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C.I.A. Steps Up Drone Attacks on Taliban in Pakistan The C.I.A. has drastically increased its bombing campaign in the mountains of Pakistan in recent weeks, American officials said. The strikes are part of an effort by military and intelligence operatives to try to cripple the Taliban in a stronghold being used to plan attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.
As part of its covert war in the region, the C.I.A. has launched 20 attacks with armed drone aircraft thus far in September, the most ever during a single month, and more than twice the number in a typical month. This expanded air campaign comes as top officials are racing to stem the rise of American casualties before the Obama administration’s comprehensive review of its Afghanistan strategy set for December. American and European officials are also evaluating reports of possible terrorist plots in the West from militants based in Pakistan.
The strikes also reflect mounting frustration both in Afghanistan and the United States that Pakistan’s government has not been aggressive enough in dislodging militants from their bases in the country’s western mountains. In particular, the officials said, the Americans believe the Pakistanis are unlikely to launch military operations inside North Waziristan, a haven for Taliban and Qaeda operatives that has long been used as a base for attacks against troops in Afghanistan. Some Pakistani troops have also been diverted from counterinsurgency missions to help provide relief to victims of the country’s massive flooding. (New York Times)
Monkeys See Selves in Mirror, Open a Barrel of Questions Monkeys may possess cognitive abilities once thought unique to humans, raising questions about the nature of animal awareness and our ability to measure it.
In the lab of University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Luis Populin, five rhesus macaques seem to recognize their own reflections in a mirror. Monkeys weren’t supposed to do this.
“We thought these subjects didn’t have this ability. The indications are that if you fail the mark test, you’re not self-aware. This opens up a whole field of possibilities,” Populin said. (Wired)
COLLATERAL COSTS: INCARCERATION’S EFFECT ON ECONOMIC MOBILITY Currently 2.3 million Americans are behind bars, equaling more than 1 in 100 adults. Up from just 500,000 in 1980, this marks more than a 300 percent increase in the United States’ incarcerated population and represents the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Over the last four years, The Pew Charitable Trusts has documented the enormous expense of building prisons and housing inmates that is borne by states and the federal government. Indeed, in the face of gaping budget shortfalls, more than half of the states are now seeking alternative sentencing and corrections strategies that cost less than prison, but can protect public safety and hold offenders accountable. A less explored fiscal implication of incarceration is its impact on former inmates’ economic opportunity and mobility.
Economic mobility, the ability of individuals and families to move up the income ladder over their lifetime and across generations, is the epitome of the American Dream. Americans believe that economic success is determined by individual efforts and attributes, like hard work and ambition, and that anyone should be able to improve his or her economic circumstances.
Incarceration affects an inmate’s path to prosperity. Collateral Costs quantifies the size of that effect, not only on offenders but on their families and children. Before being incarcerated more than two-thirds of male inmates were employed and more than half were the primary source of financial support for their children.7 Incarceration carries significant and enduring economic repercussions for the remainder of the person’s working years. This report finds that former inmates work fewer weeks each year, earn less money and have limited upward mobility. These costs are borne by offenders’ families and communities, and they reverberate across generations.
People who break the law need to be held accountable and pay their debt to society. Prisons can enhance public safety, both by keeping dangerous criminals off the streets and by deterring would be offenders. However, virtually all inmates will be released, and when they do, society has a strong interest in helping them fulfill their responsibilities to their victims, their families and their communities. When returning offenders can find and keep legitimate employment, they are more likely to be able to pay restitution to their victims, support their children and avoid crime. - INCARCERATION IS CONCENTRATED AMONG MEN, THE YOUNG, THE UNEDUCATED AND RACIAL AND ETHNIC MINORITIES—ESPECIALLY AFRICAN AMERICANS.
• One in 87 working-aged white men is in prison or jail, compared with 1 in 36 Hispanic men and 1 in 12 African American men.
• More young (20 to 34-year-old) African American men without a high school diploma or GED are currently behind bars (37 percent) than employed (26 percent). (Pew Charitable Trusts)
One in 28 US kids has a parent in prison: study The US's exceptionally high rate of incarceration is causing economic damage not only to the people behind bars but to their children and taxpayers as a whole, a new study finds.
The study (PDF) from the Pew Research Center's Economic Mobility Project, released Tuesday, reports that the US prison population has more than quadrupled since 1980, from 500,000 to 2.3 million, making the US's incarceration rate the highest in the world, beating former champions like Russia and South Africa.
This means more than one in 100 Americans is in prison, and the cost of prisons to states now exceeds $50 billion per year, or one in every 15 state dollars spent -- a figure the study describes as "staggering."
According to the authors, one in every 28 children in the US has a parent behind bars -- up from one in 125 just 25 years ago. This is significant, the study argues, because children of incarcerated parents are much likelier to struggle in life.
A family with an incarcerated parent on average earns 22 percent less the year after the incarceration than it did the year before, the study finds. And children with parents in prison are significantly likelier to be expelled from school than others; 23 percent of students with jailed parents are expelled, compared to 4 percent for the general population. (The Raw Story)
The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition State and federal governments in the United States face massive looming fiscal deficits. One policy change that can reduce deficits is ending the drug war. Legalization means reduced expenditure on enforcement and an increase in tax revenue from legalized sales.
This report estimates that legalizing drugs would save roughly $41.3 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. Of these savings, $25.7 billion would accrue to state and local governments, while $15.6 billion would accrue to the federal government.
Approximately $8.7 billion of the savings would result from legalization of marijuana and $32.6 billion from legalization of other drugs.
The report also estimates that drug legalization would yield tax revenue of $46.7 billion annually, assuming legal drugs were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco. Approximately $8.7 billion of this revenue would result from legalization of marijuana and $38.0 billion from legalization of other drugs. (CATO Institute)
Vermont Benefits Corporation Act as of this writing, it appears that S.263, the “Vermont Benefits Corporations Act”, will become law and establish a new corporate form in Vermont. The House amended S. 263 but it is likely the Senate will concur in the House amendments and that Governor Douglas will sign the bill. If that occurs, Vermont will be the second state (after Maryland) to adopt “benefit” corporation legislation. The incubator of this legislation in B Lab, a Philadelphia based non-profit which has developed the “B” corporation rating system (not to be confused with a benefit corporation which is a creature of statute), which evaluates companies on social, environmental and workplace criteria. (Merritt & Merritt & Moulton)
Maryland Passes 'Benefit Corp.' Law for Social Entrepreneurs Maryland today became the first state to legally create a new corporate form known as a “benefit corporation” that will let social entrepreneurs codify their missions in their corporate charters.
The law is modeled on proposals by B-Lab, a Berwyn, Pa.-nonprofit that certifies socially responsible companies. The law lets entrepreneurs commit their for-profit ventures to a specific public good, and requires them to report on contributions to that goal and submit to auditing of their impact. Having official “benefit corporation” status allows entrepreneurs to consider stakeholders like employees, communities, or the environment in business decisions. Under existing corporate law, company directors can face lawsuits if considering outside stakeholders is seen to damage the financial interest of shareholders. (Bloomberg)
Muhammad Yunus is a Bangladeshi banker, economist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. He previously was a professor of economics where he developed the concepts of microcredit and microfinance. These loans are given to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. Yunus is also the founder of Grameen Bank. In 2006, Yunus and the bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, "for their efforts to create economic and social development from below." Yunus himself has received several other national and international honors. He is the author of Banker to the Poor and a founding board member of Grameen America and Grameen Foundation. In early 2007 Yunus showed interest in launching a political party in Bangladesh named Nagorik Shakti (Citizen Power), but later discarded the plan. He is one of the founding members of Global Elders. Yunus also serves on the board of directors of the United Nations Foundation, a public charity created in 1998 with entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner’s historic $1 billion gift to support United Nations causes. The UN Foundation builds and implements public-private partnerships to address the world’s most pressing problems, and broadens support for the UN. (Wikipedia)
Wealth, Income, and Power This document presents details on the wealth and income distributions in the United States, and explains how we use these two distributions as power indicators.
Some of the information might be a surprise to many people. The most amazing numbers on income inequality come last, showing the change in the ratio of the average CEO's paycheck to that of the average factory worker over the past 40 years. - In the United States, wealth is highly concentrated in a relatively few hands. As of 2007, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 34.6% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 50.5%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 85%, leaving only 15% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers). In terms of financial wealth (total net worth minus the value of one's home), the top 1% of households had an even greater share: 42.7%. Table 1 and Figure 1 present further details drawn from the careful work of economist Edward N. Wolff at New York University (2010). (University of California)
Capitalism: History The period between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries is commonly described as mercantilism. This period was associated with geographic exploration of the Age of Discovery being exploited by merchant overseas traders, especially from England and the Low Countries; the European colonization of the Americas; and the rapid growth in overseas trade. Mercantilism was a system of trade for profit, although commodities were still largely produced by non-capitalist production methods. (Wikipedia)
Adam Smith was a Scottish moral philosopher and a pioneer of political economics. One of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, Smith is the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. The latter, usually abbreviated as The Wealth of Nations, is considered his magnum opus and the first modern work of economics. Smith is widely cited as the father of modern economics.
Smith studied moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow and the University of Oxford. After graduating, he delivered a successful series of public lectures at Edinburgh, leading him to collaborate with David Hume during the Scottish Enlightenment. Smith obtained a professorship at Glasgow teaching moral philosophy, and during this time he wrote and published The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In his later life, he took a tutoring position that allowed him to travel throughout Europe, where he met other intellectual leaders of his day. Smith returned home and spent the next ten years writing The Wealth of Nations, publishing it in 1776. He died in 1790. (Wikipedia)
Grameen Bank is a microfinance organization and community development bank started in Bangladesh that makes small loans (known as microcredit or "grameencredit") to the impoverished without requiring collateral. The word "Grameen" is derived from the word "gram" and means "rural" or "village" in Bangla language. The system of this bank is based on the idea that the poor have skills that are under-utilized. A group-based credit approach is applied which utilizes the peer-pressure within the group to ensure the borrowers follow through and use caution in conducting their financial affairs with strict discipline, ensuring repayment eventually and allowing the borrowers to develop good credit standing. The bank also accepts deposits, provides other services, and runs several development-oriented businesses including fabric, telephone and energy companies. Another distinctive feature of the bank's credit program is that a significant majority of its borrowers are women.
The origin of Grameen Bank can be traced back to 1976 when Professor Muhammad Yunus, a Fulbright scholar at Vanderbilt University and Professor at University of Chittagong, launched a research project to examine the possibility of designing a credit delivery system to provide banking services targeted to the rural poor. In October 1983, the Grameen Bank Project was transformed into an independent bank by government legislation. The organization and its founder, Muhammad Yunus, were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006; the organisation's Low-cost Housing Programme won a World Habitat Award in 1998. (Wikipedia)
Democrats, don't insult the voters I have seen many campaigns in my four decades in politics, but this one is the strangest. With a little more than a month to go and many races still very close, the Democratic message to their faithful is mind-boggling.
Voters want to know what's going on, and Democrats in particular are unhappy and unenthusiastic. So what does the national leadership of the party say about the voters?
They have been called whiners by the vice president. President Obama, who led them to victory two short years ago with record turnouts, is calling them "irresponsible." They have even been called stupid by the party's former presidential nominee John Kerry.
Just last week, Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, implied the voters were too stupid to know what they are doing. "We have an electorate that doesn't always pay that much attention to what's going on, so people are influenced by a simple slogan rather than the facts or the truth or what's happening." (CNN)
Sooner or later, marijuana will be legal It's as predictable as the sun rising and setting. Even though police made more than 850,000 marijuana arrests last year, a recent government report shows youth marijuana use increased by about 9 percent.
Supporters of the failed war on drugs will no doubt argue this increase means policymakers should spend more taxpayer money next year arresting and incarcerating a greater number of Americans. In other words, their solution to failure is to do more of the same. Fortunately, the "reform nothing" club is getting mighty lonely these days -- 76 percent of Americans recognize the drug war has failed; millions are demanding change. (CNN)
Mousepox 'Superbug' Test Riles: Some Say Fed-Backed Virus Research Could Aid Terrorists A research team backed by a federal grant has created a genetically engineered mousepox virus designed to evade vaccines, underscoring biotechnology's deadly potential and stirring debate over whether such research plays into the hands of terrorists.
The team at Saint Louis University, led by Mark Buller, created the superbug to figure out how to defeat it, a key goal of the government's anti-terrorism plan.
The researchers designed a two-drug cocktail that promises to defeat their exceptionally deadly virus. They hope to publish their work soon in a peer review journal.
“The whole focus was to contribute to the biodefense agenda of the country,” Buller said.
Buller spliced a gene known to suppress the immune system into the mousepox virus, then injected the combined strand into vaccinated mice. All of them died. (Associated Press)
Does Fluoridation Up Bone Cancer Risk? Study Examines Boyhood Drinking of Fluoridated Water and Possible Links to Osteosarcoma Boys who drink fluoridated water have an increased risk of a deadly bone cancer, a new study suggests.
Elise Bassin, DDS, completed the study in 2001 for her doctoral dissertation at Harvard, where she now is clinical instructor in oral health policy and epidemiology. The study finally was published in the May issue of Cancer Causes and Control.
Bassin and colleagues' major finding: Boys who grew up in communities that added at least moderate levels of fluoride to their water got bone cancer -- osteosarcoma -- more often than boys who drank water with little or no fluoride.
The risk peaked for boys who drank more highly fluoridated water between the ages of 6 and 8 years -- a time at which children undergo a major growth spurt. By the time they were 20, these boys got bone cancer 5.46 times more often than boys with the lowest consumption. No effect was seen for girls. (WebMD)
BP and MMS Agree: “Seals, Sea Otters, and Walruses” Live in Gulf of Mexico In its emergency plans in the event of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP made clear it knows how to save "seals, sea otters, and walruses" in the Gulf waters. The only problem is, no such animals live in the Gulf.
Indeed, it appears BP literally copied and pasted emergency response plans to apply to any spill in the world, regardless of the reality of the local ecosystems. While "seals, sea otters, and walruses" are a concern for oil spills in colder waters, there are none of those animals in the Gulf. (Fire Dog Lake)
Web blocks remain one year on for China's Uighurs For Ruzmammat, the Internet is a crucial way of keeping in touch with his Uighur friends in China's Xinjiang region -- a lifeline that was denied to him for 10 months following deadly ethnic riots.
Authorities cut off the web in Xinjiang in the aftermath of violence that erupted a year ago in the regional capital Urumqi between mainly Muslim Uighurs and majority Han Chinese, leaving nearly 200 dead and 1,700 injured. (Agence France-Presse)
China tightens Web screws after Xinjiang riot China clamped down on the Internet in the capital of China's northwestern region of Xinjiang on Monday, in the hope of stemming the flow of information about ethnic unrest which left 140 people dead.
The government has blamed Sunday's riots in Urumqi -- the deadliest unrest since the 1989 military crackdown on the Tiananmen pro-democracy demonstrations -- on exiled Muslim separatists. (Reuters)
Is Homophobia Associated With Homosexual Arousal? by Henry E. Adams, Lester W. Wright, Jr., and Bethany A. Lohr, University of Georgia - The authors investigated the role of homosexual arousal in exclusively heterosexual men who admitted negative affect toward homosexual individuals. Participants consisted of a group of homophobic men (n = 35) and a group of nonhomophobic men (n = 29); they were assigned to groups on the basis of their scores on the Index of Homophobia. The men were exposed to sexually explicit erotic stimuli consisting of heterosexual, male homosexual, and lesbian videotapes, and changes in penile circumference were monitored. They also completed an Aggression Questionnaire. Both groups exhibited increases in penile circumference to the heterosexual and female homosexual videos. Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli. The groups did not differ in aggression. Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies. (Journal of Abnormal Psychology)
Virus Attacks Siemens Plant-Control Systems Computer hackers have designed a virus that targets industrial control systems built by German engineering giant Siemens AG, activating a kind of malicious software that analysts say represents a growing corporate-espionage threat.
The virus, dubbed Stuxnet, is spread by devices plugged into USB computer ports. It is programmed to try to steal data from computer systems that are used to monitor large automated plants built for anything from manufacturing to power generation to water treatment. Siemens is one of the world’s largest makers of such industrial automated systems, though it doesn’t break out its annual revenue from such sales. (Wall Street Journal)
Military's Cyber Commander Swears: "No Role" in Civilian Networks If your business gets hacked, don’t bother calling the U.S. military’s new Cyber Command. Sure, the unit has some of the government’s top geeks — and is oh-so-conveniently co-located with the network infiltration experts at the National Security Agency. But Cyber Command is too busy trying to shore up the Pentagon’s digital defenses. Plus, they’re not even sure helping your company out would be legal, yet.
“Right now, we do not have a role,” new Cyber Command chief Gen. Keith Alexander tells reporters in a rare on-the-record interview. “Within the United States, I do not believe that’s where Cyber Command should or will operate.”
Changing that, Alexander adds, “is a decision the White House needs to make.”
Of course, it’s often hard to define where one national border begins and another ends on-line. The White House and Congress are both working on legal and policy re-writes which could alter where and how Cyber Command’s forces could wage information combat. Besides, Alexander already has forces that are operating domestically. He’s also the head of the NSA, which today works with American companies to secure their networks. (Wired)
Cybersecurity bill on list for passage this year Capitol Hill staffers have made progress stitching together cybersecurity proposals into a huge bill, aides said, with Senate leadership putting it on their short list for passage this year.
But stiff industry opposition and partisan tensions still make it unlikely comprehensive legislation will pass in 2010.
The legislation would require companies who sell the government USD 80 billion in hardware and software each year to bake in a certain level of security -- a potentially expensive prospect.
Senate Majority Harry Reid has put the measure on his list of top-priority bills to get through the Senate this year, the sources said.
The bill is a priority because leaps in technology have increased industrial productivity, but also left businesses and the US government vulnerable to foreign spies, such as the 2008 breach of US military computers using a single compromised thumb drive and identity thieves who have stolen untold numbers of consumer credit card numbers. (Reuters)
DHS fails cyber-security audit The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has utterly failed an extensive cyber-security audit conducted by the agency's own Inspector General (IG).
Indeed, the DHS US-CERT office is currently plagued by at least 600 vulnerabilities that could compromise sensitive data, including 202 which have been classified as high-risk.
"Adequate security controls have not been implemented on the [Mission Operating Environment] to protect the data processed from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction," the IG confirmed in a recently published report. - As such, the Inspector recommended that the DHS immediately patch and updated its systems - particularly the ones located in the department's Virginia HQ.
Meanwhile, DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa confirmed that the agency had already implemented "a software management tool [to] automatically deploy operating-system and application-security patches and updates to mitigate current and future vulnerabilities." (TG Daily)
Obama internet 'kill switch' bill approved The US senators pushing a controversial new bill that some fear would give President Barack Obama the powers to seize control of and even shut down the internet have rejected claims it would give Obama a net "kill switch".
The bill, titled Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, has been unanimously approved by the US Homeland Security committee and will be put to a vote on the Senate floor shortly.
Lobby groups and academics quickly rounded on the bill, which seeks to grant the President broad emergency powers over the internet in times of national emergency.
Any internet firms and providers must "immediately comply with any emergency measure or action developed" by a new section of the US Department of Homeland Security, dubbed the "National Centre for Cybersecurity and Communications". (Sydney Morning Herald)
PROTECTING CYBERSPACE AS A NATIONAL ASSET ACT OF 2010 Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Chairman Joe Lieberman, Ranking Member Susan Collins, Senator Carper - Section 101: This section establishes an Office of Cyberspace Policy within the Executive Office of the President (EOP). The Office will be responsible for developing a national strategy to increase the security and resiliency of cyberspace as well as oversee, coordinate, and integrate all policies and activities of the federal government related to ensuring the security and resiliency of cyberspace. - Section 242: This section establishes a National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC or the Center) within the Department of Homeland Security. The Center will be headed by a Director appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The Director will report directly to the Secretary of Homeland Security and serve as the principal advisor to the Secretary on cybersecurity and communications matters. The Director will regularly advise the President on the enforcement of policies pertaining to the security of federal government networks. The Center will have at least two Deputy Directors: one responsible for coordination with the Office of Infrastructure Protection and one responsible for coordination with the Intelligence Community. The Center will also have detailees from the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Commerce as well as the intelligence community and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The Center will also benefit from a full-time Chief Privacy Officer who will report to the Director. (US Congress)
China's Nuclear Exports and Assistance to Iran Chinese nuclear exports and assistance to Iran have been a major issue of controversy in Sino-US relations. While Beijing regards its nuclear cooperation programs with Tehran as legitimate and in compliance with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards provisions, Washington has tended to view such activities as contributing to Iran's covert nuclear weapons program. The US considers Iran to be a rogue state and has used various incentives and pressure tactics to dissuade China from continuing its nuclear deals with Iran. The debates on this question raise serious question not only about the criteria for international nuclear nonproliferation enforcement but also the nature and extent of US unilateralism from many other countries, which want to maintain and develop peaceful nuclear cooperation programs with non-nuclear weapons states, including Iran, if the latter follow IAEA safeguards and other relevant norms and practices. The US positions differ.
Since the mid-1990s, China has suspended its pending nuclear deals with Iran, including the planned sale of two 300MW nuclear reactors. There have been various explanations. Some suggest that Beijing bent under US pressure while others argue the deals fell through due to disagreement between China and Iran over terms of payment. In any case, the cancellation of the nuclear deals to some extent met US demands. However, this by no means ends all aspects of Sino-Iranian nuclear cooperation. Indeed, if anything, assistance continues, which remains a serious concern for the United States. (NTI)
Stuxnet worm rampaging through Iran: IT official The Stuxnet worm is mutating and wreaking further havoc on computerised industrial equipment in Iran where about 30,000 IP addresses have already been infected, IRNA news agency reported on Monday.
"The attack is still ongoing and new versions of this virus are spreading," Hamid Alipour, deputy head of Iran's Information Technology Company, was quoted as saying by IRNA, Iran's official news agency.
Stuxnet, which was publicly identified in June, was tailored for Siemens supervisory control and data acquisition, or SCADA, systems commonly used to manage water supplies, oil rigs, power plants and other industrial facilities. (Agence France-Presse)
Security experts: Computer attacks linked to wealthy group or nation A powerful computer code attacking industrial facilities around the world, but mainly in Iran, probably was created by experts working for a country or a well-funded private group, according to an analysis by a leading computer security company.
The malicious code, called Stuxnet, was designed to go after several "high-value targets," said Liam O Murchu, manager of security response operations at Symantec Corp. But both O Murchu and U.S. government experts say there's no proof it was developed to target nuclear plants in Iran, despite recent speculation from some researchers.
- US officials said last month that the Stuxnet was the first malicious computer code specifically created to take over systems that control the inner workings of industrial plants. A number of governments with sophisticated computer skills would have the ability to create such a code. They include China, Russia, Israel, Britain, Germany and the United States. But O Murchu said no clues have been found within the code to point to a country of origin. - Symantec's analysis of the code, O Murchu said, shows that nearly 60 percent of the computers infected with Stuxnet are in Iran. An additional 18 percent are in Indonesia. Less than 2 percent are in the U.S.
The malware has infected as many as 45,000 computer systems around the world. Siemens AG, the company that designed the system targeted by the worm, said it has infected 15 of the industrial control plants it was apparently intended to infiltrate. It's not clear what sites were infected, but they could include water filtration, oil delivery, electrical and nuclear plants. None of those infections has adversely affected the industrial systems, according to Siemens. (Associated Press)
Chertoff Group: Israel Cyber-Attacks Iranian Nuke Plant With Stuxnet Computer Virus Richard Falkenrath, a principal at Chertoff Group and a Bloomberg Television contributing editor, discusses the Stuxnet computer virus. The worm targets Siemens AG software used to control industrial equipment and may be aimed at destroying Iran's controversial nuclear facility, according to Ralph Langner, a German industrial controls safety expert, the Financial Times reported. Falkenrath, speaking from Washington, talks with Deirdre Bolton on Bloomberg Television's "InsideTrack." (Bloomberg)
Really Can't See Myself Voting Republican I don't care how many Ken Mehlmans come out of the closet or how little gays and lesbians have to show for helping to elect Barack Obama: I can't see myself voting Republican. Because I'm not—despite what you may have read in Slog's comments threads—a single-issue voter.
But honestly... I am a lot less enthused about voting for, and giving money to, Democrats these days. Still going to vote for 'em, just not enthused. Feeling pretty tepid. And I suspect that I'm not alone. - If we get no progress under Democrats (just empty promises meant to excite their base), but no regress under Republicans (just empty threats meant to excite their base), why should we waste our time--and our money--worrying about who's in charge? - So here's where we're at: everyone who cares about gay issues is mad at the Democrats. The homophobes are angry because the Democrats suggested that they might do something about gay rights; gays and lesbians are furious with the Democrats for failing to do something—failing to do anything—about gay rights. Since doing nothing pisses off the gay haters just as much as doing something, perhaps the Dems should've have done something and won the enthusiastic support of someone. (The Stranger)
Building a Better America: One Wealth Quintile at a Time by Michael I Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University - Disagreements about the optimal level of wealth inequality underlie policy debates
ranging from taxation to welfare. We attempt to insert the desires of “regular” Americans into these debates, by asking a nationally representative online panel to estimate the current distribution of wealth in the United States and to “build a better America” by constructing distributions with their ideal level of inequality. First, respondents dramatically underestimated the current level of wealth inequality. Second, respondents constructed ideal wealth distributions that were far more equitable than even their erroneously low estimates of the actual distribution. Most important from a policy perspective, we observed a surprising level of consensus: All demographic groups – even those not usually associated with wealth redistribution such as Republicans and the wealthy – desired a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo. - Most scholars agree that wealth inequality in the United States is at historic highs, with some estimates suggesting that the top 1% of Americans hold nearly 50% of the wealth, topping even the levels seen just before the Great Depression in the 1920’s. - These results demonstrate two clear messages. First, respondents vastly underestimated the actual level of wealth inequality in the United States, believing that the wealthiest quintile held about 59% of the wealth when the actual number is closer to 84%. More interesting, respondents constructed ideal wealth distributions that were far more equitable than even their erroneously low estimates of the actual distribution, reporting a desire for the top quintile to own just 32% of the wealth. These desires for more equal distributions of wealth took the form of moving money from the top quintile to the bottom three quintiles, while leaving the second quintile unchanged, evidencing a greater concern for the less fortunate than the more fortunate. - Overall, these results demonstrate two primary messages. First, a large nationally representative sample of Americans seem to prefer to live in a country more like Sweden than like the United States. Americans also construct ideal distributions that are far more equal than they estimated the United States to be. – estimates which themselves were far more equal than the actual level of inequality. Second, across groups from different sides of the political spectrum, there was much more consensus than disagreement about this desire for a more equal distribution of wealth, suggesting that Americans may possess a commonly held “normative” standard for the distribution of wealth despite the many disagreements about policies that affect that distribution, such as taxation and welfare. We hasten to add, however, that our use of “normative” is in a descriptive sense -- reflecting the fact that Americans agree on the ideal distribution -- but not necessarily in a prescriptive sense. While some evidence suggests that economic inequality is associated with decreased well-being and health, creating a society with the precise level of inequality that our respondents report as ideal may not be optimal from an economic or public policy perspective. (Michael I Norton and Dan Ariely)
Americans Vastly Underestimate Wealth Inequality, Support 'More Equal Distribution Of Wealth': Study Americans vastly underestimate the degree of wealth inequality in America, and we believe that the distribution should be far more equitable than it actually is, according to a new study.
Or, as the study's authors put it: "All demographic groups -- even those not usually associated with wealth redistribution such as Republicans and the wealthy -- desired a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo."
The report (pdf) "Building a Better America -- One Wealth Quintile At A Time" by Dan Ariely of Duke University and Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School (hat tip to Paul Kedrosky), shows that across ideological, economic and gender groups, Americans thought the richest 20 percent of our society controlled about 59 percent of the wealth, while the real number is closer to 84 percent. (Huffington Post)
Saving Capitalism from Itself, Greener Pastures Edition The peasants were restive. Medievalism was breaking up. So some academic theorists came up with a great idea for propping up the British throne — a shiny new theory known as the "divine right of kings." People had no right to question the king's decisions, they argued, because his authority came directly from God. - But there is a third option to our economic future.
I'm going to let Bill Clark explain it. He's a lawyer with a big corporate firm, Drinker, Biddle and Reath, a business law expert who has written corporate laws for Pennsylvania and other states. For the last few years he's been working with a nonprofit called B Labs -- here's the background in my last posting -- to write a new law that allows companies to reorganize themselves as "benefit corporations," which means that instead of only focusing on profit, they are also legally allowed to consider the impact their decisions will have on their workers, their community, their country, and the earth. So far, the law has passed in Vermont and Maryland and one branch of New York State's legislature. It's also pending in New Jersey, Washington state, and North Carolina. Next month, it's going to be introduced in Pennsylvania.
"What Maryland and Vermont are doing is changing the basic rule by saying that you have an obligation to consider the interests of other constituencies," Clark says. (Esquire)
Making the economy more just by Katrina vanden Heuvel - Congress has passed the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, but the task of transforming our economy into one of shared and sustainable prosperity has only just begun. Structural reform will come not through the sweep of a single piece of legislation but with new, innovative economic models that better reflect the democratic values of this country.
The good news is that some of these transformative ideas are already taking root. Here are five ways to build a more just economy that Americans are experimenting with across the country.
The answer is 'B'
Corporations are compelled to pursue a single objective: maximize profit. In fact, a company can be sued for following goals that veer from that statutory obligation.
That's why Maryland State Sen. Jamie Raskin sponsored the Benefit Corporation legislation that was signed into law this spring. It gives businesses the option to register as a "B corporation," an entity legally obligated to maximize both shareholder value and advance a common public purpose such as cleaner air, open space or affordable housing. The B corporation's stated public goal is vigorously monitored by independent, third-party groups. It's a new business model with social consciousness in its DNA.
B corporation legislation has also been passed in Vermont, and it is being considered in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and Colorado. (Washington Post)
Let's hear those ideas: In America and Britain governments hope that a partnership with “social entrepreneurs” can solve some of society’s most intractable problems POLICYMAKERS on both sides of the Atlantic are keen on a new approach to alleviating society’s troubles. On July 22nd Barack Obama’s administration listed the first 11 investments by its new Social Innovation Fund (SIF). About $50m of public money, more than matched by $74m from philanthropic foundations, will be given to some of America’s most successful non-profit organisations, in order to expand their work in health care, in creating jobs and in supporting young people (see table). - As well as the CEO, the fund chose Venture Philanthropy Partners and New Profit, two of the leading intermediaries created by a new generation of philanthropists. These people take a businesslike approach to giving that The Economist christened “philanthrocapitalism” in 2006. Both organisations invest donors’ money in a portfolio of non-profit groups. They take a close interest in the growth of these groups and measure their performance obsessively.
In building his Big Society, Mr Cameron also expects to rely on such intermediaries, of which the Big Society Bank is likely to be foremost. Indeed, in some respects Britain may be ahead of America in using public funds to drive social entrepreneurship and innovation. “Unlike America,” notes Mr Goldsmith, “Britain has benefited from a decade of deliberate thinking about how government should work with the social sector.” A new corporate form, the public-interest company, has given British social entrepreneurs greater flexibility in using the profit motive to scale up social innovations. America is starting to follow suit, with the B-corp, a hybrid of for-profit company and non-profit organisation. (The Economist)
This Year, Contractor Deaths Exceed Military Ones in Iraq and Afghanistan More private contractors than soldiers were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent months, the first time in history that corporate casualties have outweighed military losses on America’s battlefields.
More than 250 civilians working under U.S. contracts died in the war zones between January and June 2010, according to a ProPublica analysis of the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Labor, which tracks contractor deaths. In the same period, 235 soldiers died, according to Pentagon figures.
This milestone in the privatization of modern U.S. warfare reflects both the drawdown in military forces in Iraq and the central role of contractors in providing logistics support to local armies and police forces, contracting and military experts said. (ProPublica)
Most firms pay no income taxes -Congress: Study finds that the majority of domestic and foreign corporations in the United States avoid paying federal income taxes. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. companies and 68% of foreign corporations do not pay federal income taxes, according to a congressional report released Tuesday.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined samples of corporate tax returns filed between 1998 and 2005. In that time period, an annual average of 1.3 million U.S. companies and 39,000 foreign companies doing business in the United States paid no income taxes - despite having a combined $2.5 trillion in revenue.
The study showed that 28% of foreign companies and 25% of U.S. corporations with more than $250 million in assets or $50 million in sales paid no federal income taxes in 2005. Those companies totaled a combined $372 billion in sales for the largest foreign companies and $1.1 trillion in revenue for the biggest U.S. companies. (CNN)
Microcredit is the extension of very small loans (microloans) to those in poverty designed to spur entrepreneurship. These individuals lack collateral, steady employment and a verifiable credit history and therefore cannot meet even the most minimal qualifications to gain access to traditional credit. Microcredit is a part of microfinance, which is the provision of a wider range of financial services to the very poor.
The modern invention of microloans is credited to St. Louis entrepreneur Menlo Smith who was struck by the abject poverty he saw in the Philippines.
Microcredit is a financial innovation that is generally considered to have originated with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. In that country, it has successfully enabled extremely impoverished people to engage in self-employment projects that allow them to generate an income and, in many cases, begin to build wealth and exit poverty.
Due to the success of microcredit, many in the traditional banking industry have begun to realize that these microcredit borrowers should more correctly be categorized as pre-bankable; thus, microcredit is increasingly gaining credibility in the mainstream finance industry, and many traditional large finance organizations are contemplating microcredit projects as a source of future growth, even though almost everyone in larger development organizations discounted the likelihood of success of microcredit when it was begun.
The United Nations declared 2005 the International Year of Microcredit. (Wikipedia)
How to Incorporate Philanthropy Into Your Business: Giving back can creates advantages in the for-profit world Recently divorced Mike Hannigan was in a grocery store looking for spaghetti sauce when he came across Newman's Own for the first time. Discovering that all the profits of the competitively priced brand were donated to charity made something to click for the office products company manager.
"As a consumer I wasn't making any sacrifice," he says. "Use business as a tool to accomplish a community goal — it made perfect sense."
In 1991 Hannigan started the office products company Give Something Back and committed to earmarking the company's profits for nonprofit organizations instead of shareholders or investors. Since then, the Oakland-based company has become the largest independent office products supplier in California and its main competitor is Staples' commercial division. - "I really encourage businesses that are starting up to incorporate the triple bottom line approach," says Christopher Ellinger, co-founder of Bolder Giving Initiative, an organization based in Boston and New York that aims to inspire and support donors to give at their full potential. That approach should be written into a clear mission statement that serves as the business’s moral compass.
Ellinger also suggests tapping into networks for social responsibility to get guidance and support. Prominent networks include B Corp, corporations that use business to address social and environmental problems, and the Social Venture Network. Beyond formal networks, informal ones can be valuable resources. "Reach out to people who have done it before and find out what lessons they've learned," Hannigan recommends. (Inc.)
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), also known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy (BOE), and formerly known as the Minerals Management Service (MMS), is an agency of the United States Department of the Interior that manages the nation's natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf (OCS). The Offshore program, which manages the mineral resources on the OCS, is divided into three regions: Alaska, Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, the agency receives most of its revenue from leasing federal lands and waters to oil and natural gas companies with a profit margin of 98%. It is one of the largest revenue sources to the federal government after the IRS. The BOEMRE is responsible for inspection and oversight of energy companies to ensure they are following the law and protecting the safety of their workers and the environment. (Wikipedia)
We ignore rise in drug abuse among kids By William J. Bennett, Alexandra Datig and Seth Leibsohn - Last week, the government released its National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It didn't make much of a news splash, but it should have -- and in years past, it would have.
When a serious war is taking place, officials throughout the administration hold press conferences and issue statements while print and televised media across the country report on it. Almost none of this happened, although the reasons for talking and reporting are greater than they have been in a very long time.
Here's the takeaway: Illicit drug abuse is seriously affecting our children, our schools, our workplaces and our society. And it is on the rise. In 2009, nearly 22 million Americans were regularly abusing illicit drugs: a rise of 1.5 million abusers of marijuana from 2008 and a rise of 2.3 million users from 2007, a rise of 205,000 abusers of Ecstasy from 2008, a rise of 188,000 abusers of methamphetamine from 2008 and a rise of 800,000 abusers of prescription drugs from 2008. (CNN)
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