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Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

Journal Archives

Amy Goodman: Is Ferguson Feeding on the Poor?

As the police killing of Michael Brown has focused global attention on the racial divide in the counties in and surrounding St. Louis, Missouri, a new report may explain why residents’ mistrust of the police runs so deep. It shows how a large part of the revenue for these counties comes from fines paid by African-American residents who are disproportionately targeted for traffic stops and other low-level offenses. In Ferguson, the fines and fees are actually the city’s second-largest source of income, which is expected to generate $2.7 million in fiscal year 2014. We speak with Thomas Harvey, executive director of ArchCity Defenders and co-author of their new report, which has been widely cited — including in a stunning chart in Monday’s New York Times that shows how Ferguson issued on average nearly three warrants per household last year — the highest number of warrants in the state, relative to its size. "What my clients have told me since the first day I’ve ever represented anybody is, this is not about public safety, it’s about the money," Harvey says. We also hear about the impact of the police harassment and ticketing from George Fields, who was among the local residents lined up for Michael Brown’s funeral on Monday in St. Louis.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now back to Ferguson, where residents are continuing to demand the arrest of the white police officer who shot dead unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. The reaction to Brown’s death focused global attention on the racial divide in counties in and surrounding St. Louis, Missouri. Now a new report may help explain why residents’ mistrust of police runs so deep. It shows how a large part of the revenue for these counties comes from fines paid by black residents who are disproportionately targeted for traffic stops and other low-level offenses. In Ferguson, the fines are actually the city’s second-largest source of income. We’ll talk with the author of the report in a minute, but first, this is one of the St. Louis area residents Democracy Now! interviewed Monday, as he waited in line to attend Michael Brown’s funeral.

GEORGE FIELDS: I’m George Fields, and I’m here for Mike Brown, and mostly for all black men walking down the streets stuck here, not being able to go out in the county, seriously, sir, because we’re like—city is a little more lenient with ticket values and stuff, and we have just been ticketed over much over there, and then it leads to other crimes, you know. And a ticket costs you 50 cents—I mean, $50 a ticket, right? But you have to pay bond. You have to be in jail three days and stuff and like that. It’s just too much.
And in past Goodfellow city line, they tow your car automatically, you know. So they don’t have no leniency in the county with the county police at all, for real. If you check the records, everybody that pass Goodfellow here at the city line get pulled over automatically. And then it’s just a kind of push-off against—you know, systematically against blacks, for real. If you look at the statistics, it shows you. It’s just a little too much when you get pulled over for menial things. You have to go through too much to get out, and you lose your jobs and whatnot, you know, for a $50 ticket and pull-over.


Websites mock offer of concealed weapons permit classes for Jaguars season ticket holders

By Matt Soergel
A Jacksonville Beach gun shop’s offer of a discount on concealed weapons permit classes for Jaguars season ticket holders has earned raised eyebrows and mocking on several internet sites.

An Asheville radio station’s website had it as the top item in its “Daily Report.”

Another site noted how “Jags fans have more to look forward to than Chad Henne starting this season!”

Wrote one wit in the comments there: “Perks for season ticket holders? I’m sure all four of them are very excited.”

Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2014-08-27/story/websites-mock-offer-concealed-weapons-permit-classes-jaguars-season

Concealed guns and drunk football fans. What could possibly go wrong with that?

Clinical trials of integrative medicine: testing whether magic works?

David H. Gorskiemail, Steven P. Novella

A new phenomenon in clinical trials has arisen over the past 20 years. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) or integrative medicine (IM) modalities based on principles that bespeak infinitesimally low prior probability of success or that even violate well-established laws of physics and chemistry are being tested in randomized clinical trials (RCTs). CAM proponents frequently justify such RCTs by arguing that they will finally settle once and for all which CAM or IM modalities do and do not work. Our response is that this is a misguided viewpoint that has led to the infiltration of pseudoscience in academic medicine. We begin with a thought experiment.

Imagine that someone were to describe to you a treatment modality based on two principles. The first principle states that symptoms should be treated with compounds that cause the same symptoms in asymptomatic subjects and the second principle states that serially diluting such a remedy makes the action of that remedy stronger. These remedies are often diluted 1060-fold and beyond, many orders of magnitude beyond Avogadro's constant, meaning that the chance that a single molecule of original compound remains behind is infinitesimal. Would it be reasonable to believe that such remedies have a sufficient chance of being efficacious and that it would be worthwhile and ethical to test them in RCTs?

This is not a made-up example. What is being described is homeopathy, a 200-year-old system of medicine based on vitalism and prescientific ideas invented by Samuel Hahnemann that has been tested in multiple RCTs. Indeed, a recent search of PubMed for ‘homeopathy randomized clinical trial’ turned up over 400 references. Although many of these were review articles, many were RCTs. Of these, perhaps the most famous (and notorious) are two randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials testing homeopathic remedies to treat acute childhood diarrhea in Nicaragua and Honduras . Depending on the trial, the specific homeopathic remedies tested consisted of 1060-fold dilutions of mixtures containing substances including arsenicum album (arsenic trioxide), calcarea carbonica (carbonate of lime), chamomilla (German chamomile), podophyllum (Mayapple), and mercurious vivus (quicksilver, metallic mercury). One trial reported a questionable benefit ; the other, a later more rigorous study, found no benefit at all . Yet both trials were performed even though the ingredients in the homeopathic remedies tested were not known to be effective against childhood diarrhea, two ingredients, arsenic and mercury, are definitely toxic, and the ingredients were diluted away to nonexistence. These two trials serve as examples of this trend of testing CAM and IM treatments that have a very low to nonexistent pre-test probability of producing a true positive RCT. There are many more such clinical trials of homeopathy, to the point where systematic reviews and meta-analyses are becoming common. Not surprisingly, they tend to be inconclusive or negative .

More common in the USA is reiki: ‘energy medicine’ that involves using hand and touch to direct into the patient's ‘healing energy’ from what reiki masters call the ‘universal source’. It is closely related to therapeutic touch (TT), which makes similar claims. For such modalities, the pre-trial likelihood of a positive effect greater than placebo is negligible, if not zero, given that there is no evidence that this healing energy even exists, much less that humans can manipulate it. Nonetheless, numerous hospitals, including prestigious hospitals , have reiki programs and carry out RCTs , resulting in at least one systematic review , which, not surprisingly, concluded that there is no evidence that reiki has specific therapeutic effects for any condition. Yet RCTs to test whether reiki, TT, homeopathy, reflexology, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, and other modalities equally lacking in preclinical plausibility are ongoing, as is easily verified by a search of www.ClinicalTrials.gov.



Wednesday Toon Roundup 4- The Rest





Climate Change

Wednesday Toon Roundup 3- War Around the World





Wednesday Toon Roundup 2- Race in America

Wednesday Toon Roundup 1- A Farewell to Kings

How the Supreme Court Protects Bad Cops


IRVINE, Calif. — LAST week, a grand jury was convened in St. Louis County, Mo., to examine the evidence against the police officer who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, and to determine if he should be indicted. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. even showed up to announce a separate federal investigation, and to promise that justice would be done. But if the conclusion is that the officer, Darren Wilson, acted improperly, the ability to hold him or Ferguson, Mo., accountable will be severely restricted by none other than the United States Supreme Court.

In recent years, the court has made it very difficult, and often impossible, to hold police officers and the governments that employ them accountable for civil rights violations. This undermines the ability to deter illegal police behavior and leaves victims without compensation. When the police kill or injure innocent people, the victims rarely have recourse.

The most recent court ruling that favored the police was Plumhoff v. Rickard, decided on May 27, which found that even egregious police conduct is not “excessive force” in violation of the Constitution. Police officers in West Memphis, Ark., pulled over a white Honda Accord because the car had only one operating headlight. Rather than comply with an officer’s request to get out of the car, the driver made the unfortunate decision to speed away. The police chased the car for more than five minutes, reaching speeds of over 100 miles per hour. Eventually, officers fired 15 shots into the car, killing both the driver and a passenger.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and ruled unanimously in favor of the police. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said that the driver’s conduct posed a “grave public safety risk” and that the police were justified in shooting at the car to stop it. The court said it “stands to reason that, if police officers are justified in firing at a suspect in order to end a severe threat to public safety, the officers need not stop shooting until the threat has ended.”



Obamacare Premiums Projected To Decrease In Arkansas

Source: TPM

Health insurance premiums for plans sold under Obamacare in Arkansas are projected to decrease by an average of 2 percent next year, Gov. Mike Beebe's office announced Tuesday.

"This is an aggregate projection, meaning that some individual consumers will see a small increase in premiums, and others will see their costs drop more than two percent," Beebe's office said of the new estimates from the state insurance department.

As the Arkansas Times reported last week, Arkansas's 2015 rate filings were accidentally leaked from the insurance department. Beebe's office said Tuesday its official projections were being released "in light of incomplete information that was inadvertently posted on an Insurance Department Web site."

Arkansas has been a key state in Obamacare's rollout. Beebe pioneered the "private option" for Medicaid expansion that used Medicaid dollars to pay for private plans purchased through the state's insurance exchange. It has since been emulated by several other states. Arkansas is also a Senate battleground state where incumbent Democratic senator Mark Pryor has been attacked over the law.

Read more: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/arkansas-obamacare-premiums-decrease

Choking the Oceans With Plastic


LOS ANGELES — The world is awash in plastic. It’s in our cars and our carpets, we wrap it around the food we eat and virtually every other product we consume; it has become a key lubricant of globalization — but it’s choking our future in ways that most of us are barely aware.

I have just returned with a team of scientists from six weeks at sea conducting research in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — one of five major garbage patches drifting in the oceans north and south of the Equator at the latitude of our great terrestrial deserts. Although it was my 10th voyage to the area, I was utterly shocked to see the enormous increase in the quantity of plastic waste since my last trip in 2009. Plastics of every description, from toothbrushes to tires to unidentifiable fragments too numerous to count floated past our marine research vessel Alguita for hundreds of miles without end. We even came upon a floating island bolstered by dozens of plastic buoys used in oyster aquaculture that had solid areas you could walk on.

Plastics are now one of the most common pollutants of ocean waters worldwide. Pushed by winds, tides and currents, plastic particles form with other debris into large swirling glutinous accumulation zones, known to oceanographers as gyres, which comprise as much as 40 percent of the planet’s ocean surface — roughly 25 percent of the entire earth.

No scientist, environmentalist, entrepreneur, national or international government agency has yet been able to establish a comprehensive way of recycling the plastic trash that covers our land and inevitably blows and washes down to the sea. In a 2010 study I conducted of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers, we extrapolated that some 2.3 billion pieces of plastic — from polystyrene foam to tiny fragments and pellets — had flowed from Southern California’s urban centers into its coastal waters in just three days of sampling.


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