December 2013 Archives

Birmingham KIND Cub Scouts Miracle

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Sweetness abounds.

The Obamacare Wars

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Economic Inequity and Social Mores

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Congress abandons the long-term unemployed

Chris Hayes talks about Congress' failure to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed with Ezra Klein, Dedrick Muhammad and Alexis Goldstein

Darrel Issa Disinformation Road Show

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Untrustworthy Issa travels to bash Obamacare

Rachel Maddow points out how Darrel Issa is one of those national loons who is obsessed with muckraking President Obama and ends up simply putting out disinformation and breaching national security for good measure.

Also, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, former White House Health Policy advisor, talks about how Texans are being hurt by the GOP effort to sabotage Obamacare.

Superfast Magic

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Speaking of Good Christmas Stories

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Calgary lotto winner Tom Crist to give $40M prize away

A Calgary man who won a $40-million lottery prize last May has kept it a secret until now, but says the money will go to charity in memory of his wife.

"As soon as I hung up from my cellphone call from Western Canada Lottery I never thought about it. We finished our lunch, we went out golfing. I've kept it a secret, even my kids didn't know until today," said Crist on Monday.

tomchrist.jpgCrist said that as soon as he got the call he knew where the money was going to go.

"I lost my wife to cancer two years ago."

His wife of 33 years, Jan, died in February 2012. She was 57.

Crist said cancer was a special concern, because of what happened to his wife. "She was fairly young and stuff. She beat it for six years before it finally caught up to her."

The win is the largest prize ever given out to a Calgarian. (CBC)

Crist said he plans to put the money into a family trust fund to be doled out to charities he and his kids pick over the years. Charities such as the Canadian Cancer Society and Calgary's Tom Baker Cancer Centre will be at the top of that list, he says.

"I've been fortunate enough, through my career, 44 years with a company. I did very well for myself. I've done enough that I can look after myself, for my kids, so they can get looked after into the future. I don't really need that money."

Crist retired as the CEO of EECOL Electric in late September of this year. The electrical wholesale company, with a head office is in Calgary, was sold in December 2012.

Swarthy Santa

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K.I.N.D. fund hits major milestone

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Thinking about contributing to a worthwhile cause that helps kids (and really, the entire planet) this Christmas?

Christmas Scale

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from sis kathy

Don't It Always Seem to Go...

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"An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport," argues Enrique Peñalosa. In this spirited talk, the former mayor of Bogotá shares some of the tactics he used to change the transportation dynamic in the Colombian capital... and suggests ways to think about building smart cities of the future.

Enrique Peñalosa was the mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, between 1998 and 2000. He advocates for sustainability and mobility in the cities of the future.


Philosopher Stephen Cave begins with a dark but compelling question: When did you first realize you were going to die? And even more interestingly: Why do we humans so often resist the inevitability of death? In a fascinating talk Cave explores four narratives -- common across civilizations -- that we tell ourselves "in order to help us manage the terror of death."

Losing Control

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The Criminalization of Everyday Life

By Chase Madar, TomDispatch

police-militarized1.jpgIf all you've got is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail. And if police and prosecutors are your only tool, sooner or later everything and everyone will be treated as criminal. This is increasingly the American way of life, a path that involves "solving" social problems (and even some non-problems) by throwing cops at them, with generally disastrous results. Wall-to-wall criminal law encroaches ever more on everyday life as police power is applied in ways that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.

By now, the militarization of the police has advanced to the point where "the War on Crime" and "the War on Drugs" are no longer metaphors but bland understatements. There is the proliferation of heavily armed SWAT teams, even in small towns; the use of shock-and-awe tactics to bust small-time bookies; the no-knock raids to recover trace amounts of drugs that often result in the killing of family dogs, if not family members; and in communities where drug treatment programs once were key, the waging of a drug version of counterinsurgency war. (All of this is ably reported on journalist Radley Balko's blog and in his book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop.) But American over-policing involves far more than the widely reported up-armoring of your local precinct. It's also the way police power has entered the DNA of social policy, turning just about every sphere of American life into a police matter.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

It starts in our schools, where discipline is increasingly outsourced to police personnel. What not long ago would have been seen as normal childhood misbehavior--doodling on a desk, farting in class, a kindergartener's tantrum--can leave a kid in handcuffs, removed from school, or even booked at the local precinct. Such "criminals" can be as young as seven-year-old Wilson Reyes, a New Yorker who was handcuffed and interrogated under suspicion of stealing five dollars from a classmate. (Turned out he didn't do it.)

Though it's a national phenomenon, Mississippi currently leads the way in turning school behavior into a police issue. The Hospitality State has imposed felony charges on schoolchildren for "crimes" like throwing peanuts on a bus. Wearing the wrong color belt to school got one child handcuffed to a railing for several hours. All of this goes under the rubric of "zero-tolerance" discipline, which turns out to be just another form of violence legally imported into schools.

Despite a long-term drop in youth crime, the carceral style of education remains in style. Metal detectors--a horrible way for any child to start the day--are installed in ever more schools, even those with sterling disciplinary records, despite the demonstrable fact that such scanners provide no guarantee against shootings and stabbings.

Every school shooting, whether in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, or Littleton, Colorado, only leads to more police in schools and more arms as well. It's the one thing the National Rifle Association and Democratic senators can agree on. There are plenty of successful ways to run an orderly school without criminalizing the classroom, but politicians and much of the media don't seem to want to know about them. The "school-to-prison pipeline," a jargon term coined by activists, is entering the vernacular.

Testing You on A Chip

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It's relatively easy to imagine a new medicine, a better cure for some disease. The hard part, though, is testing it, and that can delay promising new cures for years. In this well-explained talk, Geraldine Hamilton shows how her lab creates organs and body parts on a chip, simple structures with all the pieces essential to testing new medications -- even custom cures for one specific person

1st Video of Moon orbiting Earth

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What Got Martin Bashir Fired

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Nelson Mandela dead at 95

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"A Hero Is Now At Peace"

A moral titan, a hero for the ages, one of the greatest men of our time, is dead. Nelson Mandela passed away today at the age of 95.

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By Tracy Connor, Staff Writer, NBC News

Nelson Mandela, the revered South African anti-apartheid icon who spent 27 years in prison, led his country to democracy and became its first black president, died Thursday at home. He was 95.

"He is now resting," said South African President Jacob Zuma. "He is now at peace."

"Our nation has lost its greatest son," he continued. "Our people have lost a father."

A state funeral will be held, and Zuma called for mourners to conduct themselves with "the dignity and respect" that Mandela personified.

The icon of the anti-apartheid movement and international human rights leader died Thursday. He was 95 years old.

"Wherever we are in the country, wherever we are in the world ... let us reaffirm his vision of a society in which none is exploited, oppressed or dispossessed by another," he said as tributes began pouring in from across the world.
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President Obama said his first political action was an anti-apartheid protest inspired by Mandela, who "achieved more than could be expected of any man."

"I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example Nelson Mandela set," he said.

Though he was in power for only five years, Mandela was a figure of enormous moral influence the world over - a symbol of revolution, resistance and triumph over racial segregation.

He inspired a generation of activists, left celebrities and world leaders star-struck, won the Nobel Peace Prize and raised millions for humanitarian causes.

South Africa is still bedeviled by challenges, from class inequality to political corruption to AIDS. And with Mandela's death, it has lost a beacon of optimism.

In his jailhouse memoirs, Mandela wrote that even after spending so many years in a Spartan cell on Robben Island - with one visitor a year and one letter every six months - he still had faith in human nature.

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion," he wrote in "Long Walk to Freedom."

"People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

Related: 7 ways he changed South Africa

Mandela retired from public life in 2004 with the half-joking directive, "Don't call me, I'll call you," and had largely stepped out of the spotlight, spending much of his time with family in his childhood village.

His health had been fragile in recent years. He had spent almost three months in a hospital in Pretoria after being admitted in June for a recurring lung infection.

He was released on Sept. 1 and officials had said only that he was responding to treatment until a flurry of activity outside his Johannesburg home Thursday evening, followed by the official announcement of his death.

A somber scene outside the house was soon replaced by a spontaneous celebration of an extraordinary life with a growing crowd chanting, singing, waving flags and dancing.

Even though his passing was anticipated, ordinary South Africans felt a sense of a shock that Mandela was no longer with them.

"It feels like it's my father who has died," said Annah Khokhozela, 37, a Joannesburg nanny. "He was such a good man."

In his later years, Mandela was known to his countrymen simply as Madiba, the name of his tribe and a mark of great honor. But when he was born on July 18, 1918, he was named Rolihlahla, which translated roughly - and prophetically - to "troublemaker."

Mandela was nine when his father died, and he was sent from his rural village to the provincial capital to be raised by a fellow chief. The first member of his family to get a formal education, he went to boarding school and then enrolled in South Africa's elite Fort Hare University, where his activism unfurled with a student boycott.

As a young law scholar, he joined the resurgent African National Congress just a few years before the National Party - controlled by the Afrikaners, the descendants of Dutch and French settlers - came to power on a platform of apartheid, in which the government enforced racial segregation and stripped non-whites of economic and political power.

As an ANC leader, Mandela advocated peaceful resistance against government discrimination and oppression - until 1961, when he launched a military wing called Spear of the Nation and a campaign of sabotage.

The next year, he was arrested and soon hit with treason charges. At the opening of his trial in 1964, he said his adoption of armed struggle was a last resort born of bloody crackdowns by the government.

"Fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation and fewer and few rights," he said from the dock.

April, 1994: Former political prisoner Nelson Mandela is on the verge of being elected South Africa's first black president.

"I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

GOP: Expert at New Lows

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An underhanded anti-Obamacare stunt by the California GOP

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By Michael Hiltzik

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act never stop producing new tricks to undermine the reform's effectiveness. But leave it to California Republicans to reach for the bottom. Their goal appears to be to discredit the act by highlighting its costs and penalties rather than its potential benefits.

The device chosen by the Assembly's GOP caucus is a website at the address coveringhealthcareca.com. If that sounds suspiciously like coveredca.com, which is the real website for the California insurance exchange, it may not be a coincidence. Bogus insurance websites have sprung up all over, aiming to steer consumers away from legitimate enrollment services. Just a couple of weeks ago California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris shut down 10 bogus insurance sites, some of them with names very similar to the real thing. She must have overlooked the GOP's entry.

To be fair, the California GOP announced its website in August. But some members have recently stepped up their promotion of the site. The site has a featured spot, for example, on the homepage of Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare). Conway's spokeswoman, Sabrina Lockhart, says other members may be pointing their constituents to the site "as a resource" to help them navigate the new law.

If that's so, constituents needing useful information about how to deal with the Affordable Care Act would be well advised to look elsewhere. As an aid to understanding and navigating the Affordable Care Act's new requirements and opportunities for coverage, the GOP site is worse than useless. Finding a link there to the Covered California website, which after all is the main place residents can go to obtain insurance in the individual market, is a chore -- there isn't a link to it at all on the GOP page.

Instead, you're offered links labeled "I already have health insurance," "I don't have health insurance," or "I'm an employer." The second link, which presumably covers most residents looking for help through the act, leads to a page dominated by a calculator for the penalties imposed for not buying insurance -- not exactly what you need if you're already looking for insurance. If you have the patience, you can find a link to Covered California toward the bottom of the page.

As for the quality of information provided on the site, it's questionable; that's a charitable way of saying that some of it is dead wrong.

For example, the website claims that the Affordable Care Act will increase the federal deficit, asserting that the "non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in a March 2012 report that coverage expenses under the Affordable Care Act will cost the country a total of $1.76 trillion total by 2022 and add over $1 trillion to the federal deficit."

Is that so? The site links to this report by the CBO, which states on page 2 that the act will "on net, reduce budget deficits over the 2012-2021 period." Get it? Reduce the deficit, not add to it. The GOP's nasty trick is to consider only the costs of coverage, without netting out the cost reductions and new revenues in the law. Oh, by the way, the CBO also projects that the ACA will reduce the number of uninsured people in the United States by more than 30 million. That's a plus, by most reckoning.

The GOP website's digest of recent news articles is led, at the moment, by a Wall Street Journal op-ed by a San Diego businesswoman who claimed to be one of Obamacare's "losers." As we pointed out in this closer look at her story, her life may well be saved by the Affordable Care Act's outlawing of insurance exclusions for preexisting conditions. (She's a cancer survivor.)

One can certainly sympathize with the California GOP's desire to become relevant again to the lives of Californians, who have all but voted the party out of existence in the Golden State. Given that California is one of the real bright spots in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, one might think that the state's Republicans would recognize its value to voters, instead of trying to fill their constituents' heads with irrelevancies, misinformation, and misrepresentations. One would be wrong.

California schemin'



7 Reasons Why It's Easier for Humans to Believe in God Than Evolution

What science can tell us about our not-so-scientific minds.
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by Chris Mooney

Late last week, the Texas Board of Education failed to approve a leading high school biology textbook--whose authors include the Roman Catholic biologist Kenneth Miller of Brown University--because of its treatment of evolution. According to The New York Times, critiques from a textbook reviewer identified as a "Darwin Skeptic" were a principal cause.

Yet even as creationists keep trying to undermine modern science, modern science is beginning to explain creationism scientifically. And it looks like evolution--the scientifically uncontested explanation for the diversity and interrelatedness of life on Earth, emphatically including human life--will be a major part of the story. Our brains are a stunning product of evolution; and yet ironically, they may naturally pre-dispose us against its acceptance.

"I don't think there's any question that a variety of our mental dispositions are ones that discourage us from taking evolutionary theory as seriously as it should be taken," explains Robert N. McCauley, director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture at Emory University and author of the book Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not.

So what can science tell us about our not-so-scientific minds? Here's a list of cognitive traits, thinking styles, and psychological factors identified in recent research that seem to thwart evolution acceptance:

Biological Essentialism. First, we seem to have a deep tendency to think about biology in a way that is "essentialist"--in other words, assuming that each separate kind of animal species has a fundamental, unique nature that unites all members of that species, and that is inviolate. Fish have gills, birds have wings, fish make more fish, birds make more birds, and that's how it all works. Essentialist thinking has been demonstrated in young children. "Little kids as young as my 2 and a half year old granddaughter are quite clear that puppies don't have ponies for mommies and daddies," explains McCauley.

If essentialism is a default style of thinking, as much research suggests, then that puts evolution at a major disadvantage. Charles Darwin and his many scientific disciples have shown that essentialism is just plain wrong: Given enough time, biological kinds are not fixed but actually change. Species are connected through intermediate types to other species--and all are ultimately related to one another.

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