Sunday, April 30, 2006

Wealthy Families Campaign to Repeal Estate Tax is Big Con Job

From Public Citizen
We are here today to expose one of the biggest con jobs in recent history: the campaign by a handful of the country’s wealthiest individuals to persuade Congress to repeal the estate tax. The long-running, secretive campaign of 18 extraordinarily wealthy families worth $185.5 billion has relied on deception to bamboozle the public and Congress not only about who must pay the estate tax, but about how repealing it will affect the country. In fact, more families could be involved in the effort – it’s hard to tell because it’s so easy for the backers of this campaign to hide their identities, which is allowable under current lobbying rules.

As outlined in the report released today by Public Citizen and United for a Fair Economy, these families, which alone stand to save $71.6 billion if they succeed, have masterminded a fraud on the American public. They claim that the estate tax will harm small businesses and small farms, when in fact it will not. They claim that the estate tax is a second tax on income, when in fact, it often is the first – 70 percent of wealthy families’ assets are in the form of unrealized capital gains that have never been taxed. And remember, these are people who already received a big tax break because of President Bush’s recent tax cuts.

We’re talking about enormously powerful and wealthy people – billionaires and mega-millionaires. They include the makers of Gallo wine and Campbell’s soup; the founders of world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, and the family behind the giant candymaker, Mars.

Contrary to the claims of these individuals and the lobbyists they hire, only about one-fourth of one percent of all estates will pay the estate tax this year.
Bill Gates Sr. says that the estate tax allows very rich families to repay the country for all the wonderful things the country has made possible for them.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Thursday, April 27, 2006

CFA takes a stand

The California Faculty Association sent me an email saying the CFA endorsed the following resolution.
Resolution in Support of Immigrant Rights
Latina/Latino Caucus, African American Caucus, Affirmative Action Council, Education Caucus, Peace & Justice Committee, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Caucus and Women’s Caucus

The California Faculty Association


  1. CFA supports worker struggles,
  2. Immigrant’s rights are civil and human rights.
  3. Proposed legislation intends to criminalize undocumented workers, and those who assist them and,
  4. Intends to increase the budget for security at the expense of essential public services such as health care, housing and education.
  5. Political, religious, lay, and labor organizations have spoken publicly in defense of immigrants’ rights.
  6. Students, at the forefront of the immigrant movement, are our present and future constituents and are our nation’s future leaders, and voters.

Therefore be it resolved that, we the members of the Latina/Latino Caucus, African American Caucus, the Women’s Caucus, the Council for Affirmative Action, the Peace and Justice Committee, and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Caucus, call on CFA Assembly to,

  • Endorse this resolution, and to urge its members and supporters to participate in the forthcoming general actions they deem appropriate in support of immigrants (e.g., boycotts, teach-ins, etc) on May 1;
  • Condemn the punitive and dismissive response of federal, state and local governments to the just demands of immigrants;
  • Urge its members to participate in appropriate activities and work in coalition with union and community partners to demonstrate our support on campus and off, for immigrant rights, and our opposition to anti-immigrant actions and other similar legislation.
  • Urge CFA chapters to provide support for campus activities of faculty, students, and staff to educate the campus community about just immigration policies.

Passed on April 23, Spring Assembly of the California Faculty Association, Los Angeles, CA, California
Although I favor positive treatment of undocumented workers, this resolution doesn't do that cause much good. It links the issue to issues of other minorities. This is a different issue and should be treated differently.

It seems to me that one reason we are having so much difficulty handling this issue is that we see only two options: open the gates to citizenship to anyone who manages to get into the country in any way at all vs. build big walls. The European Union has a third option: open borders but not open citizenship. In the EU it's fairly easy to move from one country to another and then to work in the second country—although it seems to be getting harder. But moving into a country doesn't grant citizenship. One remains a citizen of one's home country. Why can't we do the same thing? A so-called guest worker program intends to achieve this, but it is so rigid and forbidding that it appears unworkable. Why not allow open borders but simply insist that visitors are not citizens unless they go through whatever our citizenship process is?

Cal State, LA takes a stand

As an employee of California State University, Los Angeles, I (along with all other CSULA employees) received the following email message.
This is a campus-wide communication from Human Resources Management

May 1 Activities Regarding

Federal Immigration Legislation

An April 20, 2006 memo from the Chancellor's office clarifies work attendance with regard to May 1 activities. It states, "Employees who fail to report to work will be subject to having their pay docked in accordance with CSU policies and the law. Employees who wish to participate in this or similar events may request to use vacation or compensatory time off. The granting of such requests shall be subject to departmental operational needs." Employees who are part of a union are reminded that their unexcused failure to report to work as part of any concerted activity is prohibited by the labor contracts.

Questions can be directed to Human Resources Management at 3-3673.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Ask Sen. Feinstein to oppose internal spying.

From the ACLU.
This week the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering two bills that would reward President Bush’s illegal actions by allowing the National Security Agency (NSA) to continue spying on Americans in violation of our laws. These bills are being pushed through even though Congress has failed to learn key facts about the program.

Senator Feinstein sits on this committee and can stop both of these bills dead in their tracks.

We need you to call Senator Feinstein right now.

In Los Angeles: (310) 914-7300
In San Diego: (619) 231-9712
In San Francisco: (415) 393-0707
In Fresno: (559) 485-7430
In Washington, DC: (202) 224-3841

Tell her to oppose both Senate Bill 2453 and Senate Bill 2455. Congress needs to get the facts about the NSA spying program before making it legal.

Both bills would have the effect of whitewashing the illegal NSA domestic spying program. Conservatives and progressives agree that this program should not be made legal.

Congress has a duty to get the facts, not help the Bush administration cover them up. The Senate Judiciary Committee must uphold its responsibility to the Constitution and the American people by opposing these misguided bills.

Tell Senator Feinstein to get the facts about the warrantless NSA domestic spying before making it legal.

S. 2453, a bill written by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), would supposedly restore judicial review of wiretaps, but the law already requires judicial review and the president has ignored it. Senator Specter’s bill would allow the courts to approve programs of surveillance, diminishing the Constitution’s requirement there be probable cause that an American is doing something wrong before their communications can be seized.

S. 2455, a bill written by Senator Mike DeWine (R-PA), would also attempt to rewrite probable cause to allow warrantless surveillance of Americans’ calls and emails without evidence that they are conspiring with suspect terrorists. It would make judicial review of wiretaps optional and would reduce the amount of information the president is required to give Congress about the program.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

China is Bigger Than You Think

Mark Weisbrot writes
Most Americans, including policy-makers, do not realize that China already has the second-largest economy in the world. At current growth rates, it will pass the United States in less than a decade. …

The main reason why this historic change has not been foreseen is that China's GDP is usually reported on an exchange-rate basis. In other words, the value of China's annual output of goods and services is converted to dollars on the basis of the exchange rate between the dollar and the Chinese currency (renminbi) – currently about 8 renminbi per dollar.

So China is reported as having the sixth largest economy in the world, and one that will not catch up to the U.S. until 2041. But for most comparisons, this is the wrong measure. Anyone who has been to China and the U.S. will testify that 8 renminbi (the value of a dollar in Chinese currency) will buy more of most things in China than a dollar will buy in the United States. Because of these price differences, economists use what is called Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) GDP to make these kinds of international comparisons. This measure tries to adjust for the price differences between countries.

By this measure, according to IMF data, China's economy is more than eight trillion, or about two-thirds the size of the U.S. economy. This is vastly different from the $2 trillion, or 15 percent of U.S. GDP that is often reported. The PPP measure of GDP is what matters for such things as military power, too – it costs much less in China than in the U.S. to build a plane or put a soldier in the army. …

China has agreed – in joining the World Trade Organization – to a radical opening of its telecommunications, financial services, and insurance industries. These multi-billion dollar opportunities could go to Europe and other competitors who – again unlike in the Cold War era – would be loathe to cooperate against China if it meant abandoning the world's fastest growing market for their exports. It is also probably noticed in some policy-making circles that China today could trigger a sharp spike in U.S. long-term interest rates, simply by dumping a fraction of its huge accumulation of U.S. Treasury bonds. This would drive up mortgage rates and burst the housing bubble here, very likely triggering a recession.

So the current tensions with China over trade or foreign policy issues are likely to be papered over, at least for the present. From a U.S. business point of view, especially, China is just too big for U.S.-China relations to fail.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Eat your veggies and spices

Scientific reports on work presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.
Pharmacologist Shivendra Singh of the University of Pittsburgh and his colleagues showed that a chemical released when cruciferous vegetables--such as cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage--are chewed helps control human prostate tumors grafted into mice. Phenethyl-isothiocyanate, or PEITC, prompted the prostate cancer cells to kill themselves in a process called apoptosis. By the end of a 31-day treatment cycle, treated mice had tumors nearly two times smaller than their counterparts.

Fellow University of Pittsburgh pharmacologist Sanjay Srivastava and his colleagues found that capsaicin--the chemical that makes hot peppers hot--induced apoptosis in mice with human pancreatic cancer, an aggressive and usually fatal disease. Treated mice had tumors half the size of their untreated peers. "Capsaicin triggered the cancerous cells to die off and significantly reduced the size of the tumors," Srivastava says.

Finally, at the same meeting, obstetrician J. Rebecca Liu of the University of Michigan and her colleagues reported that ginger powder, roughly the same as that sold in supermarkets, killed ovarian cancer cells in vitro both by triggering apoptosis and inducing them to cannibalize themselves, a phenomenon known as autophagy. "Most ovarian cancer patients develop recurrent disease that eventually becomes resistant to standard chemotherapy, which is associated with resistance to apoptosis," Liu explains. "If ginger can cause autophagic death in addition to apoptosis, it may circumvent [that] resistance."

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Gospel Truth - New York Times

Elaine Pagels writes about the newly translated Gospel of Judas.
[W]hen Judas Iscariot handed Jesus over to the Romans, he was acting on orders from Jesus to carry out a sacred mystery for the sake of human salvation: 'Jesus said to Judas, 'Look, you have been told everything. You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.'

For nearly 2,000 years, most people assumed that the only sources of tradition about Jesus and his disciples were the four gospels in the New Testament. But the unexpected discovery at Nag Hammadi in 1945 of more than 50 ancient Christian texts proved what church fathers said long ago: that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are only a small selection of gospels from among the dozens that circulated among early Christian groups. But now the Gospel of Judas — like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and many others — opens up new perspectives on familiar gospel stories. …

Startling as the Gospel of Judas sounds, it amplifies hints we have long read in the Gospels of Mark and John that Jesus knew and even instigated the events of his passion, seeing them as part of a divine plan.

There is no such thing as a "Christian politics."

says Gary Wills in a very religious op-ed piece.
  • [Jesus] was the original proponent of a separation of church and state.

  • Those who want the state to engage in public worship, or even to have prayer in schools, are defying his injunction: "When you pray, … go into your inner chamber and, locking the door, pray there in hiding to your Father, and your Father who sees you in hiding will reward you."

  • He declares that only one test will determine who will come into his reign: whether one has treated the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the imprisoned as one would Jesus himself. "Whenever you did these things to the lowliest of my brothers, you were doing it to me" (Matthew 25:40). No government can propose that as its program. Theocracy itself never went so far, nor could it.

    The state cannot indulge in self-sacrifice. If it is to treat the poor well, it must do so on grounds of justice, appealing to arguments that will convince people who are not followers of Jesus or of any other religion. The norms of justice will fall short of the demands of love that Jesus imposes. A Christian may adopt just political measures from his or her own motive of love, but that is not the argument that will define justice for state purposes.

    To claim that the state's burden of justice, which falls short of the supreme test Jesus imposes, is actually what he wills — that would be to substitute some lesser and false religion for what Jesus brought from the Father. Of course, Christians who do not meet the lower standard of state justice to the poor will, a fortiori, fail to pass the higher test.

  • Some people want to display and honor the Ten Commandments as a political commitment enjoined by the religion of Jesus. That very act is a violation of the First and Second Commandments. By erecting a false religion — imposing a reign of Jesus in this order — they are worshiping a false god. They commit idolatry. They also take the Lord's name in vain.

  • Some may think that removing Jesus from politics would mean removing morality from politics. They think we would all be better off if we took up the slogan "What would Jesus do?"

    That is not a question his disciples ask in the Gospels. They never knew what Jesus was going to do next. … We cannot do what Jesus would do because we are not divine.

  • It was blasphemous to say, as the deputy under secretary of defense, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, repeatedly did, that God made George Bush president in 2000, when a majority of Americans did not vote for him. It would not remove the blasphemy for Democrats to imply that God wants Bush not to be president. Jesus should not be recruited as a campaign aide.

  • He was never that thing that all politicians wish to be esteemed — respectable. At various times in the Gospels, Jesus is called a devil, the devil's agent, irreligious, unclean, a mocker of Jewish law, a drunkard, a glutton, a promoter of immorality.
The institutional Jesus of the Republicans has no similarity to the Gospel figure. Neither will any institutional Jesus of the Democrats.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Cheney's Canned Kill

Shooting his friend was nothing compared to this.

From The Humane Society of the US.
Vice President Dick Cheney went pheasant shooting in Pennsylvania in December 2003, but unlike most of his fellow hunters across America, he didn't have to spend hours or even days tramping the fields and hedgerows in hopes of bagging a brace of birds for the dinner table.

Upon his arrival at the exclusive Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier Township, gamekeepers released 500 pen-raised pheasants from nets for the benefit of him and his party. In a blaze of gunfire, the group—which included legendary Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach and U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), along with major fundraisers for Republican candidates—killed at least 417 of the birds. According to one gamekeeper who spoke to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cheney was credited with shooting more than 70 of the pen-reared fowl.

After lunch, the group shot flocks of mallard ducks, also reared in pens and shot like so many live skeet. There's been no report on the number of mallards the hunting party killed, but it's likely that hundreds fell.

Rolling Rock is an exclusive private club for the wealthy with a world-class golf course and a closed membership list. It is also a "canned hunting" operation—a place where fee-paying hunters blast away at released animals, whether birds or mammals, who often have no reasonable chance to escape. Most are "no kill, no pay" operations where patrons only shells out funds for the animals they kill.

Bird-shooting operations offer pheasants, quail, partridges, and mallard ducks, often dizzying the birds and planting them in front of hunters or tossing them from towers toward waiting shotguns. There are, perhaps, more than 3,000 such operations in the United States, according to outdoor writer Ted Williams.

For canned hunts involving mammals, hunters can shoot animals native to given continents—everything from Addax to Zebra—within the confines of a fenced area, assuring the animals have no opportunity to escape. Time magazine estimates that 2,000 facilities offer native or exotic mammals for shooting within fenced enclosures.
These are the "values" America voted for.

Would you let your child marry an athiest?

Apparently most Americans won't.
American's increasing acceptance of religious diversity doesn't extend to those who don't believe in a god, according to a national survey by researchers in the University of Minnesota's department of sociology.

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society." Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public. “Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years,” says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher.

Edgell also argues that today’s atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past—they offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society. “It seems most Americans believe that diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common ‘core’ of values that make them trustworthy—and in America, that ‘core’ has historically been religious,” says Edgell. Many of the study’s respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.
There was a bit of good news in the study.
The researchers also found acceptance or rejection of atheists is related not only to personal religiosity, but also to one’s exposure to diversity, education and political orientation—with more educated, East and West Coast Americans more accepting of atheists than their Midwestern counterparts.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A Depression Switch?

This is amazing. The New York Times has an article in the Sunday Magazine about a spot in the brain that if stimulated alleviates depression.
The operation borrowed a procedure called deep brain stimulation, or D.B.S., which is used to treat Parkinson's. It involves planting electrodes in a region near the center of the brain called Area 25 and sending in a steady stream of low voltage from a pacemaker in the chest. One of the study's leaders, Dr. Helen Mayberg, a neurologist, had detected in depressed patients what she suspected was a crucial dysfunction in Area 25's activity. She hypothesized that the electrodes might modulate the area and ease the depression. …

The D.B.S. operation involves an intrusion that is delicate but brutal. The patients are kept awake so they can describe any changes, and the only drug administered is a local anesthetic. …

Mayberg had squeezed into a spot at Deanna's [the patient] side some time before. She had told Deanna that if anything felt different, she should say so. Mayberg wasn't going to tell her when the device was activated. "Don't try to decide what's important," Mayberg told her. "If your nose itches, I want to know." Now and then the two would chat. But so far Deanna hadn't said much.

'So we turn it on,' Mayberg told me later, 'and all of a sudden she says to me, 'It's very strange,' she says, 'I know you've been with me in the operating room this whole time. I know you care about me. But it's not that. I don't know what you just did. But I'm looking at you, and it's like I just feel suddenly more connected to you.'

Mayberg, stunned, signaled with her hand to the others, out of Deanna's view, to turn the stimulator off. 'And they turn it off,' Mayberg said, 'and she goes: 'God, it's just so odd. You just went away again. I guess it wasn't really anything.'

'It was subtle like a brick,' Mayberg told me. 'There's no reason for her to say that. Zero. And all through those tapes I have of her, every time she's in the clinic beforehand, she always talks about this disconnect, this closeness and sense of affiliation she misses, that was so agonizingly painful for her to lose. And there it was. It was back in an instant.' …

Can you believe labor shortage in China?

From The New York Times
Persistent labor shortages at hundreds of Chinese factories have led experts to conclude that the economy is undergoing a profound change that will ripple through the global market for manufactured goods.

The shortage of workers is pushing up wages and swelling the ranks of the country's middle class, and it could make Chinese-made products less of a bargain worldwide. International manufacturers are already talking about moving factories to lower-cost countries like Vietnam. …

"The next great story in China is how they are going to move out of the lower-end stuff: the toys, textiles and sporting goods equipment," said Jonathan Anderson, an economist at UBS in Hong Kong. "They're going to do different things." …
Perhaps textile manufacturing will come back home.
"When the economic reform started, migrant workers were very hard-working, and usually stayed for a long time at factory jobs, but the new generation has changed," said Chen Guanghan, a professor at Zhongshan University in Hong Kong. "They are reluctant to take factory jobs that are harsh and pay very little."

Many are going to college to avoid the factory floor. Last year, Chinese colleges and universities enrolled over 14 million students, up from about 4.3 million in 1999.

Workers are sharing more information about factory conditions among friends and learning to bargain and leap from job to job. They are also increasingly ambitious.

"There's still a lot of cheap labor, but Chinese workers are getting skilled very quickly," said Ms. Hong at Goldman Sachs. "They are moving up the value chain faster than people expected."
We seem to be doing the opposite. We are graduating fewer and fewer engineers and computer scientists. Pretty soon, we'll be the low-wage producer where China sends the jobs it doesn't want.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Direct experience with being visible

A student who took one of my recent classes got a job because his project was visible to Google. I now do all my classes on a wiki. The student posted his work to the wiki—as all students do. After a job interview, the interviewer Googled the student and found his work. He liked the work and made an offer.