28 jul. 2009

CDC Tops Agency Ratings; Federal Reserve Board Lowest

NASA ratings remain high, while Federal Reserve has lost ground

by Lydia Saad

PRINCETON, NJ -- At a time when Americans are discouraged about the direction of the country and hesitant about the scope of President Barack Obama's federal budget plans, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NASA, and the FBI earn credit for a job well done from a majority of Americans. The 61% who say the CDC is doing an excellent or good job can be contrasted with the 30% who say this of the Federal Reserve Board, making the latter the worst reviewed of nine agencies and departments rated in the July 10-12 Gallup Poll.

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The two national security-oriented groups included in the recent poll -- the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security -- receive moderate performance ratings, with just under half of Americans saying each is doing an excellent or good job.

The Environmental Protection Agency, Internal Revenue Service, and Food and Drug Administration fall a notch lower in the rankings, as close to 40% of Americans give each of them credit for doing an excellent or good job. The relatively low ranking of the FDA is of particular note with regard to the scrutiny the agency has been under, given recent attention to U.S. food safety.

The new poll, conducted just prior to the 40th anniversary of the July 20, 1969, moon landing by Apollo 11 -- perhaps the most celebrated of all NASA achievements -- finds NASA's rating about where it has been in recent years. While not nearly as high as it was in late 1998 (a month after John Glenn's successful return to space), NASA's current excellent/good score falls within the upper half of ratings it has received over the past two decades.

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Today's rating of the FDA is the first measured by Gallup, but all other agencies on the list were previously rated in September 2003 (NASA, as shown, has been rated multiple times). The only significant changes since that time are a sharp deterioration in perceptions about the Federal Reserve, and a decline in highly positive views toward the CDC.

In 2003, the slight majority of Americans, 53%, said the Federal Reserve was doing an excellent or good job and 5% called it poor. Today, 30% of Americans praise the job the Fed is doing, while nearly as many, 22%, call it poor. While this ratings downturn coincides with a substantial drop in consumer confidence toward the U.S. economy over the same period, it is unclear how much of the Fed's image decline is due to the general decline in the country's economic climate, as opposed to specific perceptions about the agency's performance in carrying out its monetary responsibilities and possibly its role in the crisis surrounding U.S. financial markets. The Fed's low excellent/good rating may also reflect the higher-than-average percentage of Americans having "no opinion" about this arm of the government, relative to the other agencies rated.

The CDC has had a particularly high public profile since April, when cases of the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, were first detected in the United States. Whether its role in tracking the disease and informing Americans about the illness has elevated or hurt the agency's image is not clear. However, compared with six years ago, fewer Americans believe the agency is doing an "excellent" job -- now 11%, down from 18%. Overall, the percentage saying it is doing an excellent or good job is now 61%, down from 66%.

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Bottom Line

Americans are broadly satisfied with the work the CDC, NASA, and the FBI are doing. The CIA and the Department of Homeland Security are also fairly well reviewed; however, the current job ratings of the EPA, IRS, FDA, and Federal Reserve Board all have significant room for improvement.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,018 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted July 10-12, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

CDC Tops Agency Ratings; Federal Reserve Board Lowest

NASA ratings remain high, while Federal Reserve has lost ground

by Lydia Saad

PRINCETON, NJ -- At a time when Americans are discouraged about the direction of the country and hesitant about the scope of President Barack Obama's federal budget plans, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NASA, and the FBI earn credit for a job well done from a majority of Americans. The 61% who say the CDC is doing an excellent or good job can be contrasted with the 30% who say this of the Federal Reserve Board, making the latter the worst reviewed of nine agencies and departments rated in the July 10-12 Gallup Poll.

gh9mxawhpksplmd_exti9g

The two national security-oriented groups included in the recent poll -- the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security -- receive moderate performance ratings, with just under half of Americans saying each is doing an excellent or good job.

The Environmental Protection Agency, Internal Revenue Service, and Food and Drug Administration fall a notch lower in the rankings, as close to 40% of Americans give each of them credit for doing an excellent or good job. The relatively low ranking of the FDA is of particular note with regard to the scrutiny the agency has been under, given recent attention to U.S. food safety.

The new poll, conducted just prior to the 40th anniversary of the July 20, 1969, moon landing by Apollo 11 -- perhaps the most celebrated of all NASA achievements -- finds NASA's rating about where it has been in recent years. While not nearly as high as it was in late 1998 (a month after John Glenn's successful return to space), NASA's current excellent/good score falls within the upper half of ratings it has received over the past two decades.

28akjepnskydlvrmmwc8vg

Today's rating of the FDA is the first measured by Gallup, but all other agencies on the list were previously rated in September 2003 (NASA, as shown, has been rated multiple times). The only significant changes since that time are a sharp deterioration in perceptions about the Federal Reserve, and a decline in highly positive views toward the CDC.

In 2003, the slight majority of Americans, 53%, said the Federal Reserve was doing an excellent or good job and 5% called it poor. Today, 30% of Americans praise the job the Fed is doing, while nearly as many, 22%, call it poor. While this ratings downturn coincides with a substantial drop in consumer confidence toward the U.S. economy over the same period, it is unclear how much of the Fed's image decline is due to the general decline in the country's economic climate, as opposed to specific perceptions about the agency's performance in carrying out its monetary responsibilities and possibly its role in the crisis surrounding U.S. financial markets. The Fed's low excellent/good rating may also reflect the higher-than-average percentage of Americans having "no opinion" about this arm of the government, relative to the other agencies rated.

The CDC has had a particularly high public profile since April, when cases of the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, were first detected in the United States. Whether its role in tracking the disease and informing Americans about the illness has elevated or hurt the agency's image is not clear. However, compared with six years ago, fewer Americans believe the agency is doing an "excellent" job -- now 11%, down from 18%. Overall, the percentage saying it is doing an excellent or good job is now 61%, down from 66%.

eq_o1lz3luaccy20r39soq

Bottom Line

Americans are broadly satisfied with the work the CDC, NASA, and the FBI are doing. The CIA and the Department of Homeland Security are also fairly well reviewed; however, the current job ratings of the EPA, IRS, FDA, and Federal Reserve Board all have significant room for improvement.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,018 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted July 10-12, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

26 jul. 2009

MASSIVE CORRUPTION BUST: Mayors, Rabbis, Politicians, and More

FBI agents in Newark lead arrested suspects in the corruption probe onto a bus.

As the buses pulled up to our Newark office yesterday morning carrying 44 prominent political and religious leaders—including mayors, assemblymen, and rabbis—it would have been easy to mistake them as a group of visiting VIPs.

Instead, they were the defendants in a two-track criminal investigation, arrested by our agents during an early morning sweep and charged with political corruption and high-volume international money laundering.

“The list of names and titles of those arrested today sounds like a roster for a community leaders meeting,” said Weysan Dun, special agent in charge of our Newark office. “Sadly, these prominent individuals were not in a meeting room but were in the FBI booking room.”

Three New Jersey mayors, two state legislators, numerous political operatives, and five well-known rabbis from New York and New Jersey were among those arrested. Charges include politicians accepting cash bribes and rabbis laundering millions of dollars through their tax-exempt charitable organizations. One defendant allegedly conspired to broker the sale of a human kidney for a transplant at a cost of $160,000.

With the assistance of a cooperating witness, we infiltrated a money laundering network that operated internationally between New York, New Jersey, and Israel and laundered tens of millions of dollars through charitable non-profit groups controlled by the rabbis.

In one method of laundering, our undercover witness would write a check to the rabbi’s charitable organization—anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to more than $150,000—and the rabbi would then return the amount of the check in cash, less a 10 percent cut for himself. Defendants in Israel provided large sums of cash for these transactions. The money was kept in “cash houses” in Brooklyn.

When our witness was later introduced to a Jersey City public official, it led to the discovery of a network of corruption that became the second phase of our investigation.

Among those arrested:

  • The newly elected mayor of Hoboken, charged with accepting $25,000 in cash bribes, including $10,000 last week from an undercover cooperating witness.
  • A New Jersey assemblyman and recent mayoral candidate in Jersey City, charged with taking $15,000 in bribes to help get approvals from high-level state officials for building projects.
  • The chief rabbi of a synagogue in Brooklyn, charged with laundering proceeds derived from criminal activity.

Most of the defendants were arrested by agents from our Newark office and from the Internal Revenue Service, who were working in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey. Search warrants were executed at approximately 20 locations in the region to recover large sums of cash and other evidence. The investigation produced hundreds of hours of video and audio recordings documenting much of the money laundering and bribe-taking.

At a press conference yesterday in Newark, Special Agent in Charge Dun said of the arrests, “We hope that our actions today will be the clarion call that prompts significant change in the way business and politics are conducted in the state of New Jersey. Those who engage in this culture of corruption should know the cross hairs of justice will continue to be focused on them.”

ADL Applauds Senate's Passage of Hate Crime Legislation




New York, NY, July 21, 2009 …The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) applauded the Senate's passage of legislation that enhances the federal government's ability to address hate crimes.

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) provides new authority for federal officials to work in partnership with state and local law enforcement to more effectively address hate violence. The long-delayed legislation was extended further by a flurry of unnecessary and unwelcome last-ditch efforts by policy opponents to amend it.

Glen S. Lewy, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, issued the following statement:

We applaud the Senate's approval of this important measure to address violent, bias-motivated crime. Hate crimes tear at the fabric of society and are disturbingly prevalent in America. It is crucial that mechanisms are in place for law enforcement to respond effectively when they occur.

A confluence of factors, including the economic crisis, an immigration system in disrepair, and the election of the first African-American president, have contributed to the expansion of hate groups and those looking to act out on hateful ideologies.

Now, with the support of President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., we have our best chance ever to secure enactment of this crucial legislation.

The League also praised the leadership of the sponsors of the hate crime amendment, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), author of the Defense Department bill. The House of Representatives passed their version of this legislation, HR 1913, in April 2009.

HCPA was attached as an amendment to the FY 2010 Department of Defense Authorization Act. The key vote, 63-28, was on a motion to proceed -- ending the possibility of a filibuster by the bill's opponents.


For more than 10 years, ADL has led a broad coalition of civil rights, religious, educational, law enforcement and civic organizations working in support of the legislation. Last month, ADL presented
testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the HCPA.

ADL has been a pioneer in advocating for hate crimes legislation since the first ADL model hate crimes statute was drafted almost 30 years ago. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws based on or similar to the ADL model.


The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.



Lighthouse Patriot Journal(QUAERE VERITAS IN SALUM SUBJECTIO) has another message: Hate Crime Laws are Wrong for America!


Hate crime. The movement by the sociocrats to initiate into legislation and law, added to the myriad of laws that are nonsensical, continues, but their movement is beginning to see more opposition. It has been adopted officially by our government.

Hate crime laws have to do with acts of violence, for now. It is a socialist ideology that opens a can of worms against an eventual transgression against freedom of speech – the freedom that the politically left whine about as they spew their political diatribe mimicking the Communist Manifesto and the basics of socialism, pretending they have come up with a new political ideology/philosophy, merely an Americanized version of the historically proven failed socialist system.

22 jul. 2009

Nancy Pelosi: Make millionaires pay




Trying to sell a historic health bill to a balky caucus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told POLITICO in an interview that she wants to soften a proposed surcharge on the wealthy so that it applies only to families that make $1 million or more.

The change could help mollify the conservative Democrats who expect to have a tough time selling the package back home. Their support is the single biggest key to meeting the speaker’s goal of having health care reform pass the House by the August recess.

The bill now moving through the House would raise taxes for individuals with annual adjusted gross incomes of $280,000, or families that make $350,000 or more.

“I’d like it to go higher than it is,” Pelosi said Friday.

The speaker would like the trigger raised to $500,000 for individuals and $1 million for families, “so it’s a millionaire’s tax,” she said. “When someone hears, ‘2,’ they think, ‘Oh, I could be there,’ because they don’t know the $280,000 is for one person.

“It sounds like you’re in the neighborhood. So I just want to remove all doubt. You hear ‘$500,000 a year,’ you think, ‘My God, that’s not me.’”

Pelosi also told POLITICO she will push to “drain” more savings from the medical industry — hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and health insurers — than they have given up under current health-reform agreements with the Senate and White House.

Asked whether she believes the industry players will wind up contributing more to the package, Pelosi replied: “I don’t know. I know they can, to the extent that the special interests are willing to cooperate. ... They could do much better. ... Frankly, I think all the money [to pay for health reform] could be drained from the system, if they were willing to do that.”

The speaker said she will try to wring more concessions, setting up a potential battle with health care players who torpedoed President Bill Clinton’s health-reform efforts but have been eager participants in the negotiations this time around.

Pelosi said she is open to other changes — that she is taking an “agnostic” approach to getting a bill, rather than working from a “theology” of reform: “You have to just judge it for: Does it lower costs, improve quality?”

Pelosi now faces more pressure than she ever has in her career — obligated to repeatedly deliver tough votes for an ambitious and popular president, but anxious to minimize the midterm election losses that traditionally befall the party holding the White House.

The speaker professed bemusement at the persistent question she gets about whether it was better to be speaker with a Republican president or a Democratic president.

“Oh, please!” she replied. “Why do people ask that question? Do you have any idea? Like night and day. When people ask it, I think: Would you think that it would be easier to have a Republican president who doesn’t share your values? No, no, no.

“Nothing is easy. It’s challenging to get the job done and live up to the expectations and the hopes of the American people, as the president has taken them all to a new height. ... But ... it’s like having a 1,000-ton anvil lifted off your shoulders.

“People would ask, ‘Now, you’re not going to be the No. 1.’ And I say, ‘This is what I’ve hoped, prayed, dreamed and worked for.’ And it absolutely goes beyond my expectations of what it could be.”





Some House members are concerned that they’re being asked to take a tough vote that may be for nothing if the Senate doesn’t follow through. Some Pelosi advisers had considered keeping the House in session into August so that leaders could be sure the Senate was going to vote before House members take the risk themselves.

But Pelosi is plunging ahead. “We’re just staying on our own course, and we hope that the Senate will stay on a parallel course, to have this done by [early August]. Whatever it is, we will be ready. ... As I always say, we’re going forward when we’re ready. And I’m sure we’ll be ready.”

Pelosi said she has felt a certain “serenity” ever since she became speaker and says she’s “ready for all of this.” Ticking off the year’s remarkable agenda, she praised the stamina of her members, chairs and leaders, calling the Democratic team a “partnership.”

“I have the confidence when I go down a path that we are going down that path together,” she said. “It is a heavy lift, sometimes. But it one based on respect for the members. So we’ll take the time, have the conversations, do what needs to be done. ... It’s such a tremendous honor to be speaker of the House. To be able to serve with Barack Obama is really a joy. He’s a great leader ... with a vision, a strategic approach to it and the eloquence to take it to the American people.”

Pelosi said White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who has tight relationships throughout the House, is “doing an excellent job.”

“He’s great, and I knew he would be,” she said. “The only thing is, I certainly would still like to have him here. There’s no question about that. But I’m so proud of him. I take some level of pride in his success, having appointed him to the DCCC, only in his second term, and as a member of the Ways and Means Committee.”

POLITICO spoke with Pelosi on Friday afternoon in her suite of offices on the West Front of the Capitol, overlooking the National Mall. She spoke proudly of that morning’s two committee votes on health care, starting in the wee hours with the Ways and Means Committee and continuing after breakfast with the Education and Labor Committee.

“It’s such a big day for us,” she said. “I don’t’ think anybody would have ever thought that would be happening on schedule, the way it is. So it’s pretty exciting. It’s historic.”

Her challenge now is to keep making history, against ever harsher odds. Despite the onus on her to turn President Barack Obama’s promises into legislation, Pelosi is relishing the pinnacle of a lifetime in and around politics.

Now, she’s arguably the second most powerful person in government, yet obliged to court fickle members, vote by vote. Some friends said the nail-biter vote for Obama’s climate-change plan was the most difficult thing she’d ever done. But she said health care would probably be “the most exciting.”

“Every single person in America is an expert on his or her health care,” she said. “The differences among members are regional, they’re generational, they’re ethnic — concerns that are really not necessarily political, partisan. We want this to work for the country. So we have to listen to everybody.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0709/25144_Page2.html#ixzz0LwIFEqaw

20 jul. 2009

New NASA Photos Show Apollo Leftovers on the Moon

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has returned its first imagery of the Apollo moon landing sites, showing the Apollo missions' lunar module descent stages sitting on the moon's surface.


(AP) -- New NASA photos of the moon show the leftovers from man's exploration 40 years ago. For the first time, photos from space pinpoint equipment left behind from Apollo landings, and even the well-worn tracks made by astronauts on the moon surface. The images are from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which was launched last month and now circles the moon in search of future landing sites.

The photos were released Friday, in time for the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing on July 20, 1969. A picture of the Apollo 11 site shows the Eagle lunar module used by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

''It was really great to see the hardware sitting on the surface, waiting for us to come back,'' said Arizona State University scientist Mark Robinson, who runs the camera on the orbiter. ''You could actually see the descent module sitting on the surface.''

But that's only if you know where to look. NASA helps out by putting a giant arrow on each photo. The lunar landers look to be square white blobs; the Eagle is a fuzzy image near a crater.

NASA landed on the moon six times, but the orbital camera so far has only photographed five of the landing sites. Apollo 12 will be done later. That leaves Apollo 11 and Apollo 14 through 17. Apollo 13 never landed on the moon because of an explosion on board the ship on the way to the moon.

The images for Apollo 14 are the best so far. Taken on Wednesday, they show the path made by astronauts Alan Shepard Jr. and Edgar Mitchell as they went back and forth from the lander to the work site.

Robinson said the route was ''a high traffic zone, sort of like when you go in an old building and the carpet is worn down.'' A similar but lighter path could be seen at the Apollo 17 site.

Also at the Apollo 14 site, a close examination shows a trail made by the cart used to carry tools, Robinson said.

The photos varied in quality based on how high up the satellite was and the angle of the sun. For Apollo 11, the spaceship was taking pictures from 70 miles above. For Apollo 14, it was six miles closer.

In the next couple months, as the lunar satellite starts its mission to map the moon for future landing sites for astronauts, it will get much better photos, Robinson said. The mission is a first step in NASA's effort to return humans to the moon by 2020.

Other robotic probes, including those launched by Japan and India, have looked for signs that man was on the moon, but their cameras weren't strong enough, NASA officials said.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was launched with a second spacecraft that was designed to crash into the moon in the fall to try to find buried ice. The total cost of the mission is $583 million.

18 jul. 2009

Beekeeping gains in the concrete jungle, despite some concerns.



Honeybees may not be the first thing that come to mind when you think of Brooklyn. Yet here’s Yeshwant Chitalkar, high on a rooftop in the Red Hook section of the New York borough, opening a bright blue hive to check on its queen. The vista is a mix of parks, light industrial areas, and housing projects. Dr. Chitalkar works methodically, barehanded, carefully lifting out the hive’s frames, which are covered in a velvety, undulating layer of bees.

He is one of a growing number of urbanites who keep bees in cities across the country. Their motivations vary: Some are worried about the environmental impact of fewer bees to pollinate food crops. And some are urban gardeners who want to make their gardens more productive. Others say beekeeping is a way to connect with nature even in the heart of the concrete jungle.

Oh, and there’s the honey, too. Counterintuitive as it might seem, urban hives are generally as productive and healthy as rural ones. In a good year, one hive can produce up to 200 pounds of honey.

Urban beekeeping isn’t all sweet, though. It can be hard, dirty work and the challenges are many: jittery neighbors; vandals; city ordinances banning the activity; and problems, such as mites and parasites, that vex beekeepers everywhere.

But that doesn’t daunt those who want to keep bees. This year there are at least 30 new hives in community gardens, on rooftops, and in backyards across New York. Most are the result of a series of beekeeping classes taught last winter by Jim Fischer, a veteran beekeeper who lives in Manhattan.

Mr. Fischer and some of his students formed the Gotham City Honey Co-op to buy beekeeping equipment in bulk, and hope eventually to set up a site where members can extract and bottle their honey. The co-op also plans to brand its honey and sell it to specialty stores.

The only hitch: Beekeeping is illegal in New York City.

Mr. Fischer and other Big Apple beekeepers are confident that the honeybee ban will be lifted soon. A city councilor has introduced a bill to legalize it, and urban gardening groups are pushing for it to be passed.

The situation is quite different in Chicago, where City Hall’s green roof boasts a beehive. Michael Thompson, who helped install the city-owned hive, has been keeping bees within the city limits since the 1970s.

Today he is the farm manager at the Chicago Honey Co-op, which has about a hundred hives on the city’s West Side. Many belong to people who give half their honey to the co-op in exchange for keeping their hives at the site.

The city is an ideal spot for bees, Mr. Thompson learned when he moved there from a rural area where he kept bees.

“It’s much better to keep bees in a city,” he says. In rural and suburban areas, pesticides sprayed for agriculture and mosquito control can also harm bees. But in the city, the use of these kinds of pesticides is less widespread.



“People have the perception that a hive in the city can’t make any honey at all,” Fischer says. “That’s just not true.”

Honeybees can find abundant nectar in parks and along tree-lined boulevards. Also, urban areas often have extensive ornamental gardens in bloom throughout the growing season.

But Nick Calderone, associate professor of entomology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., injects a note of caution. He says that hives can thrive in cities only if they’re near green spaces or gardens.

Many of the beekeepers Fischer knows are urban gardeners who began keeping bees because they wanted to increase their crops’ productivity. “If you want local food, you need local bees,” he says.

That’s why Roger Repohl of the Bronx became a beekeeper 10 years ago. Although his plants had plenty of flowers, they produced few vegetables. When he asked for advice from someone in the city’s Parks Department, he was told: “ ‘Oh, we don’t have pollinators in the South Bronx,’ ” he relates.

Although “some pollination is done by wind and rain, the majority is done by insects – including beetles, flies, butterflies, and, most significantly, by bees,” says Dr. Calderone. Many native species of bees are important pollinators, but their numbers have declined as their habitat has disappeared to development and large-scale agriculture.

Honeybees, which aren’t native to the United States, are used as pollinators on large farms as well as in personal gardens. But they are struggling, too.

The number of managed honeybee colonies in the US has dropped from 5 million to 2.5 million since the 1940s, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

And two mites that appeared in the US in the 1980s have been wreaking havoc on honeybee colonies since, says Calderone. Before their advent, home beekeepers might have lost 5 percent of their colonies per year and a migratory beekeeper 10 to 15 percent. Now, during bad years, beekeepers may lose five times that many colonies.

Then there’s the little-understood but much-publicized disease known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), which causes the mysterious disappearance of adult bees from colonies. While CCD’s cause is still not understood, “it’s certainly real and it’s certainly killing lots of bees, but exactly what it is, is hard to say,” says Calderone.

In urban areas, these problems haven’t discouraged gardeners from becoming beekeepers, And that’s good for all residents of the city, says Calderone. “Unless you want a totally sterile environment that’s devoid of all life other than people, you’re going to need plants. And to keep them functioning, you’re going to need pollinators.”

Toni Burnham, who blogs about urban beekeeping (City Bees), was inspired to start hives after hearing about London beekeepers. She has established several hives and was a consultant on the successful effort to put beehives on the White House lawn.

She sees beekeeping as a key part of maintaining a healthy city. “If those plants that are the bottom line for ecological health in my town can produce adequate fruit and leaves, there’s a whole range of bugs, snakes, and birds that can survive,” she says.

One of the biggest challenges for urban beekeepers is neighbors who are unhappy about living near beehives. Many people are afraid of bees, and much of that fear is rooted in misunderstanding, says Fischer.

Since bee populations have declined, people understand them less, says Fischer, who as a child spent the summers playing baseball barefoot. Back then, grass-seed mixes included red clover, a bee favorite. Inevitably, children stepped on bees. There were tears, but parents took it in stride – “the response was a hug and a cookie,” he says.

Today, many people mistake one bodily response to a bee sting – some swelling and itching – for an allergic reaction and take their children to the emergency room, Fischer says.

If their nests are threatened, bees will sting. But, Calderone says, they don’t generally do so when away from their nests.

Still, bee swarms, which occur when part or all of a colony leaves its home en masse to find a new one, make headlines. Fischer, who is frequently called to remove them in New York, once was called to a site where a swarm had landed on a newspaper box. When he got there, police had closed the intersection and cordoned off the area with yellow crime scene tape. Several television crews were filming. “Swarms scare the civilians,” he says.

But swarms aren’t particularly dangerous, he says. The bees may number in the thousands, but lack a hive to defend and are focused on finding a new home, although they will sting if provoked. Fischer calls them “the most docile configuration of bees.”

Still, “it’s important to cultivate respect for [honeybees]. They’re not chickens, cats, or dogs,” says Mr. Repohl, whose community garden regularly hosts school groups.

Keeping bees may have another benefit for busy city dwellers – encouraging them to slow down. Ms. Burnham, who says she’s the type of person who drinks too much coffee and waves her hands around when she’s talking, likens beekeeping to yoga: “I plan my movements, and I do them deliberately. I’m thinking about the effect of my motions on these creatures. I have to be in a different way,” she says.

Michaela Hayes, who has a new hive in Brooklyn, agrees. “I love the bees; they’re so peaceful,” she says. Ms. Hayes dreams of the day when she’ll make ginger beer from her honey, but for now she’s content to watch the bees as they go about their business. “They’re fascinating to me. It’s kind of like a big science experiment for adults."

17 jul. 2009

Trial of Anti-Catholic Cult Leader on Sex Charges Opens



The federal trial of Tony Alamo, who led a notorious anti-Catholic cult, began this week in Texarkana, Ark. Alamo, 74, has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of transporting underage girls across state lines for sex. His trial comes nearly two years after the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report published an expose on Alamo that detailed allegations of physical abuse, statutory rape and polygamy.

The magazine reported that Alamo had lost a $1.4 million civil lawsuit brought by the family of an 11-year-old boy whom Alamo allegedly had ordered beaten. The SPLC’s Fall 2007 report also revealed that Alamo contended girls should marry as soon as they begin menstruating, even if they’re as young as 10; in a 2006 radio broadcast, Alamo justified this view by claiming that “God impregnated Mary when she was about 11 years old.” In a 2007 broadcast, he said that first graders should be allowed to marry because they’re having sex anyway.

In addition to his alleged sexual proclivities, Alamo frequently denigrated Catholics. He has blamed them for “every filthy thing,” including communism, Nazism, the two world wars, the Jonestown massacre, drugs, prostitution and pornography. He also spewed hatred toward gays, referring in a defense of polygamy to “these bastards, these homosexual Vaticanites, they condone homosexuals and they condemn marriage.” The SPLC lists his Tony Alamo Christian Ministries as a hate group.

Alamo’s headquarters in Fouke, Ark., was raided last fall by dozens of federal and state law enforcement agents searching for evidence of child abuse. He was arrested on Sept. 25 at an Arizona motel. It’s not the first time he’s faced significant jail time: Alamo was convicted on tax evasion charges in 1994 and served four years of a six-year prison sentence.

15 jul. 2009

China: 'Bribery is widespread' in Rio case


from China Daily

Executives from all 16 Chinese steel mills participating in iron ore price talks this year have been bribed by Rio Tinto employees, an industry insider claimed Tuesday, amid reports that the government is considering invalidating 20 iron ore import licenses to regulate the chaotic ore import business.

The startling claim comes amid a widening probe of alleged business espionage linked to the world's second-largest iron ore miner, Rio Tinto.

Executives from five leading domestic steel makers and officials from the industry association are reportedly under investigation following last week's detention of four employees of Rio Tinto's China operation, including an Australian.

'Bribery is widespread' in Rio case

"Rio Tinto got to know the key executives of the 16 steel mills, who have sensitive industry information, when the China Iron and Steel Association (CISA) brought them to the bargaining table," said a senior manager at a large steel company, who requested anonymity.

"And then Rio Tinto bribed them (to get access to industry data), which has become an unwritten industry practice," the source said.

"If companies didn't accept, they would have cut supplies and so the whole steel industry has been bribed."

His words come as the CISA is reportedly mulling over re-examining the iron ore import licensing system because some license holders are said to have abused their rights.

"It is very likely for CISA to cancel about 20 iron ore import licenses held by steel makers and trading companies, with a focus on trading companies," the 21st Century Business Herald reported, citing an anonymous source.

Another industry insider, who also requested to be unnamed, told China Daily: "There are about 1,200 steel mills in China. Most small- and medium-sized mills without import licenses have to buy ore from big ones with licenses.

"Therefore, some big mills don't care about the ore prices because they could transfer the increasing cost to small- and medium-sized ones. Meanwhile, those small- and medium-sized steel mills are forced to sign contracts with global miners privately."

And, Hu Kai, analyst with Umetal, a steel consulting firm, said: "Because of their own interest and intense competition among various steel makers in China, it's unlikely for them to present a united front when bargaining with overseas ore providers."

Related readings:
Secrets of Chinese steel mills found in Rio's computers
Australia: Rio case not to affect trade ties
Detained Rio Tinto executive in good health: Australian FM
Govt: Proof against Rio spies sticks

FM: China to handle Rio spy case 'according to the law'



But Hu said such measures can't solve the root problems, because huge demand for iron ore in China determines that the price talks will continue and disorder will continue to exist.

"I suggest the country should first control the output of the iron and steel industry. Besides, China should also enhance exploration of domestic mines and increase investment in overseas mining resources," Hu said.

CISA started reducing iron ore import licenses in 2005. By the end of last September, the number of firms possessing licenses in China has been reduced from 500 in 2005 to 112 now, and trading firms from 250 to 40.

The Shanghai State Security Bureau earlier this month detained Stern Hu, an Australian citizen and Rio's chief iron ore salesman in Shanghai, and three of his Chinese colleagues. They are accused of stealing sensitive industry data critical to China's iron ore price talks.

Calling "Balls and Strikes"



As the New York Times highlighted this weekend, the image of the judge as umpire has become a dominant analogy in discussions of judicial restraint. Chief Justice John G. Roberts said in the opening remarks of his own confirmation hearings in 2005: ”Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role.” Today, members of the Senate Judiciary committee frequently used this statement to frame their opinions about what role Judge Sonia Sotomayor might play on the Supreme Court (the rare venue in which sitting on the bench is a good thing).

An (incomplete) review of the senators’ written statements and oral testimony finds the phrase “balls and strikes” used 11 times, “umpire” or “umpires” used 16 times, and “playing field” used twice today. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., perhaps appealing to his Big 12 base, went for a football simile instead. Once all of the written statements are submitted to the record and the transcripts are finalized, I’ll update with a complete word count. Excerpts of the senators’ sports infused language are below the jump:


Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.:

Such an approach to judging means that the umpire calling the game is not neutral, but instead feels empowered to favor one team over the other.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

Also, it showed me that Supreme Court justices are much more than umpires calling balls and strikes and that the word activist often is used only to describe opinions of one side.

So I do not believe that Supreme Court justices are merely umpires calling balls and strikes. Rather I believe that they make the decisions of individuals who bring to the court their own experiences and philosophies.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.:

It made these decisions by interpreting and applying open-ended language in our Constitution like ‘equal protection of the laws,’ ‘due process of law,’ ‘freedom of the press,’ ‘unreasonable searches and seizures,’ and ‘the right to bear arms.’ These momentous decisions were not simply the result of an umpire calling balls and strikes.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.:

Just short of four years ago, then-Judge Roberts sat where Judge Sotomayor is sitting. He told us that his jurisprudence would be characterized by “modesty and humility.” He illustrated this with a now well-known quote: “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules. They apply them.”

It made these decisions by interpreting and applying open-ended language in our Constitution like ‘equal protection of the laws,’ ‘due process of law,’ ‘freedom of the press,’ ‘unreasonable searches and seizures,’ and ‘the right to bear arms.’ These momentous decisions were not simply the result of an umpire calling balls and strikes.

But any objective review of Judge Sotomayor’s record on the Second Circuit leaves no doubt that she has simply called balls and strikes for 17 years far more closely than Chief Justice Roberts has during his four years on the Supreme Court.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex.:

To borrow a football analogy, a lower court judge is like the quarterback who executes the plays - not the coach who calls the plays.

But a few of your opinions do raise questions - because they suggest the kinds of plays you’d call if you were promoted to the coaching staff.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.:

We expect a judge to merely call balls and strikes? Maybe so, maybe not. But we certainly don’t expect them to sympathize with one party over the other, and that’s where empathy comes from.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.:

I particularly reject the analogy of a judge to an “umpire” who merely calls “balls and strikes.” If judging were that mechanical, we would not need nine Supreme Court Justices. The task of an appellate judge, particularly on a court of final appeal, is often to define the strike zone, within a matrix of Constitutional principle, legislative intent, and statutory construction.

The “umpire” analogy is belied by Chief Justice Roberts, though he cast himself as an “umpire” during his confirmation hearings.

…the infamous Ledbetter decision, for instance; the Louisville and Seattle integration cases; the first limitation on Roe v. Wade that outright disregards the woman’s health and safety; and the DC Heller decision, discovering a constitutional right to own guns that the Court had not previously noticed in 220 years. Some “balls and strikes.”

The liberties in our Constitution have their boundaries defined, in the gray and overlapping areas, by informed judgment. None of this is “balls and strikes.”

Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Dela.:

A judge, or a court, has to call the game the same way for all sides. Fundamental fairness requires that in the courtroom, everyone comes to the plate with the same count of no balls and no strikes.

One of the aspirations of the American judicial system is that it is a place where the powerless have a chance for justice on a level playing field with the powerful.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.:

Second, I am concerned that Americans are facing new barriers to defending their individual rights. The Supreme Court is the last court in the land where an individual is promised a level playing field and can seek to right a wrong.

13 jul. 2009

The Sky Is Falling


Image credit: Stéphane Guisard, www.astrosurf.com/sguisard

Breakthrough ideas have a way of seeming obvious in retro­spect, and about a decade ago, a Columbia University geophysicist named Dallas Abbott had a breakthrough idea. She had been pondering the craters left by comets and asteroids that smashed into Earth. Geologists had counted them and concluded that space strikes are rare events and had occurred mainly during the era of primordial mists. But, Abbott realized, this deduction was based on the number of craters found on land—and because 70 percent of Earth’s surface is water, wouldn’t most space objects hit the sea? So she began searching for underwater craters caused by impacts rather than by other forces, such as volcanoes. What she has found is spine-chilling: evidence that several enormous asteroids or comets have slammed into our planet quite recently, in geologic terms. If Abbott is right, then you may be here today, reading this magazine, only because by sheer chance those objects struck the ocean rather than land.



Abbott believes that a space object about 300 meters in diameter hit the Gulf of Carpentaria, north of Australia, in 536 A.D. An object that size, striking at up to 50,000 miles per hour, could release as much energy as 1,000 nuclear bombs. Debris, dust, and gases thrown into the atmosphere by the impact would have blocked sunlight, temporarily cooling the planet—and indeed, contemporaneous accounts describe dim skies, cold summers, and poor harvests in 536 and 537. “A most dread portent took place,” the Byzantine historian Procopius wrote of 536; the sun “gave forth its light without brightness.” Frost reportedly covered China in the summertime. Still, the harm was mitigated by the ocean impact. When a space object strikes land, it kicks up more dust and debris, increasing the global-cooling effect; at the same time, the combination of shock waves and extreme heating at the point of impact generates nitric and nitrous acids, producing rain as corrosive as battery acid. If the Gulf of Carpentaria object were to strike Miami today, most of the city would be leveled, and the atmospheric effects could trigger crop failures around the world.

What’s more, the Gulf of Carpentaria object was a skipping stone compared with an object that Abbott thinks whammed into the Indian Ocean near Madagascar some 4,800 years ago, or about 2,800 B.C. Researchers generally assume that a space object a kilometer or more across would cause significant global harm: widespread destruction, severe acid rain, and dust storms that would darken the world’s skies for decades. The object that hit the Indian Ocean was three to five kilometers across, Abbott believes, and caused a tsunami in the Pacific 600 feet high—many times higher than the 2004 tsunami that struck Southeast Asia. Ancient texts such as Genesis and the Epic of Gilgamesh support her conjecture, describing an unspeakable planetary flood in roughly the same time period. If the Indian Ocean object were to hit the sea now, many of the world’s coastal cities could be flattened. If it were to hit land, much of a continent would be leveled; years of winter and mass starvation would ensue.

At the start of her research, which has sparked much debate among specialists, Abbott reasoned that if colossal asteroids or comets strike the sea with about the same frequency as they strike land, then given the number of known land craters, perhaps 100 large impact craters might lie beneath the oceans. In less than a decade of searching, she and a few colleagues have already found what appear to be 14 large underwater impact sites. That they’ve found so many so rapidly is hardly reassuring.

Other scientists are making equally unsettling discoveries. Only in the past few decades have astronomers begun to search the nearby skies for objects such as asteroids and comets (for convenience, let’s call them “space rocks”). What they are finding suggests that near-Earth space rocks are more numerous than was once thought, and that their orbits may not be as stable as has been assumed. There is also reason to think that space rocks may not even need to reach Earth’s surface to cause cataclysmic damage. Our solar system appears to be a far more dangerous place than was previously believed.

read more:

12 jul. 2009

Weekly Address: Recovery and the Jobs of the Future



President Barack Obama on Saturday touted his administration’s economic stimulus spending, saying that it pulled "our financial system and our economy back from the brink."

His remarks in an unusually long edition of his weekly radio and internet address came after a week in which unemployment hit 9.5 percent and Republicans increasingly denounced the stimulus as a failure.

After beginning with a recap of his "progress on these challenges abroad" during his trip overseas this week, Obama quickly pivoted to the stimulus and offered a direct challenge to right-wing critics of the government spending, saying they "have yet to offer a plausible alternative."

First, he sought to reframe the public’s expectations for the spending program. “The Recovery Act wasn’t designed to restore the economy to full health on its own, but to provide the boost necessary to stop the free fall,” Obama said. “It was designed to spur demand and get people spending again and cushion those who had borne the brunt of the crisis.”

And then he pronounced the stimulus plan a success: “In a little over one hundred days, this Recovery Act has worked as intended. It has already extended unemployment insurance and health insurance to those who have lost their jobs in this recession. It has delivered $43 billion in tax relief to American working families and businesses. Without the help the Recovery Act has provided to struggling states, its estimated that state deficits would be nearly twice as large as they are now, resulting in tens of thousands of additional layoffs – layoffs that would affect police officers, teachers, and firefighters.”

That’s in part a rebuke of GOP lawmakers like House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) who pounced on rumblings in Washington of a second stimulus package. “All of this talk of a second stimulus bill, I think, is an admission on the part of the administration that their stimulus plan is not working,” Boehner said earlier in the week.

The president, though, said it’s too soon to label the stimulus a failure, and offered a response to both "those who felt that doing nothing was somehow an answer" and also those who wanted a bigger stimulus and "are already calling for a second recovery plan":

“As I made clear at the time it was passed, the Recovery Act was not designed to work in four months – it was designed to work over two years,” Obama said. “We also knew that it would take some time for the money to get out the door, because we are committed to spending it in a way that is effective and transparent.”

What's So Scary About Offering People the Option of a Public Health Plan?

By Dean Baker, AlterNet Independence Day is a time to reflect on the United States and to ask what it is that we really value about our country. Most people would probably list the freedoms that it has usually guaranteed to most members of society. The opportunities for economic success, while not as great as often touted, are nonetheless impressive.

However, some members of Congress were apparently celebrating our system of employer-provided health insurance last weekend. Or, at least that is what they want us to believe.

As Congress starts to delve into the dirt of a health care reform package, the clearest point of conflict is over the existence and structure of a public health care plan. Some members of Congress have thrown down the gauntlet, insisting that they could never allow the public to have the option of buying into a government-run plan.

These members tell us that a government-run plan will be like having the post office manage our health care. While the post office actually does a pretty good job where I live, if the point is that a government-run plan is going to be bureaucratic and inefficient, then why are opponents of a public plan so worried about giving people the choice to buy into it? If the public plan is bad, then people will just stay with the options currently available in the private sector. As those of who believe in the free markets like to say: "what's wrong with giving people a choice?"

In addition to the members who just say "no" when it comes to a public plan, there are also members who are willing to allow a public plan, but only if they can be sure that it will not provide real competition with existing private plans. This route involves crippling the public plan in various ways to make it less competitive.

For example, one proposal is to establish a series of health insurance cooperatives, which would be prohibited from acting jointly to maximize their bargaining power. The idea is that a newly formed Nebraska health insurance cooperative, insuring a few thousand people, will not be able to put too much pressure on Pfizer or the American Medical Associations when negotiating prices. It also will not be able to provide much competition for Aetna, Cigna, and the other major insurers.

Several members of Congress have made protecting these insurers and the current system of employer-provided health insurance into a basic principle. Max Baucus, the head of the Senate Finance Committee, who will probably have more to say in the final bill than anyone else in the Senate, falls into this camp. Senator Baucus has explicitly said that he would not support a bill that jeopardized our system of employer-provided health insurance.

This is truly bizarre. The United States has employer-provided health care insurance as an accident -- it came about as a way to evade wage controls during World War II -- it was not some grand principle.

It is almost impossible to imagine why someone would consider employer-provided insurance as an end in itself. I say this both as an economist and as an employer. I am going to waste several hours tomorrow discussing my center's health insurance plan with an insurance broker.

It is very difficult to compare the merits of the different insurance plans that we are considering. There is an endless list of conditions that are or are not covered (which can change after the fact). There are also issues about how quickly and consistently the insurer will pay bills. We can ask people with other insurers about their experience, but there is no guarantee that our experience will be comparable.

Of course, our broker is of little use. She will only get paid if she persuades us to change insurers. How much can we trust her?

I am trying to do research and run a think tank. Senator Baucus might think that it is a good idea that I have to waste my time dealing with insurance brokers, but I don't, and I suspect that millions of other small employers feel the same way.

So, why not give us a choice of a good, simple, public plan? Employers that want to read through insurance contracts will still have that option. The rest of us can get back to our work.

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

10 jul. 2009

When In Rome...? Actually, not so much

Rt_obama_busted_090709_main

President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy trade places on a dais with "Junior G8" delegates.

On first glance, the snapshot appears to show President Obama caught in a moment of less than lofty analysis. But upon looking at the video, the moment might seem to appear quite innocent -- one of those times when a picture can be misleading. The president was on a higher step and was stepping down -- so he looked down to assure his footing as the woman was walking up the stairs.

Although: not everyone agrees. Judge for yourself.


A blow for Illinois’s Blagojevich in corruption case

John Harris,Blagojevich's former chief of staff, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and pledged cooporation with prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence if convicted.
Chicago

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s campaign to clear his name of corruption charges suffered a major blow Wednesday when John Harris, his former chief of staff, entered a plea agreement with the US Attorney’s Office in Chicago.

Mr. Harris pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, and he pledged cooporation with prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence if convicted.

Mr. Blagojevich is charged with 16 counts of corruption including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion, and making false statements to federal agents. He has insisted he is innocent of all charges.

Harris served as Blagojevich’s chief of staff from late 2005 until last December. He and the governor are among six people charged in April with 19 counts of “pervasive fraud.”

The plea agreement is the first in this case, although political insiders say that between now and the trial’s opening day in June 2010 there probably will be more.

“[Blagojevich] will soon be the last man standing,” says Andy Shaw, executive director of the Better Government Association, a watchdog group in Chicago. Mr. Shaw, who was a long-time political reporter for WLS-TV, says “this case is over” due to a growing number of cooperating witnesses who were close to Blagojevich when he was governor.

Last month, Christopher Kelly, Blagojevich’s former adviser and chief fundraiser, was sentenced to 37 months in prison on federal tax fraud charges for concealing the use of corporate funds from a roofing company he owned to cover gambling debts. Mr. Kelly is also involved in a second case in which he is charged in a kickback scheme against United Airlines and American Airlines at O’Hare International Airport. The trial for that case starts in September.

Those cases were not connected to the Blagojevich indictments because they did not involve the misuse of public funds.

Rod Blagojevich

Prosecutors also have access to the possible cooperation of Antoin “Tony” Rezko, a top Blagojevich adviser and fundraiser who was convicted in June 2008 on 16 federal corruption charges for trading his clout.

Shaw says prosecutors “now have a litany of cooperating witnesses, people who were right there in the room as Senate seats were being bartered and contracts traded for contributions, and jobs and positions on boards were sold off for cash.”

“They’re all going to stand up, one by one, and paint a picture of the worst pay-to-play corruption this state has ever seen,” says Shaw.

Under the plea deal, Harris faces a maximum of 35 months in prison, providing the testimony he offers proves accurate. Without the plea arrangement, the maximum for the charge is 20 years. Randall Samborn, spokesman with the US Attorney’s Office, says as of Wednesday Harris “is the only one to plead guilty at this point.”

The plea agreement states that in 2008 Harris aided Blagojevich’s attempts to sell the US Senate seat vacated by President Obama. Harris also was alleged to have threatened the Chicago Tribune with the withholding of state funds if the newspaper did not fire editorial staffers critical of the governor. He also was charged with pressuring financial institutions that did business with the state to give his wife a job.

Messages left for Harris’s attorney and Blagojevich’s spokesperson were not returned at time of writing.

3 jul. 2009

Afghanistan: A Conversation with Senator John McCain


Jacob Heilbrun offered a comment on Huffington Post "The Latest Neocon Attack on Obama":
As President Obama prepares to visit Russia, the new neocon organization called the Foreign Policy Initiative (the successor to the defunct Project for the New American Century) has issued a letter, which was also signed by several liberal hawks, imploring him to raise the issue of human rights. It also points to what it calls Russia's attack on Georgia as a sign of renewed imperialism, even though it was Georgia that attacked Russia. Simultaneously, former UN ambassador John Bolton declares in today 's Washington Post that the crackdown in Iran shows that Obama should stop trying to play kissyface with the mullahs. It's time to prepare for a military assault.
Not so fast.

Moderator: Dr. Robert Kagan
Board Member, The Foreign Policy Initiative and Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Kagan began by asking Senator McCain how, if he had been elected president, his plan for Afghanistan would have differed from that of the Obama Administration.

McCain stressed the need to emphasize how difficult the mission in Afghanistan will be. There will be an initial, significant increase in casualties as we deploy more forces there, he explained. But the situation in Afghanistan is not as dire as it was in Iraq prior to the “surge.”

Assuming that the Administration may be planning to eventually provide more forces beyond the recently announced 21,000, McCain said that he would have announced the full increase up front, so as to avoid the appearance of “Lyndon Johnson-style incrementalism.” He also would have proposed a substantial expansion in the size of the Afghan National Army.

McCain went on to suggest that a year from now, the United States will be facing even greater opposition from enemies in Afghanistan. Asked whether Republicans could be expected to continue supporting the mission, McCain indicated that they would and argued that the most criticism would likely come from the left, where some have already begun to complain about the number of forces being sent to the country.

Asked about the Bush Administration’s handling of the Afghan conflict, McCain pointed to shortfalls in the command structures established in Afghanistan, the failure to sufficiently grow the Afghan National Army, and the inability to encourage more effective participation from our allies. Failure to properly resource the conflict, McCain argued, stemmed from the fact that once we had become committed in Iraq, it became critical that we succeed there, as failure would have compromised our success in Afghanistan and our interests elsewhere. This is one argument for increasing the size of the American Army and Marine Corps, McCain explained.

With regard to our allies, McCain suggested that the goodwill and enthusiasm generated in Europe by Obama could perhaps be leveraged into additional support for the Afghan mission—though not in the form of more troops. Rather than asking for more forces we are unlikely to get, McCain said we should encourage our allies to take the lead in the Afghan Army training efforts.

Having raised the issue of inadequate U.S. Army and Marine Corps force sizes in the Bush years, McCain went on to discuss the necessary defense spending priorities of the years ahead. Citing the evolution in the application of military technology even over the course of the Iraq war, McCain suggested that we need to carefully tailor acquisition to the threat environment, rather than pursue technology for technology’s sake. He believes that procurement reform is an absolute priority.

On the topic of Pakistan, McCain argued that the challenges emanating from the country represent a strategic threat, which calls for a strategy addressing Pakistan qua Pakistan—not simply the border regions. He said that the notion that you cannot succeed in Afghanistan without solving the border problems is incorrect. But the proposed plan for conditioning aid to the Pakistani Army based on measurable success in pursuing insurgents is problematic, he explained. Moving forward, we will need to communicate to the people of Pakistan that it is in their interest to see the United States and its allies succeed in Afghanistan.

View Transcript

2 jul. 2009

Unprotected Sex: Abstinence Education's Main Accomplishment

Youth seeking his father's advice on love
From the Haft Awrang of Jami, in the story A Father Advises his Son About Love. His counsel is to choose that lover who desires him for his inner beauty. See Sufi outlook on male love Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

It is widely known that teenage birth and pregnancy rates, which dropped dramatically between 1991 and 2005, are now climbing. By tracking changes in reported contraceptive use among sexually active high-school students, researchers at Columbia University and the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which studies sexual health, have identified as the leading culprit a drop in the use of birth control -- specifically condoms. The team studied trends in teen sexual activity and contraceptive use between 1991 and 2007. During most of this period, the level of sexual activity reported by teenagers in routine surveys overseen by the Centers for Disease Control remained largely unchanged. But during a crucial period -- identified in the study as between 1991 and 2003 -- the use of condoms rose dramatically, climbing from 46.2 percent in 1991 to 63.0 percent in 2003. Then a perceptible decline in the use of condoms began, with 61.5 percent of students reporting condom use in 2007. "These behavioral trends are consistent with the 2006 and 2007 increases in the teen birth rate," the study published in the July issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health says. "They may well portend further increases in 2008."
The decline in contraceptive use may cheer those who have promoted faith-inspired school curriculums that refuse to even mention birth control and, in some cases, specifically emphasize that condoms can fail. True enough.

But now we have sad and clear evidence that political foolishness among adults is leading to foolish and harmful behavior among kids. Who could reasonably want more teen pregnancies, more abortions among teenagers, more unmarried mothers, more babies born with greater health risks and with the sorely limited economic prospects that burden the children of young, single mothers? No one would dare promote such a policy. Yet these are the results of our recent national sex-education policy, which was based on religious faith, not science, and put political gamesmanship ahead of public health. More...




USA
Almost all U.S. students receive some form of sex education at least once between grades 7 and 12; many schools begin addressing some topics as early as grades 5 or 6. However, what students learn varies widely, because curriculum decisions are so decentralized. Many states have laws governing what is taught in sex education classes or allowing parents to opt out. Some state laws leave curriculum decisions to individual school districts.
For example, a 1999 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that most U.S. sex education courses in grades 7 through 12 cover puberty, HIV, STIs, abstinence, implications of teenage pregnancy, and how to resist peer pressure. Other studied topics, such as methods of birth control and infection prevention, sexual orientation, sexual abuse, and factual and ethical information about abortion, varied more widely.

Two main forms of sex education are taught in American schools: comprehensive and abstinence-only. Comprehensive sex education covers abstinence as a positive choice, but also teaches about contraception and avoidance of STIs when sexually active. A 2002 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 58% of secondary school principals describe their sex education curriculum as comprehensive.
Abstinence-only sex education tells teenagers that they should be sexually abstinent until marriage and does not provide information about contraception. In the Kaiser study, 34% of high-school principals said their school's main message was abstinence-only.

The difference between these two approaches, and their impact on teen behavior, remains a controversial subject. In the U.S., teenage birth rates had been dropping since 1991, but a 2007 report showed 3% increase from 2005 to 2006.[29] From 1991 to 2005, the percentage of teens reporting that they had ever had sex or were currently sexually active showed small declines. However, the U.S. still has the highest teen birth rate and one of the highest rates of STIs among teens in the industrialized world. Public opinion polls conducted over the years have found that the vast majority of Americans favor broader sex education programs over those that teach only abstinence, although abstinence educators recently published poll data with the opposite conclusion.
Proponents of comprehensive sex education, which include the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, the Society for Adolescent Medicine and the American College Health Association, argue that sexual behavior after puberty is a given, and it is therefore crucial to provide information about the risks and how they can be minimized; they also claim that denying teens such factual information leads to unwanted pregnancies and STIs.

On the other hand, proponents of abstinence-only sex education object to curricula that fail to teach their standard of moral behavior; they maintain that a morality based on sex only within the bounds of marriage is "healthy and constructive" and that value-free knowledge of the body may lead to immoral, unhealthy, and harmful practices. Within the last decade, the federal government has encouraged abstinence-only education by steering over a billion dollars to such programs. Some 25 states now decline the funding so that they can continue to teach comprehensive sex education. Funding for one of the federal government's two main abstinency-only funding programs, Title V, was extended only until December 31, 2007; Congress is debating whether to continue it past that date.
The impact of the rise in abstinence-only education remains a question. To date, no published studies of abstinence-only programs have found consistent and significant program effects on delaying the onset of intercourse. In 2007, a study ordered by the U.S. Congress found that middle school students who took part in abstinence-only sex education programs were just as likely to have sex (and use contraception) in their teenage years as those who did not. Abstinence-only advocates claimed that the study was flawed because it was too narrow and began when abstinence-only curricula were in their infancy, and that other studies have demonstrated positive effects.
It is estimated that more than half of all new HIV infections occur before the age of 25 and most are acquired through unprotected sex. According to the experts on AIDS, many of these new cases come about because young people don’t have the knowledge or skills to protect themselves. To try and resolve this problem the American Psychological Association (APA) is recommending that comprehensive sex education and HIV prevention programs become more available to the youth. The young people need this to help protect them from HIV/AIDS and other STDs they might get if they decide to have sex.

Abstinence-only sex education is working, NOT!

Image...
WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 ? The birth rate among teenagers 15 to 19 in the United States rose 3 percent in 2006, according to a report issued Wednesday, the first such increase since 1991. The finding surprised scholars and fueled a debate about whether the Bush administration?s abstinence-only sexual education efforts are working.

The federal government spends $176 million annually on such programs. But a landmark study recently failed to demonstrate that they have any effect on delaying sexual activity among teenagers, and some studies suggest that they may actually increase pregnancy rates.

http://hs.riverdale.k12.or.us/~hfinnert/exhib_06/carolinep/abstinence.gif



The Netherlands
Subsidized by the Dutch government, the “Lang leve de liefde” (“Long Live Love”) package, developed in the late 1980s, aims to give teenagers the skills to make their own decisions regarding health and sexuality. Professor Brett van den Andrews, a medical research scientist who graduated from ISHSS (International School for Humanities and Social Sciences), has suggested that exposing children aged 4-7 to sex education will greatly reduce the risk of future pregnancies and health issues. Of course his theories have been the subject of much scrutiny under the NIGS (Netherlands Institute of Geooracular Sciences). Nonetheless, he is widely appreciated in the medical society and has been featured in many medical journals. Nearly all secondary schools provide sex education as part of biology classes and over half of primary schools discuss sexuality and contraception. The curriculum focuses on biological aspects of reproduction as well as on values, attitudes, communication and negotiation skills. The media has encouraged open dialogue and the health-care system guarantees confidentiality and a non-judgmental approach. The Netherlands has one of the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in the world, and the Dutch approach is often seen as a model for other countries.





Sex education and public edification




England and Wales
In England and Wales, sex education is not compulsory in schools as parents can refuse to let their children take part in the lessons. The curriculum focuses on the reproductive system, fetal development, and the physical and emotional changes of adolescence, while information about contraception and safe sex is discretionary and discussion about relationships is often neglected. Britain has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe and sex education is a heated issue in government and media reports. In a 2000 study by the University of Brighton, many 14 to 15 year olds reported disappointment with the content of sex education lessons and felt that lack of confidentiality prevents teenagers from asking teachers about contraception. In a 2008 study conducted by YouGov for Channel 4 it was revealed that almost three in ten teenagers say they need more sex and relationships education.

Scotland
In Scotland, the main sex education program is Healthy Respect, which focuses not only on the biological aspects of reproduction but also on relationships and emotions. Education about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases are included in the program as a way of encouraging good sexual health. In response to a refusal by Catholic schools to commit to the program, however, a separate sex education program has been developed for use in those schools. Funded by the Scottish Government, the program Called to Love focuses on encouraging children to delay sex until marriage, and does not cover contraception, and as such is a form of abstinence-only sex education.