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The Blind Sheikh: A Flashpoint for Terror 20 Years After the World Trade Center Bombing

February 26, 2013 in Blogs

By Peter Lance, AlterNet


February 26th, 2013, the 20th anniversary of the World Trade Center bombing, which killed six and injured a thousand, may be the latest proof of George Santayana’s prediction that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Why? Because Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind cleric convicted as the leader of that bombing cell, continues to inspire acts of terror throughout the middle east, including the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last September and the January Algerian hostage crisis  — both directly linked to demands by Islamic radicals to “free the blind Sheikh.”

Indeed, new evidence was uncovered last summer by ex-FBI asset Emad Salem, proving that Abdel-Rahman, now 74 and serving a life sentence in a North Carolina federal prison, was able to issue a fatwa that helped propel Egyptian Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi to victory – a bit of prison-cell electioneering that prompted an immediate quid pro quo by Morsi demanding Abdel-Rahman’s release.  

That set off a firestorm of unwanted fears on the U.S. right that the Obama administration would be naïve enough to extradite Sheikh Omar, the head of al-Gamma Islamiyya (the Islamic Group) one of the world’s most virulent terrorist organizations; responsible for the bloody 1997 Luxor massacre in which fifty-eight tourists and four Egyptians were murdered.

Still, in the bickering that turned the Sheik’s purported exit into a rallying point for Obama bashers, the full significance of Abdel-Rahman as a flashpoint for global terror has been lost. Further, the failure by administration officials and critics to appreciate his key role in the ongoing jihad could have deadly consequences in the future. Today’s anniversary of the Twin Towers bombing is an opportunity for us to answer the question: just how dangerous is the blind Sheikh?

The Prince of Jihad

Blinded shortly after birth, Abdel-Rahman had memorized the Koran by the age of eleven. He earned a degree in Koranic studies in 1972 from the Al Azhar University in Cairo, where he was influenced by the writings Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian intellectual who was an ardent member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in 1928, The Brotherhood spawned two of Egypt’s most violent …read more

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6 Ways to Achieve Eternal Happiness — According to Science

February 26, 2013 in Blogs

By Robert T. Gonzalez, i09

The following article first appeared at io9:

Science has all the answers, right? Wrong. But it has a pretty good sense of things, a lot of the time*. So what does science have to say about the pursuit of happiness? A lot. Like, build-an-entire-industry-around-it, even-the-pseudo-scientific-stuff a lot.

So let's look at some of the more recent things science has had to say about happiness and how you can score some for yourself — including one tip that might actually work (and you won't even have to pay us to hear it).

1. Surround yourself with happy people

Or, at the very least, surround yourself with people who surround themselves with happy people. A longitudinal investigation conducted over 20 years in collaboration with the Framingham Heart Study revealed that shifts in individual happiness can cascade through social networks like an emotional contagion. That's right, happiness is kind of like a disease. (The researchers don't mean Facebook, btw, but physical, old-school networks — like live-in friends, partners and spouses; and siblings, friends and neighbors who live close by.)

“Most important from our perspective is the recognition that people are embedded in social networks and that the health and wellbeing of one person affects the health and wellbeing of others,” conclude the researchers, noting that the relationship between people's happiness was found to extend up to three degrees of separation (i.e. all the way to friends of friends of friends). “This fundamental fact of existence provides a fundamental conceptual justification for the specialty of public health. Human happiness is not merely the province of isolated individuals.”

Also worth noting: the researchers found sadness to be nowhere near as “infectious” as happiness.

2. Master a skill

This one is kind of a tradeoff: a study published in a 2009 issue of the 100% real Journal of Happiness Studies found that people who dedicate themselves to mastering a skill or ability tend to experience more stress in the moment, but reported greater happiness and satisfaction on an hourly, daily, and longterm basis as a result of their investment.

“No pain, no gain is the rule when it comes to gaining happiness from increasing our competence at something,” said Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University …read more

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Everybody Listen Up! The Deficit Is Actually Shrinking, Despite Beltway Propaganda

February 26, 2013 in Blogs

By Dave Johnson, Campaign for America's Future

There is no deficit problem. The deficit is down 50 percent as a share of gross domestic product just since President Bush’s fiscal year 2009 deficit and is falling at the fastest rate since the end of World War II. Yet the Washington debate is about how and where to cut us back into recession. Why?

Congress should just repeal the sequester – we don’t need it. We have 10 years to fix the long-term deficit situation. We should not be stampeded by deficit-scare propaganda and instead take the time to carefully consider the right approach. That way we won’t make the mistakes that Europe is making.

Deficit Falling

Here is a chart of the deficit as a percent of GDP: (Data sources below)

Deficit as percent of GDP

Once again, because it might be hard to register due to the drumbeat of deficit-scare propaganda, this is a fact: the deficit is falling at the fastest rate since the end of World War II. It is down 50 percent as a percent of GDP just since Bush’s huge $1.4 trillion fiscal 2009 deficit. And the deficit is projected to be stable for a decade.

All of that means that no, we do not have a “deficit emergency,” the deficit is not “out of control” and we have 10 years to decide how best to fix things.

So let’s stop listening to the drumbeat of “deficit shock” propaganda and not be rushed into doing any more stupid, destructive cuts in the things We, the People do to make our lives better.

Medicare Cost Growth Way Down, Too

You probably hear again and again that Medicare is the driver of future deficit trouble.

Here is something you probably didn’t know because of the drumbeat of deficit propaganda: Medicare cost growth is way down. From 2000 through 2009, Medicare spending climbed by an average of 9.7 percent a year. Now those increases are down to 1.9 percent and are still falling.

Take a look at this report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Growth In Medicare Spending Per Beneficiary Continues To Hit Historic Lows:

The very …read more

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What I Learned Working as a Phone Sex Operator — 16 Surprising Secrets of the Trade

February 26, 2013 in Blogs

By Wednesday Lee Friday, Kinkly

Despite the proliferation of Internet porn, phone sex continues to be a multimillion dollar industry. And having been a phone sex operator for more than eight years, I can tell you from experience that phone sex can be a fun, sexy, lucrative gig. But I also learned that it can be frustrating, shocking, confounding, exasperating and unexpectedly hilarious. Here are 16 things you'd probably never suspect about phone sex.

They Dress the Part

Most phone sex operators wear comfy clothes, especially if they're working from home, but a handful of phone actresses say that dressing to the nines helps them get into character. They wear fancy business suits, slinky peignoirs and thigh-high stockings while they sit – all alone – and chat it up. So fellas, if she says she's wearing a silk kimono and four-inch heels, she just may be telling the truth!

There Are Limits

And for good reason. I didn't want to get into a phone sex gig with a bunch of rules. After all, I was proving how fearless and open-minded I was. Unfortunately, some people's idea of kink is just plain horrifying. That's why most phone sex operators decide upfront what subjects are off limits, and stick to them. I've been asked for bestiality, incest, pedophilia, Satanism and snuff (trust me, you don't want to know). That's why most phone sex operators reserve the right to say no and end a call. It's as simple as that.

Guys Do It Too

While the majority of phone sex ops are women, men can and do get in on the action. But don't get too excited, ladies. Male phone sex operators are also there just for men. What about women callers? Personally, I've never spoken to a woman caller who wasn't on the extension with her male friend. I guess they just aren't that into it.

It Can Be Boring

I expected many things when I started doing phone sex, but being bored out of my mind? Never! In the beginning, once you've taken out some ads and are waiting for the phone to ring … well, it's a big snore. The first few weeks, you might only get one or two calls a …read more

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Physicist: If All Science Were Run Like Marijuana Research, Creationists Would Control Paleontology

February 26, 2013 in Blogs

By Nicole Flatow, Think Progress


In the face of obstacles to marijuana research from both the Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology and one-time MacArthur Fellow is calling out the federal government on its obstruction of science.

During an address before a medical marijuana conference Friday, John H. Schwartz explained how the DEA and NIDA act as a “tag team” to censor science, with NIDA holding a monopoly over legal access to cannabis for research, and the DEA refusing to reconsider the drug’s designation in the Controlled Substances Act as a dangerous substance with no medical value on the basis that sufficient research does not exist. He alleges that the government has blocked research even though it has long been aware of marijuana’s potential to serve many medical benefits including shrink aggressive cancer cells is because it might “send the wrong message to children”:

The most blatant example of this behavior came last year, when NIDA blocked an FDA-approved clinical trial testing marijuana as a remedy for post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. It’s especially sad to note that the study participants were veterans, with PTSD deemed untreatable by other means. After 12 years of war, this is how we treat them. […]

As a physicist, I can assure you that this not how physics works. … We are all expected to act like grownups and accept it gracefully as experiments prove our favorite theories are false. In physics, unlike marijuana policy, we consider the right message to send to be the message that’s true. […]

Consider what American science might look like if all research were run like marijuana research is being run now. Suppose the Institute for Creation Science were put in charge of approving paleontology digs and the science of human evolution. Imagine what would happen to the environment if we gave coal and oil companies the power to block any climate research they didn’t like.

Of course, as Schwartz acknowledges, interest groups such as coal and oil companies often do have a significant influence over policy decisions, regardless of the underlying science. Even blocking research outright — a much less common tactic — is not unique to marijuana. The NRA has had tremendous success, for example, in blocking gun violence prevention …read more

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America’s Great Depression Quote of the Week: The Nature of the Boom and Bust

February 26, 2013 in Economics

By John P. Cochran

Boom and Bust: What must be explained in any theory of the business cycle?

First and foremost is the general cluster of errors. See Hulsmann’s Toward a General Theory of Error Cycles:

 The explanation of depressions, then, will not be found by referring to specific or even general business fluctuations per se. The main problem that a theory of depression must explain is: why is there a sudden general cluster of business errors? This is the first question for any cycle theory. Business activity moves along nicely with most business firms making handsome profits. Suddenly, without warning, conditions change and the bulk of business firms are experiencing losses; they are suddenly revealed to have made grievous errors in forecasting.

Second, what has been recognized in real business cycle theory as a stylized fact of cycles, is the greater fluctuation of time dependent industries (capital goods and consumer durables) relative to industries serving more immediate consumption.

 Another common feature of the business cycle also calls for an explanation. It is the well-known fact that capital-goods industries fluctuate more widely than do the consumer-goods industries. The capital-goods industries—especially the industries supplying raw materials, construction, and equipment to other industries—expand much further in the boom, and are hit far more severely in the depression.

Third is the correlation between money and output over the cycle.

 A third feature of every boom that needs explaining is the increase in the quantity of money in the economy.

This third feature is highlighted by real business cycle models as well but is viewed as harmless reverse causation. But as Rothbard shows, the money and credit creation during the expansion, rather than being a harmless endogenous response of banks to changing market conditions, sets the stage for the boom-bust pattern of the cycle.

All quotes are from pp. 8 and 9.

…read more

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America in Denial as Fiscal Tsunami Approaches

February 26, 2013 in Economics

By Gene Healy

Gene Healy

It’s hard to hear yourself think over all the caterwauling on Capitol Hill about the looming sequestration “crisis.” For opponents of the spending cuts — at $85 billion, 2.3 percent of the $3.6 trillion federal budget — the rallying cry is half Lord Keynes, half St. Augustine: “Grant me chastity and continence — but not yet.”

But the time for a little fiscal continence has long since arrived. Economists have found that when a country’s debt-to-GDP ratio surpasses 90 percent, you see slower economic growth; we’re currently above 100 percent.

True, the sequester is somewhat ham-fisted in its execution; departments cannot prioritize the across-the-board percentage cuts. Still, too much discretion results in too little restraint, as we’ve learned from the 2011 budget deal, which cut $38 billion on paper.

Two weeks ago, the Washington Post looked at that deal, which President Obama called “the largest annual spending cut in our history.” “Stuffed with gimmicks” and “phantom cuts,” the deal was “an epic kind of Washington illusion,” the Post reported. At least $17 billion of the ballyhooed $38 billion in reductions “cut nothing at all”; the feds absorbed the reductions “without losing a single employee.”

The fiscal reality-based community remains far too small.”

The sequester may be a rough tool, but it doesn’t allow for as much cooking the books.

Stories like this that encourage us to believe that our fiscal dilemma stems in the main from “weak-willed politicians.” But as New York Times economics columnist and Washington Bureau Chief David Leonhardt writes in his crisp and informative new e-book “Here’s the Deal,” that lets the rest of us off too easily: “The problem is us — the voters.”

I don’t agree with many of the solutions he proposes but I can’t fault his diagnosis: “[T]he coming deficits stem, above all, from the fact that most Americans are scheduled to receive far more in Medicare benefits than they have paid in Medicare taxes. Social Security contributes to the problem, too, as do the world’s largest military” and an electorate that has decided “Republicans have won the debate on taxes, and Democrats have won the debate on benefits.”

A new survey from the Pew Research Center underscores Leonhardt’s point: “As Sequester Deadline Looms, Little Support for Cutting Most Programs.” “For 18 of 19 programs tested,” the survey finds, “majorities want either to increase spending or maintain it at current levels.”

Of the 19 programs tested, not one earns …read more
Source: OP-EDS

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The Challenges of Negotiating a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

February 26, 2013 in Economics

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama announced that the United States will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union. This initiative is big news, and potentially a game-changer for trade liberalization. In a new paper, Cato scholar Simon Lester warns that there may be some stumbling blocks along the way. “In order to succeed,” says Lester, “it is important that the negotiations have realistic goals and a clear path to completion.”

…read more

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Sen. Paul appears on Fox News' Hannity- 2/25/13

February 26, 2013 in Politics & Elections

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Ending the Corporate Tax

February 26, 2013 in Economics

By Richard W. Rahn

Richard W. Rahn

Can you name the worst tax? In recent weeks, there have been a slew of articles in major publications about how many multinational corporations have found legal ways to reduce their tax burdens by running some of their operations through low-tax jurisdictions. Many who love high taxes and big government demand that corporations pay more.

Economists dislike the corporate income tax because it reduces productive labor and capital and is an additional tax on income that has already been (or will be) taxed. Politicians love the tax because it is largely invisible to most voters. Because of tax competition among countries, corporate tax rates have been dropping globally, resulting in the United States having the world’s highest rate.

Now the high-taxers are fighting back. Liberal senators such as Bernard Sanders of Vermont have introduced proposals to make it more difficult for corporations to engage in legal tax minimization strategies. The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has released a paper explicitly arguing for more international harmonization of the corporate tax base, which would make it easier for countries to tax corporations worldwide. The organization’s bureaucrats, who enjoy tax-free salaries, of course, forgot to ask the basic question of whether the corporate tax is beneficial or destructive.

To answer that question, one would need to know who actually pays the corporate tax, what the economic effects of the corporate tax are, and whether the benefits of leaving the money with the corporations to spend exceed the benefits of enabling the politicians to spend it.

Taking money from business benefits only big government.”

Who pays the corporate tax? A corporation is only a legal means by which to do business. Taxes may be levied upon it, but only people pay taxes. Thus there always has been much debate about who pays the corporate tax. Is it passed on to customers in higher prices? Is it passed on to workers in the form of lower wages? Or is it passed on to the stockholders in the form of lower dividends and capital gains? One can find studies to support differing combinations of each of the above, depending on the methodology and assumptions made and sometimes based on the ideology of the author.

The truth is that the burden of the tax varies by industry. Those who argue that the final customer does not bear the burden note that many goods and services can …read more
Source: OP-EDS