July 3, 2015

Obama signs anti-Palestinian law

Electronic Intifada - President Barack Obama signed into lawthe first federal anti-BDS provision. This provision, tucked into the Trade Promotion Authority bill — more commonly known as “fast track” authority — makes it a “principal negotiating objective” of the United States “to discourage politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel” in current negotiations with the European Union over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The law also specifically extends this US discouragement of BDS to include “Israeli-controlled territories,” a transparent ploy to put pressure on the EU to reverse nascent steps to label products from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Trumka tries to suppress labor support for Sanders

Politico - Richard Trumka has a message for state and local AFL-CIO leaders tempted to endorse Bernie Sanders: Don’t.

In a memo this week to state, central and area divisions of the labor federation, and obtained by POLITICO, the AFL-CIO chief reminded the groups that its bylaws don’t permit them to “endorse a presidential candidate” or “introduce, consider, debate, or pass resolutions or statements that indicate a preference for one candidate over another.” Even “‘personal’ statements” of candidate preference are verboten, Trumka said.

The memo comes amid signs of a growing split between national union leaders — mindful of the fact that Clinton remains the undisputed favorite for the nomination — and local officials and rank and file, who are increasingly drawn to the Democratic Party’s growing progressive wing, for whom Sanders is the latest standard-bearer.

The South Carolina and Vermont AFL-CIOs have passed resolutions supporting Sanders, and some local AFL-CIO leaders in Iowa want to introduce a resolution at their August convention backing the independent senator from Vermont. More than a thousand labor supporters, including several local AFL-CIO-affiliated leaders, have signed on to “Labor for Bernie,” a group calling on national union leaders to give Sanders a shot at an

The AFL-CIO’s constituent unions — as distinct from divisions of the federation itself — remain free to make endorsements however they wish. But they can’t make those endorsements acting through local and regional divisions of the AFL-CIO, as Trumka reminded everyone in the memo.

His message wasn’t anything new for the federation’s state leaders: They know that endorsement decisions belong to the national leadership. Still, it was unusual for Trumka to call them out in a memo. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one before like this,” said Jeff Johnson, the president of the AFL-CIO’s Washington state labor council.

Johnson agreed that it was important for the AFL-CIO to speak with a single voice. But “there’s a lot of anxiety out there in the labor movement,” he said, “and we’re desperately searching for a candidate that actually speaks to working-class values. The Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders camp is very, very attractive to many of our members and to many of us as leaders, because they’re talking about the things that need to happen in this country.”

Similarly, Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman said he agreed that Trumka had to lay down the law. More tellingly, though, he added: “Bernie Sanders has spent his life actually fighting for working people. He’s made no secret of it, and he’s used it as his mantra. And that I respect very much.” When asked about Clinton’s candidacy, Tolman was less effusive: “Who? Who? Please. I mean with all respect, huh?”

Other state-level union leaders affiliated with the AFL-CIO didn’t bother to give Trumka and his memo lip service. “I was disappointed by it,” said UPTE-CWA Local 9119 organizing coordinator Lisa Kermish, of Berkeley, California. “I think that local unions and national unions, while it’s important to work together for strength, I think that this is in some ways truncating dialogue. And I find that very unfortunate.”


Study: Texting in school

Larry Cuban - Craig Peck and his colleagues studied two high schools in Southeastern U.S. One – Downtown –was urban and minority while Newlands was mostly white and suburban:

Craig Peck et al: We encountered students who utilized their PMDs as means to rebel, overtly or surreptitiously, against school and teacher rules. Skilled students sent text messages routinely during lessons. Without the teacher’s (or at times, the observer’s) knowledge, these students used their clothing and objects for cover; some typed responses in their pockets without looking at their device. A few students pushed the bounds further by setting up proxies on school computers to bypass school district filters and access popular social media sites. In addition, students who possessed mobile phone data plans (or shared those of their parents) could use their PMDs to access any online social media they wished, given that the school district’s Internet filters could not block such activity on proprietary wireless networks.

A white male 10th grader at Newlands High School proved particularly adept at evading classroom rules against PMD usage. He explained that he was able to type text messages without looking, so he only had to read incoming messages. He stated, “I’m normally a two-hander with my phone, but if I was just sitting here like this I could send a message just fine [in my pocket].” He later revealed that he did in fact send a text message during his interview, unbeknownst to the researcher....

At Downtown High, an 11th-grade African American female student described when and how she text-messaged during a lesson: “Well if I’m in class and I get a text, usually I wait until the class is working on some kind of work, but it’s mostly after the teacher explains it.” She estimated sending about 100 text messages on a typical day, with far fewer during the actual school hours. In fact, she described concerns with having PMDs in schools.

In her own words, “There’s cheating. They give the answers during text messages. Or if someone’s planning to have a fight, they’ll just do it through the phones. They’ll text and meet up there and everyone will know where to go. And that kind of blocks the way of it being broken up [by adult supervisors], which is kind of dangerous.”...

In one case at Downtown High School, a coach made all her players turn in their phones to her at the beginning of school as a tactic for preventing PMD-inspired confrontations during the day; a student participant revealed that a friend of hers circumvented this deterrent by carrying multiple mobile phones: one to turn in to the coach, and the others to keep and use. In another case at Downtown High School, two teachers used personal funds to purchase cell phone blockers in the hopes of eliminating student PMD usage during class time. Administrators subsequently sent all teachers a memorandum forbidding this solution. The principal explained that the blockers interfered with the administrators’ cell phones, which constituted a safety issue. The principal added that any teacher using the cell phone blockers would be held personally liable in the event that aid was delayed to a sick or injured school constituent.

An administrator at Newlands discussed how the possible release valve provided by a student-appropriate PMD use policy did not always lead to student acceptance of usage rules. She explained...

A White male 11th grader at Downtown High School perhaps best summed up the dilemmas regarding PMD use and access that educators face today. He stated,

“You’re never going to stop it, there’s no way you can. I mean, [there are] people that know computers. They know technology, it’s like they could do it all on the back of their hand, sleeping. I mean, they know their ways around technology. I mean you just give a guy a new technology and let him play with it a couple of days and he’ll figure it out like nothing…..”

We also encountered a White male 10th-grade student at Downtown High School who checked his phone during our interview to discover, to his surprise, that he had sent 18,287 text messages the previous month alone. He described his text messaging as almost instinctual:

“Well I start sending text messages usually ‘cause I haven’t talked to somebody in a while and [there are] some certain people you know that I maintain a constant texting conversation with. You know and I’ll just text them sometimes to ask them something in particular and sometimes just to start up a conversation, so it’s just kind of I realize that I’m you know, starting a conversation but I don’t really think about it, if that makes sense . . . I just kind of do it.”

The People;s Party

Note: where multiple polls are listed,
the most recent one is to the right
Civil liberties and justice
  • A majority of likely voters among Democrats (75%), Independents (64%) and Republicans (54%) see the wave of spending by Super PACs this election cycle as “wrong and leads to our elected officials representing the views of wealthy donors.”
  • An overwhelming majority of U.S. consumers think that before genetically engineered food is sold, it should be labeled accordingly (92 percent of consumers) and meet long-term safety standards set by the government (92 percent).
Foreign affairs
  • 81% - including 85% of Republicans - support net neutrality
  • 59% are concerned that there won't be enough food and resources to accommodate a growing world population
Public works
  • 72% support more funding for public works
Social Security
  • 87% of Americans want Social Security spending increased or held steady
  • Oppose cutting SS annual increase
  • 80% favor ending offshore tax havens
  • Believe it's OK to cut defense spending
  • 81% disapprove of the job that Congress is doing

  • 60% of voters say they are more likely to support a candidate who supports fair pay for women, a higher minimum wage, paid family and medical leave and paid sick days.


Semiotics is in principle the discipline studying everything which can be used in order to lie - Umberto Eco

Two states now require criminal conviction for civil foreiture


Obamadmin undermines generic drugs in TPP negotiations

Politico - Politico has obtained a draft copy of TPP’s intellectual property chapter as it stood on May 11, at the start of the latest negotiating round in Guam. While U.S. trade officials would not confirm the authenticity of the document, they downplayed its importance, emphasizing that the terms of the deal are likely to change significantly as the talks enter their final stages. Those terms are still secret, but the public will get to see them once the twelve TPP nations reach a final agreement and President Obama seeks congressional approval.

Still, the draft chapter will provide ammunition for critics who have warned that TPP’s protections for pharmaceutical companies could dump trillions of dollars of additional health care costs on patients, businesses and governments around the Pacific Rim. The highly technical 90-page document, cluttered with objections from other TPP nations, shows that U.S. negotiators have fought aggressively and, at least until Guam, successfully on behalf of Big Pharma.

The draft text includes provisions that could make it extremely tough for generics to challenge brand-name pharmaceuticals abroad. Those provisions could also help block copycats from selling cheaper versions of the expensive cutting-edge drugs known as “biologics” inside the U.S., restricting treatment for American patients while jacking up Medicare and Medicaid costs for American taxpayers.

“There’s very little distance between what Pharma wants and what the U.S. is demanding,” said Rohit Malpini, director of policy for Doctors Without Borders.

A federal judge looks at prosecutors

Wall Street Journal Law Blog - In the latest issue of Georgetown Law Journal, Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turns a critical gaze toward America’s criminal justice system. It’s a long piece — part diagnosis of ailments and part treatment — with a broad sweep. But one of its major themes is prosecutorial advantage, both in federal and state courtrooms.

“They say that any prosecutor worth his salt can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. It may be that a decent prosecutor could get a petit jury to convict a eunuch of rape,” writes Judge Kozinski.

Among his specific concerns is what he sees is a reluctance on the part of judges to blow the whistle on prosecutorial abuse:
Defense lawyers who are found to have been ineffective regularly find their names plastered into judicial opinions, yet judges seem strangely reluctant to name names when it comes to misbehaving prosecutors. Indeed, judges seem reluctant to even suspect prosecutors of improper behavior, as if they were somehow beyond suspicion….Naming names and taking prosecutors to task for misbehavior can have magical qualities in assuring compliance with constitutional rights.
If judges have reason to believe that witnesses, especially police officers or government informants, testify falsely, they must refer the matter for prosecution. If they become aware of widespread misconduct in the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases, a referral to the U.S. Department of Justice for a civil rights violation might well be appropriate.

But he says even if judges made the referrals, Judge Kozinski doubts the Justice Department has the appetite to pursue them.

He thinks Congress should pass a bill proposed by Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in 2012 — called the Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act — that would require federal prosecutors to disclose any evidence “that may reasonably appear to be favorable to the defendant in a criminal prosecution.”

That’s a wider net than the constitutional obligation to share with criminal defendants exculpatory evidence material to guilt or punishment.

July 2, 2015

List of those dumping Donald Trump


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Great moments in science: measuring incoherence

Improbable Research  - People can sometimes be (or at least come across as) incoherent. Raising the question, is it possible to measure a person’s incoherence, absolutely? For answers, turn to a prominent investigator in the field, Liam Kofi Bright who is a 3rd year Philosophy PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University, US, and who has written a paper on the subject, entitled: Measuring Degrees of Incoherence:

“I discuss the construction of ‘measures of incoherence’. These measures allow theorists to give a precise sense to the idea that agents can violate norms of probabilistic reasoning more or less severely. I will discuss previous attempts at providing such a measure, the reasons one might want such a measure, and how those objectives place different (and sometimes conflicting) constraints on the character of the measure one ought pick. I argue that degree of incoherence is best viewed as purpose-dependent. That is to say, there is no absolute measure of incoherence but, rather, how incoherent we ought view a person depends on the purpose for which we have decided to evaluate them.”

The benefits of Medicaid

A major portion of benefits accredited to Obamacare actually was an expansion of a Great Society program known as Medicaid. In contrast with the Obamacare provision that ended up in the Supreme Court, Medicaid is a public program benefiting citizens and not insurance corporations. Here are some facts on how Medicaid has worked.

Center for Budget & Policy Priorities -  Medicaid's costs per beneficiary are substantially lower than for private insurance and have been growing more slowly than per- beneficiary costs under private employer coverage.

Medicaid provides more comprehensive benefits than private insurance at significantly lower out-of-pocket cost to beneficiaries, but its lower payment rates to health care providers and lower administrative costs make the program very efficient. It costs Medicaid much less than private insurance to cover people of similar health status.

Over the past 30 years, Medicaid costs per beneficiary have essentially tracked costs in the health care system as a whole, public and private. And over the past decade, costs per beneficiary grew much slower for Medicaid than for employer-sponsored insurance. Medicaid also is expected to grow no more rapidly through 2023 than spending per beneficiary for people with private insurance.

Moreover, the Congressional Budget Officenow projects that Medicaid spending between 2011 and 2020 will be $335 billion -- or 10.0 percent -- lower than it projected in August 2010, largely due to slower expected growth in per-beneficiary costs.

Medicaid gives states significant flexibility to design their own programs -- whom they cover, what benefits they provide, and how they deliver health care services.

The federal government sets minimum standards, including specifying certain categories of people that all states must cover and certain health coverage they must provide. Beyond that, states are free to set their own rules. For example, states have broad flexibility to decide which "optional" categories of low-income people to cover, and up to what income levels. As a result, Medicaid eligibility varies substantially from state to state.

Medicaid benefit packages vary significantly from state to state as well. States have flexibility to determine whether to cover services like dental and vision care for adults and can determine the amount, duration, and scope of the services they provide.

States also have flexibility over whether Medicaid delivers health care services through managed care, fee-for-service, or other types of delivery systems and how much to pay providers and plans that serve Medicaid beneficiaries.

Vermont implemented a program in 2011 that provides care coordination and case management services to Medicaid beneficiaries with one or more chronic conditions, such as asthma and diabetes. Within a year, ER use dropped 10 percent among program participants.

States like Missouri have also instituted innovative delivery system models in Medicaid, such as establishing "health homes" to coordinate care for certain categories of beneficiaries. Approved in 2011, Missouri's initiative targets beneficiaries with a mental illness and a chronic condition, such as asthma or diabetes. Health homes enrollees' blood pressure dropped by six points and LDL (bad cholesterol) fell by 10 percent over two years and one of the state's health homes saved the state $15.7 million in its first 18 months.

A landmark study of Oregon's Medicaid program found that, compared with similar people without coverage, people with Medicaid were 40 percent less likely to have suffered a decline in their health in the previous six months. They were also more likely to use preventive care (such as cholesterol screenings), to have a regular office or clinic where they could receive primary care, and to receive diagnosis of and treatment for depression and diabetes. In addition, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that expansions of Medicaid coverage for low-income adults in Arizona, Maine, and New York reduced mortality by 6.1 percent.

Moreover, people with Medicaid in Oregon were 40 percent less likely than those without insurance to go into medical debt or leave other bills unpaid in order to cover medical expenses. In fact, the latest research from Oregon found that Medicaid coverage "nearly eliminated catastrophic out-of-pexpenditures."

Urban Institute researchers also have found that Medicaid provides beneficiaries with access to health care services that is comparable to -- but less costly than -- what they would receive through employer-sponsored insurance. If these beneficiaries were uninsured, they would be significantly less likely to have a usual source of care and more likely to forgo needed health care services.


Self-respect: The secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious -- HL Mencken

A few publishers control reserch journals that charge huge fees

CBC, CA - While traditional book and magazine publishers struggle to stay afloat, research publishing houses have typical profit margins of nearly 40 per cent, says Vincent Larivière, a researcher at the University of Montreal's School of Library and Information Science.

Researchers rely on journals to keep up with the developments in their field. Most of the time, they access the journals online through subscriptions purchased by university libraries. But universities are having a hard time affording the soaring subscriptions, which are bundled so that universities effectively must pay for hundreds of journals they don't want in order to get the ones they do.

Larivière says the cost of the University of Montreal's journal subscriptions is now more than $7 million a year – ultimately paid for by the taxpayers and students who fund most of the university's budget. Unable to afford the annual increases, the university has started cutting subscriptions, angering researchers.

"The big problem is that libraries or institutions that produce knowledge don't have the budget anymore to pay for [access to] what they produce," Larivière said.

"They could have closed one library a year to continue to pay for the journals, but then in twenty-something years, we would have had no libraries anymore, and we would still be stuck with having to pay the annual increase in subscriptions."

Given the situation, he wanted to track what proportion of papers was being published by these large academic publishers compared to in the past (and how big a deal it would be to cut some of those subscriptions.) 'Oligarchy' of publishers

What he and his collaborators found was that the five largest, for-profit academic publishers now publish 53 per cent of scientific papers in the natural and medical sciences – up from 20 per cent in 1973. In the social sciences, the top five publishers publish 70 per cent of papers.

Essentially, they've become an oligarchy, Larivière and co-authors Stefanie Haustein and Philippe Mongeon say in a paper published last week in the open access, non-profit journal PLOS ONE.