Wednesday, November 24 Nine Circles of Hell!

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The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Wednesday, November 24, including a bonus story on Portugal, are:

Anti-earmark Republican slips $200 million earmark into bill

Financial crisis leads China, Russia to quit dollar for bilateral trade

Female migrant farmworkers face sexual harassment, abuse, violence

Portugal latest site of strikes against government budget cuts

Violent protests after Egyptian government refuses to allow church

‘Staying connected’ worse for your kid’s brain than TV

For-profit colleges are more expensive, have low graduation rates

Is intrusive profiling technology set to return?

Support for religion linked to willingness to inflict punishment

Anti-earmark Republican slips $200 million earmark into bill
The Associated Press
(11/24/10)

GOP leader reaps $200 million

Senate Republicans’ ban on earmarks — money included in a bill by a lawmaker to benefit a home-state project or interest — was short-lived …

Kyl slipped the measure into a larger bill sought by President Barack Obama and passed by the Senate on Friday to settle claims by black farmers and American Indians against the federal government. Kyl’s office insists the measure is not an earmark, and the House didn’t deem it one when it considered a version earlier this year.

But it meets the know-it-when-you-see-it test, critics say. Under Senate rules, an earmark is a spending item inserted “primarily at the request of a senator” that goes “to an entity, or (is) targeted to a specific state.”

Earmarking allows lawmakers to steer federal spending to pet projects in their states and districts. Earmarks take many forms, including road projects, improvements to home district military bases, sewer projects, economic development projects. A key trait is that they are projects that haven’t been sought by the administration in power …

A top Democrat scornfully pointed out that the project is going to a state whose GOP lawmakers claim to oppose earmarks.

Financial crisis leads China, Russia to quit dollar for bilateral trade
China Daily
(11/24/10)

China, Russia quit dollar

China and Russia have decided to renounce the US dollar and resort to using their own currencies for bilateral trade, Premier Wen Jiabao and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin announced late on Tuesday.

Chinese experts said the move reflected closer relations between Beijing and Moscow and is not aimed at challenging the dollar, but to protect their domestic economies.

“About trade settlement, we have decided to use our own currencies,” Putin said at a joint news conference with Wen in St. Petersburg.

The two countries were accustomed to using other currencies, especially the dollar, for bilateral trade. Since the financial crisis, however, high-ranking officials on both sides began to explore other possibilities.

The yuan has now started trading against the Russian rouble in the Chinese interbank market, while the renminbi will soon be allowed to trade against the rouble in Russia, Putin said.

“That has forged an important step in bilateral trade and it is a result of the consolidated financial systems of world countries,” he said.

Female migrant farmworkers face sexual harassment, abuse, violence
Southern California Public Radio
(11/23/10)

Report documents exploitation of immigrant women in US food industry

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the exploitation of immigrant women in the nation’s food industry “one of the great civil rights crises of our time.” The organization’s new report, released Monday, says the fields of California harvest many of the abuses.

As she addressed a small group of reporters gathered in Los Angeles, Southern Poverty Law Center legal director Mary Bower sought to stir this country’s collective conscience.

“Every one of us who eats in America – that is, all of us – is connected to these women,” she said. “Every day, we accept the benefits of their grueling labor.”

For example, you may have eaten the strawberries picked by Maria Alonzo. She’s a 32-year-old undocumented woman from Oaxaca, Mexico who’s worked the fields of Ventura County.

“In harvesting the strawberry, we suffered the sexual harassment with the crew leaders,” Alonzo said.

She held back tears. “They take the women in a room and have them by themselves.”

Like other women, Alonzo would not name her employer because she’s scared of retaliation.

Sexual harassment is among the many problems the Southern Poverty Law Center documented in its report “Injustice On Our Plates.” Researchers spoke to 150 women who work in fields and meatpacking plants around the country.

“A number of the women who we interviewed talked to us about sexual violence and migration,” the center’s Monica Ramirez said. “They also shared with us that sexual violence in migration is so common that today women take birth control before they leave their countries of origin so that they do not get pregnant by their rapists in migration.”

The report focuses on the problems the estimated 800,000 women farm and poultry workers in this country routinely face.

For example, it offers statistics that indicate the average income of female crop workers is around $11,000 a year – compared to their male counterparts who average $5,000 more. It also found that the employers often refuse to pay the women directly, and write check to their husbands instead …

In many cases, immigrant women in the U.S. food industry face the same challenges as men: exposure to chemicals, inadequate access to drinking water and bathrooms, low pay.

But Christine Park-Gonzalez of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said women remain particularly vulnerable.

“We certainly know that there is a problem of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual violence in the fields in all these agricultural jobs,” Park-Gonzalez said. “The only issue, of course, is that we need to get these women to come forward.”

Portugal latest site of strikes against government budget cuts
BBC News
(11/24/10)

Strike against austerity cuts brings Portugal to a halt

Many of Portugal’s public services have ground to a halt as workers strike in a bid to weaken the government’s resolve to make deep budget cuts.

Rail services, urban transport, flights, rubbish collection, healthcare and banking were all disrupted by the first general strike in decades.

The action was largely peaceful but two women were injured on a picket line.

Parliament is set to vote on a budget meant to tackle the mounting debt crisis on Friday.

The Socialist government wants to quell international unease over the country’s public spending and deficit by cutting wages for public sector workers, freezing pensions and increasing taxes.

With the main opposition party saying it will not block the budget, analysts expect it to have an easy passage through parliament.

While the strike is unlikely to throw the government off course, it may fuel fresh concern on the markets, especially following the government’s revelation this week that Portugal’s budget deficit actually grew this year instead of shrinking, the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford reports from Lisbon …

Police in the northern town of Calendario arrested the manager of a hypermarket who allegedly drove his car into a picket line, injuring two women and threatening others.

A union official said one of the women had had her leg crushed by the car.

Police said they had arrested the man for dangerous driving and possession of a weapon.

Roads in and around the capital were choked with heavy traffic as many people chose to commute by car but in the city centre traffic was normal, Reuters news agency reported.

Cafes and shops were open and vans delivered goods as usual, it said.

In contrast to the recent protests against pension reform in France, the Portuguese strikers have not planned mass demonstrations but are confining themselves to pickets …

Portugal has failed to prosper or drive up productivity since joining the euro at what many now say was an unrealistic exchange rate, BBC Europe business correspondent Nigel Cassidy says.

The country found it especially difficult to compete with China in a previously strong sector, the manufacturing of textiles and shoes.

With 80% of its public debt held abroad, Portugal now finds itself at the mercy of bond traders and wants to convince the markets that it will be able to meet its commitments, our correspondent says.

  • In other Portugal news, TIME reports, “New Study Confirms Decriminalization Was a Success”:
    From the perspective of drug warriors, the criminal laws against drug possession are all that protect Americans from a deluge of drugs, an orgy of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine use that would kill children, destroy productivity and basically leave America a smoking hulk of wasteland populated by brain-dead zombies.
    For example, one opponent of marijuana decriminalization wrote in a 2009 forum in the New York Times that the policy would lead to “hundreds of billions of dollars in new medical-care costs, traffic and other accident costs, reduced worker productivity and lower educational achievements.”
    But new research on Portugal’s drug policy suggests that this isn’t necessarily so. Portugal decriminalized possession of all drugs in 2001. The outcome, after nearly a decade, according to a study published in the November issue of the British Journal of Criminology: less teen drug use, fewer HIV infections, fewer AIDS cases and more drugs seized by law enforcement. Adult drug use rates did slightly increase — but this increase was not greater than that seen in nearby countries that did not change their drug policies. The use of drugs by injection declined.

Violent protests after Egyptian government refuses to allow church
Agence France Presse
(11/24/10)

Demonstrator killed as Egypt Christians clash with police

A teenage demonstrator was killed and dozens injured Wednesday as Coptic Christian protesters clashed with Egyptian police over denial of permission to open a new church, a security official said.

A security official told AFP a young male demonstrator was killed during the protests and that a senior police officer was among the injured. He was later identified as Makarios Gad Shukr, 19.

Violent confrontations between Muslims and Copts break out sporadically in the Arab world’s most populous country, sometimes over the construction of churches, but clashes between police and Christians are rare.

Hundreds of Copts hurled stones and firebombs at police throughout the morning in several locations in the Talibiya district of Cairo’s Giza governorate.

Police fired tear gas at the protesters and threw rocks.

‘Staying connected’ worse for your kid’s brain than TV
The New York Times
(11/21/10)

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction

Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.

Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

“Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,” said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston. And the effects could linger: “The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

But even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students’ technological territory …

Several recent studies show that young people tend to use home computers for entertainment, not learning, and that this can hurt school performance, particularly in low-income families. Jacob L. Vigdor, an economics professor at Duke University who led some of the research, said that when adults were not supervising computer use, children “are left to their own devices, and the impetus isn’t to do homework but play around.”

Research also shows that students often juggle homework and entertainment. The Kaiser Family Foundation found earlier this year that half of students from 8 to 18 are using the Internet, watching TV or using some other form of media either “most” (31 percent) or “some” (25 percent) of the time that they are doing homework …

Students say that their parents, worried about the distractions, try to police computer time, but that monitoring the use of cellphones is difficult. Parents may also want to be able to call their children at any time, so taking the phone away is not always an option.

Other parents wholly embrace computer use, even when it has no obvious educational benefit …

In an experiment at the German Sport University in Cologne in 2007, boys from 12 to 14 spent an hour each night playing video games after they finished homework.

On alternate nights, the boys spent an hour watching an exciting movie, like “Harry Potter” or “Star Trek,” rather than playing video games. That allowed the researchers to compare the effect of video games and TV.

The researchers looked at how the use of these media affected the boys’ brainwave patterns while sleeping and their ability to remember their homework in the subsequent days. They found that playing video games led to markedly lower sleep quality than watching TV, and also led to a “significant decline” in the boys’ ability to remember vocabulary words. The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics …

At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory.

In that vein, recent imaging studies of people have found that major cross sections of the brain become surprisingly active during downtime. These brain studies suggest to researchers that periods of rest are critical in allowing the brain to synthesize information, make connections between ideas and even develop the sense of self.

Researchers say these studies have particular implications for young people, whose brains have more trouble focusing and setting priorities …

Dr. Rich said in an interview that he was not suggesting young people should toss out their devices, but rather that they embrace a more balanced approach to what he said were powerful tools necessary to compete and succeed in modern life.

At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory.

In that vein, recent imaging studies of people have found that major cross sections of the brain become surprisingly active during downtime. These brain studies suggest to researchers that periods of rest are critical in allowing the brain to synthesize information, make connections between ideas and even develop the sense of self.

Researchers say these studies have particular implications for young people, whose brains have more trouble focusing and setting priorities.

For-profit colleges are more expensive, have low graduation rates
The New York Times
(11/22/10)

Report Finds Low Graduation Rates at For-Profit Colleges

A new report on graduation rates at for-profit colleges by a nonprofit research and advocacy group charges that such colleges deliver “little more than crippling debt,” citing federal data that suggests only 9 percent of the first-time, full-time bachelor’s degree students at the University of Phoenix, the nation’s largest for-profit college, graduate within six years.

The report, “Subprime Opportunity,” by the Education Trust, found that in 2008, only 22 percent of the first-time, full-time bachelor’s degree students at for-profit colleges over all graduate within six years, compared with 55 percent at public institutions and 65 percent at private nonprofit colleges.

Among Phoenix’s online students, only 5 percent graduated within six years, and at the campuses in Cleveland and Wichita, Kan., only 4 percent graduated within six years …

Since the first-time, full-time students tracked in the federal statistics are the most likely to graduate, the report said, these figures may actually overstate the graduation rates …

The report acknowledges that for students seeking associate degrees, for-profit colleges’ three-year graduation rate of 60 percent is considerably higher than the 22 percent rate at public community colleges.

There is still cause for concern, the report said, because for-profit students graduate with so much more debt than community college students. Many either default on their loans, or struggle to make payments but find that their lives are taken over by debt.

In a separate study also released Tuesday, the Pew Research Center reported that almost one-quarter of those who received bachelor’s degrees at for-profit schools in 2008 borrowed more than $40,000, compared with 5 percent at public institutions and 14 percent at not-for-profit colleges. Over all, the Pew report found that students who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2008 borrowed 50 percent more, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than those who graduated in 1996. Those who earned an associate degree or certificate in 2008 borrowed more than twice as much as their 1996 counterparts.

Is intrusive profiling technology set to return?
The Wall Street Journal
(11/24/10)

Shunned Profiling Technology on the Verge of Comeback

One of the most potentially intrusive technologies for profiling and targeting Internet users with ads is on the verge of a comeback, two years after an outcry by privacy advocates in the U.S. and Britain appeared to kill it.

The technology, known as “deep packet inspection,” is capable of reading and analyzing the “packets” of data traveling across the Internet. It can be far more powerful than “cookies” and other techniques commonly used to track people online because it can be used to monitor all online activity, not just Web browsing. Spy agencies use the technology for surveillance.

Now, two U.S. companies, Kindsight Inc. and Phorm Inc., are pitching deep packet inspection services as a way for Internet service providers to claim a share of the lucrative online ad market.

Kindsight and Phorm say they protect people’s privacy with steps that include obtaining their consent. They also say they don’t use the full power of the technology, and refrain from reading email and analyzing sensitive online activities.

Use of deep packet inspection this way would nonetheless give advertisers the ability to show ads to people based on extremely detailed profiles of their Internet activity. To persuade Internet users to opt in to be profiled, Kindsight will offer a free security service, while Phorm promises to provide customized web content such as news articles tailored to users’ interests. Both would share ad revenue with the ISPs.

Support for religion linked to willingness to inflict punishment
New Scientist
(11/24/10)

Thoughts of religion prompt acts of punishment

why have religions that involve self-sacrifice and punishment survived? The link between support for a religion and a willingness to inflict punishment may point to the answer.

To study this link, Ernst Fehr at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and his team enrolled 304 people, mainly students. They were sorted into pairs and played 20 rounds of a game in which the first player was shown a monetary reward and had to choose one of two ways to split it with their partner: they could either share it equally or take a greater share for themselves.

The second player then had the option of punishing the first one by deducting from their reward. Dishing out punishment came at a cost, however: the punisher lost a reward unit for each three units they deducted from their partner.

Fehr wanted to find out what motivated people to punish others. Before deciding on the punishment, the second player was subliminally shown a group of words. These either related to religion – like “divine”, “holy”, “pious” and “religious” – to secular punishment, or were neutral words like “tractor”.

After the game, all players were asked if they had donated money to a religious organisation in the previous year. The team found that those who had donated – about 15 per cent of participants – exacted the most severe punishments, but only after they had been shown the subliminal religious cues. When primed in this way, this group deducted roughly three times as many points on average as other players.

“We think that the cues give them a reminder they are being watched,” says psychologist Ryan McKay of Royal Holloway University of London, who co-led the study with Fehr. “To please the supernatural agent they worship, they exact higher punishments. The other possibility is that the cued words awakened the concepts of appropriate punishment in their minds” …

Chris Frith of University College London says previous studies have shown that people will impose punishments at a cost to themselves, and that this is a powerful means of maintaining group cooperation and reducing selfish behaviour. Fehr and McKay’s study suggests religion may enhance such behaviour, Frith says, and thus have a survival value.

But other motivations are possible too, Frith adds. “Appropriate secular ideas, such as socialism should, in principle, be equally effective in priming group-oriented behaviour.”

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