Defending the American way

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that more than two-thirds of America’s youth would fail to qualify for military service because of physical, behavioral or educational shortcomings.  The military deems many youngsters ineligible due to obesity, lack of a high-school diploma, felony convictions and prescription-drug use for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. But others are now also running afoul of standards for appearance amid the growing popularity of large-scale tattoos and “ear gauges” that create large holes in earlobes.

No great crisis for the Army, which the report says each year still successfully recruits about 180,000 volunteers.  But where do the rejects go next?

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Another good idea gone awry

Europe’s highest court recently decided that Google, Bing and others must allow people in Europe to ask that links to information about themselves be removed from search results.  The idea was a good one — to enable individuals to protect their reputations — but Google has begun informing legitimate, prestigious news organizations that it will no longer provide search links to articles that people don’t want discovered.  The news agencies will, of course, still have the articles in their archives, but you and I won’t be able to find them with Google.  The rich and famous are already using this law to make it harder for researchers to find incriminating information.  More than 50,000 requests have already been submitted to Google, and the debate over what should — and should not — be removed is likely to be contentious.

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The raw power of money

Salon.com reports that nine U.S. states have “ag-gag” laws on the books — laws that make it illegal for anyone to record what occurs on farms without the owner’s permission.  The purpose is to make sure that practices that would horrify consumers of any meat are not made public.  The laws come in the wake of videos showing factory farms’ illegal practices, such as beating animals, dragging them across floors with chains around their necks, etc.  The most recent anti-whistleblower law, in Idaho, ensures that the criminal in such cases is the person exposing the practices.  Salon.com writer Lindsay Abrams says, “But that these laws effectively allow animal cruelty to go undetected and unreported only scratches the surface of why critics find them so appalling. In the interest of protecting the agriculture industry, ag-gag laws criminalize whistleblowers and, ultimately, ensure consumers remain in the dark.”

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Church Orthodoxy Gone Awry

Irish authorities are under pressure to open up a septic tank at a former Catholic Church-run home in the town of Tuam for unwed mothers.  There are allegations that it contains the remains of the 796 infants and toddlers who died at the home from 1925 until its closure in 1961. According to a local historian, unmarried girls who got pregnant were seen as a threat to the moral order, and Irish society “wanted rid of them in the same way as the Germans wanted shot of the Jews.” The government is now investigating all such homes, because there could easily be “dozens more such pits where the seeds of sin were planted in the black Irish earth.”  One Irish commentator called it “our own little holocaust.”

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Rhetoric trumps logic … again

FiveThirtyEight.com reports that the decision by congressional Republicans to cut off  unemployment insurance to 1.3 million Americans hasn’t led to a surge in their finding jobs.  An analysis of data shows that only about 25 percent of those cut off from benefits have found jobs

That’s the same rate as among people still receiving unemployment benefits.

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Reading broadens our minds

Publishers Weekly, reporting research by someone called the Codex Group, says that Amazon commands 41 percent of all new books sold.  The company sells 65 percent of all books sold online, whether print or digital.

Amazon war with publishers today is over pricing.  Tomorrow?

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Sustainable economy?

The Associated Press says that CEOs now earn about 257 times his or her average employee’s salary.  Median compensation for CEOs crossed $10 million for the first time last year, due to a surging stock market that drove the stock component of pay packages up 17 percent to $4.5 million.

The government, by demanding lower tax rates of these people, is part of the problem.

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If NSA can do it …

The AP has reported from Montevideo that a prisoner in a Uruguyan prison has tapped into the U.S. ambassador’s cellphone and sent messages to some of her contacts.  Officials said yesterday that the inmate also had access to Ambassador Julissa Reynoso’s voice messages. According to a local radio station, police discovered the inmate’s activities while investigating him for other fraudulent behavior.

Reynoso has reportedly filed a complaint with Uruguay’s interior ministry.

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Long-term Impact of Bullying

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences says that “childhood bullying involvement predicts low-grade systemic inflammation into adulthood.”  A study of 1,420 boys and girls revealed that being bullied raised the level of “C-reactive protein” (CRP) in their blood — which is a marking of systemic inflammation and risk factor for cardiovascular and other diseases.  The bullies, on the other hand, had low increases in CRP — at levels even lower than kids who were neither victims nor perpetrators of bullying.

The lead author said that “this kind of social defeat is more potent and long-lasting that we previously thought.”

Good for understanding political and economic behaviors.

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Inversion

Inversion (n):  The process by which U.S. companies acquire foreign competitors and reincorporate abroad in low-tax countries.

Example of inversion:  Pfizer is trying to buy British rival AstraZeneca for about $106 billion.  Pfizer plans to move its holding company to Britain from the United States so it can achieve a much lower tax rate and use cash that it has held abroad to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

According to NYT reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin, “By reincorporating in Britain, Pfizer would most likely save about $200 million a year for each percentage point less it pays in taxes, according to Barclays. Pfizer paid a 27.4 percent rate in the United States; AstraZeneca paid about 21.3 percent in Britain. Those six percentage points could turn into an annual windfall of more than $1 billion. That’s not all: It gives Pfizer a revenue-generating asset without having to repatriate any of its $57 billion cash hoard sitting overseas.”

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