* DAILY DIRT: TRAIN YOUR BRAIN
from the urls-we-dig-up dept
The human brain is a remarkable organ, but we’ve only really just started to study it. Scientists are scanning brains with intense magnetic fields and zapping skulls with electrical pulses — and measuring some differences that could point to ways that’ll help people understand how our minds work. Here are just a few examples of projects focused on our brains.
- Measuring IQ with MRI scans suggests that IQ scores might fluctuate quite a bit. Various mental and physical training tasks can apparently boost IQ scores, and conversely, folks with jobs that don’t require much mental exercise seem to lose IQ points over their lifetime. [url]
- Targeted electrical pulses into the brains of mice (aka deep brain stimulation) have been shown to improve their spatial learning ability. Actual “thinking caps” might be useful tools someday. [url]
- The young brains of frequent video gamers might grow differently than non-gamers’ brains. Further studies could help us understand the development of addictive behaviors — or it could help make really, really awesome video games. [url]
- To discover more interesting articles on the human mind, check out what’s currently floating around the StumbleUpon universe. [url]
By the way, StumbleUpon can recommend some good Techdirt articles, too.
* U.S. SAYS AMERICAN ARE MILITARY TARGETS IN THE WAR ON TERROR … AND SAYS THAT ONLY THE WHITE HOUSE – AND NOT THE COURTS – GETS TO DECIDE WHO IS A LEGITIMATE TARGET
By Washington’s Blog
American Citizens on U.S. Soil May be Indefinitely Detained, Sent to Guantanamo or Assassinated
As everyone realizes by now, Congress’ push for indefinite detention includes American citizens on American soil. As Huffington post notes:
The debate also has left many Americans scratching their heads as to whether Congress is actually attempting to authorize the indefinite detention of Americans by the military without charges. But proponents — led by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee — say that is exactly what the war on terror requires. They argued that the bill simply codifies precedents set by the Supreme Court and removes uncertainty, which they said would better protect the country.
* BRING INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDS BACK HOME TO AMERICA
By Karl Rusnak, Economy in Crisis
The situation in Afghanistan continues to look like a quagmire, siphoning off huge sums of U.S. taxpayer money that could be better spent at home. One particularly disconcerting point is that while our infrastructure in America continues to crumble, taxpayer dollars are going to fund infrastructure projects in Afghanistan.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is attempting to correct this imbalance by reappropriating the money we are spending in Afghanistan to programs here in the United States. She is attempting to do this by attaching an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would steer money away from the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) and the Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund (AIF); two funds that the military uses to build roads, bridges, electrical grids and other items for the Afghan citizenry. […]
* DEBT AND DEMOCRACY – HAS THE LINK BEEN BROKEN?
By Michael Hudson, Naked Capitalism
Book V of Aristotle’s Politics describes the eternal transition of oligarchies making themselves into hereditary aristocracies – which end up being overthrown by tyrants or develop internal rivalries as some families decide to “take the multitude into their camp” and usher in democracy, within which an oligarchy emerges once again, followed by aristocracy, democracy, and so on throughout history.
Debt has been the main dynamic driving these shifts – always with new twists and turns. It polarizes wealth to create a creditor class, whose oligarchic rule is ended as new leaders (“tyrants” to Aristotle) win popular support by cancelling the debts and redistributing property or taking its usufruct for the state.
Since the Renaissance, however, bankers have shifted their political support to democracies. This did not reflect egalitarian or liberal political convictions as such, but rather a desire for better security for their loans. As James Steuart explained in 1767, royal borrowings remained private affairs rather than truly public debts. For a sovereign’s debts to become binding upon the entire nation, elected representatives had to enact the taxes to pay their interest charges.
By giving taxpayers this voice in government, the Dutch and British democracies provided creditors with much safer claims for payment than did kings and princes whose debts died with them. But the recent debt protests from Iceland to Greece and Spain suggest that creditors are shifting their support away from democracies. They are demanding fiscal austerity and even privatization sell-offs.
This is turning international finance into a new mode of warfare. Its objective is the same as military conquest in times past: to appropriate land and mineral resources, communal infrastructure and extract tribute. In response, democracies are demanding referendums over whether to pay creditors by selling off the public domain and raising taxes to impose unemployment, falling wages and economic depression. The alternative is to write down debts or even annul them, and to re-assert regulatory control over the financial sector.
Near Eastern Rulers Proclaimed Clean Slates to Preserve Economic Balance
Charging interest on advances of goods or money was not originally intended to polarize economies. First administered early in the third millennium BC as a contractual arrangement by Sumer’s temples and palaces with merchants and entrepreneurs who typically worked in the royal bureaucracy, interest at 20% (doubling the principal in five years) was supposed to approximate a fair share of the returns from long-distance trade or leasing land and other public assets such as workshops, boats and ale houses.
As the practice was privatized by royal collectors of user fees and rents, “divine kingship” protected agrarian debtors. Hammurabi’s laws (c. 1750 BC) cancelled their debts in times of flood or drought. All the rulers of his Babylonian dynasty began their first full year on the throne by cancelling agrarian debts so as to clear out payment arrears by proclaiming a clean slate. Bondservants, land or crop rights and other pledges were returned to the debtors to “restore order” in an idealized “original” condition of balance. This practice survived in the Jubilee Year of Mosaic Law in Leviticus 25. […]
* GENERAL STRIKE ROCKS NATION: WORKERS ACROSS BRITAIN CONFRONT CONSERVATIVE AUSTERITY DEMANDS
By Linn Washington Jr., This Can’t Be Happening
London — Standing on a picket line in front of her work place at a world renowned heart-lung hospital in London wasn’t Jeanette Anderson’s first choice for how to spend her day.
However, Anderson said protesting was her “only choice.”
Protesting as part of a nationwide general strike in the UK, Anderson said, was necessary to combat austerity measures from Britain’s conservative led government that now targets the pensions of public sector workers like Anderson and her picket line colleagues at the Royal Brompton Hospital in this city’s up-scale Chelsea section.
“We do not get the fat-cat pensions like the rich,” Anderson said, noting that participating in the one-day strike action wasn’t something she took lightly.
“Public sector workers are already into a two-year pay freeze and now the government plans to extend that pay freeze for another two years.”
That strike – the largest labor action in Britain in 30 years – closed 62 percent of the public schools in England, Scotland and Wales in addition to shuttering many government offices (local and national) including courts plus disrupting government services, such as forcing the postponements of some
Three miles from Anderson’s Brompton Hospital picket line over 25,000 public workers staged a rally and march that was one of over 1,000 protest actions by workers across Britain on November 30th.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron mocked the effectiveness of the general strike, citing its failure to disrupt operations at the nation’s major airports.
The Cameron government brought strikebreakers for the airports from as far away as the Caribbean to off-set the strike’s impact. Further, major airlines initiated programs to reschedule flights to avoid problems from the strike, particularly anticipated delays in processing passports of arriving passengers.
Countering Cameron, Brendan Barber, head of Britain’s Trade Union Congress, termed the strike a success, saying, “There has been magnificent support” for the strike. Barber promised similar labor actions in the near future if the Cameron government continues to assault the living standards of workers.
The flash point of the strike is the British government’s demands that public sector workers make higher contributions to their pensions and work longer before retirement.
Yet, the wider context of the strike is the set of austerity measures Britain’s conservative leaders say are required to reduce massive national budget deficits.
Deficit reduction actions, many contend, are unfairly targeting the middle and lower classes by forcing them to pay for the economic woes created by the upper class that is largely escaping the slash-and-burn pain of tax increases and service cuts.
“They want us to increase our contributions into the pension pot to ten percent of our pay and then they want to cut our pensions by twenty percent. Where is the fairness in that?” asked Steve Caddick, a National Health Service worker on the picket line with NHS colleague Anderson.
“That notion of shared sacrifice pushed by the government is nonsense. It is predicated on the assumption that during the boom economic times everyone benefited and they did not,” activist Osagyefo Tongogara said, while leafleting near the route of the protest march through Central London.
Tongogara, who supported the general strike, said the measurements the government uses to set public pension rates were changed earlier this year to an accounting methodology that short-changes workers by undercounting the impact of inflation.
Austerity actions, Tongogara said, are increasing rates of poverty, especially among children and the elderly – an assertion backed by economists and other experts. “The rich continue to off-shore billions of pounds to avoid paying taxes. Tax evasion is illegal for working people but tax avoidance is not illegal for the rich…that is wrong,” he said.
Activist Selma James, 81, criticizes Cameron’s coalition government for failing to seriously address accelerating income inequities that aggravate existing poverty particularly impoverishment impacting children and the elderly.
“The 1% is pushing us around determining our lives, stealing our money, our resources and our possibilities,” James, the founder of London’s Crossroads Womens’ Centre, stated in an email interview.
James, the widow of the late Caribbean author/activist C.L.R. James, said actions like the general strike and the Occupy Movement are vital.
Those activities, said James, are a “strength for all to stop suffering in silence and spell out our real conditions of life and the brutality we try to defeat every hour we’re alive.”
* IN BOTH EUROPE AND AMERICA THE BANKSTERS ARE NOW RUNNING THE GOVERNMENT. HERE’S WHY & HOW. AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT
By Richard Clark, OpEdNews
[…] How hedge fund elites are surreptitiously raping Europe
In Greece and Italy, financial markets, banksters and their designated technocrats — not the country’s citizens or elected governments — are determining who will run the country and what those countries will do financially. To placate financial markets and increase “investor confidence,” banksters have in each country replaced the country’s leaders with economic technocrats who supposedly will “rise above politics” and “get each country’s finances in order.”
Why is this happening? The explanation is that those countries are being surreptitiously attacked by large hedge funds that are cleverly trying as hard as they can to create financial runs so as to be able to profit from them. In their circles it’s called a speculative attack. Here’s how it works. Basically, these hedge funds try to start a stampede of selling, to drive down the value of bonds of a given country. (Understand that when bond values decline, their interest rates go up.) Hedge funds do this by finding ways to bet against those bonds. To accomplish this, they can sell bonds they own, they can sell bonds that others own (shorting), and they can buy default insurance (swaps) to bet against the bonds. And they create many toxic combinations of the above, using massive amounts of borrowed money to amplify their “negative’ bets.
If they do it right, all that selling drives down the price of the bonds, and that in turn scares other large investors (investors from mutual funds and banks) into selling their bonds as well, thereby further driving down the price of the bonds. The more the price falls, the more the hedge funds earn. And we’re talking about “earning” tens of billions from this kind of stampede.
Meanwhile, the country involved sees the interest rates it must pay on new debt (i.e. the bonds that it must sell) go up and up. At some point, that percentage hits a critically high level — like 7 percent — which means that in reality they will never be able to pay back all of their debt. These high interest rates then cause an every larger stampede as bond holders see this, and rush to sell their bonds before they default (or as in the case of Greece before they “voluntarily” agree to a 50 percent cut in bond value — the so-called “haircut.”)
Therefor the jump in interest rates didn’t come about because of new developments in Italy. These jumps were caused by these hedge fund raids.
If the hedge fund elites are really lucky, the stampede they cause can turn into what the press calls “contagion,” which is the spread of the crisis to another country. This happens because many of the Greek and Italian bonds are held by big banks in countries like France. So if Italy is in danger of default, then so are the banks in France, which means that France will have to bail out its banks, which means that France’s bonds will look weaker and then its bonds’ interest rates will therefore have to rise as well, leading to yet another speculative hedge fund raid, this time on French bonds. And so it goes, with each new crisis leading to ever more profits for the hedge funds who are triggering and arranging for the stampedes — all at the expense of the people of each of these countries, the people from whom wealth is ever so cleverly and surreptitiously being systematically extracted by these extremely clever (and totally unethical) banksters.
To stop these hedge fund attacks, countries are given only one choice — do whatever high finance says. And what high finance wants is very simple — slash and burn all of your social programs so that you can pay back your loans — you borrowed from us and now you have to pay us back even if it means impoverishing your people. To get that done, financial elites want “regular” politicians replaced by technocrats as just happened in Italy and Greece. But most of all they want to see those cuts in social programs. The hedgesters look at it like vultures — as a source of new revenue for themselves. […]
* IS LUNTZ LOSING HIS TOUCH, OR ARE CONSERVATIVES THAT DESPERATE?
By David Atkins, Hullabaloo
It may be bad form to harp on the same item three posts in a row, but I can’t resist taking a few jabs at Frank Luntz based on his latest talking points for Republicans concerned about Occupy Wall Street and rising inequality. It’s important to talk about this because Luntz’ latest talking points represent a significant danger not to Democrats and progressives so much as to conservatives themselves.
The genius of Luntz has always been his ability to use the emotional power of language to bullshit the public at a slant, while maintaining a connection to reality and avoiding direct, outright lying. The “death tax” is a perfect example of this: it’s an emotionally gripping negative phrase that paints an incomplete but not entirely inaccurate picture of a tax on the estates of wealthy people after they die. “Estate tax” and “inheritance tax” are the most accurate descriptors, but do little to engage emotionally. “Paris Hilton tax” is a good progressive substitute, as it also has resonating emotional associations, while telling a progressive and positive story of the tax in just three words. It’s not the most accurate description perhaps, but neither is death tax.
But the key to making framing work is that any language you substitute has to have 1) a connection to reality; and 2) move the language more strongly in the direction of the story you want to tell in a way that can’t be co-opted by the other side. Most of Luntz’ language on inequality here fails on one or both of these fronts. Let’s peruse some examples:
1. Don’t say ‘capitalism.’
“I’m trying to get that word removed and we’re replacing it with either ‘economic freedom’ or ‘free market,’ ” Luntz said. “The public . . . still prefers capitalism to socialism, but they think capitalism is immoral. And if we’re seen as defenders of quote, Wall Street, end quote, we’ve got a problem.”
The retreat from capitalism is astonishing, if not altogether surprising. The Occupy movement can’t really take credit for this, as the polling on capitalism versus socialism has been been weak for years now since the economic crash. Still, there’s no question that with income inequality having been successfully vaulted to the forefront of the national discourse by the Occupiers, the perception of capitalism as a system has taken a hit. But to retreat from capitalism as an idea isn’t just a big loss for the right wing alone: the problem is that “economic freedom” can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Single-payer healthcare and free public education means economic freedom. Forgiveness of student loan debt means economic freedom. George Lakoff wrote a great book Whose Freedom? on the way the Right and Left perceive that all-encompassing word. “Freedom” has always been a weak frame for the Right, because it’s so easily muddled and put in more progressive terms. Shifting from “capitalism” to “freedom” and calling that a positive message development for the Right is like calling a “retreat” an “advance in the opposite direction.” Moving on: […]
* THE REPUBLICANS’ FARCICAL CANDIDATES – A CLUB OF LIARS, DEMAGOGUES, AND IGNORAMOUSES
By Marc Pitzke, Spiegel Online
The US Republican race is dominated by ignorance, lies and scandals. The current crop of candidates have shown such a basic lack of knowledge that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein. The Grand Old Party is ruining the entire country’s reputation.
Africa is a country. In Libya, the Taliban reigns. Muslims are terrorists; most immigrants are criminal; all Occupy protesters are dirty. And women who feel sexually harassed — well, they shouldn’t make such a big deal about it.
Welcome to the wonderful world of the US Republicans. Or rather, to the twisted world of what they call their presidential campaigns. For months now, they’ve been traipsing around the country with their traveling circus, from one debate to the next, one scandal to another, putting themselves forward for what’s still the most powerful job in the world.
As it turns out, there are no limits to how far they will stoop.
It’s true that on the road to the White House all sorts of things can happen, and usually do. No campaign can avoid its share of slip-ups, blunders and embarrassments. Yet this time around, it’s just not that funny anymore. In fact, it’s utterly horrifying.
It’s horrifying because these eight so-called, would-be candidates are eagerly ruining not only their own reputations and that of their party, the party of Lincoln lore. Worse: They’re ruining the reputation of the United States.
They lie. They cheat. They exaggerate. They bluster. They say one idiotic, ignorant, outrageous thing after another. They’ve shown such stark lack of knowledge — political, economic, geographic, historical — that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein and even cause their fellow Republicans to cringe.
“When did the GOP lose touch with reality?” wonders Bush’s former speechwriter David Frum in New York Magazine. In the New York Times, Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan’s former chief-of-staff, called this campaign season a “reality show,” while Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan confidante Peggy Noonan even spoke of a “freakshow.”
That may be the most appropriate description.
Tough times demand tough and smart minds. But all these dopes have to offer are ramblings that insult the intelligence of all Americans — no matter if they are Democrats, Republicans or neither of the above. Yet just like any freakshow, this one would be unthinkable without a stage (in this case, the media, strangling itself with all its misunderstood “political correctness” and “objectivity”) and an audience (the party base, which this year seems to have suffered a political lobotomy).
* CONSERVATIVES PLOT TO BURN, SHRED AND SABOTAGE SCOTT WALKER RECALL EFFORT
By Andy Knoll, Mother Jones
A group of self-identified conservatives say they plan to sabotage the effort to recall Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker, which begins on Tuesday, by burning and shredding recall petitions they’ve collected and misleading Wisconsinites about the recall process.
These plans, discussed in Facebook posts that were first reported by a local WI blog, entail posing as recall supporters and gathering signatures, only to later destroy the petitions. They also include telling Wisconsinites that they can only sign one recall petition (which is false—they can sign different petitions as long as they each correspond to a different organization) and directing signature collectors to the homes of registered sex offenders. (Requests for comment were sent to each of the Facebook posters who allowed messages from other users.)
In one post, Will R. Jenkins says, “I’ll be able to destroy 15-20K signatures.” If things go well, he adds, he might even “be able to destroy upwards of 15-20% of the entire collected ballots in the state of Wisconsin”:
Michael Maistelman, a Wisconsin attorney and election law expert who reviewed screenshots of the comments, says the postings could raise serious legal issues if the plan is to tamper with official recall petitions. “If a person fraudulently solicits recall petitions and then destroys those petitions, they will probably go to jail,” Maistelman says. “The law is very clear on this.”
[UDPATE]: Reid Magney, a spokesman from Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, says destroying or defacing an official recall petition would violate state law. (Here’s the relevant statute.) Such a violation, he adds, would be a class I felony in Wisconsin, which carries a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to three-and-a-half years in jail.
* NESTS OF SNAKES REVEALED: A STORY OF FEAR, INTIMIDATION AND THREAT IN WALKER’S WISCONSIN
By Noise of Rain, Daily Kos
[…] The trolls are pretty well organized. The various actors take on multiple identities, which is easy to do on Facebook if you enlist multiple email accounts. They are collectively responsible for such sites (which periodically go off line) as:
1) Walker Backers Watching Walker Stalkers which posts times and info about recall drive locations and urges people to go harass signature gatherers, and also posts private information about anti-Walker activists.
2) Recall Walker Worker Infobase which purports to be gathering data dossiers on recall workers and people who sign recalls with the implicit hope of intimidation, as well as orchestrating call-in campaigns complaining to businesses that allow recall petition gatherers anywhere near their business. (see my previous diary about them here).
3) Operation Burn Notice which openly declared felonious action and fraud in the form of gathering petitions in order to shred, burn and/or urinate on.
4) Occupy 99% which was a Trojan Horse page declaring “success” of the recall campaign which meant that recall work could stop. It seemed like a Leftie site, but its “donate” page linked to the extreme right. (taken down)
5) Knot My Wisconsin which is a page devoted to misinformation about the recalls, though its content has been gentled down lately as complaints against these rightwing sites are beginning to manifest.
Once you are in their malicious cross-hairs, some of them data-mine any information they can possibly get. Where do you live? Where do you work? Do you have outstanding complaints, tickets, arrests against you? What is your credit score? What is your house worth? Do you have other web pages? Do you have a business? […]