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Member since: Thu Apr 29, 2010, 02:31 PM
Number of posts: 53,475

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The Sermon On The Amount

Senate Democrats just introduced the "No Federal Contracts for Corporate Deserters Act"

US Attorney files Amicus Brief in ACLU Voting Rights Case


MILWAUKEE, Wis. – The Department of Justice today intervened in the ACLU of Wisconsin voting rights case, filing an amicus brief in opposition to the voter ID law. The case is currently at the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The 37-page brief said, in part:

Regarding the “constitutional claim, the district court credited plaintiffs’ evidence demonstrating that, under Act 23, many eligible voters would no longer be able to vote or would encounter significant obstacles in order to vote... Because it found [the government’s] interests minimal at best, the court properly concluded that Act 23 imposes an unjustified burden on the right to vote, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, as applied to those voters.

In evaluating plaintiffs’ [Voting Rights Act] claim, the court properly considered the ‘totality of circumstances’ – including whether social, political, and historical conditions in Wisconsin hinder minorities’ political participation and whether the State’s asserted justifications for Act 23 are ‘tenuous’ – and correctly concluded that Act 23 will have a racially discriminatory result, in violation of Section 2 (of the Voting Rights Act).”

Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, added: "The federal court was right to strike down this discriminatory law, and the federal government clearly agrees with them. It's too bad that some elected officials still seem fixated on depriving Wisconsinites of the right to vote."

Bernie on greed.

Robert Reich: "For some time now I've called for the legalization of marijuana ...

What's the difference between rats and Republicans?

Rats Experience Feelings of Regret

A new study shows for the first time that rats regret bad decisions and learn from them. In addition to existentialist suggestions of a rat’s regret — and what that takes away from, or adds to, being “human” — the study is highly relevant to basic brain research. Researchers demonstrated that we can tap into complex internal states of rodents if we hone in on the right behavior and the right neurons. There is a significant literature on what brain regions are representative of certain states, like reward predictions and value calculations, but the study, powered by a novel behavioral test, is able to put together such discrete behavioral correlates into a “rat” definition of regret.

Finding better animal models of human behavior constitute a long-standing challenge in neuroscience: It has been difficult to authentically recapitulate mental states in animal models of neuropsychiatric disorders: For example, an attempt to model depression in rodents can often go no further than relatively coarse approximations of the core symptoms like guilt or sadness, which often translates to behaviors like social avoidance or anhedonia in rodents. The inability to efficiently approach the questions of mental abnormalities is a major problem. Depression is currently ranked as the leading cause of disability globally, and it’s estimated that by 2020, depression will lead 1.5 million people to end their lives by suicide.

Now, thanks to a simple yet well-conceived series of experiments by Steiner and Redish, a compound behavior like regret is fully open to investigation. The investigators use a spatial decision-making set-up called “Restaurant Row”: an arena with four zones where four different flavors of food (banana, cherry, chocolate or unflavored) are introduced in sequence. Every time a rat entered a zone, it encountered a random length of delay and a tone before receiving the reward: the pitch of the tone indicated the delay the rat had to wait before receiving a reward (a higher pitch representing a longer delay). The delay counted down, with each subsequent second indicated by a lower pitch tone. Rats were trained to go one zone to next over a period of on hour. So, upon entering a zone, a rat knew what flavor of reward it was getting and how long it had to wait for it.


A fascinating conclusion of these recordings revealed a subtle subtext of human regret that is mirrored in rats. Studies of regret in humans show that people regret miscalculated actions more than the missed outcomes — i.e a gambler feels more regret over misplaying a hand than over how much money she lost. In an effort to see if rats had a similar cognitive structure of regret, investigators first examined the neural activity signatures in the OFC and vStr in two separate instances: when a rat entered a zone and when it received a reward. When compared to the activity signatures at the moment of regret (based on when a rat turned and looked at the missed opportunity), it was the signature of zone, not of the regret, that lit up in the respective brain regions: Rats regret having skipped the zone more than having not received the reward.


Karma strikes: The Terrible Economy Just Claimed Another Victim: Walmart's U.S. CEO


The sluggish U.S. economic recovery just claimed another job. Bill Simon, CEO of Walmart U.S., is stepping down, Walmart announced on Thursday. Simon's tenure was marked by a long stretch of poor performance, but bad luck might have played a role in that: He held the post during a particularly terrible time for low- and middle-income Americans, who are also Walmart's core customers.

"His tenure perfectly parallels the worst economic period in the last 70 years," Charles Fishman, author of The Wal-Mart Effect, said of Simon. Simon became chief operating officer of Walmart U.S., effectively second-in-command of that business, in 2007, the year the Great Recession began. He became CEO of Walmart U.S. in 2010.

During the recession and the subsequent ongoing recovery, low- and middle-income Americans have been plagued by high unemployment, stagnant wages, benefit cuts and a proliferation of low-paying, part-time jobs at the expense of stable, salaried middle-class work. For Walmart, this means shoppers -- many of whom are also burdened by high levels of debt -- just aren't spending like they used to.

As a result, Walmart's bottom line is suffering. The company's U.S. sales have fallen in 12 out of the past 20 quarters at stores open a year or more, according to Ken Perkins, head of the retail data firm Retail Metrics. Walmart executives have repeatedly cited last November's cuts to the federal government's food stamp program as a reason for the company's poor performance.

Which View of Christianity Does Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby Ruling Defend? What About Sharia Law?


Injecting the Bible into politics inevitably turns lawmakers into theologians. For example, Tea Party Congressman Stephen Fincher declared last year that, "The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity is to take care of each other, but not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country." Needless to say, not all Christians share Rep. Fincher's opinion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Also, as with any topic that merges politics and religion, there's the muddled issue of interpretation. Do Christians throughout the United States view birth control or abortion as a "substantial burden" to their faith? What about Muslims American citizens who adhere to certain principles of Sharia law? With so many versions of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other faiths within the U.S., it might prove impossible to balance everyone's various "religious liberties" alongside laws meant to protect the rights of all Americans.

Religious freedom, if applied to future legislation by the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby verdict, must also now be correlated to religious interpretation. Contrary to GOP pundit Erick Erickson's tweet ("My religion trumps your 'right' to employer subsidized consequence free sex.", Hobby Lobby apparently already "subsidized free sex." According to the Christian Science Monitor, the corporation agreed to pay for all but "four of 18 methods required to be provided to female employees under the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate." The Supreme Court decided that there were certain methods that "substantially burdened" Hobby Lobby's religious beliefs, thus its owner's were not compelled to provide four methods of birth control. The day after the ruling, other cases involving all methods of birth control sought to expand the Hobby Lobby decision. As with all religiously inspired verdicts, the blurry demarcation from four methods to all methods is now subject to whether one's expression of faith is "substantially burdened."


If the Court had ruled 5-4 in favor of a Muslim family's corporation, the paranoid uproar from conservatives would be heard around the world. Republicans in more than a dozen states have already introduced legislation banning state judges from considering Sharia law. According to the Hobby Lobby decision, however, a Muslim-American owned corporation's expression of Sharia law should be treated just like the Christian principles protected from ACA mandates.


Until God comes down from heaven to advise the Supreme Court on which religious interpretations are truly expressed correctly, it's best to keep "religious expression" away from laws affecting the lives of all Americans; especially if you invest in birth control while denying it to your employees. Also, if you applaud Hobby Lobby, remember to jump for joy when other Americans of faiths different from yours have their religious expression protected at the expense of your health care. As stated by Justice Ginsberg's dissent, "The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield."

Wisconsin 2013 Summer Summary

Israel Grants First Golan Heights Oil Drilling License To Dick Cheney-Linked Company


Israel has granted a U.S. company the first license to explore for oil and gas in the occupied Golan Heights, John Reed of the Financial Times reports. A local subsidiary of the New York-listed company Genie Energy — which is advised by former vice president Dick Cheney and whose shareholders include Jacob Rothschild and Rupert Murdoch — will now have exclusive rights to a 153-square mile radius in the southern part of the Golan Heights.

That geographic location will likely prove controversial. Israel seized the Golan Heights in the Six-Day War in 1967 and annexed the territory in 1981. Its administration of the area — which is not recognized by international law — has been mostly peaceful until the Syrian civil war broke out 23 months ago.

"This action is mostly political – it’s an attempt to deepen Israeli commitment to the occupied Golan Heights," Israeli political analyst Yaron Ezrahi told FT. "The timing is directly related to the fact that the Syrian government is dealing with violence and chaos and is not free to deal with this problem.”

Earlier this month we reported that Israel is considering creating a buffer zone reaching up to 10 miles from Golan into Syria to secure the 47-mile border against the threat of Islamic radicals in the area. The move would overtake the UN Disengagement Observer Force Zone that was established in 1973 to end the Yom Kippur War and to provide a buffer zone between the two countries. Reed notes that recent natural gas finds off Israel’s coast in the Mediterranean have made the country's offshore gas reserve one of the largest of its kind in the world, meaning Israel may become a significant energy exporter in its region.
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