Published: Tuesday 3 July 2012
“In California, a bid to require every-four-hour mental-health evaluations of minors who are “segregated” from other wards died a quick death this spring — even though the Golden State’s legislature is one of the nation’s most liberal and the measure was endorsed by the Los Angeles Times.”

 

At the first-ever congressional hearing on the subject of solitary confinement, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois recently observed that it’s not always “the worst of the worst” who are subjected to the practice. Mentally-ill inmates, immigrants and juvenile offenders are put in solitary as well. And perhaps, said a series of witnesses at the hearing, the time has come to rethink the issue.

Many states are now doing just that. But the debate is not devoid of its own unique politics.

In California, for instance, a bid to require every-four-hour mental-health evaluations of minors who are “segregated” from other wards died a quick death this spring — even though the Golden State’s legislature is one of the nation’s most liberal and the measure was endorsed by the Los Angeles Times. The legislation failed by one vote to move beyond the seven-member state Senate Public Safety Committee. Three of five Democrats voted for the bill, including the Senate’s top leader, Democrat Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento. But two Democrats and the committee’s only two Republicans voted against it.

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Published: Thursday 21 June 2012
“Forty-eight Democratic Senators and 5 Republican colleagues voted against Senator Jim Inhofe’s (R-OK) Congressional Review Act resolution, S.J. Res 37, which would have blocked the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard. Forty-one Republicans and 5 Democrats voted for it to stop the mercury protections.”

Today the Senate rejected another attempt to block vitally important public health safeguards. Forty-eight Democratic Senators and 5 Republican colleagues voted against Senator Jim Inhofe’s (R-OK) Congressional Review Act resolution, S.J. Res 37, which would have blocked the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard. Forty-one Republicans and 5 Democrats voted for it to stop the mercury protections.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, or MATS, was finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency in December 2011. It would require steep reductions of mercury, lead, arsenic, and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants, the largest domestic source of mercury emissions in the United States. These plants spew 53,510 pounds of mercury into the air each year. Mercury and other airborne toxics are linked to birth defects, brain damage, learning disabilities, cancer, and other serious ailments.

The 46 Senators who voted in favor of blocking these important health protections received over $14 million in direct campaign donations from the coal and utility industries throughout their congressional careers. The senators who voted against the resolution received just $4 million, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

Senators who opposed mercury safeguards received an average of $313,000 in contributions, while supporters of protections received ...

Published: Friday 20 April 2012
“Sanford Weill, the banker most responsible for the nation’s economic collapse, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.”

How evil is this? At a time when two-thirds of U.S. homeowners are drowning in mortgage debt and the American dream has crashed for tens of millions more, Sanford Weill, the banker most responsible for the nation’s economic collapse, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

So much for the academy’s proclaimed “230-plus year history of recognizing some of the world’s most accomplished scholars, scientists, writers, artists, and civic, corporate, and philanthropic leaders.” George Washington, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Albert Einstein must be rolling in their graves at the news that Weill, “philanthropist and retired Citigroup Chairman,” has joined their ranks.

This article was originally posted on Truthdig.

Weill is the Wall Street hustler who led the successful lobbying to reverse the Glass-Steagall law, which long had been a barrier between investment and commercial banks. That 1999 reversal permitted the merger of Travelers and Citibank, thereby creating Citigroup as the largest of the “too big to fail” banks eventually bailed out by taxpayers. Weill was instrumental in getting then-President Bill Clinton to sign off on the Republican-sponsored legislation that upended the sensible restraints on finance capital that had worked splendidly since the Great Depression.

Those restrictions were initially flouted when Weill, then CEO of Travelers, which contained a major investment banking division, decided to merge the company with Citibank, a commercial bank headed by John ...

Published: Monday 20 February 2012
While helpful, scientific knowledge and experts are also part of the problem: by dominating the sustainability discourse, they narrow people’s visions of what’s possible.

Contrary to popular belief, humans have failed to address the earth's worsening emergencies of climate change, species' extinction and resource overconsumption not because of a lack of information, but because of a lack of imagination, social scientists and artists say.

At a conference for the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) here in Vancouver, British Columbia, experts argued that the path to a truly sustainable future is through the muddy waters of emotions, values, ethics, and most importantly, imagination.

Humans' perceptions of reality are filtered by personal experiences and values, said David Maggs, a concert pianist and PhD student at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

As a result, the education and communication paradigm of "if we only knew better, we'd do better" is not working, Maggs told attendees at the world's largest general science meeting. "We don't live in the real world, but live only in the world we imagine."

"We live in our heads. We live in storyland," agreed John Robinson of UBC's Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability.

"When we talk about sustainability we are talking about the future, how things could be. This is the landscape of imagination," Robinson told IPS. "If we can't imagine a better world we won't get it."

This imagining will be complex and difficult. Sustainability encompasses far more than just scientific facts – it also incorporates the idea of how we relate to nature and to ourselves, he said.

"We haven't yet grasped the depth of changes that are coming."

Because human decisions and behavior are the result of ethics, values and emotion, and because sustainability directly involves our ...

Published: Sunday 30 October 2011
“Many neuroscientists believe that the mental-health effects of TV viewing might run even deeper than addiction, consumerism, loss of social trust, and political propaganda.”

The past half-century has been the age of electronic mass media. Television has reshaped society in every corner of the world. Now an explosion of new media devices is joining the TV set: DVDs, computers, game boxes, smart phones, and more. A growing body of evidence suggests that this media proliferation has countless ill effects.

The United States led the world into the television age, and the implications can be seen most directly in America’s long love affair with what Harlan Ellison memorably called “the glass teat.” In 1950, fewer than 8% of American households owned a TV; by 1960, 90% had one. That level of penetration took decades longer to achieve elsewhere, and the poorest countries are still not there.

True to form, Americans became the greatest TV watchers, which is probably still true today, even though the data are somewhat sketchy and incomplete. The best evidence suggests that Americans watch more than five hours per day of television on average – a staggering amount, given that several hours more are spent in front of other video-streaming devices. Other countries log far fewer viewing hours. In Scandinavia, for example, time spent watching TV is roughly half the US average.

“Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or TwitterFor more from Jeffrey D. Sachs, click here.”

The consequences for American society are profound, troubling, and a warning to the world – though it probably comes far too late to be heeded. First, heavy TV viewing brings little pleasure. Many surveys show that it is almost like an addiction, with a short-term benefit leading to ...

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