By JUSTIN GILLIS
Published: December 16, 2011
FAIRBANKS, Alaska — A bubble rose through a hole in the surface of a frozen lake. It popped, followed by another, and another, as if a pot were somehow boiling in the icy depths.
Every bursting bubble sent up a puff of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas generated beneath the lake from the decay of plant debris. These plants last saw the light of day 30,000 years ago and have been locked in a deep freeze — until now.
“That’s a hot spot,” declared Katey M. Walter Anthony, a leading scientist in studying the escape of methane. A few minutes later, she leaned perilously over the edge of the ice, plunging a bottle into the water to grab a gas sample.
It was another small clue for scientists struggling to understand one of the biggest looming mysteries about the future of the earth.
Experts have long known that northern lands were a storehouse of frozen carbon, locked up in the form of leaves, roots and other organic matter trapped in icy soil — a mix that, when thawed, can produce methane and carbon dioxide, gases that trap heat and warm the planet. But they have been stunned in recent years to realize just how much organic debris is there.
A recent estimate suggests that the perennially frozen ground known as permafrost, which underlies nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere, contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere.
Ireland, the poster child of the eurozone’s austerity drive, saw its economy shrink in the third quarter, according to the latest national accounts from Dublin.
Irish GDP contracted by 1.9 per cent, on an annualised basis, in the three months to September, throwing an impressive run of two consecutive quarters of growth in the first half of 2011 into a sharp reverse.
The Dublin government’s achievement in generating growth despite severe public spending cuts had been hailed by some economists as an example of a successful “expansionary fiscal contraction”. And Ireland, which was forced to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union in November 2010 after investors fled the country’s sovereign bonds, had been held up by European policymakers as an example for other distressed eurozone nations such as Greece and Portugal to follow.
But the latest figures show that the country was the worst-performing economy apart from Greece in the eurozone in the third quarter. The 1.9 per cent GDP fall over the three months to September was almost four times higher than the 0.5 per cent than economists had expected. Ireland’s export boom continued, with sales abroad up 21.8 per cent compared with the same period in 2010. But that boost to growth was swamped by declining domestic demand as the economy continued to shrink under the pressure of government spending cuts and tax rises. Investment was down 20.9 per cent on the year before.
With growth slowing in two of Ireland’s major exports markets– the UK and the eurozone – the country’s ability to export its way back to economic health looks increasingly uncertain. Ireland’s trade surplus came in at €850m, down from €1.8bn in the same period last year.
In the mid-1960s, when I was a student in a SUNY Cortland I haunted the library. I was involved in the campus Left and was part of SDS. Our Library carried the John Birch Society publication. We used to go out and harass the folks at the JBS Bookstore on the weekends so I read their publication in order to know what points I could question them on.
Ayn Rand’s “Objectivity” was at the core of their neo-Nazi philosophy.
I always thought Ayn Rand was an incredibly shitty writer and that those who thought she was some sort of deep thinker were either evil or morons.
Which sort of sums up the Republican party and today’s vast right wing conspiracy.
Evil or stupid. Great pair of traits to base a society upon, don’t cha think?
By Bruce E. Levine
December 15, 2011
Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society….To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil.— Gore Vidal, 1961
Only rarely in U.S. history do writers transform us to become a more caring or less caring nation. In the 1850s, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was a strong force in making the United States a more humane nation, one that would abolish slavery of African Americans. A century later, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) helped make the United States into one of the most uncaring nations in the industrialized world, a neo-Dickensian society where healthcare is only for those who can afford it, and where young people are coerced into huge student-loan debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
Rand’s impact has been widespread and deep. At the iceberg’s visible tip is the influence she’s had over major political figures who have shaped American society. In the 1950s, Ayn Rand read aloud drafts of what was later to become Atlas Shrugged to her “Collective,” Rand’s ironic nickname for her inner circle of young individualists, which included Alan Greenspan, who would serve as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1987 to 2006.
In 1966, Ronald Reagan wrote in a personal letter, “Am an admirer of Ayn Rand.” Today, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) credits Rand for inspiring him to go into politics, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) calls Atlas Shrugged his “foundation book.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) says Ayn Rand had a major influence on him, and his son Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is an even bigger fan. A short list of other Rand fans includes Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Christopher Cox, chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission in George W. Bush’s second administration; and former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.
But Rand’s impact on U.S. society and culture goes even deeper.
From The Vancouver Sun: http://www.vancouversun.com/business/judge+mulls+overturning+federal+marriage/5873490/story.html
By Ronnie Cohen, Reuters
December 16, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO – A U.S. judge appeared sympathetic to a lesbian federal employee’s bid to strike down a law denying health-insurance benefits to her spouse, in the first hearing since the Obama administration decided to quit defending the statute.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White heard two hours of arguments on Friday at a hearing on a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.
“The court is faced with enforcing the equal protection clause in the context of a fundamental right – that is marriage,” White said. The judge did not make any rulings from the bench.
Congress passed DOMA in 1996 and President Bill Clinton signed it into law. It prevents same-sex couples who are legally married in seven states and the District of Columbia from enjoying more than 1,000 federal benefits awarded to heterosexual married couples.
Karen Golinski has worked as a staff attorney for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco for 20 years.
She sued the U.S. government after it refused to enroll her spouse, Amy Cunninghis, on her federal family health insurance plan. The couple married during a five-month legal window in California before voters passed Proposition 8, a gay marriage ban.
Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice initially argued that DOMA prohibited Cunninghis from receiving the same benefits as she would receive if Golinski were a man.
From The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/16/opinion/gop-monetary-madness.html
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: December 15, 2011
Apparently the desperate search of Republicans for someone they can nominate not named Willard M. Romney continues. New polls suggest that in Iowa, at least, we have already passed peak Gingrich. Next up: Representative Ron Paul.
In a way, that makes sense. Mr. Romney isn’t trusted because he’s seen as someone who cynically takes whatever positions he thinks will advance his career — a charge that sticks because it’s true. Mr. Paul, by contrast, has been highly consistent. I bet you won’t find video clips from a few years back in which he says the opposite of what he’s saying now.
Unfortunately, Mr. Paul has maintained his consistency by ignoring reality, clinging to his ideology even as the facts have demonstrated that ideology’s wrongness. And, even more unfortunately, Paulist ideology now dominates a Republican Party that used to know better.
I’m not talking here about Mr. Paul’s antiwar views or his less well-known views on civil and reproductive rights, which would horrify liberals who think of him as a good guy. I’m talking, instead, about his views on economics.
Mr. Paul identifies himself as a believer in “Austrian” economics — a doctrine that it goes without saying rejects John Maynard Keynes but is almost equally vehement in rejecting the ideas of Milton Friedman. For Austrians see “fiat money,” money that is just printed without being backed by gold, as the root of all economic evil, which means that they fiercely oppose the kind of monetary expansion Friedman claimed could have prevented the Great Depression — and which was actually carried out by Ben Bernanke this time around.
O.K., a brief digression: the Federal Reserve doesn’t actually print money (the Treasury does that). But the Fed does control the “monetary base,” the sum of bank reserves and currency in circulation. So when people talk about Mr. Bernanke printing money, what they really mean is that the Fed expanded the monetary base.
Continue reading at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/16/opinion/gop-monetary-madness.html
Friday, December 16, 2011
SAINT PAUL, Minn.– Minnesota State Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch (R) has resigned her leadership post amid allegations of an “inappropriate relationship” with a Senate staffer.
Koch, who is is married with one child, has been one of the leading proponents of Minnesota’s 2012 ballot initiative aimed at amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
At a hastily called news conference Friday afternoon after news of the alleged relationship was published online, Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel of Edina, who took over as interim leader after Koch stepped down, said the senators decided to confront Koch after hearing complaints in the past several weeks from “multiple sources” that the alleged relationship was interfering with the Senate work environment.
The situation raises “potential legal risk” for the Senate, he said.
Those bringing complaints did not describe the relationship as sexual, Michel said, and the senators did not characterize it that way when they broached the subject with Koch.
“In the end, there’s probably only two people who really know what kind of relationship and how long that may have been happening, but it certainly had risen to a level within our Senate family that people were coming to us,” he said.
I personally think Jimmy Carter was the best President we have had since LBJ and was a thousand time better than any of the Republicans since Eisenhower.
From Common Dreams: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/16-4
If you want to know why the middle class disappeared and where they went, look no further than your local Walmart. People walked in for the low prices, and walked out with a pile of cheap stuff, but in a figurative sense, they left their wages, jobs, and dignity on the cutting room floor of the House of Cheap.
Welcome to the logical end point of Reagonomics. Welcome to Ayn Rand’s nightmare vision of morality, where we know the price of everything but the value of nothing; where predatory behavior is celebrated and the notion of community is blasphemy.
In his excellent documentary, Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price, Robert Greenwald carefully documents how Walmart’s giant box stores lower wages across the entire retail sector, impose high social and economic costs on the states and communities in which they operate, and destroy local businesses.
But it’s not just Walmart. Big box stores now rule across the board in the US retail economy in everything from electronics to pet supplies. And it’s not just retail. The entire US economy is now organized around the notion that getting us cheap stuff – the more the better – is the sine qua non of economic policy.
There was a time when corporations understood that paying their employees a living wage had economic and societal benefits. Henry Ford famously said he wanted his employees to be able to afford to buy the cars they made and launched six decades of prosperity.
Continue reading at: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/16-4
The latest figures released by the Bank of Greece reveal that in September and October alone investors pulled €12.3bn (£10.3bn) from domestic banks, spurred by fears of political uncertainty and economic collapse.
Overall, outflows have reached a record 25% since September 2009 – when household and corporate deposits stood at a peak of €237.5bn, the data showed.
Theodore Pelagidis, an economics professor at the University of Piraeus, said: “This is part of the death spiral of the recession as a result of austerity measures. People realise that contagion has come to banks and they are very afraid of losing their deposits. On average around €4bn-€5bn in capital flees the banking system every month.”
The extraordinary figures back up anecdotal evidence that it is not just the super-rich behind the flight of funds.
Over the past year, as the eurozone debt crisis has intensified in the nation where it largely began, there have been countless cases of ordinary depositors hauling suitcases stuffed with cash to the safer destinations of Cyprus, London and Switzerland.
By Karen Ocamb
December 16, 2011
The Obama administration appears to be keeping its word regarding the Defense of Marriage.
On Thursday, Dec. 15, the Dept. of Homeland Security agreed to join in a motion with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”)—according to Immigration Equality—to stop the removal of Michael Thomas, whose legal marriage to Massachusetts resident John Brandoli did not prevent the threat deportation because of the Defense of Marriage Act. The government has also closed cases for other binational couples—though others still have not yet been so lucky, according to Stop the Deportations.
While Michael and John celebrated on the East Coast, Friday on the West Coast, in San Francisco, federal employee Karen Golinski—who has been fighting for years to secure health insurance for her wife Amy Cunninghis—found that the DOJ sent one of its top senior lawyers to help argue in U.S. District Court that DOMA is unconstitutional.
Metro Weekly’s Chris Geidner has been following the story. Here’s an excerpt from his excellent report:
Golinski’s case, which began as an ordinary request to include her wife, Amy Cunninghis, on her federal employee health insurance plan, became, initially, a dispute between the branches of government about how court employees are managed—and who can do so. Since then, however, it has evolved into its current status as a challenge to DOMA.
Continue reading at: http://www.frontiersla.com/Blog/FrontierBlog/blogentry.aspx?BlogEntryID=10327929
By Bill Boyarsky
Posted on Dec 16, 2011
It took just 12 minutes and 29 seconds on the Senate floor for Sen. Bernie Sanders to expose the real power of corporate America over our elections. It should be a rallying cry for the embattled minority trying to clean up the system.
Sanders, the Senate’s only Independent, was speaking Dec. 8 on behalf of his proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s devastating Citizens United decision, which permits corporations, unions and issue advocacy organizations to spend unlimited amounts of money from their own funds to support or oppose candidates.
As the nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog The Center for Responsive Politics said of Citizens United, it “has profoundly affected the nation’s political landscape” and resulted in “unprecedented political spending. Secret donors. New ways for unions and corporations to spend money on politics.”
With Barack Obama and the Republican presidential candidates collecting huge amounts of money and attention, Sanders focused instead on the Senate and the House, a real public service.
Noting that the six largest banks on Wall Street have assets equal to 65 percent of the national gross domestic product, he asked what happens in Congress “when an issue comes up and impacts Wall Street … to break up these huge banks and members walk up to the desk and have to decide [whether] to vote against it with full knowledge that if they vote against the interest of Wall Street that two weeks later there may be ads coming down into their state attacking them. Every member of the Senate, every member of the House, in the back of their minds, will be thinking … ‘If I cast a vote this way, if I take on the big money interest, am I going to be punished … will a huge amount of money be unleashed in my state?’ Every member knows this is true. It is not just taking on Wall Street, maybe it’s taking on the drug companies, maybe it’s taking on the private insurance companies, maybe it’s taking on the military-industrial complex. … You’re going to think twice about how you cast that vote.”
What is particularly galling for me as an atheist, as a member of the LGBT/T communities and as a woman is the fact that I am subsidizing people who hate me and use that subsidy to preach policies that are harmful to me.
(see the second article, as well)
By some estimates, the property tax exemption alone removes $100 billion in property from U.S. tax rolls, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
By Adam Lee
December 14, 2011
Would the world be better off without religion? That was the topic of a recent debate in the NYU Intelligence Squared series. One of the audience questions concerned the enormous wealth hoarded by churches, which Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza defended as follows:
I think in the case of the Vatican, the wealth of the Vatican is in priceless treasures, tapestries, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, art. Now, let’s remember… it was popes, the Medici popes and so on, who commissioned those paintings. If it wasn’t for Catholicism, we wouldn’t have the Sistine Chapel.
This was the only line of the night that got boos from the audience. It’s easy to see why, since D’Souza was clearly trying hard to overlook the obvious reply: The reason it was the church that commissioned those artworks, and not some other buyer, is because the church had all the money! The great composers, painters and sculptors of the Renaissance worked for whomever could afford to pay them, which is why they often ended up working for the church even when they were notorious freethinkers, as in the case of Giuseppe Verdi. If it wasn’t for Catholicism, we might not have the Sistine Chapel, but it’s a near-certainty that we’d have different artworks, equally majestic and famous, by the same artists. As Richard Dawkins has suggested, wouldn’t you love to hear Beethoven’s “Evolution Symphony”?
I bring this up because, thanks to the Occupy protests, inequality has come to dominate the American political conversation. Poverty and inequality are at their highest levels since the Great Depression, and there’s a growing clamor to raise taxes on the wealthy to provide more opportunity for the rest of us. I think this is an excellent idea, and I’d like to suggest that beside Wall Street bankers and stock traders, there’s another group of the mega-wealthy that’s often overlooked.
Why don’t we consider taxing the churches?
Not all churches or all ministers are rich, but some of them are very rich indeed. And that’s no surprise, because society subsidizes them through a constellation of generous tax breaks that aren’t available to any other institution, even non-profits. For example, religious organizations can opt out of Social Security and Medicare withholding. Religious employers are exempt from unemployment taxes, and in some states, from sales tax. Religious ministers — and no other profession; the law specifies that only “ministers of the gospel” are eligible for this benefit — can receive part of their salary as a “housing allowance” on which they pay no taxes. (Compounding the absurdity, they can then turn around and double-dip, deducting their mortgage interest from their taxes, even when their mortgage is being paid with tax-free money in the first place.) And, of course, churches are exempt from property tax and from federal income tax.
Friday, December 16, 2011
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., is calling on Catholics in his diocese to recite a special prayer during mass to promote passage of an anti-gay marriage amendment to the Minnesota state constitution.
“Much rides on the success of our struggle to defend marriage,” said Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt, who made the plea in a letter posted on the archdiocese’s website.
To help assist in the strengthening of our state-wide efforts to defend marriage in our civil constitution, I am pleased to offer to your community of faith the enclosed prayer.
Through the powerful intercession of the Holy Family, grant to this local Church the many graces we need to foster, strengthen, and support faith-filled, holy marriages and holy families.
Blah, blah, blah…
Continue reading this creep’s bullshit at: http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2011/12/minnesota-archbishop-wants-catholics-to-recite-prayer-opposing-gay-marriage/
Posted by Ted Rall
December 15th, 2011
Wars and Prisons Move, Wars and Torture Never Ends
Most Americans—68 percent—oppose the war against Iraq, according to a November 2011 CNN poll. So it’s smart politics for President Obama to take credit for withdrawing U.S. troops.
As it often is, the Associated Press’ coverage was slyly subversive: “This, in essence, is Obama’s mission accomplished: Getting out of Iraq as promised under solid enough circumstances and making sure to remind voters that he did what he said.”
Obama’s 2008 campaign began by speaking out against the war in Iraq. (Aggression in Afghanistan, on the other hand, was not only desirable but ought to be expanded.) However, actions never matched his words. On vote after vote in the U.S. Senate Obama supported the war. Every time.
As president, Obama has claimed credit for a December 2011 withdrawal deadline negotiated by his predecessor George W. Bush—a timeline he wanted to protract. If the Iraqi government hadn’t refused to extend immunity from prosecution to U.S. forces, this month’s withdrawal would not have happened.
“Today I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over,” Obama bragged reporters on October 24th.
The UK Guardian noted: “But he had already announced this earlier this year, and the real significance today was in the failure of Obama, in spite of the cost to the U.S. in dollars and deaths, to persuade the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to allow one or more American bases to be kept in the country.”
From Common Dreams: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/16-2
According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend an average of about $700 per person on holiday season shopping this year and, despite the hype surrounding Black Friday, the busiest shopping week immediately precedes Christmas. But rather than enduring long lines and sparse service at chain stores, we urge you take a different approach: seek out your local independent merchants and service providers, meet your neighbors and fully integrate your values in your purchasing decisions.
This is not a call to “get out and shop” — far from it. In fact, we encourage you consider many great gifts that don’t increase consumption: a meal at an independent restaurant, tickets to a local concert, durable locally-made goods. Most of all, consider the many benefits of patronizing local independent businesses for whatever you choose. Among the benefits:
* You’ll create local jobs. And not just any jobs. While chain outlet’s create mostly positions for clerks and cashiers, local businesses are hiring accountants, graphic designers, webmasters and many other positions the chains (or online giants) centralize at corporate headquarters. A multitude of small entrepreneurs provides a more vital and durable financial base than dependence on a few large corporations.
* Local businesses typically require less driving, consume far less land and have a lighter environmental impact. Because they focus primarily on local markets, local businesses place a high premium on being easily accessible by local residents. They tend to bolster community character and vitality, rather than segregating residential areas from clusters of big box development.
* Part of what makes any community great is how well it preserves its unique culture, foods, ecology, architecture, history, music, and art. Local businesses celebrate these features, while chains tend to homogenize, following a corporate template rather than respecting local architecture or customs.
Continue reading at: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/16-2