Noise in urban habitats having an effect on the behavior of animals

August 23, 2009

CANBERRA, Australia – Traffic noise could be ruining the sex lives of urban frogs by drowning out the seductive croaks of amorous males, an Australian researcher said Friday.

Ken Thompson, a University of Sheffield ecologist who edits the British journal, Functional Ecology, said his own university’s research found British birds were singing at night because their habitats had become too noisy during the day.

AP, 8/21/09

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How the White House’s Deal With Big Pharma Undermines Democracy

August 23, 2009

Robert Reich’s blog, Sunday, August 09, 2009

Neve Gordon in LA Times op-ed supports Israeli boycott

August 23, 2009

Boycott Israel
An Israeli comes to the painful conclusion that it’s the only way to save his country. August 20, 2009

Israeli newspapers this summer are filled with angry articles about the push for an international boycott of Israel. Films have been withdrawn from Israeli film festivals, Leonard Cohen is under fire around the world for his decision to perform in Tel Aviv, and Oxfam has severed ties with a celebrity spokesperson, a British actress who also endorses cosmetics produced in the occupied territories. Clearly, the campaign to use the kind of tactics that helped put an end to the practice of apartheid in South Africa is gaining many followers around the world.

Not surprisingly, many Israelis — even peaceniks — aren’t signing on. A global boycott can’t help but contain echoes of anti-Semitism. It also brings up questions of a double standard (why not boycott China for its egregious violations of human rights?) and the seemingly contradictory position of approving a boycott of one’s own nation.

It is indeed not a simple matter for me as an Israeli citizen to call on foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel. But today, as I watch my two boys playing in the yard, I am convinced that it is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself.

I say this because Israel has reached a historic crossroads, and times of crisis call for dramatic measures. I say this as a Jew who has chosen to raise his children in Israel, who has been a member of the Israeli peace camp for almost 30 years and who is deeply anxious about the country’s future.

The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state. For more than 42 years, Israel has controlled the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region about 6 million Jews and close to 5 million Palestinians reside. Out of this population, 3.5 million Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967, and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews — whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel — are citizens of the state of Israel.

The question that keeps me up at night, both as a parent and as a citizen, is how to ensure that my two children as well as the children of my Palestinian neighbors do not grow up in an apartheid regime.

There are only two moral ways of achieving this goal.

The first is the one-state solution: offering citizenship to all Palestinians and thus establishing a bi-national democracy within the entire area controlled by Israel. Given the demographics, this would amount to the demise of Israel as a Jewish state; for most Israeli Jews, it is anathema.

The second means of ending our apartheid is through the two-state solution, which entails Israel’s withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders (with possible one-for-one land swaps), the division of Jerusalem, and a recognition of the Palestinian right of return with the stipulation that only a limited number of the 4.5 million Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return to Israel, while the rest can return to the new Palestinian state.

Geographically, the one-state solution appears much more feasible because Jews and Palestinians are already totally enmeshed; indeed, “on the ground,” the one-state solution (in an apartheid manifestation) is a reality.

Ideologically, the two-state solution is more realistic because fewer than 1% of Jews and only a minority of Palestinians support binationalism.

For now, despite the concrete difficulties, it makes more sense to alter the geographic realities than the ideological ones. If at some future date the two peoples decide to share a state, they can do so, but currently this is not something they want.

So if the two-state solution is the way to stop the apartheid state, then how does one achieve this goal?

I am convinced that outside pressure is the only answer. Over the last three decades, Jewish settlers in the occupied territories have dramatically increased their numbers. The myth of the united Jerusalem has led to the creation of an apartheid city where Palestinians aren’t citizens and lack basic services. The Israeli peace camp has gradually dwindled so that today it is almost nonexistent, and Israeli politics are moving more and more to the extreme right.

It is therefore clear to me that the only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure. The words and condemnations from the Obama administration and the European Union have yielded no results, not even a settlement freeze, let alone a decision to withdraw from the occupied territories.

I consequently have decided to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that was launched by Palestinian activists in July 2005 and has since garnered widespread support around the globe. The objective is to ensure that Israel respects its obligations under international law and that Palestinians are granted the right to self-determination.

In Bilbao, Spain, in 2008, a coalition of organizations from all over the world formulated the 10-point Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign meant to pressure Israel in a “gradual, sustainable manner that is sensitive to context and capacity.” For example, the effort begins with sanctions on and divestment from Israeli firms operating in the occupied territories, followed by actions against those that help sustain and reinforce the occupation in a visible manner. Along similar lines, artists who come to Israel in order to draw attention to the occupation are welcome, while those who just want to perform are not.

Nothing else has worked. Putting massive international pressure on Israel is the only way to guarantee that the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians — my two boys included — does not grow up in an apartheid regime.

Neve Gordon is the author of “Israel’s Occupation” and teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel.

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

Obama’s “secret” deal with Big Pharma

August 22, 2009

The “secret” deal with the Big Pharma:
in return for a ‘discount’ of $80 billion over 10 years by Big Pharma [sounds like a lot, is pennies to Big Pharma], makes insurance mandatory for every American.

A windfall for Big Pharma – their customer base is now every single American, and they did not have to compete for that base on the “open market”, rather that base is given to them.

Over August, Big Pharma is sending $150 million on TV advertising to persuade the American public to support Obama’s plan.

In return for that support, Obama has promised the drug industry not to try to overturn the legislation forbidding Medicare from negotiating drug prices.

Gee, all these “freemarket”ers don’t want to let the market determine price.
Instead Big Pharma gets to set the prices.
Walmart negotiates prices, that’s how they are able to sell some pharmaceuticals at lower price. But not the government.

Slate: “Why is the White House’s PhRMA deal a bad bargain? Because in securing $80 billion in savings over 10 years, the White House is forgoing what could be as much as $156 billion over the same time period. That’s what a 2008 report by energy and commerce’s investigations subcommittee calculated to be the savings if Medicare were permitted to buy drugs at the same rates negotiated by the (much smaller) Medicaid program.

“In striking the bargain with PhRMA, Obama broke a not-insignificant campaign promise (“Obama will repeal the ban on direct negotiation with drug companies and use the resulting savings … to further invest in improving health care coverage and quality”).”

http://www.healthcare-now.org/obamas-phrma-deal/
http://www.latimes.com/features/health/la-na-healthcare-pharma4-2009aug04,0,3660985.story
http://www.slate.com/id/2224621/

Health reform myths taking root

August 20, 2009

Calvin Woodward, Associated Press Writer Wed Aug 19, 09

WASHINGTON – The judgment is harsh in a new poll that finds Americans worried about the government taking over health insurance, cutting off treatment to the elderly and giving coverage to illegal immigrants. Harsh, but not based on facts.

President Barack Obama’s lack of a detailed plan for overhauling health care is letting critics fill in the blanks in the public’s mind. In reality, Washington is not working on “death panels” or nationalization of health care.

To be sure, presenting Congress and the country with the nuts and bolts of a revamped system of health insurance is no guarantee of success for a president — just ask Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Their famous flop was demonized, too. After all, the devil does lurk in details.

It can also lurk in generalities, it seems.

Obama is promoting his changes in something of a vacuum, laying out principles, goals and broad avenues, some of which he’s open to amending. As lawmakers sweat the nitty gritty, he’s doing a lot of listening, and he’s getting an earful.

A new NBC News poll suggests some of the myths and partial truths about the plans under consideration are taking hold.

Most respondents said the effort is likely to lead to a “government takeover of the health care system” and to public insurance for illegal immigrants. Half said it will probably result in taxpayers paying for abortions and nearly that many expected the government will end up with the power to decide when treatment should stop for old people.

A look at each of those points:

THE POLL: 45 percent said it’s likely the government will decide when to stop care for the elderly; 50 percent said it’s not likely.

THE FACTS: Nothing being debated in Washington would give the government such authority. Critics have twisted a provision in a House bill that would direct Medicare to pay for counseling sessions about end-of-life care, living wills, hospices and the like if a patient wants such consultations with a doctor. They have said, incorrectly, that the elderly would be required to have these sessions.

House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio said such counseling “may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia.”

The bill would prohibit coverage of counseling that presents suicide or assisted suicide as an option.

Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who has been a proponent of coverage for end-of-life counseling under Medicare, said such sessions are a voluntary benefit, strictly between doctor and patient, and it was “nuts” to think death panels are looming or euthanasia is part of the equation.

But as fellow conservatives stepped up criticism of the provision, he backed away from his defense of it.

___

THE POLL: 55 percent expect the overhaul will give coverage to illegal immigrants; 34 percent don’t.

THE FACTS: The proposals being negotiated do not provide coverage for illegal immigrants.

___

THE POLL: 54 percent said the overhaul will lead to a government takeover of health care; 39 percent disagree.

THE FACTS: Obama is not proposing a single-payer system in which the government covers everyone, like in Canada or some European countries. He says that direction is not right for the U.S. The proposals being negotiated do not go there.

At issue is a proposed “exchange” or “marketplace” in which a new government plan would be one option for people who aren’t covered at work or whose job coverage is too expensive. The exchange would offer some private plans as well as the public one, all of them required to offer certain basic benefits.

That’s a long way from a government takeover. But when Obama tells people they can just continue with the plans they have now if they are happy with them, that can’t be taken at face value, either. Tax provisions could end up making it cheaper for some employers to pay a fee to end their health coverage, nudging some patients into a public plan with different doctors and benefits. Over time, critics fear, the public plan could squeeze private insurers out of business because they would not be able to compete with the federal government.

It’s unclear now whether Obama is committed to the public option. He described it recently as “just one sliver” of health reform, suggesting it was expendable if lawmakers could agree on another way to expand affordable coverage. Now the White House is emphasizing his strong support for it.

___

THE POLL: 50 percent expect taxpayer dollars will be used to pay for abortions; 37 percent don’t.

THE FACTS: The House version of legislation would allow coverage for abortion in the public plan. But the procedure would be paid for with dollars from beneficiary premiums, not from federal funds. Likewise, private plans in the new insurance exchange could opt to cover abortion, but no federal subsidies would be used to pay for the procedure.

Opponents say the prohibition on federal money for the procedure is merely a bookkeeping trick and what matters is that Washington would allow abortion to be covered under government-subsidized insurance.

Obama has stated that the U.S. should continue its tradition of “not financing abortions as part of government-funded health care.” Current laws prohibiting public financing of abortion would stay on the books.

Yet abortion guidelines are not yet clear for the government-supervised insurance exchange. There is strong sentiment in Congress on both sides of the issue.

___

The poll of 805 people was taken Aug. 15-17 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Whole Foods Right-wing CEO stirs boycott with health care comments

August 16, 2009

Common Drerams, Aug 15, 2009, Emily Friedman

Customers are threatening to boycott Whole Foods stores after the company’s CEO, John Mackey, wrote an op-ed discussing his ideas for health care reform.

In his op-ed, “The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare,” published Tuesday, Mackey criticized President Barack Obama’s health care plan.

Mackey provided eight “reforms” he argued the U.S. can do to improve health care without increasing the deficit. He suggested that tax forms be revised to “make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance.”

Mackey also called for a move toward “less government control and more individual empowerment” instead of “a massive new health care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits.”

He added that many of the country’s health care problems are “self-inflicted” and are preventable through “proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal alcohol consumption and other healthy lifestyle choices.”

In the op-ed, Mackey outlines Whole Foods’ employee health insurance policy. According to Mackey, Whole Foods pays 100 percent of the premiums for all employees who work 30 hours or more per week — about 89 percent of his workforce.

Additionally, the company gives each employee $1,800 per year in “health-care dollars,” says Mackey, that they can use at their own discretion for health and wellness expenses. This money can be put toward the $2,500 annual deductible that must be covered before Mackey says the company’s “insurance plan kicks in.”

The op-ed piece, which begins with a Margaret Thatcher quote, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money,” has left some Whole Foods loyalists enraged. Many say Mackey was out of line to opine against the liberal base that has made his fortune possible.

Countless Whole Foods shoppers have taken their gripes with Mackey’s op-ed to the Internet, where people on the social networking sites Twitter and Facebook are calling for a boycott of the store.

Whole Foods Market Inc. reported that sales for the last quarter rose by 2 percent to $1.878 billion. It is consistently ranked a Fortune 500 company.

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/08/15-0

Moving Guatanamo to US soil

August 2, 2009

And the difference is…

“Administration officials say they are determined to keep to his promise of closing Guantanamo in January as a worldwide example of America’s commitment to humane and just treatment of the detainees.”

“As many as an estimated 170 of the detainees now at Guantanamo are unlikely to be prosecuted. Some are being held indefinitely because government officials do not want to take the chance of seeing them acquitted in a trial. The rest are considered candidates for release, but the U.S. cannot find foreign countries willing to take them. Almost all have yet to be charged with crimes.”

WTF?
AP, 8-2-09

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is looking at creating a courtroom-within-a-prison complex in the U.S. to house suspected terrorists, combining military and civilian detention facilities at a single maximum-security prison.

Several senior U.S. officials said the administration is eyeing a soon-to-be-shuttered state maximum security prison in Michigan and the 134-year-old military penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., as possible locations for a heavily guarded site to hold the 229 suspected al-Qaida, Taliban and foreign fighters now jailed at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

The officials outlined the plans — the latest effort to comply with President Barack Obama’s order to close the prison camp by Jan. 22, 2010, and satisfy congressional and public fears about incarcerating terror suspects on American soil — on condition of anonymity because the options are under review.

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said Friday that no decisions have been made about the proposal. But the White House considers the courtroom-prison complex as the best among a series of bad options, an administration official said.

For months, government lawyers and senior officials at the Pentagon, Justice Department and the White House have struggled with how to close the internationally reviled U.S. Navy prison at Guantanamo.

Congress has blocked $80 million intended to bring the detainees to the United States. Lawmakers want the administration to say how it plans to make the moves without putting Americans at risk.

The facility would operate as a hybrid prison system jointly operated by the Justice Department, the military and the Department of Homeland Security.

The administration’s plan, according to three government officials, calls for:

_Moving all the Guantanamo detainees to a single U.S. prison. The Justice Department has identified between 60 and 80 who could be prosecuted, either in military or federal criminal courts. The Pentagon would oversee the detainees who would face trial in military tribunals. The Bureau of Prisons, an arm of the Justice Department, would manage defendants in federal courts.

_Building a court facility within the prison site where military or criminal defendants would be tried. Doing so would create a single venue for almost all the criminal defendants, ending the need to transport them elsewhere in the U.S. for trial.

_Providing long-term holding cells for a small but still undetermined number of detainees who will not face trial because intelligence and counterterror officials conclude they are too dangerous to risk being freed.

_Building immigration detention cells for detainees ordered released by courts but still behind bars because countries are unwilling to take them.

Each proposal, according to experts in constitutional and national security law, faces legal and logistics problems.

Scott Silliman, director of Duke University’s Center on Law, Ethics and National Security, called the proposal “totally unprecedented” and said he doubts the plan would work without Congress’ involvement because new laws probably would be needed. Otherwise, “we gain nothing — all we do in create a Guantanamo in Kansas or wherever,” Silliman said.

“You’ve got very strict jurisdictional issues on venue of a federal court. Why would you bring courts from all over the country to one facility, rather than having them prosecuted in the district where the courts sit?”

Legal experts said civilian trials held inside the prison could face jury-selection dilemmas in rural areas because of the limited number of potential jurors available.

One solution, Silliman said, would be to bring jurors from elsewhere. But that step, one official said, could also compromise security by opening up the prison to outsiders.

It is unclear whether victims — particularly survivors of Sept. 11 victims — would be allowed into the courtroom to watch the trials. Victims and family members have no assumed right under current law to attend military commissions, although the Pentagon does allow them to attend hearings at Guantanamo under a random selection process. That right is automatic in civilian federal courthouses.

“They’ll have to sort it out,” said Douglas Beloof, a professor at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., and expert on crime victims’ rights. He said the new system “could create tension with victims who would protest.”

The officials said that another uncertainty remains how many Guantanamo detainees would end up housed in the hybrid prison.

As many as an estimated 170 of the detainees now at Guantanamo are unlikely to be prosecuted. Some are being held indefinitely because government officials do not want to take the chance of seeing them acquitted in a trial. The rest are considered candidates for release, but the U.S. cannot find foreign countries willing to take them. Almost all have yet to be charged with crimes.

Administration officials said the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth is under consideration because it is already a hardened high-security facility that could be further protected by the surrounding military base.

Administration officials say they are determined to keep to his promise of closing Guantanamo in January as a worldwide example of America’s commitment to humane and just treatment of the detainees.

Group that exposed IDF crimes in Gaza slams Israel bid to choke off funds

July 26, 2009

An organization that alleged Israeli troops used Palestinians as human shields
in Gaza accused the Foreign Ministry on Sunday of “endangering democracy,”
following a Haaretz report that the ministry had asked the Netherlands to freeze
funds to the group.

Acting on instructions from the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, the Israeli
ambassador to the Netherlands, Harry Knei-Tal, met last week with the
director-general of the Dutch Foreign Ministry and complained about the Dutch
embassy’s funding of Breaking the Silence.

The group said Sunday that the ministry and the establishment were conducting a
“witch hunt…only a part of which was exposed in the Haaretz report,” that it
claimed was testimony to the “erosion of democratic culture in the State of
Israel.”
/snip/
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1102793.html
6-30-09

Dutch backer of Israel boycotts rebuked over ‘misleading’ flier

July 26, 2009

A major Dutch promoter of boycotts against Israel was last week rebuked for misleading consumers by spreading messages which run “contrary to the truth,” according to a precedent ruling by Holland’s national advertising board.
Peace’s activities came under the committee’s scrutiny following a complaint by the Israel Products Center, a Netherlands-based online store specializing in Israeli goods. In February the center’s managers complained that a flier which Peace has been circulating has damaged them by targeting their livelihood and brand.

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1096334.html
6-30-09

Money-laundering, organ-stealing scam: unanswered questions

July 25, 2009

“As part of the scheme, the organ donors were brought from Israel to this country, where they underwent surgery to remove the kidneys, authorities said. Prosecutors did not identify which hospitals in the U.S. received the donors and their kidneys.”
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090725/ap_on_re_us/us_black_market_kidneys

So – who is investigating the culpability of the hospitals in this?
Probably no one.
But operating on, and stealing organs from, poor people cannot take place in a hospital without a lot of people knowing and covering up.

And why don’t they track these “donors” – they entered the US, so they have visas – hello Homeland Security – why don’t you stop smelling peoples’ feet and find out who in Israel facilitated these people coming to US to have their organs removed?

And why are they brought to US? Why not operate in Israel?

And why in 24 hours has the story disappeared, even tho it is the sort of sensational story that would normally occupy many news cycles?

Because the word went out – don’t make Jews/Israel look bad?