May 30, 2016

Inmates working on prison reform put in solitary

Solitary Watch

Three men incarcerated in Massachusetts who were working with a prison reform caucus of state legislators have been thrown in solitary confinement, in an apparent retaliation against their activism and an attempt to disrupt further communications.

In the middle of the night on March 23, 52-year-old Timothy Muise, 44-year-old Shawn Fisher, and 39-year-old Steven James were taken from their cells at the medium-security prison MCI Shirley, handcuffed, and transported by van to three separate prisons spread across the state (Norfolk, Bridgewater, and Gardner), where they were placed in solitary confinement. Muise has since been moved to a different cell every 30 days, while Fisher and James have also been moved more than once.

The three did not receive their underwear or other basic belongings until 41 days after their midnight transfer. Since their placement in solitary confinement, the men’s communication abilities have been significantly curtailed, limited to two phone calls a week for 15 minutes, two one-hour non-contact visits a week, and writing letters.

Muise and Fisher are longtime advocates for prisoners’ rights and prison reform. In the past year, they have organized multiple meetings with the Legislative Harm Reduction Caucus, a coalition of 70 state legislators working to “address the root causes and symptoms of mass incarceration.”

Word: Tests and trips

Becca Ritchie, Bad Ass Teachers Assn

I have been doing some thinking. I know May is always a long month. When I look back on things that we used to do in our building, the changes do pain my heart.. 1. Our 8th graders did a culture project, All of the tri fold boards were displayed in the gym for two days as SS classes came through and looked at them. 2. Field trips to the zoo, to museums, to other venues that expanded the student's horizons 3. Bike club ride to Vashon Island 4. Hiking club trip to Mt. Rainier 5. Band's garage sale out of the cafeteria 6. 5th graders visit to Nelsen to see a band orchestra and choir concert 7. Day of community service-6th graders did clean up on site, 7th and 8th graders went to various community places to work--stream clean ups, clothing and food banks, painting over graffiti...etc. 8. The entire school read the same book and then the drama department put on the play. 9. Spelling Bee 10. Knowledge Bowl 11. Math club competition 12. Mock Court with real judge presiding

So many other things i can't remember...but we didn't test until a week before school was out...and then it was the ITBS took maybe two days...and we were done.

Flash forward to now...we spent the entire month of May in a modified schedule. Students spent at least 13 hours of testing for the be followed by End of Course tests, STAR tests for math and SRI tests for reading. What are we doing to an entire generation of children? What are we doing to educators who on a daily basis someone in their hall is in tears. Whether is it dealing with trauma impacted children or teachers who are in distress (it is not stress...but distress) how is this shift OK?

Here is an idea... For every hour of required testing either by the state, district or building, the body requiring the test should provide for equal hours of field trips. Now that is a concept.

May 29, 2016

Where the action is


News Notes

Former Gov. Gary Weld, R-Mass., won the Libertarian Party's nomination for vice president, joining him to a ticket that features former Gov. Gary Johnson, R-N.M.

Taking on the kale konspiracy

Worst US airports and airlines for flight delays 

A way out of this mess

We have previously suggested that a Biden-Warren ticket might be a good way out of the Democrat's current crisis, one of the problems being is that no matter whether Clinton or Sanders were to get the nomination, many opposing Dems would stay home in November.

Interestingly, the conservative National Review mentioned this possibility as well, which led us to consider the unresolved problem of what one would do with Clinton and Sanders. Our best solution: Biden promises Clinton a Supreme Court seat and Sanders gets a Nobel Peace Prize for saving the world from a Trump presidency. To be sure, you need the Senate's approval of a new Supreme Court justice but since Clinton believes she will get anything she wants, that shouldn't be a problem.

Just a suggestion.

More Trump funny figures

Daily Beast

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign disclosure reports declare that his buildings are worth a lot of money, in his view demonstrating phenomenal business acumen and how the Trump name adds luster. But in property tax filings Trump describes the same properties as almost worthless, asserting one of his biggest properties is in such an awful location that its retail space is unrentable—what he’d probably define as a loser.

There are multiple lessons in the different faces Trump presents to voters and tax officials that shine a light on Trump’s character and conduct.

Consider the Trump National Golf Club Westchester, located roughly 33 miles north of Trump Tower in Manhattan. It features a 50,000 square foot, $20 million clubhouse that Trump built after he acquired the 140 acres in the late 1990s. There are 18 holes and a majestic waterfall that Trump says is 101 feet high. Trump boasts that “no expense was spared” in creating a “world class” golf course.

It is located in Briarcliff Manor village, a tony Manhattan suburb where half the homes are valued at more than $700,000, according to town assessor Fernando Gonzalez. Houses listed for sale at that price typically are between 2,200 and 3,700 square feet and sit on a fraction of an acre.

In his presidential disclosure Trump valued the golf course and its massive clubhouse at more than $50 million. In tax documents Trump valued the same property at just $1.35 million.

That is a 97% variance, an irreconcilable difference that raises yet again questions about Trump’s integrity, not to mention the size of his fortune, which he has testified he values differently as his emotional state shifts, regardless of objective facts.

Trump’s presidential disclosure indicates he made $10.3 million off the golf course last year and early this year. That alone should sound alarms since businesses normally sell for multiples of their profits, not a tiny fraction of profits.

The depth of our housing problem

Columbia Tribune

Even as the federal government provides housing assistance for 5.5 million households, 7.2 million housing units are needed for more than 10 million extremely low-income families.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro delivered this bad news in a report on housing for low-income renters that is “Out of Reach,” which is the name of the study.

“Our nation can’t fulfill any of our major goals — whether it’s tackling inequality, improving health care, keeping neighborhoods safe, or making sure every child gets a good education — unless we also focus on housing,” Castro wrote in this year’s annual report published by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The affordable housing situation is bleak. So bleak that “in no state, metropolitan area, or county can a full-time worker earning the prevailing minimum wage afford a modest two-bedroom apartment,” according to the report.

Beer company comes up with plastic free six pack ring

Eco Watch

Saltwater Brewery in Florida has partnered with the New York-based ad agency We Believers to create a plastic-free six-pack ring that feeds marine life, rather than choking or ensnarling them. The Edible Six Pack Ring is made from byproducts of the brewing process such as wheat and barley, making it the first 100 percent biodegradable, compostable and edible packaging implemented in the beer industry.

The plan is to produce 400,000 edible six-pack rings per month, enough for the current monthly production of Saltwater Brewery. 1 The rings are 100 percent biodegradable, made with byproducts of the beer making process such as barley or wheat.

The first mass-produced batch will cost between 10 and 15 cents per unit, for craft beer that costs more than $10 for a six-pack, Lauria said.

Establishment media begins to admit Clinton has problems

This is an interesting example of the major media beginning to notice that not all is well in the Clinton campaign, albeit concentrating on the problems Trump is creating rather than her own as the politically riskiest candidate the Democratic Party has put forth in modern times.

NY Times -  Democrats could hardly believe their good fortune last month when it became clear that Hillary Clinton was headed to a general election showdown with Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump carried so much baggage and had insulted so many voting blocs that some Clinton supporters began to imagine a landslide.

But early optimism that this would be an easy race is evaporating. In the corridors of Congress, on airplane shuttles between New York and Washington, at donor gatherings and on conference calls, anxiety is spreading through the Democratic Party that Mrs. Clinton is struggling to find her footing.

While she enjoys many demographic advantages heading into the fall, key Democrats say they are growing worried that her campaign has not determined how to combat her unpredictable, often wily Republican rival, to whom criticism seldom sticks and rules of decorum seem not to apply.

.... As a candidate, Mrs. Clinton is not without her own issues to overcome, including her inability to quickly put away Senator Bernie Sanders and her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state, feeding a perception she is not trustworthy. In a report delivered this past week to Congress, the State Department’s inspector general strongly criticized her for the practice.

May 28, 2016

Clinton falters in Oregon

The latest poll from Oregon has Trump two points ahead of Clinton, compared to her previous lead of 11 and Obama's 11 point win over Romney.

Trump says judge in his university case is a Mexican

Washington Examiner

Donald Trump attacked the magistrate presiding over a class action lawsuit that alleges fraud at the former "Trump University," accusing U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel of disgraceful conduct and stating that the judge is a "Mexican."

Trump has referred previously to the ethnicity of the the judge, who was reportedly born in Indiana. But the renewed attack on Curiel is particularly striking, given that the judge recently accepted the real estate mogul's request to delay the trial until Nov. 28, a few weeks after the election; the plaintiffs wanted to the case to play out in June.

"The judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great, I think that's fine," he said during the rally. "You know what? I think the Mexicans are going to end up loving Donald Trump when I give all these jobs, OK?" Trump blamed the existence of the case on political bias and accused Curiel of being "very hostile" towards him.

"Judges in this court system, federal court, they ought to look into Judge Curiel. Because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace, OK?" he said Friday.

Trump noted he might have to testify in the case after being elected president. "Wouldn't that be wild if I'm president and I come back and do a civil case?" he told followers.

Trump University was a business in which the real estate mogul promised to impart his acument to attendees through a hand-picked team of instructors, but students claim that they paid exorbitant tuition for little training. A pair of lawsuits alleging fraud have been filed. The issue briefly appeared as an issue on the campaign trail, but Trump survived the political attacks.

May 27, 2016

News Notes Saturday

 Donald Trump claimed that California is not facing a drought, USA Today reports.

Undercover prisoners report on what reallyj happens in there

In Nine Democratic Debates, Not a Single Question About Poverty

Trump beats his own flip flop record. . .won't debate Sanders

The Myth That Sanders Hasn’t Been Criticized Won’t Go Away

Iowa’s Supreme Court ruled 4-3 Friday that a sentence of life without parole for juvenile offenders convicted of first-degree murder amounted to cruel and unusual punishment under the state’s constitution.

A link between cellphones and cancer has been found in a major U.S. study, officials said.
The peer-reviewed $25 million study was conducted over multiple years and found two types of tumors in male rats exposed to the same kind of radio frequencies emitted by the devices. The tumors were found in brain and heart cells.

Verizon, workers reach agreement in principle

Metro Washington AFL-CIO

Nearly 40,000 Verizon workers who have been on strike since April 13 are celebrating big gains after coming to an agreement in principle with the company. After 44 days of the largest strike in recent history, striking CWA and IBEW members say they have achieved their major goals of improving working families’ standard of living, creating good union jobs and achieving a first contract for wireless retail store workers. "It's a great day in the labor movement," said CWA 2336 president Terry Richardson. U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez called the tentative resolution "a testament to the power of collective bargaining." Verizon and the unions are working to put the agreement to writing, after which the proposal will be submitted to CWA and IBEW union members for ratification. "I expect that workers will be back on the job next week,” Perez said.

Good cop news

The Horn News

A suburban Detroit police officer stepped in after a pizza delivery driver was injured in a car crash to make sure a still-warm order made it to its destination.

Lincoln Park police Cpl. Joe Sparks tells The Detroit News that Monday’s collision sent the Jet’s Pizza driver to a hospital with bruises and a sore head. Sparks spotted an oven bag in the wrecked car before it was towed and realized the delivery address was nearby.

The 16-year veteran of the force says he “just figured it was the right thing to do” knowing that “someone on the other end was waiting for their food.”

Carl Babik, who got the pizza, tells WDIV-TV he initially thought that he had done something wrong when Sparks showed up with the order.

Word: If Trump comes to power

Adam Gopnik, New Yorker

If Trump came to power, there is a decent chance that the American experiment would be over. This is not a hyperbolic prediction; it is not a hysterical prediction; it is simply a candid reading of what history tells us happens in countries with leaders like Trump. Countries don’t really recover from being taken over by unstable authoritarian nationalists of any political bent, left or right—not by PerĂ³ns or Castros or Putins or Francos or Lenins or fill in the blanks. The nation may survive, but the wound to hope and order will never fully heal.

Ask Argentinians or Chileans or Venezuelans or Russians or Italians—or Germans. The national psyche never gets over learning that its institutions are that fragile and their ability to resist a dictator that weak. If he can rout the Republican Party in a week by having effectively secured the nomination, ask yourself what Trump could do with the American government if he had a mandate.

Teenage use, abuse of marijuana declining


Fewer adolescents are consuming cannabis; among those who do, fewer are engaging in problematic use of the plant, according to newly published data in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Researchers reported that the percentage of respondents who said that they had used cannabis over the past year fell by ten percent during the study period. The number of adolescents reporting problems related to marijuana, such as engaging in habitual use of the plant, declined by 24 percent from 2002 to 2013.

Senate committee authorizes illegal FBI searches of email files


A provision snuck into the still-secret text of the Senate’s annual intelligence authorization would give the FBI the ability to demand individuals’ email data and possibly web-surfing history from their service providers without a warrant and in complete secrecy.

If passed, the change would expand the reach of the FBI’s already highly controversial national security letters. The FBI is currently allowed to get certain types of information with NSLs — most commonly, information about the name, address, and call data associated with a phone number or details about a bank account.

Since a 2008 Justice Department legal opinion, the FBI has not been allowed to use NSLs to demand “electronic communication transactional records,” such as email subject lines and other metadata, or URLs visited.

The spy bill passed the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, with the provision in it. The lone no vote came from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who wrote in a statement that one of the bill’s provisions “would allow any FBI field office to demand email records without a court order, a major expansion of federal surveillance powers.”

Wyden did not disclose exactly what the provision would allow, but his spokesperson suggested it might go beyond email records to things like web-surfing histories and other information about online behavior. “Senator Wyden is concerned it could be read that way,” Keith Chu said.

Campaign curiosities

Sam Smith - After covering corrupt politicians for over fifty years, I have only run into two whose stories, at least according to liberals, you're not meant to tell: Bill & Hillary Clinton. I long attributed this to factors such as poor press coverage of what actually happened, a lack of understanding of how a drug infested state like Arkansas really works, and the misapprehension that the Clintons were actually liberals. But lately a simpler explanation has occurred to me: they both went to Yale and Bill went to Oxford. Once someone from Arkansas is admitted into the liberal establishment you get full protection, with the possible exception of major hedge fund fraud. It becomes like not letting anyone know your grandma is into cocaine.

Another thought to consider: never before have the two leading candidates for president gained so much money in such questionable ways including gambling at casinos and overpaid speeches for Wall Street. And while we can be pretty sure how this will evolve for Clinton, it remains uncertain how having had Trump Entertainment Resorts and its predecessors file four times for bankruptcy protection might affect White House thinking about our budget and other governmental decisions,

May 26, 2016

Trump wants Sanders to pay him for a debate


Donald Trump hung out with late night Jimmy Kimmel on Wednesday night... “Here’s a question from Bernie," Kimmel read to Trump, going into a rather feeble Bernie impersonation. "'Hillary Clinton backed out of an agreement to debate me in California before the June 7 primary, are you prepared to debate the major issues facing our largest state and the country before the California primary?'"

"Yes, I am, how much is he going to pay me?" Trump asked Kimmel, apparently not understanding how debates work. He added, "If I debated him, we would have such high ratings and I think I should take that money and give it to some worthy charity."

Meanwhile, the Sanders camp has also agreed to a debate with Trump.

News Notes

The Catholic church paid $153 million in the United States last year to settle lawsuits, and fielded hundreds of new accusations, as fallout continued from the clergy sex abuse scandal exposed in the early 2000s, a new report from church leaders says. The annual report from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which covers July 2014 to June 2015, said 384 victims came forward with allegations the church deemed credible. The figure, while somewhat higher than the 330 allegations deemed credible in the prior year, generally fit into a trend in which the number of such allegations has declined in recent years....

If Clinton loses, it will be in no small part because of the desertion of working class Americans by the Democratic Party led by snobbish liberals. Just how serious this is was suggested by a recent Washington Post poll, which noted that "whites without a college degree now support Trump by a much wider margin than they did Romney in 2012. At that point, they preferred Romney by 24 points. Now, they support Trump by 40."

Paul Manafort, who Trump brought on in March as his Republican Convention strategist and recently elevated to campaign chairman, has worked for notorious arms dealers, warlords, dictators and international tycoons who have left trails of unrest, mayhem and death or looted their country’s treasuries, 

Clinton picks influence peddlers to help write Democratic platform

America living on the edge

AP-NORC Center

Seventy-five percent of people in households making less than $50,000 a year would have difficulty coming up with $1,000 to cover an unexpected bill. But when income rose to between $50,000 and $100,000, the difficulty decreased only modestly to 67 percent.

Even for the country's wealthiest 20 percent — households making more than $100,000 a year — 38 percent say they would have at least some difficulty coming up with $1,000.

Our record as the world's leader

John Pilger

Since 1945, some 69 countries - more than a third of the membership of the United Nations - have suffered some or all of the following. They have been invaded, their governments overthrown, their popular movements suppressed, their elections subverted and their people bombed. The historian Mark Curtis estimates the death toll in the millions. With the demise of the European empires, this has been the project of the liberal flame carrier, the “exceptional” United States, whose celebrated “progressive” president, John F Kennedy, according to new research, authorised the bombing of Moscow during the Cuban crisis in 1962.

“If we have to use force,” said Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state in the liberal administration of Bill Clinton and today a passionate campaigner for his wife, “it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”

American dysfuntinalism


Word: Why Clinton is not as rotten as Trump

Robert Reich

Last week I suggested Bernie supporters do three things: (1) fight like hell for Bernie until he either gets or loses the nomination, (2) if Hillary gets the nomination, fight like hell for her, and (3) regardless of who wins the nomination or the election, continue to build a powerful progressive movement.

Here I want to address those of you who disagree with (2). As I understand your arguments, they fall into four categories:

1. Some of you say that by refusing to fight for Hillary (if she gets the nomination) you’ll show the political establishment you want the changes Bernie has been advocating. The problem with this logic is the “political establishment” is nothing but a bunch of people in comfortable and often privileged positions who will continue doing what they’re doing because they like the status quo, and won’t even be aware you’re not fighting for Hillary – unless, that is, Hillary loses to Trump. Which leads to the next argument.

2. Some of you say there’s no real difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The problem with this logic is it's wrong. Regardless of what you may think of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump is a true menace to this nation and to the world. He’s a narcissistic, xenophobic, hatemonger who, if elected, would legitimize bigotry, appoint Supreme Court justices with terrible values, and have his finger on the nuclear bomb. Need I say more? Which brings us to the third argument.

3. Some of you say a Trump presidency would be so horrible it would galvanize a forceful progressive movement in response. The problem with this argument is twofold. First, Trump could do huge and unalterable damage to America and the world in the meantime. Second, rarely if ever in history has a sharp swing to the right moved the political pendulum further back in the opposite direction. Instead, it tends to move the “center” rightward, as did Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

4. Finally, some of you say that even if Hillary is better than Trump, you’re tired of choosing the “lesser of two evils,” and you’re going to vote your conscience by either writing Bernie’s name in, or voting for the Green Party candidate, or not voting at all. I can’t criticize you for voting your conscience, of course. But your conscience should know that a decision not to vote for Hillary is a de facto decision to help Donald Trump.

May 25, 2016

Over a third of migratory bird species face extinction

Eco Watch

A new report says 37 percent of all 1,154 migratory bird species on the North American continent are at risk of extinction, primarily due to sea-level rise, coastal development, human activity and oil spills.

The report, by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, noted that birds living in ocean environments face the most risk due to overfishing, pollution and climate change, as do birds living in tropical and subtropics forests. Key parts of the report include:

News Notes

Nearly half of Americans would have trouble covering an emergency $400 expense, according to a new survey released by the Federal Reserve.

Oberlin Students Want Below-Average Grades Abolished, Midterms Replaced with Conversations 

Floating solar farms cropping up

Lake Mead Drops to Lowest Level in History

Views haven't changed much on abortion 

The collapse of union membership

Ohio law limiting early voting ruled unconstitutional by federal judge

Morning Line

Based on the average of recent polls:

In electoral votes, Democrats have 273 firm or leaning towards the party, the GOP has 62. Needed to elect: 270

Americans ditching shopping malls

Activist Post

On the heels of department store behemoth Macy’s reporting of a 7.4 percent plunge in revenue for the first quarter of 2016, financial consultant and retail analyst Jan Kniffen told CNBC that falling sales at anchor stores like Macy’s and JCPenney likely spell doom for a good portion of shopping malls.

If you look into the future, not that far,” he said on the business program Squawk Box, “we’ve got 1,100 enclosed malls in America. We probably need 700.”

Even among the malls that survive the coming years, Kniffen predicts that only about 250 will thrive while the rest struggle to keep their doors open.

Currently, the U.S. has an estimated 48 square feet of retail space per citizen — by far the most on the planet. By comparison, the U.K. — who comes in at number two — has roughly half the retail space per person.

Organic agriculture boosts local economies

Rural Blog

Organic agriculture boosts local economies, says a study by Penn State for the Organic Trade Association. The study looked at "225 counties considered organic hot spots—counties with high levels of organic agricultural activity that have neighboring counties with high organic activity—and then looks at how these organic hotspots impact key county-level economic indicators," OTA reports. Research found that being in an organic hot spot increased median income household income by more than $2,000 and lowers a county's poverty rate by 1.35 percent.

U.S. organic sales increased by 11 percent in 2015, Carol Ryan Dumas reports for the Western agricultural news site Capital Press. "Total organic sales in 2015 marked the fourth-consecutive year of double-digit growth, adding $4.2 billion in sales over 2014. Those sales represent a 209 percent growth since 2005, when sales totaled $14 billion." Last year "total sales of organic food and non-food products reached $43.3 billion, with organic food sales claiming about 92 percent of all receipts at $39.7 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association." Organic sales accounted for nearly 5 percent of all food sold in the U.S.

The new robotic industrial world

The Stack

In a bid to accelerate growth and reduce labor costs, Apple supplier Foxconn cut 60,000 jobs at a single factory, work that is now being completed by robots. As many as 600 companies in the Chinese manufacturing hub of Kunshan may have similar plans to automate their workforce, according to a government survey.

Foxconn spokesperson Xu Yulian told the South China Morning Post, “The Foxconn factory has reduced its employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000, thanks to the introduction of robots. It has tasted success in reduction of labor costs.” He added, “More companies are likely to follow suit.”

In order to change over from human workers to robots, where possible, Foxconn and other Taiwanese companies in Kunshan spent 4 billion yuan ($610 million US) on artificial intelligence in 2015. The job cuts represent a significant portion of the population of Kunshan, which has 2.4 million people, two-thirds of whom are migrant workers in the local factories according to a 2014 survey.

Worldwide sales of industrial robots more than doubled from 2004-2014. Industrial production numbers for China as a whole have declined over the last five years, from 15% of the national economy in 2011 to 6% in 2016. 


In democratic countries the science of association is the mother science.In democratic peoples, associations must take the place of the powerful particular persons. - Alex deTocqueville

Trump's vitamin hustle

Daily Beast

For several years in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Donald Trump encouraged people to take part in a pseudo-scientific vitamin scheme—all without expressing any concern about how it might potentially endanger people’s health.

Through a multi-level marketing project called The Trump Network, the business mogul encouraged people to take an expensive urine test, which would then be used to personally “tailor” a pricey monthly concoction of vitamins—something a Harvard doctor told The Daily Beast was a straight-up “scam.”

And when The Daily Beast asked a doctor for The Trump Network to defend the products, he wound up deriding the idea of “evidence-based” medicine.

The Trump Network ultimately failed, and its assets were sold off. But it was not just a marketing and business disaster—the actions of the all-but-certain GOP presidential nominee reflect his willingness to license his name to a product without fully vetting it: a casual endorsement of a serious matter, all with the flitting nonchalance that characterizes the many falsehoods he utters.

The project is just another example of Trump’s questionable business practices, from his Trump University (accused by many students of fraud) to his casinos (which went bankrupt so often) to his “tasteless and mealy” signature steaks. And it highlights an essential contradiction in his campaign for the White House. While politician Trump says that he cares about average Joe or Jane, his past shows a shocking indifference.

Trump’s peddling of these products without regard for their safety is emblematic both of his often-incurious approach to business and politics—as well as the dangers of a loosely regulated supplement industry. Based on the The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, vitamins (like the ones sold by the Trump) don’t require approval from the Federal Drug Administration.

Vitamin companies can claim to treat depression, eliminate psoriasis, or increase energy without a single human study proving that the things they’re selling actually do.

While the FDA urges the $34 billion dollar industry to refrain from “false statements,” and fraudulent labeling, it’s an order that’s hardly policed. The “grey area” that results is rife with distortion, and leaves consumers dangerously ill-informed about what they’re taking. A study from the Drug Testing and Analysis journal in 2015 found synthetic speed hiding in 11 different weight-loss supplements, potentially putting patients with heart conditions in danger.

Music's real problem is downgrading, not downloading

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2012 - From its beginning, music has been the one the few forms of art intended to be replicated and shared and not just absorbed. There are no garage film producers making covers of popular movies. We don't gather in bars to dance to trailers. We don't go to church and paint copies of famous art works between prayers and sermons. And while writing is often quoted, the total occurrence is miniscule compared to the way cultures have recirculated music throughout human history.

There are a number of explanations of how this came about. Charles Darwin thought it had to do with sexual selection. Others have similarly suggested that singing and dancing indicated both a desirable physical and mental fitness. Other theories include bringing groups together, teaching cooperation, and passing along cultural truths from generation to generation.

Steven J.Mithen in
The Singing Neanderthals, writes of studies by John Blacking:

"He undertook one of the most informative studies of communal music making when he studied the Venda people of South Africa during the 1950s. He described how they performed communal music not simply to kill time, nor for any magical reasons, such as to create better harvests, nor when they were facing periods of hunger or stress. ln fact, they did the reverse: they made communal music when food was plentiful. Blacking believed they did so, at times when individuals were able to pursue their own self-interest, precisely in order to ensure that the necessity of working together for the benefit of society as a whole was maintained as their key value through the exceptional level of cooperation that was required in their music-making."

Mithen notes other roles such as aiding "the performance of a collective task by rhythmically facilitating physical coordination. But in the majority of case it appears to be cognitive coordination that is induced by the music, the arousal of a shared emotional state and trust in one's fellow music makers."

Blacking cited another group function of music:

"Some years before I arrived in Venda, famous Chief, Ratshimphi, was fed up with the actions of the white Native Commissioner, and so he gathered force of over 350 tshikona players and went to Sibasa 'to honour the Native Commissioner' before making 'a small request'. The sound of the musicians dancing round the District Offices brought all court and clerical work to a halt, but the Chief pointed out that to stop the music would be seen by his supporters as a loss of face for the Commissioner. As a result, the Chief's request was granted and the Native Commissioner was reminded noisily of the sort of support that Ratshimphi could command."

Blacking concluded that "all human beings have a right to music and to opportunity of artistic expression,, and therefor the goal of musical progress must be not so much to create 'free music' as to enable free people to be free to make music."

This is obviously not the purpose of the RIAA or the politicians it has paid off. Like so much in our culture, the goal of politics, power and the legal world has been to remove as much as possible from the public sphere, turning it into exclusive profit centers for someone. What they're up to is not just a war against music and the Internet, but against basic principles of functioning human cultures.

Their manipulations have included the cornering of the market through ever extended copyright coverage.
Copyright law followed the invention of the printing press. In 1709, Britain passed the first major measure, which dealt with the problem that "Printers, Booksellers, and other Persons, have of late frequently taken the Liberty of Printing... Books, and other Writings, without the Consent of the Authors... to their very great Detriment, and too often to the Ruin of them and their Families."

The American principles contained in the Constitution, gave authors protection for up to 28 years, or about one third the length of today's copyrights.

Thomas Jefferson even proposed the issue be included in the Bill of Rights:

"Art. 9. Monopolies may be allowed to persons for their own productions in literature and their own inventions in the arts for a term not exceeding __ years but for no longer term and no other purpose."

The goal, in short, was to protect the rights of the authors and their families, not to create to create an interminable profit node for mega-corporations.

In the past few decades, the music industry has favored the latter course, while claiming that the illegal use of music has been the major factor in the decline in music sales. Politicians and the media have bought into this argument and helped to push the anti-Internet laws and other legal actions that have caused such a furor of late.

But the real story is quite different.

For example, last year
Michael Degusta in Business Insider pointed out that when you convert music sales to a per capita basis and correct for inflation, things look even worse for the industry yet with a markedly different explanation.  According to Degusta, the music industry is down 45% from where it was in 1973. Also:

- 10 years ago the average American spent almost 3 times as much on recorded music products as they do today.

- Twenty-six years ago they spent almost twice as much as they do today.

According to the RIAA argument, the problem is led by illegal downloading hurting CD and legal digital sales. But DeGusta points out, on a per capita basis and correcting for inflation, "the CD peak was only 13% better than the vinyl peak."

And it doesn't explain a decline that goes back four decades. Notes DeGusta: "Turns out that, somewhat unsurprisingly, the recording industry makes almost all their money from full-length albums. Equally unsurprising, no one is buying full albums any more'"

Legal and illegal, we are back to to the days of digital versions of single platters and 45s, but with even less interest in albums.

Further, as the recording industry pursues its faux demons, it ignores more important headaches - in particular the decline of music as a part of our communal culture. The real problem is downgrading, not downloading.

This doesn't mean that we don't listen to music. We obviously do. But the Venda people of South Africa of the 1950s would find us odd, because our relationship has become increasingly passive - a matter of consumption rather than of participation.

Others - say musicians of the 1930s and 1940s - would be stunned by how much music has become a form of visual theater rather than sound, complete with smoke, explosions, circus-like dancing, and vocalists appearing to be having an orgasm as they sing something as arousing as, "And so I had another cup of coffee."

One survey has found that the percentage of adult population performing or creating any of the major genres of music never surpasses 4% with the exception of those in choirs of chorales (about 6%).

On the other hand 14% engage actively in photography, 13% in weaving and sewing, and 9% in painting or drawing.

A study by the National Endowment of the Arts found that between 2002 and 2008, even attendance at jazz events was down 28%, classical music performances down 20%, and opera down 34%. There was no evidence that the missing audience was illegally downloading these performances.

What is even more striking is another study that found a huge drop in attendance by those aged 18-24 between 1982 and 2008. The worst hit was jazz with a decline of 58% but even musicals fell by 13%. For adults as a whole the decline ranged from 19% for jazz to 30% for opera.

While having industry lawyers deliberately mislead the public is not all that surprising, the media also routinely fails to mention such factors.

And there are other considerations. For example, in 2004
Rolling Stone pubished what it said were the 500 best songs of all time. Let's leave aside the question of whether they ignored a few centuries of western music by only choosing numbers from the 1940s on. What is truly amazing about this selection - made by critics widely considered among the hippest - is that only 5% of the songs came from 1990 and later. Forty percent came from the 1960s and 28% came from the 1970s. Even the 1950s did better than the 1990s. 

Jazz break