Daily Archive: 03/24/2014

Mar 24 2014

Outbreak: Measles

In the last few weeks there has been a number of cases of measles reported in New York City.

As of Tuesday, the number of confirmed cases of measles in New York City has risen to 20 incidents, nine of which involve children.

The city’s health department announced the new total amid an investigation into whether the highly contagious disease was spread in several medical facilities after workers failed to properly identify and treat symptoms quickly.

The New York Times reports only three of the 11 infected adults had records proving they were vaccinated. Seven of the nine children were too young to be vaccinated. Following the wishes of their parents, the other two children had not been vaccinated.

In 2000, Measles was thought to have been nearly eradicated in the United States mostly due to federally funded childhood vaccination programs. But due to a debunked paper that fraudulently linked the measles vaccine to a rise in autism, vaccination rates have fallen. In the last year there has been an outbreak in Texas, linked to a church that encourage parents not to vaccinate their children and another in two orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, NY that was directly linked parents not vaccinating their children.

If you think that just because you or child is healthy and that the body’s natural immune system protect you, you are wrong and may be deadly so:

Even in healthy individuals, it can lead to ear infection, diarrhea, pneumonia, miscarriage, brain inflammation and even death. It’s also extremely contagious, meaning that while a healthy individual might handle a case of measles with ease, she could pass it along unknowingly to infants, elderly people and people with compromised immune systems who may not fare so well. Measles can be spread through airborne respiratory droplets even two hours after an infected person has left the room, and infected persons can be contagious before the rash appears.

In the outbreaks last year, the CDC found that 82% of the cases occurred in unvaccinated persons, and of those, 79% said they deliberately shunned vaccination on “philosophical” grounds. Most of this is thanks to anti-vaccination truthers like celebrities Jenny McCarthy, Katie Couric and Kristen Cavallari and Jay Cutler.

MSNBC’s “All In” host Chris Hayes discussed the outbreaks of measles and whooping cough in the US, its link to refusing to vaccinate and why medicine is the locust for people’s conspiracy theories.

Measles is a completely preventable disease, as is pertussis (whooping cough). If you or children have not been vaccinated, you should see your doctor or local health clinic and do it immediately. While no vaccine is completely safe, the side effects are minimal and extremely rare. There are few medical reasons not to vaccinate. It is a matter of everyone’s health.

Mar 24 2014

March Madness 2014: Women’s Round of 32 Day 1

Yesterday’s Results-

Seed School Record Seed School Record Score Region
4 * Maryland (25 – 6) 13 Army (25 – 8) (90 – 52) South
7 * Louisianna State (20 – 12) 10 Georgia Tech (20 – 12) (98 – 78) South
5 * Michigan State (23 – 9) 12 Hampton (28 – 5) (91 – 61) West
3 * Penn State (23 – 7) 14 Wichita (26 – 7) (62 – 56) West
5 * Texas (22 – 11) 12 Penn (22 – 7) (79 – 61) South
2 * W. Virginia (30 – 4) 15 Albany (28 – 5) (76 – 61) South
4 * N. Carolina (25 – 9) 13 UT Martin (24 – 8) (60 – 58) West
6 Dayton (23 – 8) 11 * Florida (20 – 12) (69 – 83) West
3 * Louisville (31 – 4) 14 Idaho (25 – 9) (88 – 42) South
8 Georgia (20 – 12) 9 *St. Joseph’s (23 – 9) (57 – 67) MidWest
6 Gonzaga (24 – 10) 11 * James Madison (29 – 5) (63 – 72) MidWest
1 * S. Carolina (28 – 4) 16 CSU Northridge (18 – 15) (73 – 58) West
1 * UConn (35 – 0) 16 Prairie View A&M (14 – 18) (87 – 44) MidWest
6 * Iowa (27 – 8) 11 Marist (27 – 7) (87 – 65) South
3 * Texas A&M (25 – 8) 14 N. Dakota (22 – 10) (70 – 55) MidWest
8 Middle Tennessee (29 – 5) 9 * Oregon State (24 – 10) (36 – 55) West

Today’s Games-

Time Network Seed School Record Seed School Record Region
6:30 ESPN2 2 Stanford (31 – 3) 10 Florida State (21 – 11) West
6:30 ESPN2 2 Duke (28 – 6) 7 DePaul (28 – 6) MidWest
6:30 ESPN2 1 Notre Dame (33 – 0) 9 Arizona State (23 – 9) East
6:30 ESPN2 3 Kentucky (25 – 8) 6 Syracuse (23 – 9) East
9:00 ESPN2 2 Baylor (30 – 4) 7 California (22 – 9) East
9:00 ESPN2 4 Nebraska (26 – 6) 12 BYU (27 – 6) MidWest
9:00 ESPN2 4 Purdue (22 – 8) 5 Oklahoma State (24 – 8) East
9:00 ESPN2 1 Tennessee (28 – 5) 8 St. John’s (23 – 10) South

Saturday’s Results below.

Mar 24 2014

Time for a New Church Committee

Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI), the chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, appeared on Meet the Press, making once again the nonsense that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was in cahoots with Russian intelligence and a puppet of Vladimir Putin. As Kevin Gosztola, Rogers has been spewing this discredited propaganda to cover up his lack of any oversight of the intelligence community by his committee:

The propaganda Rogers pushes is the product of a vendetta Rogers has against Snowden. The whistleblower has forced him to address the issue of oversight of the NSA-a concept in government which appears to be personally outrageous to him. He has had to think about questioning the very secret surveillance programs and policies he is committed to fiercely defending. And so, the focus must be put on Snowden to avoid doing the job he should be doing as an overseer in government.

This is not about Edward Snowden. What Rogers and the other NSA/CIA apologists don’t want you to notice is that these agencies are out of control and there is no oversight by congress. The CIA and NSA are so out of control, it created a constitutional crisis.

Snowden’s disclosures, backed up by documents, served effectively as the gravest of grave, but also very obvious warnings that no good can come from empowering a “Deep State Top Secret America” to secretly and illegally spy on its own citizens. Unsurprisingly, Congress and other government officials now find themselves in this moment of “constitutional crisis” where not only is freedom of the press threatened, and ordinary citizens are not allowed to know about or democratically control the Deep State “Security” Surveillance but we’ve reached the point where, for instance, the CIA’s secretive and illegal attempts to thwart the Senate Intelligence Committee’s lengthy and exhaustive investigation of CIA torture as part of its oversight responsibilities, has now led to a real constitutional crisis.

This level of dangerous blowback is exactly the harm Snowden blew the whistle on! But isn’t it also what Senator Obama campaigned he would change, if elected to the presidency, before further damage could occur to our Constitutional rule of law? And isn’t the current perilous situation on all fours with the similar constitutional crisis involving the FBI’s COINTELPRO, CIA’s CHAOS and NSA’s MINARET programs that occurred in the final years of the Vietnam War, which led to Watergate and a president’s resignation? The spying and intimidation of Senator Feinstein’s Committee is very similar to the spying on Senators Frank Church and Howard Baker, civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Whitney Young, and main NYT and Washington Post newspaper editors and columnists along with thousands of other innocent Americans who found themselves targeted by these secret spy programs during the last six years of the Vietnam War. These “national security” programs claimed authority not only to listen but to “disrupt” Americans domestically. Wasn’t this the important history lesson that Obama actually based his campaign for “Change” on?! Senators Church and Baker have passed on but surviving Church Committee members and staffers have quickly realized that history is repeating which is why they’re so urgently calling for a new Church Committee-type investigation.

Theses agencies are manipulating the actors in this drama pitting the executive and legislative branches against each other while they pull the strings. Meanwhile, the one person who could end it all, has allowed it to continue. Why? Could it be because he is not in control of these executive agencies either?

Where is the president in all this? Mostly limp and unpersuasive so far in very restrained responses. He didn’t fire the CIA director nor the NSA director though both have lied to Congress and the public, and are obvious candidates for blame. The president did not launch a seriously independent inquiry nor does he seem to understand that, whether or not it’s fair, the blame falls at his feet. Why didn’t  he get angry?

Because he knows the secrets, he is therefore vulnerable to reprisal.

The spies may not have tapped the White House phones but they do know what he knows and can always make use of it. This is the very core of the card game played by the intelligence agencies and it didn’t start with Barack Obama. When any new president comes to town, he is told the secrets first thing and continuously. The briefings can be chilling but also thrilling.

Ultimately, it can also be slyly coopting to learn what the government knows only at the very highest level. As the agencies take the White House deeper and deeper into the black box, it becomes harder for a president to dissent. It also makes it riskier to do so. The CIA or NSA know what he heard and know what he said when he learned the secrets. If the president decides to condemn their dirty work, the spooks and spies can leak to the press how in the privacy of the Oval Office the commander-in-chief gave the green light.

The former chief investigator for the Church Committee, Ben Wides says that the Senate and House intelligence committees are now too entwined with the intelligence agencies to be effective and has called for an independent committee. The other reason for this committee is President Obama’s refusal to investigate the actions taken during the Bush/Cheney administration’s ‘war on terror.’



Transcript can be read here

It is now time for a new Church Committee. Along with Firedoglake Action, we urge you to call you representatives and ask them to convene a special congressional investigation into the surveillance activities of the U.S. Intelligence Community.

This is not about Edward Snowden. This is about keeping the Republic.  

Mar 24 2014

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: Wealth Over Work

It seems safe to say that “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the magnum opus of the French economist Thomas Piketty, will be the most important economics book of the year – and maybe of the decade. Mr. Piketty, arguably the world’s leading expert on income and wealth inequality, does more than document the growing concentration of income in the hands of a small economic elite. He also makes a powerful case that we’re on the way back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are dominated not just by wealth, but also by inherited wealth, in which birth matters more than effort and talent.

To be sure, Mr. Piketty concedes that we aren’t there yet. So far, the rise of America’s 1 percent has mainly been driven by executive salaries and bonuses rather than income from investments, let alone inherited wealth. But six of the 10 wealthiest Americans are already heirs rather than self-made entrepreneurs, and the children of today’s economic elite start from a position of immense privilege. As Mr. Piketty notes, “the risk of a drift toward oligarchy is real and gives little reason for optimism.”

Indeed. And if you want to feel even less optimistic, consider what many U.S. politicians are up to. America’s nascent oligarchy may not yet be fully formed – but one of our two main political parties already seems committed to defending the oligarchy’s interests.

David Cay Johnston: Trickle Up Economics

Coming out of the Great Recession in 2009, inequality increased dramatically, the opposite of what happened when the Great Depression ended nearly eight decades earlier. Why?

The short answer: When investment returns exceed economic growth, the rich get richer, increasing inequality. So argues Thomas Piketty, a French economist renowned for analyzing incomes reported on tax returns over the last century, in his excellent new book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.”

The future will be vastly more unequal, Piketty predicts, thanks to tax laws that allow virtually unlimited inheritances to pass from generation to generation. This sort of out-of-control inequality recalls similar class divides in 18th and 19th century France that were reversed only by sharp-edged popular responses.

The good news is that such increasing inequality is not inevitable. Piketty shows that the degree of inequality results not from natural forces or individual choices but from government policy. This is comforting to those of us who been making this argument for years, especially since even The Economist, that staid British magazine devoted to the interests of the investor class, has embraced Piketty’s theory.

Barry Eisler: If Dianne Feinstein is Michael Corleone in the CIA-Senate war, will she shoot?

Or will she and Harry Reid, the Tony Soprano of Washington, give in to the system that feeds their power and play nice?

If you want to understand the real nature of the current tussle between the Senate and the CIA, with Dianne Feinstein and now Harry Reid denouncing John Brennan and Langley for essentially spying on the Senate’s intelligence oversight committee, all you really need to do is watch a few reruns of The Sopranos. [..]

If you want to understand a fight, it’s as important to understand what’s not happening as what is. So, yes, Feinstein, Brennan and Reid are throwing punches, and cursing, and scratching and biting. But is anyone trying to gauge out an eye? Has anyone pulled a weapon? Are the combatants trying to kill – or merely to wound?

Why does Feinstein, whose oversight committee has reviewed a reported six million documents and produced a 6,300-page report on CIA practices Feinstein calls “brutal” and “horrible” and “un-American”, insist on referring merely to a CIA “interrogation” program rather than calling it a torture program, which is what the program actually was? Why doesn’t she declassify the report simply by introducing it into Senate proceedings pursuant to the Constitution’s Speech or Debate clause?

Richard (RJ) Eskow: The Moral Power of Free Universal Higher Education

The costs are startling-but it’s important not to focus on numbers alone.

Social progress is never a straightforward, linear process. Sometimes society struggles to recognize moral questions that in retrospect should have seemed obvious. Then, in a historical moment, something crystallizes. Slavery, civil rights, women’s rights, marriage equality: each of these moral challenges arose in the national conscience before becoming the subject of a fight for justice (some of which have yet to be won).

I believe the moment will come, perhaps very soon, when we as a society will ask ourselves: How can we deny a higher education to any young person in this country just because she or he can’t afford it?

The numbers show that barriers to higher education are an economic burden for both students and society. They also show that the solution — free higher education for all those who would benefit from it — is a practical goal.

But, in the end, the fundamental argument isn’t economic. It’s moral.

Paul Buchheit: Overwhelming Evidence that Half of America is In or Near Poverty

And it’s much worse for black families.

The Charles Koch Foundation recently released a commercial that ranked a near-poverty-level $34,000 family among the Top 1% of poor people in the world. Bud Konheim, CEO and co-founder of fashion company Nicole Miller, concurred: “The guy that’s making, oh my God, he’s making $35,000 a year, why don’t we try that out in India or some countries we can’t even name. China, anyplace, the guy is wealthy.”

Comments like these are condescending and self-righteous. They display an ignorance of the needs of lower-income and middle-income families in America. The costs of food and housing and education and health care and transportation and child care and taxes have been well-defined by organizations such as the Economic Policy Institute, which calculated that a U.S. family of three would require an average of about $48,000 a year to meet basic needs; and by the Working Poor Families Project (pdf), which estimates the income required for basic needs for a family of four at about $45,000. The median household income is $51,000.

The following discussion pertains to the half of America that is in or near poverty, the people rarely seen by Congress.

Robert Naiman: With International Law in the News, Could We Make the U.S. Comply?

I didn’t join the chorus ridiculing the U.S. for the hypocrisy of its new romance with international law following the Russian occupation of Crimea. Even prominent Democratic activist Markos Moulitsas mocked Secretary of State Kerry for lecturing Russia on international law after voting for the illegal Iraq war. The hypocrisy charge has gotten good play.

But we shouldn’t be completely content with the hypocrisy charge. There’s something too easy about the charge of hypocrisy, a reason the charge is so popular. You can denounce someone for being hypocritical without taking a stand on the underlying issue.

If Russia is allowed to violate international law the way that the U.S. and Israel routinely do, it will not make the world more just. Russia may have legitimate grievances and legitimate interests in Ukraine, but as Secretary of State Kerry rightly argued – even if he was a hypocrite while doing so – that doesn’t justify violating international law. We don’t want to live in the world in which Russia is allowed to join the U.S.-Israel club of international law violators. We want to live in the world in which the U.S. and Israel are held to the same standards of compliance with international law to which the U.S. and Europe are now ostensibly trying to hold Russia.

Mar 24 2014

On This Day In History March 24

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

March 24 is the 83rd day of the year (84th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 282 days remaining until the end of the year.

March 24th is the 365th and last day of the year in many European implementations of the Julian calendar.

On this day in 1989, Exxon Valdez runs aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska.

The worst oil spill in U.S. territory begins when the supertanker Exxon Valdez, owned and operated by the Exxon Corporation, runs aground on a reef in Prince William Sound in southern Alaska. An estimated 11 million gallons of oil eventually spilled into the water. Attempts to contain the massive spill were unsuccessful, and wind and currents spread the oil more than 100 miles from its source, eventually polluting more than 700 miles of coastline. Hundreds of thousands of birds and animals were adversely affected by the environmental disaster.

It was later revealed that Joseph Hazelwood, the captain of the Valdez, was drinking at the time of the accident and allowed an uncertified officer to steer the massive vessel. In March 1990, Hazelwood was convicted of misdemeanor negligence, fined $50,000, and ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service. In July 1992, an Alaska court overturned Hazelwood’s conviction, citing a federal statute that grants freedom from prosecution to those who report an oil spill.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989, when the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California, struck Prince William Sound‘s Bligh Reef and spilled 260,000 to 750,000 barrels (41,000 to 119,000 m3) of crude oil. It is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters. As significant as the Valdez spill was-the largest ever in U.S. waters until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill-it ranks well down on the list of the world’s largest oil spills in terms of volume released. However, Prince William Sound’s remote location, accessible only by helicopter, plane and boat, made government and industry response efforts difficult and severely taxed existing plans for response. The region is a habitat for salmon, sea otters, seals and seabirds. The oil, originally extracted at the Prudhoe Bay oil field, eventually covered 1,300 miles (2,100 km) of coastline, and 11,000 square miles (28,000 km2) of ocean. Then Exxon CEO, Lawrence G. Rawl, shaped the company’s response.

Timeline of events

Exxon Valdez left the Valdez oil terminal in Alaska at 9:12 pm on March 23, 1989, bound for Long Beach, California. The ship was under the control of Shipmaster Joseph Jeffrey Hazelwood. The outbound shipping lane was obstructed with small icebergs (possibly from the nearby Columbia Glacier), so Hazelwood got permission from the Coast Guard to go out through the inbound lane. Following the maneuver and sometime after 11 p.m., Hazelwood left Third Mate Gregory Cousins in charge of the wheel house and Able Seaman Robert Kagan at the helm. Neither man had been given his mandatory six hours off duty before beginning his 12-hour watch. The ship was on autopilot, using the navigation system installed by the company that constructed the ship. The ship struck Bligh Reef at around 12:04 a.m. March 24, 1989.

Beginning three days after the vessel grounded, a storm pushed large quantities of fresh oil on to the rocky shores of many of the beaches in the Knight Island chain. In this photograph, pooled oil is shown stranded in the rocks.

According to official reports, the ship was carrying approximately 55 million US gallons (210,000 m3) of oil, of which about 11 to 32 million US gallons (42,000 to 120,000 m3) were spilled into the Prince William Sound. A figure of 11 million US gallons (42,000 m3) was a commonly accepted estimate of the spill’s volume and has been used by the State of Alaska’s Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. Some groups, such as Defenders of Wildlife, dispute the official estimates, maintaining that the volume of the spill has been underreported. Alternative calculations, based on an assumption that the sea water rather than oil was drained from the damaged tanks, estimate the total to have been 25 to 32 million US gallons (95,000 to 120,000 m3).

Identified causes

Multiple factors have been identified as contributing to the incident:

   * Exxon Shipping Company failed to supervise the master and provide a rested and sufficient crew for Exxon Valdez. The NTSB found this was wide spread throughout industry, prompting a safety recommendation to Exxon and to the industry.

   * The third mate failed to properly maneuver the vessel, possibly due to fatigue or excessive workload.

   * Exxon Shipping Company failed to properly maintain the Raytheon Collision Avoidance System (RAYCAS) radar, which, if functional, would have indicated to the third mate an impending collision with the Bligh reef by detecting the “radar reflector”, placed on the next rock inland from Bligh Reef for the purpose of keeping boats on course via radar.

In light of the above and other findings, investigative reporter Greg Palast stated in 2008 “Forget the drunken skipper fable. As to Captain Joe Hazelwood, he was below decks, sleeping off his bender. At the helm, the third mate never would have collided with Bligh Reef had he looked at his RAYCAS radar. But the radar was not turned on. In fact, the tanker’s radar was left broken and disabled for more than a year before the disaster, and Exxon management knew it. It was (in Exxon’s view) just too expensive to fix and operate.” Exxon blamed Captain Hazelwood for the grounding of the tanker.

Economic and personal impact

In 1991, following the collapse of the local marine population (particularly clams, herring, and seals) the Chugach Alaska Corporation, an Alaska Native Corporation, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It has since recovered.

According to several studies funded by the state of Alaska, the spill had both short-term and long-term economic effects. These included the loss of recreational sports, fisheries, reduced tourism, and an estimate of what economists call “existence value”, which is the value to the public of a pristine Prince William Sound.

The economy of the city of Cordova, Alaska was adversely affected after the spill damaged stocks of salmon and herring in the area. Several residents, including one former mayor, committed suicide after the spill.

Mar 24 2014

The Buying of American Elections

Who’s Buying our Midterm Elections?

In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court is expected to issue another big decision on campaign finance, one that could further open the floodgates to unfettered and anonymous contributions, just as the Citizens United case did four years ago. [..]

Already, three times as much money has been raised for this year’s elections as four years ago, when the Citizens United decision was announced. “This is the era of the empowered ‘one percenter’. They’re taking action and they’re becoming the new, headline players in this political system,” Kroll tells Moyers. Kim Barker adds, “People want influence. It’s a question of whether we’re going to allow it to happen, especially if we’re going to allow it to happen and nobody even knows who the influencers are.”



Transcript can be read here

Mar 24 2014

Sunday Train: Car Subsidies & Ebbing Vehicles Miles Travelled

Earlier this month, the philly.com from the Philadelphia Inquirer carried a story, Drop in traffic on area highways forces review of plans. It cites several “area” road funding decisions based on assumptions of growing traffic, which turned out to be false:

  • A $2.5b New Jersey Turnpike widening justifiedm in 2005, by projections of a 68% increase in traffic volumes over the coming 25 years … where turnpike traffic in 2013 is only 90% of 2005 levels
  • The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission undertook to provide up to $900m in annual funding for other roads around the state, based on projections of Turnpike traffic growth of 3% to 5% … while to date, there hasn’t been any appreciable traffic growth
  • The Scudder Falls bridge taking I-95 over the Delaware River was a four lane bridge that the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission decided in 2003 to replace with a nine-line $328m bridge based on projected traffic increases of 35% by 2035 … and to date, that growth in traffic has not yet materialized

The article poses the question of “whether” the traffic growth that went away following the Panic of 2008 and which hasn’t shown up in the ensuing Depression of 2008 to, optimistically, 2015, might not ever turn up.

Well, it probably won’t. And that raises the follow-up question, what are we going to do about it?