Saturday, December 15, 2012

The longest war: The shooting at a Connecticut school shows, once again, that there’s no end in sight to our lethal way of life

I’ve been as stunned as millions of other people over the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. I wanted to write something, to purge myself, but I couldn’t. My feelings too jumbled to properly convey. Then I ran across this Op Ed piece by Mr. Shapiro. He said what’s in my head. I’d like to share it with you: 

                         By Walter Shapiro

   “Sometime between the shootings in Columbine in 1999 and at a Tucson supermarket with Gabby Giffords in early 2011, Americans stopped uttering the pieties about “Never again.” Now we are heartsick, but somehow never completely surprised, when we hear the latest gruesome news bulletins from a movie theater in Aurora or a quiet elementary school in Newtown.

   We are a nation of 311 million people and roughly a similar number of guns. (Since there is no central federal registry of firearms and a 100-year-old unlicensed weapon can be lethal, estimates are far from precise.) What we do know for certain is that there are almost as many legal places to buy guns (130,000 registered dealers) as gasoline stations (144,000). Through the end of November, the FBI conducted nearly 17 million background checks of prospective gun owners this year.

   This is the Faustian bargain that comes with being a 21st-century American. We are a nation of stubborn individualism and lethal gun violence. These two characteristics are entwined in our national psyche. And—as much as I weep over the dead children at Sandy Hook Elementary School—I sadly know that nothing will change in my lifetime.

   The last glimmer of hope for effective gun control in America died in 2008 when the Supreme Court (District of Columbia v. Heller) endorsed an expansive view of the right to bear arms. As Justice Antonin Scalia declared in the majority opinion, “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia.”

   It is hard to pin down exactly when Americans made the collective decision that periodic massacres of the innocent are the price that we supposedly pay for our liberties.
   Maybe it dates back to the late19th century when Americans in peaceful communities embraced the myth of the Wild West and the gunslinger. Maybe it partially reflects the tabloid fascination that accompanied the gangster era of the 1920s and 1930s. Maybe it has something to do with the way that movies—that most American of art forms—have successfully turned mass violence into a mass commodity.

   Politics also played a role as well. As Jill Lepore pointed out in a New Yorker article earlier this year, the National Rifle Association (NRA) only embarked on its modern crusade against virtually all gun legislation around 1970. Fully entering the political arena with its endorsement of Ronald Reagan for president in 1980, the NRA emerged as a key player in the conservative coalition that came to dominate the Republican Party.
   It’s hard to remember that for a while in the 1980s and 1990s, a limited form of gun control seemed politically possible. Reagan’s press secretary James Brady, badly wounded in the John Hinckley assassination attempt on Reagan, became a courageous Republican symbol for sensible regulation of the most lethal weaponry.

   But then too many on Capitol Hill (Democrats as well as Republicans) grew fearful in the face of the frenzied opposition from the NRA. And following the 2008 Heller decision, it seemed the height of folly for legislators to take on gun control since the Supreme Court had so narrowed the framework for permissible regulation. As a result, even though the Aurora shootings took place in a swing state (Colorado) in an election year, Obama and the Democrats at the time never even raised the possibility of new federal legislation.

   This should not be portrayed in cartoonish terms as a story of the white hats (liberals with a visceral hatred of guns) versus the black hats (hunters and other Americans who enjoy owning firearms). There was an element of cultural superiority to the urban liberal disdain for gun ownership, just as there was a self-destructive stubbornness to conservative opposition to all forms of regulation.

   The result is an America that no sane person of any political persuasion could have possibly wished for. Who in his right mind wants to live in a country where maybe twice a year a crazed individual guns down dozens of people in schools and theaters? There is no plausible remedy since we are neither going to disarm   Americans nor are we going to pass out guns to elementary school teachers as a just-in-case precaution.
   All we can do is mourn and mourn again. And think of the young children who died only because they went to school giggling over silly things and dreaming of recess. Such is the American way of life and, sadly, death.”

Contemplating Navels: You may be surprised by what's living in inside yours

         Good Day World!

I’m feeling contemplative today and am looking inward…at my navel.

Not in the Zen-like sense however. More along the lines of curiosity. I was stunned, but not entirely surprised to learn our belly buttons are the repository for lots of bacteria. Like 2,368 types according to the researchers in the following article.

So the next time you think about picking you belly-button pause and consider all the bacteria you’re going to upset. Oh the humanity!

“What's inside your belly button? Probably dirt and sweat; possibly some lint, and perhaps even a piercing.

But according to new research, which asked 66 men and women to swab their navels with a sterile Q-tip, the skin in study participants' belly buttons also contained an average of 67 different species of bacteria.

The study, published online in the journal PLoS ONE, was done as part of the Belly Button Biodiversity project.

Why belly buttons? "It was a fun way to reach out to the public and teach them about the ecology and evolution of everyday life," says Rob Dunn, PhD, an associate professor of biology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, who led the study. In other words, the navel is a novel, attention-getting device to study science.

He says the belly button is a fun habitat filled with living organisms that we don't know much about. It's less exposed and gets washed less often than other areas of skin, so the bacterial community in the umbilicus is less disturbed.

Researchers cultured the bacteria from people's navels, and participants could view online photos of the bacterial colonies found living in their belly button. The experimenters also isolated DNA from the sample to identify the exact bacterial species.

In all, they found 2,368 different species of bacteria, which is a heck of a lot of biological diversity.

"We got many more species of bacteria than we expected," says Dunn. But most of those bacterial species were rare ones found in just a few people's belly buttons.

Only about 8 bacterial types occurred in more than 70% of all the people screened.

Those common kinds included species such as Staphylococci, which Dunn says is like your skin's standing army defending it from bad germs. Other frequent microbes were a species of Bacillus, a type that gives stinky feet their odor and may be protecting the body from fungi, and Micrococcus, a hardy bacteria found deep in the navel that can survive without oxygen.

The more common species of bacteria seem to be very predictable, Dunn explains. "They were more frequent and abundant on more people, and more common than we expected," he points out.

Dunn suggests that if scientists can get a handle on those common ones, they will know a lot more about what's going on with skin bacteria. For example, they might understand which ones are really good for the skin and which ones are bad. Or how the bacteria interact with one another or with the immune system.

Two samples contained an extremely rare type of archaea, a single-cell organism never previously found on human skin. One of these samples came from a man who self-reported that he had not bathed or showered for several years -- yikes!

Researchers also collected information from study participants on their age, gender, ethnicity, where they grew up, if they are pet owners (who may get more bacteria on their skin if their pooch or cat frequently lick them), and even if their belly button was an innie or an outie. So far, none of this data has been linked to the types of bacterial species found in someone's umbilicus.

Dunn said his research team will continue to study belly button bacteria and have collected more than 500 samples. But they have also started to look into the microbial diversity of underarms, and they are currently recruiting people interested in sampling the microbial communities found in their homes.” (Source)

Time for me to walk on down the road…

Friday, December 14, 2012

Crap-accino Coffee…good to the last droppings


GOLDEN TRIANGLE, Thailand -- In the lush hills of northern Thailand, a herd of 20 elephants is helping to excrete some of the world's most expensive coffee.

Trumpeted as earthy in flavor and smooth on the palate, the exotic new brew is made from beans eaten by Thai elephants and plucked a day later from their dung. A gut reaction inside the elephant creates what its founder calls the coffee's unique taste.

Stomach turning or oddly alluring, this is not just one of the world's most unusual specialty coffees. At $1,100 per kilogram ($500 per pound), it's also among the world's priciest.

For now, only the wealthy or well-traveled have access to the cuppa, which is called Black Ivory Coffee. It was launched last month at a few luxury hotels in remote corners of the world — first in northern Thailand, then the Maldives and now Abu Dhabi — with the price tag of about $50 a serving.

The Associated Press traveled to the coffee's production site in the Golden Triangle, an area historically known for producing drugs more potent than coffee, to see the jumbo baristas at work. And to sip the finished product from a dainty demi-tasse.

In the misty mountains where Thailand meets Laos and Myanmar, the coffee's creator cites biology and scientific research to answer the basic question: Why elephants?

"When an elephant eats coffee, its stomach acid breaks down the protein found in coffee, which is a key factor in bitterness," said Blake Dinkin, who has spent $300,000 developing the coffee. "You end up with a cup that's very smooth without the bitterness of regular coffee."

The result is similar in civet coffee, or Kopi Luwak, another exorbitantly expensive variety extracted from the excrement of the weasel-like civet. But the elephants' massive stomach provides a bonus.

Think of the elephant as the animal kingdom's equivalent of a slow cooker. It takes between 15-30 hours to digest the beans, which stew together with bananas, sugar cane and other ingredients in the elephant's vegetarian diet to infuse unique earthy and fruity flavors, said the 42-year-old Canadian, who has a background in civet coffee.

"My theory is that a natural fermentation process takes place in the elephant's gut," said Dinkin. "That fermentation imparts flavors you wouldn't get from other coffees."

At the jungle retreat that is home to the herd, conservationists were initially skeptical about the idea.

"My initial thought was about caffeine — won't the elephants get wired on it or addicted to coffee?" said John Roberts, director of elephants at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, a refuge for rescued elephants. It now earns 8 percent of the coffee's total sales, which go toward the herd's healthcare. "As far as we can tell there is definitely no harm to the elephants."

Before presenting his proposal to the foundation, Dinkin said he worked with a Canadian-based veterinarian that ran blood tests on zoo elephants showing they don't absorb any caffeine from eating raw coffee cherries.

"I thought it was well worth a try because we're looking for anything that can help elephants to make a living," said Roberts, who estimates the cost of keeping each elephant is about $1,000 a month.

As for the coffee's inflated price, Dinkin half-joked that elephants are highly inefficient workers. It takes 33 kilograms (72 pounds) of raw coffee cherries to produce 1 kilogram of (2 pounds) Black Ivory coffee. The majority of beans get chewed up, broken or lost in tall grass after being excreted.

And, his artisinal process is labor intensive. He uses pure Arabica beans hand-picked by hill-tribe women from a small mountain estate. Once the elephants do their business, the wives of elephant mahouts collect the dung, break it open and pick out the coffee. After a thorough washing, the coffee cherries are processed to extract the beans, which are then brought to a gourmet roaster in Bangkok.

Inevitably, the elephant coffee has become the butt of jokes. Dinkin shared his favorites: Crap-accino. Good to the last dropping. Elephant poop coffee.

As far away as Hollywood, even Jay Leno has taken cracks.

"Here's my question," Leno quipped recently. "Who is the first person that saw a bunch of coffee beans and a pile of elephant dung and said, "You know, if I ground those up and drank it, I'll bet that would be delicious."

Jokes aside, people are drinking it. Black Ivory's maiden batch of 70 kilograms (150 pounds) has sold out. Dinkin hopes to crank out six times that amount in 2013, catering to a customer he sees as relatively affluent, open-minded and adventurous with a desire to tell a good story.

For now, the only place to get it is a few Anantara luxury resorts, including one at the Golden Triangle beside the elephant foundation.

At sunset one recent evening in the hotel's hilltop bar, an American couple sampled the brew. They said it surpassed their expectations.

"I thought it would be repulsive," said Ryan Nelson, 31, of Tampa, Florida. "But I loved it. It was something different. There's definitely something wild about it that I can't put a name on."

His wife Asleigh, a biologist and coffee lover, called it a "fantastic product for an eco-conscious consumer," since the coffee helps fund elephant conservation.

But how does it taste?

"Very interesting," she said, choosing her words carefully. "Very novel."

"I don't think I could afford it every day on my zookeeper's salary," she said. "But I'm certainly enjoying it sitting here overlooking the elephants, on vacation." (Source)

Collector pays $1.2 million for rare posters, including 'Metropolis'

A film memorabilia collector paid $1.2 million for nine rare and early film posters, including the world's highest-valued poster of the 1927 film "Metropolis," in a bankruptcy auction in Los Angeles on Thursday, the trustee in the bankruptcy case said.

Ralph DeLuca, who owns New Jersey-based film memorabilia company Movie Archives Inc, won the bidding against three others in the court auction, said trustee John J. Menchaca.

Bidding for the lot of posters started at $700,000. DeLuca beat out memorabilia powerhouse Heritage Auctions.The "Metropolis" poster, the crown jewel of the collection, was purchased by California collector Kenneth Schachter for a record $690,000 in a 2005 private sale. But he was forced to sell the poster along with eight others after declaring bankruptcy.

The poster, one of only four known surviving copies, was illustrated by German Heinz Schulz-Neudamm, who depicted the film's dystopian future with towering, faceless skyscrapers and jagged script.

One copy is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which confers the poster's value as art, DeLuca said.

"It's 'The Scream,' the 'Guernica' of film posters," DeLuca said of the modernist masterpieces painted by Edvard Munch and Pablo Picasso, respectively. "It's literally the 'Mona Lisa.'"  (source)

Don’t Worry About it! Why NASA is saying 'we told you so' about doomsday hype ... a week early

          Good Day World!

Good news for the holidays. The world isn’t going to end next week. I thought that would get you in the spirit of the season. For those who paid any attention, Mexican researchers debunked the Mayan doomsday calendar thing last Spring.

Researchers got together, and based upon additional information on the most recent Mayan dig, realized that the Mayan calendar did not have an end date. Just an end to certain periods of time.

Anyway, there’s still a lot of folks that are sure Dec.21st is going to be the last day for mankind. And women too. These folks are gathering in various parts of the world for reasons that you and I would never understand, in anticipation of the big moment when… well, I’m not sure how they think it’s going to go down - the world suddenly ends. Everything stops. Or disappears. Or something really bad happens.

Not to worry. NASA has got your back: 

“NASA's latest video debunking doomsday hype comes from the future — to be precise, from Dec. 22, one day after the expected peak for worries that the end of an ancient Maya calendar cycle will signal the end of the world as well. Some might think that the video, titled "The World Didn't End Yesterday," was prematurely released. But it wasn't: The advance word about the non-apocalypse is a key part of the space agency's plan.

"The teaser for the video explains everything: 'NASA is so confident that the world is not coming to an end on Dec. 21, that they have already released a video for the day after,'" Tony Phillips, the writer and editor behind the NASA Science website as well as, told NBC News in an email.

Phillips says the "day after" angle was his idea.

"I felt it was a lighter and more creative way to approach the topic than some of the other treatments we've seen," he wrote. "Some people have been confused by it, but not all. The unorthodox approach is definitely a conversation-starter, which was our goal all along."

Bashing the bunkum
As the 12-21-12 date approaches, NASA has been taking the lead in telling people that the connection between the Maya calendar and doomsday fears is pure bunkum. By some accounts, a grand 5,125-year cycle comes to an end on Dec. 21, but this year, archaeologists found that the Maya calendar counting system goes beyond 2012, just as our own calendar recycles itself after Dec. 31.

For what it's worth, there's even some question whether Dec. 21 is the right date for the Maya calendar turnover.Along the way, the Maya hype has gotten mixed up with other end-of-the-world memes, ranging from monster solar storms to the onset of a threatening Planet X. There's a germ of truth behind some of the memes. For example, the sun really is heading toward the peak of its 11-year activity cycle, but solar maximum won't cause the end of the world.

In fact, Phillips has said the upcoming solar max could be"the weakest of the Space Age."Meanwhile, our planet is indeed heading toward a rough alignment with the sun and the galactic center on Dec. 21 — but that alignment happens every year at this time, due to the winter solstice.

NASA has been spending a lot of time lately separating the scientific fact from the scary fiction. Last month, the space agency put together a Web page that addresses the frequently asked questions about the 2012 hype, with links to even more information about topics ranging from polar shifts to supernovae and super volcanoes.

This may sound like overkill, but it's not: Earlier this year, an international opinion survey conducted by Ipsos for Reuters found that 14 percent of the respondents believe the world will come to an end during their lifetime — and 10 percent said they were worried that the Maya calendar change-over would mark the end of the world.

What to tell your kids
All this doomsday hype can be particularly troubling for kids, who tend to look to the grown-ups for a reality check. Do your children need some reassurance? These tips from, the U.S. government's Web portal for the younger set, could come in handy:

  • Take their fears seriously. Dismissing a fear with a quick "don't be silly comment" or brushing it aside by telling them not to worry is not going to help. If your children express a fear, take time to sit down and discuss it. This sends the message that you are really listening and that your kids can always come to you and they will be taken seriously.
  • Educate yourself about the topic of their fears. This allows you to speak confidently about the subject and give you the facts when discussing a rumor.
  • Help your child research the rumor. If your child heard the rumor at school or saw something scary on the Internet, sit down with him at the computer and help him to conduct his own research. Discuss the importance of finding credible sources for information and guide him to legitimate, authoritative resources.
  • Take the fear off their plate. For younger children, sit down to discuss the child's fear and then tell them, "OK, from now on I will worry about this for you. You don’t have to worry about this anymore. I’ll look into it and I will let you know what I find out." Make sure to check back with your child once you have researched the topic. Anticipate any questions he may have and plan your responses.

Do you still have concerns about Dec. 21? Are you hearing the Maya hype from your friends? How are you handling all this? Feel free to weigh in with your comments below, and check back next week for our continuing coverage of the doomsday buzz. In the meantime, review our coverage of last year's Rapture rigmarole to get an advance look at how this is all likely to go down.” (Source)

More about 2012:

Time for me to walk on down the road…

Thursday, December 13, 2012

It Just Gets Worse Folks: Poop-Contaminated, Mechanically Tenderized Beef in a Store Near You!

            Good Day World!
It’s becoming easier every day for me to understand why my sister Linda became a vegetarian. We both grew up loving hamburgers and steaks. Everyone we knew ate meat. There were no stories about poop in our meat. Now, after reading the following article with disgust and a touch of loathing, I’m questioning myself if I ought to follow in Linda’s footsteps?
I’m getting real tired reading about bad things consistently showing up in our food chain – in particular our meat supply. I’m just going to have to be more careful where I get my meat at, and where I go out to eat. I know. There’s no real safeguard unless I just quit eating meat.
It goes against everything I’ve ever known/eaten to give up cold turkey (pun intended) and become the Veggie Man. What next? My wife’s apple pie? Oh well, I’m passing on this disgusting information because I think you should be aware there’s a good chance you ate shit lately! 
“Why is a rare steak and its barely warm center safe to eat? Bacteria like E. coli live only on the meat's surface, so they're easily dispatched with a sizzle in the frying pan—that is, unless your steak has been poked with dozens of tiny little blades or needles that pushed bacteria deep into the meat.
The process is called mechanical tenderization, and more than 90 percent of beef producers do it. The blades cut throughmuscle fibers and connective tissue to make the beef less tough. (Dry aging a steak does the same thing through a chemical process, but it takes a lot longer.)
In the past decade or so, mechanically tenderized steaks have been responsible for at least eight recalls and sickened 100 people. A year-long investigation by the Kansas City Starreveals just how pervasive and unregulated this process is.
Food safety advocates want mechnically tenderized meat labeled so restaurants and home cooks know to cook their beef to higher temperatures. It's the same logic behind thehealth department recommendation that ground beef be cooked hotter (160 F) than intact cuts (145 F). Even that, however, may not be enough. A study published in the Journal of Food Protection last year found surviving bacteria that hang out in "cold spots" on mechnically tenderized steaks cooked to an internal temperature of 160 F.
Lack of labeling is just one example of the greater problem of lax oversight at meat plants. As the Star reports, the federal government's meat inspection program, called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points or HACCP, has been sarcastically referred to as "Have a Cup of Coffee and Pray" or "Hardly Anyone Comprehends Current Policy." Meat producers, rather than the government, are responsible for implementing HACCP.
When federal investigators did inspect meat plants, they found plenty of the source for E. colion beef: poop. Inspection reports obtained by the Star through FOIA requests included hundreds of references to feces. Choice quotes include "massive fecal contamination" and "a piece of trimmed fat approximately 14 inches long with feces the length of it."
he Star crunched the numbers and found that bigger meat plants had higher rates of positiveE. coli tests. Big meat factories, which mix beef from many different sources, also spread contamination wider and make tracing the source of outbreaks more difficult. That's of little help to people who became sick or even died from eating mechnically tenderized beef.”(Source)
Read more of the investigation at the Kansas City Star.
Time for me to walk on down the road…

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

‘Tis the Season! Joy! Joy! Blaring TV ads soon to be history!

The day has almost arrived! I want to break out dancing like Snoopy from Peanuts fame! Oh happy day! After all of these years of TV commercials louder than a nuclear bomb in your house, legislation has been passed to end the practice of ratcheting up the volume during show breaks.

Starting tomorrow, we can thank the so-called “Calm Bill” that Congress passed (in itself a miracle) forcing the FCC to finally take some action over it’s out-of-control, ear-bleeding, volume increase when commercials came on. The following article explains how this wonderful moment has come to pass:

“TV fans, you're about to get a break from your commercial break.

Shouting TV ads are soon to become a thing of the past as a new law goes into effect Thursday at midnight mandating that the volume of commercials has to be within a range of 2 decibels (db) more or less than the programming around them.

Joe Addalia, director of technology projects for Hearst Television, was in charge of figuring out the right technology to make 31 transmitters compliant with the new regulations. He told TODAY that 2 db was "the difference between viewers reaching for the remote and not." TV stations want to encourage watchers to leave the remote alone, he said, "because right next to the volume button is the channel button."

Commercials are often so loud because the only real limit on programming volumes is the one set by stations so that the sound levels don't damage their equipment. That level, however, represents a peak sound meant to accommodate for when something like a gunshot or explosion goes off during a show. Advertising content creators routinely crank the sound of their ads to just shy of that peak level, so the entire commercial is playing at the equivalent of a 30-second bomb blast.

Joel Kelsey, legislative director for the media advocacy group Free Press, previously testified in Congress about the need for volume regulation on commercials. Since nearly the beginning of television itself, loud commercials "have consistently been one of the issues consumers are most energized to write the FCC about. They don't like being screamed at every time the program breaks to ," Kelsey told TODAY.

However, it took an act of Congress, the "Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act," or CALM Act, to prod the FCC into the necessary action. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate.

While station operators across the country have been busy implementing new volume-limiting controls, many viewers already have technology in their TV sets to dampen the auditory enthusiasm of "Crazy Carl's Car Shack" and "Head-On, DIRECTLY TO THE FOREHEAD!"

In a TV set's audio control settings, there may be a selection for "Automatic Volume control" or "Auto Volume" that once selected automatically smooths out the peaks and valleys in the volume. If you don't have the feature built in, you can purchase an external device such as this Audiovox Terk VR1 Automatic TV Volume Controller, found on Amazon for $21.99.

It's worth mentioning what tools consumers have at their hands, besides the mute button, because with so many moving pieces involved, you can be sure that some loud ads will get through. The FCC encourages viewers to report any rogue ads to 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-225-5322).” (Source)

For more information: FCC Q&A on the CALM Act

Too big means too big for jail when it comes corrupt banking practices

            Good Day World!

Perhaps it’s just the season, but when I think of corrupt bankers I recall with fond loathing Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Of course these days we have no shortage of corrupt money-grubbing bankers who get away with massive amounts of people’s money without fear of recourse.

When was the last time you saw the head of Bank of America arrested? Or Citbank? AIG? Yet they all have ripped Americans off to the tune of billions of dollars.

They launder funds, get caught, pay penalties, and go their merry way. No accountability because they are too rich! that’s the bottom line. Do you disagree with me? Read the following article, and if you want, make a comment at the end of it in the space provided.

“There’s a reason top executives haven’t gone to jail for engineering the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Some bankers are just too big to convict.

The latest example came Tuesday with British global banking giant HSBC’s agreement to pay a record $1.9 billion – about six weeks’ worth of the bank’s profits - to settle money-laundering charges with U.S. prosecutors. The deal ends a three-year probe into accusations of a widespread, multi-year string of illegal transactions violating sanctions against Iran and Latin American drug lords.

Five years after a wave of risky mortgage bets cratered the banking system and sent the global economy into recession, the banking industry’s players have paid or agreed to pay billions of dollars fines and restitution. But not a single senior executive from the biggest banks has gone to jail.

“That’s what has everyone so frustrated .... We’re on the back end of this crisis and there have not been meaningful prosecutions of individuals," said Boston University law professor Cornelius Hurley, who heads the Morin Center for Banking and Financial Law.

HSBC negotiated a five-year deferred prosecution agreement with the government, under which charges will be dropped if it prevents future violations. 

The government said the bank "accepted responsibility for its criminal conduct and that of its employees."

So did HSBC Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver.

"We accept responsibility for our past mistakes," he said. "We have said we are profoundly sorry for them, and we do so again. The HSBC of today is a fundamentally different organization from the one that made those mistakes."

To be sure, the government has churned out a string of cases stemming from the 2008 financial crisis. As of November, the Securities and Exchange Commission had brought charges against 133 companies and individuals, including 60 CEOs, CFOs, and other corporate officers. Those SEC cases have netted the government $2.6 billion in fines, penalties and other payments.

But critics of the government’s response to the 2008 meltdown argue that the best way to prevent the next crisis is to make sure those responsible are held personally accountable.

"Deterring future crimes can't be accomplished simply through fines or negotiated financial settlements -- which many banks regard as the cost of doing business," Phil Angelides, who chaired the government commission that investigated the financial crisis, wrote in a September op-ed in Politico. "Senior executives need to know that if they violate the law, there will be real consequences."

There’s no one single reason for the dearth of high-profile criminal convictions. Some prosecutors have argued that, in some cases, the crimes related to the financial meltdown of 2008 were too complex to pin on individuals. In others, they argued, the law had not kept up with the complex financial engineering that brought about the crisis.

But some critics argue that government simply isn’t’ trying hard enough.

“Virtually every white-collar criminal case is difficult (to make)," said Andrew Stoltmann, a Chicago attorney who specializes in securities fraud cases. “But look at the savings and loan crisis, where 1,000 bankers ended up going to prison with the same sort of legal hurdles that we have in the 2008 subprime meltdown.”

Critics like Stoltmann also fault the Securities and Exchange Commission, which was badly underfunded and understaffed as the financial system expanded rapidly over the past decade. He argues that the commission is outgunned against the well-funded legal defenses of the finance industry’s biggest players.

“You have inexperienced SEC staffers who are hoping to get jobs with a lot of the law firms that defend these executives,” he said.

A number of high-profile cases may yet produce criminal prosecutions, which can take years to develop in complex financial cases.

“Sometimes it takes a number of years to bring these cases,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who was among those announcing Tuesday's HSBC settlement,  told CBS' "60 Minutes" a year ago. “So I'd say to the American people, they should have confidence that this is a department that's working hard and we're going to keep working hard, so stay tuned."

But the clock is ticking for the government. Many of these cases are approaching a statute of limitations that will insulate bankers from prosecution.

High-profile convictions of the biggest banks face another familiar hurdle. In their settlement with HSBC, prosecutors had to carefully weigh the impact a conviction might have on the world’s third largest bank. A criminal conviction would have dealt a serious -- if not fatal -- blow to one of the critical nodes in the global capital network while Europe’s banking system is on shaky ground.

Five years after the crisis began unfolding, the global banking system is even more vulnerable to banks that are “too big to fail,” after the biggest companies acquired weaker players crippled by the 2008 collapse.

“If you look at the pre- and post-numbers as far as concentration in the financial services industry, it’s way more concentrated than it was in 2007,” said Hurley. “They’re humongous in terms of their threat to the system.”

That threat was supposed to be reduced or eliminated by Dodd-Frank, the sweeping financial regulatory reform package enacted by Congress in 2009. But Hurley says the government has yet to bring big banks to heel.

"Dodd-Frank set up orderly liquidation authority and a financial stability oversight council --  all of this what I call ambient noise," Hurley said. "And it’s not bad to have. But we fooled ourselves into thinking that it solved the problem. Too big to fail is as big a problem or more than it was before the crisis." (Source)

Time for me to walk on down the road…

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Message Becomes Clearer Every Day: Americans to Feds ‘Keep Your Hands Off Our Pot!’

 Good Day World!

Every new poll I see indicates a growing acceptance for legalizing marijuana in the United States. This latest Gallup Poll further bolsters the argument for the feds to back off and let the people have what they want.

But the feds are going to be complete assholes about it to the bitter end, and have signaled as much when Washington and Colorado recently legalized marijuana.

The only hope for the people lies with the Supreme Court next year when it take on two landmark pot cases that could result in the re-classification of marijuana from a Class I drug - to Class II drug. Meanwhile, the senseless war wages on, further financially crippling our economy and depriving us of our freedoms. Here’s the latest from the frontlines:

“A majority of Americans want the federal government to keep out of state marijuana laws, even as overall sentiment on whether marijuana should be legalized is split, according to a new poll.

Sixty-four percent of adults responded "no" when asked whether they think the federal government should take steps to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states where marijuana is legal, according to the USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday.

"The significant majority of Americans would advise the federal government to focus on other issues," wrote Frank Newport of Gallup.

In Washington and Colorado, where citizens last month voted to legalize marijuana possession, the issue of federal interference is especially salient as residents face a confusing mishmash of federal and state laws when it comes to whether and where they can get high.

That’s because the federal government still bans pot growing and possession, regardless of what state laws say, leaving many residents confused about what is legal. Some observers say it may take the Supreme Court to clear up the situation.

Americans who personally believe that marijuana should be legal overwhelmingly say the federal government should not get involved at the state level; even four in 10 of those opposed to legalized marijuana don't think federal officials should intervene.

Like Amsterdam: Washington bar owner lets patrons get stoned

It’s unclear at this point whether the Justice Department will try to stop the decriminalization of pot in Washington and Colorado, where adults 21 and older will be allowed to purchase a small amount of pot from state-licensed stores. The drug will be heavily taxed and potentially bring hundreds of millions of dollars a year for school, and government needs.

Although support for legalizing marijuana has risen substantially over the last four decades, the poll, which also asked participants where they stand on the issue of legalization, revealed that the public remains largely divided.

Six in 10 Americans aged 18 to 29 support legalizing marijuana, while about as many of those 65 and older are opposed. The bulk of middle-aged Americans – those aged 30 to 64 – are split on the issue of legalization. The poll also noted that Democrats were most in favor of legalization, while Republicans were most likely to be opposed.

Lawmakers in four New England states, including Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, have signaled that they plan to introduce proposals to legalize marijuana in the next year, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia already have laws allowing for the medical use of marijuana, according to the National Council of Legislatures.” (Source)

Time for me to walk on down the road…

Monday, December 10, 2012

Check out Learnist Chat tonight! guest host Emily Dingmann is sharing her expertise on healthy holiday planning

Since I’ve joined the Learnist Team I’ve never seen so many resources gathered together in one place so expertly for every topic you can imagine. Do you love learning and sharing?

Please join us at Learnist Chat tonight! at 5 pm PST/8pm EST with guest host nutritionist Emily Dingmann as she discusses planning and preparing healthy holiday parties. Bring your thoughts, questions, suggestions, and your love of learning to Monday night’s event!

GO TO and join the discussion!

#Learntalk discussion won’t end after Monday night’s session! Join us along with expert Learnist contributors every second and fourth Monday each month at 5pm PST.

Schedule of upcoming chats:

Monday, December 10th - Planning and preparing healthy holiday parties with nutritionist Emily Dingmann

Monday, January 14th – School choice discussion in honor of National School Choice Week with President of Fountainhead Communication and children’s book author Amelia Hamilton

Monday, January 28th – Latest 2013 fashion trends with marketing professor and fashion expert Dr. Iris Mohr

Monday, February 11th – It’s yours truly with “Bias in the Media - hosted by opinion columnist for a daily newspaper in northern California – The Times-Standard; Blogger; and retired newspaper editor and publisher Dave Stancliff

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Just so you know: Hoarding gets new diagnosis in psychiatric diagnosis guide

              Good Day World!

Sometimes there’s a fine line between collecting and hoarding. I’ve collected LA Laker memorabilia for many years but I don’t dye my hair purple-and-gold and insist on eating on official Laker plates with matching silverware.

When someone crosses that fine line it’s usually very apparent. They suffer from an altered reality that becomes debilitating in time. Slaves of saving anything. The top shrinks in our society have recently decided that a “hoarding disorder” should not be confused with people who have obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

The two conditions seem to be identical to me, but you know how these psych’s like to keep refining problems until they can announce a new disorder. I think it gives them a certain satisfaction and at the same time it’s proof that they are doing something…anything for their money.  

“Reality TV has brought national attention to hoarding, and now a recent change in the influential psychiatric diagnosis guide may actually bring help for millions of Americans suffering from the isolating condition.

Hoarding – a psychological condition that can result in homes crammed floor to ceiling with papers, junk mail, books, clothing and other “valuables”-- has been associated with obsessive-compulsive behavior, although experts have long held that the two disorders aren’t necessarily connected.

In the revised, fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), "hoarding disorder" becomes a separate diagnosis, characterized by a "persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value."

The revised diagnosis should “result in more people having access to treatment," says Randy Frost, a professor of psychology at who specializes in hoarding issues. "Right now, there are very few clinicians who know how to treat it. Once it shows up in DSM, there will be much more pressure on clinicians to train in how to treat this problem."

Hoarding isn’t just a messy garage or packed closet. According to the APA, it's defined by its harmful effects -- emotional, physical, social, financial and even legal -- both on the hoarder and the hoarder's family members.

Hoarding is “a disorder that involves the living areas of the home being so cluttered they can't be used for their intended purpose,” says Frost, co-author of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things.

Set to publish in May, the DSM is a guide doctors use to diagnose mental disorders. DSM codes are also used for insurance reimbursements and certain research grants.

Rachel Kramer Bussel, a 37-year-old writer and editor from Brooklyn, says she's long had hoarding tendencies, although she only recently came clean about them in an essay on, a difficult step considering the stigma surrounding the disorder.

"I think people's only reference point is reality TV," says Bussel, who hasn't sought treatment but has worked with a personal organizer. "They think all hoarders are literally crazy cat ladies or people who don't function in the rest of society."

Bussel hoards books, clothing and other items at home; she also carries around at least two stuffed with belongings she says give her "comfort". She says she hopes the new classification will help others become more accepting of the often-misunderstood disorder.

The most common reaction to a hoarding confession is, "'Just get rid of everything. Get a dumpster and throw it all out and then you won't be a hoarder,'" Bussel says.

In fact, recent research finds abnormal brain activity in people with hoarding disorder.

There’s no hard evidence that hoarding is increasing, although certain societal factors -- such as the abundance of junk mail, our materialistic mindset, and an aging population (getting older increases the chance that a person will experience or loss that contributes to hoarding) -- may translate into more hoarders, says David Kutz, an Albuquerque clinical psychologist specializing in hoarding and OCD.

At least 4 million people in the U.S. would meet full criteria for hoarding, according to Kutz. Other data suggests between 2.5 to 6 percent of the U.S. adult population, or up to a 15 million people, may have hoarding disorder, says Frost, who conducted the first-ever study of hoarding in the U.S. in 1993. “That’s a whopping number," Frost says.

Many hoarders don't recognize the problem. About “90 percent are sent by family members or a city counsel or the local sheriff,” says Kutz, who has appeared on A&E’s “Hoarders” three times.

While experts and hoarders alike say they believe the new DSM classification will help hoarders get better treatment, Frost stresses there is no "magic pill."

"We don't know yet whether there are medications that might be useful for this," he says. "But that's one of the things that will happen now that it's in the DSM. There will be an interest in researching this."

Until then, hoarders can get help overcoming their urge to acquire and save through cognitive behavior therapy and/or peer support groups, a form of treatment that greatly helped Lee Shuer, a 37-year-old mental health worker from Northampton, Mass.

"My mindset has completely changed," says Shuer, who began facilitating hoarding peer support groups after his hoarding habit went into "remission.” "I'm at the point where I can go to places where I used to acquire things - tag sales and thrift shops - and not buy anything. I can come across things that used to make my heart race but they don't turn me on any more. The thrill for excess is gone." (Source)

For more on hoarding:'s Hoarding Center and

Time for me to walk on down the road…

Sunday, December 9, 2012

AS IT STANDS: Mexico’s new boss is no threat to drug cartels

 By Dave Stancliff/For The Times-Standard

 Without a lot of fanfare Mexico got a new president last week. Did you notice? The swearing in ceremony had to be postponed for a day because of protestors outside their Congress. Not exactly an auspicious start.
So why are we talking about Mexico today? Because when the new boss, Enrigue Pena Nieto, was sworn in, the clock was turned back to the bad old days when his party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled the country and drove Mexico to the brink of disaster after 70 corruption-filled years of power.
Pena Nieto was quick to say he wants to be President Obama’s new economic buddy and he’s got great plans for the days ahead. Vague plans, to be sure, but he’ll spell them out along the way, I suppose.
  But, get this, Pena Nieto says he’s going to end the recent years of violence by stimulating the economy so people won’t be as likely to resort to crime.

  Apparently, he’s following the Al Capone model to stimulate an economy - think Chicago during the 1920s.  Just substitute oil instead of bootleg whiskey.
  If you’re not picking up what I’m saying about Pena Nieto, let me put it this way: under this as leader of the infamous PRI, crime and corruption will not only continue, they’ll thrive. To see why I say that, Google the PRI when you have a moment. Bottom line, don’t expect radical change in our southern neighbor’s society or our relations with them.

  The idea that drug cartels will shrivel up because their workforce will suddenly want to take on legitimate jobs (which never could pay as much) - jobs that will magically spring up across the country - is laughable and unrealistic.
  Pena Nieto plans to push legislation to strengthen Mexico’s tax base and allow more private investment in the lumbering state oil giant Pemex. That shouldn’t be too hard to do with the PRI’s reputation for corruption, cronyism, and vote-rigging.

  When Pena Nieto came to Washington to meet with President Obama, he said the ties between our two countries should go beyond the drug war. Now there’s a subtle statement if I ever heard one.
"We should reconsider greater integration of North America to achieve a region that is more competitive and capable of creating more jobs," Pena Nieto said during a White House meeting, as reporters looked on.
Pena Nieto tells Mexicans he’s going to shake up competition in the country, which has most of it’s economy consolidated in the hands of a few, like the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim.
Even without a degree in Mexican history, I can tell you that’s about as likely as building condos on Mars. Which leads me to this question; “How can the Obama Administration ever take Pena Nieto seriously about cracking down on the drug cartels?”

It would be like taking the “Godfather’s” word without question and kissing his ring in respect. If you listen closely to what he’s told the press, his message is a lot milder than the rhetoric that got him where he is. He never claimed he was going after the cartels.
In an editorial published by The Washington Post (Nov.30), Pena Nieto wrote; "It is a mistake to limit our bilateral relationship to drugs and security concerns. Our mutual interests are too vast and complex to be restricted in this short-sighted way.”
Really? Short-sighted way? What I’m hearing is don’t worry about those 60,000 people killed as a result of drug violence in Mexico during the last five years. Don’t worry about those illegal immigrants and border security concerns - both issues that urgently need to be addressed. The only important thing is our two countries can make a lot of money if we just concentrate on that.

No amount of rhetoric from either country can change the facts. Our relationship with Mexico is business as usual. It’s going to be business as usual as far as our relationship with Mexico goes. President Obama managed to tip-toe around the subject of illegal immigration and the War on Drugs during the presidential campaign.
Mexico’s new boss would just as soon skip those two subjects as well and concentrate on making money with America’s newly re-elected boss.
 As It Stands, fans of Boardwalk Empire (HBO saga of gangsters in the 20s) would appreciate this ironic real life comparison.

Blog Break Until Presidential Election is Over

I finally hit the wall today. I can't think of what to say about all of the madness going on in this country right now. I'm a writer...