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Texas Wants to Execute This Insane Man: Will SCOTUS Step In?

By: Jose Cornejo Monday September 22, 2014 8:36 am

Ron Honberg of the National Association of Mental Illness begins his recent op-ed for the National Law Journal describing a situation so strange that one assumes it is fiction:

A person diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia is accused of murdering his in-laws. He insists on defending himself without counsel and wears a TV-Western cowboy costume while on trial for his life. He attempts to subpoena the Pope, John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ. He rambles incomprehensibly, scares the jurors by pointing an imaginary rifle at them, and he believes the judge is a devil worshiper.

Yet this case is all too real. The trial was allowed to go forward and Scott Panetti, the person with extreme mental illness described above, was sentenced to death by the State of Texas.

Years later, attorneys for Panetti argued that mental illness made him unfit for execution, taking his case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court in Panetti v. Quarterman (2007). Panetti won his case, which was sent back to the lower courts for reconsideration.

One might think that winning at the Supreme Court might have been enough to save Panetti from death row, but Honberg says Panetti’s attorneys are now asking the Court to hear his case again.

As Honberg explains:

The Supreme Court explicitly recognized that the views of mental health experts would be critical in further proceedings in Panetti’s case. Yet, in spite of the court’s directive, the Fifth Circuit and the district court ignored the diagnostic features and clinical realities of [Panetti’s] long-standing psychotic disorder.

The whole op-ed is worth a read. By the end, one can’t help but wonder: How in the world can somebody so obviously mentally ill still be considered sane enough to be executed?

 

Taylor and Appel: The Subprime Education Scandal

By: Tom Engelhardt Monday September 22, 2014 8:05 am

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

 

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: My thanks to all of you who responded to my recent offer and donated $100 for a signed, personalized, hot-off-the-presses copy of my new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single Superpower World, soon to be on bookstore shelves everywhere.  Each donation of this sort is a way to keep this site alive and kicking. And you can still be the first on your block to have a copy, so click on our donation page and check out the offer!  In the meantime, here’s what Rebecca Solnit, who introduces today’s post and whose new Dispatch Book, Men Explain Things to Me, has become an indie bestseller (just going into its fourth printing!), has to say about Shadow Government: “This is a book about secrets and surveillance, but I’m here to tell you one secret its contents won’t. For more than a dozen years, Tom Engelhardt and his website or blog or post-newspaper wire service Tomdispatch.com have been one of the great forces on the side of clarity, democracy, openness, and really good writing. Tom himself, a legendary book editor, is also one of the country’s most eloquent and tenacious political writers, electronically publishing three essays a week for all these years and writing many of them himself. This collection, focused on the new Orwellianism, is some of the finest writing and finest public service gathered together in book form for your portable pleasure and outrage.” Tom]

We used to hear more often about those malignant institutions serving, or rather plaguing, the poor: the loan sharks who charged 100% or more per year in interest, the furniture or radios that ended up costing several times their value on the installment plan. Two or three decades ago, however, we didn’t think of an education as being part of the landscape of predation upon the poor. Now, as Astra Taylor and Hannah Appel explain, when it comes to a new crew of “for-profit” colleges, higher education has gone hyena and is tearing at the financial flesh of the poor.

Even mainstream institutions can be sketchy these days, if you look closely enough. Most liberal arts college programs give their students a vague, if exhilarating, sense that the best possible outcome of their vocation is practically an inevitability, and yet there are far from enough tenure-track jobs, top galleries, or niches on bestseller lists for all the people being educated.

Though people make it in all these fields, they are a tiny minority.  So many others pay their dues and get little for it, except whatever is inherently meaningful in their education, which won’t, of course, lighten their loan burden at all.

Once upon a time, it was different. The radicalism of the 1960s, for instance, should be chalked up in part to the great freedom of youth at a time when the fat of the land seemed inexhaustible and the safety net unbreakable. The two radicals I know who became wanted fugitives in the 1970s and then tenured faculty members (now retired with pensions) operated in a more forgiving era — and a more affluent one.

My parents believed that any kind of bachelor’s degree pretty much guaranteed your white-collar future, and that was a truth of their era. Thirty years ago, when I came along, it was already less of a reality; today, so much less than that. Still, the hangover from that conviction lingers. I went to California’s public universities as their golden age of nearly free and superb education was ending and got through college scrambling to the sound of doors shutting behind me. It was all part of the end of an egalitarian dream birthed and nurtured by the New Deal of the 1930s, the creation of social security in the 1940s, and the Great Society programs of the 1960s. It’s now popular to say that, as president, Richard Nixon was to the left of Barack Obama, but what that means is that our society was then closer to a social democracy (and that since we’re really bad at talking about it, we’d rather focus our attention on figureheads).

Maybe communism was good for us after all, at least — as David Graeber argues — in scaring the powers that be into offering their own limited versions of equality and opportunity. California’s Proposition 13, enacted in 1978, was the beginning of the end of that dream, arising as it did from the now-entrenched belief that what we have separately beats whatever we have together anytime. Taxes were portrayed as the nails that stuck every breadwinning Jesus to his own personal cross, rather than the way to keep roads and bridges and schools in shape, have safe drinking water and, like, a postal system and libraries (and also a giant military eating up more than half of the federal government’s discretionary spending). As the retreat into the private sphere began in earnest, people started forgetting how good, how secure life had been, while Republicans launched the mantra that future tax cuts would be a magical ointment capable of curing anything.

Part of the great work of Occupy Wall Street was to make some of the brutality of the current economy visible. People whose lives were being ravaged by housing, medical, and educational debt came out of the shame and the shadows to testify, while activists and homeowners took action against foreclosures and banks. From the beginning Astra Taylor, author of The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, was part of that movement and moment.  Her work there led to her involvement with Strike Debt and the fledgling Debt Collective. Now, she and Hannah Appel focus on the conditions that produced the perfect educational storm in the form of the private for-profit university/corporation. Rebecca Solnit

Education With a Debt Sentence
For-Profit Colleges as American Dream Crushers and Factories of Debt
By Astra Taylor and Hannah Appel

Imagine corporations that intentionally target low-income single mothers as ideal customers. Imagine that these same companies claim to sell tickets to the American dream — gainful employment, the chance for a middle class life. Imagine that the fine print on these tickets, once purchased, reveals them to be little more than debt contracts, profitable to the corporation’s investors, but disastrous for its customers. And imagine that these corporations receive tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to do this dirty work. Now, know that these corporations actually exist and are universities.

Over the last three decades, the price of a year of college has increased by more than 1,200%. In the past, American higher education has always been associated with upward mobility, but with student loan debt quadrupling between 2003 and 2013, it’s time to ask whether education alone can really move people up the class ladder. This is a question of obvious relevance for low-income students and students of color.

As Cornell professor Noliwe Rooks and journalist Kai Wright have reported, black college enrollment has increased at nearly twice the rate of white enrollment in recent years, but a disproportionate number of those African-American students end up at for-profit schools. In 2011, two of those institutions, the University of Phoenix (with physical campuses in 39 states and massive online programs) and the online-only Ashford University, produced more black graduates than any other institutes of higher education in the country. Unfortunately, a recent survey by economist Rajeev Darolia shows that for-profit graduates fare little better on the job market than job seekers with high school degrees; their diplomas, that is, are a net loss, offering essentially the same grim job prospects as if they had never gone to college, plus a lifetime debt sentence.

Much of the American public does not understand the difference between for-profit, public, and private non-profit institutions of higher learning. All three are concerned with generating revenue, but only the for-profit model exists primarily to enrich its owners. The largest of these institutions are often publicly traded, nationally franchised corporations legally beholden to maximize profit for their shareholders before maximizing education for their students. While commercial vocational programs have existed since the nineteenth century, for-profit colleges in their current form are a relatively new phenomenon that began to boom with a series of initial public offerings in the 1990s, followed quickly by deregulation of the sector as the millennium approached. Bush administration legislation then weakened government oversight of such schools, while expanding their access to federal financial aid, making the industry irresistible to Wall Street investors.

While the for-profit business model has generally served investors well, it has failed students. Retention rates are abysmal and tuitions sky-high. For-profit colleges can be up to twice as expensive as Ivy League universities, and routinely cost five or six times the price of a community college education. The Medical Assistant program at for-profit Heald College in Fresno, California, costs $22,275. A comparable program at Fresno City College costs $1,650. An associate degree in paralegal studies at Everest College in Ontario, California, costs $41,149, compared to $2,392 for the same degree at Santa Ana College, a mere 30-minute drive away.

Exorbitant tuition means students, who tend to come from poor backgrounds, have to borrow from both the government and private sources, including Sallie Mae (the country’s largest originator, servicer, and collector of student loans) and banks like Chase and Wells Fargo. A whopping 96% of students who manage to graduate from for-profits leave owing money, and they typically carry twice the debt load of students from more traditional schools.

Public funds in the form of federal student loans has been called the “lifeblood” of the for-profit system, providing on average 86% of revenues. Such schools now enroll around 10% of America’s college students, but take in more than a quarter of all federal financial aid — as much as $33 billion in a single year. By some estimates it would cost less than half that amount to directly fund free higher education at all currently existing two- and four-year public colleges. In other words, for-profit schools represent not a “market solution” to increasing demand for the college experience, but the equivalent of a taxpayer-subsidized subprime education.

Pushing the Hot Button, Poking the Pain

The mantra is everywhere: a college education is the only way to climb out of poverty and create a better life. For-profit schools allow Wall Street investors and corporate executives to cash in on this faith.

Publicly traded schools have been shown to have profit margins, on average, of nearly 20%. A significant portion of these taxpayer-sourced proceeds are spent on Washington lobbyists to keep regulations weak and federal money pouring in. Meanwhile, these debt factories pay their chief executive officers $7.3 million in average yearly compensation. John Sperling, architect of the for-profit model and founder of the University of Phoenix, which serves more students than the entire University of California system or all the Ivy Leagues combined, died a billionaire in August.

Graduates of for-profit schools generally do not fare well. Indeed, they rarely find themselves in the kind of work they were promised when they enrolled, the kind of work that might enable them to repay their debts, let alone purchase the commodity-cornerstones of the American dream like a car or a home.

In the documentary “College Inc.,” produced by PBS’s investigative series Frontline, three young women recount how they enrolled in a nursing program at Everest College on the promise of $25-$35 an hour jobs on graduation. Course work, however, turned out to consist of visits to the Museum of Scientology to study “psychiatrics” and visits to a daycare center for their “pediatrics rotation.” They each paid nearly $30,000 for a 12-month program, only to find themselves unemployable because they had been taught nearly nothing about their chosen field.

In 2010, an undercover investigation by the Government Accountability Office tested 15 for-profit colleges and found that every one of them “made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements” to undercover applicants. These recruiting practices are now under increasing scrutiny from 20 state attorneys general, Senate investigators, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), amid allegations that many of these schools manipulate the job placement statistics of their graduates in the most cynical of ways.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an organization that offers support in health, education, employment, and community-building to new veterans, put it this way in August 2013: “Using high-pressure sales tactics and false promises, these institutions lure veterans into enrolling into expensive programs, drain their post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits, and sign up for tens of thousands of dollars in loans. The for-profits take in the money but leave the students with a substandard education, heavy student loan debt, non-transferable credits, worthless degrees, or no degrees at all.”

Even President Obama has spoken out against instances where for-profit colleges preyed upon troops with brain damage: “These Marines had injuries so severe some of them couldn’t recall what courses the recruiter had signed them up for.”

As it happens, recruiters for such schools are manipulating more than statistics. They are mining the intersections of class, race, gender, inequality, insecurity, and shame to hook students. “Create a sense of urgency. Push their hot button. Don’t let the student off the phone. Dial, dial, dial,” a director of admissions at Argosy University, which operates in 23 states and online, told his enrollment counselors in an internal email.

A training manual for recruiters at ITT Tech, another multi-state and virtual behemoth, instructed its employees to “poke the pain a bit and remind them who else is depending on them and their commitment to a better future.”  It even included a “pain funnel” — that is, a visual guide to help recruiters exploit prospective students’ vulnerabilities. Pain was similarly a theme at Ashford University, where enrollment advisors were told by their superiors to “dig deep” into students’ suffering to “convince them that a college degree is going to solve all their problems.”

An internal document from Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (owner of Everest, Heald, and Wyotech colleges) specified that its target demographic is “isolated,” “impatient” individuals with “low self-esteem.”  They should have “few people in their lives who care about them and be stuck in their lives, unable to imagine a future or plan well.”

These recruiting strategies are as well funded as they are abhorrent. When an institution of higher learning is driven primarily by the needs of its shareholders, not its students, the drive to get “asses in classes” guarantees that marketing budgets will dwarf whatever is spent on faculty and instruction. According to David Halperin, author of Stealing America’s Future: How For-Profit Colleges Scam Taxpayers and Ruin Student’s Lives, “The University of Phoenix has spent as much as $600 million a year on advertising; it has regularly been Google’s largest advertiser, spending $200,000 a day.” 

At some schools, the money put into the actual education of a single student has been as low as $700 per year. The Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee revealed that 30 of the for-profit industry’s biggest players spent $4.2 billion — or 22.7% of their revenue — on recruiting and marketing in 2010.

Subprime Schools, Swindled Students

In profit paradise, there are nonetheless signs of trouble. Corinthian College Inc., for instance, is under investigation by several state and federal agencies for falsifying job-placement rates and lying to students in marketing materials. In June, the Department of Education discovered that the company was on the verge of collapse and began supervising a search for buyers for its more than 100 campuses and online operations. In this “unwinding process,” some Corinthian campuses have already shut down. To make matters worse, this month the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced a $500 million lawsuit accusing Corinthian of running a “predatory lending scheme.”

As the failure of Corinthian unfolds, those who understood it to be a school — namely, its students — have been left in the lurch. Are their hard-earned degrees and credits worthless?  Should those who are enrolled stay put and hope for the storm to pass or jump ship to another institution? Social media reverberate with anxious questions.

Nathan Hornes started the Facebook group “Everest Avengers,” a forum where students who feel confused and betrayed can share information and organize. A 2014 graduate of Everest College’s Ontario, California, branch, Nathan graduated with a 3.9 GPA, a degree in Business Management, and $65,000 in debt. Unable to find the gainful employment Everest promised him, he currently works two fast-food restaurant jobs. Nathan’s dreams of starting a record label and a music camp for inner city kids will be deferred even further into some distant future when his debts come due: a six-month grace period expires in October and Nathan will owe $380 each month on Federal loans alone. “Do I want to pay bills or my loans?” he asks. Corinthian has already threatened to sue him if he fails to make payments.

Asked to explain Corinthian’s financial troubles, Trace Urdan, a market analyst for Wells Fargo Bank, Corinthian’s biggest equity investor, argued that the school attracts “subprime students” who “can be expected — as a group — to repay at levels far lower than most student loans.” And yet, as Corinthian’s financial woes mounted, the corporation stopped paying rent at its Los Angeles campuses and couldn’t pay its own substantial debts to lenders, including Bank of America, from whom it sought a debt waiver.

That Corinthian can request debt waivers from its lenders should give us pause. Who, one might ask, is the proper beneficiary of a debt waiver in this case? No such favors will be done for Nathan Hornes or other former Corinthian students, though they have effectively been led into a debt trap with an expert package of misrepresentations, emotional manipulation, and possibly fraud.

From Bad Apples to a Better System, or Everest Avenged

As is always the case with corporate scandals, Corinthian is now being described as a “bad apple” among for-profits, not evidence of a rotten orchard. The fact is that for-profits like Corinthian exemplify all the contradictions of the free-market model that reformers present as the only solution to the current crisis in higher education: not only are these schools 90% dependent on taxpayer money, but tenure doesn’t exist, there are no faculty unions, most courses are offered online with low overhead costs, and students are treated as “customers.”

It’s also worth remembering that at “public” universities, it is now nearly impossible for working class or even middle class students to graduate without debt. This sad state of affairs — so the common version of the story goes — is the consequence of economic hard-times, which require belt tightening and budget cuts. And so it has come to pass that strapped community colleges are now turning away would-be enrollees who wind up in the embrace of for-profits that proceed to squeeze every penny they can from them and the public purse as well. (All the while, of course, this same tale provides for-profits with a cover: they are offering a public service to a marginalized and needy population no one else will touch.)

The standard narrative that, in the face of shrinking tax revenues, public universities must relentlessly raise tuition rates turns out, however, to be full of holes. As political theorist Robert Meister points out, this version of the story ignores the complicity of university leaders in the process. Many of them were never passive victims of privatization; instead, they saw tuition, not taxpayer funding, as the superior and preferred form of revenue growth.

Beginning in the 1990s, universities, public and private, began working ever more closely with Wall Street, which meant using tuition payments not just as direct revenue but also as collateral for debt-financing. Consider the venerable but beleaguered University of California system: a 2012 report out of its Berkeley branch, “Swapping Our Futures,” shows that the whole system was losing $750,000 each month on interest-rate swaps — a financial product that promised lower borrowing costs, but ended up draining the U.C. system of already-scarce resources.

In the last decade, its swap agreements have cost it over $55 million and could, in the end, add up to a loss of $200 million. Financiers, as the university’s creditors, are promised ever-increasing tuition as the collateral on loans, forcing public schools to aggressively recruit ever more out-of-state students, who pay higher tuitions, and to raise the in-state tuition relentlessly as well, simply to meet debt burdens and keep credit ratings high.

Instead of being the social and economic leveler many believe it to be, American higher education in the twenty-first century too often compounds the problem of inequality through debt-servitude. Referring to student debt, which has by now reached $1.2 trillion, Meister suggests, “Add up the lifetime debt service that former students will pay on $1 trillion, over and above the principal they borrow, and you could run a very good public university system for what we are paying capital markets to fund an ever-worsening one.”

You Are Not a Loan

The big problem of how we finance education won’t be solved overnight. But one group is attempting to provide both immediate aid to students like Nathan Hornes and a vision for rethinking debt as a systemic issue. On September 17th, the Rolling Jubilee, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, announced the abolition of a portfolio of debt worth nearly $4 million originating from for-profit Everest College. This granted nearly 3,000 former students no-strings-attached debt relief.

The authors of this article have both been part of this effort. To date, the Rolling Jubilee has abolished nearly $20 million dollars of medical and educational debt by taking advantage of a little-known trade secret: debt is often sold to debt collectors for mere pennies on the dollar. A medical bill that was originally $1,000 might sell to a debt collector for 4% of its sticker price, or $40. This allowed the Rolling Jubilee project to make a multi-million dollar impact with a budget of approximately $700,000 raised in large part through small individual donations.

The point of the Rolling Jubilee is simple enough: we believe people shouldn’t have to go into debt for basic needs. For the last four decades, easy access to credit has masked stagnating wages and crumbling social services, forcing many Americans to debt-finance necessities like college, health care, and housing, while the creditor class has reaped enormous rewards. But while we mean the Jubilee’s acts to be significant, we know it is not a sustainable solution to the problem at hand. There is no way to buy and abolish all the odious debt sloshing around our economy, nor would we want to. Given the way our economy is structured, people would start slipping into the red again the minute their debts were wiped out.

The Rolling Jubilee instead raises a question: If a ragtag group of activists can find a way to provide immediate relief to even a few thousand defrauded students, why can’t the government?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s lawsuit against Corinthian Colleges, Inc. is a good first step, but it only applies to specific private loans originating after 2011, and it will likely take years to play out. Until it’s resolved, students are still technically on the hook and many will be harassed by unscrupulous debt collectors attempting to extract money from them while they still can. In the meantime, the Department of Education (DOE) — which has far greater purview than the CFPB — is effectively acting as a debt collector for a predatory lender, instead of using its discretionary power to help students. Why didn’t the DOE simply let Corinthian go bankrupt, as often happens to private institutions, and so let the students’ debts become dischargeable?

Such debt discharge is well within the DOE’s statutory powers. When a school under its jurisdiction has broken state laws or committed fraud it is, in fact, mandated to offer debt discharge to students. Yet in Corinthian’s opaque, unaccountable unwinding process, the Department of Education appears to be focused on keeping as many of these predatory “schools” open as possible.

No less troubling, the DOE actually stands to profit off Corinthian’s debt payments, as it does from all federally secured educational loans, regardless of the school they are associated with. Senator Elizabeth Warren has already sounded the alarm about the department’s conflict of interest when it comes to student debt, citing an estimate that the government stands to rake in up to $51 billion dollars in a single year on student loans. As Warren points out, it’s “obscene” for the government to treat education as a profit center.

Can there be any doubt that funds reaped from the repayment of federally backed loans by Corinthian students are especially ill-gotten gains? Nathan Hornes and his fellow students should be the beneficiaries of debt relief, not further dispossession.

Unless people agitate, no reprieve will be offered. Instead there may be slaps on the wrist for a few for-profit “bad apples,” with policymakers presenting possible small reductions in interest rates or income-based payments for student borrowers as major breakthroughs.

We need to think bigger. There is an old banking adage: if you owe the bank $1,000, the bank owns you; if you owe the bank $1 million, you own the bank. Individually, student debt is an incapacitating burden. But as Nathan and others are discovering, as a premise for collective action, it can offer a new kind of leverage. Debt collectives, effectively debtors’ unions, may be the next stage of anti-austerity organizing. Collective action offers many possibilities for building power against creditors through collective bargaining, including the power to threaten a debt strike. Where for-profits prey on people’s vulnerability, isolation, and shame, debt collectives would nurture feelings of strength, solidarity, and outrage.

Those who profit from education fear such a transformation, and understandably so. “We ask students to make payments while in school to help them develop the discipline and practice of repaying their federal and other loan obligations,” a Corinthian Colleges spokesman said in response to the news of CFPB’s lawsuit.

It’s absurd: a single mother working two jobs and attending online classes to better her life is discipline personified, even if she can’t always pay her loans on time. The executives and investors living large off her financial aid are the ones who need to be taught a lesson. Perhaps we should collectively demand that as part of their punishment these predators take a course in self-discipline taught by their former students.

Hannah Appel is a mother, activist, and assistant professor of anthropology at UCLA. Her work looks at the everyday life of capitalism and the economic imagination. She has been active with Occupy Wall Street since 2011.

Astra Taylor is a writer, documentary filmmaker (including Zizek! and Examined Life), and activist. Her book, The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age (Metropolitan Books), was published in April. She helped launch the Occupy offshoot Strike Debt and its Rolling Jubilee campaign.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Hannah Appel and Astra Taylor

Over Easy: Monday Science

By: BoxTurtle Monday September 22, 2014 4:27 am

Good Morning All!

Fukushima Update:

Some additional diaries from Fuku workers at the time of the accident. It’s clear that the JG had information regarding meltdowns WAY before they admitted it publicly. It further seems likely that there were quite  a few deaths reported, but covered up. The JG’s official position is still that nobody has died from this.

We’re seeing more impact in wildlife, too.

Here comes another major hit to the west coast. I don’t think this is the first one. And I don’t think this is the worst one. And I think there’s more coming. And I wonder how long ObamaLLP + JG can keep California or some of it’s sea industries from suing.

The groundwater bypass at Fuku is showing some success, but the ice wall is still a failure (they’re still trying) and they’re still leaking tons of hot water into the Pacific. It amazes me that other countries aren’t taking action. The damage to their sea industries is eventually going to overcome the campaign contributions from the Nuclear Industry.

The Japanese fishing industry is NOT going along with TEPCO’s plan to dump treated groundwater. There’s simply no trust in anything TEPCO or the JG says. This is probably wise, as this dumping is the camels nose under the tent. However, the Bermsstrahlung radiation is building due to the water in the tanks. This contributes to a gamma ray “haze” that fill the plant site like a mist. 

We must not forget our OWN Fukushima, Hanford. Entire families are dying of something the Government is SURE isn’t related to anything stored there. And they’re seeing “clusters” of  anencephaly, a severe defect in which babies are born missing parts of the brain. Also officially not related to anything on that site.

We’re not hearing much about WIPP, because they’re sitting on data. The latest theory as to why that drum exploded is that a  lead contaminated glove was in it.  There is now concern that there’s another barrel with identical contents, including a lead contaminated glove. They are still not sure what caused the initial explosion.  They are not commenting on the amounts of Pu found offsite, likely because they’re been playing fast and loose with what they’re allowed to store there.

Have you ever heard of epigenetics? In short, these are inheritable changes that do NOT result from changes to genes but from changes to the “ladder” that holds the genes. This causes the genes to be expressed more often or less often. So you can have a perfectly find gene, but it’s always off and thus you suffer the consequence.

Another major discovery that began with “What the hell is that?!?”. It seems that we’ve got bubbles of gamma rays above and below the central hole of our galaxy. Best theory is that the hold ate something big a few million years ago.

If dark matter exists and if our  theories about it are correct, we should detect and excess of positrons because of it. We do.

They managed to get another specimen of the colossal squid to study. This one isn’t as big as the other one, only about 350kg. Don’t eat before reading, there are some photos in the story that make it look like they’re dissecting snot. I’m sure glad this squid is only found in Antarctica, as it would certainly be a man eater if it could get us.

The IgNobel awards were issued last week. Saluting the humor in science and in general research that should NOT have been attempted. This years winners include a study on the friction between a banana skin and a shoe bottom with respect to the friction between the banana skin and the floor. And an attempt to learn what happens in your brain when you see Jesus in a piece of toast.

Boxturtle (My personal favorite was when they actually did compare apples and oranges)

ISIS: Bush Was Right

By: David Swanson Monday September 22, 2014 3:53 am

ISIS Flames of War VideoFinally, somebody commenting on the state of Iraq thinks George W. Bush got something right. Turns out it’s ISIS. In the new hour-long ISIS-produced film about how nice it is to die for ISIS — Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun – Bush is quoted: “You are with us or against us.” Video shows him saying “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” A graphic in the upper corner of the screen reads: “Bush spoke the truth, although he’s a liar.”

What truth does ISIS think Bush spoke? The Manichean truth that there are two groups of people on earth with nothing in common between them and a shared dedication to annihilate each other. Of course, the notion that they have nothing in common is delusional. They have almost everything in common: their belief in violence, their monotheism, their stupidity, their desire for a U.S. war in the Middle East.

“In the face of the dark wave of the crusader force…” begins the ISIS movie.

“This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while,” said Bush.

ISIS shows Obama as well as Bush and denounces both as liars, including rejecting Obama’s lie that he won’t send combat troops to Iraq. As even a number of U.S. Senators and Congress Members have pointed out, the 1600 troops he’s already sent are trained and equipped for nothing other than combat, and a pilot in a plane is engaged in combat.

But ISIS wants more.  This film is not aimed at provoking the United States the way the beheading films were. It’s far too long and boring for Americans to watch.

(Why did ISIS make a full-length movie? Because they couldn’t find an editor.)

This film is aimed at recruiting fighters. ISIS claims to be fighting the United States, to have long been the core of the resistance to the United States, and to be defeating troops armed with U.S. weapons. (ISIS never mentions that its own “beloved” weapons come from various infidels, including the U.S.) Here’s the ISIS pitch to recruits:

Join us in fighting the evil empire. If you die you’ll go to paradise. The afterlife is far longer and more important than this life. “Unshakable faith” is the “most effective weapon of war.” Come join “Allah’s soldiers” and experience courage, excitement, vengeance, adrenaline, the thrill of victory, and martyrdom. Never mind that our movie is so boring, the fighting is really fun, and Allah is guiding our RPGs!

Of course, ISIS is mistaken. God does not have time to be guiding their RPGs when he’s busy making sure the football team that prays the loudest wins each game. And of course Obama has told us that “No religion condones the killing of innocents,” forgetting that all the religions of Moses contain this teaching: “Kill every male among the little ones and Kill every woman that has known man by lying with him. But all the women children that have not known a man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves” — forgetting in fact that all of these religions have violent and peaceful traditions but venerate as holy ancient texts from a barbaric age and teach as essential the idea that there is another magical world that matters more than this one whose climate we are destroying. Sing it, soldiers!

Here’s the ISIS pitch to the U.S. government:

We will accept only victory or death, just like Patrick Henry, and we will fight you. Fighting you builds our movement because people hate you so much after the past decades of your attacks. We have no doubt that you are stupid enough to fight us if we keep insulting you.

Here’s their pitch to opponents:

Oppose us, and we will make you dig your own grave on camera, because we are so courageous and brave that we wear masks to hide out faces and shoot anybody we don’t know how to talk to.

Here’s their pitch to Hollywood:

We’ve got dramatic potential. Sure, make us the bad guys, but put us on the silver screen. We’re not as slick and convincing as a White House video news release aired by an “independent” media outlet, but we’re way more dramatic. We only have a narrator, no actual characters, but we’re still more entertaining than C-Span, and the weapons makers are going to absolutely love us — just check with them about funding. Then die, you faithless dogs.

Climate Change Protest a Success!, Peace and Antiwar Not So Much.

By: Big Al Sunday September 21, 2014 8:37 pm

Here we have Obama restarting the war in Iraq, escalating his proxy war in Syria, while threatening WWIII with Russia, and we’re having a climate change protest march. A protest march led by corporate interests. Sure, the people mean well, but the thing is led by the damn establishment man.

These paid activists on the left are starting to annoy me. They think that in order to fight the system they need to use the system, and they end up being dependent on the system. Here’s my PayPal account, thank you very much. That simply won’t work. We knew that back in the sixties, those of us that took it seriously. The counterculture, the radicals, the real hippies, the ones who had it right. We railed against the “establishment” back then. You rarely hear that anymore. Now they want to work within the establishment.  You want to really change what we’re doing on this planet, you are just going to have to be radical, anti-establishment. Anything less is nothing, it’s just perpetuation.

I saw how this played out. It was billed as a “Peace and Climate Movement”. Exactly what happened with the Occupy movement which started out with ending the Afghanistan war as a centerpiece.  Never heard much of that after the 99% thing became the narrative.

http://peoplesclimate.org/peace/appeal/

“But the developing climate emergency does not exist in isolation. And we must understand and confront the social and economic context that produced and accompanies it: war and unlimited military expenditures, corporate globalization, vast social inequality and racism.”

Most everything I’ve read since then reporting on this “event” has nary a word about Peace. It’s all climate change. There’s no big clamoring to stop Obama from bombing in Iraq and Syria, it’s all about the CO2 levels that purportedly are going to kill all of us before those darn nuclear weapons kill us. Don’t worry about the wars, imperialism, militarism, nuclear weapons, millions being killed, displaced, subjugated and hegemonized right now.  The very actions that are driving the use of more oil, more diamonds, more zirconium and natural gas.  There will be billions killed very soon if we don’t stop driving cars and shopping at Walmart! We must warn the people, they have to change! Let’s have another Earth Day!

There have been many before us that have warned us about war and imperialism. War and imperialism have always been the most insidious evil humans perpetrate on each other. After WWI, an especially ugly and brutal war, the world was so aghast that it tried to abolish war and imperialism. That effort culminated in the Kellogg-Briand Pact, eventually signed by 62 countries including the United States. It’s actually still in effect, but like treaties and laws regarding war, it means nothing to the western ruling class.

Evidently the “establishment” took hold of this event and steered it in the moderate, sanitized direction the ruling class prefers. The radicals were dispensed with, the moderates were paid off and the event proceeded with the usual “smell of cooptation in the morning”. Everybody goes home, a certain segment pledge to carry on, then the next climate change conference is arranged so everybody can get paid and books can get signed.

I saw where many were proclaiming this event a success because it is “creating awareness” about climate change. Again nothing about War and imperialism. The wars will go on, Obama will go bombs away in the MIddle East/North Africa region, but more people will have their eyes on that new Prius in the window. Hey it’s powered by electric batteries, that’s better isn’t it?

Many have lamented the antiwar movement since Obama took office. They say Obama killed it. The allegience of the mainstream left, which was instrumental during protests against the Bush wars and imperialism, was too tied into the lesser evil democratic party and it’s new savior Obama, the newest Presidential war criminal. They’re so freaked out by the republican party that they will allow their own to do things even worse. Quite the human social phenomena.

Everybody has an opinion, you know what they say about that. In my opinion we need to stop the ruling class from conducting wars and imperialism NOW. We need a national and international citizens revolution against the imperialism and militarism that is rotting this earth. We need to stop the western ruling elite from seeking their insane New World Order, their utterly delusional human belief that they can rule the world.  We can combine that with the demand for a new way of living that will address climate change. I believe if we can do that, we CAN address climate change in the way it should be addressed. I believe if we don’t, we can’t.

There’s no solution, but revolution.

A Bottom-Up Solution to the Global Democracy Crisis

By: letsgetitdone Sunday September 21, 2014 7:38 pm

Before the “no” vote on Scotland’s independence, The New York Times, carried a post by Neil Irwin in the Upshot making the point that the then upcoming vote “shows a global crisis of the elites.” He argues that the independence drive reflects “. . . a conviction — one not ungrounded in reality — that the British ruling class has blundered through the last couple of decades.” He also thinks that this applies to the Eurozone and the United States to varying degrees, and is “. . . a defining feature of our time.”

Irwin then updated his first post last night, expanding it and recognizing the victory of the “no” votes in the referendum. His new post did not add anything essential to his “global crisis of the elites” diagnosis, so the references and quotations below come solely from his pre-vote post. But the points made apply equally well to his update.

To summarize his argument, for decades now, the elites in major modern, industrial nations have committed leadership blunders and created great discontent among the citizens of their nations, to the point where their polices have contributed to damaging their economies seriously, and the rise of popular resistance embodied in extremist parties and independence movements. Elites have had vast power, but have not lived up to their responsibilities to serve the people of their nations. Discontent with their actions and results is so high that many are questioning the legitimacy of the very governing institutions that claim to serve them, and are exhibiting a greater and greater willingness to do something about these institutions and the policies that they and the elites are generating. Scotland is but one example of that, and his implication is that more examples are in the offing.

It’s significant, some might say even remarkable, that Irwin’s article appeared in The New York Times, since it is a flat out criticism of elite leadership over a number of decades and a warning to elites to improve their performance or deal with the consequences. But I think it still misses the most important question. That question is whether there is a global crisis of elites or a global crisis of democracies? I’m afraid I think that the crisis of elite leadership is only a symptom of the underlying cause of a broader global crisis of democracy.

Video: Rand Paul Impressive on Syria, ISIS

By: jbade Sunday September 21, 2014 9:58 am

Not a Rand Paul supporter but his citation of the facts demonstrating why it is insane to send more arms to the Syrian moderates/ISIS. The Senate chamber is empty, they are only debating war-making.

Livestream and Live Tweeting From the Peoples Climate March

By: BrandonJ Sunday September 21, 2014 7:59 am

Live tweeting from the People’s Climate March.