Undernews: November 20, 2012

Column – Undernews

As planned Black Friday strikes draw increasing media attention, Walmart continues to publicly dismiss the actions as stunts and the workers involved as an unrepresentative fringe. But workers charge that behind closed doors, the company is waging a stepped-up …

Undernews: November 20, 2012

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Workers charge management threats at Walmart

Josh Eidelson, Nation – As planned Black Friday strikes draw increasing media attention, Walmart continues to publicly dismiss the actions as stunts and the workers involved as an unrepresentative fringe. But workers charge that behind closed doors, the company is waging a stepped-up campaign to to intimidate them out of striking. That includes both alleged illegal threats and punishments, and likely legal mandatory meetings designed to discourage workers from joining the Black Friday rebellion.

OUR Walmart filed the latest of dozens of National Labor Relations Board charges against Walmart. The charge alleges that Walmart’s national headquarters has “told store-level management to threaten workers with termination, discipline, and/or a lawsuit if they strike or engage in other concerted job actions on Black Friday” and that managers in cities including San Leandro, California, Fairfield, Connecticut, and Dallas have done exactly that. It also alleges that Walmart Vice President of Communications David Tovar “threatened employees” with his statements. OUR Walmart says it is seeking “immediate intervention” to remedy the alleged crimes. In an e-mailed statement, American Rights at Work Research Director Erin Johansson said, “Walmart appears to be issuing serious threats to employees to stop them from exercising their rights under law.”

In past interviews, Walmart has denied that it illegally retaliates against workers for activism, and Tovar denied the latest allegations in an interview with The New York Times. But the company has not denied that it holds mandatory meetings to discourage it. (As in a union campaign, such “captive audience” meetings are legal, though some “threats” are not.) OUR Walmart confirmed that workers have reported being required to attend such meetings in the lead-up to Black Friday.

Benetton’s mannequins to spy on you

Atlantic – This holiday season, if you shop at Benetton, you may be under surveillance.

…. The store has purchased mannequins from an Italian company which promises that “from now on the mannequins will not only display your collections … [but will] make it possible to ‘observe’ who is attracted by your windows and reveal important details about [them].”

As Bloomberg ‘s Andrew Roberts reports:

“It’s spooky,” said Luca Solca, head of luxury goods research at Exane BNP Paribas in London. “You wouldn’t expect a mannequin to be observing you.”

The EyeSee looks ordinary enough on the outside, with its slender polystyrene frame, blank face and improbable pose. Inside, it’s no dummy. A camera embedded in one eye feeds data into facial-recognition software like that used by police. It logs the age, gender, and race of passers-by.

Pope cans priest for acting like a Christian

National Catholic Reporter – Roy Bourgeois, a longtime peace activist and priest who had come under scrutiny for his support of women’s ordination, has been dismissed from the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, which he served for 45 years, according to the congregation.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made the dismissal in October, according to a news release issued Monday afternoon by the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.

Research: How useful are window envelopes

Improbable Research : The Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis publishes original experimental studies in all areas of psychology where the null hypothesis is supported. “The main aim of JASNH is to reverse the perception that null (non-significant results) are necessarily bad.” explains the publisher, the Reysen Group, Department of Psychology, Texas A&M University Commerce.

As an example, see ‘The Effects of Transparent Outgoing Envelopes on the Response Rate and Speed in Mail Surveys‘ by Hiromitsu Maeda and Shingo Abe (Volume 7, No. 1, June 2010).

“There are few studies that have examined the influences of transparent or see-through envelopes…”

“In this study, a mail survey was conducted in order to examine the effects of transparent envelopes (those allowing visualization of contents) on response rate and speed. The experiment was carried out by mailing a questionnaire covered with either transparent outgoing envelope or plain one to 1,000 households, whom were chosen by two-stage area sampling.”

“The results of this experimental mail survey indicated that the use of transparent outgoing envelopes did not significantly stimulate the survey response.”

Report: 70% of Retired US Generals Take Jobs With Defense Corporations « Antiwar.com Blog

Anti-War – About 70 percent of retired three-and-four star generals took jobs with defense contractors or consultants, according to a report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Brave New Foundation. Huffington Post:

The report found that 76 out of 108 top generals took such jobs from 2009 to 2011, and a few continued to advise the Department of Defense while on the payroll of contractors. The report cited Gen. James Cartwright, who was elected to a paid position on Raytheon’s board of directors while serving on the Defense Policy Board. Adm. Gary Roughead also served on the board while joining the board of Northrop Grumman, earning $115,000 per year

Local currency getting a boost

Annie Gowen, Washington Post – Local or alternative currencies are almost as old as trade itself, but the movement has found new life amid the global financial crisis, as parallel economies outside the traditional monetary system have emerged in countries such as Spain, Mexico and Brazil. These systems are flourishing because the unemployed can either trade skills for local currency or swap their time for other services.

Supporters of local currency in the United States say they are founding these systems here because they believe in the “buy local” movement and want to strengthen their neighborhoods and reduce reliance on large corporate banks.

“Obviously the idea of local currency has been around for a long time and historically they do pop up in times of economic uncertainty,” said Julie Gouldener, 40, program coordinator of the Baltimore Green Currency Association. “We view the complementary currency as a win-win. It’s not meant to replace the U.S. dollar. It’s meant to exist alongside it and build more local wealth.”

Gouldener’s group launched a currency called the BNote in April 2011. Locals can trade real dollars for BNotes at eight “cambios” around the city, including Zeke’s Coffee in Northeast Baltimore, and use them at 175 businesses. So far, there are about 28,000 BNotes in circulation.

“It’s going great. We’ve had steady growth since the launch,” Gouldener said.

Ed Collom, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Southern Maine, said local currencies had their first heyday during the Great Depression, when users traded notes called scrip essentially IOUs made of paper, wood or even clamshells that replaced scarce federal dollars.

There are now about a dozen local currency systems around the country, including Ithaca Hours, one of the largest that was founded in New York in 1991. The idea seems to appeal to people from a wide political spectrum from Green Party progressives campaigning against globalization to libertarians suspicious of big government.

Collom said that currency systems are more likely to falter because organizers find it difficult to sustain momentum. Even the Ithaca Hours has seen a decline in usage, with the number of participating businesses falling from about 500 at its height to about 200 now. Its new board president, Paul Strebel, a financial adviser, said he hopes to reinvigorate the system and is exploring using virtual bills on smartphones.

Greek town turns to alternative currency

The conservative reversal on prisons

David Dagan and Steven M. Teles, Washington Monthly – American streets are much safer today than they were thirty years ago, and until recently most conservatives had a simple explanation: more prison beds equal less crime. This argument was a fulcrum of Republican politics for decades, boosting candidates from Richard Nixon to George H. W. Bush and scores more in the states…

Now that crime and the fear of victimization are down, we might expect Republicans to take a victory lap, casting safer streets as a vindication of their hard line. Instead, more and more conservatives are clambering down from the prison ramparts. Take Newt Gingrich, who made a promise of more incarceration an item of his 1994 Contract with America. Seventeen years later, he had changed his tune. “There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential,” Gingrich wrote in 2011. “The criminal-justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.”

None of Gingrich’s rivals in the vicious Republican presidential primary exploited these statements. If anything, his position is approaching party orthodoxy. The 2012 Republican platform declares, “Prisons should do more than punish; they should attempt to rehabilitate and institute proven prisoner reentry systems to reduce recidivism and future victimization.” What’s more, a rogue’s gallery of conservative crime warriors have joined Gingrich’s call for Americans to rethink their incarceration reflex. They include Ed Meese, Asa Hutchinson, William Bennett¬even the now-infamous American Legislative Exchange Council. Most importantly, more than a dozen states have launched serious criminal justice reform efforts in recent years, with conservatives often in the lead.

Skeptics might conclude that conservatives are only rethinking criminal justice because lockups have become too expensive. But whether prison costs too much depends on what you think of incarceration’s benefits. Change is coming to criminal justice because an alliance of evangelicals and libertarians have put those benefits on trial. Discovering that the nation’s prison growth is morally objectionable by their own, conservative standards, they are beginning to attack it¬and may succeed where liberals, working the issue on their own, have, so far, failed.


African girls come up with pee power

CNET – In a stroke of ingenuity that could have proven handy during Hurricane Sandy, four teenage African girls have come up with a urine-powered generator.

Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, and Faleke Oluwatoyin, all 14, and Bello Eniola, 15, collaborated on the invention, which they claim generates one hour of electricity from one liter (about a quart) of urine.

A post on the Maker Faire Africa blog describes the generator’s workings in the following words:
• Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which separates out the hydrogen.
• The gas cylinder pushes hydrogen into a cylinder of liquid borax, which is used to remove the moisture from the hydrogen gas.
• This purified hydrogen gas is pushed into the generator.


Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit

We didn’t say that.

Ronald Reagan did.

More Americans will use food stamps this Thanksgiving than ever before

Mid East
Israeli assault uniting Palestinians
More myths about Gaza

Nader: The Israelis as provocateurs

Ralph Nader – Israeli government leaders are expert provocateurs when they wish to seize land, water or prisoners and upset any movement toward a peace that would create a viable Palestinian state back to the 1967 borders, which includes East Jerusalem. When Israel came into being in 1948, it soon broke a UN truce and doubled its territory by taking the large area known as the Negev desert, whose refugees ended up in the Gaza Strip. Now 1.6 million encircled and impoverished humans, blockaded and under siege by Israel, try to survive in an open-air prison little more than twice the size of the District of Columbia.

Israel’s strategy of breaking cease-fires and truces over the years has been documented by Princeton University history professor emeritus, Arno J. Mayer, in his scholarly book Plowshares into Swords: From Zionism to Israel.

In late 2008, Israel broke a months-long truce with Hamas with an attack that took half a dozen lives. Modern Israeli missiles and crude Hamas rockets started flying to and fro. Then Israel invaded the Gaza strip with soldiers to add to its previous incursions – 24/7 electronic and satellite surveillance, omnipresent spies, flyovers, and data mining (down to specific details on each extended family and neighborhood). With their avowed pinpoint bombing, the Israelis destroyed homes, schools, clinics, police stations, clusters of people at bus stops, farms, UN facilities and even hit the American International School – all with the blessing of President-elect Barack Obama.


Goldman Sachs CEO wants to raise retirement age

Alternet – Lloyd Blankfein evidently taking a break from doing “ god’s work ” as the CEO of Wall Street behemoth Goldman Sachs told CBS News’ Scott Pelley that he believes the retirement age needs to be raised because “in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained”:

BLANKFEIN: You’re going to have to undoubtedly do something to lower people’s expectations the entitlements and what people think that they’re going to get, because it’s not going to they’re not going to get it.

PELLEY: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid?

BLANKFEIN: You can look at history of these things, and Social Security wasn’t devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career. … So there will be things that, you know, the retirement age has to be changed, maybe some of the benefits have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised. But in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.

PELLEY: Because we can’t afford them going forward?

BLANKFEIN: Because we can’t afford them.

Apes have midlife crises, too

National Geographic – New research says it’s not just humans who go through midlife crises: Chimps and orangutans also experience a dip in happiness around the middle of their lives.

“There may be different things going on at the surface, but underneath it all, there’s something common in all three species that’s leading to this,” said study leader Alexander Weiss, a primate psychologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

The study team asked longtime caretakers of more than 500 chimpanzees and orangutans at zoos in five countries to fill out a questionnaire about the well-being of each animal they work with, including overall mood, how much the animals seemed to enjoy social interactions, and how successful they were in achieving goals (such as obtaining a desired item or spot within their enclosure).

The survey even asked the humans to imagine themselves as the animal and rate how happy they’d be.

When Weiss’s team plotted the results on a graph, they saw a familiar curve, bottoming out in the middle of the animals’ lives and rising again in old age. It’s the same U-shape that has shown up in several studies about age and happiness in people.

Senate Democrats push bill that would end email privacy

CNET – A Senate proposal touted as protecting Americans’ e-mail privacy has been quietly rewritten, giving government agencies more surveillance power than they possess under current law.

CNET has learned that Patrick Leahy, the influential Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, has dramatically reshaped his legislation in response to law enforcement concerns. A vote on his bill, which now authorizes warrantless access to Americans’ e-mail, is scheduled for next week.

Revised bill highlights:

Grants warrantless access to Americans’ electronic correspondence to over 22 federal agencies. Only a subpoena is required, not a search warrant signed by a judge based on probable cause.

Permits state and local law enforcement to warrantlessly access Americans’ correspondence stored on systems not offered “to the public,” including university networks.

Authorizes any law enforcement agency to access accounts without a warrant — or subsequent court review — if they claim “emergency” situations exist.

Says providers “shall notify” law enforcement in advance of any plans to tell their customers that they’ve been the target of a warrant, order, or subpoena.

Delays notification of customers whose accounts have been accessed from 3 days to “10 business days.” This notification can be postponed by up to 360 days.

Leahy’s rewritten bill would allow more than 22 agencies — including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission — to access Americans’ e-mail, Google Docs files, Facebook wall posts, and Twitter direct messages without a search warrant. It also would give the FBI and Homeland Security more authority, in some circumstances, to gain full access to Internet accounts without notifying either the owner or a judge.

Who’s behind the effort to cut Social Security & Medicrare

Public Campaign – A coalition of 95 companies, including some of the country’s largest corporations, are urging Congress to “Fix the Debt,” through a plan that mostly hurts middle class families while preserving tax breaks and windfalls for big corporations.

The coalition is kicking off a splashy $80 million lobbying campaign to “Fix the Debt,” a plan that, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, consists of two basic points: “pro-growth” corporate tax reform and “reforming” earned-benefit programs. In plain English, their goal is to make cuts to Medicare and Social Security while securing windfalls for some of the country’s biggest corporations¬a plan that’s nowhere near balanced.

But the $80 million being spent on this campaign is only part of the story. Playing the influence game isn’t new to most of these companies, who have spent big over the past few years on lobbying and campaign contributions by their corporate PACs and CEOs.

Over the coming weeks and months, Congress will grapple with the so-called “fiscal cliff” and tax reform. Many of the loudest high-paid voices, like those in this coalition, have spent years building up influence with politicians and these companies and their lobbyists will be using that to their advantage.

• The 95 companies that make up the “Fix the Debt” coalition have spent nearly $1 billion over the past four years on lobbying and campaign contributions.
• Twenty-two publicly traded companies that are members of the coalition have spent more on lobbying in the past three years than they have on taxes.
• General Electric is the top influence spender of these companies. Since 2009, GE, its CEO, and political action committee have spent a combined $112 million on lobbying and campaign contributions.
• The influence peddling is bipartisan. 57 percent of the contributions spent by the CEOs and PACs of these companies goes to Republicans and 43 percent goes to Democrats.

Israeli myths about Gaza

Juan Cole, Alternet – Israeli hawks represent themselves as engaged in a ‘peace process’ with the Palestinians in which Hamas refuses to join. In fact, Israel has refused to cease colonizing and stealing Palestinian land long enough to engage in fruitful negotiations with them. Tel Aviv routinely announces new, unilateral house-building on the Palestinian West Bank. There is no peace process. It is an Israeli and American sham. Talking about a peace process is giving cover to Israeli nationalists who are determined to grab everything the Palestinians have and reduce them to penniless refugees (again).

….Israeli hawks represent their war of aggression as in ‘self-defense.’ But the UK Israeli chief rabbi admitted on camera that that the Gaza attack actually ‘had something to do with Iran.’

….. Israeli hawks demonize the Palestinians of Gaza as “bad neighbors” who don’t accept Israel. But 40% of the people in Gaza are refugees, mostly living in refugee camps, from families in pre-1948 Palestine that had lived there for millennia.

They were expelled from what is now Israel in the 1948 Zionist ethnic cleansing campaign. Israelis are now living in their homes and farming their land, and they were never paid any reparations for the crimes done to them. Israel does not accept Palestine’s right to exist, even though it is constantly demanding that everyone, including the displaced and occupied Palestinians, recognize Israel’s right to exist.

…. Israeli hawks and their American clones depict Gaza as a foreign, hostile state with which Israel is at war. In fact, the Gaza strip is a small territory of 1.7 million people militarily occupied by Israel (something in which the UN and other international bodies concur). Israelis do not allow it to have a port or airport, nor to export most of what it produces. Palestinians cannot work about a third of its land, which is reserved by Israel as a security buffer. As an occupied territory, it is covered by the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of occupied populations by their military occupier. Indiscriminate bombing of occupied territories by the occupier is clearly illegal in international law.

….Israeli hawks maintain that they were provoked into the attack. But actually Ahmad Jabari, the Hamas leader the Israelis assassinated earlier this week, had been engaged in talks with the Israelis about a truce. Assassinations achieved by the ruse of openness to peace talks are guarantees of no further peace talks.


Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the blog Informed Comment.

Major charter school scandal exposed

For many years, we have assumed that the charter vs. public school debate was rigged in favor of charters by their ability to get rid of students who weren’t doing well. This, by retired DC school teacher Erich Martel, details the practice in the nation’s capital

Erich Martel – If we were to believe the DC Public School Charter Board and its lobbyist like Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, most DCPS schools should be closed and transferred to charter operators.

DC’s public charters’ promise of a safe environment and an academic focus attract the more engaged parents. They keep a safe environment by expulsions, suspensions and, above all, by transferring low performing and disruptive students and most of them go back to DC public school system

[Here’s the way it works]

First: Attract the families most eager for an alternative;

Second: Cull through this self-selected group and transfer the students who don’t meet school standards.

Third: Selective reports of indicators like school test results, graduation rates

When one tracks cohorts of students (peer groups as they move up the grades each year), the numbers of students that the charters transfer each year becomes evident:

From all charter schools:
• Between Oct 2008 and Oct 2009, 884 students were transferred from charter schools
• Between Oct 2009 and Oct 2010, 1318 students were transferred
• Between Oct 2010 and Oct 2011, 1760 students were transferred

For the past eight years, charter schools’ enrollment fell between grade 9 and 10, 10 and 11 and 11 and 12 and, with one exception, between grades 7 and 8. In addition, for the past three years, they lost students between grades 1 and 2.

Where to? Mostly to [the DC public school system].

Charter schools use two loopholes that inflate their reports: omitting closed charter schools from their cohort numbers and students transferred back to DCPS or to non-DC schools

Charters can claim a higher graduation rate, because they transfer students to DCPS or to other [local educational agencies], if they are in danger of dropping out.

In fact, over the five year period of DC CAS tests, 2007 to 2011, the charter schools transferred an average of over 40% of their 9th grade enrollment (equal to an average of 730 students) prior to the administration of the grade 10 DC CAS test in April of the 10th grade year. In other words, in the 18th months between the grade 9 enrollment and the grade 10 test, 40% of the 9th grade enrollment was dropped from the charter schools. Who did they drop? Students likely to do poorly on their tests. Where did they go? Mostly to DCPS.

The deception behind the failure to accurately report these data allows the false perception that the charter schools are providing a superior education than DCPS.

What Louisiana schoolchildren are learning about evolution

Click for big version.


Drought not going away

Wunderground – According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, the amount of the contiguous U.S. in moderate to extreme drought declined last week to 59%, down from the 65% peak of September 25. However, the intense drought is likely to persist through the winter, and its already heavily impacting the winter wheat growing season, which began in October. The persistent drought is also a major problem for Mississippi River navigation. According to a November 17 AP story, the Mississippi is so low that if it drops another five feet, barge traffic may shut down from St. Louis to the confluence of the Ohio River at Cairo, IL. The Army Corps of Engineers plans to lower the level of the Mississippi by 2 – 3 feet over the next few weeks, due to the need to conserve water in the upper Missouri River basin.

Alternative news update

Action notes

Massive Nationwide Protest By Walmart Workers on Black Friday

Protests Nov. 27 to Demand Accountability from Military for Abuse of WikiLeaks Source

Civil liberties
Desmond Tutu praises Manning

The drive to reform the filibuster

EPA Fails to Protect Communities from Cancer-Causing Air Pollution
CREW Calls for Investigation of Secret EPA Email Accounts
1,300 Acres of Wetlands Proposed for Destruction in Northeast Minnesota
Tree intercropping could save Africa’s soils


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