READ MORE

Rupert Murdoch's Fox broadcast licences targeted by US ethics group