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NSA uses advertisers’ cookies to track specific web browsers – report

The US National Security Agency has quietly subverted the tools used by online advertising companies in order to track surveillance targets and improve its...

Facebook OK to track users with cookies, judge rules

Published time: 3 Jul, 2017 20:36 Users who complained about Facebook tracking them across third-party websites...

Feds may need warrant for web browser surveillance, court rules

When Edward Snowden revealed the NSA secretly monitored Americans’ internet use, officials allayed concerns by explaining “only metadata” was collected. Now a federal court...

AT&T and Verizon use “supercookies” to track users’ online activities

Thomas Gaist Telecommunications corporations Verizon and AT&T automatically monitor and record all Internet activity by users accessing their cellular data networks, according to reports published...

Verizon and AT&T Using Undeletable ‘Supercookies’ to Track Customers

Tracking program collects data on users' browsing history to create permanent online profiles to share with advertisers Nadia Prupis Service giants Verizon and AT&T have been...

White House tracking website visitors with online ‘fingerprinting’

The White House is tracking visitors to its website, despite proudly promising that WhiteHouse.gov complies with federal privacy laws and does not use cookies....

Exposed: NSA Uses Google ‘Cookies’ to Snoop on Targets

(Photo: AFP)You know those pesky companies that track internet users' online activity to scoop information on potential consumers and deliver tailored ads? It turns out...

NSA uses ‘cookies’ to pinpoint targets

Demonstrators rally at the U.S. Capitol to protest spying on Americans by the National Security Agency, as revealed in leaked information by former NSA...

Internet businesses caught price gouging customers that visit high-end websites

Jonathan BensonNatural NewsJuly 22, 2013 If the recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s...

Web Bugs & Your Privacy

Web bugs are small bits of code embedded in Websites that add functionality and share information. They're almost impossible to ignore, but Jim Rapoza...

Study Finds Google is Top Tracker of Web Users

When asked about online privacy, most people say they want more information about how they are being tracked and more control over how their...

A Good Leak

Last weekend, the FBI arrested an employee of a corporation in Augusta, Georgia, that had a contract with the National Security Agency and charged...

Cloudflare bug exposed sensitive Fitbit, Uber, OkCupid data

A major bug in software used by content delivery network Cloudflare has exposed sensitive, encrypted data...

Iraq’s Artifacts of Exile

Tell Harmal lion, by Michael Rakowitz In the initial aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, looters swept through the National Museum in Baghdad and...

The Nobel Laureate vs. the Dictator

Svetlana Alexievich The prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature 2015 has been awarded to my compatriot from Belarus, writer and journalist Svetlana Alexievich. Many Belarusians pin...

11 Examples Of How Evil Is Growing In America Like A Cancerous Tumor

Michael Snyder (RINF) - Have you heard of “arterial tapping”, “flakka” or “cyberextortion”? In America today, just about every conceivable type of evil that you...

Dailykos’s Cover-Up of Obama’s Ukrainian Atrocities

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Privacy Tools: How to Block Online Tracking

Many companies track your behavior and request information about you without explicitly asking for your permission. Here’s how to combat the trackers. Hanqing Chen Many sites...

Facebook’s History of Tracking You

Julia Angwin  For years people have noticed a funny thing about Facebook's ubiquitous Like button. It has been sending data to Facebook tracking the sites...

Orwell’s Oceania in ‘1984’

Allen Mendenhall George Orwell, novelist, essayist, journalist and critic, was born 111 years ago on June 25th. His novel 1984, a disturbing reminder of the dangers...

On 6/5, 65 Things We Know About NSA Surveillance That We Didn’t Know a...

It’s been one year since the Guardian first published the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order, leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, that demonstrated...

How to Build a Better Easter Basket

Avoiding the toxins doesn't mean that your kiddo must be deprived of all things sweet and yummy on Easter. While the items listed here can't be classified as necessarily nutritious, at least they aren't poisonous.

The rebel artist vs. the android

The rebel artist vs. the android ~a short story~ by Jon Rappoport March 21, 2014 www.nomorefakenews.com On January 12, 2061, President Winston Smith made a quick campaign stop in the Northeast corridor to address the Coexistence Group in Gates Town. The Coexistence Group was a remnant of the old coalition formed between Monsanto and organic […]

GCHQ – The Damocles Principle

Lenin Nightingale  RINF Alternative News The detail of how modern government agencies spy on people is not important, for such detail only informs of the latest...

Keystone PipeLIES Exposed: The Facts on Sticky Leaks, Billion Dollar Spills, and Dirty Air

Dave Saldana RINF Alternative News The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would cover 1,179 miles, from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada, to the refineries of Port Arthur, Texas. Its...

Using Your Food Stores to Make 5 Alternative Flours

Note from Daisy: Since our family has just recently reduced our wheat consumption, this article couldn’t have come at a better time for us! I can personally recommend the chia seeds, the brown rice flour, and the oat flour that Tess describes below! by Tess Pennington Originally Published at Ready Nutrition Part of myRead the Rest...

Caught Red-Handed: Secret Tape Reveals US-backed Plot to Topple Ukraine’s Democratically-Elected President

Mike Whitney  RINF Alternative News “In the latest debacle for the US State Department and the Obama Administration, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was...

11-Year-Old Girl BANNED From Selling Cupcakes By Control Freak Government Bureaucrats

America is being suffocated to death by red tape.  You are about to read about an 11-year-old girl in Illinois that had her cupcake business brutally shut down by government bureaucrats.  Her name is Chloe Stirling and her crime was doing something that we used to applaud young people in America for doing.  Instead of [...]

Record Growth For Privacy Search Engines In Wake Of NSA Revelations

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Three Hearings, Nine Hours, and One Accurate Statement: Why Congress Must Begin a Full...

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“Democratic Dictatorship”: The Transition towards Authoritarian Rule in America

Dr. Robert P. Abele RINF Alternative News As must appear self-evident to both historians and astute observers by now, the United States, in its history, has...

N.Y. Judge: NSA Spying “Imperils Civil Liberties of Every Citizen” but “Legal”

Southern District of New York Judge William Pauley III declared in a December 27 decision that the NSA surveillance program – which draws in...

A Post-Apocalypse Christmas Story

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How Life Can Be So Much Sweeter After Ditching Junk Food

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Google to pay $17mn for spying

Google has not acknowledged any wrongdoing saying the violation has been an accidental side effect of efforts to make it easier for people to...

RINFORMATION

USA Topics 9/11 Agenda 21 Assassinations Banks Bush, George Jr Boston Bombings Bohemian Grove CIA Cointelpro Corruption DARPA Democrats Disinformation Congress Drones Eugenics FBI Federal Reserve Guantanamo HAARP ...

The Corporate State of Surveillance

America was founded on the ideals of personal liberty, freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, mass spying, surveillance and the unending collection of personal data threaten...

Opting out from corporate state of spying

America was founded on the ideals of personal liberty, freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, mass spying, surveillance and the unending collection of personal data threaten...

Want to know who’s spying on you online? There’s an app for that

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Fiasco Obamacare Debut


Fiasco Obamacare Debut

by Stephen Lendman

Obamacare's painful rollout is the least of its problems. More on that below. 

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is rife with problems. It's a ripoff. It's a boon to healthcare providers. It scams most enrollees. 

It's not universal as promised. It leaves millions of Americans uninsured. It leaves most others woefully underinsured.

US healthcare already is unaffordable. Obamacare makes it more so. It lawlessly invades privacy. It compromises a fundamental human right.

Martin Luther King once said:

"Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in heath care is the most shocking and inhumane."

Obamacare mandates making a failed system worse. It guarantees inequality. It institutionalizes it. It does so legally. 

Dr. Margaret Flowers is a universal single-payer activist. She's a Physicians for a National Health Program congressional fellow. She's US Green Shadow Cabinet Secretary of Health.

She's a Healthcare-NOW! board member. It addresses America's health insurance crisis. Obamacare made it worse. Dr. Flowers calls it "perhaps the greatest corporate scam ever."

Healthcare giants wrote the law. It assures greater than ever profits. It's at the expense of proper healthcare. "(S)hoddy products" insurers offer don't provide it, said Dr. Flowers.

US-style healthcare doesn't work. It's the world's most expensive by far. It provides the least bang for the buck. "It means that people only receive the health care they can afford, not what they need," explains Dr. Flowers.

It "leaves tens of millions without coverage." It "lowers the bar on what is considered to be acceptable insurance coverage." 

Most plans offered mandate huge deductibles and co-pays. Doing so means unaffordable out-of-pocket costs for tens of millions.

Federal subsidies for America's poor are woefully inadequate. Millions live from paycheck to paycheck. Limited resources make expensive treatments unaffordable. 

Medical expense debt is the nation's leading cause of personal bankruptcies. Healthcare gets increasingly more expensive. Insurers scam the system for profit.

According to Dr. Flowers, "expect them to justify higher premiums and to push for lower levels of coverage or fewer required services. And we can expect (federal and state authorities to be) compliant, as they have been."

Healthcare isn't a commodity. It's a fundamental human right. Privatizing it is polar opposite of what's needed. "We need Medicare for all now," says Dr. Flowers.

Everyone in! No one left out! Everybody gets identical coverage. Illness guarantees equal treatment. ACA assures separate and unequal. For many, it means pay or die.

October 1 was ACA rollout day. Web site access problems accompanied it. Millions needing to enroll in healthcare exchanges can't do so. What should have been simple is nightmarish.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Washington had years to get ready. Failure perhaps is a metaphor for what never should been enacted in the first place.

On Monday, Obama acknowledged ongoing problems. At the same time, he minimized their severity. He didn't explain what went wrong, why, when they'll be fixed, or how to cope in the meantime.

Insurers are notifying customers their coverage is cancelled. It's because they're not complying with new ACA mandates.

Kaiser Health News said "Florida Blue is terminating about 300,000 policies, about 80% of its individual policies in the state."

Kaiser Permanente in California notified 160,000 customers they're out. Pittsburgh's Highmark dropped about 20% of its enrollees. Independence Blue Cross of Philadelphia cancelled about 45% of theirs.

Much the same thing is happening across America. ACA is barely three weeks old. Imagine how much worse things may get.

Obama lied saying if you like your coverage you can keep it. False! Force-fed options substitute. ACA institutionalized inequality. 

Millions are denied a fundamental human right. Millions more won't get enough of it to matter when they most need it.

New York Times editors were some of ACA's biggest boosters. They shamed themselves in the process. Even they expressed outrage over its "chaotic debut."

Unless serious problems are "fixed soon, they threaten to undermine" the entire system, they said.

"The administration created the Web site so the buck stops with high officials." Health and Human Services and Obama "allowed this to happen." They bear full responsibility.

Excuses offered don't wash. Enrollment procedures were supposed to be easy. Technical problems weren't supposed to happen.

Experts involved in fixing things say they're extensive. Perhaps months are needed to resolve them.

Millions are justifiably angry. They're frustrated. They're not sure what to do. Accountability is largely absent. Putting lipstick on this pig doesn't wash. 

Obama's signature initiative flopped on launch. Ahead expect things to get worse, not better. At issue isn't enrolling. 

It's what's covered, what isn't, cost, affordability, insurers gaming the system, and providing expensive treatments only to those who can pay for them out-of-pocket.

Obamacare's sick start reflects self-inflicted incompetence. Obama blamed snafus on system overloading. Search engines like Google handle billions of monthly visitors. They do so routinely.

Washington operates the world's most sophisticated supercomputers. Failure to get things right initially suggests lots more trouble ahead. Confidence once lost is hard to regain.

Consumer Reports (CR) reacted. After three weeks of testing, it said "stay away from Healthcare.gov for at least another month if you can." Abstain until major problems plaguing it are fixed.

"Hopefully that will be long enough for its software vendors to clean up the mess they've made."

"The coverage available through the marketplaces won’t begin until Jan. 1, 2014, at the earliest, and you have until Dec. 15 to enroll if you need insurance that starts promptly."

In ACA's first week, CR estimates about 270,000 people enrolled successfully. Nearly 9.5 million others tried and failed.

A week after launch, CR called Healthcare.gov "barely operational." On October 10, it said:

"(I)t's still next to impossible to create a user name and password that you can actually use to sign in." 

"(F)ive times (failed) without success. Our readers report similar frustrations." One wrote:

"Have been trying for a week, at least 10 times a day.  Have yet to get through the process."

Another said:

"Created account on 10/6 but unable to access it since then - get an error message saying that my account is not valid.' What a waste of my time."

"I have not been able to log in and I have tried 47 times," said a visitor to CR's Facebook's page of its online interactive HealthLawHelper.org site.

The only good news, said CR, is that "consumers coming to Healthcare.gov are no longer stopped cold by an error message or a screen saying they've been put in a waiting line."

On October 16, CR offered tips on Healthcare.gov registering. "We got advice from a pro software tester," it said.

(1) "Follow instructions when creating a user name." It's not easy. Instructions are garbled. They're needlessly complicated.

(2) "Move on immediately from failed logins."

"(D)on't believe all the status and error messages. They may not always match reality."

If what's tried doesn't work, use a different name, password and security question. Test to see if anything works.

(3) "Check your inbox frequently." If enrollment succeeds, "you should receive an 'account activation' e-mail (confirmation) within a few hours."

"Answer it promptly." Otherwise, "Healthcare.gov will time you out."

If no email arrives, you're back to square one. Start over.

(4) "Clear your cookies." If logging in to Healthcare.gov fails, most likely previous visits got your browser overloaded with them.

They exceed what the site can handle. It's one of many design errors. "(E)ither delete the cookies from your browser or log back in from" an alternative one.

If that's too much to handle, do nothing for several weeks. Then try again.

Marketplace coverage begins on January 1. Assuring it requires enrolling by December 15. Obamacare's rocky start suggests doing so won't be easy.

Millions already experienced error messages, delays, crashes, and stuck accounts.

Tech experts warned about problems in each enrollment step. According to healthcare consultant Dan Schuyler:

"There is grave concern that many individuals who are intent on securing coverage by (January 1) may not be able to do so by that date."

If "problems persist another three or four weeks, those at the back of the line will not have coverage."

Obamacare advocates knew they'd be problems. A pre-launch simulation test failed. It crashed. Federal officials went ahead as planned anyway.

Moments after midnight on October 1,  Healthcare.gov locked up. About 2,000 users couldn't complete step one in enrolling.

When millions tried doing so, things went from bad to worse. None of this should have happened. 

No one knows when problems will be resolved. It's unclear how many bugs beset the system.  Millions wanting to enroll are stuck in limbo. 

It remains to be seen what happens on January 1. Americans needing healthcare can't wait. They need it now.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected] 

His new book is titled "Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity."

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanII.html

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs Fridays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour

http://www.dailycensored.com/fiasco-obamacare-debut/

Consumer Reports: Stay away from healthcare.gov for at least another month

Despite President Obama's assurance that the troubled HealthCare.gov website is currently undergoing fixes, Consumer Reports is suggesting people “stay away” from the federal online...

The Childcare Nightmare

While I’m chasing eleven 2 year olds, who are buzzing on sugary breakfast food they were either given at home or at this state subsidized childcare facility, I’m hoping it doesn’t rain so we can go outside. I’m also trying to convince myself outdoors is better than indoors with this many kids. The playground is larger so it is harder to keep track of them outside where danger seems to lurk around each corner. Although childcare workers scan the playground early each morning for dangerous items–like the wood post with rusted nail that once made it into a child’s hands–the kids always manage to find danger. When I started this work, I never thought I would dread working with toddlers.  Now I can’t work under the current legally acceptable conditions at most local facilities for moral reasons. Welcome to the childcare work nightmare, where the light at the tunnel of your long days is barely visible through the sentimental or denial laden shadow cast on the concept of childcare (and the real shadow cast by your empty bank account).

It takes an unique set of circumstances to render outdoor time with children something to dread, but the “Learn and Grow Center” of northwest Florida, where I worked for a few months, did just that to me. Realizing I have nothing special to look forward to in my day– except the sometimes seductively quiet nap time–I am reduced to simply maintaining (the appearance of) classroom control. I do not want to lose my temper with these kids. It’s not their fault many have developed two primary childcare survival instincts: dog piling and biting. I am also trying not to say the word “no” every few seconds, instead using positive redirection while following my “lesson plan” tacked up on the classroom bulletin board. The schedule says “Circle Time” but from the look of things you would think it read “Dogpile Time.”

Quick, here comes the boss who drops by almost every day. I’ll put on the hokey pokey, grab a few hands, and look ecstatic–just like the hired models in childcare ads. If she walks in on a problem, like a bite attack, she’ll chalk it up to either my lack of toddler classroom experience or increased behavioral problems due to marital (financial) problems at the child’s home. I was initially impressed by my boss’ sensitivity toward her clientele, but now I scoff at her sensitive insights. After all, she keeps her own workers so underpaid they can’t even afford to keep their own kids in this, or any, childcare facility.

Crap. Cinder is about to tear up books at the reading corner. Remember, positive redirection–the behavioral mantra of the childcare industry. “Hey Cinder, I’m glad you like books, but everyone else is getting ready to go outside and play… Now’s not the best time to dump all of our…Cinder! It would be much nicer if…” Never mind Cinder. Jimmy just bit Alex on the cheek when I was “redirecting” Cinder, and now there’s an incident report to do. Furthermore, Nixen, who’s had diarrhea all week and should be at home, just blew a gasket all over his jeans. It seeped onto the floor where Ashley accidentally stepped in it with her silky white monogrammed Easter shoes. Her mother, who spends much of her meager paycheck on her daughter’s thematic holiday wardrobe, is going to complain to my supervisor later. I want this day to end early although I really need the money ($8.50/ hour), but this is the day I close. The fact that tomorrow someone else will be closing (which has me losing $10.00 that day) is the only comfort I can conjure up for myself here.

After my high school English teacher job in a special needs voucher school ended (see my previous post on Florida’s Vulturous Voucher Program), I decided to continue my field research on Florida education by going to the source of the problem: early childhood education. I wanted to work with 2 year olds since they are at such a challenging, formative age, so I took a job as a 2 year old classroom teacher at one of my town’s only state subsidized childcare centers. I went in like a dedicated soldier with a cause: I wanted to Montessori-cize and Waldorf-ize these childcare centers, giving poor kids what they deserve–an awesome head start. But it took only a week or so to realize that just because there’s a will doesn’t mean there’s a way. I may have only worked in one subsidized center, but when comparing notes with other workers who have worked at many more in their exhausting careers, I have concluded that what I encountered is generally the norm, not the exception. For contrast, I then worked at a non-subsidized private childcare center that caters to some of the county’s wealthier owning class families, including a prominent Republican politician’s family. “Class war at your childcare door,” I joked about my latest incarnation of employment. Although the private center had less behavioral problems, the same labor problems loomed at both venues due to a toxic combination of state standards and owners’ greed. Until we eliminate the profit motive in childcare, positive and progressive childcare experiences (and rewarding employment opportunities working with kids) will remain largely determined by parental incomes.

There’s a popular simplification that bad childcare environments emerge from government or individual negligence. Consider the premise of Jonathan Cohen’s widely circulated New Republic article, “The Hell of American Day Care”. This article uses an unusual–and highly sensationalistic–home care provider tragedy as a springboard to call for more childcare industry regulations and inspections. Jessica Tata was a licensed Texas home care provider who left sleeping children behind to make a Target run. She also accidentally left a pan of oil on a lit stove top. The pan caught fire, and while she was gone the house went up in flames–killing four out of seven children in her custody. Cohen’s example of home care neglect is quite an attention grabber, but it does little to illustrate the daily factors encumbering the achievement of accessible, quality childcare for millions.

One of these factors is the changing socio-economic roles of women. To be fair, Cohen’s article acknowledges the need for something women’s movements have always prioritized: affordable, quality childcare. There’s resistance to viewing childcare as work (as opposed to something done out of love by eager parents or family members), and this resistance translates into policy. That childcare responsibilities frequently fall to women presents further complications as more women’s economic roles have changed in the post-war decades. Cohen’s answer of more childcare facility inspections works well for the inevitable panic after an unimaginable horrific event, like a childcare fire, occurs. But it does little to address the insidious structural neglect that is the hallmark of childcare culture in America. Sensationalizing these problems by focusing on unusual accidents distract us from key mundane factors such as classroom ratios, set by state governments, that spawn related profiteering practices.

Irrational Ratios: Eleven 2 Year Olds??!!

Usually, when the topic of poor quality in an occupation arises, logic suggests raising wages produces worker incentives. But the childcare nightmare is not simply about inducing worker motivation through compensation. Because it’s our precious angels we’re serving to hardworking parents, not a bucket of fried chicken we’re serving to hungry customers, childcare wages usually hover just over minimum wage. And don’t get me wrong, more money would help the problem. But childcare struggles would still exist if the hourly wage was higher simply because optimal conditions required to successfully do the work are lacking at so many facilities.

In my experience, classroom ratios are the main source of the childcare nightmare. (Meanwhile, websites like http://www.classsizematters.org devote resources to arguing the same thing about K-12 education.) Most childcare struggles I perceived emerged from the fact that both facilities kept to the maximum number of children legally allowed in each classroom. This is a big problem; Florida allows the jaw-dropping number of eleven 2 year-olds to one childcare teacher. Eleven terrible 2′s! And they are learning to go to the bathroom and talk at this sensitive age: taught largely by workers.

Consider one coworker case study. The private childcare where I worked employed Hannah, a dedicated 2 year old teacher who keeps a clean classroom, communicates well with parents, and pays out of pocket for her own carefully thought out supplies and activities. Hannah makes $9.50/ hour–which is at the high end of the county’s childcare wage spectrum. But the fact that Hannah makes more than her colleagues at other facilities doesn’t overshadow that she manages a “classroom” of eleven toddlers in the process of learning to talk and use the toilet. Some don’t talk really well, some yell. Some can go on their own already and some haven’t figured out that they should poop sitting down. We have quiet standing up poopers, talkative panty wearers, and about every other imaginable combination. Over time, because of ratios, a relatively higher paying position at an “elite” facility didn’t deter Hannah from walking off the job without notice. Exasperated, she just up and quit one day!

Inter-Classroom Rationing: Someone’s Going Home

Childcare facility owners and supervisors choose to enforce the maximum classroom ratios–the root evil in this industry. These irrational ratios breed another common practice that can be avoided by simple administrative principles of fairness to employees and children: inter-classroom rationing. At both facilities, the supervisors’ main objective was to monitor the number of children in the room, shifting them to other rooms with the goal of taking a teacher off the clock. (This practice ensures worker hours are never absolutely guaranteed unless you are in some kind of favor with management.) If the private childcare had a low turnout one day, the supervisor would also move children to eventually create an empty classroom. The main difference between the two facilities was that the private facility supervisor wasn’t as frantic about this as the state funded facility supervisor.

Moving children was the main vibe of my interactions with my state funded supervisor. “How many ya got?” she would bark at me as I meandered my way outside with always eleven (sometimes more) toddlers in tow. Yes, we were sometimes over ratio– an occurrence only to be avoided because of surprise state inspections, not out of fairness to me or the children involved! If I was momentarily under ratio it wouldn’t last long before the Shifty-Eyed Bean Counter supervisor would show up with more children from another classroom: they were always moving kids away from continuity with their teachers, peers, and a familiar classroom space. When arriving to work each day, no childcare worker automatically knows how many children will be there or the duration of each child’s stay. Creative managers could do something really cool in this instance: they could acknowledge how hard the work is and send a worker home early– with pay. But the owner would never have that!

When I first worked in childcare, I marveled at inter-classroom rationing because it contradicts all common sense. It also contradicts the core child development philosophy encountered in state required on-line employee training courses that workers usually pay for themselves. Remember, these are children, not buckets of fried chicken, so childcare workers need to accomplish 40 hrs. of outside training within a year.  Amid poverty, a chaotic schedule, and exhaustion otherwise, the state’s idealistic childcare philosophies are espoused to the low-wage workers already in the daily trenches. Childcare workers are required to suffer through pedantic, often hilariously cliche and idealistic, on-line courses (although not everyone has access to home computers!), and then carve out weekend morning time to be tested in person. The carrot dangling at the end of that stick is a possible, not always guaranteed, small wage increase once coursework has been completed.

Childcare teachers are expected to institute premeditated lesson plans and develop bonds with the children assigned to their classrooms. But this proves extremely difficult when a supervisor interrupts circle time to move children around. At the state funded facility, nap time was pure chaos because workers were breaking for lunch and you could have one or more children from another classroom. Somehow they ended up in your room for nap time and they need pacifiers and blankets stored in another room. They’re balling their eyes out, but no one is around to help at the moment except you. On a busy or under-staffed day, a worker may not get her own bathroom break. Adult diapers aren’t an option here: too expensive!

Plastic Food

Another profiteering practice at both facilities is providing cheap bland food that is almost the nutritional equivalent of the abundant plastic toys that graced both classrooms. Contrary to the employee training on nutritional ideals, I never saw a bright green item served for lunch at the state funded daycare (unless canned grayish peas count), and there were countless days when everything served was a muted yellow or white.  I recall one particularly lackluster lunch of ramen noodles with a lumpy cream sauce, applesauce, a few pieces of canned chicken, and milk. State funded childcares qualify for federal food funding, but if they stay under their projected federal budget while ostensibly complying to nutritional guidelines–they can pocket the price difference. At the private center, the kids brought their own lunches and snacks. A guaranteed snack was also provided that was no different than the subsidized snacks: animal crackers, pretzels, chocolate chip cookies… I never saw an apple slice or carrot stick at either facility unless a child brought it from home or it was in the toy bin.

State funded childcares are required to have developmentally appropriate toys. This includes plastic kitchenettes with plastic food that inevitably ends up in 2 year old mouths. (How confusing since plastic food toys probably didn’t taste much different than real food served!)  There was miniature plastic furniture they are only allowed to sit on–yeah, right. At both places plastic boxes sat on shelves filled to the brim with plastic figurines. At the private facility, the toys were almost the exact same, except they had more. They also had an unlimited donated supply of old mobile and cell phones. In one employee training, it is explained that kids like to emulate adults, so we should provide plastic phones, computers, stoves…and food.  If we really want to encourage children to emulate their parents why not provide play areas where they can drop their kids off at overcrowded childcare centers that serve nutrient deficient foods?

I cringed when I entered the private facility’s 2 year old classroom to encounter toddlers hobbling around throwing old clunky cordless phones at each other. At both centers, the more is better philosophy reigned supreme when it came to toys. The outdoor play space at the state funded facility was inundated with old kitchenettes, wobbly shopping carts, and other cast off items. The private facility’s minimalist outdoor area was graced with white sand, swings and slides: one major difference between the two places for which I was grateful. But indoors, it was as if the sheer number of toys per classroom would make up for the chaos that otherwise ensued in facilities driven by irrational ratios, high employee turnover, and children’s hunger, thirst, and general anxiety/ depression.

Until childcare is perceived as a social necessity, chaos is sure to continue at most facilities driven by indefensible class size ratios and individual shameful greed. Sometime before the federal government shutdown overshadowed other policy discussions, Obama paid lip service to expanded, universal early childhood education.  But don’t be misled to think that this move will escape the same greedy talons of those education companies claiming the expertise to “redirect” K-12 public education today. It’s all part of a big immoral corporate grab. Parents and allies of the young, be very afraid.

Michelle Renee Matisons, Ph.D. is an independent scholar doing ethnographic research on education in the Florida panhandle—for the time being.  She can be reached at [email protected].

The Childcare Nightmare

While I’m chasing eleven 2 year olds, who are buzzing on sugary breakfast food they were either given at home or at this state subsidized childcare facility, I’m hoping it doesn’t rain so we can go outside. I’m also trying to convince myself outdoors is better than indoors with this many kids. The playground is larger so it is harder to keep track of them outside where danger seems to lurk around each corner. Although childcare workers scan the playground early each morning for dangerous items–like the wood post with rusted nail that once made it into a child’s hands–the kids always manage to find danger. When I started this work, I never thought I would dread working with toddlers.  Now I can’t work under the current legally acceptable conditions at most local facilities for moral reasons. Welcome to the childcare work nightmare, where the light at the tunnel of your long days is barely visible through the sentimental or denial laden shadow cast on the concept of childcare (and the real shadow cast by your empty bank account).

It takes an unique set of circumstances to render outdoor time with children something to dread, but the “Learn and Grow Center” of northwest Florida, where I worked for a few months, did just that to me. Realizing I have nothing special to look forward to in my day– except the sometimes seductively quiet nap time–I am reduced to simply maintaining (the appearance of) classroom control. I do not want to lose my temper with these kids. It’s not their fault many have developed two primary childcare survival instincts: dog piling and biting. I am also trying not to say the word “no” every few seconds, instead using positive redirection while following my “lesson plan” tacked up on the classroom bulletin board. The schedule says “Circle Time” but from the look of things you would think it read “Dogpile Time.”

Quick, here comes the boss who drops by almost every day. I’ll put on the hokey pokey, grab a few hands, and look ecstatic–just like the hired models in childcare ads. If she walks in on a problem, like a bite attack, she’ll chalk it up to either my lack of toddler classroom experience or increased behavioral problems due to marital (financial) problems at the child’s home. I was initially impressed by my boss’ sensitivity toward her clientele, but now I scoff at her sensitive insights. After all, she keeps her own workers so underpaid they can’t even afford to keep their own kids in this, or any, childcare facility.

Crap. Cinder is about to tear up books at the reading corner. Remember, positive redirection–the behavioral mantra of the childcare industry. “Hey Cinder, I’m glad you like books, but everyone else is getting ready to go outside and play… Now’s not the best time to dump all of our…Cinder! It would be much nicer if…” Never mind Cinder. Jimmy just bit Alex on the cheek when I was “redirecting” Cinder, and now there’s an incident report to do. Furthermore, Nixen, who’s had diarrhea all week and should be at home, just blew a gasket all over his jeans. It seeped onto the floor where Ashley accidentally stepped in it with her silky white monogrammed Easter shoes. Her mother, who spends much of her meager paycheck on her daughter’s thematic holiday wardrobe, is going to complain to my supervisor later. I want this day to end early although I really need the money ($8.50/ hour), but this is the day I close. The fact that tomorrow someone else will be closing (which has me losing $10.00 that day) is the only comfort I can conjure up for myself here.

After my high school English teacher job in a special needs voucher school ended (see my previous post on Florida’s Vulturous Voucher Program), I decided to continue my field research on Florida education by going to the source of the problem: early childhood education. I wanted to work with 2 year olds since they are at such a challenging, formative age, so I took a job as a 2 year old classroom teacher at one of my town’s only state subsidized childcare centers. I went in like a dedicated soldier with a cause: I wanted to Montessori-cize and Waldorf-ize these childcare centers, giving poor kids what they deserve–an awesome head start. But it took only a week or so to realize that just because there’s a will doesn’t mean there’s a way. I may have only worked in one subsidized center, but when comparing notes with other workers who have worked at many more in their exhausting careers, I have concluded that what I encountered is generally the norm, not the exception. For contrast, I then worked at a non-subsidized private childcare center that caters to some of the county’s wealthier owning class families, including a prominent Republican politician’s family. “Class war at your childcare door,” I joked about my latest incarnation of employment. Although the private center had less behavioral problems, the same labor problems loomed at both venues due to a toxic combination of state standards and owners’ greed. Until we eliminate the profit motive in childcare, positive and progressive childcare experiences (and rewarding employment opportunities working with kids) will remain largely determined by parental incomes.

There’s a popular simplification that bad childcare environments emerge from government or individual negligence. Consider the premise of Jonathan Cohen’s widely circulated New Republic article, “The Hell of American Day Care”. This article uses an unusual–and highly sensationalistic–home care provider tragedy as a springboard to call for more childcare industry regulations and inspections. Jessica Tata was a licensed Texas home care provider who left sleeping children behind to make a Target run. She also accidentally left a pan of oil on a lit stove top. The pan caught fire, and while she was gone the house went up in flames–killing four out of seven children in her custody. Cohen’s example of home care neglect is quite an attention grabber, but it does little to illustrate the daily factors encumbering the achievement of accessible, quality childcare for millions.

One of these factors is the changing socio-economic roles of women. To be fair, Cohen’s article acknowledges the need for something women’s movements have always prioritized: affordable, quality childcare. There’s resistance to viewing childcare as work (as opposed to something done out of love by eager parents or family members), and this resistance translates into policy. That childcare responsibilities frequently fall to women presents further complications as more women’s economic roles have changed in the post-war decades. Cohen’s answer of more childcare facility inspections works well for the inevitable panic after an unimaginable horrific event, like a childcare fire, occurs. But it does little to address the insidious structural neglect that is the hallmark of childcare culture in America. Sensationalizing these problems by focusing on unusual accidents distract us from key mundane factors such as classroom ratios, set by state governments, that spawn related profiteering practices.

Irrational Ratios: Eleven 2 Year Olds??!!

Usually, when the topic of poor quality in an occupation arises, logic suggests raising wages produces worker incentives. But the childcare nightmare is not simply about inducing worker motivation through compensation. Because it’s our precious angels we’re serving to hardworking parents, not a bucket of fried chicken we’re serving to hungry customers, childcare wages usually hover just over minimum wage. And don’t get me wrong, more money would help the problem. But childcare struggles would still exist if the hourly wage was higher simply because optimal conditions required to successfully do the work are lacking at so many facilities.

In my experience, classroom ratios are the main source of the childcare nightmare. (Meanwhile, websites like http://www.classsizematters.org devote resources to arguing the same thing about K-12 education.) Most childcare struggles I perceived emerged from the fact that both facilities kept to the maximum number of children legally allowed in each classroom. This is a big problem; Florida allows the jaw-dropping number of eleven 2 year-olds to one childcare teacher. Eleven terrible 2′s! And they are learning to go to the bathroom and talk at this sensitive age: taught largely by workers.

Consider one coworker case study. The private childcare where I worked employed Hannah, a dedicated 2 year old teacher who keeps a clean classroom, communicates well with parents, and pays out of pocket for her own carefully thought out supplies and activities. Hannah makes $9.50/ hour–which is at the high end of the county’s childcare wage spectrum. But the fact that Hannah makes more than her colleagues at other facilities doesn’t overshadow that she manages a “classroom” of eleven toddlers in the process of learning to talk and use the toilet. Some don’t talk really well, some yell. Some can go on their own already and some haven’t figured out that they should poop sitting down. We have quiet standing up poopers, talkative panty wearers, and about every other imaginable combination. Over time, because of ratios, a relatively higher paying position at an “elite” facility didn’t deter Hannah from walking off the job without notice. Exasperated, she just up and quit one day!

Inter-Classroom Rationing: Someone’s Going Home

Childcare facility owners and supervisors choose to enforce the maximum classroom ratios–the root evil in this industry. These irrational ratios breed another common practice that can be avoided by simple administrative principles of fairness to employees and children: inter-classroom rationing. At both facilities, the supervisors’ main objective was to monitor the number of children in the room, shifting them to other rooms with the goal of taking a teacher off the clock. (This practice ensures worker hours are never absolutely guaranteed unless you are in some kind of favor with management.) If the private childcare had a low turnout one day, the supervisor would also move children to eventually create an empty classroom. The main difference between the two facilities was that the private facility supervisor wasn’t as frantic about this as the state funded facility supervisor.

Moving children was the main vibe of my interactions with my state funded supervisor. “How many ya got?” she would bark at me as I meandered my way outside with always eleven (sometimes more) toddlers in tow. Yes, we were sometimes over ratio– an occurrence only to be avoided because of surprise state inspections, not out of fairness to me or the children involved! If I was momentarily under ratio it wouldn’t last long before the Shifty-Eyed Bean Counter supervisor would show up with more children from another classroom: they were always moving kids away from continuity with their teachers, peers, and a familiar classroom space. When arriving to work each day, no childcare worker automatically knows how many children will be there or the duration of each child’s stay. Creative managers could do something really cool in this instance: they could acknowledge how hard the work is and send a worker home early– with pay. But the owner would never have that!

When I first worked in childcare, I marveled at inter-classroom rationing because it contradicts all common sense. It also contradicts the core child development philosophy encountered in state required on-line employee training courses that workers usually pay for themselves. Remember, these are children, not buckets of fried chicken, so childcare workers need to accomplish 40 hrs. of outside training within a year.  Amid poverty, a chaotic schedule, and exhaustion otherwise, the state’s idealistic childcare philosophies are espoused to the low-wage workers already in the daily trenches. Childcare workers are required to suffer through pedantic, often hilariously cliche and idealistic, on-line courses (although not everyone has access to home computers!), and then carve out weekend morning time to be tested in person. The carrot dangling at the end of that stick is a possible, not always guaranteed, small wage increase once coursework has been completed.

Childcare teachers are expected to institute premeditated lesson plans and develop bonds with the children assigned to their classrooms. But this proves extremely difficult when a supervisor interrupts circle time to move children around. At the state funded facility, nap time was pure chaos because workers were breaking for lunch and you could have one or more children from another classroom. Somehow they ended up in your room for nap time and they need pacifiers and blankets stored in another room. They’re balling their eyes out, but no one is around to help at the moment except you. On a busy or under-staffed day, a worker may not get her own bathroom break. Adult diapers aren’t an option here: too expensive!

Plastic Food

Another profiteering practice at both facilities is providing cheap bland food that is almost the nutritional equivalent of the abundant plastic toys that graced both classrooms. Contrary to the employee training on nutritional ideals, I never saw a bright green item served for lunch at the state funded daycare (unless canned grayish peas count), and there were countless days when everything served was a muted yellow or white.  I recall one particularly lackluster lunch of ramen noodles with a lumpy cream sauce, applesauce, a few pieces of canned chicken, and milk. State funded childcares qualify for federal food funding, but if they stay under their projected federal budget while ostensibly complying to nutritional guidelines–they can pocket the price difference. At the private center, the kids brought their own lunches and snacks. A guaranteed snack was also provided that was no different than the subsidized snacks: animal crackers, pretzels, chocolate chip cookies… I never saw an apple slice or carrot stick at either facility unless a child brought it from home or it was in the toy bin.

State funded childcares are required to have developmentally appropriate toys. This includes plastic kitchenettes with plastic food that inevitably ends up in 2 year old mouths. (How confusing since plastic food toys probably didn’t taste much different than real food served!)  There was miniature plastic furniture they are only allowed to sit on–yeah, right. At both places plastic boxes sat on shelves filled to the brim with plastic figurines. At the private facility, the toys were almost the exact same, except they had more. They also had an unlimited donated supply of old mobile and cell phones. In one employee training, it is explained that kids like to emulate adults, so we should provide plastic phones, computers, stoves…and food.  If we really want to encourage children to emulate their parents why not provide play areas where they can drop their kids off at overcrowded childcare centers that serve nutrient deficient foods?

I cringed when I entered the private facility’s 2 year old classroom to encounter toddlers hobbling around throwing old clunky cordless phones at each other. At both centers, the more is better philosophy reigned supreme when it came to toys. The outdoor play space at the state funded facility was inundated with old kitchenettes, wobbly shopping carts, and other cast off items. The private facility’s minimalist outdoor area was graced with white sand, swings and slides: one major difference between the two places for which I was grateful. But indoors, it was as if the sheer number of toys per classroom would make up for the chaos that otherwise ensued in facilities driven by irrational ratios, high employee turnover, and children’s hunger, thirst, and general anxiety/ depression.

Until childcare is perceived as a social necessity, chaos is sure to continue at most facilities driven by indefensible class size ratios and individual shameful greed. Sometime before the federal government shutdown overshadowed other policy discussions, Obama paid lip service to expanded, universal early childhood education.  But don’t be misled to think that this move will escape the same greedy talons of those education companies claiming the expertise to “redirect” K-12 public education today. It’s all part of a big immoral corporate grab. Parents and allies of the young, be very afraid.

Michelle Renee Matisons, Ph.D. is an independent scholar doing ethnographic research on education in the Florida panhandle—for the time being.  She can be reached at [email protected].

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Guest Post: The Tangled Relationship Between Wealth & Money

Submitted by John Michael Greer of Peak Prosperity,

One of the most dangerous mistakes possible to make in trying to understand the shape of the economic future is to think of the fundamental concepts of economics as simple and uncontroversial.  They aren’t. 

In economics, as in all other fields, the fundamentals are where disguised ideologies and unexamined presuppositions are most likely to hide out, precisely because nobody questions them.

In this and future essays here at Peak Prosperity, I will explore a number of things that seem, at first glance, very obvious and basic.  I hope you’ll bear with me, as there are lessons of crucial and deeply practical importance to anyone facing the challenging years ahead.

This is, above all, true of the first thing I want to talk about: the tangled relationship between wealth and money.

Our co-host here, Chris Martenson, likes to remind us all that money is not wealth, but a claim on wealth.  He’s quite right, and it’s important to understand why.

Money is a system of abstract tokens that complex societies use to manage the distribution of goods and services, and that’s all it is.  Money can consist of lumps of precious metal, pieces of paper decorated with the faces of dead politicians, digits in computer memory, or any number of other things, up to and including the sheer make-believe that underlies derivatives and the like. Important differences separate these various forms of money, depending on the ease or lack of same with which they can be manufactured, but everything that counts as money has one thing in common – it has only one of the two kinds of economic value.

The Two Kinds of Value

Economists call those use value and exchange value.

You already know about them, even if you don’t know the names.  Odds are, in fact, that you learned about them back in elementary school the first time that one of your classmates offered to trade you something for the cookies in your lunchbox.  You then had to choose between trading the cookies for whatever your classmate offered and eating them yourself.  The first of those choices treated the cookies primarily as a bearer of exchange value; the second treated them primarily as a bearer of use value.

All forms of real wealth – that is, all nonfinancial goods and services – have use value as well as exchange value.  They can be exchanged for other goods and services, financial or otherwise, but they also provide some direct benefit to the person who is able to obtain them.  All forms of money, by contrast, have exchange value but no use value. You can’t do a thing with them except trade them for something that has use value (or for some other kind of money that can be traded for things with use value).

Most people realize this.  Or, more precisely, most people think that they realize this.

It’s still embarrassingly common for people to forget that money isn’t true wealth, and to assume that as long as they have some sufficiently large quantity of some kind of money that’s likely to hold its exchange value over time, they’ll never want for wealth.  This assumption is understandably made, because in the relatively recent past, this has been true a good deal more often than not, which feeds the belief that it will always be true in the future. 

But that assumption is lethally flawed, and it’s important to understand why.

The Economic Relationship between Money and Wealth

For the last three hundred years, as industrial society emerged from older socioeconomic forms and became adept at finding ways to use the immense economic windfall provided by fossil fuel energy, there have been two principal brakes on economic growth.

The first has been the rate at which new technologies have been developed to produce goods and services using energy derived from fossil fuels. The Industrial Revolution didn’t get started in the first place until inventors and entrepreneurs found ways to put the first generation of steam engines to work making goods and providing services.  At every step along the road from that tentative beginning to today’s extravagantly fueled high-tech societies, the rate of economic growth has been largely a function of the rate at which new inventions have appeared and linked up with the business models that were needed to integrate them into the productive economy.  That’s the source of the innovation-centered strategy that leads most industrial societies to fund basic and applied research as lavishly as they can afford.

The second major brake on economic growth is the relationship between the economy of goods and services, on the one hand, and the economy of money on the other.  Just as wealth and money are not the same, as we’ve seen, the economic processes that center on them are not the same.  The printing and circulation of money is not the same thing as the production and distribution of nonfinancial goods and services, and ignoring the difference between them confuses much more than it reveals.  In my book The Wealth of Nature, I called the economy of goods and services the 'secondary economy,' and the economy of money the 'tertiary economy,' with nature itself – the ultimate source of all wealth – as the 'primary economy.'  For the purposes of this essay and those to come, though, we’ll use simpler labels and call them the 'wealth economy' and the 'money economy'.

During this three-hundred-year timespan, when the money economy stayed in sync with the wealth economy, economic growth normally followed.  When the two economies got out of sync, on the other hand, growth normally faltered or went into reverse. There were (and are) two ways that the money supply can slip out of its proper relationship with the wealth economy. 

The first occurs when growth in the money supply outstrips growth in the production of real wealth, so that the more money is available to compete for any given good or service, and prices normally go up.  That’s inflation.

The second occurs when growth in the money supply fails to keep up with growth in the production of real wealth, so that less money is available to purchase any given good or service, and prices normally go down.  That’s deflation. 

Fighting to Keep the Economies in Sync

In either case, the imbalance hinders the ability of the wealth economy to keep producing goods and services, mostly by throwing a monkey wrench into the machinery of investment — the process by which the money economy allots extra wealth to the producers of wealth to assist them in expanding their ability to create real, nonfinancial goods and services. Whether it’s inflation or deflation that chucks the wrench into the gears, the result is flagging or negative growth.

It’s the hope of keeping inflation and deflation in check that motivates the obsessive tinkering with economics on the part of so many of the world’s governments these days. However poorly that tinkering works out in practice (and it usually works out very poorly, indeed) the politicians can at least claim to citizens that they’re doing something to get economic growth back on track.

Most economists, and for that matter most people who consider economic issues, think and act as though these two factors — the rate of innovation and the money economy’s habit of getting out of sync with the underlying economy of real wealth — are still the only factors that can get in the way of growth. That’s why proposals for putting an end to the current economic mess focus so narrowly on more innovation, on the one hand, and finding some way to gimmick the money economy so that it no longer drags on the wealth economy, on the other. 

Now, of course, scarcely any two people agree on what measures will get the two economies in sync again. Similarly there’s no general agreement over where government support for innovation ought to go. But there’s near-universal agreement that getting these two factors to work right is the way out of the ongoing global economic crisis.

The Tangled Web We've Woven

The disagreements between partisans of various economic schemes, and between proponents of various new technologies, make it easy to miss the fact that something is happening that’s clean outside the box of contemporary economic thought.

The wealth economy and the money economy are certainly out of sync just now, but the problem isn’t in the money economy; it’s in the wealth economy.

The production of real goods and services has run up against limits that are not financial in nature, and today’s economic orthodoxies can’t even imagine that possibility, much less respond to it in any useful fashion.

In Part II: Slamming Face-First into the Limits to Growth we explain why, given our misguided efforts to solve the wrong problems, you can no longer assume that having enough money – of any kind – will guarantee that you will have enough wealth.  Distortions in the money supply driven by the shenanigans of central bankers are not the only force twisting the relationship between money and growth.  The key factor now is a contraction in the wealth economy driven by the economic effects of the exhaustion of easily accessible resources. 

There simply is too much money chasing a limited (and, in some cases, shrinking) supply of real wealth. 

Click here to read Part II of this report (free executive summary; enrollment required for full access).

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Just Who The Hell Does Hillary Clinton Think She Is?


A former intern shares what she learned about work ethic from working for Hillary Clinton.

Blogger Historiann is one of the handful or so of people who still read Bloomberg's Michael Kinsley, Professional Liberal. (I didn't even know he was still around. But I'd like to point out to Mr. Kinsley that you judge the Secretary of State's job performance by what doesn't happen.) You don't have to be a Clinton fan to see just how offensive Kinsley's column is. As soon as a male writer uses the phrase "I don't mean to be ungallant," you know he's about to unleash a truckload of misogynist horse manure:

Michael Kinsley writes about what he calls “Hillary Clinton’s ego trips,” and proves that there’s no way you approach your professional life and responsibilities as a woman that won’t be held against you. His main complaint seems to be that Hillary Clinton thinks she’s so big:

The world is a better place because of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. That’s not the question. The question is whether it is a better place because of those last 20 hours of her 80-hour work week. Or because of the extra miles she flew to distant capitals?On one trip in 2009, according to the New York Times, “she traveled from talks with Palestinian leaders in Abu Dhabi to a midnight meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, then boarded a plane forMorocco, staying up all night to work on other issues, before going straight to a meeting of Arab leaders the next morning.”Very impressive, but did it bring us any closer to peace in the Middle East?

Kind of strange, don’t you think? Has anyone ever written about a man that he worked too hard or was just too dedicated to his job, let alone that his dedication was a form of self-aggrandizement? What’s worse is that in Kinsey’s estimation, Hillary Clinton looks like a 65 year-old woman:

Clinton looks awful and has looked worse and worse for years, since long before her recent hospitalization for a blood clot resulting from a fall. I don’t mean to be ungallant. It’s just that she clearly has been working herself to death in her current job as well as in her past two, as senator and first lady.

And what for? Despite all the admiration she deserves for her dedication and long hours, there is also a vanity of long hours and (in her current job) long miles of travel. You must be very, very important if your work requires you to be constantly flying through time zones to midnight meetings that last for hours. Of course our secretary of state is very important — so why does she have to prove it?

Yeah–she’s the U.S. Secretary of State! She should just sit back, relax, and bake up some vegan, gluten-free cookies or something. She doesn’t need to log all of those flight miles–she can just Skype Angela Merkel or Abu Mazen from Chappaqua if something comes up.

In spite of my voracious consumption of political journalism (because who else do you know who reads Michael Kinsley? Lolz!), I must have missed all of those articles that complained about Teddy Kennedy’s unattractive corpulence, or that Robert Byrd was a hideous old fossil who should have resigned long before he died, or Barney Frank’s weird speech impediment that means he spits all over anyone who’s near him, or that Bob Dole was a self-aggrandizing mummy with a chip on his shoulder and corpse-breath for daring to run for President at the age of 73. I totally missed the endless calls during the Bush presidency insisting that Dick Cheney was ineligible to serve as Vice President because he was 60 going on 95 and was clearly too hideous and too sickly to serve.

As a matter of fact, I’ve missed every single article in the world written either in English or French in which male politicians are criticized for their age, their looks, or their hard work.

Corporate America: A Whale in a Fish Tank

Sticking a whale in a fish tank is a bad idea. With its fat body pressed up against all four glass walls, there's no room for any of the other fish – goldfish, zebra fish, sucker fish – to swim about or even eat since, of course, the whale will eat all the fish food and likely the fish themselves.

Eventually all the other fish will die. Then, all you're left with is a whale, alone, in a fish tank. And what good is that?

The point is whales don't belong in fish tanks any more than giant transnational monopolies or oligopolies belong in our economy.

Nature has a way of restricting the size of animals in their ecosystem making sure they don't get too big and cause problems for the other animals and organisms that call the same ecosystem home. Similarly, our economy must have mechanisms to restrict the size of corporations to make sure they don't become too big and cause problems for other businesses trying to make a living.

This was the intent of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act passed in 1890 during the height of the Gilded Age (also known as the long depression), when there were a bunch of whales in our fish tank economy.

But, the last great break-up of a monopoly happened in the 1970's and 80's when Richard Nixon's Justice Department went after AT&T, which at the time was the largest corporation in the world, for violating anti-trust laws. After a settlement, AT&T agreed in 1984 to break up its Bell System into seven different companies known as "Baby Bells."

That left the market open for new players to jump in offering new services and new prices. The AT&T whale was taken out of the fish tank, and in the end, it was good to all the investors involved. In fact, the value of AT&T and all its former subsidiaries tripled after the break-up.

Breaking up monopolies is good for the economy. Whether it's the break-up of Standard Oil and American Tobacco in the early 20th Century, or more recently the break-up of AT&T, removing the whale from the fish tank always leads to more competition in the market, which, to quote Conservatives, means lower prices and better products.

Unfortunately, there haven't been many success stories since the break-up of AT&T. That's because, in response to the AT&T break-up, Ronald Reagan stopped enforcing the Anti-Trust Act, and the monopolies and oligopolies have since returned. Even the "Baby Bells" began merging together again forming bigger and bigger telecom companies.

This week, Robert Reich warned that future bailouts of Wall Street are inevitable. Why? Because there's too many dang whales in the Wall Street fish tank.

As Reich points out, "The biggest Wall Street banks are now far bigger than they were four years ago when they were considered too big to fail. The five largest have almost 44 percent of all US bank deposits. That's up from 37 percent in 2007, just before the crash. A decade ago they had just 28 percent."

That means our entire banking system relies on just a few whales that must be saved at all costs from going belly up, or else, the entire system goes belly up.

While banking is the most notorious example of whales in a fish tank, it's not the only example.

Consider our food industry. According to Tom Philpott at Mother Jones magazine, agriculture oligopolies exist from farm to shelf. Just four companies control 90% of the global grain trade. Just three companies control 70% of the beef industry. And just four companies control 58% of the pork and chicken industry.

On the retail side, Walmart controls a quarter of the entire U.S. grocery market. And just four companies produce 75% of our breakfast cereal, 75% of our snack foods, 60% of our cookies, and half of all the ice cream sold in supermarkets around the nation.

And then there's the health insurance market. Just four health insurance companies – UnitedHealth Group, WellPoint, Aetna, and Humana – control three-quarters of the entire health insurance market. And as a 2007 study by the group Health Care for America Now uncovered, in 38 states, just two insurers control 57% of the market. In 15 states, one insurer controls 60% of the market.

Since there's no competition in this market, prices continue to get higher and higher while the profits for these whales skyrocket, too.

In the cellular phone market, just four companies – AT&T Mobile, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and Sprint Nextel – control 89% of the market. And in the internet market, just a handful of corporations – AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon – control more than half of the market.

Also, from newspapers to television, radio to movies, oligopolies – or whales – dominate the markets.

If we were to give the internet oligopolies the same treatment Richard Nixon gave AT&T in the 1970's, then maybe we Americans could enjoy the same super-fast internet speeds and super-cheap rates that most of the rest of the developed world, which have kept the whales out of the tanks, enjoys. For example, South Koreans get internet speeds 200-times faster than what most American get. Yet, they only pay $27 a month for their service. And similar success stories can be found all across Europe.

Rising healthcare, food, and energy costs can all be traced back to the whale in the fish tank problem of oligopoly in America.

Recently, we unveiled the #NoBillionaires Campaign to draw attention to the parasitic effect billionaires have on our economy. You can check out the website at www.NoBillionaires.com.

But trillionaire transnational corporations are just as harmful to our economy. And we need lawmakers willing to stand up to these corporate whales and get back to enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act once again.

Let the fish swim freely.

Are Detox Diets and Cleanses Dangerous?

Advocates of detox diets, cleanses and flushes swear they purge the body of toxins. But do they actually work?

January 7, 2013  |  

Photo Credit: © Bartosz Luczak/ Shutterstock.com

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After a month-long national eating binge in December, Americans wake up on January 1 hoping to wipe the slate clean and start fresh in the new year.  How do we undo the damage we did to our bodies with all of the eggnog and Christmas cookies? Many hit the gym. Others decide it’s time to detox.

Detox diets, sometimes known as cleanses or flushes, are often advocated as ways to purge the body of toxins. Some even claim to help you expel gallstones. But do these extreme diet regimes actually work? Or are they, in fact, ineffective and even dangerous?

Cleanses and flushes tend to take two main forms. The first, known as the Master Cleanse or the lemonade diet, instructs people to fast for 10 days while consuming only a special lemonade made with lemon juice, water, maple syrup, and cayenne. Additionally, one must take laxatives before bed and then drink salt water in the morning to induce a bowel movement.

The second, often called a liver flush or a liver and gallbladder flush, originates from the work of Randolph Stone. Stone was a natural medicine doctor who developed what he called Polarity Therapy in the 1940s. There are many variations of Stone’s liver flush around today, but most involve the same main components.

Some versions begin with a fast during which one consumes only apples and apple juice. Some also include instructions to drink water mixed with Epsom salts (a laxative). But all of the variations include two main components: drinking a mixture of lemon juice, garlic juice and olive oil followed an herbal tea. The herbal tea usually consists of flax seeds, fenugreek and fennel seeds, but may also include other ingredients like burdock root and peppermint. Last, some versions of the flush say to eat a special diet for the rest of the day. This procedure may be repeated for a period of days, and some versions instruct one to do the flush at regular intervals throughout the year.

What does one achieve with such a strange regimen of foods? Let’s just say you’ll spend some quality time with your toilet if you give this flush a try. Most of the core ingredients in the flush are laxatives or diuretics. Some Web sites claim you will actually excrete up to 2,000 gallstones with this flush.

As it turns out, you won’t excrete gallstones at all, although the flush will cause you to excrete what looks like little green “stones.” So what are they? “Saponified olive oil,” answers clinical herbalist Rosalee de la Forêt. Remember, you just drank a large amount of olive oil and lemon juice, and it has to come out the other end. The olive oil actually turns into soap inside your body. The soap absorbs bile, turning it green – although it’s been shown that when someone drinks red dye along with the liver flush mixture, the stones will be red on the inside.

When asked about the effects of Master Cleanse and liver flushes, experts like De la Forêt, herbalist Sean Donahue and registered dietitian Melinda Hemmelgarn are surprisingly consistent with one another – and frustratingly vague.

Donahue, who teaches at the School of Western Herbal Medicine at Pacific Rim College, feels that the impacts of these regimes “vary a lot according to the person's general health,” adding that, “often people who are looking to these solutions are people who are already depleted. Really pushing the body hard to do things that are physically stressful for it under those conditions at the very least kind of saps your vital reserves and at the worst can really stress your vital organs."

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