Thursday, October 22, 2009


Raw Story - Insurgents in Afghanistan are using heroin as a tactical weapon against US forces, hoping to emulate the drug problems that plagued US troops in Vietnam and Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, says a new investigative report. At the Daily Beast, author Gerald Posner cites "an internal US intelligence report" that "concluded [insurgents] are targeting American troops in an effort to undermine their effectiveness, while raising cash to pay for new recruits and weaponry." The report brings up inevitable comparisons to the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 1970s and the Soviet war in Afghanistan that ended two decades ago. It also raises the possibility that the conflict in Afghanistan will spill over into the streets of America as returning troops bring their addictions home with them. . . "In Vietnam we ended up with a nearly 20 percent addiction rate to China White," Posner said. (A 1971 report on drug addiction among US soldiers in Vietnam pegged the number closer to 15 percent.) "Soviet soldiers came back from Afghanistan with addictions," Posner continued, noting that Russia is now the world's largest per-capita user of heroin "as a result of those returning Soviet fighters."

Reuters - Japan's swimmers could face lifetime bans if they dye their hair, wear an earring or have brightly decorated fingernails. Japanese officials have launched a strict policy to prevent athletes turning up for competitions looking more like rock stars than swimmers. Male and female swimmers caught sneaking into each others rooms at Japanese training camp, where the sexes have separate sleeping quarters, will also find themselves in hot water. . . Rule-breakers face being booted out of the team and sent home in disgrace, a suspension of up to five years or even a lifetime ban.

Pam Martens, Counterpunch - The financial tsunami unleashed by Wall Street's esurient alchemy of spinning toxic home mortgages into triple-A bonds, a process known as securitization, has set off its second round of financial tremors. . . Three plain talking judges, in state courts in Massachusetts and Kansas, and a Federal Court in Ohio, have drilled down to the "straw man" aspect of securitization. The judges' decisions have raised serious questions as to the legality of hundreds of thousands of foreclosures that have transpired as well as the legal standing of the subsequent purchasers of those homes, who are more and more frequently the Wall Street banks themselves. Adding to the chaos, the Financial Accounting Standards Board has made rule changes that will force hundreds of billions of dollars of these securitizations back onto the Wall Street banks balance sheets, necessitating the need to raise capital just as the unseemly courtroom dramas are playing out.

Denver Channel - Rocky Mountain Health Plans said it will no longer consider obesity a "pre-existing condition" barring coverage for hefty infants. The change comes after the insurer turned down a Grand Junction 4-month-old who weighs about 17 pounds. . . The company attributed the boy's rejection for health coverage to a "flaw in our underwriting system."

Note to DC readers - Your editor will be among those featured in a WETA-TV documentary on Washington in the 1960s that airs November 2 at 9 pm. Gives a real sense of the town in that era.

NY Times - The basic Medicare premium will shoot up next year by 15 percent, to $110.50 a month. . . The increase means that monthly premiums would top $100 for the first time, a stark indication of the rise in medical costs . . . About 12 million people, or 27 percent of Medicare beneficiaries, will have to pay higher premiums or have the additional amounts paid on their behalf. The other 73 percent will be shielded from the increase because, under federal law, their Medicare premiums cannot go up more than the increase in their Social Security benefits, and Social Security officials announced last week that there would be no increase in benefits in 2010 because inflation had been extremely low.

Twenty-six percent of U.S. adults report that at least one member of their immediate family lost their health insurance coverage within the past year, a new Zogby Interactive poll shows. Somewhat more likely to have lost coverage are those in households earning $35,000 and less (37%) and those 18-29 years old (35%).

Tree Hugger - Looking at the wide sweep of US fish and wildlife management history, the fact that 'hook and bullet' groups have expressed support for climate action should be viewed as a return to the historical norm. And no wonder. As a Reuters article points out, it's hard to live in denial if you "spend a lot of time outdoors and notice changes like shifting bird migrations or earlier spring run-offs in rivers from melting snow." The mythical view of all political conservatives as 'anti-conservation' arose from political campaign consultants stoking fear over the prospect of of over-reaching gun and ammunition controls, for example. . . City-dwelling "tree huggers" have more in common with the rural 'hook and bullet crowd' than they might care to admit. And vice versa.

Cathy Wilcox, Sidney Morning Herald, Australia - The shaken Anglican Archbishop of Sydney admits he has wondered whether God had decided to punish his diocese. eter Jensen confessed to being grief-stricken by the size of the diocese's $160 million financial loss and called on his faithful not be panicked or paralyzed by the money crisis but to turn to God in ''active faith''. . . In his presidential address, Dr Jensen sought to make theological sense of the sharemarket crash and suggested apocalyptic signs such as the economic crisis, global warming and dust storms were pointers to the coming of Jesus but were not in themselves indicative that end times were nigh. He also posed the question of whether the losses were God's punishment. ''It may not be our sins at all - it may be that the Lord is simply seeking to test us.''

MS Magazine - For the first time in US history women are about to become the majority of the nation's paid workers. The recently released Shriver Report: A Women's Nation Changes Everything is a comprehensive study of this milestone. Today, women are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in 63% of American families.

Buzz Flash - Not many new books get a 69% discount before they are even released. In fact, BuzzFlash -- which sells progressive books -- has never seen such a slashed price for a book before it came out like the $9.00 is charging for "Going Rogue." Yes, Sarah Palin and "Going Rogue" -- not released until November 17 -- are going down cheap, at a price usually reserved for what are called "remainder" books, the surplus stock of a book that is dramatically discounted. Of course if you give it away, you can have a popular product, so it's no surprise that as of October 19, "Going Rogue" is number 4 on Amazon

American Chemical Society - Researchers have established the conditions that foster formation of potentially dangerous levels of a toxic substance in the high-fructose corn syrup often fed to honey bees. Their study, which appears in ACS' bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, could also help keep the substance out of soft drinks and dozens of other human foods that contain HFCS. When exposed to warm temperatures, HFCS can form HMF and kill honeybees. Some researchers believe that HMF may be a factor in Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious disease that has killed at least one-third of the honeybee population in the United States.

UCLA scientists have found that for computer-savvy middle-aged and older adults, searching the Internet triggers key centers in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning. The findings demonstrate that Web search activity may help stimulate and possibly improve brain function. . . As the brain ages, a number of structural and functional changes occur, including atrophy, reductions in cell activity, and increases in deposits of amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which can impact cognitive function.

The charter school myth - The charter school movement has a very mixed record in improving student achievement. A recent comprehensive study from Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that only 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than comparable traditional public schools, whereas 37 percent showed gains that were worse than their public school counterparts, and 46 percent showed no significant difference. Some charter schools do have a strong commitment to community involvement, democratic governance, and open access. But many others deploy exclusionary policies and function as islands of privilege. - Rethinking Schools


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