You are browsing the archive for 2015 February 17.

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Why Chipotle Can Make You Fat

February 17, 2015 in Blogs

By Cliff Weathers, AlterNet

After examining thousands of online orders, the New York Times finds that meals from “fast casual” restaurants pack a lot of calories.


A New York Times report on “fast casual” restaurants shows that the meals from such establishments can really pile on the calories. In fact, one meal might have a day’s worth of calories or more.

The times looked at restaurants like Chipotle, which are a growing trend of restaurants where people can customize their orders by adding ingredients and toppings to sandwiches, burritos, and other meals.

Sampling 3,000 online orders from GrubHub.com to such stores, the Times tried to discern what people actually order at such restaurants and how healthily they eat. At Chipotle restaurants, they found that the typical order has about 1,070 calories, more than half of the calories that most adults are supposed consume a day. It found that a typical burrito, with the addition of cheese, salsa, sour cream, lettuce, rice and beans, can really pack on the calories. Even small orders, such as bowls and tacos can easily surpass 570 calories, says the Times. Additionally, such orders can really pack on the sodium and saturated fat.

The Times found that it was easy to surpass 2,000 calories when ordering at Chipotle and such orders are not unheard of, but said that 98% of the orders had less than that amount. Says the Times: 

“The easiest way to get there is to order chips and guacamole: 770 calories. You’ll also need to say yes to the toppings – like both cheese and sour cream on a burrito. After a meal like that, you typically will have already reached your daily recommended amount of saturated fat and salt. In most cases, you’ll be well on your way to tomorrow’s recommended intake, too.”

Read the New York Times report here.

…read more

Source: ALTERNET

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The U.S. Government's Cyber-Go-Round

February 17, 2015 in Economics

By Patrick G. Eddington

Patrick G. Eddington

Official Washington’s response to perceived major crises generally follows a pattern: a serious security threat is proclaimed that requires vast new resources and legal authorities to defeat. A “czar” may be appointed to help coordinate the federal response, or even an entirely new military command will be established to meet the challenge. When those efforts fail, a reorganization of the national security apparatus will be the next proposed step. The end result is usually more bureaucratic and policy failure. 

The U.S. government has effectively done all of these things in response to the increase in online threats, hacking, and “cyber warfare.” The latest episode in the ongoing cyber-drama occurred this week, when White House official Lisa Monaco announced that the administration would soon create a “Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center.” 

Countering cyber threats is already the fragmented responsibility of the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, as well as the FBI. And given the fact that the head of Cyber Command also happens to be the Director of the National Security Agency, the national security establishment’s dominance of the cyber arena is already well advanced—a situation that prompted the resignation of then-National Cyber Security Center director Rod Beckstrom in 2009.

The federal government is once again attempting to centralize a response to a problem that demands a decentralized solution.”

In his resignation letter to then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, Beckstrom stated:  

NSA effectively controls DHS cyber efforts through detailees, technology insertions, and the proposed move of NPPD and the NCSC to a Fort Meade NSA facility. NSA currently dominates most national cyber efforts. While acknowledging the critical importance of NSA to our intelligence efforts, I believe this is a bad strategy on multiple grounds. The intelligence culture is very different than a network operations or security culture. In addition, the threats to our democratic processes are significant if all top level government network security and monitoring are handled by any one organization (either directly or indirectly).

In light of NSA’s well-documented mass surveillance and storage of data on millions of Americans, Beckstrom’s concerns about concentrating government cyber-powers in any single entity seem well founded. 

According to Bloomberg, the new cyber threat center will have a budget of $35 million and employ roughly 50 people. Cyber Command alone has at least 3000 staff at present and is seeking to double that number by the end of 2015. In Washington, unless an entity has …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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10 Truly Bizarre Tea Party Bills: From Nipples to Militias to Religious Zealotry

February 17, 2015 in Blogs

By Eric Stern, Salon

The Montana Legislature is now controlled by some far-right loons.


Here are the 10 most bizarre Tea Party bills currently being debated in the Montana Legislature, which is now controlled by the right wing of the Republican Party.  Some of these bills, believe it or not, have a chance of making it to the governor’s desk.

1) Prepare for National Ammunition shortage (SB 122).  When Obama comes to get our guns and bullets, Montana will be ready.  This bill cites the “serious risk” that America might run out of ammunition and exempts Montana’s ammo manufacturers from paying any taxes at all, as an incentive to produce more bullets so we can survive the Obama gun rapture. Its author, Matt Rosendale, was an unsuccessful congressional candidate in 2014 whose campaign ads featured him shooting drones out of the air with a rifle.

2) Establish Armed Militias in Every Town (SB 130). Even if we have enough bullets, Montana could still be in grave danger from the federal government.  This bill would protect citizens by creating local paramilitary groups across the state, known as “home guards,” and would allow sheriffs to mobilize these troops for whatever reason they so choose, without the governor’s consent.  This concept is supported enthusiastically by militia groups whose members enjoy stockpiling firearms but sometimes go to prison.

3) Require that nipples and areolae be fully concealed; prohibit “simulated genitalia”  (HB 365).  Our state already has a general law against indecent exposure but Montana’s social conservatives feel it isn’t enough.  The new proposal lists body parts.  Specifically, it would prohibit “exposing the anus, areola or nipple with anything less than a fully opaque covering.”  Better yet, it would forbid the wearing of “any costume or covering that gives the appearance of, or simulates, the genitals, nipple or areola.”  So much for my Halloween idea.

4) Montana Legislative Dress Code.  A young conservative ascended to speaker of the House this year, and his first order of business was to propose a new dress code that advised women “to be mindful of necklines and skirt lengths” and also to wear only “dress blouses …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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NSA's Massive Cyber-Spying Efforts Called "Superhuman"

February 17, 2015 in Blogs

By Cliff Weathers, AlterNet

Hard drives from almost all manufacturers are infected with stealth eavesdropping programs.


A leading software security company has suggested that the U.S. Government is behind the spyware it has found in the hard drives of numerous consumers, and that this stealth software may be part of the most sophisticated international cyber-surveillance program ever seen. And computers may have been infected with this software as far back as 2001.

Reuters reports that the U.S. National Security agency is likely behind the survelliance, claiming that the intelligence agency has become adept at hiding its programs on the hard drives made by top manufacturers such as Western Digital, Seagate, Samsung, Maxtor, Hitachi and Toshiba. Combined, these hard drive manufacturers make nearly 100% of hard-drive storage devices. This gives the NSA the capability of spying on the vast majority of the world’s computers, according to cybersecurity experts and former covert operatives.  

Beyond hard drives, Kapersky found that a spying program was also embedded into the firmware of a Cisco Systems router.

Kapersky Lab, one of the biggest sellers of cyber-security and anti-virus software worldwide, discovered several of the spying programs. The  Moscow-based company, which markets its anti-virus software here in the U.S., says that the programs they found are likely part of some sort of spying operation, but the company did not point fingers at the NSA or the U.S. government. It has found the software in hard drives on more than 500 computers from more than 30 countries, but says that the hidden programs were mostly seen in computers from Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen and Algeria. Kapersky says that the targets appear to be government and military institutions, banks, nuclear laboratories, communications companies, Islamic activists and the media.

Kaspersky released a report of its findings on Monday, and said that it should help those targeted identify the spyware protect themselves. The software was created by an entity dubbed “The Equation Group” by Kapersky. This cyber-spying network is reportedly the most sophisticated ever identified with technical prowess rivaling and perhaps surpassing those of previous …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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How Sarah Palin Helped Make the 'American Sniper' a Star

February 17, 2015 in Blogs

By Zaid Jilani, AlterNet

She can credit herself with elevating Chris Kyle's fame and fortune.


With the Oscars just a week away, “American Sniper” is considered a leading contender for numerous awards, despite the film's numerous inaccuracies. Concurrently, the trial of Eddie Ray Routh, a veteran with PTSD who is alleged to have killed Kyle at a firing range, is occurring in the backdrop of a nation that is overwhelmingly sympathetic to Kyle's story.

A logical question to ask is how Chris Kyle's narrative became so prominent in the first place. There are roughly 2.5 million veterans of the Iraq war, yet Kyle's name seems to stand above them all. Certainly his record number of fatalities as a sniper played some role in his fame, but the feats of many other soldiers failed to accrue the same amount of recognition.

Part of the answer is the role of one of the country's most prominent masters of the media, none other than former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Palin And Kyle's Mutually Beneficial Relationship

Since losing the presidential race and quitting her job as a sitting governor, Sarah Palin hasn't run for office or even served as an appointed bureaucrat of just about anything. What she has done, however, is continued to build her media profile, whether it's by speaking at high-profile right-wing events or starring in a reality TV show.

Therefore despite her lack of any official responsibility in politics, Palin has maintained a media presence that also elevates anyone she chooses to endorse. And the former Alaska governor gave Chris Kyle one of the strongest endorsements a politician can give anyone, when she entrusted him with her life by hiring him as a bodyguard in 2011 to provide security for a movie premiere she attended in Iowa.

Here's a picture she posted on her Facebook page at the time of her and Kyle (here he is wearing a suit and sunglasses):

The two were reunited when Palin's husband Todd starred in the NBC reality TV show …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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ObamaCare's Electronic-Records Debacle

February 17, 2015 in Economics

By Jeffrey A. Singer

Jeffrey A. Singer

The debate over ObamaCare has obscured another important example of government meddling in medicine. Starting this year, physicians like myself who treat Medicare patients must adopt electronic health records, known as EHRs, which are digital versions of a patient’s paper charts. If doctors do not comply, our reimbursement rates will be cut by 1%, rising to a maximum of 5% by the end of the decade.

I am an unwilling participant in this program. In my experience, EHRs harm patients more than they help.

The program was inspired by the record-keeping models used by integrated health systems, especially those of the nonprofit consortium Kaiser Permanente and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The federal government mandated in the 2009 stimulus bill that all medical providers that accept Medicare adopt the records by 2015. Bureaucrats and politicians argued that EHRs would facilitate “evidence-based medicine,” thereby improving the quality of care for patients.

The rule raises health-care costs even as it means doctors see fewer patients while providing worse care.”

But for all the talk of “evidence-based medicine,” the federal government barely bothered to study electronic health records before nationalizing the program. The Department of Health and Human Services initiated a five-year pilot program in 2008 to encourage physicians in 12 cities and states to use electronic health records. One year later, the stimulus required EHRs nationwide. By moving forward without sufficient evidence, lawmakers ignored the possibility that what worked for Kaiser or the VA might not work as well for Dr. Jones.

Which is exactly what is happening today. Electronic health records are contributing to two major problems: lower quality of care and higher costs.

The former is evident in the attention-dividing nature of electronic health records. They force me to physically turn my attention away from patients and toward a computer screen—a shift from individual care to IT compliance. This is more than a mere nuisance; it is an impediment to providing personal medical attention.

Doctors now regularly field patient complaints about this unfortunate reality. The problem is so widespread that the American Medical Association—a prominent supporter of the electronic-health-record program—felt compelled to defend EHRs in a 2013 report, implying that any negative experiences were the fault of bedside manner rather than the program.

Apparently our poor bedside manner is a national crisis, judging by how my fellow physicians feel about the EHR program. A 2014 survey by the industry group …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Federal Judge Stops Obama's Executive Action on Immigration

February 17, 2015 in Economics

On Monday, a federal judge in Brownsville, Texas granted a temporary injunction to the executive action that President Obama announced in November. Cato scholar Ilya Shapiro agrees with the ruling: “Our immigration system is broken, but it’s up to Congress to fix it. The president simply doesn’t get more power when Congress is gridlocked.”

…read more

Source: CATO HEADLINES

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Creating a Harmonious Global Economic Order

February 17, 2015 in Economics

By James A. Dorn

James A. Dorn

International economic order depends on credible rules that discipline and limit government power while allowing the freedom to engage in mutually beneficial trades. In creating a harmonious global order, therefore, governments must first get their own houses in order.

In doing so, the first principle should be “Do no harm.” This means policymakers should take account of the long-run consequences of their actions, rather than wedding themselves to the short run. They should also recognize that there is no perfect system. Every policy choice has costs and benefits; trade-offs are a fact of life. A principled approach to policy, however, will have positive spillovers as other countries follow suit.

When thinking about international balances and monetary stability, it is essential to recognize the fundamental problem of determining the proper balance between state and market — that is, between the use of force and freedom. If the force of law/ government is limited to the protection of persons and property, markets, i.e., voluntary exchange, can operate to create social and economic harmony.

The challenge facing policymakers is to adopt a rules-based approach, which means supporting property rights, free markets and long-term monetary rules.”

The free trade movement of the 19th century and the classical gold standard are two notable examples of harmonious international order, but so are the rise of globalization since the 1970s and the emergence of China as the world’s largest trading nation. By liberalizing the foreign trade sector and moving to market pricing and away from central planning, China has greatly increased its standard of living while benefiting its trading partners. However, progress has been uneven, and China still has a long way to go before it is ranked as highly as Hong Kong in terms of economic and personal freedom.

Commitment to rules is not easy. In practice, governments prefer discretion over rules and don’t like to make hard choices, so they tend to favor managed exchange rates, activist central banks and capital controls.

In this mixed system, there is uncertainty about future policy and a lack of the discipline that would exist with known rules and a long-run commitment to a principled approach. Today’s system of managed (pegged) exchange rates should not be confused with a true rules-based system under which monetary policy would be passive.

Temporarily pegging one’s currency at an artificially low rate to stimulate exports is also not to be recommended. As other …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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New Cato Journal Tackles Political Capitalism, China‘s Transition to a Liberal Society

February 17, 2015 in Economics

Political capitalism is an economic and political system in which the economic and political elite cooperate for their mutual benefit. In the new issue of Cato Journal, Randall G. Holcombe contends that we should understand political capitalism as a distinct economic system, as opposed to an intermediate system lying between capitalism and socialism. Also in this issue, Weiying Zhang analyzes the role that ideas and leadership play in China’s economic and political transition to a liberal society.

…read more

Source: CATO HEADLINES

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The World's Greatest Financial Fraudster

February 17, 2015 in Economics

By Richard W. Rahn

Richard W. Rahn

The London Times headlined last week, “HSBC helped customers to hide millions from taxman.” There are decades of stories about corporations, movie actors, artists and politicians hiding money from the taxman. Many economic studies have shown that once tax rates exceed 20 percent, most people will start thinking about and then acting in legal or illegal ways to avoid the tax bill.

The reason there is so little remorse about tax avoidance and evasion is that virtually everyone knows that much of what government does is a ripoff. If people really believed that “government is underresourced” and spends its money wisely, they would not take legal charitable and other deductions when they file their income taxes. Even a big-government liberal like President Obama makes charitable deductions because he knows or suspects that the charities he gives to will spend the money more wisely than the government he oversees. The president’s buddy, Al Sharpton, is welcome at the White House almost any time, even though the Internal Revenue Service reportedly claims he owes millions in unpaid taxes. If Mr. Sharpton had robbed a supermarket of a mere $10,000, it is unlikely he would be welcome at the White House. The message is obvious. The government even tells us that federal employees, including thousands at the IRS, owe billions in back taxes, yet little is done. At the same time IRS leaders have the unmitigated gall to demand larger budgets.

Every thinking person implicitly knows that the U.S. government is the world’s biggest financial fraudster. The cumulative yearly fraud by government actors is well in excess of $1 trillion and takes many forms. It begins with the IRS overcharging citizens by doing such things as engaging in “asset forfeiture” — that is, seizing banking accounts and other property of individuals and businesses who have not been convicted of any wrongdoing. The IRS taxes the portion of capital gains due solely to inflation as “income” when it is clearly not.

Government is notoriously mismanaged, wasteful and fraud-ridden. Last May, the Economist magazine reported: “In 2012 Donald Berwick, a former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and Andrew Hackbarth of RAND Corporation, estimated that fraud added as much as $98 billion, or roughly 10 percent, to annual Medicare and Medicaid spending and up to $272 billion across the entire health system.” Similar amounts of fraud are found in most every federal government program — Social Security, food stamps and other …read more

Source: OP-EDS