Saturday, December 24, 2011

US regrets Cuba's decision not to release Alan Gross, jailed for bringing Internet equipment to Cuba

US regrets Cuba's decision not to release Alan Gross
Alan Gross's health is said to be deteriorating
Dec. 24, 2011

The US State Department has said it is disappointed that US citizen Alan Gross is not among some 2,900 prisoners to be released by Cuba.

The prisoners, some convicted of political crimes, will be released over the next few days.

President Raul Castro said the move was a goodwill gesture made after he had received numerous requests from relatives and religious institutions.

But Gross, serving 15 years for crimes against the state, will not be freed.

"If this is correct, we are deeply disappointed and deplore the fact that the Cuban government has decided not to take this opportunity to extend this humanitarian release to Mr Gross this holiday season," Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said.

He said Gross's health was deteriorating and his family had suffered for many years hoping for his release.

In his statement, Mr Toner said Gross - jailed for taking internet equipment to the Communist-run island - should be returned to his family "where he belongs".

Black Spring

President Castro said that 86 foreign prisoners from 25 countries would be freed, and that diplomats would be notified shortly.

Continue reading the main story
Cuba mass prisoner releases

1962: Release and expulsion to the US of 1,113 prisoners captured during failed Bay of Pigs invasion
1979: More than 3,000 prisoners released after negotiations with Cuban exiles
1984: Release of 26 political prisoners after a visit from US activist Jesse Jackson
1998: Release of 299 prisoners after an appeal from Pope John Paul II
July 2010: Government agrees to free 52 prisoners in deal brokered by the Catholic Church
December 2011: President Raul Castro announces 2,900 prisoners to be released
(Sources: BBC, Human Rights Watch, Organization of American States)

Havana's refusal to free him has led to frozen relations with the US, despite a brief warming under President Barack Obama.

Gross, 62, was detained in December 2009 while he was delivering computers and communications equipment to the Jewish community in Cuba. He was sentenced in March 2011.

He was working as a State Department contractor...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gingrich calls Palestinians an ‘invented’ people

Palestinians are descendants of the Biblical Jews. If the Palestinians are an invented people, then the invention occurred thousands of years ago when Abraham, Isaac and Jacob founded the Jewish people. Unlike many of their Jewish cousins, the Palestinians never left the land their ancestors called Judea.

Gingrich calls Palestinians an ‘invented’ people

By Amy Gardner and Philip Rucker
December 9, 2011

Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich said in a cable TV interview that Palestinians are an “invented” people with no apparent right to their own state, a rejection of a decade of bipartisan U.S. foreign policy.

In the interview, which was taped Wednesday in Washington and will be broadcast Monday on The Jewish Channel, Gingrich spoke about his mistrust of Palestinian leaders, his admiration for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his view that the Obama administration is “favoring the terrorists” with its foreign policy.



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“Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire,” Gingrich said. “We have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab people, and they had the chance to go many places.”

“For a variety of political reasons,” Gingrich continued, “we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and I think it’s tragic.”

Gingrich’s comments, which were first reported by Politico, were met with surprise and dismay by a range of actors on the foreign policy stage, including Democratic and Republican former diplomats and Palestinian and Israeli advocates.

Gingrich did more than fan the flames of the already fraught
Arab-Israeli conflict; he challenged long-standing U.S. policy — initiated by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and continued by President Obama — to encourage the establishment of a separate Palestinian state.

“Besides being factually and historically wrong, this statement is unwise,” said Ghaith al-Omari, executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine and a former adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “Rather than trying to delegitimize or undermine the narrative of either side, it would be much more productive to work towards a solution that guarantees the security and future of both the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

Elliott Abrams, who was a deputy national security adviser under Bush and is now with the Council on Foreign Relations, said: “There was no Jordan or Syria or Iraq, either, so perhaps he would say they are all invented people as well and also have no right to statehood. Whatever was true then, Palestinian nationalism has grown since 1948, and whether we like it or not, it exists.”

Gingrich’s remarks also fed a long-standing narrative about the former House speaker — that he has a penchant for provocative utterances, exciting some while alienating others.

Gingrich’s chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, has been highlighting that narrative this week, and Gingrich’s latest remarks gave Romney more fodder to continue doing so.

On a call with reporters late Friday, former ambassador Mary Kramer, a Romney supporter, said: “I’m not sure that kind of statement gets us any closer to accomplishing an agenda, and so that’s one of the things that I think makes me a little bit nervous about Speaker Gingrich — that he sometimes makes comments that are open to very broad interpretations.”

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Republicans want to stop black women from having abortions

“This morning, you can walk into a clinic and get an abortion if you find out your child is African American,” said Patrick Mahoney, a conservative activist.

If you find out your child is African American? So a black woman would have an abortion because she discovers — surprise! — that her fetus is also black?

Before the audience had a chance to digest that, Mahoney began shouting about how abortion is “lynching” — frightening a child in the front row, who cried out and hugged his mother.

Republicans color the abortion debate
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post
December 6, 2011

Rep. Trent Franks established his credentials as a civil rights leader last year when the Arizona Republican argued that, because of high abortion rates in black communities, African Americans were better off under slavery.

But the congressman doesn’t just talk the talk. On Tuesday, he chaired a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on legislation he is introducing that would protect African American women from themselves — by making it harder for them to have abortions.

Dana Milbank

Dana Milbank writes a regular column on politics.

“In 1847, Frederick Douglass said, ‘Right is of no sex, truth is of no color, God is the father of us all and all are brethren,’ ” Franks proclaimed as he announced what he calls the “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2011.”

Drawing a line from the Civil War to the suffragist movement to defeating Hitler to the civil rights era, Franks determined that “there is one glaring exception” in the march toward equality. “Forty to 50 percent of all African American babies, virtually one in two, are killed before they are born,” he said. “This is the greatest cause of death for the African Americans.” Franks called the anti-abortion fight “the civil rights struggle that will define our generation.”

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who, unlike Franks, is African American and a veteran of the civil rights movement, took a different historical view. “I’ve studied Frederick Douglass more than you,” said Con­yers. “I’ve never heard or read him say anything about prenatal nondiscrimination.”

Orwellian naming aside, the House Republicans’ civil rights gambit (which follows passage of a similar bill in Franks’s Arizona and marks an attempt to get an abortion bill to the House floor before year’s end) points to an interesting tactic among conservatives: They have taken on a new, and somewhat suspect, interest in the poor and in the non-white. To justify their social policies, they have stolen the language of victimization from the left. In other words, they are practicing the same identity politics they have long decried.

Newt Gingrich, now threatening Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination, tried a similar argument when he argued for the elimination of “truly stupid” child labor laws and suggested that students could replace the janitors in their schools. He further explained that he was trying to help children in poor neighborhoods who have “no habits of working.”

Developer Donald Trump, who owns a Virginia country club that counts Gingrich as a member, announced this week that he would join with Gingrich to help “kids in very, very poor schools” — by extending his “Apprentice” TV reality show concept to all of 10 lucky kids. “We’re going to be picking 10 young wonderful children, and we’re going to make them apprenti,” Trump said. “We’re going to have a little fun with it.”

This “fun” might sound less patronizing if these conservatives displayed a similar concern for the well-being of the poor and the non-white during debates over budget cuts. But, whatever the motives, lawmakers and conservative activists were not bashful when they held a pre-hearing news conference Tuesday, standing beside posters directed at Latinos and African Americans (“black children are an endangered species”).

“It is horrific that in America today, babies are being killed based on their race and based on their sex,” protested Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America. Other participants in the news conference suggested that Planned Parenthood is “excited to take money specifically earmarked to kill a black baby” and linked abortion-rights advocates to eugenics, euthanasia and the Holocaust...

“This morning, you can walk into a clinic and get an abortion if you find out your child is African American,” said Patrick Mahoney, a conservative activist.

If you find out your child is African American? So a black woman would have an abortion because she discovers — surprise! — that her fetus is also black?

Before the audience had a chance to digest that, Mahoney began shouting about how abortion is “lynching” — frightening a child in the front row, who cried out and hugged his mother.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Jewish Republicans say Ron Paul doesn't understand the difference between a refugee camp and a concentration camp

"...Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry – said they wanted to scrap existing foreign aid commitments and then have each country justify assistance, including Israel." Still, Jewish Republicans see Ron Paul as outside the fold.

Ron Paul excluded from Republican Jewish Coalition forum
Forum for Republican candidates bars Ron Paul, currently polling second in Iowa, for his 'extreme' views on Israel
Chris McGreal
5 December 2011

The Republican Jewish Coalition has barred Ron Paul, one of the party's leading presidential contenders, from its forum for the candidates on Wednesday because of his "misguided and extreme views" on Israel.

Paul, who consistently ranks among the favourites in polls of Republican primary voters despite strong libertarian views that have alienated many in his own party, has rankled Israel's supporters by advocating an end to US aid to the Jewish state. He is also strongly opposed to military action against Iran's nuclear programme and has drawn attention to Israel's own atomic weapons which it does not officially acknowledge.

The RJC director, Matt Brooks, said Paul was excluded for those and other views.

"He's just so far outside of the mainstream of the Republican party and this organisation," he told CBS.

Earlier this year, Paul wrote to congressional colleagues urging them to cut billions of dollars of aid to Israel, Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan. He said that the US "borrowing money from China – or printing it out of thin air – to hand out overseas in attempt to purchase friends has been a failing foreign policy".

At a Republican candidates debate last month, Paul said the US should not back Israel if it attacks Iran's nuclear sites.

"We don't even have a treaty with Israel. Why do we have this automatic commitment that we're going to send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel? So I think they're quite capable of taking care of themselves," he said.

Critics have described Paul as isolationist and compared him to appeasers of the Nazis. Donald Trump, the billionaire developer who is hosting a Republican debate later this month, took a swipe at Paul on Fox News on Monday: "He doesn't care if Iran gets a nuclear weapon that could wipe out Israel."

Paul has previously fallen afoul of the RJC for being strongly critical of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington and for comments likening conditions in Gaza to a concentration camp in saying that the US should not support the blockade of the territory.

"I think it is absolutely wrong to prevent people who are starving and having problems, almost like in concentration camps, and saying: yes, we endorse this whole concept that we can't allow ships to go in their in a humanitarian way," he said. "I think this would be a perfect opportunity to argue the case: Israel, if you want to do this, you're on your own. We're not backing you up."

Brooks previously criticised Paul when he launched his presidential campaign earlier this year saying his views are "far outside of the Republican mainstream" and that he has "espoused a dangerous isolationist vision for the US and our role in the world".

"He has been a virulent and harsh critic of Israel during his tenure in Congress. Most recently Paul gave an interview in which he voiced his objection to the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden," he said.

But Paul has also said that Israel is a "close friend" of the US, and that it should be free to decide its own position in negotiations with the Palesitnians without pressure from Washington.

Paul has also upset many in his own party by saying that the US brought the 9/11 attacks on itself through its actions in the Middle East and by maintaining military bases in countries such as Saudi Arabia. He advocates severely cutting the US military budget and bringing almost all the country's forces home.

The coalition's barring of Paul comes as the Republicans attempt to shake off the damage done by a question about foreign aid at a candidates debate last month in which three of the leading contenders – Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry – said they wanted to scrap existing foreign aid commitments and then have each country justify assistance, including Israel. Although the candidates swiftly said after the debate that they expected aid to Israel to continue, the damage was done among some of the Jewish state's supporters...

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Nazi Story That Still Surprises

A Nazi Story That Still Surprises
Wall Street Journal

With every passing year, every new model of portentous drivel about the Nazi era rolled out by the film industry—"The Reader," about the travails of a concentration camp guard, comes to mind—the more indispensable the facts of history become. The clearer it is, too, how flimsy these film fantasies are as vehicles for drama, compared with that history. The latest reminder of this truth comes with a PBS documentary extraordinary in its detail and revelatory power. It's title, "Elusive Justice: The Search for Nazi War Criminals," may be informative, but it's far from adequate for a work that yields so many surprises, the greatest of which is its freshness. Moving in unexpected directions at every turn, Jonathan Silvers's film averts the burden of predictability—no small accomplishment for work on so familiar a theme.

The Nuremberg trials and their drama are familiar enough to the world, but not the face and the work of the 27-year-old American Army lawyer and investigator Benjamin Ferencz, charged with the task of collecting evidence for the Nuremberg prosecutions. The terrors of entering the just-liberated camps with their hellish scenes—the film provides striking footage, more extensive than the usual documentary clips, of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower doing just that, with Gen. Omar Bradley just behind him—caused him, he tells the filmmakers, to create a self-defense mechanism. The whole scene wasn't real, he told himself—it was "just a case," one of many to get through, in camp after camp. He would become chief prosecutor of a special German unit, the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile killing units operating on the Eastern front. He found the report of their daily accomplishments, which Germans meticulously recorded—a typical page of which is shown on screen, detailing how many Jewish children were killed, how many men and women had been murdered on a particular date. He counted. "When I got to over a million I stopped counting."
Elusive Justice: The Search for Nazi War Criminals

Tuesday, Nov. 15, 9-11 p.m. EST on PBS, whose dates and times vary; check local listings.

The Contenders

Fridays, 8-9:30 p.m. EST on C-Span

The film offers barely a touch of atrocity footage. Its subject is justice, or as the principals in the first part of the film, the liberated survivors of the camps thought of it, revenge—this documentary's only strained, largely forgettable moments. Far more dramatic testimony—and a startling vision of justice—comes in an interview with the middle-aged son of Hans Frank, governor of occupied Poland, one of the Germans hanged for crimes against humanity. "My father was a murderer," Nicholas Frank declares, "one who sanctioned the acts of all the other criminals who got away." One memory from his childhood stands out—the time a drunken American soldier showed up at the Frank house and lined the family up outside, threatening to shoot them all. His younger brothers and sisters cried piteously, he recalls, "but I had the feeling the soldier was correct—I belonged to a criminal family."

Enlarge Image
Harry Dreifuss/PBS

Nazi war criminal Kurt Lishka in Germany in 1971.

Scene after scene brings the struggle for justice to life, in obscure cases as in the ones best known to history. A middle-aged journalist in Cologne, Germany, has discovered by chance, long years after the war, the name and location of the SS officer who had beaten his grandfather to death upon his arrival in Theresienstadt, a transit camp for Czech Jews and others destined for Auschwitz. The journalist had come upon a 1988 news article about a former member of the SS deported from Italy. He recounts his stubborn effort to get a German court to take action—a story this sophisticated professional tells with ease and eloquence, none of which can conceal the rage that had driven him. His grandfather had been murdered, the killer was in Germany, a democratic state now, and the appropriate prosecutor refused to take action—this could not be the end of the story. It was not.

Candice Bergen, the documentary's excellent narrator, doesn't come to the subject of this film as a stranger. She is the widow of Louis Malle, whose haunting "Au Revoir Les Enfants" (1987) was based on Malle's memory of the French Catholic boys' school he attended during the war. The school had sheltered Jewish students who were ultimately betrayed and dragged off to Auschwitz, where they were gassed upon arrival. The headmaster, Lucien Bunel—Père Jacques de Jésus—was arrested and sent to Mauthausen, one of the deadliest camps in the Nazi system. The Malle film's title quotes his last words to the assembled students as he is taken away.

The film Ms. Bergen narrates covers remarkably extensive territory—including a riveting commentary provided by Willam Gowan, a former U.S. Army counter-intelligence agent, on the so-called Rat Line through which Nazi war criminals of high and low rank escaped punishment by fleeing to Argentina, with help from sympathetic Vatican priests. Characteristically, the film enlarges on a familiar fact, taking it to a deeper level. The arrival of this considerable population of war criminals, an Argentinian journalist attests, had its poisonous effect on the nation as a whole. Most of them, he points out, were experts in exactly the kind of merciless repression and terrorization that the dictatorship in Argentina found useful.

Section after section of the narrative is made rich in the same way—by taking the familiar in this history to newer and deeper levels. This is true no less of the final part on the complicated efforts to deport war criminals living in America. Altogether a rare achievement and a spellbinding one.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rick Perry can't remember which government agency he's decided to eliminate

Nov 9, 2011
The moment Rick Perry’s candidacy collapsed
He provides what may be the most painful, cringe-inducing slip-up in debate history VIDEO
By Steve Kornacki

The good news for Rick Perry is that everyone will probably stop talking about his bizarre New Hampshire speech now. The bad news is: He created an even more cringe-inducing YouTube moment at Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate — one that probably represents the most embarrassing public slip-up in what has been a campaign full of them for Perry.

Video is posted below, but we’ll stick to the transcript up here and pick things up mid-answer, a little more than an hour into the debate, when Perry — who had been mostly ignored by the moderators and his fellow candidates — tried to win some attention by talking about which Cabinet departments he’d eliminate as president:

PERRY: And I will tell you, it’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone – Commerce, Education, and, the, uh, what’s the third one there? Let’s see…

RON PAUL (holding up five fingers): Five.

PERRY: Oh, five. OK. So, Commerce, Education, and the uh, uh, uh…


PERRY: EPA. There you go.

DEBATE QUESTIONER JOHN HARWOOD: Seriously? Is EPA the one you’re talking about?

PERRY: No sir, No sir. We were talking about the agencies of government – EPA needs to be rebuilt, there’s no doubt about that…

HARWOOD: But you can’t name the third one?

PERRY: The third agency of government I would, I would do away with – Education, the uh, Commerce, and let’s see – I can’t, the third one. The third one there. Oops...

Update: The transcript has been changed to show that it was Mitt Romney — and not Ron Paul — who actually suggested the EPA to Perry. (h/t reader DR) Also, it’s probably worth noting that Perry, in an answer to a separate question more than ten minutes later, said that the Energy Department was the third “agency” he was grasping for.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Fossil Teeth Put Humans in Europe Earlier Than Thought

New evidence reinforces the suspicion that modern humans exterminated their Neanderthal cousins. The other suspect is climate change.

Fossil Teeth Put Humans in Europe Earlier Than Thought
New York Times
November 2, 2011

The fossils seemed hardly worth a second look. The one from England was only a piece of jawbone with three teeth, and the other, from southern Italy, was nothing more than two infant teeth. But scientists went ahead, re-examining them with refined techniques, and found that one specimen’s age had previously been significantly underestimated and that the other’s dating and identity had been misinterpreted.

They had in fact discovered the oldest known skeletal remains of anatomically modern humans in the whole of Europe, two international research teams reported Wednesday.

The scientists who made the discovery and others who study human origins say they expect the findings to reignite debate over the relative capabilities of the immigrant modern humans and the indigenous Neanderthals, their closest hominid relatives; the extent of their interactions; and perhaps the reasons behind the Neanderthal extinction. The findings have already prompted speculation that the Homo sapiens migrations into Europe may have come in at least two separate waves, rather than just one.

In tests conducted at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit in England, the baby teeth from Italy were dated at 43,000 to 45,000 years old. Other analysis showed the teeth to be those of a modern human, not a Neanderthal, as previously thought when the fossil was unearthed in 1964 from the Grotta del Cavallo.

Similar tests at Oxford established that the age of the jawbone, from Kents Cavern near Torquay, Devon, had been significantly underestimated, by about 7,000 years, probably because of contamination when it was originally dated in 1989. The age is now set at 41,500 to 44,200 years old, making this the oldest known modern human fossil from northwestern Europe.

These dates are remarkable on several counts, scientists said. The earliest reliably dated European modern human specimen, up to now, came from the Pestera cu Oase site in Romania, a long way east from the English coast. The Romanian fossil’s age is estimated at 37,800 to 42,000 years old. No stone tools or other artifacts were found with it.

And in the absence of early fossils, archaeologists had not been sure who made some of the stone tools they were uncovering, the arriving humans or the Neanderthals. It had been generally assumed that modern humans probably entered Europe at least as early as 45,000 years ago, based on changing patterns of artifacts that soon followed.

The two papers describing the new research were published Wednesday by the journal Nature. The lead author of the jawbone report was Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford. The principal author of the report on the baby teeth from Cavallo was Stefano Benazzi of the University of Vienna.

Not only does the jawbone indicate “the wide and rapid dispersal of the earliest moderns across Europe” during the last ice age, more than 40,000 years ago, Dr. Higham’s team wrote, it was also found in cave layers associated with a technology that archaeologists call the Aurignacian culture. The scientists said this “fills a key gap” between the earliest human skeletal remains and the earliest dated stone and bone Aurignacian tools and weapons.

Erik Trinkaus, a paleoanthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis and an author of the Higham paper, said the artifacts associated with the Kents Cavern fossil confirm “what researchers have long suspected, that the human newcomers spread the Aurignacian culture.”

In a statement issued by Oxford, Dr. Higham also pointed out that the earlier dates for these fossils meant “that early humans must have coexisted with Neanderthals in this part of the world, something which a number of researchers have doubted.”

The confirmed early appearance of modern humans in Europe gave them more time for contacts with Neanderthals before the latter’s extinction about 30,000 years ago. Although recent genetic research shows some evidence of interbreeding between the species, there was uncertainty as to how much contact the two had in Europe, as opposed to earlier interactions in western Asia. It is still not clear how widespread was the Neanderthal population in their final millenniums; after a steady decline, the last of them seemed to disappear in their cul-de-sac of a refuge in southern Iberia.

Determining the age for any samples more than 40,000 years old was no sure thing. At that age, levels of remaining radiocarbon are low, and contamination can be a serious problem. As an alternative, Katerina Douka of Oxford, a member of the team examining the Italian specimen, focused on the dating of marine shell beads found in the same archaeological levels as the teeth, a technique that has proven successful at other sites in Europe.

When the teeth had been classified as Neanderthal, it was assumed that artifacts in the Cavallo site — bone tools and ornaments in a style known as the Uluzzian culture — were also considered Neanderthal creations. Now archaeologists suspect that they should be attributed to modern humans.

Ian Tattersall, a paleoanthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York who was not involved in the research, said, “The tendency right now is to downplay associating Neanderthals with any cultural developments after humans got to Europe.”

Chris Stringer and Tim Compton, both of the Natural History Museum, London, and members of the Higham group, obtained radiocarbon dates of animal bones found close to the jawbone in Kents Cavern and used a statistical modeling method to calculate the age of the human fossil. They further used CT scans to produce 3-D models of the worn teeth and thus confirm that the fossil was indeed from a human, not a Neanderthal.

“Everybody is going to wish some of that evidence was better,” Dr. Tattersall said. “It is pretty slender, but I have no reason to dispute it.”

Dr. Stringer elaborated in an e-mail on some possible implications of the two discoveries. Perhaps some of the “transitional cultures” that preceded the Aurignacian, he said, were introduced by “multiple early waves of modern humans coming into Europe.” For example, the Kents Cavern fossil might represent an early dispersal through Central Europe that crossed into Britain on a land bridge where the North Sea is now. The Cavallo remains might represent a possibly even earlier migration along the Soouthern European coasts.

Richard G. Klein, an archaeologist at Stanford University, said he was “really impressed” by the new findings. Hearing of Dr. Stringer’s idea, Dr. Klein joined in the spirit of conjecture, noting that Homo sapiens was on the move at that time, venturing as far as Australia by about 45,000 years ago.

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Koch brothers and Herman Cain

Koch-backed group confirms financial ties to Cain campaign manager
By NBC's Michael Isikoff
Nov. 4, 2011

A major conservative advocacy group, funded by Koch family oil interests, says it is reviewing its "financial dealings" with a Wisconsin charity headed by Herman Cain's campaign manager, raising fresh questions about the source of tens of thousands of dollars in funds that were used to pay expenses for Cain's presidential campaign.

The Center for Public Integrity reported late Thursday that Americans for Prosperity, one of the largest and most prominent of conservative political groups, has confirmed unspecified financial transactions with two closely linked Wisconsin non-profits -- Prosperity USA and Wisconsin Prosperity Network -- that were founded by Mark Block, Cain's campaign manager.

One of those groups, Prosperity USA, paid for $37,000 in expenses, including iPads, charter flights and items, for Cain's presidential campaign, according to financial documents disclosed this week by the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

Non-profits are barred by law from paying for campaign expenses, and when the allegations first surfaced this week -- at the same time as the sexual harassment charges against the presidential candidate -- Cain said he would order an investigation of whether there were improper campaign violations.

Cain's campaign lawyer, Steve Bienek, declined to answer questions from NBC about the transactions between the Wisconsin charities headed by Block and the campaign, saying only that the campaign has retained an outside law firm to review them.

"We take these allegations very seriously," he said.

But the Center for Public Integrity report by Peter Stone raises additional questions as to whether Americans for Prosperity (AFP) funds were used by Block to pay Cain campaign expenses. AFP had "financial dealings with Prosperity USA and/or the Wisconsin Prosperity Network," Levi Russell, the spokesman for AFT is quoted as saying.

(Russell confirmed the transactions to NBC News, but declined to elaborate, and added that the group had no reason to believe there was any wrongdoing on its part.)

Some of those transactions are hinted at in the documents released by the Journal-Sentinel: They show a $5,000 expense in February 2011 for Cain to attend a meeting of a group called RightNation "at request of AFP" and that Block made a trip to Washington to meet with AFP's president Tim Phillips and David Koch."

Koch and his oil industry brother Charles Koch were the founders of Americans for Prosperity, but the group -- like most non-profits -- declines to identify its donors.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Canoodling with cavemen gave healthy boost to human genome, study finds

AUG. 25, 2011
Canoodling with cavemen gave healthy boost to human genome, study finds
Stanford School of Medicine

Laurent Abi-Rached, Paul Norman and Libby Guethlein are co-authors of research on how the genome of geographically-distinct human populations vary in the amount and type of immune-system genes inherited from evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals and Denisovans. People in Papua New Guinea, for instance, have a particularly high percentage of one type of immune-system gene that is rarely found in people in Africa.

For a few years now, scientists have known that humans and their evolutionary cousins had some casual flings, but now it appears that these liaisons led to a more meaningful relationship.

Sex with Neanderthals and another close relative — the recently discovered Denisovans — has endowed some human gene pools with beneficial versions of immune system genes, report researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine in an article published online Aug. 25 in Science Express.

Although modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans share a common ancestor in Africa, the groups split into separate, distinct populations approximately 400,000 years ago. The Neanderthal lineage migrated northwestward into West Asia and Europe, and the Denisovan lineage moved northeastward into East Asia. The ancestors of modern man stayed in Africa until 65,000 years or so ago, when they expanded into Eurasia and then encountered the other human-like groups. In some cases, the rendezvous were amorous in nature.

Last year, a partial genome sequence of Neanderthals, who died out approximately 30,000 years ago, revealed that these trysts left as much as 4 percent Neanderthal DNA in the genetic blueprint of some present-day humans. Last December, the genome of another human cousin, the extinct Denisovans, made clear that up to 6 percent of some people's genomes are Denisovan in origin.

Now, a team of researchers led by Peter Parham, PhD, professor of structural biology and of microbiology and immunology, has found that these matings had a positive effect on modern human fitness. "The cross breeding wasn’t just a random event that happened, it gave something useful to the gene pool of the modern human," said Parham, who is senior author of the study.

The useful gift was the introduction of new variants of immune system genes called the HLA class-1 genes, which are critical for our body's ability to recognize and destroy pathogens. HLA genes are some of the most variable and adaptable genes in our genome, in part because the rapid evolution of viruses demands flexibility on the part of our immune system.

"The HLA gene system, with its diversity of variants, is like a magnifying glass," said lead author Laurent Abi-Rached, PhD, explaining that it provides a lot more detail about the history of populations than typical gene families. Abi-Rached is a research associate in the Parham lab.

Prior to the sequencing of the Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes, Parham and his group had suspected that at least one HLA variant came from archaic humans. They determined that the variant known as HLA-B*73 is rare in present-day African populations but occurs with significant frequency in West Asian populations. The ethnic distribution of HLA-B*73 and its similarity across populations suggested that it came from a relatively recent co-mingling of modern human and archaic human DNA, which most likely would have happened outside of Africa. Parham's team wanted to discern which archaic humans were the source of the HLA-B*73 gene type. In the last year they have found the answer in the genome sequence of a recently discovered human relative, the Denisovans, whose existence first came to light in 2008 with the discovery of an unfamiliar finger bone and tooth in a cave in Siberia...

Genes of extinct ancestor survive in modern humans

Global map of Denisovan gene frequency in modern human genomes
Genes of extinct ancestor survive in modern humans
By Brandon Keim,
Oct. 31, 2011

Genes inherited from long-extinct human ancestors may be more common than thought, suggesting a Homo sapiens origin story with more than a few evolutionary one-night stands.

The latest findings involve genes from Denisovans, a recently discovered member of the Homo genus who lived in central and eastern Asia until 40,000 years ago. Denisovans, humans and neanderthals last shared a common ancestor about 1 million years ago.

Earlier research found lingering Denisovan traces in genomes of people from Oceania. Now they’ve been found in southeast Asia, too.

“We haven’t been a very exclusive species, with a very narrow origin,” said Martin Jacobsson. Interbreeding with other members of the human family tree “is not a unique event. It’s a more complex story than we thought before.”

In a study published Oct. 31 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jacobsson and co-author Pontus Skoglund searched through 1,500 human genome scans from around the world for genes found in Denisovans but not chimpanzees or Neanderthals.

While the previous finding of Denisovan inheritance involved analysis of ultra-high-resolution human genome scans, of which only a few exist, Jacobsson used low-resolution scans. These are more commonly available and allowed the researchers to detect Denisovan signals in genomes from mainland southeast Asia. A signal also appeared in South America, but Jacobsson said that’s probably a false positive.
The 40,000 year-old tooth from which Denisovans were first identified in 2010
The 40,000 year-old tooth from which Denisovans were first identified in 2010
David Reich et al./Nature.

Beyond the fun of knowing that Denisovan genomes live on, the findings add to a growing sense of the richness of the human evolutionary story.

Until relatively recently, it was thought that human ancestors trekked out of Africa about 100,000 years ago in a single straight shot, descending without diversion into modernity. But what’s emerged from fossil findings in recent years is a picture of Homo sapiens and its near relatives flowing out of Africa again and again, with some populations vanishing and others surviving, often living side-by-side.

Now, thanks to well-preserved ancient genomes, it’s possible to look at mixing: Evidence of interbreeding with Neanderthals in northern Europe was found, followed by the Denisovan studies. Critically, the new findings fit a genetic pattern suggesting multiple episodes of interbreeding with Denisovans.

“We were evolving for a little while, then isolated, then mixed again,” said Jacobsson. “It’s not so simple that you can say, there’s only been one admixture.”

“I find it really cool that people use the archaic genomes we produced to try to arrive at new insights,” said geneticist Svante Paabo of Germany’s Max Planck Institute, who originally sequenced the Denisovan genome from 40,000 year-old fingerbones found in a Siberian cave. “Of course one will have to see which of them hold up.”

As for what Denisovan genes do for people who have them, it’s hard to say. Unlike Neanderthal genes, which seem to have given human immune systems a boost, Denisovan gene function isn’t yet understood...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The birthers eat their own

The birthers eat their own
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post
October 21, 2011

Say what you will about the birthers, but don’t call them partisan.

The people who brought you the Barack Obama birth-certificate hullabaloo now have a new target: Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a man often speculated to be the next Republican vice presidential nominee. While they’re at it, they also have Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana and perhaps a future presidential candidate, in their sights.

Each man, the birthers say, is ineligible to be president because he runs afoul of the constitutional requirement that a president must be a “natural born citizen” of the United States. Rubio’s parents were Cuban nationals at the time of his birth, and Jindal’s parents were citizens of India.

The good news for the birthers is that this suggests they were going after Obama, whose father was a Kenyan national, not because of the president’s political party. The bad news is that this supports the suspicion that they were going after Obama because of his race.

When I heard of the birthers’ latest targets, from a participant in my online chat, I figured it was a joke. But, sure enough, Alex Leary of the St. Petersburg Times reported that various bright lights of the birther community – Mario Apuzzo, Charles Kerchner and Orly Taitz – were casting doubt on Rubio’s eligibility.

“Senator Marco Rubio is not a natural born citizen of the United States to constitutional standards,” Kerchner writes on his blog. “He was born a dual citizen of both Cuba and the USA. He is thus not eligible to serve as the president or vice president.” A few months ago, Kerchner used the same logic to proclaim, “Jindal is NOT a natural-born citizen of the United States. His parents were not U.S. citizens when he was born.”

This relies on a rather expansive interpretation of “natural born.” At this rate, it is surely only a matter of time before birthers begin to pronounce candidates ineligible if they were born by C-section, or if their mothers were given pain medications during childbirth. Will Donald Trump demand to see their medical records?

The absurd accusations of the birthers by themselves won’t stop Jindal or Rubio from becoming president. There are far more serious impediments in their way — most recently a devastating report by The Post’s Manuel Roig-Franzia proving false the central narrative of Rubio’s political rise: that he is the son of exiles who fled Cuba under Castro. In fact, his parents left the island, apparently for economic reasons, 21 / 2 years before Castro came to power.

But the wild new turn the birthers have taken should serve as a timely reminder to Republican leaders that they need to push back more forcefully against the angry and the unstable in their ranks. Too often, they have done the opposite. Jindal, for example, encouraged the birthers this year when he announced his support for legislation that would require candidates for federal office to show proof of their U.S. birth before being allowed on the ballot in Louisiana. It was, as many pointed out, a sad gesture for a man born Piyush Jindal...

Name changers: 285 Indian girls no longer 'unwanted'

Name changers: 285 Indian girls no longer 'unwanted'
District hopes renaming ceremony will give girls new dignity, fight discrimination

MUMBAI, India — Hundreds of Indian girls whose names mean "unwanted" in Hifndi chose new names Saturday for a fresh start in life.

A central Indian district held a renaming ceremony it hopes will give the girls new dignity and help fight widespread gender discrimination that gives India a skewed gender ratio, with far more boys than girls.

The girls — wearing their best outfits with barrettes, braids and bows in their hair — lined up to receive certificates with their new names along with small flower bouquets from Satara district officials in Maharashtra state.

In shedding names like "Nakusa" or "Nakushi," which mean "unwanted" in Hindi, some girls chose to name themselves after Bollywood stars like "Aishwarya" or Hindu goddesses like "Savitri." Some just wanted traditional names with happier meanings, such as "Vaishali" or "prosperous, beautiful and good."

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"Now in school, my classmates and friends will be calling me this new name, and that makes me very happy," said a 15-year-old girl who had been named Nakusa by a grandfather disappointed by her birth. She chose the new name "Ashmita," which means "very tough" or "rock hard" in Hindi.

The plight of girls in India came to a focus as this year's census showed the nation's sex ratio had dropped over the past decade from 927 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of 6 to 914.

Maharashtra state's ratio is well below that, with just 883 girls for every 1,000 boys — down from 913 a decade ago. In the district of Satara, it is even lower at 881.

Such ratios are the result of abortions of female fetuses, or just sheer neglect leading to a higher death rate among girls. The problem is so serious in India that hospitals are legally banned from revealing the gender of an unborn fetus in order to prevent sex-selective abortions, though evidence suggests the information gets out.

Part of the reason Indians favor sons is the enormous expense of marrying off girls. Families often go into debt arranging marriages and paying for elaborate dowries. A boy, on the other hand, will one day bring home a bride and dowry. Hindu custom also dictates that only sons can light their parents' funeral pyres.

Fighting on behalf of girls
Over the years, and again now, there are efforts to fight the discrimination.
Advertise | AdChoices

"Nakusa is a very negative name as far as female discrimination is concerned," said Satara district health officer Dr. Bhagwan Pawar, who came up with the idea for the renaming ceremony...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

In 1952, corporate taxes were 6.1% of GDP; in 2009, corporate taxes were 1% of GDP

50 Amazing Numbers About the Economy
By Morgan Housel
The Motley Fool
October 21, 2011

...In 1952, corporate taxes were 6.1% of GDP, and employment taxes were 1.8% of GDP.

In 2009, corporate taxes were 1% of GDP, and employment taxes were 6.3% of GDP...

Tea Party Nation tells small Business not to Hire

Tea Party Nation tells small Business not to Hire
Oct 21, 2011
By Schuyler Thorpe

The political organizations wants small businesses to go on "strike"

President Obama's jobs bill has been rebuffed by Republicans and now the Tea Party Nation has sent out a statement to its members requesting that they don't hire anyone in order to further hurt the president.

On the Tea Party Nation's website, Melissa Brookstone criticizes the president's administration and the Democrat-controlled Senate as being allied in forcing the United States into socialism and away from capitalism.

Jobs bill supporters estimate that the president's bill could create nearly 2 million jobs.

On the other hand, Brookstone not only alleges the president has assumed "dictatorial powers," but that the administration, Senate Democrats, "Progressive socailsts from all around the coutnry, especially those from Hollywood and the left leaning media" have colluded to create an "anti-business, an anti-free market, and an anti-capitalist (anti-individual rights and property ownership) agenda."

Brookstone charges that Democrats "have participated in what appears to be a globalist socialst agenda of redistribution of wealth, and the waging of class warfare against our constitutional republic's heritage of inidividual rights, free market capitalism, and indeed our Constitution itself, with the ultimate goal of collapsing the U.S. economy and globalizing us into socialism."

Brookstone continues to rail against President Obama, Democrats, liberals and, generally, anyone in support of their policies, but then in concluding her remarks, she adopts a stance that defies logic.

"I, an American small business owner, part of the class that produces the vast majority of real, wealth producing jobs in this country, hereby resolve that I will not hire a single person until this war against business and my country is stopped."

"I hereby declare that my job creation potential is now ceased," she writes. "I'm on strike!"

Regardless of one's political beliefs, it seems that finding a solution to the current high unemployment would benefit everyone.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Escondido immigrant turned over to ICE; four minor childen left at home

Escondido woman turned over to immigration after domestic violence incident
October 19, 2011

A woman who called the Escondido Police Department to report that she was beaten by her boyfriend was herself arrested and later turned over to immigration authorities after she was booked at the Vista jail, a case that critics say illustrates the problems inherent in local police getting involved in immigration enforcement.

Elena Cabrera, 36, said she came home tired from work on the morning of Aug. 20 and wanted to sleep a little. But her then live-in boyfriend, Jorge Melgar, 50, wanted her to do house chores and began beating her when she refused. When police arrived, he told the officers that she had also hit him, Cabrera said.

Cabrera said she did not hit him, but was arrested anyway. She had a bloody lip and bruises on her face, she said.

Escondido police Lt. Craig Carter said both people were arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and there were injuries on both of them. Carter said the department did not turn Cabrera over to immigration authorities.

After the couple was arrested, the couple's four minor children were left home alone, Cabrera said. Police are investigating the family's complaint that the kids were left without supervision, Carter said.

Bill Flores, a retired assistant sheriff and a member of the human rights group El Grupo, said Escondido's close working relationship with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hurts its ability to protect the community. He said police officers knew that Cabrera would be screened for immigration violations at the Vista jail and chose to take her into custody.

Incidents like Cabrera's hurt the department's relationship with the community, Flores said, making immigrants less likely to report crimes in the future.

"Everybody in that neighborhood found out what happened," Flores said. "She was a victim of domestic violence, she was taken to jail and she ended up getting turned over to ICE. All because she sought help from the Escondido Police Department."

After being arrested, Cabrera was taken to the Escondido Police Department and later to the Vista jail, where ICE placed an immigration hold on her, apparently as part of its Secure Communities program. Secure Communities links local jails to federal databases to identify illegal immigrants who are booked into the facilities.

"I never thought that this would happen to me," Cabrera said during an interview last week. "To me, it was a complete surprise."

A spokeswoman for ICE in San Diego declined to comment on the case.

Cabrera spent several days at the Vista jail before she was turned over to immigration authorities. Cabrera had an immigration petition pending as a victim of domestic violence related to a prior relationship. Under a law called the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, battered women who are married to U.S. citizens can apply for an immigrant visa.

Melgar, a legal resident, was not turned over to immigration authorities. He spent four days in jail before he was released.

Lilia Velasquez, a San Diego immigration attorney representing Cabrera, said having the visa petition does not necessarily mean that a victim is safe from deportation. However, under a new policy by the Obama administration, immigration authorities have discretion on when to pursue deportation procedures.

The Obama administration has said it wants to focus its resources on deporting violent illegal immigrant criminals, immigrants who have been ordered deported by an immigration judge and people who repeatedly have been caught in the country illegally.

"Given the new policy of prosecutorial discretion, ICE should have removed the hold (on Cabrera) once they ascertained she was a (Violence Against Women Act) beneficiary," Velasquez said.

The San Diego County District Attorney's office declined to file charges against either Cabrera or her boyfriend. She was released from immigration custody on Aug. 28 due to her Violence Against Women Act visa petition.

Critics say that the Obama administration's immigration policies, including Secure Communities, have created a dragnet that catches not only violent criminals but also people whose only violation is being in the country illegally. Those policies break families apart, tearing parents away from their U.S.-born children, critics say.

While she was detained, Cabrera's four children, ages 3 to 17 years old, were left in her Escondido home without supervision, she said. Her oldest daughter, Tayana Zarate, 17, said she had to care for her siblings while trying to figure out where her mother was being held and how to have her released.

Tayana said a neighbor helped her buy food and drove her around to find her mother.

"They never asked who I was, my name, how old I was, is there a grown-up in the house?" Tayana said last week. "They don't care."

The family filed a complaint with the police department for leaving the children without supervision. Tayana and her mother spoke with police detectives last Thursday night about the complaint.

Carter said the officers noted in their report that they left the children in the care of an "18-year-old female."

The department also came under fire last year when it announced that it had forged a new alliance with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement allowing several immigration officers to work out of its headquarters. Operation Joint Effort, as the program is called, is the only one of its kind in the county. It has been credited by the department with the arrest of over 400 criminal illegal immigrants since it started in May 2010...

Friday, October 07, 2011

The story of our holy Constitution

(Credit: Ian Huebert)

Oct 7, 2011
Introducing: A Tea People’s History
Exclusive read from the history book they won't teach in schools! The story of our holy Constitution
By Alex Pareene

We're exceptionally proud to bring you this excerpt from Salon's new e-book, "A Tea People's History," by Alex Pareene. You can buy the full e-book for $2.99 on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The Continental Congress organized the new nation with a document called the American Rules of Acquisition, an early precursor to our Constitution. While the Rules — also known as the Articles of Confederation — wisely established a weak central government and powerful states’ rights, there was a certain spark missing — the spark of Natural Law, which was the Founders’ preferred phrase for the Ten Commandments.

Some argue that the Articles of Confederation created a federal government that was too small and weak, but in fact the primary problem with the Articles was that they were far too left-wing. Government bureaucracy killed nearly 2,000 soldiers at Valley Forge. It was apparent that a change was needed!

While planting some hemp one day, George Washington discovered an early draft of the Constitution, written in ancient Egyptian on a series of golden plates buried deep within the ground at Mount Vernon. James Madison translated and elaborated on the text, with the help of Thomas Jefferson and an angel. The excited Founders immediately called for a Constitutional Convention to officially ratify the document and formally make America the best country ever.

The Constitution was written with 74 essential guiding principles in mind, based on the principles of Natural Law as laid out by Polybius, Cicero, Thomas Hooker, Coke, Montesquieu, Blackstone, John Locke, Adam Smith, Moses and Jesus. Some of them include:

Principle 6: All Men are created (by God) equal (before God).
Principle 7: The proper role of government is to protect equal rights, not special rights for cross-dressing Wiccans with ADHD and “the differently abled” and every other interest group under the sun.
Principle 10: Property rights are the most important inalienable right of all.
Principle 17: If anything ever goes wrong, it is not because of any flaws in the Constitution or with the Founders.
Principle 20: In fact, if something goes wrong, it is because America has strayed from the original glorious divinely inspired mission of the Founders.
Principle 21: But it’s OK, because they predicted that would happen.

In their wiseness, the Founders explicitly rejected the direct election of senators, progressive taxation, welfare and collective bargaining for public employees. In fact, Ben Franklin argued that public employees shouldn’t even be paid, at all. As he said, at the time:

“To bring the matter nearer home, have we not seen the greatest and most important of our offices, that of general of our armies, executed for eight years together, without the smallest salary, by a patriot whom I will not now offend by any other praise; and this, through fatigues and distresses, in common with the other brave men, his military friends and companions, and the constant anxieties peculiar to his station? If he can do it, should a mere instructor of youths not stop complaining about his recompense? They don’t even work all year! Can the public treasury handle giving a mere public carriage-driver half his salary upon his retirement at the age of thirty? I think not! Especially when your average carriage-hand is living to be nearly forty, these dayes.”

The Founders also explicitly designed America to be a Christian nation. After all, the Natural Laws that make every man equal are the laws of God. All of the Founders believed in God. All of them. They all believed in God and thought everyone should believe in God and worship Him. It’s just a fact. Get over it. Also Jefferson’s “wall” between church and state just meant that the federal government couldn’t interfere with churches, but in fact the Founders wanted all religions to be encouraged, because worshiping God makes us virtuous, and only a virtuous people can handle self-rule. This is why the Founders came up with the “In God We Trust” motto, which they put on all the money and in the Pledge of Allegiance. It was Ben Franklin’s idea, along with the eagle, God’s favorite bird. Madison is the one who decided everyone should be sworn in on a Bible.

After agreeing unanimously on all the Golden Plate-derived portions of the document, the Founders set about writing the BiIl of Rights. There is a friendly debate among historians about whether the First Amendment — which establishes the right of Real Americans to Speak Common Sense Truths without fear of getting attacked by America-hating trolls and the lamestream media — or the Second Amendment — which establishes the right of Corporations to bear automatic weapons — is more important, but the Founders truly believed that both were essential for Freedom.

Fun Fact: When Washington took office as our first president, not all the states had ratified the Constitution, and the Articles of Confederation said that no changes could be made without every state’s approval. This is proof that the Founders officially approved of seceding from the Union, and endorsed Rick Perry.

Buy the full “A Tea People’s History” for $2.99 on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Ridiculed crystal work wins Nobel for Israeli

Ridiculed crystal work wins Nobel for Israeli
An Israeli scientist whose work was once ridiculed for being out of line with received thinking won the 2011 Nobel Prize for chemistry on Wednesday for discovering different ways in which atoms could be packed together in solid materials.
By Patrick Lannin and Veronica Ek
Oct 6, 2011
(Reuters) - An Israeli scientist who suffered years of ridicule and even lost a research post for claiming to have found an entirely new class of solid material was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry on Wednesday for his discovery of quasicrystals.

Three decades after Dan Shechtman looked with an electron microscope at a metal alloy and saw a pattern familiar in Islamic art but then unknown at a molecular level, those non-stick, rust-free, heat-resistant quasicrystals are finding their way into tools from LEDs to engines and frying pans.

Shechtman, 70, from Israel's Technion institute in Haifa, was working in the United States in 1982 when he observed atoms in a crystal he had made form a five-sided pattern that did not repeat itself, defying received wisdom that they must create repetitious patterns, like triangles, squares or hexagons.

"People just laughed at me," Shechtman recalled in an interview this year with Israeli newspaper Haaretz, noting how Linus Pauling, a colossus of science and double Nobel laureate, mounted a frightening "crusade" against him, saying: "There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists."

After telling Shechtman to go back and read the textbook, the head of his research group asked him to leave for "bringing disgrace" on the team. "I felt rejected," Shechtman remembered.

"His discovery was extremely controversial," said the Nobel Committee at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which granted him the 10-million crown ($1.5-million) award.

"Dan Shechtman had to fight a fierce battle against established science ... His battle eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter.

"In quasicrystals, we find the fascinating mosaics of the Arabic world reproduced at the level of atoms: regular patterns that never repeat themselves."


On Wednesday, Shechtman said he was "excited" but at pains to praise fellow scientists, many of whom once doubted him.

Nancy Jackson, the president of the American Chemical Society (ACS), called it "a great work of discovery."

Scientists had previously thought solid matter had only two states -- crystalline, like diamonds, where atoms are arranged in rigid rows, and amorphous, like metals, with no particular order. Quasicrystalline matter offers a third possibility and opens the door to new kinds of materials for use in industry.

Sometimes referred to as Shechtmanite in the discoverer's honor, hundreds of quasicrystals have been synthesized in laboratories. Two years ago, scientists reported the first naturally occurring find of quasicrystals in eastern Russia.

David Phillips, president of Britain's Royal Society of Chemistry, called them "quite beautiful." Interlocking arrays of stars, circles and floral shapes are typical.

"You can normally explain in simple terms where in a crystal each atom sits - they are very symmetrical," Phillips said. "With quasicrystals, that symmetry is broken: there are regular patterns in the structure, but never repeating."

An intriguing feature of such patterns, also found in Arab mosaics, is that the mathematical constant known as the Greek letter tau, or the "golden ratio," occurs over and over again. Underlying it is a sequence worked out by Fibonacci in the 13th century, where each number is the sum of the preceding two.

Living things, including flowers, fruit and shellfish, also demonstrate similar arrangements, which scientists associate with the efficient packing of materials into growing organisms.

Quasicrystals are very hard and are poor conductors of heat and electricity, offering uses as thermoelectric materials, which convert heat into electricity. They also have non-stick surfaces, handy for frying pans, and appear in energy-saving light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and heat insulation in engines.

Astrid Graslund, secretary for the Nobel Committee for chemistry, said: "The practical applications are as of now, not so many. But the material has unexpected properties. It is very strong, it has hardly any friction on the surface. It doesn't want to react with anything -- they cannot ... become rusty.

"But it is more a conceptual insight - that these materials exist and we need to re-write all textbooks about crystals - it's a shift of the paradigm, which I think is most important."


Since Galileo was mocked by established scientists and persecuted by the church in the 16th century for observing that the Earth moved round the Sun rather than the reverse, overturning accepted wisdom has never been easy, as several of this year's Nobel prizewinners in science have shown.

Research that was largely ignored for years secured the medicine prize for the late Ralph Steinman and the astounding finding that the universe's expansion was speeding up not slowing down meant the physics prize for its joint discoverers.

But in a year when science is in a froth over whether particles may have been fired from Geneva to Italy faster than the speed of light -- apparently defying Einstein -- few in the modern age have had to battle disbelief as hard as Shechtman.

"He dealt with the skepticism in a very scientific and gentlemanly manner and answered his critics as every scientist should -- through science," Ron Lifshitz, a physics professor at Tel Aviv University, told Reuters. "There were also personal slurs but those did not warrant a response ... He believed in his own work and carried on with determination."

Interviewed about his Nobel by television in Israel, where the award was big national news for a small country with a long roster of laureates, Shechtman spoke of a photograph in his office that showed a small cat sipping water, surrounded by angry dogs; a biblical inscription read: "Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil."

"That's the way I felt for many years," Shechtman chuckled. "It accurately describes the situation, during that period."

He "trusted in his science," however, and came to see the criticism by the late Pauling, which Shechtman has described as "almost theological," as a positive source of strength:

"When you're a young scientist, and you're faced with perhaps the top international scientist, Professor Linus Pauling ... and he argues with you as an equal, and you know that he is wrong - that's not really such a bad feeling."

(Additional reporting by Simon Johnson in Stockholm, Ben Hirschler in London, Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago and Dan Williams, Ori Lewis and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Alastair Macdonald)

(The Nobel Committee at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences corrects laureate's first name to Dan from Daniel)

Saturday, October 01, 2011

This American Life: A man who has searched 18 years for the right couch

Cat and Mouse
This American Life
Originally aired 02.24.2006

In most games of cat and mouse, you've got the chaser and you got the chased, right? And both of them are pretty much in constant motion. But here's a story where the mouse is not moving at all. In fact, the mouse is an inanimate object. And yet, somehow it cannot be caught. David Segal reports.

David Segal

I've known Eric for just about 20 years. And for nearly the entire length of our friendship, he's been hunting quarry that everyone else cornered a long time ago, something nobody really thinks of as the sort of thing you hunt.

I've been looking for the right sofa for about 18 years.
David Segal

Yes, he said 18 years. And yes, he said sofa. All of this started after Eric left graduate school. And briefly, it looked like it would be a fairly conventional shopping experience. He spotted a sofa he liked at Pottery Barn, an off-white number with a slip cover. And he had a matching pair delivered. But once they arrived, he knew he'd made a big mistake. The lines were all wrong. The fabric wasn't right. He returned the goods within a week. And after that, the shopping experience was never conventional again. His quest moved into what I call its "Ahab/Moby Dick" phase. He began to stalk his couch.

For years he'd subscribe to these high-end furniture magazines. And slowly, he started to build a clip file of advertisements and photographs. He learned the ins and outs of couch construction, the proper materials for the frame--

What they call kiln-dried hardwood.
David Segal

Invisible stitching. Cushion filling.

There's a firmness but a softness, which is actually not all that easy to achieve.
David Segal

The fabric for the covering--

The kind of the boucle that they do, which is the fabric that I was keen on.
David Segal

And of course, all important, the springs.

What's called eight-way hand-tied, I think, which is, they do eight-way hand tying of the coils.
David Segal

I should say, Eric's not this way when he's buying clothes. He's not this way when he's ordering dinner. He's not this way with a lot of things. But when it's something he cares about, he's methodical and he's relentless. But with the sofa, he went further than he ever had before. By the time his search entered its 10th year-- that's more than twice as long as it took scientists at the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb-- Eric was honing in.

He'd started shopping in these swanky boutiques, places that don't even have storefronts, places where someone has to tell you the address and then buzz you in. He had his eyes on the work of a sofa superstar named Jean-Michel Frank. And there was one piece in particular that he decided was the couch of his dreams. It was a $12,000 three-seater of Italian nutwood in a beeswax finish. Eric found the one place in the country where it was for sale.

A place called Ralph Pucci.
David Segal

So you walked around this place, and did you fall in love with any of the sofas? Did you hear the church music you were looking for?

Yeah, well, it's interesting. The short answer is, I didn't, which was kind of dismaying. When I saw it in person, I was actually a little underwhelmed.
David Segal

So you ultimately passed on all of the sofas that you came across during your 15- to 18-year search for the perfect sofa.

David Segal

Could you describe your current sofa?

That's just plain mean.
David Segal

Where did you get your current sofa?

So I got my current sofa for free. It was a donation from a friend that I was helping move out of his apartment. The polyester fill cushions have gotten flattened to the point where if you plop down, if you just kind of collapse into my sofa, you will actually hurt yourself.
David Segal

More than a few times in these past 18 years, Eric and I have tried to figure out what this sofa thing is really about. Perhaps it won't shock you to learn that Eric is single. He's had a fair number of girlfriends. With some he's even shared the story of his never-ending couch adventure. And guess what, they don't seem very amused.

Yeah. I mean, it kind of drives them crazy.
David Segal

To review. Just after college, he found something he liked, lived with it briefly, and then decided it wasn't good enough and sent it packing. He started pursuing exotic specimens that conformed to a narrower and more unattainable ideal. He subscribed to glossy, photo-rich magazines, which only reinforced his yearning for this unattainable ideal. And then, after years of searching, he finally came face-to-face with that ideal. He found it lacking. Do you see where I'm going here? Often, when I talk to him about his quest, I want to say, wait, are we still talking about a couch?

Do I hold out for one that really knocks me out or do I just settle for something that is-- that I can live with, but really doesn't knock me out?
David Segal

But does it not worry you that you might live a sofa-less, single life?

Yeah. I mean, absolutely. This is probably the thing that causes me more concern and dismay and questions as anything in my life. I really, really like being together. And I'm not all that crazy about being alone.
David Segal

One thing that's interesting about the tale of Eric's nonstop sofa safari-- which I've heard him tell more than a few times-- is that it ticks off nearly as many people as it amuses. Some are actually angry when he's done with the story. And I think I know why. Two radically different world views are clashing here, one in which life is all about seeking perfection, and the other in which you make normal compromises and settle for good instead of great. The settlers consider the perfection people to be babies and whiners. The perfection people see the settlers as strangely hostile milquetoasts who've given up, who aren't striving for greatness, who've been cowed into lowering their standards.

Personally, I know that part of me wants to tell Eric, don't yield. Do not surrender. Hold fast. Wait for that transformative moment, even if it means you're alone and drooling on a frat house futon for the rest of your life. And another part of me wants to tell him exactly what a former girlfriend once told him, and I quote, "Just buy a [BLEEP] couch."
Ira Glass

David Segal is a reporter for the Washington Post.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Jamey Rodemeyer, 14-Year-Old Boy, Commits Suicide After Gay Bullying, Parents Carry On Message

Jamey Rodemeyer, 14-Year-Old Boy, Commits Suicide After Gay Bullying, Parents Carry On Message
The Huffington Post
Dean Praetorius

Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old boy from Williamsville, NY, took his life Sunday after what his parents claim was years of bullying because of struggles with his sexuality.

His parents, Tracy and Tim Rodemeyer, say that Jamey faced bullies for years, though things intensified in middle school, according to NBC 2. Jamey recently became a freshman at Williamsville North High School.

In the wake of their loss, the Rodemeyers hope to carry on a message of anti-bullying and acceptance. "To the kids who are bullying they have to realize that words are very powerful and what you think is just fun and games isn't to some people, and you are destroying a lot of lives," Jamey's father told WIVB.

Tracy Rodemeyer misses her son, but hopes the loss can still be used to teach a message of tolerance. "It took him away from our family way too early and we're just convinced that he had a purpose on this planet and it was to touch as many people as he could," she told NBC 2.

According to NBC, the Rodemeyers had gone to the school about the problem in the past. Jamey even sought counseling to learn to deal with the problem, but it seems it wasn't enough.

While they say their son seemed happy in the days leading up to the tragedy, his "It Gets Better" YouTube posting from May includes details about how intense the bullying was.

Through it all, Jamey remained outwardly optimistic. “That's all you have to do. Just love yourself and you're set. And I promise you, it'll get better,” he said in the video, which you can see in full below.

Gay bullying has been gaining increasing attention in the media, as a number of tragedies has brought the issue into the spotlight. Earlier this month the California State Senate passed "Seth's Law" a measure designed to curb anti-gay bullying in schools.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or visit

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Reporter recounts massacre as new information is revealed by WikiLeaks

Sep 3, 2011
Reporter recounts massacre revealed by WikiLeaks
By Justin Elliott

This week, a State Department cable released by WikiLeaks brought renewed attention to a disputed killing of several civilians in the Iraqi town of Ishaqi on March 15, 2006.

The cable contains a copy of a letter of inquiry by a U.N. investigator outlining allegations that U.S. forces had handcuffed and then "executed" 10 people in the home of Faiz Harrat Al-Majma'ee. The soldiers then called in an airstrike that destroyed the house, it alleges.

The U.S. military has maintained that nothing improper happened, but to this day has refused to comment in detail about the case.

Beyond the primary question about what happened that day and whether it was an unjustified massacre or a case of collateral damage, the incident has political ramifications. As the AP reported Friday, Iraqi politicians said this week the incident could have an impact on any agreement to allow U.S. forces to stay in the country beyond Dec. 31.

As the AP noted, "Whether U.S. forces in Iraq will continue to have legal immunity from prosecution if they stay is one of the major stumbling blocks in the ongoing negotiations, as Washington will not allow the military to remain without it."

A Pentagon spokesman said this week, "We've already investigated these allegations, and there is no new information."

To learn more, I spoke to journalist Matthew Schofield, who has been covering the incident since he first wrote about while on assignment in Iraq in 2006. He is currently an editorial writer at the Kansas City Star, a McClatchy paper, but he wrote a news article on the WikiLeaks cable this week.

I know there are competing accounts, so can you explain what do we know -- or think -- happened in this incident in 2006?

What we know happened -- what everyone agrees on -- is that U.S. troops went to a house in Ishaqi, Iraq, in March of 2006. In one official U.S. version, the troops were looking for an al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist, or, in another official account, someone who had shot at U.S troops. When they approached the house in the early morning hours, there was a gunfight. Neighbors talked about this. In the U.S. version, in the course of the gunfight, the people in the house were killed, the house was destroyed at the same time, and they were able to detain the person they were looking for. In the account the neighbors told, as well as the report of a U.N. investigation on this, the house was standing when the soldiers went inside and was destroyed sometime later.

The bodies of the dead were found against one wall in one room, all handcuffed in white plastic handcuffs according to neighbors. The coroner we talked to after the incident said that the people who died were killed by gunshots to the upper chest and head. It didn't necessarily look execution-style -- the shots were not all to the same place in the head, or anything like that -- but it looked like they were from fairly close range. His guess was that the bullets were from an M-16. The Iraqi police investigators, who had been trained by U.S. forces, said in their report that these had been execution-style killings by American forces.

Who was killed exactly?

There were five children under the age of five, the youngest being five months old. Then there was a mother, her sister, the grandmother and a visitor -- four women in all. The father, in his 20s, was killed as well.

What about the question of an alleged airstrike on the house?

The house was certainly rubble after the raid -- that's clear. When it collapsed is the question. The neighbors said that after the U.S. troops left, an airstrike was called in. At the time, they said it was helicopters. U.S. forces maintained that it collapsed during the firefight. I couldn't get to the site when I was in Iraq because at that time we couldn't get far out of Baghdad very safely. We relied on a stringer who we had worked with quite a bit in the past. He took a satellite phone and we did phone interviews with the coroner and the police and others.

What has the military said about the incident over the years?

The initial reaction was always that "this can't be true." In June 2006, the U.S. military finally said that nothing untoward had happened in Ishaqi. But there were questions about the military investigation. They weren't on the ground for a particularly long time. Again, we were not there when the investigation took place, but neighbors told us afterwards that investigators were on the scene for a total of 30 to 45 minutes. The military maintained that it had been thorough. Some Iraqi government officials have long maintained anger over the incident.

How did you end up covering the incident?

It was an almost insanely violent period. So we were trying to do some in-depth coverage of what was going on, a sort of day-in-the-life piece, instead of just letting the violence roll. On the day we had settled on this idea, news of the Ishaqi incident was released. We got a press release from the U.S. military that talked about five people who had been killed in collateral damage. So we started looking into it. After our stringer talked to the neighbors, he told us, 'Look, the version I'm getting doesn't jibe with the version you're getting from the military.' He said it's not five people, it's at least 10. After I went to the military with this, they then came back and acknowledged the higher body count was accurate.

What did we learn from the cable just released by WikiLeaks?

One, it shows different sources of information than what I was dealing with. It shows that officialdom was concerned about this. They were not admitting they were concerned when we were on the story back then. They gave much more credence to the story than they had suggested to the press at the time. Behind the scenes, there was a great deal of concern over what exactly had happened there.

The cable outlines pretty much exactly what the worst-case scenario was when we were reporting on it. I didn't really pursue the worse-cast scenario because I didn't believe it was possible. We looked into it and we reported on the allegations at the time, but we were always looking for other explanations, for other ways this could have happened. This cable seems focused on that worst-case scenario, which I found fascinating.

So what happened with the U.N. investigation? It was essentially stymied?

Yes, it died. They sent questions out to the United States, and there was no response. They have said there was frequently no response from the United States on these matters. They sent questions to the Iraqi government, and they said these things also just tended to vanish because Iraq was a mess at the time. The investigator, Philip Alston, who is the U.N.'s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told us this week that they just had nowhere left to go after these nonresponses.

So this incident has really never been addressed by the U.S. military in a comprehensive way?

It has not. The military has always been dismissive of this case. It may well be that it should be dismissed. But there's enough smoke there that it deserves a very thorough investigation. These are very disturbing allegations. The Iraqi cops who investigated this had U.S. training; they were not anti-American. They had respect for the training they had gotten. There has been and continues to be a desire for concrete answers.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Ridiculed, an N.F.L. Owner Goes to Court

Dan Snyder sues paper that criticized him
Citizen Media Law Project

On November 19, 2010, the Washington City Paper published "The Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder." The article levied a wide array of complaints about Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins NFL franchise since 1999. The complaints largely concerned his management of the team, as well as his control of several other business ventures.

On November 24, 2010, Washington Redskins General Counsel David Donovan wrote a letter on behalf of Dan Snyder to Atalaya Capital Management, an investment company that, according to the letter, purchased the City Paper out of bankruptcy in 2009. The letter alleges that the City Paper article, and its inclusion of a photograph of Snyder with drawn-in devil horns, goatee, and uni-brow, were anti-Semitic and that the allegations made regarding Snyder and his wife in the article were false and defamatory. The letter also suggests that the statements regarding Snyder may have been published at the direction of Atalaya Capital, which competes with RedZone Capital (an entity which Snyder co-founded).

On December 7, 2010, attorneys for Atalaya Capital responded to Snyder's letter, rejecting the assertion that Atalaya had control over the content of Washington City Paper, disputing the factual allegations made in the letter, and asserting City Paper's First Amendment right to criticize Snyder under Hustler Magazine v. Falwell.

On February 2, 2011, Snyder filed suit in the New York Supreme Court for New York County against Atalaya Capital, its portfolio company Creative Loafing, Inc., and 10 "John Doe" defendants. Snyder alleged that four statements made in the article were defamatory, and sought relief in excess of $2 million

On April 26, 2011, Snyder discontinued his action in New York and filed a second the complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, this time against Creative Loafing, Inc., Washington City Paper, and Dave McKenna, the author of the article.

Using DC's recently enacted anti-SLAPP law, the defendants brought a special motion to dismiss on June 17, 2011. The defendants argue that D.C. Code § 16-5502 protects the statements as they are "an act in furtherance of the right of advocacy on issues of public interest" and that Snyder will not be "likely to succeed on the merits" of his claims.

According to the Blog of LegalTimes, Snyder filed a memorandum in opposition to the motion to dismiss on August 1, 2011, in which he argues that the anti-SLAPP law in question is in violation of the Home Rule Act, the federal law which delegates some congressional control of the District of Columbia to the DC local government. On August 30, 2011, the District of Columbia intervened in the case for the limited purpose of defending the validity of the anti-SLAPP law.

Oral argument for the motion to dismiss is currently scheduled for October 14, 2011.

Related Links:

John Sharkey, Dan Snyder Gets a Taste of D.C.'s New Anti-SLAPP Law, CMLP Blog, June 17, 2011.

Dan Snyder, Why I am suing Washington City Paper, Washington Post, April 25, 2011.

Michael Schaffer, Bully Pulpit: Why Dan Snyder's Lawsuit Matters, Washington City Paper, Feb. 11, 2011.

Rep. Steve Cohen, Protect Free Speech by Combating SLAPPs, Roll Call, May 23, 2011.

Erik Wemple, Daniel Snyder lawsuit: No settlement in sight, TBD, April 26, 2011.

David Carr, Ridiculed, an N.F.L. Owner Goes to Court, New York Times, Feb. 6, 2011.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Stetson Kennedy, Exposer Of Ku Klux Klan Secrets, Dies At 94

Stetson Kennedy, Exposer Of Ku Klux Klan Secrets, Dies At 94

MIAMI -- Author and folklorist Stetson Kennedy, who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan six decades ago and exposed its secrets to authorities and the public but was also criticized for possibly exaggerating his exploits, died Saturday. He was 94.

Kennedy died at Baptist Medical Center South near St. Augustine, where he had been receiving hospice care.

In the 1940s, Kennedy used the "Superman" radio show to expose and ridicule the Klan's rituals. In the 1950s he wrote "I Rode with the Ku Klux Klan," which was later renamed "The Klan Unmasked," and "The Jim Crow Guide."

"Exposing their folklore – all their secret handshakes, passwords and how silly they were, dressing up in white sheets" was one of the strongest blows delivered to the Klan, said Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, in a 2007 interview with The Associated Press. She was a friend of Kennedy for about 30 years and did her doctoral thesis on his work as a folklorist.

"If they weren't so violent, they would be silly."

Kennedy began his crusades against what he called "homegrown racial terrorists" during World War II after he was deemed unworthy for military service because of a back injury. He served as director of fact-finding for the southeastern office of the Anti-Defamation League and served as director of the Anti-Nazi League of New York.

"All my friends were in service and they were being shot at in a big way. They were fighting racism whether they knew it or not," Kennedy said. "At least I could see if I could do something about the racist terrorists in our backyard."

Using evidence salvaged from the Grand Dragon's waste basket, he enabled the Internal Revenue Service to press for collection of an outstanding $685,000 tax lien from the Klan in 1944 and he helped draft the brief used by the state of Georgia to revoke the Klan's national corporate charter in 1947.

Kennedy infiltrated the Klan by using the name of a deceased uncle who had been a member as a way to gain trust and membership.

But the Klan did not know that Kennedy was giving its secrets to the outside world, including the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Anti-Defamation League and Drew Pearson, a columnist for The Washington Post.

When he learned of plans for the Klan to take action, he would make sure it was broadcast, thwarting them.

"They were afraid to do anything. They knew that somebody was on the inside. They had first-class detectives looking, and I was trying hard not to be caught," Kennedy said.

Kennedy said he always feared exposure and remained scared throughout his life. "Nonstop, to date," mentioning threats, the shooting of his dog and frequent attempts to burn his home...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

Stop Coddling the Super-Rich
New York Times
August 14, 2011

OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)

I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.

Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Warren E. Buffett is the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.