A Cruel, Irresponsible and Dysfunctional Budget Deal

From The Nationhttp://www.thenation.com/blog/177550/cruel-irresponsible-and-dysfunctional-budget-deal#

John Nichols
on December 10, 2013

The trouble with making “functional” government the great aspiration of the American experiment – as so many pundits and politicians now do – is that a smoothly operating Congress is not necessarily moral, humane or even economically smart.

It is important to remember this disconnect as we consider the budget deal announced late Tuesday by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and Senate Budget Committee chairman Patty Murray, D-Washington.

“This agreement breaks through the recent dysfunction to prevent another government shutdown and roll back sequestration’s cuts to defense and domestic investments in a balanced way,” said Murray. “It’s a good step in the right direction that can hopefully rebuild some trust and serve as a foundation for continued bipartisan work.”

Ryan was equally self-congratulatory, declaring that – after a fall the saw a government shutdown, nasty wrangling over the historically uncontroversial task of raising the debt ceiling and general congressional dysfunction – he and Murray had achieved “a clear improvement on the status quo.”

“This agreement makes sure that we don’t have a government shutdown scenario in January,” he added. “It makes sure we don’t have another government shutdown scenario in October. It makes sure that we don’t lurch from crisis to crisis.”

Murray and Ryan are excited that they had stopped fighting for long enough to agree to $63 billion in “sequester relief” – as opposed to an actual end to sequestration – and $23 billion in net deficit reduction. They’re also glad that they have set the discretionary spending level for fiscal year 2014 at $1.012 trillion, while setting the level at $1.014 trillion for fiscal year 2015. That apparently qualifies – in the eyes of the budget negotiators – as a sufficient alternative to lurching from crisis to crisis.

But the agreement does not address the crises that matter. “This plan won’t create jobs, get the economy back on track, or meaningfully cut the deficit,” explains Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon.

And that’s not the worst of it.

What of the 1.3 million jobless Americans who – with a fully Dickensian twist – now stand to lose Federal unemployment benefits three days after Christmas?

Continue reading at:  http://www.thenation.com/blog/177550/cruel-irresponsible-and-dysfunctional-budget-deal#

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What’s the problem if a boy wants to put on a dress or girls act masculine?

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/22/punish-kids-cross-gender-play-abuse

The trappings we put onto gender identity – the colors, the clothes, the assumed preferences – are all cultural, not natural

theguardian.com, Friday 22 November 2013

A few weeks back, I went to my first baby shower. My friends have only recently started getting married and having babies – although not necessarily in that order – and I was psyched to pick out a set of adorable baby clothes for the twins to whom my friend had only weeks earlier given birth. I popped into a cutesy Brooklyn baby shop and said I was looking for a baby shower gift for new twins. Her first question: “Girls or boys?” One of each, I said. She pointed me to the section of girls’ clothes, all pink, and boys’ clothes, all blue.

I said:

It’s a little weird how all the clothes are pink for girls and blue for boys, isn’t it?

She agreed, and said they had one yellow outfit, but then said that nearly everyone who comes in demands the gender color-coding. I ended up buying burp cloths and bibs printed with zigzags – one yellow and one grey.

Gendering kids starts immediately after birth, when we wrap a baby in a pink blanket or a blue one. Babies have no idea what they’re even wearing and just need to be kept warm. It’s parents who buy into the binary, and the rest of us who are thoroughly uncomfortable when they don’t. There’s the yellow aisle of gender-neutral toys and apparel, but show up to a baby shower with a pink onesie for a male baby and see what kind of looks you get (believe me, I was tempted, but given that there was a baby of each gender it wouldn’t have been quite as effective).

The boy/girl divide gets even more pronounced as kids get older, but there’s more of a stigma for boys who cross it than for girls. Most progressive parents these days will buy their daughters building blocks or sign her up for a sports team, but they’re a lot less likely to get their son a baby doll or sign him up for ballet. Kids, though, are natural gender-transgressors. Of course they soak up our cultural gender norms and respond accordingly, and even the most feminist parent can attest that it’s impossible to keep a daughter totally protected from Disney Princess mania or a son entirely away from war and gun play.

But as influenced as kids may be by the culture outside their front doors, they’re still newbies to the whole gender role thing, which means they break the rules more often than adults. And that freaks out some parents, especially when the rule-breaker is their son. Katie may be a tomboy because she likes to climb trees, but if Kevin likes to wear dresses? He’s a sissy, he’s not acting like a boy, and he might be gay.

That parental anxiety was highlighted this week in a Dear Prudence column in Slate, where a mom wrote in concerned about her husband’s over-reaction to their son’s penchant for playing dress-up in mom’s shoes. Dad makes the kid remove the shoes, then punishes the kid when he gets hysterical – all over donning a pair of ballet flats. The dad in question isn’t an unusual tyrant; parents across the US punish their sons for playing dress-up, painting their nails, wanting to grow their hair long, or engaging in other activities that the parent deems “feminine”.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/22/punish-kids-cross-gender-play-abuse

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Anti-Bullying as a Civil Right

From Truth Out:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/20364-anti-bullying-as-a-civil-right

By Joseph Schroer and Laura Finley
Monday, 02 December 2013

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) youth are among the most vulnerable to bullying and harassment, both in and out of schools. The Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) conducts a biennial National School Climate Survey in which they measure how frequently bullying of LGBT students occurs in schools and the responses to it.

The 2011 survey includes responses from 8,584 students between the ages of 13 and 20. Students were from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and from 3,224 unique school districts. Results indicated that eight out of 10 LGBT students (81.9 percent) experienced harassment at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, three-fifths (63.5 percent) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and nearly a third (29.8 percent) skipped a day of school in the past month because of safety concerns.

Further, the majority of students in this study who were harassed or assaulted (60.4 percent) did not report it because they believed nothing would change or that the situation might worsen. Of those who did report, 36.7 percent said school officials did nothing. This finding reinforces research that has continually shown that many teachers and administrators do little to counteract homophobic attitudes, including studies in 2003 and in 2010.

There have been very little (and in some instances no) improvements in the quality of the learning environment for LGBT youth. Similar studies 10 to 15 years ago found virtually the same results as those reported by GLSEN. And, a study reported in the UK’s TES magazine for educators found that gay teachers are even less likely to respond out of fear for their own job security.

This daily harassment and abuse takes a heavy toll on LGBT youth. The 2011 National School Climate Survey found that almost 30 percent of students skipped a class at least once in the past month because they felt uncomfortable and/or unsafe, and almost 32 percent skipped a full day of school each month for those reasons. Scholarly research in 2012 found incredibly similar results, noting that almost 30 percent of students had skipped at least one class, and 32 percent skipped an entire day of school within the past month because they felt unsafe.

Continue reading at:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/20364-anti-bullying-as-a-civil-right

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The Punishment Cure

From The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/09/opinion/krugman-the-punishment-cure.html?_r=0

Published: December 8, 2013

Six years have passed since the United States economy entered the Great Recession, four and a half since it officially began to recover, but long-term unemployment remains disastrously high. And Republicans have a theory about why this is happening. Their theory is, as it happens, completely wrong. But they’re sticking to it — and as a result, 1.3 million American workers, many of them in desperate financial straits, are set to lose unemployment benefits at the end of December.

Merry Christmas.

Now, the G.O.P.’s desire to punish the unemployed doesn’t arise solely from bad economics; it’s part of a general pattern of afflicting the afflicted while comforting the comfortable (no to food stamps, yes to farm subsidies). But ideas do matter — as John Maynard Keynes famously wrote, they are “dangerous for good or evil.” And the case of unemployment benefits is an especially clear example of superficially plausible but wrong economic ideas being dangerous for evil.

Here’s the world as many Republicans see it: Unemployment insurance, which generally pays eligible workers between 40 and 50 percent of their previous pay, reduces the incentive to search for a new job. As a result, the story goes, workers stay unemployed longer. In particular, it’s claimed that the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which lets workers collect benefits beyond the usual limit of 26 weeks, explains why there are four million long-term unemployed workers in America today, up from just one million in 2007.

Correspondingly, the G.O.P. answer to the problem of long-term unemployment is to increase the pain of the long-term unemployed: Cut off their benefits, and they’ll go out and find jobs. How, exactly, will they find jobs when there are three times as many job-seekers as job vacancies? Details, details.

Proponents of this story like to cite academic research — some of it from Democratic-leaning economists — that seemingly confirms the idea that unemployment insurance causes unemployment. They’re not equally fond of pointing out that this research is two or more decades old, has not stood the test of time, and is irrelevant in any case given our current economic situation.

The view of most labor economists now is that unemployment benefits have only a modest negative effect on job search — and in today’s economy have no negative effect at all on overall employment. On the contrary, unemployment benefits help create jobs, and cutting those benefits would depress the economy as a whole.

Ask yourself how, exactly, ending unemployment benefits would create more jobs. It’s true that some of the currently unemployed, finding themselves even more desperate than before, might manage to snatch jobs away from those who currently have them. But what would give businesses a reason to employ more workers as opposed to replacing existing workers?

Continue reading at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/09/opinion/krugman-the-punishment-cure.html?_r=0

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The Movement to Live More Simply Is Older Than You Think

From Yes Magazine:  http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-movement-to-live-more-simply-is-older-than-you-thought

What might history teach us about living more simple, less consumerist lifestyles?

posted Dec 05, 2013

When the recently elected Pope Francis assumed office, he shocked his minders by turning his back on a luxury Vatican palace and opting instead to live in a small guest house. He has also become known for taking the bus rather than riding in the papal limousine.


Simple living is not about abandoning luxury, but discovering it in new places.


The Argentinian pontiff is not alone in seeing the virtues of a simpler, less materialistic approach to the art of living. In fact, simple living is undergoing a contemporary revival, in part due to the ongoing recession forcing so many families to tighten their belts, but also because working hours are on the rise and job dissatisfaction has hit record levels, prompting a search for less cluttered, less stressful, and more time-abundant living.

At the same time, an avalanche of studies, including ones by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, have shown that as our income and consumption rises, our levels of happiness don’t keep pace. Buying expensive new clothes or a fancy car might give us a short-term pleasure boost, but just doesn’t add much to most people’s happiness in the long term. It’s no wonder there are so many people searching for new kinds of personal fulfillment that don’t involve a trip to the shopping mall or online retailers.

If we want to wean ourselves off consumer culture and learn to practice simple living, where might we find inspiration? Typically people look to the classic literature that has emerged since the 1970s, such as E.F. Schumacher’s book Small is Beautiful, which argued that we should aim “to obtain the maximum of wellbeing with the minimum of consumption.” Or they might pick up Duane Elgin’s Voluntary Simplicity or Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin’s Your Money or Your Life.


I’m a fan of all these books. But many people don’t realize that simple living is a tradition that dates back almost three thousand years, and has emerged as a philosophy of life in almost every civilization.


What might we learn from the great masters of simple living from the past for rethinking our lives today?


Eccentric philosophers and religious radicals


Anthropologists have long noticed that simple living comes naturally in many hunter-gatherer societies. In one famous study, Marshall Sahlins pointed out that aboriginal people in Northern Australia and the !Kung people of Botswana typically worked only three to five hours a day. Sahlins wrote that “rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in any other condition of society.” These people were, he argued, the “original affluent society.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-movement-to-live-more-simply-is-older-than-you-thought

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Battle for the Arctic: Canada, Russia Spar in Northern Land Grab

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/12/10-3

Russian president calls to beef up military presence after Canada declares ownership of North Pole

Lauren McCauley

One day after Canada laid claim to the North Pole in a bid to out-maneuver other nations in the land grab for the resource-rich Arctic, Russian president Vladimir Putin issued orders Tuesday to beef up Russia’s military presence in the region.

Ahead of plans to make an official submission to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Monday that the country had enlisted scientists to prove that “the full extent of the continental shelf in the Arctic includes Canada’s claim to the North Pole,” as well as territory in both the Atlantic and Arctic seabeds beyond the 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, CBC reports.

Laying claim on the North Pole, which has yet to be claimed by any country, would extend Canada’s ownership of natural resources in the area.

The bid comes as Arctic-bordering nations race to establish gas and oil drilling in the region, greenlighting what environmental groups call reckless operations that risk spoiling the pristine Arctic ecosystem. Rapidly melting ice has also opened up new shipping channels through the Arctic which neighboring countries have been eager to exploit.

Responding to Canada’s pronouncement, Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered his defense chiefs to “concentrate on building up infrastructure and military units in the Arctic,” including the restoration of a number of Soviet-era Arctic bases, the Guardian reports. Putin said the move is crucial to protecting Russia’s “national and strategic interests.”

The Guardian continues:

Some experts have described Canada’s audacious claim to the north pole as a long shot. This week Baird said it would take several years for Canada to map the continental shelf and to complete its full UN submission. “We are determined to ensure that all Canadians benefit from the tremendous resources that are to be found in Canada’s far north,” he said.

Arctic drilling, by any nation, “will take us into a climate maelstrom,” warned Greenpeace Canada Arctic Campaigner Farrah Khan. “Extending the Canadian territory to expand Arctic oil extraction is equal to condemning future generations to an environmental nightmare,” Khan added in a statement following Canada’s announcement.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/12/10-3

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Hidden disaster in new budget: Demonic plot to raid pensions

From Salon: http://www.salon.com/2013/12/11/hidden_disaster_in_new_budget_demonic_assault_will_raid_pensions/

What you won’t hear about this new deal: Public workers will get eviscerated, to achieve “deficit reduction”

Wednesday, Dec 11, 2013

2013 has not been a pleasant year if you work for the federal government. You’ve been subject to pay freezes, furloughs and shutdowns. One of you got yelled at by a Tea Party Republican at the World War II memorial. And if Congress passes the budget deal announced Tuesday night by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray – a big if – you will get a final Christmas present: You’ll have to pay more into your pension, an effective wage cut that just adds to the $114 billion, with a “B,” federal employees have already given back to the government in the name of deficit reduction.

The deal between House and Senate negotiators Ryan and Murray would reverse part of sequestration for 2014 and 2015, itself a major source of pain for federal workers. But negotiators want to pay for that relief in future years, with the overall package cutting the deficit by an additional $23 billion. And one of the major “pay-fors” is an increase in federal employee pension contributions. President Obama’s 2014 budget included such a proposal, which would have raised the employee contribution in three stages, from 0.8 percent of salary to 2 percent. Congress had already made this shift for new hires; the Obama proposal would affect all workers hired before 2012.

That proposed increased contribution translated to a 1.2 percent pay cut, and a total of around $20 billion in givebacks over 10 years. Negotiators were pressured by the powerful Maryland Democratic delegation, including Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen and Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, into softening the blow on federal employees, many of whom live in their districts. According to Sen. Murray, the increase in contributions now equals about $6 billion over 10 years. But negotiators traded some of the cuts to federal employee pensions with different cuts to military pensions, also totaling $6 billion. So whatever the occupation, people who work for the government will bear the brunt of the pain.

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2013/12/11/hidden_disaster_in_new_budget_demonic_assault_will_raid_pensions/

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Agitated by ‘Pathetic Centrists,’ Progressive Populists Strike Back

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/12/07-2

Real story isn’t the tired antics of the “corporate centrists” but the “sustained feistiness among progressives” increasingly on display

Jon Queally

Progressives on the march? Perhaps a bit premature, but a string of DC-based headlines this week suggest that the “corporate-friendly centrists” in Washington policy circles are losing the rhetorical battle when it comes to the national discussion surrounding economic populism:



Adding evidence to the notion that progressives are willing to go on offense against the forces of the “establishment’s faux centrism”—represented by former public officials, corporate-funded Beltway pundits, and the mainstays of the mainstream media—a series of scathing attacks against the group “Third Way” have continued nearly a week after two prominent members of the group published an op-ed calling for cuts to Social Security and a rejection of the populism that is bubbling up across the nation.


In just the latest hit on the Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler op-ed that appeared in the Wall Street Journal at the beginning of the week, economist Paul Krugman called the so-called “centrism” of the ‘Third Way’ representatives “pathetic.” Describing their arguments as intellectually bankrupt, Krugman concluded:


It’s just so tired and tiring. If being a “centrist” means fact-free denunciations of progressives for not being willing to cut entitlements, who needs these guys?


The Economic Policy Institute’s Joshua Smith wrote in response to the op-ed:


In poll after poll after poll, huge majorities of Americans want no part of cuts to either Social Security or Medicare—and by percentages much larger than those who voted against Colorado’s tax hike. (These results were concurrent with polls that show majorities of Americans support raising taxes on high earners.) If we’re truly listening to the American public, and not simply cherry-picking from off-year election results, the question becomes how to strengthen the social safety net and not, as Cowan and Kessler advise, how to deal with the programs’ “undebatable solvency crisis.”


And Joan Walsh, editor-at-large for Salon (though she acknowledgeed she was “very late to the Third Way-trashing party”), said the real story isn’t the tired antics of the “corporate centrists”—which have become painfully familiar—but the “sustained feistiness among progressives” that is becoming increasingly evident.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/12/07-2

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The Bay Area Has A Values Problem: “Non-Techies Are Dismissed as ‘Unimportant to the Nation’s Future'”

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/visions/bay-area-has-values-problem-non-techies-are-dismissed-unimportant-nations-future

We are in trouble if the techsters and banksters set the moral compass.

By Jay Youngdahl
December 4, 2013

This piece originally appeared in the East Bay Express, and is reprinted here with their permission.

The health and vitality of a society can be measured by its cultural values, including what it honors and celebrates. For years, the Bay Area could be quite proud of its values. The region has a glorious history of diversity and has championed important political and economic causes. Here at the Express, we are proud to be located in Oakland’s Jack London district. London’s legacy of concern for working folks and social justice, as well as his personal quirkiness, form one of the defining touchstones of the East Bay. But the times they are a-changin’.

The ugly sustained attacks on middle-class BART workers in the mainstream press over the last year, combined with a blind eye toward Silicon Valley arrogance and large-scale financial criminality, have exposed a growing and worrisome trend in the Bay Area. The heroes of the current age are not the hardest working or most caring or most helpful members of our society. Instead, they are the most arrogant, and in some ways, the most compromised.

Take the tech industry. For all of its coolness and shiny products, values espoused by the leaders of this industry are contributing to a hollowing out of Bay Area progressivism and humanism. This month, Farhad Manjoo, author of the “High Definition” column for The Wall Street Journal , wrote a piece titled “Silicon Valley Has an Arrogance Problem.” In it, he argued that many tech entrepreneurs believe that due to “their cultural and economic power,” only they have the ability to “shape the future.” Non-techies are dismissed as “unimportant to the nation’s future.”

Manjoo wrote about a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and lecturer at Stanford University, Balaji Srinivasan, who gave a talk at a start-up conference in San Francisco in October. In the talk, entitled “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit,” Srinivasan proposed that techies should leave and build an “opt-in society, outside the US, run by technology.” Why would techsters want to leave the United States? Srinivasan, according to Manjoo, “pointed to a few headlines in the national press warning that robots might be taking over people’s jobs. These, he said, were evidence of the rising resentment that technology will foster as it alters conditions across the country and why Silicon Valley needs to keep an escape hatch open.”

Think about that for a minute. Silicon Valley knows it is building and promoting technologies that will cause major job losses. Yet instead of being concerned with the well-being of those who will be unable to find work, the techsters are worried about whether they will be able to escape with their skin—and of course with their money.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/visions/bay-area-has-values-problem-non-techies-are-dismissed-unimportant-nations-future

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Listen Up, Budget Cutters. Austerity Can Lead to Blood on the Streets, Even in America

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/austerity-and-riots

Researchers find statistical evidence that austerity policies are linked to explosive unrest.

By Lynn Stuart Parramore
December 6, 2013

Squeeze and push. Punish and strain. Since the global financial crisis of 2008, elites across the world have been on a tear against ordinary citizens, promoting austerity policies that strip hard-working people of their jobs, their security, and their dignity.  In many places, people have pushed back — violently.  Maybe you’ve been wondering if it could happen here, too.

In some corners of America, plutocrats seem to be experimenting to find out. In North Carolina, discount store tycoon Art Pope, a close ally of the Brothers Koch, is installed in the office of State Budget Director, where he has placed his boot firmly on the neck of the public with regressive policies, including the denial of Medicaid expansion to 500,000 of the needy, slashes in unemployment benefits to 170,000 people, devastating cuts to education, and voter suppression to make sure it all sticks.

These actions have led to protests across the state, most prominent among them the Moral Monday demonstrations led by Rev. William Barber. Do a quick Google search of the terms “North Carolina” and “unrest”, and you find plentiful headlines testifying to an increasingly jittery population. The police have even resorted to sending undercover agents to church gatherings to collect information on presumed “anarchists” among the protesters.

So far, U.S. protests have been remarkably peaceful.  What conditions have to happen before things get really ugly?

The work of Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joachim Voth may help us find out. They are economists at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain, the scene of massive —and often violent — anti-austerity demonstrations since the global financial crisis of 2008.

For a long time, academics have tried to understand which factors are involved in creating explosive social environments. For example, economist Ed Glaeser, who studied race riots in the U.S., found that you typically need two ingredients to spark racial violence: racially mixed neighborhoods and unemployment. Hard times alone weren’t enough do it.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/austerity-and-riots

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Defective Breast Implant Sales Draw Prison Term for French Executive

From The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/11/world/europe/defective-breast-implant-sales-draw-prison-term-for-french-executive.html?_r=0

Published: December 10, 2013

PARIS — A court in Marseille, France, sentenced the founder of a French company on Tuesday to four years in prison for selling hundreds of thousands of defective breast implants in more than 65 countries.

Jean-Claude Mas, 74, the founder of Poly Implant Prothèse, and four of his former employees were found guilty last spring of aggravated fraud after their company used a less expensive, industrial-grade silicone to fill implants for a decade. The implants ruptured at a much higher rate than the industry norm, leaking silicone into body tissues.

During the trial, which involved 7,400 civil plaintiffs and 300 lawyers, Mr. Mas acknowledged that his company had used a cheaper, unapproved product in its implants, but he argued that it was not harmful.

More than 16,000 women have had their implants removed since the scandal emerged in 2010. Poly Implant Prothèse, which was founded in 1991, was closed by the French authorities in March 2010.

Complete article at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/11/world/europe/defective-breast-implant-sales-draw-prison-term-for-french-executive.html?_r=0

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