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El_Johns

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Member since: Wed Dec 11, 2013, 03:23 PM
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Monsanto's Terrifying New Scheme: Massive Amounts of Data Collection

Imagine cows fed and milked entirely by robots. Or tomatoes that send an e-mail when they need more water. Or a farm where all the decisions about where to plant seeds, spray fertilizer and steer tractors are made by software on servers on the other side of the sea.

This is what more and more of our agriculture may come to look like in the years ahead, as farming meets Big Data. There’s no shortage of farmers and industry gurus who think this kind of “smart” farming could bring many benefits...

The big question is who exactly will end up owning all this data, and who gets to determine how it is used. On one side stand some of the largest corporations in agriculture, who are racing to gather and put their stamp on as much of this information as they can. Opposing them are farmers’ groups and small open-source technology start-ups, which want to ensure a farm’s data stays in the farmer’s control and serves the farmer’s interests.

Who wins will determine not just who profits from the information, but who, at the end of the day, directs life and business on the farm.

One recent round in this battle took place in October, when Monsanto spent close to $1 billion to buy the Climate Corporation, a data analytics firm. Last year the chemical and seed company also bought Precision Planting, another high-tech firm, and also launched a venture capital arm geared to fund tech start-ups.

http://www.alternet.org/food/monsantos-terrifying-new-scheme-massive-amounts-data-collection

Trickle-down Gentrification

Old, dense, transit-served cities like San Francisco and New York have excessive restrictions on new housing construction, making them increasingly inaccessible to all but the 1 percent. Newer, sprawling, car-centric cities like Dallas and Atlanta facilitate new development, helping to maintain lower housing costs. This is the argument advanced by economist Ed Glaeser in his much-cited 2011 book The Triumph of the City, a paean to creative-class urbanism...

There is some truth to these basic facts, but their interpretation has led to a pernicious claim about urban development: that the construction of any housing stock at all, even luxury condominiums, will relieve pressure on the housing market to an extent that will keep cities “affordable.” This reliance on a false cause and effect has become a common justification for urban gentrification. Once the new luxury condos are built, the argument goes, truly wealthy city-dwellers will move into them and leave open the market-rate apartments meant for good old middle-class families...

The fallacy of trickle-down gentrification also highlights the complications of the term “affordable,” used to describe housing priced below market rates. Affordable housing, often built by community development corporations like the one I work at, has largely supplanted government-funded public housing since the 1970s. Many units are paid for by Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), while some are covered by project-based Section 8 vouchers and other subsidies. But while public housing is home to people with incomes below 30 percent of the median, LIHTC units typically use 30 percent of median income as a floor. This means that while affordable housing is affordable to certain low- and moderate-income people, and plays an important role in allowing those people to remain in gentrifying cities, it is often unaffordable to the working poor.

Much has been written about the so-called failure of public housing in the United States, so I won’t take up the topic here, except to point out that a much-ignored cause of that failure was the inability of local authorities to actually maintain and repair their housing projects. While few would blame potholed roads on the drivers who use them, a great effort has been made to attribute the degeneration of public housing in the US to public housing residents themselves.

In other countries, however, public housing has been more successful. In the mid-1960s, the Swedish Social Democratic Party launched an ambitious plan to provide truly affordable housing and produce “good democratic citizens,” called the Million Programme. More than a million homes were built by the 1970s, and they now house approximately a quarter of the Swedish population. Though they have come under fire from liberal and conservative critics for their modernist superblock architecture, their peripheral locations, and their propensity to house newly-arrived immigrants, they have continued to provide quality housing for millions of low-income Swedes and to resist privatization...

Five thousand miles away in fiercely capitalist Hong Kong, nearly half of the population lives in government-subsidized housing...

Housing construction cannot be separated from the economic conditions that surround it — low-wage service jobs, stringent requirements on credit scores, and a pervasive opposition to rent control. Frederick Engels foresaw this problem in his essay on housing.

Whence then comes the housing shortage? It is a necessary product of the bourgeois social order; it cannot fail to be present in a society in which the great masses of the workers are exclusively dependent upon wages; in which the workers are crowded together … at a quicker rate than dwellings come into existence for them under existing conditions; in which, therefore, there must always be tenants even for the most infamous pigsties; and in which finally the house owner in his capacity as capitalist has not only the right, but, in view of the competition, to a certain extent also the duty of ruthlessly making as much out of his property in house rent as he possibly can.

In such a society the housing shortage is no accident; it is a necessary institution.


https://www.jacobinmag.com/2013/12/trickle-down-gentrification/

Chinese Education System: Not Great

Wow -- kind of an eye opener.


It’s that time, again. Pisa released its notorious ranking of international education systems and yet again it’s bad news for the Swedes. I spent a long time scrolling down until the word “Sweden” appeared at a depressing 38th place...

When you notice "Shanghai" at the top of the Pisa list, it might look to you like the only beacon of hope. Sweden is desperate and learning from the Chinese educational system seems like the salvation. But let me tell you that this is not at all true. I know. For two years, I attended a local Shanghainese high school and this is the truth: the teaching is terrible.

In fact, in my view the Chinese education model is not just bad. It’s archaic. Believe me -- adopting the Shanghainese educational model would be a step backwards, not forwards.

Chinese children are masters at test-taking. This is because China has over 199 million students studying at elementary to high-school level and the best way to organize these masses is by testing, grading and categorizing them. Sans cesse.

Students in China are not treated like humans, they are treated like development statistics. The Chinese method is to totally abandon struggling students and to focus merely on the elite. Already in elementary school, there is a strict hierarchical system where some children are assigned the role of "class monitor" and are allowed to punish the students that do badly in class. My little sister was a victim of this...My nine-year-old sister left Shanghai in a state of near-depression. Today, in Sweden, she comes home excited to tell us about her day in school. It’s evident, Jan Björklund, that the Chinese system is beyond challenging, it leaves scars on a child's self-confidence.

Another weapon of Chinese education is humiliation. For several of my Shanghainese teachers it was OK to judge a student by their answers or by their appearance. My history teacher would not hesitate to mock you in front of your friends if you gave a stupid answer. In my sister’s grade, a boy who was struggling in class was given the nickname “fatty” by the teacher. In Sweden though, it’s different....

It’s ridiculously obvious that Shanghai’s Pisa result has nothing to do with the quality of Chinese education... The system breeds Pisa champions, but it ruins young lives. Should Sweden copy China? No. Should we feel threatened by China? No. It would harm us more to copy China than to continue as we are. Of course Swedish education needs improvement, but the truth of the matter is: all countries do...

http://www.thelocal.se/20131216/china-teaches-kids-to-sit-exams-sweden-its-kids-to-think-pisa-education-quality-schools-pupils-students-shanghai

The American Roots of the Ugandan Anti-Gay Law

The Ugandan anti-homosexuality law, which would make same-gender sex punishable by imprisonment and apply the death penalty to lesbians and gays who are HIV-positive, is shameful enough in itself. But even more shameful is the fact that there's evidence that the law may have come about with the support and encouragement of United States congressmen and fundamentalists.

The fundamentalist group known as The Family (or The Fellowship) has recently gotten a lot of unwelcome attention as several of their members—such as Senator John Ensign and Governor Mark Sanford—found themselves embroiled in high-profile scandals involving sex and political corruption. The Family is well-connected politically: they own a house on C Street in Washington, DC which serves as a second home for conservative politicians such as Senator Sam Brownback, Representative Bart Stupak, and Senator James Inhofe. And according to Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, Ugandan MP David Bahati, who introduced the anti-gay legislation, is a "core member" of The Family. Ugandan President Yoweri Musevini, who supports the legislation and says that homosexuality is a European corruption of Africa, is also considered by The Family to be their "key man" in Africa, and has had close relations with the group since 1986.

Sharlet was interviewed by Terri Gross on NPR's Fresh Air last week and detailed the connection between The Family and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. Of Bahati, Musevini and the Ugandan ethics minister, Nsaba Buturo, Sharlet says that "these guys are not so much under the influence of The Family. They are, in Uganda, The Family." Thanks to his connections with The Family, Sharlet says, Musevini has a direct line to American politicians such as Inhofe and Brownback when he needs favors such as military aid. Inhofe has paid especially close interest to Africa in general and Uganda, even going so far as to say that he has "adopted" the country.

Although The Family may seem especially sinister, given its combination of secrecy and political connections, the association of American fundamentalists with Ugandan homophobia are much broader than that one single group. As the Guardian reports, the original impetus came from a seminar held last March in Uganda's capital, Kampala. The seminar, organized by a Ugandan pastor named Steven Langa, who teaches that gays pay children to recruit their friends into homosexuality, featured three American fundamentalists as speakers: Scott Lively, President of Defend the Family; Don Schmierer, a board member of "ex-gay" organization Exodus International (note: Exodus International has officially said it opposes the bill); and Caleb Lee Brundidge, a "ex-gay therapist" with the International Healing Foundation. Immediately following the seminar, a petition was circulated and submitted to parliament, ultimately resulting in the bill.

And according to Newsweek, Pastor Rick Warren, who created controversy when Barack Obama selected him to give the invocation at his inauguration in February, has refused to condemn the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill... Warren's response to a request for his position on the bill attempted to strike a "neutral" stance...Warren's plea for neutrality is particularly disingenuous given his association with Ugandan minister Martin Ssempa, who has given addresses and seminars at Warren's Saddleback Church in Orange County, California. According to The Daily Beast, in Uganda, "Ssempa’s stunts have included burning condoms in the name of Jesus and arranging the publication of names of homosexuals in cooperative local newspapers while lobbying for criminal penalties to imprison them."

http://carnalnation.com/content/40170/10/american-roots-ugandan-anti-gay-law



Exporting the Anti-Gay...

In October 2010, a banner headline ran on the front page of the Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone: “100 Pictures of Uganda’s Top Homos Leak.” Subheadings warned of these people’s dark designs: “We Shall Recruit 1,000,000 Kids by 2012,” and “Parents Now Face Heartbreaks as Homos Raid Schools.” One of the two men pictured on the front page was David Kato, an outspoken leader of Uganda’s small human-rights movement. Inside the newspaper, his name and home address, along with those of other LGBT Ugandans, were printed. The article called for the “homos” to be hanged. Three months later, after numerous threats, Kato was bludgeoned to death in his Kampala home...

While the Ugandan controversies have garnered the most attention outside of Africa, the influence of U.S. evangelical culture warriors has been felt across sub-Saharan Africa. The Christian right has been involved in legislative or constitutional efforts to crack down on the LGBT populations of Kenya, Liberia, Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe as well. Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill has become a kind of template for other countries, including Nigeria and Liberia, where similar laws have been proposed.

How did African sexual minorities become collateral damage in the U.S. culture wars? The story of American religious conservatives’ involvement on the continent is long and complicated. While American mainline churches, with their more liberal views on social issues, supported the fight against South African apartheid and other colonial regimes, many conservative U.S. evangelicals insisted that anti-colonial leaders were godless communists and terrorists. Despite this ignoble history, American conservatives have reinvented themselves as Africa’s best allies and the true representatives of Western Christianity. This dramatic makeover has involved heavy investment in communications networks with continental reach; both Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and the evangelical Trinity Broadcasting Network are seen across sub-Saharan Africa, and Christian-right radio networks abound. Evangelical churches and groups provide scholarships for African clerics to receive conservative theological training at U.S. institutions. They sponsor orphanages, Bible schools, universities, and social-welfare projects.

African evangelical churches have traditionally been doctrinally orthodox but socially progressive on such issues as national liberation and poverty, making them natural partners of liberal Western churches. The African churches long depended on financial aid from mainline U.S. churches for most of their operations. However, right-wing groups have enticed numerous African religious leaders to reject funding from mainline denominations and to accept replacement funds from the American Christian right.

The financial ties between U.S. conservatives and African political and religious leaders are often clandestine, with both parties typically denying any funding relationship. Tax documents show that two African leaders—Stephen Langa, whose Family Life Network hosted the Kampala anti-gay conference in 2009, and Martin Ssempa, pastor of the Makerere Community Church in Kampala and a leading promoter of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill—have both received funding from conservative U.S. groups. David Bahati, who introduced Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, has deep ties to the secretive U.S. Christian political group known as the Family, or the Fellowship. According to investigative journalist Jeff Sharlet, Bahati “appears to be a core member of the Family. … He organizes their Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast and oversees an African sort of student leadership program designed to create future leaders for Africa, into which the Family has poured millions of dollars...”

But the anti-gay agenda has been orchestrated by U.S. conservatives....

http://prospect.org/article/exporting-anti-gay-movement

Don’t buy the right-wing myth about Detroit

As mythology goes, the specific story being crafted about Detroit’s bankruptcy is truly biblical — more specifically, just like the fact-free mythology around the Greek financial collapse, it is copied right from the chapter in the conservative movement’s bible about how to distort crises for maximum political effect.

In the conservative telling of this particular parable, Detroit faces a fiscal emergency because high taxes supposedly drove a mass exodus from the city, and the supposedly unbridled greed of unions forced city leaders to make fiscally irresponsible pension promises to municipal employees. Written out of the tale is any serious analysis of macroeconomic shifts, international economic policy failures, the geography of recent recessions and unsustainable corporate welfare spending.

This is classic right-wing dogma — the kind that employs selective storytelling to use a tragic event as a means to radical ends. In this case, the ends are — big shocker! — three of the conservative movement’s larger long-term economic priorities: 1) preservation of job-killing trade policies 2) immunity for corporations and 3) justification for budget policies that continue to profligately subsidize the rich.

The bait-and-switch on the first two objectives is fairly easy to see...

That brings us to how this all plays into the right’s push to enact ever more regressive tax cuts, protect endless corporate welfare and legislate new reductions in workers’ guaranteed pensions.

These latter objectives may seem unrelated, but they all complement each other when presented in the most politically opportunistic way. It’s a straightforward conservative formula: the right blames state and municipal budget problems exclusively on public employees’ retirement benefits, often underfunding those public pensions for years. The money raided from those pension funds is then used to enact expensive tax cuts and corporate welfare programs. After years of robbing those pension funds to pay for such giveaways, a crisis inevitably hits, and workers’ pension benefits are blamed — and then slashed. Meanwhile, the massive tax cuts and corporate subsidies are preserved, because we are led to believe they had nothing to do with the crisis. Ultimately, the extra monies taken from retirees are then often plowed into even more tax cuts and more corporate subsidies.

We’ve seen this trick in states all over America lately. In Rhode Island, for instance, the state underfunded its public pensions for years, while giving away $356 million in a year in corporate subsidies (including an epically embarrassing $75 million to Curt Schilling). It then converted the pension system into a Wall Street boondoggle), all while preserving the subsidies...

From the right, Detroit is being cited in the discussion about budget shortfalls as proof of the need for austerity. Yet, we aren’t hearing much about why in the face of such shortfalls Snyder just devoted $1.7 billion to a new corporate tax cut that will likely exacerbate the state’s deficit, nor are we hearing much about why state law compelled Detroit to forfeit other desperately needed tax revenues. Again, the goal here is to make sure that the conversation is one that only is about cutting retirement benefits — not one that adds the prospect of progressive tax reform to the debate.

http://www.salon.com/2013/07/23/dont_buy_the_right_wing_myth_about_detroit/

The Spread of Sacrifice Zones

Hedges and Sacco go to Camden, New Jersey, to examine the world of impoverished and ghettoized African Americans, whose lives have worsened by many measures over the past generation, despite the successes of the civil rights movement. Poor whites and others figure into the story as well, with special attention to those struggling to improve the world, whether on a small or large scale...

The authors went to Welch, West Virginia, to speak with those suffering from and resisting mountain-top removal by the coal companies. Larry Gibson, who lives with death threats and other health hazards, has saved a fraction of his family’s land from the surrounding devastation. “You heard about the World Trade Center terrorists?” he asks.

You heard about them? Bombing, three thousand people dying, but have you heard that with the emissions of coal we lose twenty-four thousand people a year in this country? You know, eight times bigger than the World Trade Center. Nobody say anything about that. Then you have the something like six hundred and forty thousand premature births and birth defects, newborns, every year, EVERY year, and nobody’s doin’ anything about that. Coal kills, everybody knows coal kills. But, you know, profit.

Gibson points out that cities have passed laws restricting cigarette smoking in public, but families living near coal fields breathe the dust. Julian Martin, a retired high-school teacher and son of a coal miner, says, “It’s a sacrifice zone. It’s so the rest of the country can have electric toothbrushes and leave the lights on all night in parking lots for used cars and banks lit up all night long and shit like that.”

Finally, the authors headed down to Immokalee, Florida, to meet with immigrant farm workers, tomato pickers, new slaves, resisters, and organizers. The wages for picking tomatoes have dropped by half over the past 30 years. An unlimited supply of cheap and vulnerable labor has meant less concern for workers than there may have been in some cases for slaves of old. “Before the war, we owned the negroes,” a planter said in 1883. “If a man had a good nigger, he could afford to take care of him; if he was sick, get a doctor. He might even put gold plugs in his teeth. But these convicts: we don’t own ‘em. One dies, get another.” From 1883 to today, what’s changed is that many of the workers are effectively owned and in some cases literally enslaved, chained up, confined, and threatened should they attempt escape...

Hedges notes, importantly, I think, that the governmental response we have seen to the Occupy movement, the militarized police brutality, and the passage of federal legislation allowing the military to engage in domestic policing, is not a sign of weakness in our movement, but rather one of strength — a sign of fear by Congress and its corporate bosses. Now we have to turn that fear into realization that the spreading of sacrifice zones will absorb us all unless radical change comes soon...

http://dissidentvoice.org/2012/06/the-spread-of-sacrifice-zones/

Fearful Memories Passed Down to Mouse Descendants

Ressler and his colleague Brian Dias opted to study epigenetic inheritance in laboratory mice trained to fear the smell of acetophenone, a chemical the scent of which has been compared to those of cherries and almonds. He and Dias wafted the scent around a small chamber, while giving small electric shocks to male mice. The animals eventually learned to associate the scent with pain, shuddering in the presence of acetophenone even without a shock.

This reaction was passed on to their pups, Dias and Ressler report today in Nature Neuroscience1. Despite never having encountered acetophenone in their lives, the offspring exhibited increased sensitivity when introduced to its smell, shuddering more markedly in its presence compared with the descendants of mice that had been conditioned to be startled by a different smell or that had gone through no such conditioning. A third generation of mice — the 'grandchildren' — also inherited this reaction, as did mice conceived through in vitro fertilization with sperm from males sensitized to acetophenone. Similar experiments showed that the response can also be transmitted down from the mother.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fearful-memories-passed-down

http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nn.3594.html

Is service work today worse than being a household servant?

At least one class of American workers is having a much harder time today than a decade ago, than during the Great Depression and than a century ago: servants. The reason for this, surprisingly enough, is outsourcing. Let me explain.

Instead of live-in servants, who were common in prosperous U.S. households before World War II, better-off families now outsource the family cook, maid and nanny. It is part of a problem in developed countries around the globe that is getting more attention worldwide than in the U.S.

We are falling backward in America, back to the Gilded Age conditions of a century and more ago when a few fortunate souls grew fabulously rich while a quarter of families had to take in boarders to make ends meet. Only back then, elites gave their servants a better deal...

A household cook typically earned $10 a week in 1910, century-old books on the etiquette of hiring servants show. That is $235 per week in today’s money, while the federal minimum wage for 40 hours comes to $290 a week. At first blush, that looks like a real raise of $55 a week, or nearly a 25 percent increase in pay. But in fact, the 2013 minimum-wage cook is much worse off than the 1910 cook. Here’s why:

The 1910 cook earned tax-free pay, while 2013 cook pays 7.65 percent of his or her income in Social Security taxes as well as income taxes on more than a third of his pay, assuming full-time work every week of the year. For a single person, that’s about $29 of that $55 raise deducted for taxes.

Unless he can walk to work, today’s outsourced family cook must cover commuting costs. A monthly transit pass costs $75 in Los Angeles, $95 in Atlanta and $112 in New York City, so bus fare alone runs $17 to $27 a week, eating up a third to almost half of the seeming increase in pay, making the apparent raise pretty much vanish.

The 1910 cook got room and board, while the 2013 cook must provide his or her own living space and food...


http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2013/12/service-industryworkerslaborinequality.html

Income inequality is bad (unhealthy) for rich people too

Given that this rise in wealth has been accompanied by an increase in the power of those at the top, is there any hope for achieving a more just society? Bizarrely, the self interest of the upper crust argues in favor of it. Profoundly unequal societies are bad for everyone, including the rich.

First, numerous studies have ascertained that more money does not make people happier beyond a threshold level that is not all that high....But even more important is that high levels of income inequality exert a toll on all, particularly on health. Would you trade a shorter lifespan for a much higher level of wealth? Most people would say no, yet that is precisely the effect that the redesigning of economic arrangements to serve the needs at the very top is producing. Highly unequal societies are unhealthy for their members, even members of the highest strata. Not only do these societies score worse on all sorts of indicators of social well-being, but they exert a toll even on the rich. Not only do the plutocrats have less fun, but a number of studies have found that income inequality lowers the life expectancy even of the rich. As Micheal Prowse explained in the Financial Times:

Those who would deny a link between health and inequality must first grapple with the following paradox. There is a strong relationship between income and health within countries. In any nation you will find that people on high incomes tend to live longer and have fewer chronic illnesses than people on low incomes.

Yet, if you look for differences between countries, the relationship between income and health largely disintegrates. Rich Americans, for instance, are healthier on average than poor Americans, as measured by life expectancy. But, although the US is a much richer country than, say, Greece, Americans on average have a lower life expectancy than Greeks. More income, it seems, gives you a health advantage with respect to your fellow citizens, but not with respect to people living in other countries….

Once a floor standard of living is attained, people tend to be healthier when three conditions hold: they are valued and respected by others; they feel ‘in control’ in their work and home lives; and they enjoy a dense network of social contacts. Economically unequal societies tend to do poorly in all three respects: they tend to be characterised by big status differences, by big differences in people’s sense of control and by low levels of civic participation….

Unequal societies, in other words, will remain unhealthy societies – and also unhappy societies – no matter how wealthy they become. Their advocates – those who see no reason whatever to curb ever-widening income differentials – have a lot of explaining to do...


http://www.salon.com/2011/08/11/income_inequality_3/

Occupational Outlook for Computer Programmers

Job Outlook About this section: Computer Programmers

Percent change in employment, projected 2010-20

Total, All Occupations: 14%
Computer Programmers: 12%

Employment of computer programmers is expected to increase by 12 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Since computer programming can be done from anywhere in the world, companies often hire programmers in countries where wages are lower. This ongoing trend will limit growth for computer programmers in the United States. However, companies may continue to hire computer programmers in low cost areas within the United States.

Most computer programmers work in computer system design and related services, an industry which is expected to grow as a result of an increasing demand for new computer software. This includes software offered over the Internet, which should lower costs for firms and allow for more customization for users. In addition, new applications will have to be developed for mobile technology and the healthcare industry. An increase in computer systems that are built into electronics and into other non-computer products should result in some job growth for computer programmers and software developers.

As employers increasingly contract with outside firms to do programming jobs, more opportunities are expected to arise for experienced programmers who have expertise in a specific area to work as consultants.

http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-programmers.htm#tab-6
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