March 2013 Archives

Cat-itude

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You know they'll be gunning for these people.

Why Is Socialism Doing So Well in Deep-Red North Dakota?

By Les Leopold

North Dakota is the very definition of a red state. It voted 58 percent to 39 percent for Romney over Obama, and its statehouse and senate have a total of 104 Republicans and only 47 Democrats. The Republican super-majority is so conservative it recently passed the nation's most severe anti-abortion resolution - a measure that declares a fertilized human egg has the same right to life as a fully formed person.

But North Dakota is also red in another sense: it fully supports its state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND), a socialist relic that exists nowhere else in America. Why is financial socialism still alive in North Dakota? Why haven't the North Dakotan free-market crusaders slain it dead?

Because it works.

In 1919, the Non-Partisan League, a vibrant populist organization, won a majority in the legislature and voted the bank into existence. The goal was to free North Dakota farmers from impoverishing debt dependence on the big banks in the Twin Cities, Chicago and New York. More than 90 years later, this state-owned bank is thriving as it helps the state's community banks, businesses, consumers and students obtain loans at reasonable rates. It also delivers a handsome profit to its owners--the 700,000 residents of North Dakota. In 2011, the BND provided more than $70 million to the state's coffers. Extrapolate that profit-per-person to a big state like California and you're looking at an extra $3.8 billion a year in state revenues that could be used to fund education and infrastructure.

One of America's Best Kept Secrets

Each time we pay our state and local taxes--and all manner of fees--the state deposits those revenues in a bank. If you're in any state but North Dakota, nearly all of these deposits end up in Wall Street's too-big to-fail banks, because those banks are the only entities large enough to handle the load. The vast majority of the nation's 7,000 community banks are too small to provide the array of cash management services that state and local governments require. We're talking big bucks; at least $1 trillion of our local tax dollars find their way to Wall Street banks, according to Marc Armstrong, executive director of the Public Banking Institute.

So, not only are we, as taxpayers, on the hook for too-big-to-fail Wall Street banks, but we also end up giving our tax dollars to these same banks each and every time we pay a sales tax or property tax or buy a fishing license. In North Dakota, however, all that public revenue runs through its public state bank, which in turn reinvests in the state's small businesses and public infrastructure via partnerships with 80 small community banks.

How the State Bank Creates Jobs

Banks are supposed to serve as intermediaries that turn our savings and checking deposits into productive loans to businesses and consumers. That's how jobs are supported and created. But the BND, a state agency, goes one step further. Through its Partnership in Assisting Community Expansion, for example, it provides loans at below-market interest rates to businesses if and only if those businesses create at least one job for every $100,000 loaned. If the $1 trillion that now flows to Wall Street instead were deposited in public state banks in all 50 states using this same approach, up to 10 million new jobs could be created. That would effectively end our destructive unemployment crisis.

No Bailouts for the BND

Banking doesn't have to be a casino. It doesn't have to be designed to create gambling opportunities so bank traders and executives can make seven- and eight-figure salaries. As BND president Eric Hardmeyer said in a 2009 Mother Jones interview:

We're a fairly conservative lot up here in the upper Midwest and we didn't do any subprime lending and we have the ability to get into the derivatives markets and put on swaps and callers and caps and credit default swaps and just chose not to do it, really chose a Warren Buffett mentality--if we don't understand it, we're not going to jump into it. And so we've avoided all those pitfalls.

As state government employees, BND executives have no incentive to gamble their way toward enormous pay packages. As you can see, the top six BND officers earn a good living, but on Wall Street, cooks and chauffeurs earn more.

• Eric Hardmeyer, President and CEO: $232,500
• Bob Humann, Chief Lending Officer: $135,133
• Tim Porter, Chief Administrative Officer: $122,533
• Joe Herslip, Chief Business Officer: $105,000
• Lori Leingang, Chief Administrative Officer: $105,000
• Wally Erhardt, Director of Student Loans of North Dakota: $91,725

The very existence of a successful BND undermines Wall Street's claim that in order to attract the best talent big banks need to offer enormous pay packages. Yet somehow, North Dakota is able to find the talent to run one of the soundest banks in the country? The BND is living proof that Wall Street's rationale for sky-high executive pay is a self-serving fabrication. (For more information on financial inequality please see my latest book, How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour, Wiley, 2013.)

forum babble

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Comments on an NBCnews article

Comment author mystic17

The issue of of same sex marriage is a constitutional issue. I base that on the phrase"All Men(People) are created equal" Abortion should have been left to the states. They ruled on the one they should not and may refuse to rule on the one they should.


culheath

Personally, I don't trust the states to deal with the abortion question at all; especially given the recent propaganda masked as legislation coming out of North Dakota. Abortion is a matter of personal integrity choice-making and in that it falls in the realm of conscience, which is protected by the 1st Amendment.

There is no rational reason at all that a female should be forced into being subservient to the world view of others about her reproductive decisions. Yet there are still many people who still adhere to a view of women as vessels according to the dictates of their patriarchal religions and they desire to impose that view as universal by way of state legislation.

Just because a state is a smaller, more regional government doesn't mean it has any less responsibility to support and protect constitutionally guaranteed civil rights. One might suppose otherwise however, considering the behavior of many conservatively managed states of late which have actively legislated against a woman's right to abortion.


Comment author avatarjoemike404

Mystic - "All men are created equal" is from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. Marriage is not a Constitutional issue because no right to marry exists in the Constitution. The Constitutional issue is that state bans on same-sex marriages violate the equal protection and due process clauses as well as the 1964 Civil Rights Act because those bans act in a discriminatory manner toward same-sex couples.

Culheath - ultimately the abortion issue comes down to the one question that the SCOTUS cowards in 1973 chose not to answer - at what point does life begin. No one would support the notion that 10 minutes after a baby's birth the mother still has a right to choose to end that life. Does the mother still have that choice 10 minutes before delivery? 10 Hours before delivery? All of us at some point in the development and birth of a human baby ascribe personhood to that new life. Once we have granted the fetus or baby personhood, we acknowledge that this new individual has rights to life that are separate from, and equal to, the mother's rights. So the only important question is when society grants a fetus personhood. At that point abortion becomes murder. The point at which different people acknowledge the personhood of the fetus varies widely. Some believe that life (and personhood) begin at the instant of conception. Others believe that personhood is not obtained until full delivery from the mother. Most place the point of personhood somewhere in between those two extremes.

One could assert that the definition of personhood should be left to the mother. Should then not the extinguishment of personhood for the disabled and elderly be left to the individual choice of others rather than to that individual? Or should we err on the side of ascribing personhood earlier rather than later.

This is the legacy of the inability or unwillingness of the SCOTUS to fully answer to only necessary question in Roe v. Wade and it has created 40 years of unresolvable conflict. Are we to expect the same for the question of same-sex marriage, or will the court fully answer the question? We shall see.

Comment author culheath

joemike404

Culheath - ultimately the abortion issue comes down to the one question that the SCOTUS cowards in 1973 chose not to answer - at what point does life begin....

The point at which different people acknowledge the personhood of the fetus varies widely.

Salient points...but they don't really alter the equation that the mother has rights to self-determination superior to those of the fetus until the umbilical is cut. Anything else reduces the mother to vessel status and cancels her civil rights as an individual. Either we are willing, consensual members of a state or we are vassals of it.

What societal interest beyond a somewhat capricious philosophical/moral one (sanctity of human life) does the state have in forcing a woman to term and overriding her decisions made by light of her conscience? Essentially such legislation is created under the deprecating assumption that women are not be trusted to make the "right" decision.

I say it's the woman's call.


Comment author Barry-NJ

Essentially such legislation is created under the deprecating assumption that women are not be trusted to make the "right" decision.

I think that there's another aspect. And that is the feeling that the woman should be punished for having sex (she might have even enjoyed it ... the horror!).


Comment author joemike404

Culheath, why the assumption that the mother's rights to self-determination are superior to those of the unborn infant? I don't agree with that as a valid assumption.

You say its the woman's call. We didn't put you in charge...


culheath : Because the mother has something the "unborn infant" as you put it does not.

An already existing, consciously directed personality.

She is a sentient being, which is to say that she is conscious or self-aware and has the ability to gauge her environment via her senses and to make deliberate choices. In a word, she is a person. The unborn baby is not and has none of those qualities.

The rub for many people comes where the concept of a "soul" is invested into the mix. Given that "soul" cannot be evidenced (except by way of personal anecdote by adult individuals that they believe they possess one), the premise of a soul should not be a consideration for those who do not ascribe to it's existence.

Quite simply, people who do ascribe to the existence of an unborn having a soul and that being a core reason not to abort it, should obviously not seek abortions. But they should not be allowed to impede abortions for others based on that belief. Religious belief is not a valid basis for prohibitive legislation.

You say its the woman's call. We didn't put you in charge...

In charge of what? I was merely stating my opinion that women are capable of good decision making and worthy of trust.

Deficit and Debt Scolds Are the Bad Guys

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It is not our debt that will cheat future generations, it is our lack of investment in infrastructure, education.and job creation.

Cheating Our Children

by Paul Krugman

So, about that fiscal crisis -- the one that would, any day now, turn us into Greece. Greece, I tell you:

Never mind.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a remarkable change of position among the deficit scolds.... It's as if someone sent out a memo saying that the Chicken Little act, with its repeated warnings of a U.S. debt crisis that keeps not happening, has outlived its usefulness. Suddenly, the argument has changed: It's not about the crisis next month; it's about the long run, about not cheating our children. ...

There's just one problem: The new argument is as bad as the old one. ... What's wrong with this argument? For one thing, it involves a fundamental misunderstanding of what debt does to the economy.

Contrary to almost everything you read in the papers or see on TV, debt doesn't directly make our nation poorer; it's essentially money we owe to ourselves. ...

Yet there is, as I said, a lot of truth to the charge that we're cheating our children. How? By neglecting public investment and failing to provide jobs. ... And right now -- with vast numbers of unemployed construction workers and vast amounts of cash sitting idle -- would be a great time to rebuild our infrastructure. Yet public investment has actually plunged since the slump began.

Or what about investing in our young? We're cutting back there, too, having laid off hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers and slashed the aid that used to make college affordable for children of less-affluent families.

Last but not least, think of the waste of human potential caused by high unemployment among younger Americans -- for example, among recent college graduates who can't start their careers and will probably never make up the lost ground.

And why are we shortchanging the future so dramatically and inexcusably? Blame the deficit scolds,... whose constant inveighing against the risks of government borrowing, by undercutting political support for public investment and job creation, has done far more to cheat our children than deficits ever did.

Fiscal policy is, indeed, a moral issue, and we should be ashamed of what we're doing to the next generation's economic prospects. But our sin involves investing too little, not borrowing too much -- and the deficit scolds, for all their claims to have our children's interests at heart, are actually the bad guys in this story.

Public Banking Needed

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The Tranny Neutrino

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Elusive 'Superman' particle caught changing flavor

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By Tia Ghose
LiveScience

Physicists at an underground laboratory have caught an ultra-rare particle in the act of reappearing.

For only the third time, scientists have detected elementary particles called neutrinos in the act of changing from one type, called muon, to another, called tau, on the several-hundred-mile trip between two laboratories.

"It proves that the muon neutrinos are some kind of Superman-type particle: They get into a phone booth somewhere in between and change into something else," said Pauline Gagnon, a particle physicist at Indiana University, who was not involved in the experiment.

The new discovery bolsters the theory that the sneaky neutrinos oscillate from one type to another, which is why physicists detect fewer coming from the sun than predicted. [Wacky Physics: The Coolest Little Particles In Nature]

Sun particles
The nuclear reaction that powers the sun also produces massive numbers of solar neutrinos, tiny, uncharged particles that reach Earth and pass virtually undetected through ordinary matter, said researcher Antonio Ereditato, a physicist at the University of Bern in Switzerland and a member of the team that conducted the experiment, called OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus).

"Each square centimeter of your body is touched every second by 60 billion neutrinos from the sun," Ereditato told LiveScience.

But for the last two decades, scientists have detected fewer neutrinos from the sun than they expected.

The dominant explanation for this neutrino shortage, proposed in 1957 by Italian physicist Bruno Pontecorvo, argued that neutrinos oscillate between three flavors, or types: electron, muon and tau.

As a result, neutrinos seem to disappear, because detectors try to measure them in one flavor when they have oscillated to another one.

Scientists have caught many neutrinos in the act of disappearing. But catching neutrinos as they appear has been far more elusive -- since 2010, only two other tau neutrinos have been discovered.

Pope Leaks Foot Fetish

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Pope washes inmates' feet on sacred day

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A harmless and gentle harnessing and elevating of fleshy obsessions?

Ambassador Wolfspider

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God-Damned Spider

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Seriously, do you want to know?

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Trump Moth?

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This strange-looking chap is a larval form of a flannel moth, also known as a puss caterpillar. But don't be fooled by their soft-looking hair: Many flannel moth species' spiny hairs are poisonous. The insect also resembles the toupee of a rather famous financier.

Factoids #100

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The good news on poverty

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Bono: (Yes, there's good news)

Human beings have been campaigning against inequality and poverty for 3,000 years. But this journey is accelerating. Bono "embraces his inner nerd" and shares inspiring data that shows the end of poverty is in sight ... if we can harness the momentum.

Bono, the lead singer of U2, uses his celebrity to fight for social justice worldwide: to end hunger, poverty and disease, especially in Africa. His nonprofit ONE raises awareness via media, policy and calls to action

Vox Mundo

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Composer and conductor Eric Whitacre has inspired millions by bringing together "virtual choirs," singers from many countries spliced together on video. Now, for the first time ever, he creates the experience in real time, as 32 singers from around the world Skype in to join an onstage choir (assembled from three local colleges) for an epic performance of Whitacre's "Cloudburst," based on a poem by Octavio Paz.

Imagine This

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Daniel's Appeal to Chief Justice Roberts

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Adopted son of two gay men : My family is 'valuable' and 'worthwhile'

Sarah Muller

As the Supreme Court prepares to address marriage equality, one 12-year-old asked the chief judge to consider his own family when making the final decision.

Daniel Martinez-Leffew, the adopted son of two gay dads, wrote to a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts-himself the father of two adopted kids -- urging him to embrace marriage equality by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California's Proposition 8.

Daniel read his letter aloud in a video posted to YouTube. As a young child, he was informed he "unadoptable" because of suffering from Goldenhar syndrome, a genetic disorder. Then, when he was five, his two dads, Bryan and Jay, took him into their home. He considered himself "lucky" that his "two dads came along."

"I know you have a tough decision to make with the gay marriage issue, but my family is just as valuable and worthwhile as any other," Daniel said in the video, addressing the Chief Justice. "It's especially tough for you because I know you don't necessarily believe in gay marriage, religiously. Lucky for us though, you don't believe in taking away our right, even from people like us."

For the past four years, Daniel and his family have been making YouTube videos to "show people who don't understand that our family is like any other."

Next week, the Supreme Court is scheduled to take up the constitutionality of DOMA and, in a separate case, California's ban on same sex marriage, Prop 8.

Spinners' Bobby Smith Passes

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With Bobbie Smith on lead vocal, the Spinners sing one of their biggest hits


Bobby Smith of The Spinners Dead at 76

By Evelyn Diaz

Motown has lost another legend.

bobbysmith.jpgBobby Smith, lead singer of Detroit group The Spinners, died on Saturday at age 76. Smith was diagnosed with lung cancer in November, and passed away after complications from pneumonia over the weekend.

Smith formed The Spinners in high school, along with Bill Henderson, Pervis Jackson and Henry Fambrough. Of the four original members, Fambrough is the only one surviving. He said today of his deceased friend and bandmate, "Bobby was a regular, down-to-earth, good-natured person, the kind of guy who'd give you his shirt. And ever since I've known him, he was just a natural showman."

Despite his cancer diagnosis, Smith gave a final performance just this past February, on the Soul Train Cruise. Jessie Peck, who played in the band during the performance, said Smith went out on a strong note. "Like something out of a movie, Bobby shoots right out onstage and - showman that he is - grabs a mic and sings right on cue," Peck recounts, pointing out that Smith was not scheduled to perform on the cruise because of weakness from cancer treatments, but couldn't resist getting on stage when the band started playing his hit "Then Came You."

"The audience went bananas," he says.

The Spinners joined Motown in the early 1960s and enjoyed moderate success, but really broke out in the 1970s when they joined Atlantic Records at the urging of friend Aretha Franklin. With Atlantic, they churned out some of the biggest hits of their career, including "I'll Be Around" and "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love."

Failed Architects of the Iraq War

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Why they need to go away and darken our door no more.

70 oz Gold Nugget

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At today's price it would be worth $111,139. though it would likely fetch more as a curiosity piece.

Daily Quote

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"Those who think they can and those who think they can't are both right,"

-henry ford

Evil Babies

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Babies can be jerks

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By Lauren Hansen

The question: It's human nature to want to hang out with people you have things in common with. ("You like chocolate-peanut-butter ice cream? So do I! Let's eat chocolate-peanut-butter ice cream together!") On the one hand, this trait is a positive one, since it helps people form social bonds.

On the other, those shared interests can, at the very least, lead to the formation of cliques that exclude others for their differences. Worse yet, groups may reach the point at which they applaud when harm comes to outsiders -- just think of the mean girls in high school who revel in others' pain. Researchers already knew, thanks to previous studies, that babies, like adults, had the propensity to like babies similar to them, gravitating toward those with the same taste in food or toys. But scientists wanted to examine whether the dark side of social identification was prevalent in babies as well. Do the roots of malevolent social biases take hold in infancy?

How it was tested: Researchers recruited 9- and- 14-month-old babies for two separate studies. First, the infants' preference for green beans or graham crackers was established. Then the babies watched a series of puppet shows that featured a graham cracker-liking puppet and a green bean-liking puppet alternately being helped and harmed by other puppets. Finally, the babies chose between the helper puppet or the harming puppet.

The outcome: With combined samples of more than 200 infant participants, researchers found that both age groups overwhelmingly preferred the character that helped the puppet similar to them, over the character that harmed the similar puppet. But, surprisingly, when it came to the puppets that were dissimilar to the infants, the majority of babies in both age groups opted for the character that harmed them. In fact, their preference for the harming character, in the dissimilar scenario, was just as strong as it was for the helping character in the similar scenario. When the study was conducted again, this time with the addition of a neutral puppet, researchers found that the older group responded even more robustly to the harmer puppet.

Why this might be: The fact that babies act this way even before they can speak suggests that social biases "are based in part on basic aspects of human social evaluation," rather than learned through interacting with others. In other words, our social biases might be more nature than nurture.

What the experts say: The results are disheartening, says Karen Wynn, senior author of the study and professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University. "I was surprised, and my liberal bleeding heart sunk like a stone when we found them actual choosing, really robustly, the puppet who punishes." Wynn says there's need for more research, however. For one, the reasons behind the babies' choices are still unknown. Also, the babies might react differently if a parent or loved one cares for the dissimilar puppet.

But in the meantime, we'll leave you with this disheartening thought:

Babies are kind of evil.

Modern psychiatric drugs treat the chemistry of the whole brain, but neurobiologist David Anderson believes in a more nuanced view of how the brain functions. He illuminates new research that could lead to targeted psychiatric medications -- that work better and avoid side effects. How's he doing it? For a start, by making a bunch of fruit flies angry:

"With Liberty and Justice for Some"

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A hard look at the US justice system and the lack of culpability for the privileged by Glenn Greenwald

The Green Haven Prison Project at Yale presents Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald speaking about the rule of law.


Happy Birthday Albert

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Einstein was born March 14, 1879.

einstein.jpgHe would be 134 if he were alive today.

Few people remember that he married his cousin, Elsa Lowenthal, after his first marriage failed in 1919.

At the time he stated that he was attracted to Elsa "because she was so well endowed".

He postulated that if you are attracted to women with large breasts, the attraction is even stronger if there is a DNA connection.

This came to be known as...ready for it?

Einstein's Theory of "Relative Titty".


Oh, stop moaning! I don't write this shit, I receive it from my warped friends and then pass it on to you.

Anyway, it beats the hell out of all that political crap.

hat tip to Yvonne P

The Kid's Got Chops

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Ah youth...just brilliant!

College student who played for Billy Joel 'wasn't even nervous' on stage

By Randee Dawn

Michael Pollack grew up playing piano on Long Island, NY, and that meant he was naturally drawn to the area's best-known keyboard hero.

"Every Long Island piano player aspires to be Billy Joel," he said. "You don't have a choice. And I've been playing his music since I'm 10, 11, 12."

So the Vanderbilt University freshman took advantage of his talents and a stroke of good luck when he attended a Q&A in January with Joel -- and ended up onstage playing his favorite song, "New York State of Mind," while the Piano Man sang along.

17 yr old Solves Major Bio-Problem

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Too cool.

17-year-old builds protein decoder tool that could lead to new cancer drugs

kallenbach.jonah.jpgJonah Kallenbach, 17, from Montgomery County just won $75,000 in the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search.

From Intel:

Second-place honors and $75,000 went to Jonah Kallenbach, 17, of Ambler, Pa., whose bioinformatics study breaks new ground in predicting protein binding for drug therapy. Jonah solved an open problem first posed several years ago, and his work suggests a new path to drug design by targeting a protein's disordered regions. His research may open doors to treatment for diseases, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer and tuberculosis.

by John Roach

The current problem with drug development is that it's hard to target specific parts of the body, or particular disease-causing organisms within the body. What's needed is a translator, something that understands the language of proteins. That's, in part, what Kallenbach has designed.

Proteins, Kallenbach explained, are the workhorses of molecular systems in the cell. They come in two broad categories: ordered and disordered. Ordered proteins are the standard type that form a structure and carry out a cell function.

"The second class of proteins are these wacky proteins ... that have flexibility, they can fold many different ways, potentially they can form in many different ways, and potentially they can have many binding partners," Kallenbach told NBC News.

These disordered proteins show up in the signaling networks of human bodies and disease organisms, he noted. How they interact with the standard class of proteins is what particularly interest scientists who are trying to find cures.

Kallenbach's grandfather, a biochemistry professor, showered him with chemistry kits and microscopes as a young child. In ninth grade, while working in a biophysics lab, he was exposed to bioinformatics, the application of computer science to other fields such as biology.

"I realized the power computer science can have," he said.

He was hooked and took to the field eagerly, ultimately building a tool that accurately predicts the interactions between ordered and disordered proteins. He validated his results with proteins coded by the cancer-associated BRCA1 gene.

"There are potential applications in drug design, in targeting disordered regions with drugs, which we have never been able to do," he said. "It is really important because a lot of the most important disease proteins ... have significant disordered regions."

The young scientist is already in contact with a pharmaceutical company that is interested in working with him to develop viable medical treatments.

Meanwhile, Kallenbach plans to attend college in the fall. Where he's going, he's not quite sure, but the $75,000 scholarship, he said, "is going to be a huge ease of burden on my parents. And it is just an enormous honor."

The winners were whittled down from a pool of over 1,700 applicants, 300 semifinalists and 40 finalists

The Deficit Hype

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All the hype about the deficit is obsessive and hysterical and it is ruining the chances of dealing with the real economic problems which is jobs and purchasing.

Dwindling Deficit Disorder

By Paul Krugman

For three years and more, policy debate in Washington has been dominated by warnings about the dangers of budget deficits. A few lonely economists have tried from the beginning to point out that this fixation is all wrong, that deficit spending is actually appropriate in a depressed economy. But even though the deficit scolds have been wrong about everything so far -- where are the soaring interest rates we were promised? -- protests that we are having the wrong conversation have consistently fallen on deaf ears.

What's really remarkable at this point, however, is the persistence of the deficit fixation in the face of rapidly changing facts. People still talk as if the deficit were exploding, as if the United States budget were on an unsustainable path; in fact, the deficit is falling more rapidly than it has for generations, it is already down to sustainable levels, and it is too small given the state of the economy.

Start with the raw numbers. America's budget deficit soared after the 2008 financial crisis and the recession that went with it, as revenue plunged and spending on unemployment benefits and other safety-net programs rose. And this rise in the deficit was a good thing! Federal spending helped sustain the economy at a time when the private sector was in panicked retreat; arguably, the stabilizing role of a large government was the main reason the Great Recession didn't turn into a full replay of the Great Depression.

But after peaking in 2009 at $1.4 trillion, the deficit began coming down. The Congressional Budget Office expects the deficit for fiscal 2013 (which began in October and is almost half over) to be $845 billion. That may still sound like a big number, but given the state of the economy it really isn't.

Bear in mind that the budget doesn't have to be balanced to put us on a fiscally sustainable path; all we need is a deficit small enough that debt grows more slowly than the economy. To take the classic example, America never did pay off the debt from World War II -- in fact, our debt doubled in the 30 years that followed the war. But debt as a percentage of G.D.P. fell by three-quarters over the same period.

Right now, a sustainable deficit would be around $460 billion. The actual deficit is bigger than that. But according to new estimates by the budget office, half of our current deficit reflects the effects of a still-depressed economy. The "cyclically adjusted" deficit -- what the deficit would be if we were near full employment -- is only about $423 billion, which puts it in the sustainable range; next year the budget office expects that number to fall to just $172 billion. And that's why budget office projections show the nation's debt position more or less stable over the next decade.

So we do not, repeat do not, face any kind of deficit crisis either now or for years to come.

There are, of course, longer-term fiscal issues: rising health costs and an aging population will put the budget under growing pressure over the course of the 2020s. But I have yet to see any coherent explanation of why these longer-run concerns should determine budget policy right now. And as I said, given the needs of the economy, the deficit is currently too small.

Put it this way: Smart fiscal policy involves having the government spend when the private sector won't, supporting the economy when it is weak and reducing debt only when it is strong. Yet the cyclically adjusted deficit as a share of G.D.P. is currently about what it was in 2006, at the height of the housing boom -- and it is headed down.

Yes, we'll want to reduce deficits once the economy recovers, and there are gratifying signs that a solid recovery is finally under way. But unemployment, especially long-term unemployment, is still unacceptably high. "The boom, not the slump, is the time for austerity," John Maynard Keynes declared many years ago. He was right -- all you have to do is look at Europe to see the disastrous effects of austerity on weak economies. And this is still nothing like a boom.

Now, I'm aware that the facts about our dwindling deficit are unwelcome in many quarters. Fiscal fear mongering is a major industry inside the Beltway, especially among those looking for excuses to do what they really want, namely dismantle Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. People whose careers are heavily invested in the deficit-scold industry don't want to let evidence undermine their scare tactics; as the deficit dwindles, we're sure to encounter a blizzard of bogus numbers purporting to show that we're still in some kind of fiscal crisis.

But we aren't. The deficit is indeed dwindling, and the case for making the deficit a central policy concern, which was never very strong given low borrowing costs and high unemployment, has now completely vanished.

Policy Matters

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A Russian Hero

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Ah...my fantasies realized. I love this guy.

'The Punisher' takes vengeance on Russia's bad drivers


By Baruch Ben-Chorin

Dubbed "The Punisher," Alexei Volkov takes a zero-tolerance approach to being cut off while driving his bus on Russia's roads.

Day or night, rain, snow or shine, whenever an errant driver gets in his way, Volkov rams his bus into the offending vehicle without apology -- and records it all on his dashboard camera.

The bus driver then documents the collisions by posting the video footage on YouTube.

In a recent interview which appeared on the Red Hot Russia website, Volkov claimed he's had more than 100 accidents.

"The situation is gradually improving ... due to my educational work," he said.

Volkov says his passengers have nothing to complain about because none have been injured.

And what does the bus company he works for in Zelenograd, Russia, think about his vigilante antics?

"If there is no fault of mine, the management doesn't care," he said. "The bus usually gets only minor damage. If the damage is more serious, they just wait for the insurance payments and then repair [it]."

Naps

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Scarborough vs Krugman

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What Joe and many other Republicans don't get about the deficit is context. And of course it doesn't help that Scarborough is an egotistical asshole.

The Poor People's Hero

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hugo-chavez-bolivar.jpgVenezuelan President Hugo Chavez died March 5 at age 58, after a long battle with cancer that was shrouded in mystery and prevented him from being inaugurated for a fourth term.

In this photo, Chavez sits in front of a painting of the country's liberation hero Simon Bolivar in the Miraflores Palace on April 30, 2002. With tensions running high after a 47-hour coup, Chavez urged the divided nation to debate its political differences in peace.

Simon Bolivar led 19th-century movements to end Spain's colonial rule in Venezuela and throughout Latin America.

Some believe his disease was caused by the CIA or other covert US groups. I wouldn't doubt it, but there is so far no proof.

A major charismatic and polarizing figure, Chavez has become iconic in his country.

Along with millions of Venezuelans, I will miss him.

Harrier Squadron's Ta Ta

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The British government has scrapped the Harrier fleet and on their farewell formation flypast over the Houses of Parliament they gave the government a message.

Lean back a bit from your computer monitor and squint. Seriously...push your chair back a couple of feet.

Hats off to the man that was leading this Squadron - and to pal Peter for the heads up.

fo.squadron.jpg

Priceless.

Wealth Inequality in America

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This should be played every night on every TV channel at least twice for 1 year.

Giving Constituents the Bird

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The topic is universal background checks for firearms. The context is congressional districts with republican representatives who are rated A to B+ by the NRA and whose constituents support the universal background checks from a low of 79% to a high of 100%.
Will the representatives vote according to their constituents position or according to the desires of the NRA who opposes such checks?

So far it looks like the representatives will give their constituents the one finger salute.

"Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert," begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And terrifyingly, it's happening to about two-thirds of the world's grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes -- and his work so far shows -- that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert.

Venus Thru Saturn's Rings

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A beautiful photograph sent back by the Cassini probe: (click it to enlarge)

venus.thru.saturn.jpgThe planet Venus sparkles as a bright point of light, seen through the rings of Saturn, in this image from NASA's Cassini orbiter. Venus is the speck just above and to the right of the image's center. The picture was captured on Nov. 10, 2012.


Article with more wonderous pix

How Medical Pricing is Killing Us

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Steven Briil has written a really lengthy, in-depth cover story for Time magazine that is a must read.

Below is a Hardball interview with Brill on the topic

Neonatal HIV Cure?

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This is huge.

A baby now free of HIV has doctors talking

By Maggie Fox

A baby born infected with the AIDS virus who got immediate treatment now has no detectable virus in her blood - not quite a cure, but so close to one that it has doctors talking.

Her case, presented to a meeting of AIDS researchers that started Sunday, will prompt questions about how early babies should be treated - and further illustrates the possibility that immediate treatment with HIV drugs may do a lot to protect those who are newly infected and could even have an impact on the AIDS pandemic.

"What we have identified is what we think is the first well-documented case of a functional cure in a neonatal child," Dr. Deborah Persaud of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, the virologist who led the study, told NBC News.

A functional cure, says Persaud, means the virus isn't entirely gone, but it's not doing any damage, either. Doctors think it was because they began therapy for the baby within 48 hours of being infected, she said.

The child, who lives in rural Mississippi and doctors, is now 2 1/2 and healthy. She was, like so many, born to a mother who didn't know until right before she gave birth that she had the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. Mom and baby both got a standard dose of HIV drugs right away - something that has been shown to prevent what's known as mother-to-child transmission of the virus in newborns.

The baby was a little premature and so stayed in the hospital. Within 30 hours of birth she was re-tested and had clear evidence of HIV infection. Unusually, she then got a cocktail of three drugs at a dose normally reserved for more advanced cases. It worked really well - pushing her virus down to what's called undetectable levels. This is what doctors want with HIV, because if the virus can't be found in the blood, then it can't be spreading and damaging the immune system. HIV doesn't kill directly - it kills patients by damaging their immune systems so bad they can't fight off other infections.

Skirting Congress for Clean Energy

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Jennifer Granholm asks a very American question with worldwide implications: How do we make more jobs? Her big idea: Invest in new alternative energy sources. And her big challenge: Can it be done with or without our broken Congress?

A former two-term governor of Michigan, Jennifer M. Granholm makes the case for empowering states to create jobs through a Clean Energy Jobs Race to the Top.

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